The Practice of Mindfulness

I think it was a spring day in San Francisco. My wife was attending a chemistry workshop downtown and I was out for a stroll. I dropped down into the basement of City Lights Books (why had I waited so long?), and a small book, one that wouldn’t weigh me down, called out, “Take me home. I have something to tell you.” The book was The Miracle of Mindfulness by author, Zen master, peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. The book was small, but the heart that wrote it was as big as the universe. This is where my practice began.

Thich Nhat Hanh turns 90 this month and Lion’s Roar has republished three of his essays. Enjoy them. May they help you in your life.

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Silent Sipping

The conversations we have around meditation and related topics are always rewarding. Robin sent a short (very short) article my way: How to Be Mindful With a Cup of Coffee (Well | Mind, NY Times, 14 Sept 2016). In our go-grab-and-go culture can we slow down long enough to sip once with awareness? Maybe two sips? (No one is keeping score.) Part of the pleasure of a favorite drink surely is noticing what we’re drinking.

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Creating Space with Stable Awareness

We all know the phrase, “lost in thought.” Expressed this way “thought” sounds like a place we visit, and a place we might leave whenever we choose. But how do we do that? What bus or train can take us away from our thoughts?

One answer might seem counterintuitive: pay attention to your thoughts. According to Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (“The Aim of Attention,” Tricycle, Summer 2009), when you pay attention, that is, you become aware of your thoughts as thoughts, space naturally opens up around them and you are no longer “lost” inside them.

Awareness comes naturally to you. It is always available. By practicing attention meditation, sitting still and doing nothing more than just paying attention to the rising and falling of thoughts, emotions, body sensations, you learn to access awareness more easily and bring stability to your awareness. As you do this, the space around your thoughts will increase and stabilize as well.

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Something to say?

I fell in love with haiku as a child. So short. Here are two that seem to say something about sitting, quiet, and the transitory nature of all things. The authors were contemporaries in 18th century Japan.

saying nothing;
the guest, the host
the white chrysanthemum

—Ryota Oshima

Presented by Patricia Donegan (“Silence: Stillness” Trike Daily, 15 Apr 2016)

lighting one candle
with another candle
— spring evening

—Yosa Buson

Presented by Poemhunter.com (Yosa Buson: Biography)

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Solitude and Loneliness

A friend of mine is going through a hard time right now. I don’t know why, and I don’t know how I can help, partly because my friend has isolated himself from parts of his social sphere. For better or worse, my friend has introduced a degree of solitude into his life and my role, at least for now, is to be patient and support his choice.

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Facing imperfection

It’s hard to go through a full day without wishing for something. A sample: I often wish that my body was more fit, healthy, that my mind was a kinder, more stable companion, and that I might find something entertaining or meaningful to fill my time. Even when I stop to meditate, I am not above hoping that something great will happen: I will become calm, maybe I’ll bliss out.

Wishing isn’t a bad thing, but it would be sad if we accepted it as the complete story of our life. Meditation offers a chance to step out of the wishing story. By sitting still and paying attention, we can discover that most of our storytelling (“I’m sick, unhappy, bored, … so I wish …”) is just a story, a passing cloud in our mental atmosphere, and that there are aspects of our seemingly imperfect lives that, in fact, are perfect and gratifying just as they are.  Kevin Kling’s beautiful fable of The Cracked Pot (On Being, 19 May 2016) shows how it is possible to appreciate life by looking at it from a new perspective:

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Meditation Schedule Updates

Two things to share:

  • Meditation will continue on Tuesdays throughout the fall 2016 semester. Our sessions take place in the Eliot hall chapel one floor above the Admissions office. They run from 12:10-12:40 on a drop-in basis. This means you (students, staff, faculty, campus visitors) can sit down and/or get up, whenever it suits you. Learn more at Our Schedule and Our Practice.
  • The August 23 session is canceled. I am currently hiding from Portland’s record hot temps on the Oregon coast. You can receive the latest updates by checking here regularly, or, even better, by joining our mailing list.
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Opening Creativity’s Door

My 5th grade teacher would periodically say, “Alan, you aren’t creative.” Before you jump to any conclusions, let me add that this talented, committed woman was the most important teacher I had in elementary school and she devoted herself to tapping all of the potential – intellectual, musical, artistic – that my classmates and I had locked up inside ourselves. Still, it was more than a little surprising to hear about my apparent lack of creativity.

Her comment made creativity seem very mysterious to me. Why was I missing out on this basic human capability? Continue reading

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From Here to There – Suggestions for Walking Meditation

You probably know that I’m a big fan of walking meditation. Walking was the ‘gate’ that I had to pass through before I could manage to sit. I bought a CD of walking meditation instructions (“gently lift your left foot…”) and I practiced only silent walking for weeks.

I still practice walking meditation regularly. The steady movement, the changing visual background, the sounds of the outdoors (I practice on sidewalks and in parks), help me bring awareness to all facets of my life. So I was pretty excited today when Tricycle magazine sent me an article (“Walking: Meditation on the move“, Summer 1996) that gathers short instructions for walking meditation from several teachers, ranging from Thich Nhat Hanh to Henry David Thoreau.

Below is an excerpt of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s instructions taken from his book “Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.”

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Silence, Please

“Silence, Please” is one of the most popular themes used by VisitFinland.com to attract tourists. It seems some people crave silence. But what is silence? Is it just the absence of sound? Or is it something tangible in its own right? It turns out teams of scientists have been trying to address this question in the ways that scientists often do: they have looked at patterns of brain activity to determine how brains differentiate silence from louder alternatives. “This is Your Brain on Silence” by Daniel Gross (Nautilus, 7 July 2016) reports on some of this research. Be prepared for surprises.

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