Tag Archives: instructions

Just Listen

Listening meditation offers another way to be aware and to work with attention. Beyond finding a relatively quiet place to sit or walk, I have almost no control over the sounds that I hear. They arrive. Sometimes from the outside, a bird, a car on the street, a phone ringing. Sometimes from the inside, the whirrrrring in my ears that I might otherwise ignore, a rumble in my gut, or a crack in my joints.

When you listen to sound with awareness, you are just practicing being aware. There’s no need for anything extra. Limiting myself to awareness, along with attention drift, is the hardest part for me. A science podcast once informed me that the brain (mind) processes sounds much more rapidly than it does visual information. Sound is one of our most fundamental and efficient “alarm” systems for protecting ourselves. And once I direct my awareness to my sound environment, I often find myself naming, and sometimes, even looking around for the source of, the sounds that I hear.

There’s no need to do any of that in listening meditation. Just be aware. If you find yourself naming a sound, smiling at a bird’s song, or flinching at a text message alarm, give yourself a pass. Reacting is not what you intended, but it isn’t a mistake either. A silent “thank you” might be just the right soft, kind touch that will let you notice your reaction, which is part of living, and center yourself back in simple awareness.

Here’s a partial set of the instructions for listening meditation that long-time meditation teacher and author, Martine Bachelor offers in her Fall 2010 Tricycle magazine article, “Instructions for listening meditation”. I’ve included only the lines that emphasize awareness, but you can find the missing bits, the “…”, by going to the original article. And if you would like to read more of my posts relating to listening and sounds, click on “sound” in the tag cloud located in the right side bar.

Try to sit stable like a mountain and vast like the ocean.
Listen to the sounds as they occur … just listen with wide-open awareness.

Let the sounds come to you and touch your eardrums.
Go inside the sounds and notice their fluid nature.
If there are no sounds, listen, and rest in this moment of silence.

Just be aware of sounds as they arise and pass away. Open yourself to the music of the world in this moment, in this place.

See if you can learn to move freely between being in silence and with sounds.

– Martine Bachelor, “Instructions for Listening Meditation”, Tricycle, Fall 2010 (abridged)

March is Meditation Month (2021 version)

Tomorrow is March 1, the start of Tricycle magazine’s annual “March is Meditation Month” campaign. This year’s teacher is Guo Gu, a leading Chan Buddhist teacher and author. The focus of this year’s campaign, in addition to helping you start/strengthen/deepen your practice of meditation is “silent illumination”. (For a quick peek, check out One Minute Chan at Guo Gu’s webpage.)

For those who missed my posts on Meditation Month 2019, the last campaign that I had covered, the month is the time when Tricycle offers a load of free resources to participants. These include:

  • weekly guided meditation videos led by Guo Gu + 2 live Q&A calls with the teacher
  • plenty of free readings from the magazine to encourage you
  • and a two online groups you can connect to, one on Facebook, and another connected to a free meditation app, Insight Timer

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I’m too busy” and/or “It doesn’t work for me. I guess I can’t do it”, then this is where you will find a smiling nod of recognition, a gentle pat on the shoulder, and a helping hand, because … … … we have all been there. (And from time to time, I confess, the ‘no time, no success, not me’ mantra runs into my head and stands in front of me accusingly with its hands on its hips.)

We still can’t sit in the Chapel like we used to, but we can still sit. Have a good month. Let me know if I can help in some way. -Alan

Practical Advice

In times like these, well-intended advice seems to be everywhere. Really, it can be too much. So what I’m about to share is very narrow. A few practical tips on meditation recently fell into my inbox and they are so appealing, I just had to pass them on.

The tips appeared in a short 2008 Tricycle magazine article, and they come from Sayadaw U Tejaniya, Buddhist monk, teacher, and author of Don’t Look Down on the Defilements. Tejaniya has written several books and many of them are available for free download in multiple languages and also in audio. I just downloaded one to see what it is like and I encourage you to look at his book list and see if there’s something that might appeal to you.

Here’s the advice he offered in the Tricycle article, slightly condensed by me for a busy College audience. When meditating…

  1. Settle your body, and your mind, into a comfortable position.
  2. Patiently watch your experience unfold.
  3. There is nothing to control, nothing to achieve. Experience what is happening.
  4. If you choose an “object of attention” (breath, sound, touch, etc.) to focus on, the choice is not so important. Choose something, if you like. Then give it your attention.
  5. Accept that some experiences may be good and others not so much. This can’t be avoided.
  6. Thinking is part of experience. Recognize and acknowledge the thinking that occurs.
  7. Attend to the present moment. Thoughts about the past and future will arise. When you observe these, notice them as thoughts that are occurring now and return your attention to the present moment.

Reed College bonus tip: Meditators do not get graded. There are no report cards. So, if you are just starting out on this journey, let go of your concerns and expectations as best you can and set your bar LOW. You might fantasize about monks sitting in caves devoting almost every waking hour to silent meditation in order to pierce the mysteries of existence, but that is mostly a Hollywood fantasy. “Attending to the present moment” is something that you can do almost anywhere, any time, and even a little quiet time snatched from an otherwise busy life will produce benefits that you can appreciate.

Early March 2020 practice – Still early days

The news is filled with stories about The Virus. It is truly no laughing matter, and the most appropriate response will vary from one day to the next, and even from one person to the next (fyi – I’m a male over 60 and which places me in a higher risk group).

For now, however, the risk of infection for nearly all Oregonians is still estimated to be quite low. But now’s the time to prepare. Practice your hygiene. Wash your hands. Familiarize yourself with the experts’ recommendations and learn where to go for more information.

As it happens, the opportunity for close contact with anyone during our meditation period is extremely low. The Reed Chapel is extremely large and we are very few in number (space yourselves as you think best). Until the College tells me otherwise, we will continue to host our weekly meditation periods.

But why meditate at a time like this? Because maybe there is no better time than this. Meditation provides an opportunity to spot our knee-jerk reactions, whatever they might be, and see them for what they are. A habitual grasping after, or a turning away from, the things that we hope will keep life the way we want it.

So I encourage you to make some time to sit. Sit, notice, pause, and then see. Aha! That is what is going on! A thought. A mind bubble that might pop as fast as it forms. Once we see our knee-jerk reaction, we have already expanded our horizon, already loosened the hold (at least a little) of whatever had grabbed us. We can, if we choose to, anchor our awareness once again in whatever we had originally intended: the breath, a touch, the sound of the world, ….

This is something we must repeat over and over again. Recognizing habitual reactions before we get swept away by them is a practice, a cultivation. The act of recognition can make itself felt immediately, but that recognition and the freedom it provides, can vanish just as quickly with the next thought, the next jerk of the knee.

This season’s emergency is a virus. What emergency will the next season bring? We are always vulnerable to the emergency of the moment. (Notice that “emergency” contains the word “emerge”?) New things are always emerging to grab our attention. The importance of mindfulness practice never disappears. Nor does the beauty of those practice moments when we find ourselves sitting in peace, undisturbed, and realize that there is a choice in the paths our lives can take.

All thoughts are thoughts, but all thoughts are not equal.

Wishing all of you happiness and good health, and especially, peace. – Alan, 8 Mar 2020

Zen Meditation Instructions for Your Wall

Here’s a bit of meditation artwork that you might appreciate (my friend, Bill, pointed this out to me on the Facebook page of the Upaya Institute & Zen Center, Santa Fe, NM). I can picture this poster hanging on a wall in that special room that we go to for quiet and stillness.

The instructions may look like a lot to remember, but I think its okay to start simply. Just notice 3 stages:

  • entering – settle body, recall our intent
  • attention to experience
  • release

In my experience, the transitions are the easiest part to overlook. It has not been unusual for me to ring the bell in the chapel and watch two minutes of thinking about my work day flash past before the thought lands, “what am I doing here?” It’s at that point that my practice actually feels like it begins. I have also found that watching the transition from stilled attention back into life’s activities provides an important close to each practice period.

Wishing you a peaceful life and practice.

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.

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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.

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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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