A Quiet Place, An Open Place (reposted)

Back in the 1960′s, a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton wrote,

Douglas Steere remarks very perceptively that there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.

He went on,

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander’ by Thomas Merton*

I have spent most of my 60+ years being ‘carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns.’ If the internet and email and work haven’t been enough, there has also been my natural desire to be valued by my peers and my unshakeable belief that my ‘value’ is rooted in my accomplishments, real and imagined.

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When Things Disappear

Nearly all meditation practices involve a point of focus: the breath, sounds, body sensations, mantras. For me this often means finding that focal point and watching and watching until … I notice that I’m no longer watching. One, perhaps unfortunate, by-product of this approach is it reinforces my sense of “I”. I’m watching. I’m watching. Whoops. I’m not watching any more. I should be watching!

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Tuesday Meditation Continues for Fall ’18

Weekly silent meditation sessions will continue each Tuesday, noon-1 pm, this Fall-Winter in the Reed chapel. See Our Schedule for dates and alternative rooms.

Our sessions are open to everyone in the Reed community and to all campus visitors. The sessions are marked formally by bells rung periodically from 12:10 (start) to 12:40 pm (end). However, you are welcome to drop-in/leave anytime as your schedule requires.

Pain Is The Teacher

Summer is when everything should go right with the world. I think I first developed this attitude the summer after my 2nd grade. It has stayed with me ever since. So this summer’s troubles — pains in my back and shoulder, the ache in my ankle, even the grievances in my heart — just seem very inappropriate for this time of year. But there they are and they require a response.

Ezra Bayda, author of Being Zen says, “on experiencing pain, we almost always immediately resist. On top of the physical discomfort we quickly add a layer of negative judgments: “Why is this happening to me?” “I can’t bear this,” and so on.” My knee-jerk, all-too-human response just doesn’t help.

Bayda then asks, “How do we live the practice life when we’re in pain? To apply such phrases as “Be one with the pain” or “There is no self” (and therefore no one to suffer) is neither comforting nor helpful. We must first understand that both our pain and our suffering are truly our path, our teacher. While this understanding doesn’t necessarily entail liking our pain or our suffering, it does liberate us from regarding them as enemies we have to conquer.

Bayda has more insights on this topic which you can find in “When It Happens to Us” (Tricycle, Winter 2002).

 

Planning Your Summer Retreat

Summer is the perfect time for that special activity you’ve been putting off all year. Vacation, trip home, the early morning climb to the top of Mt. Hood, or that meditation retreat to finally get your “head straight.”

Maybe. Or maybe not. Because it seems like nothing in life, least of all our heads, can ever be put completely and permanently straight.

On the topic of head-straightening meditation retreats, Brent Oliver writing in Trike Daily (31 May 2018) says retreats are “not all calm and cosmic-flavored bubble gum.” I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been. But if you’re considering your first retreat this summer you might appreciate some of Brent’s observations. Or, you might just go with no preconceptions and an open mind.

See 5 Things That Might Surprise You about Meditation Retreats, Brent Oliver (Trike Daily, 31 May 2018)

Summer Resolution: Meditate!

Do you make “summer resolutions”? I do. New Year’s resolutions rarely work out for me because I’m too busy thinking about my spring semester teaching assignment. Summer, on the other hand, is always a time when I can imagine turning over a new leaf, picking up a neglected project, and trying to replace some unhelpful habits (not sleeping enough, not getting enough exercise, …) with helpful ones.

If you have been thinking “I’d like to get into the habit of meditating more often” then maybe summer is just the right time to get started. You can start small. There’s an opportunity every day for a 1 minute mindfulness break. It might be right after you pull into your parking place. Or right after you sit down at your desk. Or the minute before you go back into your office after lunch. One minute of pausing, stopping physical activity, and just noticing what is going on now (I trigger this by saying “just this” in my head) could be just the break your day needs. It could also be the way to (re)launch a meditation practice.

And, of course, you are more than welcome to join me and others in the Eliot chapel on Tuesdays this summer beginning tomorrow for a longer sit. Drop in when you can. Stay as long as your schedule allows. When its time to leave, just get up and go. Nothing to worry about. I’m just glad you can join us.

Have a peaceful, restorative, and happy summer,
Alan

Need more encouragement? Related reading: 5 reasons you didn’t meditate today + 1 more
Ready to try meditation right now? Sit up straight. Click on this link for a 3 minute guided meditation. We have even more resources for you on our Sit Now and Resources pages.

Happy Hawaii

I’m currently on vacation in Hawaii with my family. This morning we went to a lava-filled park where petroglyphs had been carved into the hardened stone centuries ago. From there it was a quick walk to a ‘beach’ made of lava and dead coral pieces. In the tide pools I saw things that I had never seen in the wild anywhere else: sea urchins, a small eel (well, maybe a long skinny fish?), multiple sea cucumbers, and 3 large sea turtles that were grazing on the plant-covered rocks. So I’m happy, right?

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Multitasking? Can’t Focus? Breathe!

Are you a “frequent/heavy media multitasker?” If you, or someone you know, fits this label, read on. I’ll keep it short.

A research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently gathered 1,683 undergraduates, identified roughly 50 students who could be described as either unusually ‘light media multitaskers’ (LMM) or unusually ‘heavy media multitaskers’ (HMM), and then conducted additional tests on the LMM and HMM students. In the latter phase of the investigation, students in the selected groups performed a 10 minute task, either a mindfulness intervention or a control activity (see below), and then completed two mental performance tests (the task-test #1-test #2 sequence was then repeated two more times so that each student could take a total of 6 performance tests).

The team* found that, as expected, the LMM students turned in better scores on the mental performance tests regardless of which task (control/intervention) they performed first, and the tasks didn’t seem to affect their performance much. The HMM students who completed the mindfulness intervention, however, had much better performance scores than the HMM students who performed the control task.

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