Zen Center

It was the Fall of 1994 and Claire had just returned from a visit to Atlanta where she had been reintroduced to old friends in the Atlanta Soto Zen Center and had spent a few hours meditating there over the weekend. Her description of and enthusiasm for the newly-discovered Zen Center dropped like a hot coal in my mind.
Giana and I had been living in Jesup, Georgia for some five years then, and we had been friends with Claire since she and her husband Neill had moved to Jesup about a year after we did. We had hit it off immediately and become best friends, especially as Claire became our doctor and delivered our daughter, Liana.

We shared lots of interests and values with Claire and Neill, but somehow the topic of Buddhism had never come up –we didn’t talk about religion or spirituality at all as I recall. We were all pretty much socialist and materialist in our life philosophies — one reason we hit it off so well in a small south Georgia town where to express such ideas was a sure path to social ostracism. In fact, in Jesup, the first question you’re most likely to be asked upon being introduced to someone is: Where do you go to church?

So we had become fast friends with Claire and Neill, and no one had ever noticed my half-carved Buddha statue sitting in the living room, nor had my quiet interest in Buddhism ever come up in conversation.
But when Claire told me about re-connecting with a friend from Emory University days who had for several years been leading a Zen meditation center in the Candler Park area of Atlanta, I pointed out my rude sculpture to her and told her of my early Buddhist experiences in Thailand, and my continuing interest in Zen. I think I was in the midst of reading Suzuki Roshi’s little book at the time, and was still trying to sit every now and then, so I was ready for the news that there was somewhere I could go for serious Zen.

And more than ready for someone to share it with. Claire had brought home chant sheets from Zen Center, and she and I began doing little meditation sessions in the under-construction second floor of their house, which I was helping Neill build. Of course, I didn’t journal during much of this, so the details and sequence are pretty cloudy for me now 24 years later. I did write in August of 1993: “…I know clearly that I am on the Path now. Consistent sitting (inspired by Claire’s jump into Zen and the legitimization in Giana’s eyes that Claire gives it) has made me sure of the Buddhism that I embraced those years ago when my Thai friend said, ‘Buddha say, just enough!’”

And it wasn’t long before I went with Claire to Atlanta for a weekend sesshin. That first day in the little Candler Park zendo, October 2, 1993, sitting on those black cushions facing the old granite walls of the converted gas station, is very clear in my memory. I remember the slight apprehension as I removed my shoes in the tiny, quiet foyer formed by old windows with white panes, the smell of the incense, and the black backs of the motionless meditators around the walls as I followed Claire to a vacant cushion.
Settling in to my cushion I remember a deep sense of gratitude and wonder at the opportunity to be there, actually sitting with a group of people doing Zen meditation.

For years, I had assumed that such things only happened in faraway places, and that seven years in a monastery in Japan was pretty much the only model for finding enlightenment. Now here I was in the midst of clearly serious Zen practice, only a few hours from home.
I spent most of that first day with tears rolling down my cheeks as I sat and breathed, walked and chanted. In my journal that night, I wrote: “I have wanted to do this for so long, and despaired of ever having the opportunity, so the reality is very sweet.”

I also discovered the Heart Sutra and quickly came to love it. The group chanting, and later my own chanting of it, seemed to open up meaning in the ancient words that a simple reading of it might not reveal. I had long loved the Buddhist sutras, since my introduction to them in the university class in Kansas City, but this was my first experience with how their use in meditative chanting revealed deeper meanings.

So the Heart Sutra and other chants became a part of my regular practice, one that has held up through the years since as a profound comfort through the difficult times of my life.

I think the most important effect from finding Zen Center and a zen buddy was that I began, really for the first time, consistent sitting. I began sitting on our screen porch, because there I could set up my cushion and a little altar and it wasn’t in anyone’s way — or in anyone’s face. I could pop in, sit for a few minutes, and move on with little wasted time. I was teaching school then, so I had a regular daily schedule and could work in one or two sittings each day fairly easily. I found that even a few minutes in the morning helped my school day — engaging with middle schoolers is not easy — go much more smoothly and I was much less affected by the stress of the job.

Surprisingly, my entry into open Zen practice also proved to be a very positive influence in the development of a better spiritual relationship with my mother.

As I mentioned in the chapter on Daddy and the problems we had surrounding my resistance to the Vietnam War, my mother and I had long been on a close spiritual path in many ways, and she understood my pacifism and the need to part ways with the Air Force. But she never had been able to accept my negative ideas about Christianity and my refusal through the years — despite the brief flirtation with the church in Missouri — to find an adult acceptance of “Jesus as my savior”. My mother’s personal faith was a profoundly spiritual version of Christianity, one that I deeply respected, and she was never a “hide-bound” Christian, to use a term she employed. She would have likely been run out of the southern Baptist church she attended had the folks there known the depth to which her differences with their theology extended, but her faith and love were so strong, shone out so clearly from her great, great soul, that no one ever suspected her heresies.
Because she was able to transcend what she saw as the human limitations in the Christian religion, she thought I should be able to do the same, and we had never quite seen eye-to-eye on any of it, especially as she was so acutely aware of the suffering I experienced without a truly liberating spiritual life.

My formal, open entry into Buddhism, while not what she would have preferred for me, was positive for Mother because it made me a happier and more balanced person. She could see that, and for her that was strong evidence in its favor, despite her differences with the beliefs and practices. So our relationship steadily began to improve and we began to be able to have meaningful discussion about spiritual matters.
Though I didn’t really talk about it a lot, I did “come out” as Buddhist to my family — and eventually to my students — with no negative responses. I even made it through that first Christmas with my siblings at Mom’s house smoothly, despite the fact that some of my siblings are toward the fundamentalist side of the Christian religion.

My wife, Giana, was supportive of all these changes, though she wasn’t too sure about it all, and didn’t have any interest at the time in Buddhism or in taking up the practice of meditation. She was, to my great relief, fine with my going off on weekends with our friend Claire for retreats, and fine with holding meditations in the loft of her pottery shop, even supportive of my setting up meditation areas in the bedroom when it got too cold out on the screen porch for sitting.

The next summer, I went off for a week-long retreat at Southern Dharma, this time by myself, and she was very supportive of that as well.

She was fine with most of it because she too could see that it was good for me. I was easier to get along with and less prone to the depression and anger that plagued me after beginning the regular practice.
But it didn’t fix everything.


(This post also appears here as a Page in the sequential section as 17.)

Ah, just breathe…

One of my old-time meditation buddies – who practiced Tibetan Buddhism and eventually ordained and moved to India – used to say, “Let’s sit and breathe!” when it was time to meditate. I try to always remember that basically, that’s all ya’ gotta know to do this.

The trick in meditation and in success at “taking it off the cushion” is to remember to breathe. Much of the teaching and training done in any style or fashion of meditation involves ways to help us just remember.

Remember to breathe!

Yes, that’s it. Remember to Breathe!  This is in fact the title of  a wonderful web site I have recently discovered. Remember to Breathe is web site dedicated to that proposition, a site that provides as clear and pure an explanation of the process of mindful breathing and its wonders as anything I’ve seen in my long journey. In plain English, without esoteric or technical terms, Don and Jan describe how to approach this process and some great resources to help one along the way.

They also put the whole thing in the context of brain science – in a very understandable way – which makes it clear why — however you come to this, whatever cultural expression you look at — the essential elements are solidly part of the human experience.

With a long background in teaching yoga, breathing, and meditation as well as psychology, art and music, they seem like an amazing resource. Don has been commenting on my blog posts for some time now, and we’ve become online friends, but I just discovered his website – seems he was too modest to mention it in our conversations.

If you’re interesting in learning to meditate or want to improve your practice, this is a site to visit. Remember to Breathe!

Thanks Don!

Gate Gate…

Gate Gate, ParaGate, ParasamGate, Bodhi Svaha.

Doing the dharani this morning during my meditation. A nice round of 108 of those does wonders for one’s stress level. Which I was definitely needing this morning.

The chanting and a few capsules of “Calm the Bitch” and I’m feeling much better! Ah, yes, that’s an herbal blend with an inappropriate name, perhaps, but an effective blend and a perfectly descriptive name!

Not sure exactly what’s in it as it’s a personal blend from our friend Hsin-Hsin, a Chinese Medicine practitioner who manages the herbal pharmacy at East-West College of Natural Medicine. One of her students gave it the name after discovering its power to calm anger and relieve stress. Mostly citrus and a little He Huang Pi (Collective Happiness bark), I think.

But, back to the chanting. It’s the dharani from the Heart Sutra, one I’ve been chanting for nearly 30 years now. Its literal meaning, if such can be assigned to a dharani, is something like: “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond. Enlightenment be praised.” Some English versions include the phrases “gone to the other shore” and “having never left.”

Its real meaning is more in the sound of it than the words, and that sound can be transcendent. Especially if one is immersed in the Heart Sutra itself. But that’s way beyond the scope of this blog entry! Red Pine has a great book on the sutra if you’re interested.

Chanting dharanis or mantras is not something I do much of. It is more like medicine to me than a practice. I use it often when driving to help with the stress of that situation. I don’t think a practice built on daily chanting has the power to bring the kind of liberation, deep and wide liberation, that I see a true meditation practice as capable of bringing. I could be wrong about that, but it seems so to me.

I needed its medicine today, though.

Life has been rather loaded with stress, even anger, lately. I find that dealing with the stress via meditation and herbs is better than living in denial or escape. Much of the social malaise which plagues us nowadays could be laid at the feet of a public who would rather ignore, escape from, or deny social problems.

Much of my stress comes from the deeply sad, wounded nature of the world today. Though I live in this quiet, lovely community, word seeps in of the incomprehensible terror and pain that so many in our world, our sweet and beautiful world, live in. So many of my fellow beings, human and otherwise, find their daily lives surrounded by a hostile world of greed, anger and delusion, a world where these three poisons are taking human form in monstrous ways….

Monstrous ways that seem to threaten the very lives of all of us on so many levels. If it is true, as some propose, that we humans have developed to be the means by which this planet or even the entire cosmos is self-aware, then we are sensitive to all this pain and agony to good purpose. Which is why I think it’s better not to hide from or deny these realities. But it can be unpleasant and stressful, to say the least.

This stress can impact our lives and relationships in many ways. The most difficult thing for me, in trying to live a meditation-based life, is that I find myself in a near-constant state of frustration that cascades into irritation and anger, with an occasional outburst leading to more stress and unpleasant, hurtful feelings for ones I love.

A recent outburst and the fallout from that is a big part of my current need for stress medication! Things are improving greatly today, but the last few days were — well, not so good.

The positive side – the “wisdom side” as the Tibetans say – of this experience has been that it shows me once again how important it is to be consistent and deep and real in my meditation practice. My first Zen teacher always said that his teacher said, “One hour or meditation, one hour of enlightenment.”

Keep sitting.

Or, as that great philosopher Dave Mason said long ago, “Can’t stop worrying about the things we do. Can’t stop loving, without it nothing would seem true.”



Real practice

I missed two days of sitting last week, and there were good, reasonable excuses for it each time, excuses not worth going into.

Because the real reason I don’t sit, when I don’t, goes deeper than these perfectly reasonable circumstantial issues. The real reason I don’t sit is because sitting can be hard. Not in the physical sense really, or even the boredom of which people sometimes complain.

Sitting can be hard because it reveals truth about me that I don’t always want to see.


That’s why a real meditation practice requires more than a cushion, schedules and good intentions. Real practice requires moral courage and unflinching dedication to knowing those truths about oneself that are unflattering, difficult, even painful.


Of course, that is the point. Unlike “McMindfulness” – as David Loy has called superficial practices – a real life practice is not undertaken to make one more productive at work or reduce anxiety in social situations (which it certainly will do), it is part of the heart’s commitment to living one’s life in an authentic way, aligned with the highest aspirations that we humans can generate: to be compassionate to everyone, to contribute to making life meaningful and happy for all, to being all those things we mean when we say “a good person.”

It’s not an easy commitment to make, and it’s not easy to remember that this is why one practices. That’s why daily vows are a good idea, because they keep that promise fresh in our minds.

And it’s not easy to stick with it day after day, because on the cushion we see clearly all those points of deviation from the path over the past day – and in our life in general. We see clearly all those things we’d rather ignore in our relationships, our work, our living.

So if there’s an excuse not to sit, we take it.


Those days we don’t sit, though, do also show us the value of it, even in ways beyond the increased levels of stress and anxiety we may experience. Because if we get back to the cushion soon enough after the missed session, we may see what it was we were really avoiding.

And that’s real practice.


Related Links

My post on McMindfullness.


David Loy of BPF on McMindfullness.


My post on solutions that work for everyone.

Get Smarter, too!

As much as some practitioners – and sometimes I feel the same – would like to say that meditation is only good for spiritual development – liberation -, evidence mounts that it does lots of good things for us.

It may even make you smarter. And help you avoid senile dementia.

Just this morning I’m reading about a  2011 study that shows meditators may increase the volume of the gray matter in the hippocamus. Published by Sara Lazar in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, the study recommends 30 to 40 minutes of meditation daily.

The study is mentioned in an article in a popular magazine (Real Simple) which claims that meditation, as well as several other activities like eating Omega-3, drinking lots of coffee, walking, and learning languages will increase your “brain power” as well as keep the brain healthy and functioning longer into old age. I don’t know what happens if you do all five.

I’m sure these studies on meditation are valid, as the traditional sources of meditation have always said that it’s “good for you” in various ways. But keep in mind that these traditional teachers and texts also warn against making that your reason for meditating.

Trungpa says, “We are not particularly seeking enlightenment or the simple experience of tranquillity — we are trying to get over our deception.” A major part of his teaching was on how to avoid the pitfalls of “spiritual materialism” – practicing for self-improvement, self-aggrandizement. The Zen tradition advises to sit ‘without gaining ideas.’

Zen master Yasutani warned against seeking ‘spiritual visions’. “Don’t squander your energy in the foolish pursuit of the inconsequential,” he said. Ignore them; keep sitting. Perhaps good advice for us who are sometime lost in this flurry of scientific evaluation of meditation.

I think what we in this modern, scientific environment need to realize is that all these various claims for the efficacy of meditation are perhaps true and perhaps desirable, but possibly only attainable if one is not entering into the practice with the goal of self-improvement.

Which certainly fits with the notion that the basic intention in our practice is to lose the illusion, the deception, of self.

A meditation practice fairly entered into – at least in the Buddhist tradition – is aimed at experiencing the truth of existence, the essence of things, because this experience of truth will make one able to function effectively, harmlessly, and compassionately in the world.

Any benefit that flows to one’s own life is considered a side effect.


The hybrid way

I have been wandering in the wilderness for the past year or so.

The antecedents of that journey probably don’t merit a lot of discussion, but suffice it to say, there was a “fatuous concatenation” – a mostly illusory series of circumstances – that led me into abandoning much of my daily meditation practice in the mistaken belief that I had to clarify perfectly what the nature of my practice is before I could really pursue it.

This past weekend, in a meditation retreat with the Red Clay Sangha and teacher Terese Fitzgerald I found new inspiration and assurance that my rather unconventional practice is okay.

Terese, who was ordained by Richard Baker Roshi in Soto Zen and after eight years at Tassajara, went to study with Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village and helped found the Community of Mindful Living with him, calls herself “a hybrid.” In the retreat, we did silent sitting meditation and walking meditation indoors and outdoors, lying down meditation with a guided body scan, chanting and singing, talking, hugging, cleaning, cooking and eating meditation, and probably some other forms that I’ve forgotten.

In her dharma talks, Terese drew from a wide variety of primary and secondary source materials, laughed and joked, and told stories from her own life in expounding the truths of the Buddha’s teachings for our lives. It was all so incredibly wonderful that I’m emotional and tearing up just sitting here remembering and writing about it!

There were a number of deeper insights and stimulating realizations, but the thing I took away from the experience that has put a smile on my face and new life in my time on the cushion these few days since returning is the realization that it is okay for me to be a hybrid too! I have for some time now been in a state of near paralysis practice-wise because I felt I had been such a flit-about, such a butterfly (as they say in Thailand about unfaithfulness) in my practice, going from yoga to Zen to Vipassana, all with many side trips out into Tibetan practices, Engaged Buddhism, Centering Prayer… such a real dharma bum that I had to just cool out for a while and decide what I was.

I truly backed away from everything – though I did try to get on my cushion occasionally and at least do some mindful breathing, and I continued to practice the Lojong – with the thought that I needed to clear my mind and make a choice.

But listening to Terese, sitting with these ideas in the retreat, I realized that I am okay following my own path, in tune with the Buddha’s admonition to be a lamp for your own path. I know that all these different parts of the Buddhist world are helpful and meaningful to me, so I can draw from them all as lights along the path. Since the Zen path is my strongest, deepest groove, the tradition I have taken vows in, it seems I can just rest in that as my primary identification, perhaps for convenience sake, and consider all the other practices and teachings as expanding and confirming my way.

But in my heart, I’m just a hybrid. And I’m very happy with that.

As if in confirmation of this realization, I was reading earlier today an article a friend sent me several days ago, and here, in the Q&A at the end of the article is this:

Q: We have such a richness in the West, but for us as individual practitioners it’s also so tempting to try to do everything, to do a little bit of Vipassana and Dzogchen and everything so it almost becomes a distraction. It’s not so easy. It’s really something that attracts me, but how to deal with it.

A: Every silver cloud has a dark lining! I agree that the downside—the negative side of richness—is a difficulty in choice, and it can lead to a distraction of flitting from one thing to another and that’s one extreme. Another extreme is to say: »I’ll only take this insight and shut everything else out.« But another is to choose a practice—choose an approach that makes sense—but to draw insight and illumination from other places, and that can be a very, very useful thing. I don’t think that that needs to be a cause for too much anxiety.

Tara on Why you want to meditate and don’t…

Tara Mackey, in “My Organic Life,” relates an amazing and wonderful story, and has graciously given me her okay to re-publish it here:

The #1 thing people ask me about after reading my blog is Meditation: they ask about it above my job, above my wellness, above the fact that I am on 0 medications to deal with pain, depression, grief and anxiety.  They ask me about Meditation above the beauty, above the fashion & above the nutrition aspect.  This actually makes me really happy, because absolutely none of the other things would be possible (or were possible) for me without Meditation.

Years and years of pain without mindfulness, of stress without gain, of time spent without tact and of sickness without cure brought me to a place of complete breakdown.  My average workday was spent getting up at 7 a.m., biking to work on an empty stomach, taking 10-12 different kinds of RX pills (none of which were vitamins), begging for 10 mins a half an hour into work to go get a bagel, spending 2 hours at work taking small bites in between other tasks to eat it, and then working on an empty stomach in a dark room with no windows for the next 8-15 hours.  Sometimes I slept there.

My average weekend was spent dragging myself out of bed at 3 in the afternoon, I’d eat one, two, three highly processed meals, take between 11-15 different pills (none of which were vitamins or minerals), go about my day, drink some alcohol at night to fall asleep, wake up the next day and do it over.

The breaking point was a few months after I was off all my meds.  I was sick.  Really, hopelessly, helplessly sick and I’d lay in bed for absolutely hours staring at the ceiling asking Why Me?  Why the hell was I, after all the tragedy and heartache and crap I’d gone through, not getting better when I was trying my damn best to do the right thing?  It occurred to me every once in awhile to just take a Lamictal (some of the worst withdrawals I’ve ever had was coming off this mood stabilizer) to feel better.  Just one wouldn’t hurt me, and then I’d be able to get up and move and speak and function without this terrible weakness, this nausea and headaches and everything looking over saturated.  Just one.

I remember going into the bathroom, opening the cabinet under the sink, and taking out the garbage bag full of Rx bottles that I had thrown together when I decided to come off everything.  It was full not only of pills that did work, but pills I had been prescribed that didn’t work – totaling what added up to almost 90 different bottles.  I kept picking up bottles upon bottles looking for the “Lamotrigine” one.  Valium?  Nope.  Xanax?  Nope.  Fentanyl?  Nope.  Celebrex?  Nope.  Zoloft?  Nope.  Flexeril?  Nope.  I discarded them one by one before I found the Lamictal bottle and emptied two, dust covered pills into my palm.  I filled up a glass of dirty NY tap water and opened my mouth.

And then something truly remarkable happened.

I stopped. 

After about 3 weeks of not taking anything, I realized what I was doing.  That taking “just one” Lamictal wouldn’t be taking just one.  That whenever I REdecided that being a slave to a pill was not what I wanted with my life, I’d be right here again.  Sick, and debating.  In 3 more weeks, or two more months, or 3 more years, this is where I’d be.  Counting the pills in bottles, nauseous as an animal, and hoping I have “the right one” for whatever ailment I was facing that day.  It felt way more helpless and WAY more hopeless than being sick, which I knew was temporary.  Being a slave to a mood stabilizer was LIFE-LONG helplessness.   And I wasn’t ready to accept that in my life.

From here I looked for other ways to cope.  Josh had helped me, truly, through his own meditations.  He’d lay in bed while I was sick and put his hand on my back and concentrate.  Sometimes his energy worked to soothe me, sometimes it didn’t.  Mostly, it didn’t work when I didn’t believe in it.  On the days where I felt impossibly sick, he had absolutely no power to make me feel better.  I designed it this way because I was scared – not only of what would happen if I stayed sick, but the longer I was sick, I started to get scared about what I’d have to do with my life when and if I got better.  This was an especially frightening thought, because I knew that the sort of jobs that I had had in the past had contributed immensely to my illness.


To be honest, I used to think people who Meditated were foolish.  Today, I cannot picture my life without Meditation.  Even though, for me, the practice is very new.  Meditation was not a daily part of my life until the end of 2011, but it has changed me in all of the best ways since.

So why do I find that the people who come to me – even people who come to me earnestly – about wanting to try it, have completely dismissed it a week later?  I’ve compiled some proper excuses that I get:

” I Don’t Have the Time”

This is the most popular excuse that I get, and it’s a fallacy. Saying you don’t have the time to meditate is like saying you don’t have time to fill up your gas tank because you’re too busy driving.  I had to learn, actually, not to get super insulted by this excuse, because the truth is: We all have the same amount of time.  Saying that you don’t have the time implies that do have the time – as in, I must not be busy enough if I can find 30 mins in my day to take care of myself.  The reason that I get anything accomplished with my life is specifically because I take that 30 mins a day to take care of myself.  I’ve had people sit on their computers on Facebook chat for OVER half an hour giving me excuses about why they’re not meditating.  You have the time, you just don’t value it.

” I Don’t Know How “ 

I cannot tell you how many people have come to me and said ” I tried what you said, and it didn’t work.”  or ” I’m no good at silence”  or ” My mind won’t let me” or ” I fall asleep.”  We put a TON of pressure on ourselves to do things the “right way”, and Americans tend to have very linear thinking.  If it doesn’t look like it did in a magazine, if we don’t get immediate results or if it just plain seems too hokey, we don’t give it a real shot.  The most basic, brilliant meditations involve sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing.  I can’t think of anyone I know who cannot do that. :)

” It’s Boring “ 

Well, sure it is.  It’s not an action-packed movie and it’s not Ryan Gosling making googley-eyes at you.  If your mind won’t let you, if you feel like you’re no good or if it didn’t work, or if you fall asleep, you now have all of your reasons to Meditate more.  I bet when you first laid your fingers on a piano, you couldn’t play Beethoven.  I bet when you first learned to read, you weren’t picking up War & Peace.  Meditation, like everything is, is something that gets easier with earnest practice.  We call Meditation a “Practice” for a very good reason – you are practicing it every time you do it.  And it’s certainly not going to give you the same stimulation that TV or Movies do, so don’t expect that.  This is about learning your body.

” You’re a Crazy Hippie and I Won’t Hear Any of Your Stupid Herbal Remedies to My Real Problems”

The majority of people hold themselves back by thinking that Meditation only works for certain people.  That they are not capable of learning themselves, or that it’s not important, or that it’s not worth their time.  They think that their pain, their problems, their situations, are better, more extreme, or different than what the rest of us are going through, and that spending quiet alone time can’t possibly have any positive effects on their life.  Truly, I think this is the most harmful place to be in, but one that I understand quite well.  It’s very easy to get caught up, especially when we have chronic or persistent pain.  I cannot tell you how many hours of my life were spent wishing that I had a knife to cut the pain from my back out.  I would have done ANYTHING, including surgery, to relieve the immense, throbbing, terrible, cutting pain that I experienced every moment that I wasn’t knocked out on some pain med.  And if someone had taken me aside and said “Just sit down and learn yourself, and you’ll be able to control your pain” I would have told them they were goddamn crazy.  But I am here to tell you that it’s true.


Meditation is the most productive thing you can do, and there is nothing in the World stopping you from doing it except for yourself.   Practicing meditation regularly will bring you to a place of immense peace, physical well being, and emotional stability.  It’s the most powerful tool for creating the life you want.

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Love & Light

Visit her site here – Tara

And if you liked this one, check out the whole story here:

Meditate Your Life

April 4, 2013

Time for the truth.

As I hinted at earlier in the introduction to the Lojong – the Training the Mind post – my practice has deteriorated seriously over the past year.

As I haven’t gotten to the end of the story in the narrative section, I’ll not go into the details of my practice when I started this blog, but it was a very strong practice. At least I thought so. It was regular and deep. Perhaps not regular enough, or deep enough.

I still can’t sort out all the elements that got me off track, but it was complicated. As I mentioned earlier, my mother’s death, and three days later my wife’s father’s death, threw both of us into a cycle of anger, grief and depression that is still having an impact on our lives.

But I think the main problem came because I made the fatal mistake of taking a break from the cushion. A mistake that I know the warnings against, the dangers of, the difficulties of recovering from… yet out of weakness and selfishness I made the mistake.

I have been struggling for months now to get back into a solid practice. Depression is a great enemy of meditation practice, precisely because meditation practice is a great help in dealing with depression. Depression has a sleazy, insidious way of undermining anything that may help you get over it, so it really seems to hate meditation.

In taking a break from the cushion, I allowed the depression to move in and undermine my confidence in the practice itself, I allowed it to introduce doubts about my practice. Which in turn made it harder to get back on the cushion. It becomes a vicious cycle. I’ve almost had to start all over.

As I mentioned, I have returned to some of my earlier rituals and simple things like morning vows and chanting, as well as the Lojong, as a way to get back into practice. I’ve been practicing for some time in the Vipassana tradition, which teaches that such things are not likely to take you to the deeper levels of meditation… and that seems true to my experience, but it could be wrong. At any rate, I am finding them helpful in getting myself re-oriented.

I hope to use these Practice Notes as a way of sorting out how things are going for myself, and perhaps they’ll be helpful to readers as well.

I hope I will be able to be consistent and honest in my reports of how it goes.

Friday, March 16

Again, I feel the need to clarify.

In the last post in the Guide to Meditation series, – Just enough – I described my entry into the world of Buddhism and the teachings of Buddha.

That doesn’t mean you should be a Buddhist to meditate.

In the Practice Note last Sunday, I emphasized that one’s theism or non-theism is not important to meditation. The same is true of one’s Buddhism or non-Buddhism. In fact, there are many Christians, Jews, and other religious folk who practice Buddhism specifically in the way Buddha described it, yet these people maintain their own religious beliefs and practices. There’s no conflict there. Buddha’s teachings are universal and can be followed by anyone. Anywhere. Any time. Any religion. No religion.

I will continue the story of my own Buddhist path in the series, and I hope the nature of that will all become clear, but at this point I feel it is important to be clear that meditation in general and meditation as I explicate it here, are not the exclusive province of Buddhist practitioners. I am not telling this story to get you to become a Buddhist. I don’t even think I’m “a Buddhist” – I’m not even sure what a Buddhist is – except in the simple fact that I follow the teachings of Buddha, who taught me to meditate.

And it seems to me that though there are clearly differences in the forms of meditation taught by different people of different religions and traditions, there are enough commonalities that we can discuss them as a body of practice. Just as there are different ways to teach the violin, the idea is to learn to play the instrument, and once one learns, many ways to actually play it. So with meditation, there are different ways  to teach it, different ways to play it.

Clearly too, there are ways that are better, ways more suited to individual idiosyncrasies and needs for teaching anything. There are forms of meditation that are more helpful and forms that lead you down a primrose path to perdition. As I said in the beginning of this blog, my intent is to help folks find a way into meditation that suits them, as well as give assistance in avoiding some of the hazards along the way.

If you have questions, comments, or scathing indictments, please leave a note! I’d love to hear from you!