See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

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I don’t understand what that expression means. Never have.

It goes without saying that we should speak no evil. The Buddhist concept of right speech says so. But the notion of willingly not seeing or hearing evil, of turning away from evil and pretending it is not there? Unacceptable. I hope that’s not what the expression means.

It may not fall to each of us to be the person to redress a particular wrong in the world, but I believe each of us should do our part to be witness to wrongs and to the need for them to be dealt with. Self-imposed blindness and deafness are forms of complicity. We may not be called to fight wrongs and make them right, but we shouldn’t aid and abet them, either.

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Shaving Meditation

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I’m a big believer that you can meditate anywhere, anytime, and while doing anything. (Such as, say…when snowshoeing.) Stated differently, I strongly believe you can do anything meditatively. This morning I tried a new practice: shaving meditation.

Normally, I will meditate in a more traditional manner after waking. Then, when I start my morning routine, my brain is kind of limbered up and ready to start the day’s heavy lifting. Occasionally, if time is short, my meditation takes place during my morning routine — while I’m pulling out clothes to put on, feeding the cats, and so on. Then the flow of thoughts starts up along with the water in the shower. Throughout the showering process — washing, shaving, shampooing — my brain is actively organizing itself and preparing for the day ahead.

My available time was shorter than usual this morning, so I got in the shower rather quickly. My brain was ready to kick into its stream of organizational consciousness, out of sheer habit. But I hadn’t yet had my meditative equivalent of the morning cup o’ joe. So I decided to meditate while showering.

It can seem counterintuitive that one can meditate while being active. That is because we mentally limit meditation to sitting still on a cushion. Meditation does not require physical stillness. What is more important to successful meditation is stillness of mind — rooting the mind in the present moment, completely aware of what is going on inside us and around us. It may be more challenging to find that awareness when active, but it is by no means impossible.

We can be focused while active, paying close attention to what we are doing as we are doing it, all the while practicing breathing out distractions and breathing in focus on what is happening right now. And so I focused on the elements of shaving. I felt the facial wash cleaning away dry skin, smelled the aroma of the soap; saw the bristles of the shaving brush in detail and felt their soft strokes across my skin; experienced the tingle of the pre-shave cream and breathed the eucalyptus scent in deeply; watched extraordinarily closely as the shaving cream spread across my face and was subsequently removed column by column by the razor along with my beard stubble. I shuddered at the initial sting of the hot shower water as I rinsed the leftover shaving cream from my face. I luxuriated in the clean, fresh feeling on my cheeks, chin, and neck.

It was a truly amazing experience. It was as if I had never shaved before, though I must have shaved thousands of times. I don’t know that I will ever shave un-mindfully again — it was that revelatory. Most importantly, when I emerged from the shower my mind was awake, alert, and ready to go, just like it is after I meditate on my cushion. Cool, very cool.

This can, of course, be done with just about any activity. Eating meditatively, for instance, is surprisingly easy to do and incredibly beneficial. But that’s a story for another blog post. Right now, I need to look into trademarking “shaving meditation.” You never know when something is going to go viral.

Persistence and Attachment

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Yesterday I reposted a picture on the Dharma Beginner page on Facebook with a quotation from Chögyam Trungpa’s book Shambala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior: “The essence of warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything.”

A good question was posed in response: “How is this idea consistant with the idea of no attachments and no attachment to an outcome?”

The teacher in me wants to respond, “How is it inconsistent?” But I’ll refrain. 🙂

I don’t see persistence as being the same thing as attachment. I believe one can be unflagging in their efforts to show compassion to all beings, for instance, without becoming attached to it in a way that causes suffering. Attachment is possible, to be certain. Heck, it’s more than possible, it highly likely. Everyone has attachments and everyone suffers because of them. Even things considered “good” — like love, happiness, health — can be attachments that lead to suffering.

Many teachers warn against becoming attached to enlightenment, for example, but they still teach us to work toward enlightenment and we are naturally drawn to seek it continually. It is in our nature to do both — to be persistent and to become attached to things — but our nature also contains the potential for persistence without attachment.

Prescription: Meditation

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Meditation and mindfulness are not silver bullets for what ails you. Hardly a week passes these days, though, without another report of further evidence of their benefits.

Mindfulness Meditation Trims Craving for Tobacco – “a form of mindfulness meditation known as Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT) curtailed their smoking by 60 percent.”

The Health Benefits of Meditation – “studies have shown that meditation can not only reduce your daily stress, but it can also help improve your skin, reduce blood pressure and enhance your immune system.”

A 10-Step Mindfulness Practice for Better Sleep – “There are some specific meditative exercises that can help us nod off when our minds are in overdrive.”

Meditate Your Way to a Healthy Heart – “Researchers have found that transcendental meditation can actually help you keep your heart healthy by reducing high blood pressure.”

7 Health Benefits of Meditation – “a comprehensive scientific study showing that deep relaxation changes our bodies on a genetic level.”

Cure for Common Cold: Meditation & Exercise – “When it comes to the common cold, there are two natural cures that can make a huge difference in helping you heal – meditation and exercise.”

Meditation for Bladder Problems? – “According to a study, cognitive therapy such as meditation may be effective in the management strategy for urinary incontinence.”

Karen Lorre Has 11 Orgasms in One Day Thanks to “Orgasmic Meditation” – “Rather than Orgasm being a fleeting moment in time, we view Orgasm as a source of unlimited energy that’s found in all of us.”

Okay, that last one is a bit weird.

Are meditation and mindfulness magical? They certainly seem that way.

Our natural state is one of health and wholeness, of calm and centeredness, of being in the moment. Meditation fosters mindful living and restores us to our natural state. Is it any wonder, then, that meditation and mindfulness are connected with so many medical advances?

Mirror, Mirror

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Have you ever tried to look at yourself in the mirror without judgment? I mean, simply observe your reflection without commenting in your mind on what you see? It’s really hard, isn’t it?

The actual reflection is the real you – everything else you think about what you see is unreal. The things that we think when we view the reflection – old, ugly, fat, skinny, pimply, undeserving, bad, monstrous – are the stories we layer upon reality. They’re not real, but we act and live as if they are.

I heard a story recently about a landmark house whose original owners made their sons paint the inside walls as punishment for misbehaving. When the home was restored not long ago, more than 50 layers of paint were found on those walls and had to be peeled away, layer by layer.

One of the goals of meditation and mindfulness is to find the real person inside of us. The real person is the original, unpainted wall – but throughout our lives we have added layer after layer of self-judgment so that the real person is no longer visible. We have convinced ourselves that we are bad, that we do not deserve good things, that we have earned our suffering and do not deserve to be free of it. We have labeled ourselves gluttons, liars, perverts, thieves, cheaters, and many other unpalatable titles. But those are not who we are – they may describe things we have done, but they are not us.

For example, almost everyone lies at one time or another – that does not make one a “liar.” Liar is a label we attach to ourselves because – as astounding as it is to grasp – it is simpler for us to believe that we are incapable of telling the truth than it is to wrestle with the notion that being a natural human being and lying are not mutually exclusive. We are so hard on ourselves, so quick to judge ourselves (far quicker than we are to judge others, and that’s pretty quick), that it is easier to accept the delusion that we are inherently bad than it is for us to accept that we sometimes do things we would prefer not to do. The healthy path is to show remorse and to make amends when we have hurt another person; the path we more often take is the one of self-recrimination, self-loathing, and self-punishment.

Through a practice of meditation and mindfulness, we strip away the labels and judgments that we have laid upon ourselves, slowly but surely, until all that is left is the true person beneath. At the same time we are stripping away those falsehoods, we learn not to add any more layers, concoct any more stories, apply any more labels. We learn to treat ourselves with compassion, to love ourselves – the true selves that are buried beneath dozens of layers of untruths we tell ourselves.

The common translation of the Summary of the Law has Jesus saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if we loved our neighbors the way we really “love” ourselves, we wouldn’t be doing them any favors. We often treat others far better than ourselves, are more willing to show them compassion, to cut them a break, to give them the benefit of the doubt, than we are ourselves.

What many of us really need to do is to learn to love ourselves as we love others. When we learn to do that, then our ability to love others and act compassionately toward them will grow by leaps and bounds.

If you’re interested in hanging with people interested in meditation, mindfulness, and spiritual growth, come check out the Dharma Beginner page on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @dharmabeginner.

Religion v. Science

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I have never understood the notion that religion/spirituality and science are incompatible or, according to some, antithetical. It came up recently as I read this article by Cristof Koch in The Scientific American, “How does meditation actually work?

Why do some people deny incontrovertible scientific evidence because it appear, on its face, to disagree with religious teachings? Look at what happened to Copernicus and Galileo for asserting that the sun, and not the earth, sat at the center of our solar system. Or consider people who firmly assert, even in 2013, that the earth is only about 6,000 years old. Some very religious people view scientists as heathens or devils.

On the other hand, why are some scientists obsessed with disproving religious dogma and waving it around as if it were definitive proof that there is no higher power, no gods? Is the wonder of their discoveries not satisfaction enough, that they need to tear down the beliefs and faith of others? Some scientists view the religious as delusional simpletons.

Neither the religious nor the scientific is correct in their views of one another. Their views contain tiny kernels of truth leavened with a ton of animosity and distrust. Some proponents of science criticize the faithful for believing in things they cannot see, yet scientists do the same thing, don’t they? No one can actually see an atom; many scientific discoveries are based on mathematics rather than tangible truths. But that doesn’t mean they’re not right on the mark. Likewise, proponents of religion undermine themselves by perpetuating dogma that has no basis even in their own scripture (for instance, the Roman Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary).

One of the things I cherish about His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, is his view that science and spiritual practice are compatible. He is a great spiritual figure with a sizable scientific curiosity. My understanding is that he considers science capable of explaining and, in some cases, proving what has been accepted for centuries among spiritual practitioners – for instance, that meditation is physically, mentally, and emotionally beneficial. I think I may also assert that he believes that some natural phenomena are too immense to be grasped simply through science, that there is something bigger at work, profounder, and perhaps ultimately imponderable.

Many people of my generation learned their science and religion more or less simultaneously. I struggled as a child to reconcile the things I learned in science class with what I was reading in The Bible. Was the world created in 6 days or did it start to form 4.5 billion years ago? Did we all descend from Adam and Eve or from apes? Who was a young child to believe?

I’m much older now and still have not “solved” the conundrum. My own adult views are neither exclusively scientific nor religious. Some religious teachings are, to my mind, evidently symbolic, yet there are other things in The Bible that I believe could be possible, even if they defy scientific verification. The existence of life as we know is, as far as I’m concerned, too improbable to have occurred without some kind of cosmic guidance. Do I believe there is an omnipotent being looking and dressing like Gandalf the White who created life instantaneously out of the void? No. But I also think the odds are way, way, way too long that beings as advanced and intelligent and capable and wondrous as humans, whales, and cats could have come to be all on their own. It simply defies logic, I think. It also makes me feel enormously uncomfortable to consider that, if one little thing a billion years ago had occurred slightly differently, none of us would be here.

I’m comfortable with being labeled a scientific religious, or a religious scientist. Actually, I’m most comfortable not being labeled at all. I simply wish to be, to both understand and believe, to both prove beyond a shadow of a doubt and to accept on faith. I’m complex that way.

Why not spend a little time at the Dharma Beginner page on Facebook, where a whole herd of people interested in mindfulness, meditation, spiritual growth, healthy living, and acting compassionately like to gather? And follow us on Twitter @dharmabeginner.

An Epiphany in Casper, Wyoming

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Difficult situations are a barometer of the depth of one’s meditation and mindfulness practice and, conversely, a GPS that tells us how far we still have to go. (Technically, I guess depth would be measured with sonar and not a barometer, so sue me.) Reflection afterwards allows us to consider our behavior in the moment of the difficulty and provides insight into the role that our practice has played.

Most days dish out the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” – or less dramatic and more commonplace indignities and inconveniences . Which means we have ample opportunity to put our practice into…um, practice, and to reflect on the results.

I’m thinking about this right now because I am in the midst of a very difficult travel situation. I travel a lot and, consequently, encounter every form of travel mishap known to humankind. But this trip…oy. I was flying from Milwaukee to Denver, then on to Los Angeles. Bad weather shut down the airport in Denver and we were diverted to Casper, Wyoming. After more than two hours waiting in what passes for a terminal (three beverage vending machines and a nearly empty snack machine), we were loaded back onto the plane, only to discover there was a major mechanical problem. Off the plan again. It being a Saturday and we being in Casper, it would be three hours before someone could get there to make the repairs. By that time, the flight crew would be past its 16 hours and therefore not allowed to fly. We were stuck.

So, I got to see downtown Casper. In the dark of night. Check off another state I’ve visited (using the broadest possible term for visit, obviously); only four states left to go. Maybe next time United will divert me to Honolulu.

Stayed overnight in the Casper Ramada. Back to the airport for a 12:40 flight to Denver, 2 hours and 10 minutes after the flight I was rebooked on from Denver to Los Angeles. There are five more flights to LA after I arrive in Denver (presuming I arrive – I’m taking nothing for granted, considering it’s 12:25 right now and boarding has not begun – heck, I don’t even see a plane outside to board). I’ll be on one of them, right? Think positive!

There was a time, not too long ago it seems, when this rigmarole would have set me off like a nuclear bomb. I would have ranted at everyone who would listen and everyone who tried not to. I would have acted as if the entire mess was a plot against me, as if I were being victimized.

So here’s the amazing thing: I didn’t experience any anger at all. Not once did I think, “Why is this happening to me?” I didn’t fret over whether I’d make my connecting flight or when we’d hear an update from air traffic control. I admit to being a tad annoyed when the person at Enterprise told me, when I called to say I would be picking up the car today instead of yesterday, that my cost went from $191 to $327 – for one less day. I politely – seriously, I was polite – told him to cancel the reservation, and I called another company and got a cheaper rental. Okay, I also admit that, when we got back on the plane, and the pilot told us the bad mechanical news, I muttered under my breath, “Oh stop it.” I’m not sure who I was talking to. Other than that, though, I was a paragon of calm.

That realization made me feel pretty good, I confess. I consider it a major silver lining to an otherwise fogged-in travel day to have recognized this measure of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Really, despite everything that happened, I am grateful for the epiphany, and thankful for a million other things that make me a very content, happy, and lucky person.

 

Why not spend a little time at the Dharma Beginner page on Facebook, where a whole herd of people interested in mindfulness, meditation, spiritual growth, healthy living, and acting compassionately like to gather. And follow us on Twitter @dharmabeginner.

Oprah, Meet Ommmmmma

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What can it mean when Oprah Winfrey is becoming a leading touter of meditation? I’ll tell you what it means: a lot more people are going to start meditating. If Oprah can do for meditation with her 21-Day Meditation Challenge what she did for reading with her book club, the cosmic consciousness is going to get an enormous boost.

The following is an article about Oprah’s recent appearance on David Letterman’s show, ostensibly to publicize her new movie, but which ultimately became one big plug for the benefits of meditation. Oprah teamed up last year with Deepak Chopra to create the meditation challenge and, by all accounts, it appears to have touched the lives of many people who otherwise might never have tried meditation. Imagine the benefits to all beings if just a fraction of those people continue beyond the three weeks to practice meditation regularly. What a wondrous development that would be!

Chopra may be the model for successfully espousing the benefits of Eastern practices and medicine in the West. Some people think he waters down the practices he preaches to make them more palatable to the masses. But, even if that is true, what’s wrong with it? You cannot expect most people to sit down and meditate in silence for an hour right off the bat. Or ever, for that matter. I think that, by and large, Chopra manages to make meditation and other practices more accessible without robbing them of their value.

I am mindful of a verse from the Letter to the Hebrews: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food; for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Chapter 4, verses 12-14) Not everyone can start out with the meditative equivalent of solid food. Sure, it’s pabulum, but not in the negative “baby food” sense – it is really a very nourishing meal that the newcomer to meditation can easily digest.

Please drop by the Dharma Beginner page on Facebook to interact with thousands of other people who, like you, are interested in meditation, living mindfully, and spiritual development. And follow along on Twitter @dharmabeginner.

In Praise of The Huffington Post

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I have found that The Huffington Post is a tremendous source for informative articles and columns about meditation, mindfulness, and general healthy living. I don’t know why Arianna Huffington decided to make HuffPost a venue for reporting and commenting on those topics, but I am grateful that she has. And I believe it really is her, because she just chaired a conference on women and wellbeing in the workplace.

There is an entire section on Healthy Living. Not every article is right for me (see, for instance, “Are condoms good for vaginas?“), but most are incredibly interesting and relevant. The Religion section is equally compelling. There is a lot of overlap between the subsection of Buddhism stories and reporting on mindfulness and meditation. Here are some great recent pieces:

Come hang out with other folks interested in meditation and mindfulness at the Dharma Beginner page on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @dharmabeginner.

Coolest. Camp. Ever.

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When I was a kid, there were very few kinds of camp – day camp, sleep away camp, a handful of sports camps. These days, there seems to be a kind of camp for every kind of kid and every possible interest. Including, marvelously, mindfulness camp. The polls are now closed and the award for coolest idea for a camp goes to mindfulness camp!

I get totally jazzed by the spread of mentally and physically healthy practices like yoga and meditation in schools. It is the best evidence I’ve seen of hope for future generations. So you say that recent generations are self-absorbed and verging on amoral? I respond by pointing to kids learning to live mindfully.

The person I am, here and now, thinks wistfully about how neat it would have been to have learned meditation when I was a kid. I consider myself fortunate to have first learned how to meditate in my mid-20s and, thus, to have benefited from its practice for half my life so far. Imagine, though, if I had had a mindfulness toolkit at my disposal during my teens and early-20s… Aww, who am I kidding? The kid I was – the one that was constantly in motion, perpetually running and jumping and chasing and tumbling and swinging various sports equipment at balls and at other boys – would not have taken well to sitting quietly and still and doing nothing other than breathing.

All the more reason why I am so impressed by these kids who attend mindfulness camp in Laramie, Wyoming. (Check out this story in the Laramie Boomerang.) What do kids generally want to be doing during summer recess? Swimming, running through sprinklers, playing softball and dodgeball and tetherball and stickball and soccer, competing in Color War, building stuff out of popsicle sticks, playing on the computer. These kids are taking a pass on those activities for a week to learn how to quiet down, to breathe, to be aware of what is going on inside them and around them, and to bring those skills into their daily lives. These kids are awesome! Their parents are awesome for sending them to mindfulness camp! Michelle Visser, the founder of Mindful Kids of Laramie, is supremely awesome!!

Read more about Mindful Kids of Laramie. And come hang out at the Dharma Beginner page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @dharmabeginner.