Buddhist Mantras

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Can you be mindful and still feel angry?

January 17, 2017 - 8:17am
Check out Guided Meditations for Stress Reduction (MP3) by Bodhipaksa!Peggilee Wupperman Ph.D., Psychology Today: Mindfulness will not turn you into a feel-good Zen zombie.

If you struggle with dysregulated (addictive/impulsive) behavior, you might have heard that mindfulness can help you overcome the behavior.

In fact, you have likely seen numerous articles on how mindfulness can help you with pretty much every problem you have ever had (Dysregulated behavior! Anxiety! Relationship issues! Work stress! Ingrown toenails!). You may even have been pressured to practice mindfulness by friends or colleagues.

And you may be feeling a little irritated—or just plain angry…

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Mindful moment… Walk away your worries

January 10, 2017 - 7:52am
Here’s a Walking Meditation (MP3) by Bodhipaksa!Marianne Power, The Independant: Ok, so it’s back-to-reality-blues time. The tree is on its way down and the house is covered with its spines. The Hoover is snarled up with tinsel.

Boxes awaiting decorations surround you and every time you put on your trousers you regret that fourth tin of Quality Streets you ate. So here’s what you do: go for a walk in nature. The simple act of walking in a green space has been found to improve mental health, according to new American research…

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Five simple mindfulness practices for people who hate to meditate

January 4, 2017 - 7:51am
Download Harnessing the Power of Kindness (MP3) by Bodhipaksa!Jeena Cho, Forbes: The science is clear: practicing mindfulness is good for you. Just as you can exercise the body for better performance, the mind too can be trained, honed and sharpened. Mindfulness has been shown to break negative thought patterns, reduce stress and anxiety, and sharpens focus.

Perhaps knowing all of these benefits, you tried meditation. Yet, for whatever the reason, the practice of meditation—sitting still, quietly, focusing on a single object, just isn’t working for you. Maybe you even judge yourself for your inability to meditate.

If you are struggling with making …

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Happy New Breath

January 1, 2017 - 3:00am

Every breath can be the beginning of a new year. One breath at a time can seem a long time for people in recovery. Many people are afraid to connect to the subtle sensations in the nostrils and on the upper lip, that we label as the breath. Connecting to the subtle sensations of breathing means we have to slow down and become aware of our body, thoughts and feelings.

Those of us with addictions are often trying to flee the body, feelings and thoughts. Instead of coming back to the body, we are trying to have out-of-body experiences, get high, have altered states, and not be in touch with everyday reality.

The Buddha taught the four foundations of mindfulness. The contemplation of the body, feelings, thoughts and mind objects (like hindrances, six senses, the five skandhas and the seven factors of enlightenment).

This is what the Buddha taught. He taught the practise of anapanasati to help us contemplate these four foundations. He taught us how to breathe again. This is the essence, the pulse of this practice. Inhaling and exhaling, aware of the length, and sensation of each breathing moment. Allowing breathing to soothe the body, to soothe mental formation, to liberate the heart, and relinquish all habits.

A whole lifetime passes in each breathing moment. What we do in each moment impacts the next. With every inhale there is an exhale until the last breathing moment.

The past connects to the present, and the present connects to the future. Just like the inhale and exhale. By having awareness of every breathing moment we can impact this flow of reality.

How many of us are aware of breathing? Have you ever tried to be attached to breathing? Attachment only arises when we have the difficulty of breathing. When we don’t inhale enough oxygen it causes us to choke, have asthma attacks, or struggling for another inhale and exhale.

When we experience excitement or upset, our bodies can contract, we interrupt the flow of breathing. Rarely do we experience the full capacity of inhaling and exhaling. We need to be aware that lack of oxygen to the brain and heart befuddles our mental states and at worse brain damage. On an emotional level when our brain and hearts do not receive enough oxygen, we strangle our hearts and mind, and cause damage to our whole body. Anger, hatred, ill will, and even obsessive love is the cause of emotional brain and or heart damage.

The Buddha teaches us to become aware of breathing, because this is the antidote to the poisons of the heart like, greed, hatred and delusion. The Buddha rediscovered the way through breathing.

You could ask yourself, “When did I stop breathing?”

Take some minutes to reflect on this question, perhaps repeating it to yourself several times. I stopped breathing the day my biological mother left me somewhere and never came back. As a 6 week old baby, I most probably learned to scream, kick, and cry, blocking the flow of air, hoping this would soothe my pain.

So let’s relearn breathing.

Inhaling, I know I am breathing in. Exhaling I know I am breathing out. Give it a go, ten minutes and see what happens.

Happy New Breath.

New Updated Edition of Detox Your Heart – Meditations on Emotional Trauma 2017

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: [email protected]

2017: A Year of Conscious Living

December 30, 2016 - 9:04am

Did you find 2016 challenging? Meditating can help 2017 be less stressful!

Registration is now open for all of Wildmind’s online meditation events for 2017.

We’re calling this program our Year of Conscious Living, and we’re bringing you a larger range of events than ever before.

Our course schedule includes events for all levels of practice, whether you’re a beginner interested in learning basic techniques or a more experienced meditator interested in cultivating deep meditative states and insight. You’re free to pick and choose which events you participate in.

Since our courses are online, they’re incredibly convenient! No need to travel; you can learn to meditate in your own home, or wherever you happen to be!

We start the year on January 1, with two courses.

  • Change Your Mind is an introduction to meditation, which will guide you, step-by-step, through two fundamental meditation practices, to help you let go of stress and to find more joy and appreciation in your life. It’s ideal for complete beginners to meditation, or if you haven’t meditated in a while and need to go over the basics again.
  • Get Your Sit Together is aimed at people who already know how to meditate, but who have trouble meditating regularly. If you resist meditating, or if life just keeps getting in the way of your good intentions, then this is the course for you!

Click here to check out our full program for 2017!

Why your New Year’s meditation resolutions fail, and how to make them stick

December 30, 2016 - 5:00am

At this time of year you may well be making a New Year’s resolution to meditate every day.

I used to make resolutions too! Usually these attempts were rather feeble, and sometimes I wouldn’t even be half-way through January before I’d realize I’d already missed a couple of days of meditation. In fact days might have gone by and I hadn’t even thought of meditating.

This kind of thing sets up a sense of failure, which undermines our self-confidence and makes us more likely to fail at other things as well.

The main problem I had was that these resolutions weren’t resolutions at all. That is, they weren’t things I was resolved on; they weren’t courses of action I had “firmly decided” to do. I’d just had the idea that I wanted to do these things, but I hadn’t created a plan and I wasn’t doing the things that were necessary for my resolutions to turn into reality.

So we need to do the right things and set up the right conditions if we’re going to change.

A resolution is fine as it goes. It’s just that it doesn’t go very far! Here’s the kind of thing you’ll need to do if you want to go all the way.

  • Pick a goal, and make it a reasonable one. Start small. If you’re going to meditate daily, it’s better to aim for five minute a day and succeed, rather than go for 40 minutes and fail. You can always increase the time once you have your new habit established.
  • Be specific. Think about where, when, and how you’re going to meditate. Are you going to meditate at home? In the morning or at night? With or without a guided meditation? Plan it.
  • Think of what might have to change. You may have time in the morning to meditate, but you spend that time on social media. So maybe you need to turn your phone off at night so that you’re less likely to check Facebook first thing in the morning. Or maybe you need to set a firm time for stopping your TV watching at night and sit before bed — or meditate before you start watching TV in the first place.
  • What are you going to do if something crops up and thwarts your plan? What if you sleep in? When will you meditate then? Planning for contingencies doubles your chance of success.
  • How are you going to remind yourself of your goal? A resolution you don’t remember isn’t going to have any effect on your life, except to make you feel guilty once you do (eventually) remember it. Notes and alarms can help. So will having a regular place to meditate, where you keep your meditation cushion, and perhaps candles and incense as well.
  • Track your progress. Something as simple as a calendar that you put X’s in on days you’ve meditated can be a great visual support.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist. If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. Giving up because you’ve missed a day or meditation is a waste of all the successful effort you’ve put in to your habit. If you fall of the horse, get straight back on! Meditating daily isn’t about trying to impress anyone. It’s about developing a habit that’ll help you be happier and healthier.
  • Work with others. You can have a meditation buddy, or join a meditation challenge and become part of a whole community of people working at setting up the habit of daily meditation. Our Change Your Mind course is great if you’re new to meditation and our Get Your Sit Together course will be helpful if you already know how to meditate but are having trouble doing it regularly.
  • Celebrate! We tend to focus more on our perceived failures (“I only meditated for five minutes today”) than on our successes (“I meditated today! Good for me!”) I strongly suggest that people allow themselves to feel celebratory before, during, and after every meditation. Become your own cheerleader!

There’s a lot more to establishing a positive habit than just saying you’re going to do it. What you need is to spend some time (and it needn’t take long) making a plan, and setting up supportive conditions.

If you’d like help with setting up a regular meditation practice, we’re here for you! As well as our introduction to meditation course (Change Your Mind) and our course on setting up a rock-solid daily habit (Get Your Sit Together), we have a year-round program of meditation events that will help you sustain and deepen your practice. Do feel free to join us on January 1 for the first of our Year of Conscious Living events!

Getting close!

December 27, 2016 - 2:38pm

If you’d like early access to Bodhipaksa’s latest guided meditations for developing inner peace, please check out our Indiegogo campaign. If you’re not familiar with Indiegogo, it’s a crowdfunding platform that allows people to support projects in return for “perks.”

At the time of writing we’re 98 percent funded, and just need a little push to take us all the way. Your support would be much appreciated.

We’re giving the opportunity for you to be the first to get our next CD, “Guided Meditations for Inner Peace,” or to download the MP3s. Your support will help us to cover the upfront costs of this project, and to be more financially secure as we go into 2017.

We offer other perks as well. For example, for a donation of $150, we’ll give 25 copies of our CD to a local project that helps teens from low income families prepare for college. These young people face extraordinary stresses in their lives, often living in unstable homes, attending under-resourced schools, and often having to work long hours to help support their families. I taught meditation to students on this project for 11 years, and know how much they benefit from it. So this is one way you can help support what we’re doing and also help out a lot of other people!

Thanks for supporting us!

Going further with Creating Inner Peace

December 22, 2016 - 2:43pm


Our Indiegogo crowdfunding project is almost fully funded, just one third of the way into our 30 day campaign!

At the time of writing 91 people have contributed to help us bring our forthcoming CD (and MP3) album, “Guided Meditations for Inner Peace,” to publication. We’re over 90% of the way there!

This is the first in a series of meditation albums, based on highly effective techniques for calming the mind.

Here are things that meditation students have said about these meditations, which I’ve been teaching and refining in classes for years now:

Kate, in Maine
That was astonishing. As a high-anxiety person, I stumbled on this while seeking help in focusing on tasks. Wow. I feel so peaceful and yet ready to tackle the tasks awaiting my attention. Thank you!

Jennifer, Colorado
This is a favorite. Bodhipaksa’s voice is very calming. I can definitely feel a positive difference in my body when I open up my awareness as suggested in this meditation.

Care, Seattle
Wow. This way of becoming present was new to me. It helped lift the weight from my heart. Thanks!

Ryan, Florida
Excellent. I’ve had trouble calming my thoughts while attempting meditation. When it was mentioned during this session I was surprised that my mind was already calm.

Gina, Florida
Very calming and effective in such a short amount of time.                     
        

Our campaign has gone so well that we’re now aiming to hit 200% of our target: $5,000!

Raising that amount of money would be hugely helpful for us. As a small publisher and teaching organization, Wildmind is operates very much hand-to-mouth, and cash-flow is always a challenge. So your contributions are very much appreciated! If you’d like to show your support, click here!

Why meditation is for people who “can’t meditate”

December 22, 2016 - 8:47am

Are you one of those people who think, “Oh, I could never meditate. My mind’s too busy!”?

I’m here to tell you that having a busy mind is the very best reason to meditate, not a reason to avoid it! After all we start going to the gym because we’re out of shape, not because we’re already fit. Meditating helps our busy minds become calmer.

Of course, just as when you start going to the gym the first thing you notice is how out of condition you are, it’s often a shock when we first meditate to discover just how unruly our minds are. But that’s OK. That’s something we just learn to accept.

As we meditate, we start to recognize that it’s OK to have a lot of thinking going on. We learn that when we try to fight with or repress our thinking, it just makes us tense, and gives us a sense of failure. A lot of what we do in meditation involves paying attention to our breathing. Of course we quickly lose our focus and get distracted, but whenever we catch ourselves having got caught up in a train of thought, we let go of the thinking and return to the breathing again. We learn to see this as a process: follow the breathing, get distracted, return to the breathing. Rinse and repeat.

Those moments when we notice that we’ve been distracted and return to the breathing are very important. Our first instinct may be to curse ourselves — “Aargh! I’ve been distracted again!” — but what’s really going on is something worth celebrating: you’ve returned to mindful awareness. You’ve come home. So you can remind yourself to appreciate these little successes. This helps you to feel good about meditating. In a way, the more you get distracted, the more opportunities you have to feel good about coming back to the breathing again!

Something I want to stress is that a very ordinary but very amazing thing has happened when you realize you’ve been distracted. Your consciousness has changed its state in a subtle but quite radical way.

When you were caught up in a train of thought you had no choice, no free will, no mindful awareness. You hadn’t decided to think about whatever was on your mind. You weren’t aware you were doing it. You had no ability to disengage from the thoughts. You were on automatic pilot. You were in a trance-like state.

This kind of distracted thinking is rather like dreaming. It was only when you “woke up” and mindful awareness, for whatever reason, re-emerged, that you realized that you were caught up in a story-line and were able to make a conscious choice to let go of it. In that moment of awakening from the daydream, you became free.

People think that meditation is some kind of trance. But it’s the opposite. It’s waking up from the trance of distracted thinking.

The moment you step back into mindful awareness, you move from being a kind of automaton to being more fully human. You’re free to choose where to direct your mind. You’re free to return your attention to your breathing rather than to engage in distracted thinking that, for the most part, makes you angry, tense, anxious, or depressed.

You became capable of taking responsibility for your own mind and even your own destiny.

You’re also free to change the emotional quality of your mind. You can choose not to be impatient, and to accept that it’s OK that you were distracted. You can choose to be kind to yourself, and to be kind to your mind, returning your attention to the breathing with patience and gentleness, as you might return a baby bird to its nest.

Choosing to go back to the breathing, rather than to be distracted, changes the mind in the long-term. Choosing to be patient and kind with ourselves also changes the mind long-term. We become calmer. We become kinder. We become better able to deal with life’s difficulties.

This is a big deal!

So if you’re one of those people who thinks you can’t meditate because your mind is too busy, join me on Living With Awareness: Practical Techniques for Cultivating Mindfulness (Feb 1-28).

This 28-day online meditation course offers guided meditations, exercises, and tips to help you bring more mindfulness into your life. This powerful practice will help you to slow down your mind and experience greater peace and calm.

Mindfulness: solitude, spending time with ourself

December 22, 2016 - 7:33am
Guided Meditations for Calmness, Awareness, and Love (MP3) by Bodhipaksa is available in our online storeSandy SB, Vajra Blue: In the modern world with its lifestyle of continuous connection and instant availability, it is not surprising that we seem to have become afraid of being alone.

As a social species, human survival has depended on being part of a group. The greater the crowd, the smaller the chance of any one person being eaten.

There is safety in numbers.

The accompanying fear of silence, presumably related to the silence that falls when a predator is close at hand, seems to go beyond a …

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The power of setting an intention

December 20, 2016 - 7:09am
Set self-compassion as an intention with How To Stop Beating Yourself Up (MP3) by BodhipaksaJeena Cho, Above the Law: As we come to the end of 2016, it’s a wonderful time to pause, reflect, and set an intention for 2017. An intention, unlike a goal, isn’t about achieving the next big thing, or moving up the ladder. It’s about how you’re being, in this moment.

My co-author, Karen Gifford, described setting an intention in our book, The Anxious Lawyer:

Setting an intention is a little like setting your compass: it is always there in the background guiding you in a certain direction, even though you …

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Relearning the art of stillness

December 19, 2016 - 8:07pm

Our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign is doing well. At the time of writing, with 23 days left to go we’re already 51% funded. The graphic below will give you a live update.

What’s it about? Glad you asked! To keep things simple, I’ve included below some information we sent out to our 17,652 subscribers in a special newsletter today. Please do read this important message!

***

Last week we launched a crowdfunding effort to help us bring you four highly effective meditations Bodhipaksa has developed over the years. What we’re suggesting is essentially that you buy our forthcoming CD (or the MP3 version of it), in advance, to help us cover the production costs. (Although there are other donation options as well.)

In Case You’re Not Sure, This Is What We Do

We do a lot. More than 1.5 million people visit our site each year. Our most popular web page (not counting the home page) has been read more than half a million times. Our most popular blog post has been read by more than three hundred thousand people. Hundreds of thousands of people have learned to meditate with us — for free. We also publish guided meditation CDs, which help fund our activities, and those have also reached hundreds of thousands of people.

And here’s how your support helps. The more CDs we publish, the more financially stable we are, the less time we have to spend worrying about money, and the more we’re able to provide resources to help you become happier in your life!

About the Meditations On This Album

These meditations have been road-tested with many, many people, who have found them to be powerfully transformative. Both those who have used them for their first ever meditation and those who have been meditating for years have expressed surprise and gratitude. Here are some comments we’ve received.

Kate, in Maine
That was astonishing. As a high-anxiety person, I stumbled on this while seeking help in focusing on tasks. Wow. I feel so peaceful and yet ready to tackle the tasks awaiting my attention. Thank you!

Jennifer, Colorado
This is a favorite. Bodhipaksa’s voice is very calming. I can definitely feel a positive difference in my body when I open up my awareness as suggested in this meditation.

Care, Seattle
Wow. This way of becoming present was new to me. It helped lift the weight from my heart. Thanks!

Ryan, Florida
Excellent. I’ve had trouble calming my thoughts while attempting meditation. When it was mentioned during this session I was surprised that my mind was already calm.

Gina, Florida
Very calming and effective in such a short amount of time.                     
        

Over his decades of teaching, Bodhipaksa has developed many different techniques that very rapidly and easily calm the mind, reducing the amount of intrusive thinking and creating a sense of peace and spaciousness. When we started to list all of these methods, we found there were almost 20! So we’re actually going to be bringing out a series of CDs (and MP3s, of course). Our next album, Guided Meditations for Inner Peace, is just the first. That’s what we’re raising funds for.

About Our Crowdfunding Campaign

Crowdfunding helps dreams become real. It helps creators share their vision with the public, who in turn can offer support, usually receiving “perks” in return. In our case the perks we offer include early access to these guided meditations (and optionally to alternate versions of them). Whatever level of contribution you choose, and whichever perk you select, if any, you’ll experience the good karma and warm glow that comes from supporting an organization that does a lot of good in the world.

We do hope you’ll support us, both by becoming a donor and by sharing our project with your friends and social media contacts. You can check out and support the Creating Inner Peace project at our Indiegogo page.

Thank you!
Mark, Mary, and Bodhipaksa at Wildmind

Enjoying the play of your inner toddler

December 19, 2016 - 5:00am

We can experience different kinds of distracted thinking in meditation.

There are obvious, compelling, and “in your face” thoughts in which we tend to become completely immersed. These are the full-blown distractions where we completely forget that we’re meant to be meditating, and instead become submerged in our inner dramas. We dip in and out of these all the time in meditation, returning to the practice every time mindful awareness reappears.

Then there are lighter background thoughts that babble on in the background, even as we continue to pay attention to the meditation practice. So we’ll be following the breathing, for example, while random thoughts keep popping up. Perhaps these thoughts take the form of a commentary on our experience, or perhaps they are completely unrelated to the meditation practice. But they’re not usually so emotionally compelling that we get caught up in them.

I mainly want to talk a little about this second kind of thinking, and how we can relate to it.

Regard your inner chatter fondly, as if you’re listening to a toddler talking to itself while playing.

So, if you’re aware of an inner voice chattering away while you follow your breathing, you can try regarding that voice fondly, as if you were listening to a toddler talking to itself while playing. When a child talks like that it’s usually charming and funny and endearing. It’s not the kind of thing we tend to get upset about.

The way we relate to our inner talk is often more of a problem than the thoughts themselves. When we start resisting our thoughts, wishing that they would go away, the resistance itself is a painful state of mind, and it’s also likely to give rise to distractedness. Our thoughts of “I wish this would stop” throw us off-balance, and we find that suddenly we’re back into becoming seriously distracted again. Our distractions resist our resistance, and before we know it we find they’ve “tricked” us into being unmindful.

Just allowing those babbling thoughts to be present helps us to prevent this happening. It also helps us to be more kind and accepting.

Taking a tolerant and playful attitude toward random thoughts, which is what you’re doing when you regard them as being like the sounds of a young child playing, lets you simply get on with the meditation. The thoughts are still there, but they no longer bother you. In fact you not only don’t mind them, but can be amused by and feel fondness for them. This is immeasurably more enjoyable and helpful than resisting them!

Experience deep peace! Click here to check out Wildmind’s online meditation courses!Of course this doesn’t work so well with the first type of thinking I mentioned — the compelling kind. Those thoughts tend to be emotionally loaded, which is why we find ourselves repeatedly drawn into them. What helps there is to give our compelling thoughts plenty of space, and I discussed in a recent article.

When the mind is constricted our thoughts seem larger, and they’re harder to resist. It’s a bit like being trapped in a long car-ride with a child’s constant demands for attention. It drives us crazy! To quiet the inner child down, you need to give it plenty of space to play. Once you’ve done that, you’ll often find that it just quietly gets on with its own thing, and you can enjoy its babbling as you get on with doing your own thing. Eventually, perhaps, the toddler will take a nap, and you can enjoy the refreshing calm of a quiet and spacious mind.

Why teaching kindness in schools is essential to reduce bullying

December 14, 2016 - 7:51am
Add more kindness into the world with Harnessing the Power of Kindness (MP3) by BodhipaksaLisa Currie, Edutopia: Phrases like “random acts of kindness” and “pay it forward” have become popular terms in modern society. This could perhaps be best explained by those who have identified a deficiency in their lives that can only be fulfilled by altruism.

It seems there are good reasons why we can’t get enough of those addictive, feel-good emotions, as scientific studies prove there are many physical, emotional, and mental health benefits associated with kindness.

As minds and bodies grow, it’s abundantly clear that children require a healthy dose …

Read the original article »

Create inner peace!

December 12, 2016 - 1:13pm

“Just as the ocean may be turbulent above, but is always still in its depths, so beneath the surface noise of our thoughts there is always available a deep reserve of calm and tranquillity.” Bodhipaksa

Over my years of teaching and almost 35 years of practice, I’ve evolved a number of very effective meditation techniques for calming the mind. This album of four guided meditations (in CD and MP3 formats) contains the best tools I know of for creating inner peace.

To help us bring these teachings to the world, we’re asking that you help sponsor their production by purchasing the CD (or MP3s) in advance. Or you can simply make a donation. Head over to our Indiegogo page to support this effort!

These four meditations, born from over 30 years of practice and exploration, offer highly effective techniques for slowing down the mind, creating calmness, and bringing into being a more authentic, calm, and positive approach to living. We plan to publish them as “Guided Meditations for Inner Peace.”

Research shows that on average we’re caught up in distracted thinking 48 percent of the time, and often much more than that. Research also shows that our distracted thinking causes unhappiness. These distractions are often driven by anxiety, irritability, and self-doubt, which undermine our well-being and lead to stress and depression.

Mindful attention, on the other hand, brings freedom from the tyranny of compulsive thinking and allows us to have a deeper, richer, and more joyful experience of life.

You can purchase the album (plus or minus some enhancements!) in advance, or make a donation, if you wish. Plus we have some other great perks! Click here to check our our Indiegogo crowdfunding page!

Also do watch our video, “Create Inner Peace.”

Get your sit together in 2017

December 9, 2016 - 8:26am

Meditating regularly has immense benefits. Meditating makes you happier, is good for your health, protects your brain from aging, boosts your intelligence, and helps reduce pain, stress, and depression. It improves your relationships with others, helps you be more effective, and gives you more of a sense of meaning and purpose in your life.

So you might have read that and thought, “Great, but I don’t have the time to meditate.” Or you may have already learned to meditate, perhaps years ago, but have never been able to keep up a regular practice.

For many years I struggled with sustaining the habit of meditating daily. I knew the benefits of meditation, not just from studies that had been done, but from personal experience. When I meditated, I’d feel calmer and happier. When I came back from meditation retreats I’d feel tranquil and blissful. But even knowing all that both intellectually and experientially, I found it really hard to sit every day. I’d do well for a while, but then miss a day. Then I’d miss a few days. Sometimes a week would go by and I’d hardly have meditated. I knew other people who just meditated every day, and I felt a real sense of failure about my inability to do likewise. I just didn’t understand what was going on.

Now I meditate pretty much every day without fail. Every few months I might miss a day, but I no longer have a sense of failure and shame when that happens. The next day I just get back to my habit of meditating regularly.

I’m going to be sharing the lessons I’ve learned about setting up a daily meditation practice in a new online course called Get Your Sit Together, starting January 1 (when better to start a new habit!).

The aim of the course is to get you to the point of being a rock-solid daily meditator. Plan A is that you’ll sit for every day of the 28-day course. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, but if you miss a day or two that isn’t a problem. That’s not “failure” — it’s just you learning what can get in the way of developing a good habit. So Plan B is that by the end of the 28 days you’ll be sitting daily. And that’s fine, because it doesn’t matter if it takes a little time to develop a good habit, as long as we do it.

So what will Get Your Sit Together help you with? There are a number of things you’ll learn to do:

1. Recalibrate your sense of what a “real” meditation is

When I first went to meditation classes, the meditations were usually 20 to 30 minutes in length, although often they’d be longer — 40 or 50 minutes. We never did any sits of five or ten minutes. So, not unnaturally, I picked up the idea that a “real” meditation was a long meditation, and that a short meditation isn’t worth doing. And the problem was that it was difficult, if not impossible, to fit those “real” (i.e. long) meditations into my day. And so I ended up not doing short meditations because I didn’t have time to do long meditations! Crazy! So you’ll learn that even short meditations count, and on the course there will be guided meditations of five minutes, three minutes, and even one minute in length. Short sits like these make meditation doable. It’s suddenly possible to fit meditation into the inevitable spaces in your day. You may not have 40 minutes lying around, waiting to be filled by a new activity, but you almost certainly have several gaps of just a few minutes long. And if you don’t, they’re not that difficult to create.

2. Change your sense of self

For me this was the most important thing. I wanted to meditate regularly, but didn’t, and so I saw myself as someone who couldn’t meditate regularly. I saw this as a lack of willpower, but willpower had little to do with it. What I had was a false view of myself that I was trapped in: I thought I just wasn’t the kind of person who could meditate daily. So I’ll help you change your self-view so that you see yourself as someone who meditates every day, as someone who doesn’t miss days. Meditating daily will very quickly become just what you do. (You may not believe that right now, but you can quite quickly and easily learn to have confidence in your ability to sit daily.)

3. Develop accountability and tap into support

In developing a new habit, it helps to be accountable to ourselves and others. This can be as simple as putting a big red X every day on a calendar, and making sure we don’t “break the chain” of X’s. Or we can share with others how we’re doing, and the problems we’re facing. We have an online community set up for the class to help provide that accountability. “Accountability” can be a big and scary word, but we’re all working with the same difficulties, and so our community is a judgement-free zone. In fact it’s a zone of support, encouragement, and celebration. If you feel shame about missing a day, we can help you see that it’s not a big deal, it’s not failure, it’s just a small stumble on the way to developing a good habit.

4. Anticipate obstacles

It’s so easy to say, “Yeah, I’m going to meditate every day! Nailed it!” But then you forget the practicalities, and suddenly it’s 11:30 PM and you’re brain-dead and need to crawl into bed, and maybe you don’t even remember until then that you haven’t meditated yet. So we need to sit down and develop a plan: Here’s my opportunity to meditate for ten minutes tomorrow. Here’s another. It’s not just the busy days you have to anticipate; sometimes the open and spacious days are a challenge too, because we think it’ll be easy.

5. Recognize the voice of resistance

A lot of us believe whatever arises in our minds. So when we have thoughts like “I’m too busy/tired to meditate. I don’t have time,” we’ll learn to recognize this not as a voice we should listen to and be guided by, but the voice of resistance. We can say, “Hi, resistance. I hear that you don’t wanna meditate, but that’s what we’re gonna do, OK? But since you’re kind of tired, why don’t we start with just five minutes rather than our usual 10, and see how you feel then?” By establishing a dialog with our resistance, we stop ourselves from being hijacked by it.

6. Reward progress

One HUGE mistake people make is to forget to congratulate themselves on meditating. In fact they may punish themselves: “OK, I did it, but it was only 10 minutes and I should have done 20. I’m such a wimp. Loser!” If we punish ourselves for doing something, we’ll probably not repeat that action too much! So we’ll learn to celebrate, and to give ourselves a pat on the back. We’ll learn to feel good about meditating, so that our subconscious latches onto sitting as something it wants to do. Providing a reward is one of the most important things about successfully establishing a good habit.

While Get Your Sit Together is about learning to meditate daily, you’ll find that the principles involved — drawn from modern psychology and the Buddhist meditation tradition — are applicable to developing just about any good habit. But at the very least, as you follow the daily emails, listen to the guided meditations, and participate in the online community, you’ll find that you are able to sit daily. And that will give you the physical, psychological, and social benefits I outlined above. In short, you’ll become a happier person. You’ll experience a sense of thriving.

So why not join me! But don’t wait until January 1! Click here to head over to our Eventbrite page, enroll in Get Your Sit Together, and take the first step of a journey that will change your life.

Christmas gift ideas for meditators

December 8, 2016 - 8:55am

“Do Buddhists celebrate Christmas?” is a question I’m often asked. My answer is usually along the lines that most Western Buddhists do, although not as a religious holiday.

It seems fair enough that a lot of Buddhists do Christmassy things in December, like giving and receiving gifts, and gathering together on the 25th to feast with friends and family. After all, Christianity itself “borrowed” the holiday from European Paganism, where it was known as Yule — a word that’s still in use in Northern Europe. Most of the things that we think of as “Christmassy” — trees, mistletoe, feasting — are in fact “Yule-y,” and nothing to do with the Bible. No religion has a copyright on having celebrations around the solstice!

So, yes, usually I have a tree, which I love decorating, and I put presents under the tree for my kids, although the emphasis is less on material things and more on enjoying our time with each other. It’s a wonderful Pagan secular celebration for all of us!

In case you have a meditator in your life, and you’re wondering if you can get them a gift that would help support their spiritual aspirations more than, say, nice socks or the latest electronic gizmo, we have a number of suggestions that are of lasting value.

(Yes, this is shameless commercial promotion, since the fact of life is that we need to earn money in order to keep our teaching activities going!)

The Kindseat Check out the Kindseat and our other meditation benches.

The first suggestion is a bit on the expensive side, but it’s a gift that will last for a lifetime and give the meditator you love (which might even be you!) the blessing of comfortable meditations.

The Kindseat is a Buddhist-designed meditation bench that is adjustable in height. The very stable seat also automatically adjusts its tilt to conform to your body and keep the spine in the ideal alignment for sitting comfortably. I’ve literally sat on mine for more than two hours straight without moving, and experienced minimal discomfort. There’s a custom designed, non-slip cushion that makes the experience of using the Kindseat even more comfortable. And it can be used in a kneeling position or a cross-legged position, so it’s suitable for almost every meditator. There’s even a Kindseat Hi for people who can’t kneel, and who normally use chairs to meditate, and a Kindseat Plus for meditators with larger frames.

Buddha statues As well as the Thai Buddha statue that’s illustrated above, we have some really beautiful Buddha statues in our online store! Check them out!

When meditating, it helps to have a special place: somewhere that’s attractive, uplifting, and calming. And for many people a Buddha statue provides a focal point that reminds them of their aspiration to bring greater mindfulness and compassion into their lives. Buddha statues come in different sizes and styles, and we have a wide variety on our store.

Incense Check out our incense collection!

Incense turns even our humble sense of smell into an opportunity to develop calmness and clarity. Different scents have different effects on our emotional states, so that sandalwood is rich and promotes a sense of wellbeing. Japanese “Moss Garden” incense (my own favorite) is deeply relaxing. While there are high-end imported incenses that are very expensive, incense is generally a very affordable gift. You might want to combine it with an incense burner (see below). Incense is also, traditionally, symbolic; just as the smoke of the incense spreads outward, never ceasing, so too our meditation practice “perfumes” the world around us, as our mindfulness, calmness, and compassion affect those around us.

Incense Burners The Desert Sage Leaf Incense Burner is just one of the many incense burners we have in our online store. Click here to take a look at the others.

You have to have something to burn incense in. An incense burner, like the beautiful Japanese ones we carry on our store, is filled with something like sand or rice to hold the stick safely upright (setting the house on fire is not conducive to relaxation). It also catches most of the falling ash. The beauty of a glazed ceramic bowl also contributes to the quality of the meditation.

Singing Bowls This singing bowl comes with a wooden striker and a beautiful lotus storage box. But we have lots of others!

Another sense we can tap into to support our efforts to develop mindfulness, calmness, and relaxation, is sound. The sound of a singing bowl, whether it’s the clarity of a smaller bowl or the deep, visceral resonance of a larger one, helps set the mood before a meditation. In fact, the sound of the bowl can be a meditation in its own right, as we pay attention to the ever-decreasing volume fade into silence. And a bowl struck at the end of a sit can also symbolize the effects of our practice being carried out into the world.

Other thoughts about giving

Just a few more thoughts:

Giving is a very traditional practice in Buddhism. It’s something that the Buddha himself encouraged and praised. Happiness ultimately can’t be derived from material things, but giving is more about showing someone you care about them by putting thought into choosing something appropriate and pleasing for them, and putting your care into action by taking something that’s yours (your money) and making it theirs (the gift). Buying a gift is a spiritual practice!

And along those lines, most people tend, these days, to go straight to Amazon when doing shopping online. But Amazon is killing local businesses and other smaller online retailers, who usually provide better working conditions and wages for their employees. (See “How Amazon’s Tightening Grip on the Economy Is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities“) So I encourage you to pause and think about what you most value before you navigate to Amazon! Where you choose to put your money changes lives, and changes the world.

Turning toward experience

December 6, 2016 - 6:33am

Apologies for not blogging these past three months, I’ve been at the home of my teacher, Sangharakshita, living in community and taking part in study and retreats for ordained members of the Triratna Buddhist Community.

I’ve been doing a lot of turning towards my direct experience. It has been a challenging practice. When I turn towards my experience, it’s all in the body: just pleasant, unpleasant, neutral (vagueness) or a mixture of all three feeling tone in the body.

Sometimes I like it and I want more, I cling to it, and begin to crave. Sometimes I dislike it and I push it way, and move into aversion. And sometimes, I just move into a vagueness, a boredom because I want an extreme sensation to arise. And then it becomes pleasant or unpleasant, and I habitually begin to oscillate between clinging and pushing away.

I realize how easy it is for me to become a slave of likes and dislikes, of clinging and pushing away.

When I push away I harden with my stories, reactions, judgments or anesthetize with my choice of addiction. When I push away I think I am pushing the people, the incident, the situation that I don’t like away. And when I turn towards my experience I soften, let go of all the stories, and I begin to see clearly that all I am really pushing away, or trying to block out, is the direct experience of pleasure and pain, or vagueness. That is the trigger, nothing more. No person or thing to blame. No buttons pushed.

It can be so hard to sit with my discomfort, and so I move away automatically by blaming someone, or distracting myself with an addiction or fall into self pity. It’s sometimes seems easier to sit with pleasant sensations, and then I cling to it, and become frustrated when it changes to unpleasant, and then I push it away. Nobody is pushing my buttons, I push my own buttons.

All this is a salient reminder that during the Christmas and New year holidays that if we experience aversion to someone overdoing it with alcohol, drugs, or food, or an aversion to all the consumerism, that our aversion is a strong reaction to not wanting to experience what is going on in the body.

If I feel a strong craving for foods that I don’t normally eat, or to alcohol that I don’t drink, it’s a reminder that I am turning away from the discomfort that has arisen in the body when one of the six senses clashes with the smell and sights of these stimuli.

It can be excruciatingly painful to stay with what is arising in the body, which is why we turn away with our reactions of blame, distraction and self pity. The Buddha taught there are worldly responses to feeling tone and unworldly responses to feeling tone.

Lust, anger, delusion, contraction, and distraction are our worldly habitual responses to feeling tone arising in the body. They inevitably lead to suffering. If we want freedom we have to learn to turn towards whatever is arising with a great expansive and relaxed mind, that is unworldly, unsurpassable, concentrated, and liberated. This will free us from the chains of our six senses that drag us down into a deluded pit.

More next month – be well

New Revised Edition of Detox Your Heart – Meditations on Emotional Trauma published by Wisdom Books Spring 2017

The power of mindfulness — in schools

December 5, 2016 - 10:34am

Mindfulness is increasingly being used in schools to help children deal with stress and to improve their ability to manage their emotions. It also helps with focus, attention, and memory. In some schools where mindfulness has been taught, detention rates have decreased dramatically — even dropping to zero.

One school in Baltimore, Robert W. Coleman elementary, has replaced detention with meditation and is seeing astonishing results. In this video, Ali Smith, founder of the Holistic Life Foundation, joins the Emmy award-winning daytime talk show, The Doctors, to discuss the program he helped set up.

This CBS This Morning clip also discusses how mindfulness is being brought into the school. Twice a day, more than 300 students participate in a 15-minute long “mindful moment,” where they focus on breathing. What’s most remarkable about this program is that it’s being done in a neighborhood where kids are traumatized by violence and prevalent drug-dealing. Ali, and his brother Ahmed, are from the area and wanted to bring about social change.

At the time the second video above was published, the program had spread to 14 schools in the area, reaching around 4,000 children.

Meditation tips for surviving holiday stress

December 5, 2016 - 5:00am

The holiday season can be a perfect storm of stressors: financial strain, crowded malls, striving for perfection when we’re entertaining or buying gifts, travel, over-indulgence in food and alcohol, dealing with seldom-seen relatives, and for some of us being on our own while it seems everyone else is merrymaking.

This is where meditation comes in really handy! It’s been shown to reduce stress, so that we can feel at least a little calmer when the world around us is going into a consumeristic frenzy. It helps to reduce depression, too, for those who find that the holiday season is a downer. It promotes joy and other positive emotions. And it helps boost empathy and kindness, which is a mercy when you’re dealing with your drunk, racist uncle.

So here are a few tips for helping you to keep calm and stay positive during the holiday season.

Be mindful of your purpose

Mindfulness (observing our present-moment experience) is closely associated with a quality called sampajañña, which could be translated as “mindfulness of purpose.” Mindfulness of purpose helps connect us with the kind of life we want to create for ourselves.

It’s good to remember that holidays are “holy days.” They’re supposed to help us develop spiritual values that enrich our lives. This doesn’t necessarily mean going to a synagogue, church, or temple; spiritual values include things like resting (so that our batteries are recharged), connecting with others, experiencing gratitude and appreciation, and giving. It’s easy for things to get our of balance. It’s good to give gifts, for example, but giving material things to loved ones doesn’t mean much if we’re so stressed we’re also making them miserable.

So, reflect on what the holidays are about for you, and keep that in mind. It might help you catch yourself when you’re acting in ways that undermine your overall purpose.

Don’t just do something, sit there!

If you don’t have a meditation practice already, you might think that the holiday season is a bad time to start, and if you already have a practice, it’s tempting, when things get busy, to stop meditating. But regular meditation doesn’t have to take a lot of time. A five or ten minute meditation is enough to help us bring a bit more calm and balance into our lives. Start (or keep) sitting!

Keep coming back to compassion

The Reverend Ian Watson, whose pen-name was Ian Maclaren, used to say, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Keep reminding yourself that all those people you tend to get annoyed by are just like you. They want to be happy and don’t like suffering. And, just like you, they don’t experience as much happiness as they’d like and encounter way too much suffering for comfort. Bear this in mind, and you may find that you’re just a little gentler and more understanding with people. The reduced conflict will reduce your stress levels.

Forgive yourself!

Don’t stress out about stressing out! When you lose your patience, remember that we all slip up. When you feel frazzled, remember that this is the normal human response to being overloaded. When you find you’re getting down on yourself or things are hard, place a hand gently on your heart and say, “It’s OK. I care about you and want you to be happy. I forgive you.”

Be kind in crowds

When you’re in a crowded mall, it’s easy to get stressed by how slowly everyone is moving. Try repeating “May we all be well and happy” as you navigate the throng. It’ll help displace some of those “My god, could these people move any slower!” thoughts

Take a breath

Get used to coming back to your breathing. Paying attention to the sensations of your breathing helps you to let go of stress-inducing thoughts, which allows you to dial back on the adrenaline. You can take a few mindful breaths while you’re standing in line, while on an escalator or in an elevator, or as a mini-break while cooking or wrapping gifts.

Remember impermanence!

Somewhere in the boxed set of Game of Thrones videos you’re giving to a loved one, it says “Valar Morghulis” — everyone must die. Although that might seem like a depressing thought at a time of the year that’s supposed to be about celebration, you’re actually more likely to appreciate people you care about, and to be patient with people you have difficulty with, if you remember that our time together on this planet is short.

Lastly, a meditation practice is for life, not just for Christmas! Keep sitting, even once the holiday season is behind you.