It is Orals week on the Reed campus. Day after day, hour after hour, senior after senior sits down in a room with three or four faculty to answer questions about their senior projects. Sometimes answers leap to a senior’s lips. Other times there is only stunned silence and puzzlement. Whatever the senior’s response, there is invariably gratitude from the faculty for the effort being made.
Which reminds me of a famous koan taken from a conversation held over a 1000 years ago between a Chinese monk and his zen master:
Blue Cliff Record, Case 14
A monk asked YunMen, “What are the teachings of a whole lifetime?”
YunMen said, “An appropriate response.”
YunMen was the zen master. He was not just toying with the monk. He was trying to help the monk. (As with all koans, contemplation of his response is supposed to hasten awakening.)
During this week of marathon question-and-answer sessions, do I know what is an appropriate response? Do you?
By the way, if you are curious about YunMen, Case 14, zen and koans, listen to a short talk that was given by Barry Magid, the teacher at the Ordinary Mind Zen school in NY City, in 2010. To access the talk save this MP3 link to your computer or go to this list of 2010 Dharma talks and select “Dharma Dog” (the first 20 seconds are silent so don’t give up too quickly; note: the titles ‘Dharma Dog’ and ‘Blue Cliff Record, Case 14: The Teaching of a Lifetime’ appear to be swapped so Dog leads to Case 14 and vice versa).
Health fads die hard.
For example, while I enjoy eating all kinds of things (chocolate, yum), I can’t help giving myself little pats on the back for leaning towards foods with fiber and nutrients and steering clear of saturated fat and sugar. So you can imagine my disappointment when I read, “An Apple a Day, and Other Myths” in the NY Times (April 22, 2014). It seems that cancer experts have tossed in the towel when it comes to using diet to lower cancer risk.
So what does this mean about meditation? I’m not a “promiser” when it comes to talking about the benefits of meditation, but I’m not above giving myself a pat on the back for finding time to meditate and I certainly feel like meditation has changed my life. Continue reading
A zen friend shared this wonderful Ballard Street cartoon from earlier in the week (April 15).
Kind of says it all, doesn’t it? When we let our guard down and open up? WOW!
Ballard Street is filled with quirky characters from the wildly creative mind and pen of Jerry van Amerongen.
Sharing a meditation space with others helps me as a meditator. It actually encourages me to sit, to sit more mindfully. I also feel that it helps soften many of the mental barriers my mind habitually erects between “I” and “Other.”
Of course, meditating together isn’t always possible. Everyone has a different schedule. So here are a set of audio resources that will help you sit whenever you decide and wherever you happen to be: Sit Now. These resources include links to guided meditations and simple audio streams that consist solely of a bell, a timed period of silence, and three more bells to close. You can sit now! (And you can also sit again later.)
>> A Sit Now link is located at the top every page at this web site. See ‘Sit Now’ next to ‘Resources’?
The next few weeks could be one of the most emotionally intense periods that some Reedies will have ever experienced. If you are having a hard time, don’t hesitate to check in with Health & Counseling Services, Student Services, or Community Safety. They are standing by and ready to help.
If you are looking for some quiet, a place to reflect on the swirl of thoughts and emotions that often rise up at the end of the semester, come find a spot at one of our meditation sessions. (Extra sessions are being planned for Finals Week. Stay tuned.)
I’m not saying that meditation will hold life’s pressures at bay. It might, but it might also do the opposite: open your awareness to whatever turmoil is just below the surface. Because life is unpredictable, let’s talk about what you can do when you sit in meditation and the Emotion of the Moment grabs you by the neck and starts shaking.
This week’s Oregonian featured a multi-part series, Mindfulness in policing, on a mindfulness-based resiliency training (MBRT) program that the Hillsboro Police Department has been operating for its officers. As Hillsboro Police Lt. Richard Goerling put it, “being a cop kills you.” So he worked with fellow officers and local meditation experts to develop a program that is intended to help officers manage stress and also become better police officers. According to Goerling, “mindful cops are better listeners and make better decisions. They are more mentally healthy.”
Where do we sit when we meditate? By this I don’t mean, do we sit on a cushion or on a chair? I don’t even mean, do we sit in our bedroom or under a tree?
What I am asking is simply this: where do our minds sit? Are the thoughts that ‘run round our heads’ the thoughts of our work, of our relationships, our dreams, our concerns? Noticing this, and seeing that these are just thoughts, just one aspect of experience that comes and goes, is the heart of sitting.
Here’s an A.A. Milne poem that talks about this (illustration by Ernest H. Shepard):
Halfway down the stairs
Is a stair
Where I sit.
There isn’t any
I’m not at the bottom,
I’m not at the top;
So this is the stair
Halfway up the stairs
And it isn’t down.
It isn’t in the nursery,
It isn’t in the town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head;
“It isn’t really
It’s somewhere else
image from http://www.thelovelys.com/poetry-milne-800.htm
I admit it, when a sentence begins with “studies show …” I get hooked every time. I read right to the end. What did the study show? Do I believe the results? Hey, who am I to judge? Why do I even care? Hmmm.
Here are links to two recent studies on the effects of meditation, one that addresses the extremely serious problem of depression, and the other, well, you make up your own mind how serious this is.
Study Suggests Meditation May Lead To Relief From Depression, Pain (posted January 7, 2014). “A new study from Johns Hopkins University suggests that mindfulness meditation can improve anxiety and depression along with reducing pain. The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, included 47 different trials involving 3,515 different people. Results showed that the meditation had small but positive effects on pain, anxiety and depression.” read more
You Are Not Your Chocolate Cravings (posted March 22, 2014). “A new study by Canadian researchers says that mindfulness can reduce chocolate cravings. Lead study author Julien Lacaille, a psychologist at McGill University in Quebec, told Reuters that practicing mindfulness meditation, which emphasizes identifying and distancing oneself from certain thoughts — without judging them — weakened chocolate cravings among people with a self-declared sweet tooth.” read more
I will be away from campus next Wednesday (March 19) so I cannot join you in the chapel. I will return on March 26. -Alan
Two views of meditation run through my mind: a practice for getting somewhere and a practice that treasures where I already am. Maybe these aren’t so different? Pearls Before Swine (Mar 13, 2014) has a very practical take on this dilemma.