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Posts Tagged ‘pema chodron’

Excerpt from The Places that Scare You:  A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

“As we train in the bodhichitta practices, we gradually feel more joy, the joy that comes from a growign appreciation of our basic goodness.  We still experience strong conflicting emotions, we still experience the illusion of separateness, but there’s a fundamental openness that we begin to trust.  This trust in our fresh, unbiased nature brings us unlimited you — a happiness that’s completely devoid of clinging and craving.  This is the joy of happiness without a hangover.

How do we cultivate the conditions for joy to expand?  We train in staying present.  In sitting meditation, we train in mindfulness and maitri:  in being steadfast with our bodies, our emotions, our thoughts.  We stay with our own little plot of earth and trust that it can be cultivated, that cultivation will bring it to its full potential.  Even though it’s full of rocks and the soil is dry, we begin to plow this plot of patience.  We let the process evolve naturally. . . 

A traditional aspiration for awakening appreciation and joy is “May I and others never be separated from the great happiness that is devoid of suffering.”  This refers to always abiding in the wide-open, unbiased nature of our minds — to connecting with the inner strength and basic goodness.  To do this, however, we start with conditioned examples of good fortune such as health, basic intelligence, a supportive environment — the fortunate conditions that constitute a precious human birth.  For the awakening warrior, the greatest advantage is to find ourselves in a time when it is possible to hear and practice the bodhichitta teachings.  We are doubly blessed if we have a spiritual friend — a more accomplished warrior — to guide us. . . 

Whenever we get caught, it’s helpful to remember the teachings — to recall that suffering is the result of an aggressive mind.  Even slight irritation causes us pain when we indulge in it.  This is the time to ask, “Why am I doing this to myself again?” Contemplating the causes of suffering right on the spot empowers us.  We begin to recognize that we have what it takes to cut through our habit of eating poison.  Even if it takes the rest of our lives, nevertheless, we can do it.”

I am grateful to Pema Chodron and her teachings.  There have been times in my life where I feel like I survived by listening to her voice, playing audiobooks again and again, finding comfort and wise words that helped me to hold my seat despite what was going on in my interior and exterior worlds.

My practices and my life have been informed by Pema Chodron’s teachings and our world is truly better for having had her wisdom and her devotion to teaching the Dharma and for continuing Chogyam Trungpa’s teachings for so long.

May Ani Pema be blessed with long life, health, great compassion, and love.  And may she be here for a long time to help guide us through that what scares us and remind us that are shenpa is showing!

With great devotion and gratitude, Jennifer

Related Video Links

http://www.veoh.com/watch/v471374rScnEhqA — Bill Moyer and Pema Chodron

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DafQYGo3Zkc&feature=relmfu — Pema Chodron on Bodhichitta

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFuotEZxPCA&feature=relmfu  — Pema Chodron on Bodhichitta Intention

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGrPz9fQWI8&feature=relmfu — Pema Chodron on Working with “Shenpa”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ID5GSnmCNOA&feature=related — Pema Chodron on Gempo Abbey

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buTrsK_ZkvA&feature=related — Pema Chodron on “This Lousy World”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7kFvETUT3s&feature=relmfu — Pema Chodron on “Dunzie”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3sPGxurY-w&feature=relmfu — Common Tacits of Aggression

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“There is no reason for us to huff and puff,” he (Thanissaro Bhikkhu) says, “when we can just breathe.” Finding pleasure in our meditation practice is essential if we are to continue sitting with any regularity. So, with book in hand, sit back, pay attention, and breathe!” ~~ from James Shaheen in Commit to Sit.

 

I can remember the first time I sat for a full day.  Wow.  What torture I put myself through.  I had been meditating for some time already and thought I was ready to sit with a group.

I was nervous about being there.  I was looking for a community.  Looking for instruction.  Looking for a place to belong.

Maybe that was a lot to ask for.

I think that it was a daylong retreat and we started with a short session the night before.  I had driven 3 hours to get there.  Had to find a hotel and check in.  Find the center.  And then deal with my nervousness.

What was it going to be like?  I knew about this tradition but not about the topic of the retreat.  Was I going to be able to handle it being with strangers?

I remember being a few hours into the meditations the next morning and I had so much pain. . . my back, my shoulders, my neck. . . I had never experienced that at home.  I didn’t see then that I was trying so hard.  I wanted to be the perfect meditator.

Think about what the instructions are… sit down, get comfortable, relax, keep a straight back with an open heart, and follow your breathing… what could be more simple?

But no… not me… (does this sound familiar) I had to do it right.  Maybe they would like me or talk to me during the breaks if I did it right.  Maybe they would see I had mastery over all this. . .

A round of walking meditation and creaky cold feet on an even creakier wooden floor.  Could I be any more self-conscious rather than being present?

Oh no, the bell was invited again and I have to go sit on that cushion again.  How am I going to get through the next 45 minutes?  It seems like it will never end.  Time seems to creep along . . . I notice every twitch, itch, and sigh. . . but not my breath.

And when I do realize that I’m not focusing in on my breath, I start to beat myself up for it, or pity myself, or feel defeated and alone.

All that from just being asked to sit and watch my breath. . . but isn’t that what we do?  We create so much drama and cast ourselves as every part in the play.

I think about this experience in relation to my work with grieving people and to my own grief.

When we grieve, we are simply loving. . . just like when we meditate we are simply breathing. . .

We are loving the person who is no longer in the room with us. . . no longer there to hold, to talk to, to ask advice from, to worry about, and everything else that we do when we are in a relationship with someone we love.

There is a fundamental simplicity about grieving.  And we add so much more to it.  We add a lot of huffing and puffing as Shaheen relates in his writing above.

We don’t show ourselves a lot of mercy.  We push away the feelings.  We tell ourselves we’re fine.  We put on a brave face.

We tell ourselves to be strong for everyone else around us when it is at this exact moment that we should be softening our hearts, our gaze, our minds to the powerful thoughts, feelings, and sensations that accompany our grief.

I wonder what it would be like, in our grief, if we had someone like Tara Brach or Pema Chodron to say to us, sit down, relax, open your heart, breathe, and be present to it? This is what Stephen and Ondrea Levine have done for over 30 years.

If we sat on that cushion with our grief, our missing that person, our broken heart, our bittersweet memories, do you think we could get past the thoughts of doing it right in the eyes of others?

Do you think we could allow some ease to come over us, with time and practice so that we didn’t have the achiness that I experienced during my first daylong retreat?

I wonder if we sat with our grief, setting a timer so that we had a container of time to sit in, and gave ourselves time to sit with our breath, if we could allow memories, feelings, storylines, to come. . .

Could we get to a point where rather than grasping to the past, the minute to minute details of our relationship with that person, could we allow those details to come up for us, wave a friendly hello at them, and allow them to pass without clinging on to them as if it was the last time we would ever be able to experience them?

I think that would be a session I would like to try and sit and I am wondering what about you?  Would you try to sit on your cushion, tall, with an open heart and straight back?  I am sure that we would start off with achy muscles, crackling joints, puffy eyes, and a stuffy nose. . . but what if we could sit through that. . . what would be there on the cushion for us?

Would we maybe come to find unconditional friendliness and lovingkindness for myself and for all people who were hurting and missing someone?

I wonder if, when you or I find ourselves in the midst of grief again if we can sit and breathe, be present and learn to relax the strained breathing and grasping to find our true nature . . . .

*Photo of meditation cushions from Samadhi Cushions website  http://www.samadhicushions.com/Gomden_Standard_Meditation_Cushion_p/c-500.htm

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Upaya Institute and Zen Center

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The painful thing is that when we buy into disapproval, we are practicing disapproval. When we buy into harshness, we are practicing harshness. The more we do it, the stronger these qualities become. How sad it is that we become so expert at causing harm to ourselves and others. The trick then is to practice gentleness and letting go. We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal.”
~~ Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

For me, the hardest thing to do is to practice the “not is”.

What the heck does that mean?

It means, for me, it is hard to be compassionate when I don’t see or feel compassion going on around me.

It means it’s hard for me to feel motivated, inspired, and creative when I feel like creativity is discouraged and hampered.

I don’t feel like I am odd with this.  I bet you are even shaking your head to a certain extent.

But, let’s face it, we wouldn’t have to practice if this came as second nature.

If someone said, Hey, be loving when there’s no love around, and poof, we could do it, well, would we need metta mediation?

For me, it’s being lazy… spiritually and existentially lazy.

When I had migraines daily for 3 years, when I moved somewhere I felt exiled to for 5 years, when I did work that I found uninspiring, I took the “easy way out”.  I say that tongue in cheek because it didn’t feel like the easy way out.  It didn’t feel sloppy or lazy or anything like it.  It felt like some sort of surrender because some days, I didn’t “give a care” (exchange care for expletive).

I gave into the path of least resistance, sometimes for survival, other times because I just didn’t give a damn.

But when I practice the path of least resistance… hold on, that sounds to active… when I live the path of least resistance, my world falls apart and it is a world that I don’t want to be truly alive in.

It is only when I face what scares me, start where I am with what I have, and practice staying that I find that I am inhabiting a world where I am connected with all and care about all.

Three years ago, I found myself in a situation that felt hopeless and I adopted some hopelessness and then added a layer of learned helplessness on top of it.

I gave up my practice of mindfulness because I didn’t feel supported by those around me.  No one would understand.  No one would also practice or remind me of my shenpa or my lack of mindful awareness.

I closed off my heart to hide from the pain that I felt when I looked out.

I allowed myself to stop seeking creative solutions for the problems I saw around me.

But you know what it got me?

I was more isolated.  I had a heart that was walled off but was still aching.  I was still hip deep in problems and ear deep in feeling like there was no way out.

Now, to be honest. . . I haven’t just come off of 10+ days of horrific pain.  I haven’t come out of a whole day of staffings that made me want to poke my eyes out.  And I have been quite blessed recently with good news and supportive, faithful friends letting me know how loved I am.  So, if any of those things were going on, I might not be able to say all this.  That’s part of chronic pain — whether it is mental, physical, or existential.

Isn’t this the very point though?

I’m in the same crappy apartment with a fridge that freezes everything.  I’m in the same crappy job that’s only purpose is insurance and to pay the bills (or to give me money to do what I love).  And I haven’t gotten a new team of friends who are pouring love all over me.  But it’s different.

What’s changed?

I started this blog in December that brought me back in touch with my passion of end-of-life care.

I went out to Upaya Zen Center and was brought back into community and to the Dharma.

I just got hired to teach part-time which has given me another project to devote my heart and soul.

So all journeys, all paths, all lessons start from within; I truly believe that today.  It’s making a choice, even between two lousy choices.

It’s taking a step even if it’s followed by 6 back.

It’s about not giving up.

And it’s about having faith in something.  Not the blind faith that was suggested I have when I was little and in parochial school, but a deep lived bodily experience of knowing that some things are just Right and in some ways Eternal.

For instance, the Eight-Fold Path, to me, is right and eternal in that the buddha shared that with us and beings for generations have practiced it or attempted to practice it and have known that it helped create less suffering in their lives.

I don’t need to follow it blindly.

I have to experience it, live it, try it and that’s it.  Then I am reminded of its validity and its vital place in my life.

The best part?  I get to choose. . .

I can choose to let it all go, to suffer in the silence of my own faulty thinking, the loneliness of pain, and the despair of believing that there is no way out.

I can also choose

For me, the Three Gems, the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma, are both right and eternal in that despite the ever-changing nature of the universe, the Three Gems are always there for me as a touchstone. And it is me that moves away from them, not vice versa.

It is me who decides to hang on tight, to hunker down, to close off, to not believe, not experience, not try, and hold on to all the garbage.

And it is me who decides to practice compassion, to let go, to be at ease with how things are, and to know when to take an active role in making changes.

The whole point in having a spiritual practice is to have a foundation for when things work and when things don’t work

— To learn from the blessings and the curses and to have the all-encompassing vastness of equanimity that comes from being present and not pushing away.

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Cover of "Meditation in a New York Minute...

Cover via Amazon

I have a former client that I saw not too long ago.  He’s on a journey, like all of us, and has many of the same stuck places we have.  I listened while he told me that he didn’t have time . . .

No time at all.

No patience.

Meditation doesn’t work.

What’s the point, etc.

It reminded me that he was the kind of person who wasn’t going to be interested in the sweet calm of Thich Nhat Hanh or the empowered feminine wisdom of teachers like Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, or Roshi Joan Halifax.

He was a scientist and this whole thing was well, woo woo and hog wash.

What might, I got to thinking, as even MBSR was shot down as a suggestion was Mark Thornton’s Meditation in a New York Minute:  Super Calm for the Super Busy.

I’ve listened to the audiobook a few times.  At first “glance”, listening to it on my commute to hospice, I used to think it was technique-y.

He was young, a corporate-type, and addressed the matter of meditation like a professional speaker.

Hmmmm, sounds like just a different shade of “I’m too busy, I know better”, etc.

This former client, this scientist, this closed-hearted person gave me a gift.  He was a wise teacher that brought me back to this audiobook with a new awareness.  Wise in the way that Pema Chodron talks about in our troublemaker teachers.

I am still not sure that this will go on my top 10 list, but Mark’s straight forwardness that probably works in corporate America, cut through some things for me.  I would suggest the book or audio for anyone who has said, I want less stress, I want calm, but just can’t get started.

I learned new things when I listened to it again this time.

I plan to share some of his work because I think that, especially if you aren’t interested in a spiritual path, this words and techniques can be really helpful.

So, at least for today, this is what I will share:

Mark’s technique for teaching meditation is simple.  Start off small and allow your embodied awareness to be fostered during mini breaks throughout the day.

No one said it has to be one hour …

60 consecutive minutes …

it can be 60 seconds now, 10 minutes later, 2 minutes later . . .

Think of it as if they were talking about getting your steps in.. you “should have” X-amount of steps every day or X-minutes of exercise every day.  But, they find that 5 minutes now, then, later, etc is still effective.  And so can your meditation if you design it this way.

But probably more importantly, Mark shares 8 Laws of Meditation with us:

1.  Relax – they tell you this all the time.  They told me as I began my first All-day sit at the Shambhala Center here in the midwest, but, no, I had to do it perfectly. . . and ended up with pain, stiffness, stress, etc.

I realized the concept of No-Effort when I hooked up to biofeedback and realized that what I was doing as meditation and “relaxation” was stressing my system out more.  It was a lack of teaching; it was that I was not understanding in an embodied way.

2.  Have a sense of playfulness – Lately, I have realized how little playfulness and lightheartedness I have in my life.  Part of that is being away from family and friends that I love.  Part of it living in the middle of no where with nothing that I find fun to do.  Part of it is not allowing myself to experience freedom and expansion.

If I am not doing it in life, you know that it’s not happening on the cushion.  A friend suggested a comedian the other night and I laughed out loud, by myself, for the first time in a long time.  Foster a light touch and a sense of inquisitiveness for the sake of your mental and physical health.

3.  Practice Gentleness — This reminded me that Thay used to talk about holding your hands on your lap as if you had a baby bird or the baby Buddha in your hands.  Gentleness.  But we also practice gentleness in our minds as well.  No screaming and shouting at ourselves when our minds saunter off.  No judgment, just being.

4.  Have an open body – I laughed when I heard this one.  I’ve told mom this for years.  You have greater anxiety and stress when your heart is physically closed off. . . you don’t get enough oxygen and release in your autonomic nervous system.  And your diaphragm doesn’t flow unrestricted.  I laughed because a “professional” told her that this week and it was like it was the first time she’d ever heard that.  (Once a daughter, never a teacher.  LOL)

5.  Build Calm through Attention — As Mark simply put it. . . where your attention goes, so does your energy.  My friend had a problem with some plumbing.  Within little time, she got to a place of, oh good, new paint, no walls, new plumbing. . . not me, I thought, all that expense, all that time off from work, all that noise and dust… yes, this is why I sit and am not yet one with my enlightened self. . . point is, her attention went to the positive and the potential.  And it was a great experience.

6.  Build Calm through Your Intention to drop to your core — Mark defines meditation “as a way to directly experience your heart, moment-to-moment, so that others feel it.”  So Law #6 is about setting your intention to be in your heart-space, allowing yourself to sink down into the essence or core of who you are, rather than to grasp at the discursive mind that we allow to rule our lives.

7.  Maintenance of Calm — How do you maintain calm (or super calm as Mark likes to say?) moment to moment awareness and when you drop away from that and you realize it, drop the storyline and come back to moment to moment awareness.  Huh?

8.  Repetition — And how does this all get tied together?  In the same way you get to Carnegie Hall. . . practice, practice, practice.

What I like about Mark’s audio is that he uses the word mindfulness once or twice only.  He gives us different language, a different way of looking at the practice.  Sometimes teachers use the same words, the same teaching stories, and it doesn’t sink in.  That’s probably why relying on one guru isn’t probably the best way to go and we have many over a lifetime.

His work is not devoid of spirituality, he talks about spiritual masters, quotes Indian texts, but he’s no-nonsense, engaging, and I did get the feeling like I was watching someone who could be on Oprah’s network, cheering us all on.

But let’s face it. . . if you’ve ever meditated you have probably gotten hooked, been judgmental of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and gotten down on yourself.  We don’t all naturally cheerlead ourselves into health and happiness.

So if a cheerleader comes along it’s good if we listen to their pep and cheer.

More to come on Mark’s work. . . let this sink in.  Think about your own practice in these terms and ask if it jives for you.

And if you don’t have a practice, hopefully this will intrigue you enough to want to know more.

Meditation is a way of living.  It’s not to just be picked up when you lose your job, are flattened by pain, exhausted from caregiving, or broken-hearted over loss.  It is a way of living congruently while we learn to foster compassionate attention and intention.

Thank you Mr. TroubleMaker teacher for coming around and getting me to set the intention to go back to this audiobook.

Om Mani Padme Hum.

~~JRS

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Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness t...

Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness techniques can help alleviate anxiety , stress , and depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is a simple to read article by Rick Hanson.

http://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/give-your-head-a-rest-from-thinking

Here is a small excerpt:

When your thought processes are tired, it doesn’t feel good. You’re not relaxed, and probably stressed, which will gradually wear down your body and mood. You’re more likely to make a mistake or a bad decision: studies show that experts have less brain activity than novices when performing tasks; their thoughts are not darting about in unproductive directions. When the mind is ruminating away like the proverbial hamster on a treadmill, the emotional content is usually negative – hassles, threats, issues, problems, and conflicts – and that’s not good for you. Nor is it good for others for you to be preoccupied, tense, or simply fried.”

I really liked this article and would totally use it with caregivers, professional or otherwise.  It’s a skill we can all benefit from in one or or another, in our career and private lives, whether we are young or old.

I sometimes don’t like certain “techniques” because they feel so artificial.  They can seem a bit contrived but what Rick shares here, like much of the mindfulness practice work that is out there from Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Goleman, Tara Brach, Chade-Meng Tan, Susan Bauer-Wu, Daniel Seigel, Jeffrey Brantley, Ronald D. Seigel, and so many more.

Take a second right now and do what Hanson suggests in this article from windmind.org. . . look up from your computer screen and breathe in and as you are breathing out, allow your exhale to be deep and long-lasting, really use the abdominal muscles and allow your whole body to benefit.

I did it as I was reading the article and I noticed a definite shift.  As I exhaled, I realized that my shoulders were sliding down and moving to the place that they were designed to be in, not clear up to my ears.

I noticed a bit of an electrical current and any fleeting bit of anxiety dissipated effortlessly.  And I had a shift in thinking.

Now, it’s easy to do this on a good day — little in the way of demands, pain, stress, etc. . . but the whole point is to do it on this kind of day so that when everything gets fired up — when the anxiety, discomfort, and frustration kick into high gear, that exhale just comes. . .

When we start a “practice”, things feel like a technique.

But they probably felt that way when we were learning to sit with a client or use proper body mechanics by the bedside but as we used the technique, to the point of it being burned into our muscle memory, it shifts from being a technique to a way of being.

And mindfulness is no different.

We practice on good and bad days, despite the weather or what else happens so that no matter what is going on, we can bring about calming the mind/body with the breath and with our mindful attention.

Check out some of the resources that I have linked with the author’s names above in this blog.  They are some extraordinary people bringing mindfulness to different populations and in slightly different ways.

Embrace mindfulness and give your brain (and the rest of your system and being) a much-needed break in this worrisome world.

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“With true calm comes new energy.  The inner quiet engendered by concentration isn’t passive or sluggish; nor is it coldly distant from your experience — it is vital and alive.  It creates a calm infused with energy, alertness, and interest.”

~~ Sharon Salzberg, Happiness

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“I suggest you start by sitting for twenty minutes of meditation three times the first week  — but if you’d rather start with a shorter time and gradually lengthen it, that’s fine.  Decide before each session how long it’s going to be.  (Set an alarm if you’re worried about knowing when the time is up.) … You’ll add one more day of meditation in week two, another in week three, and two in week for, so that by the end of the month, you’ll have established a daily practice…

~~ Sharon Salzberg, Happiness

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