Emotional knowledge

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.

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Independence Day

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’:
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Connecting with your inner refuge

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.

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Contagious Stress

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.

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Opening the Heart

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).

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Practicing Patience

In honor of Father’s Day I am reposting a portion of Norman Fischer‘s excellent advice piece “Life is Tough: Six Ways to Deal With It” (Lion’s Roar, 15 June 2016)

Turn All Mishaps Into the Path

‘Turn all mishaps into the path,’ sounds at first blush completely impossible. How would you do that? …

We do that by practicing patience, my all-time favorite spiritual quality. Patience is the capacity to welcome difficulty when it comes, with a spirit of strength, endurance, forbearance, and dignity rather than fear, anxiety, and avoidance. None of us likes to be oppressed or defeated, yet if we can endure oppression and defeat with strength, without whining, we are ennobled by it. Patience makes this possible.
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The Space Between Thoughts

Another useful method of developing silent awareness is to recognize the space between thoughts, between periods of inner chatter. If you closely attend with sharp mindfulness, when one thought ends and before another thought begins—THERE! That is silent awareness! It may be only momentary at first, but as you recognize that fleeting silence you become accustomed to it, and as you become accustomed to it, the silence lasts longer. Once you have found it at last, you begin to enjoy the silence, and that is why it grows. But remember, silence is shy. If silence hears you talking about her, she vanishes immediately!

– from Cultivate Tranquility, Harvest Insight by Ajahn Brahmavamso (Lion’s Roar, 10 June 2016)

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Sitting idly is still doing something

I’ve written from time to time about the benefits of meditation, and also contrarily about the uselessness of meditation. Against the view that ‘meditation delivers benefits X and Y’ is the view that ‘meditation is simply the experience of life, being in the moment’. The latter does not mean stopping to think, “this meditation will put me in the moment,” but just sitting and being open to whatever the moment (life) happens to be. The latter is true zen.

Here is a beautiful zen story that illustrates the mysterious adventure of ‘just sitting’ without any ideas of gaining or losing.

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Finding Time

If today’s meditation session is like most, a small group, less than a handful really, will join me in the chapel to sit quietly for part of the noon hour. The Reed chapel is a chapel in name only, but the soaring ceilings, the tall windows on both sides of the room, provide an atmosphere that is light, spacious, airy, and contemplative. I’m sure more people would come, enjoy a few moments of beauty and quiet, if only they could find the time.

Thoughts like these remind me of a joyous, deceptively simple poem by Nanao Sakaki called Happy Lucky Idiot (Tricycle, Summer 2013). It leads the reader through a series of reflections, “If you have time to X, Do Y, If you have time to Y, Do Z”. It concludes:

If you have time to dance
Sit quietly, you Happy Lucky Idiot

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Bend to my will

Non_Sequitur051616I can never help laughing, shaking my head in disbelief, at Danae (Non Sequitur, 16 May 2016). Her rage at the unbending world is so pure. Her commitment to 24/7 warfare is so unquenchable. What a child.

Of course, I have more than a little Danae in me – that’s what makes her so familiar and so funny. I want the world to go my way. And, like Danae, rather than accept things as they are, I’ll retreat into a fantasy land where I can try to hide from the world’s problems.

It isn’t unusual for meditators to seek out silence as a hiding place. How many times have I evaluated a meditation session and said, ‘it didn’t work for me’? But how could it ever be broken? Does reality ever fail to happen? Like it or not, this is my life.

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