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:
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
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.”
“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.
What am I feeling right now? Why am I feeling that way? What is this in response to? Our lives are filled with emotions, weak and strong, and yet we often fail to detect them because we are caught up in a physical sensation (“Why am I crying?”) or a mental story (“What an awful thing to say to me. Well, here’s an email that will pin his ears back.”)
Psychologists have categorized emotional states, identifying basic emotions, what triggers them, the forms they take as they change in intensity, and the combinations of emotions that often arise together. Psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman, who is known for his work on the connection between emotional states and facial expressions, and who also served as a technical adviser for the Pixar movie, Inside Out, has created a visually intriguing Atlas of Emotions that is worth a look. Let me know what you think about it.
On this day in 1776 our ancestors declared their independence from the King of England. Beginning meditators often tell me that they are seeking a similar kind of independence from obsessive, habitual, and distracting thoughts. Their desire to be ‘thought-free’ is widely shared. Read what a long-time meditation teacher and author, Martine Batchelor, has to say about ‘freedom from thought’:
What happens when we sit quietly in meditation? Try to answer this before you read on. Realize that your answers might be coming from several points of view: experience, expectation, or hope. Also consider that, while there may be no single right answer that applies to every person, let alone to every meditation session, there is nothing wrong if some aspects of your meditation experience begin to seem familiar over time.
This livescience.com news item caught my eye (‘Can You ‘Catch’ Stress in a Classroom? Science Says Yes’ by S.G. Miller, livescience.com, 27 June 2016)
Head lice and strep throat aren’t the only things you can catch in a classroom. According to a new study from Canada, stress may be contagious, too.
Researchers found that when 4th- to 7th-grade teachers reported feeling “burned out,” their students also had elevated stress levels.
The cultivation of metta, sometimes translated as boundless friendliness or loving kindness, has proven to be a beneficial meditation practice over the centuries, but it can present a challenge for modern Westerners. The standard version of metta practice asks one to begin by expressing positive wishes for one’s own benefit, e.g., ‘may I be happy, may I be healthy, etc.’, before extending these wishes to others. The difficulty for many of us appears right at the start. Should I really be wishing myself happiness, good health, and so on? Well-known meditation teacher and author, Jack Kornfield, has a solution. He says, “We open our heart in the most natural way, then direct our loving-kindness little by little to the areas where it’s more difficult.” Sending good wishes to ourselves may not feel completely natural so we don’t have to start there. You can find all of his instructions at How to Do Metta (Lion’s Roar, 11 August 2015).