Tag Archives: Meditation

The best way to deal with excessive thinking

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“The best way to deal with excessive thinking is to just listen to it, to listen to the mind. Listening is much more effective than trying to stop thought or cut it off.”

~  Ajahn Amaro, from “Thought Like Dreams” at Tricycle.com

Read the entire article in the Wisdom Collection through May 18, 2013  For full access at any time, become a Tricycle Community Supporting or Sustaining Member

Why is it so difficult to maintain a steady practice?

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“Now if the practice is so good for us, why is it so difficult to maintain a steady practice? It may be that the notion that practice is ‘good for us’ is the very impediment—we all know how we can resist what is good for us at the table, at the gym, and on the Internet. This mechanical notion of practice, ‘if I practice, then I will be (fill in the blank),’ leads to discouragement because it is not true that practice inevitably leads to happiness or anything that we can imagine. …

How, then, to put our minds in a space where practice is always there, whether tumultuous or in the doldrums? It requires a completely radical view of practice: practice is not something we do; it is something we are. We are not separate from our practice, and so no matter what, our practice is present. An ocean swimmer is loose and flows with the current and moves through the tide. When tossed upside-down in the surf, unable to discern which way is up and which is down, the natural swimmer just lets go, breathing out, and follows the bubbles to the surface.

And so it can be with our practice. Seeing our practice as our life, we just let go and do it. We just practice a steadiness in our daily meditation. Without expectations of any kind, we just practice, day in and day out, through the high points and the low. “I really doubt this practice is helping me. Okay, still, it is time to sit, right through this doubt.” Or, “Oh, I didn’t sit all week! Okay, right now I’ll sit for twenty minutes.” And each time we come back to our practice, we experience it as more inherent to our life. Maezumi Roshi, based in Los Angeles, would often use the Spanish expression for “little by little” to indicate this patient quality of practice: “Being one with the practice, you are transformed, poco a poco.”

This understanding of our practice is expressed by the great thirteenth-century Japanese Zen teacher Dogen, when he says that our meditation practice “is not step-by-step meditation; it is simply the dharma gate of peace and joy. It is the practice-enlightenment of the Ultimate Way….When you grasp this, you are like a dragon in water, or a tiger in the mountains.”

~  Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, “Like a Dragon in Water”
Read entire article at Tricycle.com through May 10, 2013

Where is that Place of True Security?

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“When we can be secure in our inner source for true happiness, we don’t expose ourselves to the devastation that comes when outside hopes for happiness and security are dashed. We have our shelter, our place of security, inside. And we needn’t be afraid that this is an escapist shelter. When the basis of our well-being is firm within, we can act with true courage and compassion for others, for we’re coming from a solid position of calmness and strength.”

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu, “What We’ve Been Practicing For”
From Tricycle.com. Read related article through Feb. 29, 2013

Guided meditations on the Anapanasati teachings on meditation

The Meditation Circle has been discussing “Getting to Know the Breath” as its theme for 2012. To that end, we have referred several times to the Anapanasati Sutta in which the Buddha describes the practice of breath-centered meditation. (Find a link to that sutta and other teachings about this kind of meditation at this link.) Thad, one of the co-facilitators of the Meditation Circle, also has played some talks on this sutta at past gatherings, drawn from the AudioDharma.org website. If you missed the meetings where that happened, here is a link to the talk and others related recordings of a Dharma Practice  series on Anapanasati Practice, offered by Gil Fronsdal. Look for the talks at the top of the page, dated May 30, 2008. These guided meditations will be very useful to those seeking to deepen their understanding of breath-centered meditation in the Buddhist tradition.

Excerpt: Breathing Life into the Suttas

Except from the article “From Thought to Stillness: Breathing Life Into the Suttas,” by Rodney Smith | TRICYCLE, Winter 2012 |
Read the whole article by becoming a Tricycle online member


By Rodney Smith
| Tricycle Winter 2012 |The constant inquiry among meditators is how to maintain awareness, but the question is being considered from the wrong end of the suffering continuum. The anxiety associated with the continuation of awareness is suffering, and becoming more worried about how we practice does not move us in a wise direction. We can begin to see how our personal struggle to be mindful is misplaced when we observe the sense of self arising within our effort to maintain mindfulness. The harder we try in this, the more forgetful we become. Since the sense of self is the embodiment of the absence of awareness, forgetting to observe is inevitable as we try harder to be aware. The problem of how to be mindful is actually resolved not through strenuous effort but by relaxing, allowing, and observing what is already here. Within the framework of relaxation, the sense of self has a diminishing power center, making space for awareness to be revealed.

If we place an emphasis on “me” entering the here and now, the here and now becomes a project, when actually the “me” is the real project. The “I” state is the unnatural component, but from the sense of self’s twisted logic the moment becomes the problem and needs “my” effort to enter it. This inherent contradiction— of trying to enter something that already is—limits access to the here and now and takes away what is naturally here already. An authentic spiritual practice begins to reverse this perception by abiding with the natural and dismissing the artificial.

If we think of ourselves as outside the moment needing to get in, this is working our practice from the wrong view, intention, and effort. If we want to move from thinking to stillness, we have to relax and see what was there before we created the storybased assumption that we were outside anything. It dawns on us that we are powerless to make freedom happen because our efforts only disconnect us from our intended goal. We exist as a thought believed, and it is not within the power of a thought to control awareness. When this is realized, we stop trying to be mindful and relax into the awareness that existed before thought instead of holding to the mindfulness driven by thought. One is eternal, the other temporal.

We give up the “doing” of mindfulness to fully participate in what mindfulness is attempting to do—that is, to allow a full abiding presence. Mindfulness has a way of both advancing and retracting that cause. It can maintain the observer and the observed and straddle the fence between these two. Mindfulness tries to have it both ways by proclaiming full participation in the moment even as it applies a fail-safe plan to pull out if the experience gets a little frightening. The observer or watcher is the part of our mind that likes to know what it is getting into, the contained and controlled part that maintains an escape route “just in case.” At a certain level of understanding our practice, this is all fine, but we soon tire of holding ourselves in reserve. The observer and the observed must eventually merge into a single abiding presence if there is to be spiritual fulfillment. | Read on (must be a Tricycle.com member)

It’s Meditation Month at Tricycle.com

For many people who desire to learn meditation, it’s a struggle. Having a community of fellow practicioners can be essential, which is why sitting groups like the Meditation Circle of Charleston can be helpful. Yet it’s also highly helpful in this interconnected day and age to have regular support and reminders a click away. Which is why we encourage any beginning meditators or folks trying to revive and revitalize their sitting practice to join the online community around the Buddhist magazine Tricycle.

The month of February is Meditation Month at Tricycle.com, so we pass on the e-mail note we got in today’s e-mailbox and encourage you to consider signing up and bolstering your practice. You can do so at Tricycle.com — you can join for free but joining for $25 gets you access to all the premium offerings on the website and $30 gets you the print magazine at your home, too. And, no, we are not being slipped free meditation cushions to thump for Tricycle. The online site has been a help to both Thad and I and may be an aid to your own practice. | Douglas

A Message to All members of the Tricycle Community:

People often say to us, “I’d like to meditate, but I don’t know where to start.” We’ve heard this from college students, business people, passengers on the subway, and family members. Usually, we might offer some words of wisdom, such as the old meditator’s saw: Start where you are. Good advice, to be sure, but perhaps a bit too cryptic for a beginner looking for specifics. That’s why this month’s theme on tricycle.com is establishing and maintaining a meditation practice. With this quarter’s e-book, Tricycle Teachings: Meditation, we offer you heart advice and practical tips that will help you to stick with your practice. It’s not meant for hermits and yogis, but for lay people like us who aspire to apply Buddhist wisdom in their busy everyday lives. For the beginner, this e-book will help explain what meditation is about and why you should bother to try it at all (there are more benefits than you might guess!). Experienced meditators will appreciate the depth and nuance of the various techniques and traditions presented here.

In addition to the meditation e-book, we have meditation and yoga teacher Jill Satterfield leading an online retreat (“Meditation in Motion”), Zen teacher Brad Warner taking questions as the “Meditation Doctor,” as well as guided meditations from Tricycle’s wisdom collection and retreat archives.

Links to the Buddha’s teachings on breath-centered meditation

“Getting to Know the Breath” is the ongoing theme for 2012 we’ll be considering in the weekly 6 p.m. Tuesday gatherings of the Meditation Circle of Charleston at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation building in Charleston, W.Va. In past weeks. Thad and I have mentioned some of the core teachings of the Buddha on breath-centered meditation. We are not qualified to teach suttas, but we’re all qualified to absorb and discuss them as they relate to our ongoing lay meditation practice.

To that end, we encourage Circle members and others to take a dip into the Buddha’s direct teachings on meditation instruction in the following suttas (We’re borrowing these links and their descriptions with our thanks from the Washington D.C. Buddhist Studies Group).

Video: On Trying too hard to meditate

Bhikku Piyadhammo, a monk friend who resided recently at the Bhavana Society, told me about a rich collection of Buddhist-themed videos that he maintains on a YouTube channel called “Dhammatube.”  The channel, which features pithy short videos on useful topics to anyone interested in Buddhist practice, has a series of short interviews with a thoroughly charming young monk named Tan Dtoon.  I like what a commentator to the video above said about him:

I like Tan Dtoon because he doesn’t seem lofty and rehearsed. There’s wisdom in his honesty and spontaneity…..even if he’s searching for the answer himself. There’s something about knowing yourself without putting on an act. I find that more impressive then pretending you have authority.

In this video, the monk talks about what Ajahn Chah and other monks have had to say about trying too hard in meditation, always a good topic to consider for anyone who has ever tried to keep a regular meditation practice going. We’ll be e-posting more Dhammatube videos.

 

 

Introduction to Meditation Retreat, June 24-29, 2011

We’ve had a lot of new faces recently at The Meditation Circle, including many folks new to Buddhist meditation practice. If you’re a newcomer with a strong interest in deepening your  practice, we highly recommend you check out the Introduction to Meditation retreat at the Bhavana Society Buddhist monastery and retreat center in Hampshire County, W.Va., near Wardensville. This 5-night retreat takes place Friday, June 24 to  Wednesday, June 29, 2011, and will be led by the Buddhist monk Ven. Olande Ananda. IMPORTANT NOTE: Alas, after checking this out, I note that the retreat is currently full for men, but it is possible to get on a waiting list. There is still space for women.  If interested, sign up soon as may be. Bhavana retreats fill up quickly as you can see here at their full 2011 retreat schedule. The Bhavana website describes the Introduction to Meditation retreat this way:

These retreats are for those new to meditation or who want to learn about meditation. There will be instruction and assistance with sitting and walking meditation and a brief introduction to Buddhism. The schedule is less rigorous, and guided meditations will be given. People of all faiths are welcome to come to any of our retreats.  You should be aware, though, that the Bhavana Society is a Buddhist Monastery and you may see customs and traditions you are not familiar with.  Feel free to ask questions.  We want you to feel comfortable here.  We only ask that you behave in a respectful manner.

Dhamma talk: Introduction to breath meditation

Listen to Dhamma talk on meditation

The downloadbale mp3 link above will fire up a wonderful Dhamma talk introducing breath meditation by Bhante Sujato, of Santi Forest Monastery in Bundanoon, Sydney in Australia’s Southern Highlands. This is actually talk no. 6 in a series of Dhamma talks the Australian monk gave on the practice of metta or loving-kindness meditation, taught in a methodical fashion by a monk in Bangkok with whom Bhante Sujato has studied. Along the way of introducing this metta meditation practice, Bhante Sujato undertakes an illuminating survey of the different kinds and methods of Buddhist meditation. In this talk, he gives a pretty rich introduction to breath-centered meditation.

As always, the Meditation Circle encourages people to listen to a variety of Buddhist teachers on such core practices as breath meditation and find which teachers and specific methods of teaching work best for you, rooted in the basic fundamentals of how the Buddha taught meditation. For instance, I find the counting technique Bhante Sujato suggests here to be a little overly complex for my taste, although since listening to this talk I have been experimenting with it.

In addition, this may well be for some of you a first encounter with a Western Buddhist teacher who speaks of the nimita, which has been described as “a visual light effect that is a byproduct of the mind unifying.” For serious practitioners, committed to pursuing meditation practice until the day they die, the study and understanding of such matters really requires working with a teacher deeply grounded in Buddhist teachings. Which is to say, don’t ask us Meditation Circle facilitators to get into such weighty topics – we’re just here to point in various directions and unlock the door for our weekly Tuesday meditation!

Below are two of Bhante Sujato’s introductory talks on metta in that series, used with permission of the monastery where he teaches. I encourage you to seek out this and other talks by this very interesting and informed Western monk who trained with Ajahn Brahm and who has a colorful past as a performer. Here is his blog, called simply ‘Sujato’s Blog.’

~ Douglas Imbrogno

TALK 1: Bhante Sujato undertakes an illuminating survey of the different kinds and methods of Buddhist meditation. The talk heard here is a shortened version — I edited the talk down a bit to fit into manageable size for listening to at the Meditation Circle.

TALK 2: In this guided meditation, Bhante Sujato leads a 30-minute meditation on the basics of working with the attention as you first begin to sit.

“Meditation is not easy…” | Reading Selection for Dec. 15 Meditation Circle gathering

HERE IS THE READING SELECTION for the Dec. 15 meeting of the Meditation Circle of Charleston, an excerpt from Chapter 1 of “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana, which can be read in its entirety for free online or for purchase through Wisdom or Amazon. See this post for more on the Circle’s ongoing discussion in 2010 on the basics of a meditation practice in the Buddhist style of insight or vipassana meditation.

Excerpt from Chapter 1, “Meditation: Why Bother?” from “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (Wisdom Publications)

Meditation is not easy. It takes time and it takes energy. It also takes grit, determination and discipline. It requires a host of personal qualities which we normally regard as unpleasant and which we like to avoid whenever possible. We can sum it all up in the American word ‘gumption’. Meditation takes ‘gumption’. It is certainly a great deal easier just to kick back and watch television. So why bother? Why waste all that time and energy when you could be out enjoying yourself? Why bother? Simple. Because you are human. And just because of the simple fact that you are human, you find yourself heir to an inherent unsatisfactoriness in life which simply will not go away. You can suppress it from your awareness for a time. You can distract yourself for hours on end, but it always comes back — usually when you least expect it. All of a sudden, seemingly out of the blue, you sit up, take stock, and realize your actual situation in life.

There you are, and you suddenly realize that you are spending your whole life just barely getting by. You keep up a good front. You manage to make ends meet somehow and look OK from the outside. But those periods of desperation, those times when you feel everything caving in on you, you keep those to yourself. You are a mess. And you know it. But you hide it beautifully. Meanwhile, way down under all that you just know there has got be some other way to live, some better way to look at the world, some way to touch life more fully. You click into it by chance now and then. You get a good job. You fall in love. You win the game. and for a while, things are different. Life takes on a richness and clarity that makes all the bad times and humdrum fade away. The whole texture of your experience changes and you say to yourself, “OK, now I’ve made it; now I will be happy”. But then that fades, too, like smoke in the wind. You are left with just a memory. That and a vague awareness that something is wrong.

But there is really another whole realm of depth and sensitivity available in life, somehow, you are just not seeing it. You wind up feeling cut off. You feel insulated from the sweetness of experience by some sort of sensory cotton. You are not really touching life. You are not making it again. And then even that vague awareness fades away, and you are back to the same old reality. The world looks like the usual foul place, which is boring at best. It is an emotional roller coaster, and you spend a lot of your time down at the bottom of the ramp, yearning for the heights.

Continue reading “Meditation is not easy…” | Reading Selection for Dec. 15 Meditation Circle gathering

Article: Measuring meditation’s effects

Science is catching up to what meditation masters have taught for a long, long while:

For thousands of years, Buddhist meditators have claimed that the simple act of sitting down and following their breath while letting go of intrusive thoughts can free one from the entanglements of neurotic suffering.

Now, scientists are using cutting-edge scanning technology to watch the meditating mind at work. They are finding that regular meditation has a measurable effect on a variety of brain structures related to attention — an example of what is known as neuroplasticity, where the brain physically changes in response to an intentional exercise…

Read the rest of the article here. (Thanks to Robin for the link).

November Discussion: Right Intention

OUR NOVEMBER 2008 discussion theme is ‘Right Intention.’ Here’s a definition from the website we’re using as we guide ourselves through regular discussions of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Have the intention of sharing your thoughts on this topic in the ‘Comments’ above or at Tuesday’s gathering:

RIGHT INTENTION: While Right View refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion. ~ from www.thebigview.com/buddhism/eightfoldpath.html