Monday, 8 February 2021

#769 Being Right Here and Now

“Listening to the sounds that are right here now.
Open and receptive.
Gently opening to the sensations and feelings in the body.
Relaxing with what’s here.
Aware of that background of presence that’s always here.
That awareness that knows what’s happening.
That tender space that includes the life that arises moment-to-moment.”

Advises Tara Brach, in her fine guided meditation: https://www.tarabrach.com/meditation-sacred-presence/


Diamonds by Ingrid Goff-Maidoff
 
 “What if recognizing diamonds
was enough to make them yours
and you saw them now everywhere?
On the sunlit ocean; in the moonless sky;
on winter fields and the tips of branches after rain;
in smiling faces; the brook; the lake; the stream;
the kitchen stove; stairs; puddles, ice, clouds;
anywhere life glimmers and light glints;
kisses, belly laughs, bubbly,
wine, decay and crumbs;
flights of fancy, feathers,
teeth, words, breath….
Diamonds, diamonds,
all diamonds.
Would you see
then in truth
the very richness
that you are?”
 
 
from Ingrid Goff-Maidoff's book: “What Holds Us. New and Selected Poems”
 
 
*

Sharing Silence by Gunilla Norris

“Within each of us there is a silence
—a silence as vast as a universe.
We are afraid of it…and we long for it.
When we experience that silence, we remember
who we are: creatures of the stars, created
from the cooling of this planet, created
from dust and gas, created
from the elements, created
from time and space…created
from silence.
In our present culture,
silence is something like an endangered species…
an endangered fundamental.
The experience of silence is now so rare
that we must cultivate it and treasure it.
This is especially true for shared silence.
Sharing silence is, in fact, a political act.
When we can stand aside from the usual and
perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen.
Our lives align with deeper values
and the lives of others are touched and influenced.
Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses,
to our selves. It locates us. Without that return
we can go so far away from our true natures
that we end up, quite literally, beside ourselves.
We live blindly and act thoughtlessly.
We endanger the delicate balance which sustains
our lives, our communities, and our planet.
Each of us can make a difference.
Politicians and visionaries will not return us
to the sacredness of life.
That will be done by ordinary men and women
who together or alone can say,
“Remember to breathe, remember to feel,
remember to care,
let us do this for our children and ourselves
and our children’s children.
Let us practice for life’s sake.”
 

 

Mark Brennan - Argyle Fine Art argylefineart.blogspot.com

Thursday, 28 January 2021

#768 BASICS #3: What are We Actually Doing during Meditation?

      The way our mind normally works by default, is as if we were drowning, desperately trying to grab anything nearby, to keep us from sinking. It takes some level of introspection & insight to become aware of this chronic tight, cold, jittery uneasiness.
      Occasionally, we feel expansive, at ease, "blessed." But very quickly, this turns to worry - "This can't last - how can I hang onto this?", or "How can I make this even better?" Because it's our "normal," we're not generally aware of our "anxious quiver of being."
      When we sit down to meditate, our self-centered obsessional self-talk keeps running as always. The big difference: during meditation, we become aware of this endless self-centered obsessional self-talk! 
     This imaginary identity & world that the mind creates is nothing more than a bit of electrical current passing through our brain! It has NO objective reality. YET, we unwittingly maintain & amplify it by obsessing over it & conversing with it. AND we let it govern most of our lives! Our imaginary identity - "ego" - keeps most of us convinced that if we don't continuously obsess about our own survival, we will die immediately. Western psychology refers to this unhealthy situation as a "noisy ego" up to "narcissism."
     During meditation practice, we practice persistently LETTING GO of all unhelpful mental games (compulsive planning, worrying, regretting, wallowing, daydreaming, slipping off to "our happy place.") Initially, letting go of an unhealthy, noisy ego can feel like impending physical death. But we're NOT trying to "kill" anything, or even to completely get rid of our ego. We're only taming an unhealthy, hyperactive ego "down to a dull roar" ie to a healthy, quiet, functional state. So we keep fully showing up, EMBODYING Mind, Heart & Gut - ALL of who/what we truly are, in the here & now. This has many names & levels of maturity: from "quiet ego" all the way to wisdom, awakening & enlightenment.
     Bottom line: during meditation, we consciously, intentionally, repeatedly CHOOSE to practice letting go of "normal" robotic autopilot state, and instead, consciously, intentionally, repeatedly CHOOSE to practice visiting, & gradually stabilizing in, direct intimate engagement with actual reality.

     “Either you try to transform yourself for the sake of serving others and everybody wins, or you stay inside the bubble of ego and everybody loses. Because by desperately trying to be happy just for your own sake, you don’t help others or yourself.” Matthieu Ricard
     Matthieu Ricard, Christophe Andre, Alexandre Jollien. “In Search of Wisdom. A Monk, a Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist on What Matters Most.” Sounds True, 2018.

 

Sharing Silence by Gunilla Norris

Within each of us there is a silence
—a silence as vast as a universe.
We are afraid of it…and we long for it.
When we experience that silence, we remember
who we are: creatures of the stars, created
from the cooling of this planet, created
from dust and gas, created
from the elements, created
from time and space…created
from silence.
In our present culture,
silence is something like an endangered species…
an endangered fundamental.
The experience of silence is now so rare
that we must cultivate it and treasure it.
This is especially true for shared silence.
Sharing silence is, in fact, a political act.
When we can stand aside from the usual and
perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen.
Our lives align with deeper values
and the lives of others are touched and influenced.
Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses,
to our selves. It locates us. Without that return
we can go so far away from our true natures
that we end up, quite literally, beside ourselves.
We live blindly and act thoughtlessly.
We endanger the delicate balance which sustains
our lives, our communities, and our planet.
Each of us can make a difference.
Politicians and visionaries will not return us
to the sacredness of life.
That will be done by ordinary men and women
who together or alone can say,
“Remember to breathe, remember to feel,
remember to care,
let us do this for our children and ourselves
and our children’s children.
Let us practice for life’s sake.



Wednesday, 20 January 2021

#767 BASICS #2: The Heart of Mindfulness

     “Mindfulness can be thought of as moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, as nonjudgmentally, and as openheartedly as possible.” Jon Kabat-Zinn. “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” Hyperion, 1994.

     Moment-to-moment means continuously ie all the time - we intend this to become our stable way of being in the world.
     Non-judgmentally doesn’t mean detached – quite the opposite. We’re learning to cultivate a friendly, kind, even loving attitude, toward ourselves, others & life in general, as life keeps unfolding for us in each present moment.
     One way to help achieve this is to instead of compulsively analyzing our thoughts & sensations, to simply notice if they feel pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. This counterbalances our tendency to become lost in our heads thinking, and helps bring us back down to earth, into our bodies, right here, right now ie back to reality.

     All of us have sustained different traumas. The more severe the trauma and the earlier in life it occurs, the greater the impact and the less we may be consciously aware of it. All of us are at least somewhat armoured, and therefore, we have more in common with military veterans with PTSD than we realize.
     "Whoever you're looking at, know that that person has been through hell several times." Christian Bobin
     So we automatically behave qualitatively differently, as if we were totally different people, when for example, we face a hostile stranger vs when we rock a beloved one-year-old to sleep on our chest. The hostile stranger 'triggers' us! We 'react' by hardening (armour), become 'stone cold,' ready to fight, run or shut down ('fight, flight or freeze instinct'). With the baby however, our heart opens wide, radiating warmth, safety, nurturing, unconditional love ('tend & befriend instinct').
     This radical difference is 'normal' ie common, but not optimal! A person competent in negotiating with enraged people will show relaxation, concern & curiosity towards the hostile stranger, will get to know them (no longer a stranger), find out why they're upset, maybe give them a hot drink, and hold them in safety & unconditional kindness. This is what we all need, especially when we're triggered!
    Triggered people unfortunately usually trigger others! When two triggered parties confront each other, things don't go well (eg when mentally ill people are killed; the many ongoing endless religious / tribal / racial conflicts). INSTEAD, we CAN cultivate the mindfulness required to face all situations far, far more skillfully: with an open mind & an open heart.

                              "We are fools to make war
                               on our brothers in arms."          Mark Knopfler

     “… in any situation in life, confronted by an outer threat or opportunity, you can notice yourself responding inwardly in one of two ways. Either you will brace, harden, and resist, or you will soften, open and yield. If you go with the former gesture, you will be catapulted immediately into your smaller self, with its animal instincts and survival responses. If you stay with the latter regardless of the outer conditions, you will remain in alignment with your innermost being, and through it, divine being can reach you. Spiritual practice at its no-frills simplest is a moment-by-moment learning not to do anything in a state of internal brace. Bracing is never worth the cost.
     This does not necessarily carry over into an outer state of surrender, or ‘rolling over and playing dead.’ On the contrary, interior surrender is often precisely what makes it possible to see a decisive action that must be taken and to do it with courage and strength. To ski down a hill or split a piece of wood, you first have to relax inwardly; only then can you exert the right force and timing. It’s exactly the same in the emotional world. Whether it’s a matter of holding your ground in a dispute with your boss, handling a rebellious teenager with tough love, or putting your life on the line for an ideal you believe in like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr., action flows better when it flows from nonviolence, that is, from the place of relaxed, inner opening.
     Remember that memorable scene in the first Star Wars movie when young Luke Skywalker had to guide his space cruiser through a narrow passage and release his missile at exactly the right time? ‘Feel the force, feel the force’ – that powerful mantra his teacher Obi-Wan-Kenobi had impressed on him – captures perfectly the relationship between inner surrender and effortless action. It’s a secret the great spiritual masters have always known.”
    Cynthia Bourgeault. “The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming An Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart.” Jossey-Bass, 2003.

   A useful meditation PRACTICE: http://www.johnlovas.com/2021/01/768-basics-2a-heart-of-mindfulness.html



Monday, 16 November 2020

#766 BASICS #1: Recognizing the Need for a Qualitative Shift

      Welcome to a new series on my humble ideas of the basic principles or premises of learning to become more mindful. 

     It seems we as individuals, and industrialized societies, are becoming busier & busier. Does this mean that we and our human race are becoming proportionately more deeply happy, healthy, fulfilled & whole? Does working harder & longer, becoming more specialized, ie doing more & more of the same bring about what we need?
      Actually, rates of anxiety, depression, cynicism, drug-abuse/addictions, burnout & suicide are markedly increasing, with endless wars/conflicts, misogyny, racism, mass migration of refugees, hunger/starvation (all while we in 'developed' countries waste ~33% of our food), rising numbers of dictatorships / elected dictator-wannabe's, & escalating decimation of all living species / forests / air / water / Arctic sea ice. So yes, we are busier & busier - making ourselves & each other suffer.

      "The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants." Omar Bradley, American World War II field commander

      “We are no longer in a period of history when the inner journey is solely about our own liberation: it is about taking part in a global shift in consciousness. It is about preparing us to act, with compassion, on behalf of this planet and the beings around us.
      My prayer for this world is that we find meaning & purpose in uprooting the deeper causes of our earth’s environmental malaise — the inner causes of aggression, greed & delusion — and train in establishing the deeper causes of peace & sustainable living — compassion, kindness, contentment & wisdom. I believe everyone on this earth is capable of finding the courage to go the distance.”
Lama Willa Miller

     “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.” Albert Einstein

     When we become "just wise enough to know that we know nothing, when we've reached the pinnacle of success – the highest position possible for us – but find ourselves alone, unrelated, our life meaningless. … When our ‘reality function’ – the feet-on-the-ground’ ability – is threatened, an encounter with the dark side … is the corrective.
     This is a terrible moment in the life of an intelligent man (or woman). He now sees that his level of consciousness, his perspective on life, will not support him. He has explored discipline and self-consciousness only to find them a dead end. This exploration is absolutely essential in one’s evolution, and the man who has not trodden that road is not eligible for the moment of despair that is also the moment of redemption and enlightenment. This is the midlife crisis, the mute suffering of existential man, the dark night of the soul. This is the experience of the intelligent man, the heroic man, the one who has reached the goal of modern consciousness. This is what happens when you reach the top of the ladder only to find that it was set up against the wrong wall. It is the very best man (or woman) who suffers this Hamlet crisis. Lesser men (or women) take refuge in guilt at their inadequacy, or blame their environment, or find yet another set of windmills to vanquish – anything but face the terror of seeing that (their current) consciousness is not bearable, no matter how finely developed it is.
     It is a compliment of the highest order when a man finds that he cannot go farther and that his life is an irredeemable tragedy. His ego consciousness is stalemated, and this stalemate is the only medicine that will drive him out of the Hamlet tragedy and inspire him into a new consciousness.
     A fault of this magnitude cannot be repaired, but can be healed only by finding a whole new level of consciousness from which to function.
     … the ego-centered man fails; (one) who learns a center of gravity greater than himself, redeems that failure. If one were a genius the process would be inspirational, but for most of us it is experienced as the torture at the end of the rope. This divine/hellish point is the critical moment that can make or break the rest of a man’s life.”

      Robert A. Johnson. “Transformation. Understanding the Three Levels of Masculine Consciousness.” HarperOne, 1991.

     The option to make this qualitative shift in consciousness comes about when it finally dawns on us that we EITHER remain stuck, frustrated, getting nowhere - OR - we intentionally start becoming wiser individuals & societies. One way of doing the latter is by seriously practicing mindfulness.

      “The easy path of aging is to become a thick-skinned, unbudging curmudgeon, a battle-axe. To grow soft and sweet is the harder way.”
James Hillman

 

www.BuddhaDoodles.shop


Thursday, 30 July 2020

#765 From Fear & Suffering - to - Love & Joy

     “Wisdom is deep understanding and practical skill in the central issues of life, especially existential and spiritual issues.
      Existential issues are those crucial and universal concerns all of us face simply because we are human. They include finding meaning and purpose in our lives; managing relationships and aloneness; acknowledging our limits and smallness in a universe vast beyond comprehension; living in inevitable uncertainty and mystery; and dealing with sickness, suffering, and death. A person who has developed deep insights into these issues – and skills for dealing with them – is wise indeed.
      Visionary wisdom sees that conventional ways of living are rife with suffering. Practical wisdom begins when a person recognizes there must be a better way to live and commits to finding it. The quest to awaken begins.
      Wisdom recognizes the awesome power of the mind to both create and cloud our experience, to produce ecstasy and suffering, and to learn or stagnate. Once you appreciate the all-consuming power of the mind, learning how your mind works and how to train it become vital goals.”
     Roger Walsh. “Essential Spirituality. The 7 Central Practices to Awaken Heart and Mind.” John Wiley & Sons Inc, 1999.

     "Our unwillingness to turn towards & relate kindly to negative mind states causes suffering." Bill Morgan
   “Our suffering is caused by holding on to how things might have been, should have been, could have been.” Stephen Levine
 
    "... investigate how resistance turns pain into suffering, the unpleasant into the unbearable." Stephen Levine

      “Our intelligence and dignity themselves are developed by our being alive for everything, including the mundane anguish of our lives. Just our awareness of our sensations, of our experience, with no object or idea in mind, is the practice of not preferring any particular state of mind. Intimacy with our activity and the objects around us connects us deeply to our lives. This connection – to the earth, our bodies, our sense impressions, our creative energies, our feelings, other people – is the only way I know of to alleviate suffering. To me, our awareness of these things without preference is a meditation that synchronizes body and mind. This synchronization, the experience of deep integrity, of being all of a piece, is a very deep healing. It is unconventional to value such a subtle experience. It is not encouraged in our culture. We’re much more apt to strive to feel special, uniquely talented, particularly loved. It’s extraordinary to be willing to live an ordinary life, to be fully alive for the laundry, to be present for the dishes. We overlook these everyday connections to our lives, waiting for the Big Event.
      Because our conditioning to avoid unpleasantness, the hardest thing may not be bearing the unpleasant experiences we have so much as learning how to experience the details of our suffering so thoroughly that ‘suffering,’ ‘stress,’ and ‘pain’ lose their distinctive character
and just become our lives, and rich lives at that.”
      Darlene Cohen. “Turning Suffering Inside Out: A Zen Approach to Living with Physical and Emotional Pain.” Shambhala, 2002.


“If this world is to be healed through human efforts,
I am convinced it will be by ordinary people
whose love for life is even greater than their fear." Joanna Macy

      Joanna Macy “discovered that when people opened up to the pain they felt for the world, they began to sense a deeper connection with life.”

     “Wisdom is deep understanding and practical skill in the central issues of life, especially existential and spiritual issues.
      Existential issues are those crucial and universal concerns all of us face simply because we are human. They include finding meaning and purpose in our lives; managing relationships and aloneness; acknowledging our limits and smallness in a universe vast beyond comprehension; living in inevitable uncertainty and mystery; and dealing with sickness, suffering, and death. A person who has developed deep insights into these issues – and skills for dealing with them – is wise indeed.”
     Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield. “Seeking the Heart of Wisdom. The Path of Insight Meditation.” Shambhala, 2001.


P. Michael Lovas photograph

Monday, 13 July 2020

#764 Awareness and Suffering

     “A psychiatrist told this story: 

     ‘I was interning at a hospital and working with a very depressed young man. Certainly drug therapy was called for, but I wanted to try something else before prescribing pills. I listened attentively to his story. He was very good at detailing his depression and spoke clearly, with a level of understanding that suggested he had been in therapy before, which he had.
     When he finished speaking, I said, ‘Is the person telling me this story of depression himself depressed?’

     The young man just stared at me.

     ‘Think about your depression, and then notice if the you that is thinking about your depression is also depressed.’

     He closed his eyes and sought an honest answer to my question.

     ‘No,’ he said. ‘He’s not.’

     ‘He’s not? Who is he?’

     ‘Me,’ he said, ‘I’m not. I mean the me that was telling you about my depression wasn’t depressed, but was just telling you about another me that was, that is, depressed.’


     ‘Great,’ I said. ‘Let’s use the you who isn’t depressed to help the you who is depressed.’


     His eyes grew wide, and he smiled with a mixture of surprise and joy. He was ready to get well.

… The ‘I’ that notices sadness or depression is not sad or depressed; the ‘I’ that notices joy or guilt, hunger or lust, isn’t actually feeling any of these states. This ‘I’ is witnessing everything but isn’t caught up in anything.”

       Rami Shapiro. “Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent. Sacred Teachings – Annotated & Explained.” SkyLight Paths, 2013.


      “Awareness and meditation are, for me, fundamental to the deep change that is necessary for healing. Chronic illness is a way of life as well as, perhaps even more than, a disease entity. Before we can be free of the symptoms of illness and the role of the sick person, we need to know what has precipitated those symptoms, and how we are responding to our sickness. We need to recognize in our own lives the psychological, biological, and sociological factors that may affect our health.
      Awareness allows us to see where we are; to stand for a moment outside ourselves; to appreciate in a powerful, personal way, how the world around us affects us; to observe the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise in us. Meditation is a state of moment-to-moment awareness that over time may help to dissolve physical symptoms and habitual ways of thinking and acting. Both awareness and meditation enable us to experience the way our mind may limit or free us. Together they prepare us to use our mind to make the deep changes in thought, feeling, and action that are necessary for our healing.” James S. Gordon MD
        McCabe Ruf, K, Mackenzie ER. "The Role of Mindfulness in Healthcare Reform: A Policy Paper." Explore (NY) 2009; 5(6): 313-23. 

     “Because noting states of mind as they arise keep us present, it allows us to meet difficulties at their inception – before they become more real than we are."
       Stephen Levine, “A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as if it Were Your Last.” 

     “The only service you can do for anyone (including yourself) is to remind them of their true nature.” Stephen Levine


Saturday, 21 March 2020

#763 Overview of Meditation PRACTICE

     Our life, at times, appears to be under control - "I've got this!" Though we more-or-less sleep-walk through life, "doing things half-assed," we assume we're smart enough to get away with it. We're self-absorbed, lost in youthful naivete, (imagined) power & bright future. At this level of unconsciousness, we're not interested meditation at all. For a variety reasons, some of us remain at this level of maturity.

     As the years roll on, some of us are forced to learn hard lessons, become more humble, recognize how minimal our ability is to control life, and start searching for a deeper, more reliable form of happiness that's independent of conditions. Meditation now becomes more relevant.

     NOW the entire world is in turmoil: Covid 19 crisis / financial meltdown / climate crisis / direct or proxy warfare / refugee crises. "Normal" times have evaporated, possibly forever. It's time to wake up & engage with life CONSCIOUSLY, WISELY. 
     Einstein said that we can't solve a mess with the same level of consciousness as the one with which we caused it. We MUST evolve / mature to a higher level of consciousness. Now meditation practice is a vital asset.

     The various mindfulness meditation (MBSR) practices all have us concentrate our awareness on an object of meditation, in real time. The physically-felt details of our object of meditation (eg breath in our belly) are to completely fill our awareness. No part of our awareness should remain with which to be anxious, sad, to obsess, or daydream. Stable, one-pointed concentration - absorbed only on one "object" in silence & stillness (without metal chatter, without physical / emotional restlessness), in and of itself, feels pleasant & can therefore be effortlessly maintained. Profound mental rest & therefore stress relief are relatively easily & quickly obtainable.
     But initially, we ALL behave according to our lifelong training - unconsciously follow our deeply conditioned habits. So we follow the instructions in a "half-assed" way, "just going through the motions," remaining lost in our trance: self-talk about "the story of me," continuing to catastrophize, wallow, or daydream. Then we quickly jump to self-judgment & want to quit meditation "because we're no good at it."
     Our greatest obstacles are: 1) Lack of practice,  2) Impatience, & 3) Expecting dramatic results.
     1) A regular daily meditation PRACTICE must be established to replace our old outdated conditioning with new more appropriate conditioning / training. The more we practice wisely, the better we become at it. Without this disciplined approach, we derive ZERO benefits, no matter how much we read & talk about meditation. As with skiing, tennis or golf, we improve in direct proportion to the quality & quantity of our practice.
     2) IF we PATIENTLY persevere, and accept our old conditioning (untrained, distracted mind), treat ourselves with incredible patience, gentleness & kindness - holding ourselves in safety & unconditional love - carefully following the meditation instructions - zooming in on the details with curiosity, we WILL INEVITABLY SUCCEED. 
     Our mind is the organ of change. Wise, consistent training invariably transforms our mind to work FOR us (instead of against us). We will turn our life right around. From feeling helpless, vulnerable & needy, we gradually shift to embody the source of safety & unconditional love first for ourselves, and subsequently for others. 
     3) When we stabilize our awareness on a physical sensation (even for 10 seconds), we release our habitual shallow level of consciousness ("noisy ego") and become our deeper intelligence, experiencing peace, stillness & silence. The first few times, we tend to get either bored or all excited and so pop right back up to the shallows & start blabbering to ourselves, which of course immediately ends the experience. 
     If we expect meditation to deliver fireworks & levitation, we might actually overlook the subtle quality of profound peace, stillness & silence, and judge it boring, a waste of time! 
     If however we have suffered, or are now suffering from a lot of emotional anguish, then experiencing profound peace, stillness & silence will feel absolutely heavenly. Gradually, we do learn to feel comfortable & stabilize in this profoundly peaceful, still, silent, loving space of deep intelligence where we are deeply connected to, engaged, intimate with ourselves, others, the environment, life itself: http://www.johnlovas.com/2020/03/appreciating-subtle.html

     Let us PRACTICE regularly, wisely, patiently, kindly every day, formally and informally. We've created a desperate mess with our noisy ego. Now we must clean up this hot mess, but can only do so by embodying our deep intelligence. We know how; we can do it!