Meditation

    I believe that we all have our safe spaces. Those places in our mind and body where we feel comfortable. Part of the practice for this life is, I believe, to stretch those boundaries. This is not a challenge, not “a who can stretch furthest?" dare. Rather it is path through life of seeing if I can grow larger my potential, in what I can embrace than what I might be doing now…a path that I can chose to take if I wish to, and one that I do so while caring for my own well being - not jumping further than I feel is safe to do so.

    And then those times happen when I am caught completely off guard and find myself out of my comfort zone. In such times my safe boundaries just collapse, disappear from around me, and I am left standing naked and exposed with nowhere to run to. Whether other’s see that in me, I don’t know, but for me in that moment it is a very real feeling.

    Such happened to me last night. People visited, new friends. We engaged in conversation, and the ground just opened up underneath me. Nowhere to run to. I could feel the discomfort in me, I felt exposed and I had nowhere to go. I was left just being where I was - talking, listening, engaging - but that engaging was cutting through me. I wanted to get up and leave. There was discomfort in my body and mind - scratching, itching, tension. With nowhere to turn to, I was left just being present to the feelings, to the experience. Breathing, allowing the felt experience to be there, not pushing it away. Just seeing it as not personal, passing through me, real and at the same time not real, holding that paradox.

    Afterwards I found a safe and comfortable place to be, like resting after a period of strenuous activity, allowing body and mind to rest and settle. And next time that challenged comfort zone will be a little more familiar, probably still uncomfortable, perhaps still scary? For all of that though I can breathe into it again, let it pass through me, and learn that little bit more from the experience. For in all those scary, uncomfortable places there is also wisdom.

    I was listening to an episode of the Metta Hour with Sharon Salzberg podcast yesterdday, and Sharon said something like (I’m paraphrasing),

    …and there is the conflict in the world today, in fact what about the conflict that is within individuals…

    Hearing that made me understand the often quoted,

    World peace starts with inner peace,

    in a whole new way. Yes there is conflict in this world right night, seemingly (from where I am sitting) everywhere I look, but what about the conflicts that I battle with within myself? And then the inner conflicts that everyone around me might have?

    It can sound trite in a world of war and threatened authoritarianism, but by how much would the world be different if we each tried to fix our inner conflicts? If we held an awareness of how one’s conflicts can affect behaviour, and so not take the words of others so personally?

    Sticking to the Meditation Instruction

    I’ve said this before on this website, for example here and here. So why again? As much as anything, I repeat myself because I need to remind myself.

    There is something unintuitive about meditation. Meditation is a method for reprogramming our heart into different ways of being. We are swimming up stream, going against the flow. It’s hard work, and as such we might want to try and make things happen, force change. I certainly know that I can fall into that trap, even with a few decades of practice behind me.

    With the heart, one cannot force change. I can think that I have developed more compassion, patience, overcome jealousy through my meditation practice - and then life happens. Life has a bad habit of showing me where I am truly at.

    As such, my advice for meditation practice is to simply follow the instruction. What do I mean by that? Let me try and explain:

    I find that there can be a tendency for me to hear meditation instruction and then go and sit, all the time trying to fit my mind into an image of what I think that I should be feeling if I have succeeded with this particular practice. But this just won’t work. First of all we are working with our image of what compassion, patience, etc looks like, and given that we are still working on developing that quality, our image of it is probably a little skewed. Second, one cannot force the mind into being a certain way. The mind can only be where it is at.

    Instead, in the same way that you would follow directions to someone’s house, turning left when the instructions tell you to do so, right when you have to turn that way, not making up instructions or turning earlier because you feel as though you are behind time. In the same way that you would follow those instructions exactly to get to your destination, follow the meditation instructions exactly…and do nothing else.

    Following the road directions exactly will get you to the house, whether what you encounter en route is what you expect or not, whether it takes longer than you thought or not. Similarly, following the meditation instruction will get you to that final destination, whether that be compassion, kindness, patience, etc. The route that you take to get there, might be more circuitous than you expected. More ups and downs, more sense of one step forward and two steps back. However, if you follow the instructions you will get there, even if it takes a life time. You will get there, and along the way, quite by chance, probably surprising yourself, you will notice incremental improvements.

    I hope that this is clear, but if you have any questions, please hit the ”Reply by email” link below and get in touch.

    Some days I wonder what I have achieved from my meditation practice? Sleepy, wandering mind, replaying that incident from yesterday.

    Providing this does not become a habit as in, “great, it’s rest time,” I believe that what is gained is just showing up. There are so many other things that I (you) could be doing, and I decided to meditate. I am building a habit, building a muscle. So don’t become disillusioned if some sessions didn’t go as well as you hoped. You showed up.

    I’m working on a blog post for those who are interested in meditation, but who struggle with it. While I don’t like to proselytize about meditation, I do believe that some people drop it because they approach the discipline with some unhelpful ideas and expectations, and that makes me sad.

    Maybe a recalibrated approach might open up the possibilities provided by meditation, and yield results that initially weren’t apparent?

    Tukdam: Remaining in Meditation At the Time of Death

    I recently watched the documentary Tukdam: Between Worlds. This explored the phenomenon in Tibetan Buddhism where experienced practitioners can remain in a state of meditation after the body has shown all physical signs of having died - no breathing, the heart has stopped. In this state the body can support itself, the skin looks healthy, there is no sign of decomposition of the body (even in the heat of India where many of the exiled Tibetan community now live), and a feeling of warmth remains around the heart. This can last for days and sometimes weeks.

    With the support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, scientists have started examining those who are in this state, trying to understand what is going on. So far, they have few conclusions it seems, other than an acknowledgment that this phenomenon is happening.

    There is skepticism in some circles as to whether western science is capable of measuring anything while practitioners remain in this state. Their argument is that consciousness is not material, from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, and so is beyond the measurement of modern scientific instruments.

    Be that as it may, His Holiness the Dalai Lama appears keen that the investigations continues, even if it does take a long time to come to conclusions.

    Here is a preview of the documentary.

    March 2023 Photoblogging Challenge

    Day 10: Ritual, suggested by @drewbelf

    A daily ritual of meditation.

    A black and white photograph of my old mala (rosary) on a blanket

    Just follow the instruction

    I’ve written about this before in relation to meditation, and it has been prominent in my mind again. As such I felt like reflecting on what the message is that accompanies this instruction at this time.

    Goals

    With any given meditation instruction I find it is very easy to imagine where I should be on the completion of such practice - that is if completion is a thing with regard to meditation. I find myself imagining what the goal is and as such in the back of my mind as I am sitting, there is that sense, that expectation of my mind needing to be a certain way. That I should be thinking, feeling, being a certain way.

    But that in itself is something else to let go of.

    Ultimately meditation is meant to transform us so that a state of mind becomes our way of being. We don’t act out or pretend to be a certain way. We just are that way. If I am acting or pretending, life has a way of throwing a curve ball at us such that that pretense is soon shown for the make-believe that it is.

    Just meditate

    So yes, do have in mind why you are practicing a method of meditation. Do keep in mind the direction that you are going. We need to make sure that we are staying on course. But I would encourage you to put aside the shoulds as they pertain to your state of mind, when they arise. The mind will do what it will do based upon habits, sounds, images and experiences that it has encountered over time. And again with time the mind can be trained to not be dragged along by distracting or unhelpful states of mind.

    I am neither better nor worse for what arises in my mind. I must allow it to be, acknowledge it and to the best of my ability let it go. No doubt it will arise again, and again I recognize its presence and allow it to go. Trying to force a state of mind out of the picture will only see it pop up again later, somewhere else.

    When the mind is quieter, when the distraction lessens, then one can focus more clearly on the job in hand. And with time the mind will change. You are creating new habits, new patterns and with time they will result in a changing of your mind.

    One just needs patience to follow the instruction.

    Currently reading: Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chodron. Actually I have this book on regular reruns, picking it up and reading a few pages during my meditation practice. I need to be reminded of the material in this book. I need to be reminded that as much as I might complain about the actions of others, peace starts with softening the rigidity in my own heart. 📚

    I love the expression (emphasis mine) that Thich Nhat Hanh used, in the quote below, to describe the dopamine effect that we feel when receiving a response through our devices.

    We all crave connection, and many of us try to find it through our phones or e-mail. We feel a neurochemical sweetness when someone sends us a text or an e-mail, and we feel anxious when were not with our phones or near them.

    ~ from Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise

    I find something very compelling in this quote by Mingyur Rinpoche, that we can train our minds so that ”happiness will arise naturally.”

    Our mind is very important and all our experiences of happiness and unhappiness arise in the mind. So if we can train our minds then happiness will arise naturally. This happiness is real lasting peace which you will have in the external environment as well as in your inner mind.

    ~ Mingyur Rinpoche

    Meditation and the Spaciousness of the Mind

    There is a wonderful description of meditation which describes the role that the mind’s innate spaciousness can play in meditation practice. I have read a couple of versions of this story, my retelling probably borrows from both. It goes something like this…


    Meditation is like trying to tame a wild horse. I could keep that horse in a small compound, giving it little room to move around in the hope that that will quieten it down. It’s a wild horse, unbroken, and despite my best efforts the horse continues to kick, whinny and throw up dust.

    Alternatively I could put it in a large meadow. Initially it kicks and jumps around, generally making a fuss, but eventually it realizes that making such a fuss in such a large meadow is kind of pointless. Nothing and no one is bothering it. So it stops, has something to eat and eventually falls asleep. Something might startle it, but in the spaciousness of the meadow, it will soon quieten down again.

    The same goes for my mind. I can try and make my mind stop chattering, struggle with it to make it calm down, but I am likely going to become frustrated in the effort and not achieve what I set out to do. It’s the trying that is getting in the way. The mind likes chattering. It is what it does.

    Alternatively I could let my chattering mind rest in the spaciousness of the mind. I don’t try to control the noise, but allow the mind to do what it wants. For a while the chatter will persist, but eventually with nowhere to go and nothing trying to make it stop, the noise will slowly quieten. There’ll be peaks of chatter but left to their own devices, they will go away.

    Part of the challenge is the ‘just letting things be as they are’. If my mind is noisy, I might have a wish to shut things down. Maybe it is exhausting me? Maybe my outside life is loud enough, and the chatter in my head is just adding to the disturbances that I am dealing with? Or if the thoughts going through my mind are images and ideas that I prefer to believe that someone like me does not think, allowing them just to be present without any interference from me can be a trial, making me fidget in my seat.

    It can help to remember that all our thoughts arise and pass away. What about the thoughts that you had yesterday or this morning? Where are they now?

    The challenge is in the trusting of the process, something that familiarity and practice will bring. That is why meditation is referred to as a practice.

    The Early Bird Surfers - Reflections on Making Time

    A couple of weeks back I had an early morning Hawaiian Airlines flight to catch to Honolulu. In flight time the journey is a hop, skip and jump. Throw in airport time and it can take just as long as any long haul flight from parking the car to getting to the gate. And this was rush hour. For the flight that I was catching, to manage the commuter traffic a slightly larger aircraft is made available than the usual interisland airplane.

    The road from my home to the airport takes me past Ho’okipa, a surfing hotspot here on Maui. The sun had not risen when I left home, just the glow in the sky of a new day starting. Ho’okipa is a State Park and as such has its entrances locked shut each night. They are not open again until just after sunrise. This does not stop the surfers.

    In the early hours of the morning, cars will park up on the side of the road, the surfers will jump out, get their gear together and with surf boards under their arms climb over the gate and head down to the water. They might have work starting in a few hours, have to return home later to look after kids, or be planning a whole morning there. No matter, getting out of bed early presents them with an opportunity to get in the water and perfect their sport, while the rest of us are still tucked up or fumbling for our first cup of coffee.

    I have no time

    As I drove past these early morning enthusiasts my thoughts turned to meditation. Like everything in my life, if I want to make meditation a part of it, it requires me to make time. I quite often hear the comment from people thinking of starting a meditation practice, that they don’t have time. But those early morning surfers found some time. I know people who will go and catch a few waves before work or other day time commitments that they have. Ironically one of them told me recently that he would like to meditate but couldn’t find the time. I pointed out to him his early morning (or sometimes late night by full moon) surfing exploits - he laughed!

    I think that the success or otherwise of finding that time to meditate depends on the rewards that an individual receives from the practice, and how those rewards help my rebelling mind push aside the sacrifices - sleep, etc - that we are prepared to make. As I start to feel the benefits of meditation, I am more prepared to make the time for it to happen…or in those times when days are very busy, like the early flight that I had, to sit quietly in the airport as opposed to checking my phone. This does not mean that there are times when I prefer to stay in bed (or whatever the sacrifice is), indeed occasionally I give myself a rest and do, but I feel that their are benefits to be made and so I get up.

    Another strategy to keeping the practice going is to find a community with whom to meditate, or if that is not possible, a remote buddy, someone who you check in with regularly to see how each other’s practice is going - or you text them a message just before you sit.

    One does not make it a chore, but rather recognizes that in building any new habit there will be times when it is easy and other times when you just do not want to be there - but you show up anyway, even if you just feel as though you are going through the motions.

    Back to those surfers

    I often think of those early morning surfers. Their time in the water is that important to them that they are prepared to make that early morning sacrifice. Maybe that is not how they experience their early morning dips, but that is how it works for me. By the time the sun is warming the island, they have put their time in - whether that is for training or fun - their surf time is under their belt.

    The aloneness of early morning.
    Sitting and reflecting on what is important,
    what resides in the heart , however deep
    While the rest of the world sleeps.

    Honey on a Razor's Edge

    Mindfulness is available to us at all times.

    I say that to myself - and then I forget. The opportunity is there, and then it is gone. Too late. Feels like too much effort. Or something puts in an appearance that has more icing on the top, or at least appears to and feels easier to consume - but ultimately leaves me with a sense of no satisfaction. The ship has sailed. The mindfulness moment has been missed.

    Look out for those times when the mind is floundering. When you are not focusing. Maybe you are reaching for your phone, or engaging in aimless browsing, or looking to do something out of character (like clean the bedroom?!). What are you avoiding?

    Just catching yourself in that moment as you waver off course, that is mindfulness. You’ve caught yourself getting lost, loosing your focus. You’ve caught yourself loosing your awareness of what you are doing.

    The more formal practice of sitting in meditation helps us to develop the muscle, the awareness that allows us to be more aware of those moments when we loose ourselves, and just as important gives us the strength to pull ourselves back on course. For those who have tried to right their ship of focusing on an activity when distractions call, you will know how difficult it is to pull yourself away from those easier, “more exciting” activities.

    The Tibetans have a saying for this, as you reach for that which is more enticing and boredom removing,

    …like licking honey from a razor’s edge.

    I think that it is a wonderful image and it hurts my tongue to think of it! We are drawn to the excitement, the distractions, and in doing so hurt ourselves from loosing our balance and sense of being grounded.

    So our formal practice, and our daily awareness live in a dance, one reinforcing and strengthening the other.

    May Meditation Nudges - Full List

    Through May 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, I offered a daily Meditation Nudge. This was a new article that I wrote each day through that month, with each one exploring an aspect of meditation.

    I have felt remiss to not have put together a comprehensive list of all of those posts, something that I believe would be a helpful resource.

    So now I am making good on this aspiration, and below is a list of all the Meditation Nudges that I offered during May 2020.

    A Short Meditation to Start Your Day at Micro Camp

    On both days of Micro Camp, before the presentations start, I will be leading a short meditation to help you quieten your mind and prepare for the day ahead. Just show up 15 minutes before the program for the days start.

    No experience is necessary to join the meditation. I have kept the instruction to a minimum in order to maximize the time that we have for meditation, so if you do come away with any questions, please contact me.

    Thank you to @jean for her help in putting this together, and @burk for the upload assistance.

    I look forward to seeing you there.

    🧘‍♂️ 🧘‍♀️

    I was recently interviewed by Andy Mort for Episode 331 of his Gentle Rebel Podcast on the subject of Meditation. You can listen to our chat at the link above, or watch us on YouTube. Thank you to Andy for the invitation to the podcast. 🎙

    Announcing a new, old podcast

    It was early April 2017. I was sitting in an Airbnb in Portland, OR. My wife and I had returned to the city that had been our home for eight years, to sort out a storage room of our belongings, to decide what was going with us back to Maui and what we were going to sell. Behind The Thoughts  3 Border I had decided to start a podcast to help people start and build a meditation practice. It was to be called Behind The Thoughts Podcast. I had been fortunate to have a community around me when I started meditating, a community that was a source of a lot of support as I built this new habit. I felt that this probably wasn’t true for everyone, and wanted to offer something to help those who wanted to learn about and start a meditation practice. Podcasting was new to me, but I just felt like doing this.

    So here I was in the Airbnb, sitting in front of my laptop on take ”x” trying to get past the nerves and just record the first episode. Eventually, through frustration with myself that I might never get this done, I put down my first episode. It did not have to be perfect, indeed never would be as I did not have studio grade equipment for recording. My tools were, depending on where I was recording it,

    • my MacBook Air (the microphone on that)
    • my iPhone (the microphone on the accompanying headphones)
    • an application to capture the recording
    • a sound file of a meditation bell/gong
    • Apple GarageBand to string it all together
    • a service to host the podcast (Podbean at that time)

    On my way

    Once that first episode was out of the door and I got use to sticking the sound files together, I was off. Over the course of the six months I recorded forty episodes. They were recorded in all sorts of different locations, some outside, some inside. I was enjoying myself…and then it just stopped. There was no particular reason. I reached the fortieth episode and recorded no more…

    …until now.

    Thoughts of starting up again

    In May 2019 Jean MacDonald ask me in an episode of Micro Monday if I was planning to launch a podcast on Micro.blog. At the time I was and my affirmative answer has stayed with me, though I could not find the push within me to get a podcast out of the door.

    In the early months of the COVID pandemic I ran a series of meditation videos, still available on YouTube, to give people some tools to deal with the isolation of the lockdown that was happening in many parts of the world. I enjoyed putting together this unplanned series and it made me think again of my podcast that I had stopped and was now archived on Google Drive.

    New website

    Micro.blog makes it very easy to host a podcast and so the idea came to me of taking the old episodes off of Google Drive, uploading them to Micro.blog and use that as the basis for continuing the Behind The Thoughts Podcast. So over the Christmas/New Year holidays of 2020 I purchased the domain name for the hosting website and uploaded those first forty episodes. With that done I re-registered the podcast with Apple podcasts.

    Relaunch

    With that done, on Saturday, January 9th, 2021 I recorded the forty first episode and published it. The Behind The Thoughts Podcast had officially been relaunched. The aim of the podcast is the same as before. To help people build and maintain a meditation practice. It is for anyone regardless of level or experience with meditation. The first episode includes a short guided meditation. Going forward I am expecting to offer more guided meditation sessions than in the initial forty episodes.


    The details

    Where?

    • Behind The Thoughts Podcast website
    • On Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen to your podcasts (if they draw from Apple’s podcast directory)

    How often?

    • My plan is for once a week. That will be the guiding frequency, but occasionally this might vary less and more often

    Material covered?

    • Building a meditation practice
    • Dealing with obstacles to meditation
    • Taking your meditation into everyday life.
    • At times informed by things that I am dealing with in my life (on the good chance that they’ll be something in there for you)

    And You?

    • If you have a question, concern or something that you would like me to cover, please get in touch

    I hope that you can join me on the podcast and the meditation journey.

    Heading out to a remote part of the West Mauis this afternoon to lead a meditation for a dear friend.

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