Hello, soap! Hello, water!

Last week I found myself doing what I have done nearly every morning for the past six decades: taking a shower. The routine of the shower, what to do, where to stand, which way to turn, are all so familiar to me. I shower on autopilot, almost without any thought at all.

But then, as I almost always do, I began thinking. The voice inside my head powered up. The shower quickly vanished. I found myself getting keyed up for the day ahead, my inner voice rehearsing a conversation that has never, will never, go the way I want, trying to score the points that only I can imagine will bring me comfort and satisfaction.

And then something strange happened. Partway through my inner speech, I caught myself. As I began the next round of scrubbing, I picked up the soap and silently greeted it. “Hello, soap!” My eloquent, impassioned diatribe against the injustices in my life was gone.

I felt the water raining down on me and greeted it too. “Hello, water!” I felt transformed. Back in the shower. With everything I needed in that moment. And a feeling of gratitude for the simple joys of a too-often taken-for-granted morning shower.

The Importance of Being Happy

I was surprised last fall to see a short article in Science magazine (“Well-being in metrics and policy by C. Graham, K. Laffan, S. Pinto, 19 Oct 2018, p. 287-8, DOI: 10.1126/science.aau5234) targeted one of my pet non-academic projects. Namely, is our society’s narrow attention to financial wealth (and the things that go with it, such as the seemingly endless pursuit of money and material consumption), our best measure of social progress? That is, does a larger bank balance, salary, and house, actually make us feel happier, and better able to deal with life’s endless challenges? So I read the article from top to bottom.

Continue reading

Earth Day 2019

Today is Earth Day, a day in which we might reflect on our relationship, past, present, and likely into the future, with all that surrounds us. Have we treated the Earth well? What, if anything, must we do to guarantee that the essential systems of air, water, minerals, plants, animals, microorganisms, sunlight, tidal flows, and so on, will be intact for our children and our children’s children so that they can lead the lives we wish for them?

These are big questions, and like any big question, they really wrap many questions together. We are living beings whose evolution has been shaped by forces both microscopic and cosmic, and questions arise on every scale…

  • Every cell in our bodies contains molecules – sugars, fats, proteins, nuclei acids – constructed from carbon atoms. These atoms were produced by the explosion of a long dead star. How do we guarantee the chemical integrity of our bodies, and minimize the risk of exposure to chemical pollutants and toxins?
  • Our cells, our bodies, are filled with fresh water. The food we eat also requires fresh water, but this water is an increasingly scarce commodity. In a warming world of melting ice, how do we guarantee that adequate fresh water will exist to support the world’s population?
  • For every cell in our body, there are roughly 10 bacteria. While bacteria were once scorned as predatory invaders, we now recognize that many of them provide essential services – food digestion, protection from invasion by pathogens, and so on – that sustain our lives. How do we understand coexistence with the life forms around us? Do we see a “them” that competes with us, or do we see a world of connection and interdependence?

And so on, and so on. We are makers of our environment, but we are also crucially dependent on many natural systems in our environment for food, water, shelter, light, warmth, and more. We re-make these systems only at our own peril.

Meditation can bring us into a deeper appreciation of nature, a direct sense, if you will, of what nature looks, sounds, smells, and feels like. Mark Coleman, mindfulness teacher, wilderness guide, and author of A Breath of Fresh Air (Tricycle, 2005), describes 7 different meditative experiences one can practice, whether in the woods of Forest Park or in front of a window plant at home. Additional guided meditations can be found at his web site.

For more on nature and meditation, click the word nature in this web site’s word cloud.

Instructions for a DIY Mini-Home Retreat

My friends in the Portland meditation community always seem to be talking about meditation retreats. It seems like every few months one of them is headed off to the mountains, to the San Juans, to the beach, a spot in the country, spending the better part of 24 hours to 7 days with others in silence.

I haven’t done this myself, but it always raises questions for me. How would I fit something like this into my schedule? What special things does a long period of stillness offer? Should this be part of my path?

If you are asking yourself these questions, check out How to Create a Mini-Retreat at Home (Trike Daily, 19 Mar 2019) by Chris McKenna. This article was originally published under the title, Getting Real About Exhaustion (Inquiring Mind, Fall 2013), and the emphasis on mini-retreat-as-restoration-of-body-&-spirit comes across very strongly.

Continue reading

March is Meditation Month at Tricycle

Tricycle magazine runs a support campaign every March for meditators and the curious. Whether you already have a regular meditation practice, or have tried meditation before and moved on (do you know why?), or are just curious about how to meditate, this campaign is for you. And me.

As things stand in March, 2019, my personal take on my meditation practice is: I wish I meditated every day, but I don’t. Not right now. These days a ‘good’ week of practice will include 4-5 days with 20-60 minutes of meditation, but most weeks aren’t ‘good.’

Why don’t I respond to my wishes? The reasons are several, and they are tangled up with each other like the t-shirts and socks in my laundry basket. Too many commitments. Not enough time. Not always drawn to the idea of sitting still. Right now just doesn’t feel like a good time. And so on.

This is where I find the Tricycle campaign (among other things) supportive and helpful. They provide links to several insightful and inspiring online articles that reassure me that my situation is far from unique, suggest simple things I might do to sustain myself even when I feel too busy (or substitute: overwhelmed-lethargic-apathetic), and remind me why I became interested in meditation in the first place.

And, maybe best of all (is there a best of all?), there are online guided meditations. A new one is being posted every week this month, and there will be four in all (see below). I have listened to the first one, and I provided a summary (see below). Briefly, it is wonderful. Simple, yet inspiring. I will summarize the next three after I have given them a listen, so keep checking back.

We are all in this together. Thank you for reading. -Alan

 

Guided Meditation #1 – Beginning with Mindfulness. Well-known meditation teacher and author, Martine Batchelor, is Tricycle’s meditation guide for 2019. I have read/own several of her books, including the gorgeous and informative Meditation for Life.

Continue reading

Webinar – Begin with Wholeness

I would like to share news about an upcoming webinar, ‘Begin with Wholeness, End with Joy’, presented by Maria Hamilton Abegunde, Visiting Lecturer, Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington. This webinar focuses on how Ms. Abegunde, a poet, priest, and healer, uses contemplative and ritual practices in her courses on Black Feminisms to help students navigate through emotionally-charged material without being overwhelmed by feelings of personal crisis and injustices past and current.

The live webinar will be Nov. 30, 11 am, and is free. If you can’t watch at that time, you can watch a recording of the webinar by going to the host organization’s (Assoc. for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education) web site. More information about the webinar topic, the presenter, and links to past webinar offerings are available online at the ACMHE web page.

Continue reading

Consciousness and Its Place in Nature

The Psychology Department has informed me of an upcoming seminar that should interest anyone who pays attention to the inner workings of their mind, and, naturally, all meditators. The lecture is called “Consciousness and Its Place in Nature” and will be offered by Christof Koch, Ph.D on Wed, Nov. 14, 7 pm, Psych 105.

Full details about this event as provided by the Psychology Department follow:

Continue reading

Health-O-Ween Meditation Returns Next Tuesday

Did you know that Reed College celebrates a special once-a-year holiday called Health-O-Ween? H-O-Ween is sponsored by Reed’s Wellness Committee, a Reed community group that highlights a spectrum of wellness activities for the Reed community.

Health-O-Ween activities announced by the Wellness Committee for next week include:

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading