On this fractured morning: a call to connect

I don’t know how or when you started your day. Me? I did what I nearly always do: petted the cat, reached for the remote, and waited for the weather forecast. The horrible news from Las Vegas is what I got instead.

I guess I’m lucky … I don’t think I know anyone in Las Vegas. But we’ll see … I may know someone who knows someone.

One thing that meditation has taught me: we are all connected. I sometimes think the opposite. “I’m just sitting here with the circus of my thoughts. Me. An island.” But I also notice that in my thoughts are relationships: anything or anyone that I imagine pulling closer to, and anything or anyone that I imagine pushing away from, is something or someone I am connected to. What I am imagining is, in fact, connection, and that connection comes before my ability to imagine it.

We are already connected. What makes me strong is the unconscious knowledge, built into the cells of my body and the wiring of my heart, that I am always drawing on you, the big You, the entire universe of people, animals, plants, planet and sun, to hold me up and you will never let me down. What sometimes makes me weak is the nagging conscious fear that I can’t explain how all of this works and so I never know if my ass is completely covered.

Sitting with others … just sitting … silent … just acknowledging with each breath, and each heart beat, that there is an unconscious web, beyond my ability to fathom … keeping me alive … is enough.

If you have a little time, please join me in the chapel tomorrow for meditation. If you cannot, please know that wherever you are, whatever you are doing, no matter what you think about your life, you are appreciated. This network of connection that sustains us is “love” by any other name.

You are loved.

Listening to Silence

Not all meditation practices are silent, but those that are might offer a special health benefit that is simply the silence itself.

Scientists and doctors have known for decades that loud noises are dangerous, and can cause hearing loss, both in the short- and long-term. But how about the everyday racket, the sounds of heating systems, car engines, hallway conversations, and YouTube songs; Does steady exposure to “noise” affect our health? Is there anything to be gained by lowering the volume, perhaps even spending part of the day in silence?

Here are some links to explore on this topic:

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To Cultivate Love Look Deep

Conflicts between people are a natural part of life. We even fight with ourselves, criticizing our past actions and denying our ability to cope with the future. Meditation doesn’t seek to erase conflicts or turn meditators into placid doormats. Instead, it teaches a path in which life’s problems are approached with understanding, patience, and love.

Vietnamese Buddhist priest, teacher, and author, Thich Nhat Hanh, offers these instructions for performing metta (lovingkindness) meditation as a path to cultivating love for oneself and others (“Cultivating Compassion” Tricycle, Spring 2015):

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Reaching across the academic divide

44 years ago I enrolled in an Introduction to Philosophy class offered by my local community college. One essay I read asserted that my life was filled with choices and I would always have to choose. Even refusing to choose was itself a choice.

Today is Day 2 of the new school year and the Hum 110 conflicts of last year have already reasserted themselves. Because absolutely nothing in my academic training qualifies me to opine on the ideal Hum 110 curriculum it is tempting to turn my back on the dispute and gaze upon the sabbatical year stretching out before me.

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Fall 2017 Schedule

Weekly silent meditation will continue on Tuesdays this semester from August through December 2017 in the Eliot chapel. Sessions run from 12:10-12:40 pm and are open to all members of the Reed community and campus visitors. Drop-ins* are welcome! Learn more at Our Schedule and Our Practice.

* “Drop-in” means you can arrive and leave whenever it is convenient for you. Late arrivals and early departures are both fine. We do not take attendance.

What Do Children Think About Meditation?

I recently tackled a new issue: how to get children to practice mindful activities (Mindful Games for Kids, 10 Aug 2017). In that post I said, “I can’t picture an 8 year-old sitting on a cushion, silently counting in- and out-breaths.” Now a post on the Trike Daily blog (A. Tzelnic, 2 Aug 2017), “Little Buddhas in the Classroom,” tells me that I may have underestimated the possibilities. Perhaps starting Chem 201 classes by putting away phones followed by 30 seconds of silence?

Disclaimer: the post describes 4th-6th graders so 10-12 year-olds?

One-Breath Meditation

Gary Snyder ’51 begins his essay, Just One Breath: The Practice of Poetry and Meditation (Tricycle, Fall 1991) with a straightforward teaching:

In this world of onrushing events the act of meditation — even just a “one-breath” meditation — straightening the back, clearing the mind for a moment — is a refreshing island in the stream.

What is this “meditation” that even one moment is good? Snyder says,

… it is a simple and plain activity. Attention: deliberate stillness and silence.

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Mindful Games for Kids

Whenever someone brings “mindfulness practice” into conversation with me, I naturally expect to hear stories about people struggling with “adult” problems like stress, overwork, focus/multitasking problems, emotional trauma, pain, grief, and addiction. I don’t expect to hear about the problems of 8-year-olds, not because I think they lack for problems, but because I can’t picture an 8 year-old sitting on a cushion, silently counting in- and out-breaths. They have trouble sitting still for a simple count-to-10, right?

In the last few years, however, I’ve discovered that there are ways for children to practice mindfulness, and there are real benefits to be had. As I suspected, the practices that are commonly recommended for adults (“sit down – be quiet”) require some major reworking for the elementary school audience, but there are ways to make a mindfulness connection at any age.

How to Help Your Kids Practice Mindfulness (Without Making them Sit Still) (Trike Daily, 5 Apr 2017) contains a bunch of useful insights about how to work with children (hint to aunts & uncles – the kids don’t have to be yours) as well as a link to Susan Kaiser Greenland‘s web site. Greenland, a parent, meditation teacher, and author, presents a number of practical ways to work with children, and even your inner child. Rolling my mouse over the icons on her site turned up headings like “watch,” “listen,” and “shout out,” each of which led to a set of practical suggestions and tips for mindful activities. Greenland has also packaged her materials as a book (Mindful Games) and a card deck of activities (Mindful Games Activity Cards) that might fit very nicely into a summer camp counselor’s backpack.