Buddhist Mantras

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Stepping out of compulsive thoughts, and into freedom

May 19, 2016 - 6:00am

The moment when we realize that we’ve been caught up in a distracted train of thought is a valuable opportunity to bring skillful qualities into the mind, and to cultivate insight.

This is something that’s very familiar to anyone who’s meditated. We’ll start by following the breathing, or some other object of attention, but then without our making any conscious choice to shift our focus we slip into a dream-like state in which we’re rehashing a dispute, or fantasizing about something pleasant, or worrying about some situation in our lives.

These periods of distraction can be so intense that they are like hypnotic states. They’re like dreams. They’re like mental bubbles of an internal virtual reality drama in which we’re mindlessly immersed. When we’re distracted in this way we’re in an altered state of consciousness, in which we lack self-awareness: we’re not aware we’re distracted, we’re not aware we’re fantasizing, and we’re participating in the drama of our experience but we’re no longer monitoring or observing our experience.

Especially for those who are relatively new to meditation, there can be a tendency to be disappointed, annoyed, or self-critical when we emerge from these hypnotic bubbles. But with practice we can learn to cultivate patience and kindness as we accept that the mind wanders, appreciation as we value our return to mindfulness, and persistence as we bring the mind gently back to the breathing. People who’ve been meditating for a long time can get pretty good at relating to distractions in that way. They maybe are (sometimes) a little less distracted, but they’re a lot less bothered by the distractions they do have.

But there’s one other thing that I’ve recently been bringing in to my meditation at the point where I realize that I’ve just emerged from a dream-like period of distraction. What I’ve been doing is I note the fact that the train of thought I was immersed in seemed compelling when I was, so to speak, inside it, and yet now that I’m viewing it from the outside it appears undesirable and unsatisfying.

When we’re inside these hypnotic, dream-like states, they entirely capture our attention. They hold us spellbound. They’re irresistibly compelling. And yet, when the bubble eventually bursts, I find them to be rather lame! Noticing this lameness helps me to stay more disengaged from them. Of course other distractions will come up, and I’ll get lost in those too, but noticing the unsatisfactoriness of my distractions immediately after they’re over helps my mindfulness to have more momentum. I feel clearer. Sharper. More empowered. More content.

And just as my distractions appear more unsatisfactory, so the simple richness of my present-moment experience seems even more satisfying by contrast. I realize that this is where I want to stay. The calmness seems calmer. The body feels more alive. Yes, this is home.

Observing the unsatisfactoriness of our distractions also works with the less compelling thoughts that flit through the mind without causing us to lose our mindfulness altogether. We can watch them go by and realize that they have nothing to offer us but disappointment and frustration.

This practice is one of “noting” the characteristic (lakkhana) of dukkha (which can mean unsatisfactoriness, suffering, or even pain.) It seems to fit rather neatly with verse 278 of the Dhammapada: “All fabricated states of mind [sankharas] are unsatisfactory [dukkha]. When one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering [dukkha].”

The word dukkha is used in two senses here. First, our distractions (sankharas, or “fabricated states of mind”) are seen as unsatisfactory. Second, seeing the unsatisfactoriness of our distracted states of mind — craving, irritation, anxiety, avoidance, doubt — helps us to turn away from the dukkha (suffering) that these kinds of thoughts give rise to. For all of these distractions have the effect of reducing our levels of well-being.

And so, seeing that our distractions are unsatisfying—indeed are incapable of providing real satisfaction—we turn away from the suffering they bring. Noting the unsatisfactoriness of our distractions is, in fact, an insight practice. It takes us closer to awakening.

I’ve suggest trying this practice for yourself. Very simply, just notice, as you emerge from each distraction, how the train of thought appears to you now. Does it seem alluring? Does it seem unpleasant? Is it something in between?

Do note that there may be some part of your mind that is still drawn to the distraction. This isn’t surprising, since moments before you’d been entirely absorbed and seduced. But on the whole you may find yourself turning away from the distraction, seeing it as it really is — unsatisfying. And you may find yourself, unexpectedly, with a fuller appreciation of the present moment.

How mindfulness reduces stress and improves health

May 11, 2016 - 8:52am
Available now: Guided Mindfulness Meditation (Series 1) from Jon Kabat-ZinnHeather Goldstone, WCAI: In 1971, Jon Kabat-Zinn finished his Ph.D. in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate, Salvador Luria, at M.I.T. Then, he took what might be considered a left turn – he went to study with Buddhist masters. Several years later, he drew on both his training in both biology and Buddhism when he founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at U. Mass. Medical School and created the first course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

“It seems like ‘wow, what a gigantic shift from molecular biology to Buddhist meditative practices,'” says Kabat-Zinn. “But it wasn’t so much …

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The Dalai Lama’s $750,000 emotional atlas website is kind of blah

May 6, 2016 - 11:41am

The New York Times today reported that the Dalai Lama commissioned a website that presents an Atlas of Emotions, aimed to help ordinary people understand their emotions better. He paid psychologist Paul Ekman — who helped advise on Pixar’s “Inside Out” and on the TV show, “Lie to Me” — “at least” $750,000 to develop the site.

You should be able to get a hell of a lot of website for three quarters of a million dollars, right?

I’ve been playing around a little with the Dalai Lama’s emotion website. It defines and describes different emotions, their sub-states, the actions they give rise to, their triggers, and the settled moods they give rise to when they become habitual.

It presents five primary emotions, which are portrayed as “continents,” following the atlas theme. These five emotions are fear, sadness, disgust, enjoyment, and anger.

I can see how this could be helpful in giving people a better vocabulary to understand and name their emotions.

However, I have grave reservations about the usefulness of this site. I haven’t see anything in the website about love or compassion, which is odd, given both their importance in life and the Dalai Lama’s (and Buddhism’s) emphasis on them. How can the primary emotions of Buddhism be missing? Where is gratitude? Where is reverence, awe, or admiration? These are all crucial spiritual emotions.

The atlas is meant to be a practical tool, and the site’s description emphasizes this: “This Atlas was created to increase understanding of how emotions influence our lives, giving us choice, (at least some of the time) about which emotion we are experiencing.”

“Understanding” is good, but it doesn’t necessarily transform us. There’s little practical information. We can learn what triggers particular states: for example losing a loved one or being rejected triggers sadness. But there’s no practical guidance about how to deal with loss or rejection in ways that will reduce suffering rather than increase it. Buddhist teachings show how we can do this, and it’s surprising that the whole field of working with emotions is missing from the atlas.?

Two primary Buddhist tools for dealing with emotions are mindfulness and equanimity. There’s no guidance on how to develop these. Buddhism also teaches how to cultivate skillful emotions such as kindness, compassion, and appreciation. There’s no guidance on the website at all.

There’s one other thing about the Atlas of Emotions that bothers me. Down at the bottom left is a little stick figure icon pointing to the word “peg.” It’s not obvious what that’s about unless you click on it. Clicking on the icon in fact takes you to Paul Ekman’s site, where the emphasis is on selling his training courses on recognizing micro-emotions. I find this distasteful. He’s used $750,000 (how!) to create a website, and then is using that site to host advertising for his products. Perhaps he pays for this advertising. There’s no way of knowing.

This is disappointing, since I have a lot of respect for Dr. Ekman’s work.?

But about that price tag! I’ve developed this website (Wildmind) on a shoestring. It’s not a systematic guide to emotions, as the Atlas of Emotions is, but it contains a wealth of tools for working with emotions. It offers not only practical articles, but also guided meditations to help people practically work with their emotions. It boggles the mind what $750,000 should be able to achieve in terms of relieving human suffering. The Atlas of Emotions is a series of pretty graphics and information about emotional states when it could have been a powerfully transformative tool to help people find relief from suffering.

The wake-up call that transformed neuroscientist Richard Davidson’s life

May 6, 2016 - 7:08am
Check out Meditations to Change Your Brain, by Rick Hanson PhD & Richard Mendius (3CDs)Rebecca Shapiro, Huffington Post: Richard Davidson had been studying the brain for more than a decade when he was asked a question that quite literally changed his life.

“Why have you been using the tools of modern neuroscience just to study anxiety and stress and fear and depression?” Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, asked the neuroscientist in 1992. “Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?”

The question, which Davidson described as “a total wake-up call,” caused him to refocus his research. One of the first …

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How to become happier by appreciating the wonderful impermanence of distraction

May 5, 2016 - 5:00am

Beginners to meditation are often disappointed, annoyed, or despondent about many thoughts arise in meditation. They want to get rid of these thoughts, especially since many of them are emotionally troubling and cause stress, anxiety, and other forms of suffering.

Long-term meditators, of course, learn to accept the arising of thoughts, and so they don’t get upset about them.

Something that can benefit not just beginners, but people with many years of experience of meditation, is that we don’t need to do anything to get rid of our thoughts!

That may sound a bit puzzling. Here’s a bit of context to help you make sense of what I mean.
We tend to be very focused on the fact of thoughts arising. We experience, perhaps, a moment of inner calm, but then there comes a thought. That thought disappears, and immediately there’s another one. And another, and another. So we focus on the fact that thoughts keep arising.

But for every arising of a thought, there’s a passing away of a thought. No thought ever hangs around indefinitely. They don’t pile up in the mind, in a great heap. Yes, they arise. But they also pass away.

And our experience starts to seem very different when we allow ourselves to focus on the passing of thoughts rather than their arising.

Just watch your mind for a while, right now, and notice that each of the thoughts that appears spontaneously disappears!

You didn’t have to do anything to get rid of any of these thoughts. They got rid of themselves, because their very nature is impermanent. They are inherently transitory.

You may have felt a sense of joy as you realized that your thoughts are constantly vanishing, getting rid of themselves. It’s very encouraging to focus on that aspect of them, rather than the fact that they keep getting created.

Rather than going — oh, drat, here’s another thought — we can notice — oh, great, that’s another thought gone. We don’t necessarily think those words, although it’s not a problem if we do, and in fact it can be helpful to have that kind of thought pass through the mind—we can notice that that thought is impermanent too! But we can simply notice the passing of thoughts and, perhaps, feel happy about that fact.

And our feeling happier because we realize that thoughts, so to speak, “self-liberate,” we feel more confident. And when we feel more confident, we don’t feel the same compulsion to think that we felt before. So we may find, as we shift our focus to notice the impermanence of our thoughts, that the mind becomes calmer.

If you like my articles, please click here to check out my books, guided meditation CDs, and MP3s.In effect, what we’re doing here is to bring an element of insight into our meditation practice. Insight, or vipassana, is the act of questioning, or examining, the nature of our experience. The most simple way to do that is to directly observe that any experience we may have, whether it’s the experience of a breath, the experience of an aching knee, or the experience of a thought, is impermanent.

Directly observing the impermanence of our experiences in this way is liberating. It helps, as the Buddha said, to divert the mind from habits that cause suffering:

“All fabricated mental states are impermanent” — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

Mindful leaders are effective leaders

May 3, 2016 - 9:35am

In June, the Director of the National Centre for Strategic Leadership, Nigel Girling, will be running a free webinar raising awareness about and talking through some approaches to mindful leadership. The following post was provided by the organizers of the webinar.

We live in a world of unprecedented pressure to be productive, complete tasks and stay in constant contact. For leaders, this can lead to a working environment that is fragmented by thousands of distractions and disparate demands. Attention spans are, unsurprisingly, becoming shorter as leaders struggle to find their way through this minefield.

It might all sound a bit hippy and New Age, but mindfulness might be just what leaders need at this point.

Many cultures have embraced this kind of thinking for centuries, but applying it to leadership and business, especially in the West, is rather more recent. There are five major aspects of effective leadership than can be developed through mindfulness.

Self-awareness

In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, it’s essential that leaders remain aware of how they are perceived by others. Being conscious of your own emotional and mental state, and of your behavior, is key to ensuring that you are the leader you want and need to be at all times.

The ability to see and experience yourself as others will is crucial in understanding the impact you have. It begins by being alert, listening to yourself, and observing the way you think, feel, speak and behave.

Presence in the moment

The modern leader needs to be able to experience situations clearly and without prejudice or emotional baggage. With so much complexity in every context, the ability to remain focused on the reality of a situation and the core purpose of any action is of significant benefit.
This is part of the wider topic of ‘critical thinking’. It could be as simple as paying attention to what is actually happening. People who multi-task often spend much of their time thinking about the thing they need to do next, or worrying about problems… mindfulness asks that you think about what is happening right now.

Resilience

Leaders are starting to recognize that their ability to withstand major trauma, bounce back from setbacks, and cope with pressure, all without becoming stressed, is a key factor influencing their capacity for providing engaging and confident leadership.

Stress is often the natural enemy of rational and considered behavior, and mindfulness can help a leader to treat setbacks and failures as learning experiences that can be analyzed to guide future action.

Compassion

Some traditional management thinking would have you believe that it is necessary to be tough and hard, demanding results and driving performance. In the 21st century, talented staff want a leader who is human and who understands that work-life balance is not just some wishy-washy fad, but a source of renewed commitment, engagement and enthusiasm.

The effective modern leader knows that their job is to enable their people to bring the best version of themselves to work, not just to squeeze them dry and discard them when they fall apart.

Gordon Gekko was a fictional character, just like Sir Alan Sugar or the Dragons. Leaders who really behaved that way would almost certainly find their best people jumping ship, and those that stayed being stressed, unwell and underperforming.

Calmness and rational thinking

In recent years, some excellent work has been done on developing our understanding of neuroscience, and the role of emotion in thinking patterns. Organizations like HeartMath have demonstrated the way emotional responses affect the ability to remain rational, and have shown just how important calmness is in sending out the right messages through deliberate, conscious behavior and unbiased decision-making.

In summary, mindfulness isn’t about finger-cymbals and chanting (not that there’s anything wrong with either of these), nor do you have to sit cross-legged in front of your guru… it’s just a hefty dollop of common-sense, applied to an area that is often rather short of it.

To find out how to harness the power of mindfulness to achieve these essential features of effective leadership, join the webinar.

Three ways meditation improves relationships – backed by science

May 3, 2016 - 8:03am
Available in our store: The Neurobiology of “WE”: How Relationships, the Mind and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are, by Daniel J. SiegelEmma M. Seppälä, Psychology Today: Meditation can seem like a lonely activity, even a slightly selfish one —after all, you’re doing something, on your own, for yourself – or so it seems. Even if you’re meditating in a group, your eyes are closed and you’re focused on yourself. Doesn’t seem like something that would improve your relationships. But research shows it does. Here’s how.

1) It Curbs Your Stress & Gives You Perspective

Most people experience stress during the day. Worse yet …

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Set up a rock-solid daily meditation habit!

April 29, 2016 - 8:51am

Our 14 Day Mindfulness Meditation Challenge (May 1-14) is an introductory 14 day meditation event. It is an opportunity to experience the benefits that come from setting up a rock-solid daily meditation habit. We’ll be exploring the practice of mindfulness.

Signing up for this 14-day event gives you access to:

  • Daily emails with practice suggestions
  • Four guided meditations
  • Support, encouragement, and connecting with like-minded people in our online community

This event is suitable for people of all levels of experience, including complete beginners.

Register today to begin the daily habit!

Exploring the quality of mudita, or joyful appreciation (May 1-28)

April 29, 2016 - 8:13am

Living With Appreciation: Exploring the Joy of Gratitude begins Sunday, May 1st!

Living with gratitude and appreciation has been shown in studies to be one of the most important factors in creating happiness and well-being. The more we are capable of living gratefully and appreciatively, the more we feel a sense of our lives being blessed.

Signing up for this event gives you access to:

  • 28 daily emails with practice suggestions
  • Access to five guided meditations, from 10 to 26 minutes in length
  • Support and encouragement in a welcoming online community

This event is suitable for people of all levels of experience, including complete beginners.

Click here for more information or to register!

Power of positive thinking skews mindfulness studies

April 28, 2016 - 10:12am
Check this out: The Enlightened Brain: The Neuroscience of Awakening, by Rick Hanson (7 CDs)Anna Nowogrodzki, Scientific American: There’s a little too much wishful thinking about mindfulness, and it is skewing how researchers report their studies of the technique.

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, analyzed 124 published trials of mindfulness as a mental-health treatment, and found that scientists reported positive findings 60% more often than is statistically likely. The team also examined another 21 trials that were registered with databases such as ClinicalTrials.gov; of these, 62% were unpublished 30 months after they finished. The findings—reported in PLoS ONE on April 8— hint that negative results are going …

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How to improve your attention span through meditation

April 26, 2016 - 11:01am

Your ability to stick with something varies from activity to activity. For example, when playing Scrabble or a computer game, or watching a movie, you no doubt have thoughts about unrelated things, but you keep coming back to the activity. But in other things, like meditation, you find it more difficult to stay focused, and may even give up.

This all suggests that “attention span” is a question of how you relate to distraction, rather than some intrinsic quality of the mind.

The difference is often to do with rewards: in Scrabble, you naturally get a reward when you’ve completed a word and score points. That gives you a little dopamine hit—not just when you score points, but even when you see the possibility of doing so. You see the promise of getting to a new level in a computer game, and once again there’s a dopamine hit. The movie has quiet parts, where you’re less engaged and the mind wanders, but then the story evolves and you get to see some action, or a shift in the plot and want to know what happens next. Another dopamine hit.

Dopamine is the brain’s “promise of a reward” chemical. It keeps you motivated. Dopamine is in effect saying to your brain, “Keep going! Something good is just around the corner!”

Movies and games have built-in mechanisms for delivering dopamine-based rewards. That’s why we like them. Meditation, less so.

Sometimes meditation is naturally rewarding. We might notice that the mind is becoming a little calmer, and feel good about that. And those kinds of experiences keep you motivated. But when people meditate, especially early on, they mostly notice how distracted they are! This is less encouraging, which is probably why most people give up meditating after the first few days or weeks.

We all have trouble paying attention, and have distracted thoughts popping into our heads that take us away from the task we’re trying to focus on, such as noticing the breathing. There’s a tendency at first to assume that there’s something wrong when this happens, and to think that we can’t meditate. And that sense of “failure” produces very unpleasant feelings that we want to escape from by ceasing to continue the exercise. But in fact it’s normal to get distracted, and if we accept that we can just keep returning to the meditation practice over and over again.

It can be a little shocking, and disappointing. This saps our motivation, making us want to give up.

In meditation, the reward often has to be consciously induced. We can do this by deliberately celebrating small signs of progress. For example, the mind is always going to go wandering, and become distracted. But it always returns to mindful awareness! In meditation, we can either curse ourselves for getting distracted again or celebrate regaining our mindfulness again. Which we choose makes a big difference to our perseverance.

If you like my articles, please click here to check out my books, guided meditation CDs, and MP3s.If that seems artificial (which is to say that you’re choosing to believe the demotivating thought rather than the one that motivates you) then you might want to give yourself a little reassurance instead, by saying something like, “It’s OK. This happens to everyone. I’ve returned to mindful attention now, and that’s the important thing.”?

Once you’re learned to be a bit less disappointed in distraction and begun to accept it as a normal part of the meditation process, then you start to more consciously celebrate your many, many returns to mindful awareness.

Doing this will help you to stick with the practice. However, you’ll find that your attention span improves not just in meditation, but in other areas of your life too, since you’ve learned an important principle of motivation: criticism deflates, rewards inspire!

How to be the world’s best soulmate

April 25, 2016 - 9:19am
How To Stop Beating Yourself Up, Guided Meditations for Self-Compassion (MP3) is available in our online store!Nanci Besser, Fulfillment Daily: Everyone wants a soulmate. Yet what does it take to be a perfect partner to that soulmate? A research study shows us the secret to being a wonderful soulmate, and it’s something most of us have never heard of: self-compassion.

At this point in your existing or budding relationship you probably know the crucial basics about one another: Human? –Check; Approximate age/height? –Check, check; Occupation? –Check; Do you practice self-compassion in your life? -Uh, no…why on Earth would that matter? Well, I’m glad …

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Pain relief with mindfulness meditation

April 21, 2016 - 11:20am
Find You Are Not Your Pain by Vidyamala Burch (includes CD) here!MD Magazine: Study findings published in the Journal of Neuroscience provide “novel evidence demonstrating that mindfulness meditation produces greater pain relief and employs distinct neural mechanisms than placebo cream and sham mindfulness meditation,” according to the authors.

Led by Fadel Zeidan, PhD, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, the study team found that mindfulness meditation—unlike other cognitive-based approaches to reduce pain, such as hypnosis, acupuncture, distraction, and even the placebo effect—does not appear to utilize the endogenous opioid system to reduce pain.

“Our finding …

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To motivate yourself to meditate, choose to be pleased about the fact of meditating

April 20, 2016 - 11:55am

Although I’ve been meditating for over 30 years, I have to confess (and have done so often) that for most of that time my regularity was erratic. It’s only the last few years that I’ve been a rock-solid daily meditator. Unfortunately I don’t think any advice I was given (or gave, in classes I taught!) on meditating daily was of any use at all, and I had to figure out my motivation for myself.

Maybe that’s true for all of us, although it seems a lot of people have found my “I meditate every day” mantra useful.

A friend wrote to me and talked about a “good” meditation he’d had, and contrasted it with “bad” meditations. He himself put the words “good” and “bad” in scare quotes, which I think is great. It’s good not to take those labels seriously, and I think he was being appropriately skeptical about the validity of those terms.

But this prompted me to reflect (again) on how the whole vocabulary of “good” meditations is flawed. Don’t these labels largely come down to how we feel about what unfolded in our practice? Judgements like “good” and “bad” are largely just a reflection of what we feel.

My friend’s “good” meditation was one in which he experienced an unusual (for him) amount of continuity of awareness, without the mind zooming off into distractedness.

In terms of feelings, he was something like surprised, delighted, and excited because his meditation practice was unusually focused. I know that’s more verbose than saying it was a “good” meditation, but it’s accurate and descriptive. Saying the practice was “good” doesn’t strike me as a very useful adjective. What does it add? (I’m not criticizing my friend’s choice of vocabulary, incidentally. As I pointed how he was very clear that he was using “good” as a “quick and dirty” way of evaluating his practice).

By contrast, my own meditation this morning, because I was sleep-deprived, was mostly dreamy, with lots of distracted thinking. I may even have been asleep at times! But I felt pleased about my meditation, simply because I did it. Was that a “good” meditation? Not by most people’s evaluation, nor when weighed against my average experience. But does it matter? No. The meditation was what it was, and how I feel about it doesn’t make any difference to that fact.

However, that labels I apply to my meditation practice might make a difference to my future inclination to meditate. If I’d labelled it a “bad” meditation—which would mean, presumably, something like “I felt disappointed because my experience wasn’t what I wanted it to be”—then I’d be less inclined to continue meditating in the future.

Let’s say my friend had had exactly the same objective experience, with continuity of awareness for most of his meditation, but had felt neutral or even displeased by those events. It would be the same meditation, but he wouldn’t regard it as “good” and instead would see it as “so-so” or even “disappointing.” Seeing the practice in that way would away from the motivation to keep practicing in the future.

In a way I’ve chosen to be pleased at the very fact of having done my daily practice, and that encourages me to keep doing it daily. and in a way, having being pleased about my meditation as my default means that my daily meditation is always “good.” And so I want to keep doing it. What actually happens in my practice is secondary and doesn’t affect me being please by the fact of having done it. The length of time I’ve meditated is also secondary, and also doesn’t affect me feeling happy about having meditated.

When my mind becomes concentrated during a sit, or when joy or love arises, then I can be pleased by those occurrences as well. But they’re an added bonus, since I’ve already decided to feel pleased simply because I’ve meditated.

Keeping going is the most important thing, because meditation is practice. It’s the doing of it that’s important. You might not see any calmness or concentration or love manifesting in any given sit, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not benefitting.

Although I said that none of the advice I received about establishing a rock-solid daily meditation practice really helped, I hope the advice that we can choose to be pleased about the fact of meditating does help.

How how can we make the choice to be pleased about having meditated? To feel pleased about meditating, celebrate meditating.

If you like my articles, please click here to check out my books, guided meditation CDs, and MP3s.
  • Simply choose to pat yourself on the back for having sat. No matter how short the sit was, or what actually happened during the meditation, tell yourself you’ve done a good job for having sat. Use congratulatory language: “Yay, me! Good job! Well done! It’s great that I sat today!” Smile! Or you can simply thank yourself: “Thank you for meditating. I really appreciate you doing that.”
  • Although some of us have conditioning that makes us feel bad about self-congratulation, I think that nevertheless, even if our cultural conditioning makes us want to go, “Oh, really, it was nothing. I’ve had much better sits. I really should meditate for longer,” we do on some level also feel pleased when we hear deserved praise.
  • If your meditation practice is unusually calm, or concentrated, or loving, or compassionate, or joyful, or anything else that’s affirming and delightful, then allow yourself to be pleased about that too. But don’t let that take the place of being pleased about the fact of having meditated.
  • When we do something skillful we should allow ourselves to feel pleased by it, and we should choose to ignore the voices that downplay what we did.

In short: If you have pleasing experiences in meditation, then enjoy them. But choose to be pleased about the very fact of having meditated. This will help motivate you to keep on practicing.

The core skill of meditation is showing up

April 19, 2016 - 5:00am

One of the biggest myths about meditation is that it involves experiencing blissful or “spiritual” states of mind. It doesn’t. It’s about experiencing and accepting the very ordinary states that present themselves to us, and working with them, gently and kindly.

Now it is possible to experience beautiful, calm, joyful states of mind in meditation. There are delineated lists of these, complete with traditional accounts of the various factors that constitute those experiences. Those traditional lists correspond closely to the actual experience of contemporary meditators of many spiritual traditions—not just Buddhism. They’re real. They’re attainable.

But if we think that this is what meditation essentially is, then we probably won’t meditate, because most of the time those states don’t arise, even for people who’ve been meditating for a long time. And so we’ll get despondent and give up.

The chances are that when we meditate—especially when we’re first learning—we’re faced with an unruly mind that doesn’t want to experience what’s arising, because it’s unpleasant or boring. The mind assumes that happiness lies elsewhere, and so it keeps creating fantasies into which it tries to disappear. And our task is to keep turning back toward our actual experience again and again, even when that experience doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a source of peace or joy.

The core skill of meditation is showing up. Showing up is not something we do once. It’s something we do over and over again.

It’s not always easy to do this. In fact it rarely is. Many people try meditating, experience the unruliness, and think “I’m obviously not cut out for meditation. I didn’t experience anything special. All I got was frustration.”

And that’s why we need to practice coming back to our experience over and over again. In doing this, we start to develop the capacity to accept our experience, and to accept ourselves. We discover that it’s not the kinds of experiences we have that determine whether we’re happy, or at peace, or content, but the way we relate to those experiences.

So we find that the mind is restless, or that there’s something unpleasant going on in our experience, and instead of reacting to it we find we begin to accept it. The mind is less inclined to run from our core experience. It’s more likely to surround it with mindfulness, kindness, and curiosity.

And although this may not sound radical, it is. It’s radically different from the normal reactive state in which we keeping running from our experience.

And if we keep doing this, we may find that we start to experience some of the special meditative states I mentioned earlier—which are characterized by calmness, joy, and ease. But those states are not the essence of meditation. They result from showing up, over and over again. They result from our continued gentle efforts to experience and accept our ordinary unruly mind.

You have the right to remain silent…

April 16, 2016 - 9:06am

The above photograph has apparently been going viral in the last few days. I’ve seen it described as “Canadian police meditating before starting their day,” and also seen doubt being cast upon its authenticity, which isn’t surprising considering how much fake news circulates on the web these days.

The photograph is genuine, and the police officers are Canadian, but the description “meditating before starting their day” is potentially misleading since it suggests that this is a regular part of the police day in Canada.

The photograph is actually one of many taken at the West End Buddhist Temple and Meditation Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, as a a guest lecture to police officers of Peel Region about Buddhist philosophy and mindfulness meditation. The lecture (and, apparently, meditation lesson) were given by the Venerable Dr. Bhante Saranapala, an energetic young fellow who goes by the nickname “The Urban Buddhist Monk,” and who, by the looks of the temple’s Facebook page, does great work in introducing people to meditation and Buddhism.

It would be great if police officers did practice meditation regularly as part of their work day. In a crisis I’d much rather have an armed officer who’s trained in mindfulness and compassion than one who’s frazzled and angry!

Below are a few more photographs from the event. You can see the rest here.

Adorable! A dog and his human “namaste” each other

April 15, 2016 - 7:59am

This animated gif of a dog saluting his human is just beautiful. Technically neither of them is doing a “namaste” since that’s a verbal greeting—hence the scare quotes in the subject line of this post. They’re performing the añjali mudr?, which is the respectful putting together of hands, accompanied by a bow. Just thought you’d want to know :)

Is mindfulness another task on your to-do list?

April 14, 2016 - 10:46am
The guided meditation Mindfulness of Breathing (MP3) is available here! Kathy Walsh, Huffington Post: Is mindfulness just another thing on your to-do list? Or is it woven into your day, like a beautiful golden thread through your tapestry. Are you rushing through your mindful activity? Or are you doing it with joy? Does it come from your heart and soul or your mind?

I began mindful parenting 28 years ago when I was pregnant with my first daughter. I meditated to dolphin music, wrote my thoughts and feelings in a journal, and sent positive, loving thoughts to the baby in my tummy. It started before …

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How to practice mindfulness throughout your work day

April 13, 2016 - 7:56am
Check out Guided Meditations for Busy People (MP3) Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter, Greater Good Science Center: You probably know the feeling all too well: You arrive at the office with a clear plan for the day and then, in what feels like just a moment, you find yourself on your way back home. Nine or ten hours have passed but you’ve accomplished only a few of your priorities. And, most likely, you can’t even remember exactly what you did all day. If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Research shows that people spend almost 47 percent of their waking hours thinking about something …

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How to create calmness by observing thoughtspace and feelingspace

April 9, 2016 - 8:48am

I was teaching a class the other night and after a guided meditation one woman said she’d found it hard because lots of thoughts came up, and she’d get absorbed in them. Then she had to keep letting go of the thoughts and returning to the breathing. Of course I reassured her that that’s absolutely normal. In fact, noticing that we’ve been caught up in the mind’s stories and returning to our present-moment experience (whether of the breathing or something else) is what meditation is about.

Once you accept that fact, you’re less likely to think of yourself as being a “bad meditator” or to think that your meditation practice isn’t going well just because you get distracted. In fact, under such circumstances your practice is going just as it should.

Many years ago I found it useful to watch what you might call “thoughtspace.” Thoughtspace is the physical location of your thinking. Now you might not have thought of your thinking as having a physical location, but try paying attention right now as you say something to yourself internally. I think you’ll find that your thoughts emanate from a particular place (probably inside your head). If you watch that part of your experience closely — if you monitor your thoughtspace — you’ll think less.

This helps to calm the mind. Except … I also found that there was a kind of secondary thoughtspace. Over and over I’d find that I was watching the primary thoughtspace (the one you just identified) carefully, only to become aware that there was a subtle background whispering coming from somewhere else. The thinking that came from the secondary thoughtspace seemed quieter and less obtrusive, however. The primary thoughtspace seemed to give rise to the kinds of thoughts that completely threw me off track and led into unmindful absorption in daydreams and fantasies. The secondary thoughtspace gave rise to subtler, more whispery thoughts, which co-existed with mindful attention so that I could be observing the breathing (or my primary thoughtspace) and still have a running commentary going on. However, those thoughts could shift to become the center of my attention if I wasn’t attentive enough.

You might want to try watching your thoughtspace and see if the same happens in your own experience.

Having just the whispery thoughts of the secondary thoughtspace is a lot better than having the more “in your face” thinking that normally goes on, but sometimes I like to calm and stabilize the mind even more. So one way to do that is to simultaneously observe your thoughtspace and what you could call your feelingspace.

Feelingspace, as I’m sure you’ve worked out, is a name for the area in the body where feelings arise. The point of observing the feelingspace is not to stop feeling arising! It’s just to observe what’s there. Now feelings can arise in many parts of the body, including the solar plexus and the heart. but most often they manifest in the solar plexus, just south of your sternum.

I don’t mean to imply having a narrow focus. If I were to start my meditation just by noticing the space where my thoughts arise and the solar plexus, for example, then this would feel very constricted and might even lead to a kind of “backlash” where my thinking increased. So although I may be focusing on the solar plexus I’m actually aware of most of the area in the body where feelings arise—basically most of the chest and abdomen. Within this, I’ll have a lightly-held focus on where I tend to be experiencing feelings the most at that particular time.

What I’ve found is that if I observe both the thoughtspace and the feelingspace at the same time, the mind becomes even quieter. The mind may not become completely silent all the time, but there are longer periods of calm.

Whatever you do, don’t get attached to the idea of getting rid of thoughts altogether! You can’t control the arising of thoughts, and they will tend to bubble up. If you have the idea that you’re only “succeeding” when there’s no thinking, then you’ll get frustrated. Just try doing the practice and see what happens. It may take you a while to feel your way into it, since there are a bunch of skills I’ve mentioned that you may have to work on developing — e.g. including two different parts of your experience in conscious awareness at the same time. Some people initially find this tricky since they have the habit of focusing narrowly (although not necessarily mindfully!)

The following things are all excellent outcomes:

If you’re making a gentle effort to observe both thoughtspace and feelingspace at the same time. If you’re able to do so, or getting better at doing so. If you find that you’re a bit more aware of your thinking without getting caught up in it. If you find that periods of distraction still arise but they don’t last as long. If your thinking seems lighter and less compelling than it was before. If you notice periods of time, even brief ones, where there appear to be no thoughts arising. If you’re more aware of the area of the body where feelings arise. If you notice your feelings more. If you notice the interaction between thoughts and feelings.

Basically, any increase in awareness of what’s going on inside you is good. Any movement, however slight, toward peace and freedom is welcome. But mainly what you’re doing is just being mindful of the body, of feelings, and of the mind. It’s about process, not outcomes.

You might want to give that a try and see if it works for you.

If you like my articles, please click here to check out my books, guided meditation CDs, and MP3s. I’ve generally found that observing two physically separate parts of my experience has a profoundly calming effect (I call this “the perceptual stretch”) but the fact that feelings and thoughts interact with each other may also help this approach to be effective in calming the mind.

Just one last point, when you have a single candle in a large room, it’s not going to light up the whole space; appreciate the light you have, rather than cursing the darkness that remains. Value any moments of calmness that emerge, rather than lamenting the fact that thoughts are still arising. By valuing calmness, you encourage it to grow.