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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mindfulness and the Inner Garden

There is a saying with many versions which goes something like this:

"What you think about, you become."

Much has been written lately about the variants of this saying and it's variety of meanings to a variety of people. It is an important thing to realize when working with intention or visualization, and many people have seen great change come about in their lives through positive thinking and visualization.

Part of this personal work being done by so many these days has a direct connection to mindfulness. These people are paying attention to what their minds have been thinking for so long, all the negative and pessimistic theories of the future, all the poor perspective of the past and all the hopeless thoughts about the present and realizing that they were creating a lot of it.

Of course there are those who will say that there really were bad things going on in their lives. To them i would have to respond by saying that we should be careful to judge things because so much good comes of what we initially see as bad. Often, one will find that one was simply focusing only on what they perceived as the negative affects events had on their lives. They were ignoring all the doors that opened, the people they met, the strength and wisdom they gained.

For the most part we often get into a rut with our thinking. This is a habit where we are no longer consciously thinking fresh new thoughts about current events, but rather responding to these events by just playing old tapes. Old recordings of the same old thoughts about things, the same old fears and jaded pessimism. And so at times, our lives become like a record that is skipping, repeating the same thing over and over. Running over the same old ground, not really learning our lessons and moving in a new direction, but repeating the responses we had in the past to the things of the present and usually finding ourselves in the same predicament.

But it is easy to see that when we dwell on the things we fear about our lives, we are actually dwelling in those fears. Living inside those thoughts. They are like warped glass bubbles we surround ourselves with and observe the world through. We won't have a clear vision when we do this.

Mindfulness practice is a good way to exercise the minds ability to think consciously. It is not a lazy way of thinking or an avoidance of life's issues, it is rather a very active way of thinking and connecting to the moment. It helps us to recognize when we are playing tapes, and then we can nip it in the bud sooner.

I found that this was important when i began working on my life's intentions. First, i had to stop thinking all the negative thoughts i was having about all sorts of things. Work, relationships, money, recreational time . . . you name it. I hadn't realized how pessimistic and grumpy i had become. When i realized this negative influence in my life, i knew it wasn't aligned with my intentions of living a happy life. I could no longer blame events in my life (or other people for that matter) for my unhappiness. My emotions are my responsibility. They are things i can work on within myself.

I began to think of it in gardening terms. I realized that i was growing a lot of things in my garden that i didn't want to grow. But those were the things i was paying attention to, watering and feeding everyday, and so, they thrived. Meanwhile all the goodies, all the juicy, meaty tomatoes i so desired were languishing with my neglect.

It was time to reconsider my gardening practices and make some changes. Pull those weeds out and keep pulling them out as new ones popped up. Pull them out when they were small instead of waiting till they were well rooted and using up all the water and soil and shading out the good plants.

As a gardener with experience in farming and greenhouse work, this analogy made a lot of sense to me. I found a lot of fertile metaphors that related to my inner garden easily. So if you are a gardener this may be useful to you as a way of thinking about what things are growing in your garden.

I'm sure that no matter what type of work or craft we do we can probably apply it's language to our observations of ourselves. We can find a way of understanding ourselves if we think about our inner processes in the same manner as the processes we do everyday in our work or hobbies.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Meditation, Beauty and Gratitude

The connection between mindfulness meditation and gratitude.

Through the practice of mindfulness meditation, on ecan awaken to the beauty of life which is, in itself, a direct path to gratitude.

When we practice sitting silently with our thoughts, one of the first hurdles we must face is to have compassion on ourselves. This sitting and stillness is no easy task. However, there is no need to force any of this.

Oh, i do not mean that we may need to force ourselves a bit into setting aside time for practice regularly and then to actually sit in meditation. Like any life change we wish to cultivate, it takes quite a bit of intention and determination.

The body will speak of its discomfort and this is important to pay attention to. One should find a position to practice in which is comfortable. Sitting, lying, it doesn't necessarilly matter, it is the state of mind we are paying attention to.

Watch your thinking. Watch what you are thinking about. You may find you are thinking about your shoes, or what you are going to say to so and so about such and such, the dog barking outside, or perhaps the wind or a bird or a memory. We do not need to shut off our thoughts about things, but to be mindfull of the thoughts. They may or may not be important, and at times we may want to examine why we are thinking such thoughts. We can follow such thoughts with the inquiry as to why each thought arises.

So, in not trying to change our thinking, we can see why certain thoughts arise in your mind so that we begin to understand the meaning of every thought and feeling. We can use this time to learn about ourselves instead of simply being our sleepwalking selves.

In this way we begin to have a perception, a consciousness which is active in seeing every kind of thought, every kind of feeling. The mind or our awareness awakens and becomes extraordinarily subtle, alive. No part of the mind is asleep. The mind is completely awake.

That is merely the foundation.

When the mind is very quiet one's whole being becomes very still. And in this stillness we can see things as they are. Not how they could be, not how they should be, but how they are.

Meditation is not sitting in a corner with our eyes closed, or repeating a lot of words or to think of a scene and go into some wild, fantastical imaginings.

To understand the whole process of your thinking and feeling is to be free from all thought and feeling. Not to say that thoughts and feelings aren't there, but there becomes a distinct separation between being your awakened awareness and being those thoughts or feelings. When we are free from identifying our selves with those thoughts or defining our self by those feelings, the mind becomes very quiet. One's whole being becomes very quiet.

This still point, this quietness is an important part of life. Within that quietness, you can look at the tree, you can look at other people, you can look at the sky and the stars.

This is, then, the awakening to the beauty of life.

To be able to see the beauty of life is the first step toward gratitude. When we are grateful for life and can appreciate it, its subtle workings, it's magical mystery, it's blessings we become consciously connected to life.

The beauty of life. We can see it in a new way. the way it is. With all its serendipitous connections and manifestations; from what we see as complex to the wonderment of what the sleeping mind sees as simple or ordinary.

Take trees for instance. They are around us all the time near us, lining our city streets, populating our parks, far away in the mountains. We see them, at times even pay them some attention, but how often do we really see them for what they truly are.

Take the simple fact that trees are green. This may seem simple, something which we don't think is all that extraordinary in our daily lives. But trees are not simply green, they are green because of photosynthesis. Trees are using solar energy. They are in fact turning sunlight into sugar.

Humans think very highly about themselves and their mechanistic and industrial accomplishments, and granted, these are great feats for mammals such as ourselves. But a tree, now there is an amazing being which is silently and through stillness turning sunlight into sugar. Humans have nothing like this. No machine created by man can turn sunlight into sugar.

So, to be grateful for the trees and to see them as amazing and mysterious forms of life's beauty is a good and humbling thing.

The beauty and magic of life can be found everywhere, for it is happening all around us.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Snow Falling on Silence

Another snowy gray day. Even though it's winter, southern Colorado usually has blue skies, even if it's only twenty degrees out. But not today, today the skies are gray and what started as minute snow has grown larger and it's coming down more heavily.

A snowy day can be a real good day to take a moment for introspection. The naturally slow pace of the falling flakes can give the moment a noticeable calm.

Check the stress levels, how is the mind doing? What is it doing?
Does it's pace and content match the falling snow?

One day at a time, one thought at a time, one flake at a time.
And between each thought and between each flake, what is there?

Can you take a few moments to just sit or stand, watch the snow fall, and listen to the peaceful space between the flakes?

Snowfall can be a metaphor for our inner journey, the thought processes in our mental environment, which is, for most of the day, the inner dialogue we have with ourselves.

Marina Raye is a musician who draws from her inspiration from her deep love for the earth. She has a strong vision about the awakening of peace in every heart. In the notes for her album Snow Falling on Silence she references a small story by Kurt Kauter about the conversation between a sparrow and a wild dove.

In this story the sparrow asks the dove what the weight of a snowflake is. The dove's reply is "nothing more then nothing." The Sparrow then tells the dove that it had been counting the flakes of snow settling on a the twigs and needles of its branch. Everything was fine when flake number 3,744,952 settled on the branch, but when the next flake, flake 3,744,953 landed the branch broke.

The dove thought about this for awhile and then said, "Perhaps there is only one person's voice lacking for peace to come about in the world."

So this fable is a kind of twist on the old "straw that broke the camels back", or perhaps "the hundredth monkey". If we cultivate serenity and space in our moments, we can realize peace in our lives instead of each thing we react to being "the last straw." In this way we can be one more entity experienceing peace on the planet, adding to the ever growing number of people having the same realization in their lives.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Meditating anywhere

Sometimes, setting regular time aside to meditate is not such an easy thing to do. Once out of the routine other habits of my daily schedule can take over and become the new way i start my day, unfortunately devoid of my mindful moments.

However, i have found that life presents many moments which can be used as triggers to remind me to meditate and as well as actually providing me small blocks of time to practice.

Delays in traffic due to congestion or accidents can at first seem like irritating delays, but i have been finding that these are perfect moments to just sit and be mindful of my thoughts, allowing myself to cultivate serenity and gratitude instead of dwelling in impatient thoughts or being filled with resentment and anger at the circumstances life has brought to me. Those circumstances can be what i make of; moments for clarity, a return to mindful serenity.

What’s the difference? The situations are the same. The need to arrive at my destination in a timely and punctual manner is the same.

It is the frame of mind. It is my perception.

Consciously deciding to remain a calm center, a serene traveler. This allows me to respond to the traffic jam and that guy who is trying to edge in from the other lane from a place of peace instead of irritation and anger.

I smile and wave and let him in. I hope he is mindful that for that moment he was living in an enlightened society of peaceful people. I hope i made his day better.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I have struggled to maintain a regular meditation practice for years. I have found that when i do meditate regularly, my stress levels go way down, my immunity goes way up and that i am generally in an even-keeled state of well being.

The form of meditation i use is mindfulness meditation which is simply sitting and paying attention to my posture, my breathing and my thoughts. I like the Zen master Dogens word for it shikantaza or "just sitting."

I would like to point out that "just sitting" is not as easy as it might sound.

Have you ever tried to just sit?

The first thing that will happen is that thoughts will start popping up. I don't mean that you will begin to think things, for if you pay attention you will notice that thoughts simply arise.

Like bubbles up from a stagnant pond.

In more ways than one.

No, you will find that when you sit and are mindful of what is going on in your land of thoughts you will find that often you are not really thinking your thoughts they are simply arising unbidden from the bio-machinery of your mind.

At this point of noticing, i acknowledge the thought, decide if its anything i should pay attention to (such as the smell of smoke in my home) or not (a moment in kindergarten i suddenly and without prompting recall) and then, since 99.99 per cent of the time it is an unimportant thought, i turn my attention back to my posture and my breathing. These strangely unbidden thoughts, like pop-up ads on the screen of an infected computer, are pesky and will pester the meditating person often.

I find that counting the breaths is a useful tool, it is a simple form of attention or focus which is not something one needs to attach himself to very deeply. Breathe in (one) and breathe out (two), breathe in (three) and breathe out (four).

It is simple.

There is no mystery here, no drama, nothing of interest to distract one from ones intention to just sit.

When a thought arises i simply return to my breathing count. Sometimes i realize i have been entertaining some long train of thought and i have no idea where i left off.

The train doesn't have to be very long for this to occur, so nipping it in the bud is wise advice.

As ones meditation practice matures it often becomes easier and easier to catch these thoughts sooner and sooner. However, as i said, i have struggled to maintain a healthy meditation practice and i have found this affects my ability to meditate when i do get around to attempting it again.

This reminds me of the saying "Zen mind, beginners mind." which implies that the mind is something we all have to deal with no matter how long we have been meditating. Meditation is not an activity with a goal in mind, there is no "end result" it is simply a practice. An ongoing practice, like our other practices of sleeping and eating.

One does not get good at eating and finally arrives at the point where we no longer need to engage in the practice of eating.

It's the same for sleeping.

I find that meditating cultivates a healthy sense of serenity in my life. A place from which i can respond to life in a level headed and peaceful manner instead of habitually reacting to events in my life as though they were the last straw, you know, the one that broke the camels back.