Sunday, April 25, 2010

5 Meditation Tips

I've been slowly working my way through an audiobook by Cheri Huber called Unconditional Self-Acceptance.  I've just listened to a section where she gives a few meditation tips.  I think these are pretty unusual tips - I love them!

1.    Realise that the voice in your head that purports to be an expert on meditation and how you should do it, is not an expert on meditation – or anything else. That voice is part of the survival system that we’ve been looking at, it’s often that internalised critic or judge that there’s to tell you how you should be and what you should do, and what you should know.  It presents itself and an authority so that you will pay attention to it as you did when you were a small child.  You’re no longer a small child, and that voice has no useful information.  In fact, another sub tip I’d offer – any voice that’s not speaking to you with compassion has no information that will be helpful to you.

2.    Only ego sets standards and makes contest for you to fail.  And that goes with no 3...

3.    Your heart, or whatever you want to call ‘that’ which draws you toward the work of awareness, wants you to succeed, and always communicates with you compassionately.

4.    It is always good to do more than ego says you can, and less than ego says you should.  (Note: By ‘ego’ Cheri usually means that critical voice in the mind).

5.    Enlightenment is not more important than kindness, and, in fact, you can’t have one without the other.

I really like how Cheri communicates ideas so clearly and simply: 'Any voice that's not speaking to you with compassion has no information that will be helpful to you.'  You just can't say it more clearly than that! 

I've found that concept to be so helpful over the past week.  As I lie in bed, often too exhausted to think clearly or meditate, I just notice voices drifting in and out of my mind and my question to them is: 'Is that a kind thought?'  I just note 'yes' or 'no'... and let the thought move on.  I'm focusing on noticing - not trying to fix or change the  'bad' thoughts. It's been a wonderfully simple practice for me.

Today's artwork is an original painting by Etsy artist Tomato Tomahto.  She makes beautiful artworks, often accompanied by bible verse.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Your name is safe in their mouth.

A few months ago I signed up to get a daily Peace Quote from the folks at Living Compassion.  Every evening at around 9pm, a little quote about love, compassion, or peace, pops into my inbox.  Usually they are by famous people - Gandhi, Jesus, or Mother Theresa.  But the quote I found most moving of all was by a young boy, and I thought I'd share it with you:
When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.  (Billy - aged 4)
This made me think of my young nephews, and how much I hoped that they felt their names were safe in my mouth.  And, it also got me thinking about whether my own name was 'safe in my mouth'. It was a very thought-provoking (or perhaps, 'peace-provoking') quote. 

another photo from the Pathways Series by Something Betsy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Wise Break

Today's post is about a particular aspect of the teachings of  Buddhist meditation writer and teacher Tara Brach

One of the themes of Tara's teaching is that, whilst mindfulness is an essential component of meditation practice, sometimes we're not quite ready to be mindful of very difficult feelings and sensations. She teaches that it's important that we build up a field of compassion, and caring, before attempting to be fully mindful of strong emotions such as fear, terror, despair, or grief. 

I've heard her say in interviews that when meditation practice first became popular in the West about 40 years ago, people were often taught they had to just sit with whatever 'came up' in meditation - and that this would be of benefit eventually.  She said that slowly, teachers in the West realised that these instructions were actually exacerbating some people's suffering. 

In an interview with Sounds True, Tara said:
"When there has been trauma, a lot of meditations cause people to get re-traumatized. Especially in the early days, I would say in all of the Buddhist traditions, people would come and the instructions would be kind of Rumi's 'Guest House': open the doors and invite in all the demons and bring mindfulness.

If there is a lot of trauma and you open the door to it, and you don't have the resilience and the space and the stability, you are just rerunning the same trauma through -  and without anything added it is re-traumatizing.
So that was the kind of innocent but ignorant beginnings of meditation in this country. Not recognizing that some people with trauma would not benefit by directly going into mindfulness practice. And instead they needed more building affect tolerance, or building a capacity of 'be with.'"

Here's a quote from a podcast Tara gave called Awakening to the Sacred. I think this quote is particularly relevant to those of us with physical pain.

"I want to again say, that sometimes it’s too much to stay.  There’s nothing noble about strong-arming ourselves; to steal ourselves to endure.  It’s just not wise. 

So there’s kind of a compassion that knows, OK, be with what’s here, but that sometimes it’s just too much and we’re really thrown off balance by it.  So we take a break.

A wise break is just very mindfully saying ‘OK, it’s too much right now,’ and walking or having tea, or taking the Aspirin if we need it – just  in some way being with ourselves in a way that gives us relief."

I'd love to hear your insights and opinions on this topic.  When is it good to take a break?  How have you learnt to sit with pain?  It's a fascinating aspect of meditation practice!

To finish, a beautiful photograph from an Etsy store (my latest addiction!) called Something Betsy.  I found this little store yesterday and asked Betsy if I could put a few of her photos into my blog posts. She has a group of photos called the 'Pathways Series' - which I thought was very appropriate for a meditation blog!

Here's one taken in Alaska, called 'Where We Were.'

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tricycle Events

The Buddhist website Tricycle, (which accompanies the Tricycle magazine), often some has engaging and interactive on-line events. At the moment they're running two programs that sound really interesting. 

On April 19th, Allan Lokos will be leading members of the Tricycle Community Book Club in an on-line discussion of his book, Pocket Peace: Effective Practices for Enlightened Living. Allan is the founder and guiding teacher of the Community Meditation Center in New York City.

Audio readings from the text will supplement the discussion.  If you want to be part of this, it's free - just head on over to Tricycle and join up with their book club. 

The other event is a four part video 'retreat' with Buddhist writer Stephen Batchelor.  There's an  interview with Stephen in the latest issue of Tricycle. He's a contemporary Buddhist teacher and writer, best known for his secular or agnostic approach to Buddhism. 

To get access to this retreat and other retreats held during the year (as well as a subscription to the  Tricycle Magazine) you have to become a sustaining member of Tricycle.  This costs $30.  (Seems like a very reasonable amount to me - I thought it would be a lot more than that!)

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Chronic Meditator vs The Voices II

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about seeing many of the negative, critical, voices that I have in my head, but not knowing how to deal with them.

In that post, it was me and my bear against a truck-load of  internal negativity.  Now a bear is a mighty fine thing to have on hand when a tonne of negativity is hurtling towards you, but my bear is pretty small, and that truck was pretty big, so I went in search of something (anything!) else that might help.

I've been reading a lot of Cheri Huber's books lately, and got to a section in her book The Fear Book where she writes about becoming a mentor to ourselves:
If we can become for ourselves the mentor we always wished we had, then everything in life becomes an exciting adventure. We can do all those things we've always wanted to do but convinced ourselves we couldn't do.  We can live our lives in the company of someone who really loves us and cares about us and supports us in our natural eagerness to grow and in our intelligence about how to do that.  

If we look at life as an opportunity to end our suffering, as an opportunity to embrace and heal all that has happened to us, out attention moves AWAY from trying to fix ourselves, and TOWARDS being with ourselves as we live our daily lives.
I wasn't too sure my life could ever become an 'exciting adventure,' but the word 'mentor' struck a chord.  I could see it offered a different way of relating to myself.

I had my first chance to try a bit of mentoring last weekend, when I packed up and moved out of a share-house I was living in.  (I wrote about my difficulties with my house-mate, Alison, a few posts ago).   

My lovely dad came to help me pack up and move out of the house and as I put my last bag into his ute I pumped my fists in the air and sang a few bars of Born Free...'free as the wind to not have someone worrying I would burn down their house or poison their dog...' My dad and I had a good laugh. 'Whatever you do, don't run down her bloody dog so close to your escape!' he told me, as I backed out of her drive-way. 

On the way back to my parent's farm I had to stop off in a chemist and get a prescription filled.  As I sat waiting I suddenly realised how angry and frustrated I was at Alison. My exhilaration at being freed abated as I thought about beleaguered and harangued I'd felt around her. 

While I waited in the chemist chair I rehearsed in my mind the things I wanted to tell her. I imagined myself trying to talk to her over the phone, or writing her a letter explaining how it was her behaviour that had led to me leaving the house. I imagined myself yelling at her, swearing at her, telling her she was a crazy, neurotic, prissy cow. 

Finally I stopped myself. 'What do you want?' I asked. 'I really want her to understand how much she's hurt me,' was the answer. 

The truth in that moment was that I felt hurt, and I felt that Alison was a prissy cow and had hurt me. I could think that I 'shouldn't' feel that way, but I still felt it.

So, again, I asked myself, 'what do you want?' and again I answered, 'I want her to understand how I'm feeling.'  I realised that whilst she could probably never understand how I was feeling - I could. I could listen to how I was feeling and try to be with my own feelings.  I could try to mentor myself. 

As I sat waiting for my script I tried this out.  As soon as a voice came up in my head saying, 'I'm so annoyed with her...why couldn't she just be more rational?' I'd respond by saying something like, 'wow...yes, it sounds like a really tough situation.  That's hard to feel like you've got no choice but to move out of a house. Hmmm....really hard.'

For the next ten minutes I sat there just giving supportive, mentoring feedback to any thought or feeling I had.

'Hmmm...anger, lots of anger in my stomach. That's not such a nice feeling - I'm really sorry that I'm feeling that way.' If I had a thought that I'd done something wrong in handling the situation with Alison I'd respond by saying, 'I can't think of anything more I could have done.  I've lived in share-houses for twenty years and I've never had a problem like this, so, I don't think it's anything I have to worry about.'

Of course, a voice in my head interrupted constantly to explain how completely childish, self-absorbed, non-spiritual and just plain WRONG all this mentoring was...and how plain WRONG I was to have been unable to handle the situation with Alison, but I kept going.  I  just allowed myself to be with whatever feeling I was having.

I left the chemist feeling a lot calmer, and a lot more listened to. I realised I absolutely did not need Alison to listen to me - what I needed to do was to listen to, and mentor,  myself. 

In the middle of writing this post I took a break to sit down at the piano and play one of my favorite songs, In My Mind I'm Going to Carolina. It struck me how appropriate some of the lyrics were to what I was writing about, so I'll finish up with these words from James Taylor: 
There ain't no doubt in no ones mind
That love's the finest thing around
Whisper something soft and kind...

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