Wednesday, August 25, 2010

meditation: you can't do it wrong

Do you have an uneasy relationship with the practice of meditation? Spiritual teachers have said that it is the most important practice you can undertake. Yoga asanas, originally, had no other purpose than to prepare the yogi to be able to sit comfortably in meditation. So meditation must be very important, right?

Part of the disconnect for me is when the value of meditation is described as a step on the path to enlightenment. I've never had enlightenment as a personal goal, partly because of the way samadhi is described. Suddenly, you're free from all desires, free from attachment to loved ones . . . sounds so dry and unattractive.

Much more interesting to the average person, I think, is the idea that meditation can bring you to a place of equilibrium and clarity, ease feelings of depression and anxiety, calm the mind and heart and bring you to a place where you can more clearly hear your higher self speak to you.

But, there's always the nagging uncertainty about what is supposed to be happening as we try to come to a state of meditation.

Today, in a monthly newsletter from Bodhi Spiritual Center in Chicago, the following quote struck home from Bodhi minister-in-training Darrell Jones:
"I often . . . find myself amused at how often we (myself included) get caught up in needing to do meditation 'right'. There are many techniques and ways to meditate, however, the only 'wrong' way to meditate is to not do it. Ah, the simplicity and power of that statement! The only wrong way to meditate is not to meditate."

Later in the same article, he goes on to say:
"If we think we will reach a point of 'no thoughts' or a mind as quiet as a room with no one in it, we are doing ourselves a disservice and setting ourselves up for failure."

Jones gives us permission to just do it. To realize that an active, unquiet mind is proof that we are, indeed, meditating. That meditating is a process of learning to be still. That once the body becomes still, the mind automatically starts working like crazy to compensate. And that this is normal.

He suggests, as I've suggested in this blog, that you start with just five minutes. Actually, I think I suggested that three minutes is a great start. Start with a practice that is easy enough that you won't be tempted to skip it.

But, above all, show yourself compassion and know that you are succeeding and reaping the benefits just by showing up. Just by sitting still and witnessing your thoughts rather than becoming caught up in them. Just by, time after time, letting go of a thought that you've gotten stuck on during your meditation. Every time you let go of a thought, feel good! This is meditation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

looking for inspiration? breathe.

What do you do when you need a creative solution to a problem? When you need to find the next step in the process? When you're under stress and silently crying "help!"

A surprisingly simple way to connect with your deeper self -- the self with all the answers -- is to breathe.

There is a profound connection between the word inspire and your breath. Inspire comes from the Latin inspirare, meaning "to inflame, blow into, to direct with your breath."

Here are a few additional meanings:
• To affect, guide, or arouse by divine influence.
• To fill with enlivening or exalting emotion.
• To stimulate to action; motivate.
• To draw forth; elicit or arouse.

Your breath is the divine spirit within you. When breath is gone, life force no longer exists. When you access your breath from the depth and core of your being, with full, diaphramatic breathing, you free your divine source to assist you in any challenge you face.

Focus on the breath connects you to the creative life force inside you (your own inspiration) that can answer any question, provide you with the internal support you need, and bring peace to any life situation.

Your breath is the physical manifestation of the divine within you. Go within first by connecting with and slowing your breathing, and see how easy it is to focus your mind, heart, and spirit. With this divine counsel in place, experience the sense of balance and poise you feel in any situation.

There is no longer the compulsion to run from place to place looking for the answer. The scattershot approach is no longer necessary. There is peace within. The answer introduces itself to you; you don't need to go in search of it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu

Ever notice how the best intentions can sometimes lead to disastrous results? Especially when you think you know what's best for someone else?

Today was one of those days when I was slammed up against the usual irreconcilable differences with an important person in my life. I sat down to meditate on all of this. Knowing that I couldn't continue to approach this situation the same way.

I sat quietly. And I saw a little movie in my head. Replaying conversations in which I tried to help my friend with his problems in relating to others (specifically me). Wow. The curse of the verbal communicator. Watching all of this in my head, I saw that I didn't know when to stop. I was going to keep on talking until I had been heard and understood, but this meeting of the minds hadn't happened yet in more than two years of these exhausting discussions.

Words, even compassionate words, can be unwittingly violent. They can come across as one person acting as superior to another. Feelings can be hurt, and when this happens, communication can't take place. Could I change this dynamic by acting in line with yogic principles such as ahimsa (non-violence) and santosha (contentment with what is)?

A simplified description of the law of karma says that I receive what I give. In my disagreements with my friend I've been reaping and regifting these dubious rewards in an endless cycle -- not sometime in the distant future, but in real time.

I feel disrespected so I continually assert my position, unremittingly, only to feel greater resistance to my ideas, so I try again with greater force only to feel even higher and stronger walls resist me in return.

What to do? I decided to try the principles of ahimsa and santosha. Will they really work in a specific real-world situation?

Ahimsa: Let me be non-violent and peaceful in word and deed. Let me realize that I cannot say what is the best course of action for another person. Let me stop trying to force others to come to my view of a situation. Let me release my vise grip and create space for a natural resolution to occur. Let me remove the cork and allow my life to breathe like a precious bottle of wine.

Santosha: Let me be content with all situations the way they are today. Let me realize that I am not in control. Let me change focus from difficult situations which I cannot change to a focus on what is working well in my life right now. Let me orient my life toward beauty instead of pain.

Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.
May all beings be happy.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

it is by giving that we receive: what if it's true?

I love this simple lesson on giving from Deepak Chopra's classic book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success:
"The more you give, the more you will receive, because you will keep the abundance of the universe circulating in your life. In fact, anything that is of value in life only multiplies when it is given. That which doesn't multiply through giving is neither worth giving nor worth receiving."

But how to start?
"The best way to put the Law of Giving into operation -- to start the whole process of circulation -- is to make the decision that any time you come into contact with anyone, you will give them something. It doesn't have to be in the form of material things; it could be a flower, a compliment, or a prayer. In fact, the most powerful forms of giving are non-material. The gifts of caring, attention, affection, appreciation, and love are some of the most precious gifts you can give, and they don't cost you anything. When you meet someone, you can silently send them a blessing, wishing them happiness, joy, and laughter. This kind of silent giving is very powerful."

Does this sound like nothing more than new-agey mumbo-jumbo? It costs nothing to try it. Why not try, just for a few days, and see whether it has made a difference in your sense of connectedness, joy, and peace. And there may be even more tangible results in new opportunities, doors opening for you, and untangling of your own personal Gordion knots.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

the king of masks

A facebook friend, whom I've never met, mentioned to me the 1996 film The King of Masks, and I found it viewable in its entirety at YouTube.

Set in 1930s China, the story follows elderly street performer Wang as he tries to find an heir to whom he can teach the secrets of his art: the quick-change mask art of bian lian.

This is a beautiful, poignant film that will give you so much to think about, so please consider giving it a look.

The story turned my thoughts to the many masks we wear: the mask of our gender, the mask of our profession, the mask of our personal style, and so many other masks.

Have you known someone who had so many elaborately constructed masks, worn so convincingly, that it took years to realize who he or she really was? Masks and personae so seamlessly attached to who we think we are that we believe the masks are real? Masks that are developed to protect ourselves, but end up as a barrier through which people who love us can never enter?

The King of Masks is not overtly about these issues, but it is about the beliefs and opinions we hold that can separate us from our own happiness.

The film made me ask some intriguing questions. What are we so invested in believing that we can't even entertain the possibility of a different solution, explanation, or outcome? What are the painful past experiences that we desperately cling to as part of our identity, thereby ensuring that things will never change, that we'll continue to experience the same disappointments again and again? These were the attitudes that had plagued Wang's life story in the film, and it required a near tragedy and the unwavering love and courage of a little girl to heal him.

What are your masks and who lies beneath them at the very heart of your being? In what small ways might you try to reveal that heart of who you are without becoming too afraid?

When the final mask is removed, look at all the beauty that is there.