Monthly Archives: March 2015

Compassionate Breathing

Anytime you are feeling out of sorts, you can practice compassionate breathing. To breathe compassionately, just remember compassion and breathe. You can take compassionate breaths anytime, anywhere. Nobody but you will notice, everybody will benefit.

Compassion begins with noticing suffering. If you have eyes or ears, you likely notice a fair amount of suffering in the course of your day. If you have ever seen or heard a news program, you will have heard of suffering. If you interact with other people, you will notice suffering in them. If you have feelings, you will notice suffering in yourself. Compassionate breathing can help with any of these situations.

When we encounter suffering in ourselves or others we are often at a loss because we don’t know what to do. We automatically think that there is nothing we can do, so we shut down. We turn away. We may get angry. There is always something we can do. Knowing just what to do begins with a compassionate breath.

When we take a compassionate breath we acknowledge the suffering we have encountered. We recognize that the suffering has touched us. We may see something we can do about it. We may just acknowledge it and breathe it out again.

As we walk down the street, sit in our cars, on our busses, or at our desks, we can practice compassionate breathing and spread peace through the world. Since we’re breathing anyway, we might as well add some compassion.

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Love Can’t Hurt

One sign of our confusion is that we believe in the notion that love hurts. Love, however, is not what hurts. Love feels great. Love lifts us up and connects us to the joy of living. Love heals.

Life hurts. Many of the things we do in the name of love cause us pain. It is not the love that causes us pain, it is our disconnection from the love that hurts. When we think we are hurting from love, we hurt from other things. If we can put all of those other things aside and focus on feeling love, we can make sense of the hurt.

When it feels like you are hurting from love, focus your mind and look into the pain. Instead of imagining that love is hurting, look into the usual suspects, fear, loneliness, sadness, anger, loss or uncertainty. These are the feelings that hurt. Love is what makes all of these feelings bearable.

We like to put love into a little box, like it is a special connection between two people. I love you. You love me. We love each other. Everything is perfect. In that view, love is like an electrical circuit. When it is complete, the light goes on. With that view of love, there will be lots of things that can interfere with the circuit, causing shocks and pain and leaving people in the dark.

Love is your life force. It is the air you breathe. It is the sun in the sky. It is the light from within you. If you are hurting because somebody that you love is not returning your text, you are hurting from insecurity, impatience, or wanting love to be something much smaller that it is. If you are hurting because you have lost love, again you are hurting from the sense of loss, not the love. The love is still there. It’s in you.

When you want to sort out the hurt from the love, breathe into the pain and see the thoughts that come with the pain. When you have explored the pain long enough, breathe it all out and imagine love. Think of times you have been filled with love. Think of love without self, like the love of a pet. When you have evoked a feeling of love, it will comfort your pain.

True love is not happily ever after. True love encompasses everything. You don’t need a perfect somebody else to practice feeling love. Practice feeling love. It can’t hurt.

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How Can You Tell If Your Mindfulness Practice Is Working?

If you are paying attention to your breath, your mindfulness practice is working for you. Feeling sad, angry, scared, or nervous is not a sign that your practice is not working. It is a sign that you should check in with your breath and continue practicing. Noticing that you are having these feelings is a sign that your practice is working. Without a mindfulness practice, you could carry these distressing feelings for a long time, trying not to notice them, or imagining that they are embedded in your circumstances. If you are able to recognize a feeling and breathe consciously with the feeling, your practice is working well.

Practicing mindfulness works whenever you practice and it has a cumulative effect the more you practice. The end goal is not to stop feeling sad, scared, angry or nervous. The end goal is to feel what you are feeling when you feel it. The end goal is always being present, and engaging with what the present moment brings you.

As you practice engaging with each emotion as it arises, you will increase your resiliency. You will return to a baseline state of calm more quickly. Your baseline state of calm may also become more calm. Those are not the goals, those are the outcomes. The goal is always to be present where you are. Whenever you are present with your thoughts and feelings, breathing with awareness, evoking compassion, your practice is working beautifully.

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Find Yourself in a Relationship

There is no better spiritual practice than trying to love another human being. The problem that we run into as we search for the love of our life, is that we don’t often approach love as a spiritual practice. We tend to approach relationships full of romantic ideals of what love should be. We have faith that, with the right person, love will take care of us. The mistake we make is looking for the right person outside of ourselves.

To find the right person, we have to be the right person. Fortunately, we are all the right person. We are each, uniquely, ourselves. That is who we have been, who we will be and who we are. Unfortunately, we don’t know who we are. We often think that we are something else entirely. We tend to think of ourselves as something worse than we actually are. That is because what we actually are is as good as it gets. When we understand that we are complete as we are, we don’t make the mistake of looking for somebody else to complete us.

When we understand that our view of ourselves is distorted, then we become curious as to what we actually are. A romantic relationship is a great mirror for finding ourselves. The first thing we should notice when we love somebody is that the love we feel for them is our love. The other person may have wonderful qualities that inspire love, but the love we actually feel is our own. It is the beautiful essence of ourselves. When we feel other things as we get into a relationship, those are also our feelings. When they are reflected back to us, we need to look at them as well.

A relationship will show us how we relate to our feelings. Because the feelings in a close relationship are extra intense, we can’t miss them. We will see which feelings we can handle on our own, and which we assign to others. We will see if we need to forgive ourselves, or be forgiven. We will notice how we feel when we are angry and how we feel when somebody is angry at us. We can explore how we relate to jealousy, rejection, criticism. We will create opportunities to be generous to see how that feels. We will be able to practice saying sorry when we make mistakes.

If we look to find ourselves in relationships, whatever happens will help us grow. If we look to escape ourselves in a relationship, we will only confront ourselves again and again and we will need to escape the relationship.

Love is a great safety net that allows you to be yourself without fear of falling. When you practice finding yourself in love, you will love what you find.

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B.R.E.A.T.H.E.

Mindfulness is the practice of simplicity in a complex world. When your mind is causing you problems, it is trying to focus on all the complexities of life in a way that makes life stressful. Stress makes things more difficult and it makes it harder to think clearly. When you are experiencing stress, you may not be able to remember all that you need to know to release your stress and allow your mind to work the way it needs to to support your life. Your mind contains all kinds of information to help you lead your complex life, but you don’t have to hold so much in your awareness all at once, you just need to be able to access it when you need it. The rest of the time you can put it down. When your mind is full, you need something absurdly simple that you can remember in your time of need. The simple solution is to breathe. Breathe on purpose. Breathe with awareness.

Breathing is too simple. In order for breathing to work for you, you need context. To make things more complicated I created a mnemonic for breathe. You don’t need to remember what each letter means, you only need to remember to breathe. When you breathe, you will remember what you need.

Breathe. Be present. Be aware of your Breath.

Remember your basic goodness. Recognize your feelings, Recall that you don’t want to suffer and you don’t deserve to suffer. Realize that you can address your suffering with mindfulness practice. Release your thoughts.

Engage your mind. Enter the present moment. Empty your mind. Expand your awareness to include new possibilities. Embrace your circumstances.

Attune to your feelings and the feelings of others. Accept what you are feeling. Address your circumstances as manageable. Activate compassion for your suffering and the suffering of others.

Think of what is causing your suffering or the suffering of others. Treat yourself kindly, without judgement. Thoughts are only thoughts. Try to see what might help the situation.

Help, if you see something you can do. Hold your intention to create peace and bring Harmony to the situation.

End the Exercise. Experience the relaxation you created by Engaging with your difficult emotion. Enjoy the moment of peace you created. Ease back into the complicated world.

You don’t need to remember the whole process in order for it to work for you. If you consciously turn to your breath to center yourself in the present and address your difficult (or delightful) circumstance, you are acting on a belief that incorporates the principles of mindfulness. You don’t have to remember all of the principles. You only have to remember to breathe. It is that simple.

 

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Guilty of Guilt

Guilt is a nasty habit. Because it is so common, it can provide frequent reminders to be mindful. Like with any difficult or painful emotion, guilt can be addressed with compassionate awareness. Because feeling guilty was trained into you, it is necessary for you to train it out of yourself. As with all mind training, retraining your mind out of your guilty habit begins with noticing the feeling. When you notice a guilty feeling, breathe in deeply and see what it seems to be about.

When you look into your guilt, recognize it as your habit. Even if somebody is actively trying to make you feel guilty for something, don’t blame them for your guilt. Remind yourself that nobody and nothing can make you feel guilty, but that you have spontaneously summoned guilt again. If you are able to do this, then you can work with your guilt. If you locate the guilt in another person’s mind, there is not much you can do about it. You are the one feeling guilt. It is your guilt.

Having recognized and claimed responsibility for your guilt, you can begin to lose the habit. Take a conscious breath to awaken compassion. Feel the feeling of guilt. Explore the reasons for the guilt. If the guilt is general, with no particular object, then you are working with raw guilt. Continue to breathe, reminding yourself of your basic goodness. Remember that you don’t want to suffer and you don’t deserve to suffer. Remind yourself that the guilt comes from a stray thought that aroused your habit, then let the thought go. Keep breathing into your guilt until it moves on. Don’t let your thoughts search for an object, because they will probably find one. Breathe and let your guilt go.

If you already have an object of your guilt, look to see if it is in the past, present or future. See if it is about something you have done that you shouldn’t, or something you have not done that you should. See what you think should be done about the situation. See what you think can be done about the situation. See what you think you can do about the situation. If you notice there is something you can do, do it or make a plan to do it. Then, let the guilt go. It has done its job. Breathe in and out one more time and be done with it.

If you can practice this with each guilty feeling, you will develop new habits. You may still feel guilty if you hurt yourself or others, but you will no longer be guilty of generating gratuitous guilt.

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Paradigm Shift

It used to be widely understood that the Earth was the center of the universe, and it was flat. Careful observations of the sky and the ground changed what people believed. There was plenty of personal and political resistance before the evidence outweighed conventional beliefs, and the Earth rounded itself and moved to a more humble position in the grand scheme of things.

Currently, it is widely believed that our emotions are dictated by our circumstances, and that we cannot teach ourselves and each other to learn how to feel differently. This belief takes the pain that we feel in everyday life and makes it personal. If we feel bad, we may think that we are bad, that something is fundamentally wrong with us. It makes us feel like we are at the center of an inhospitable universe. We are not. We can train our minds to see the world as it is, feel its pain, and still feel good.

There is plenty of resistance to shifting the paradigm of being self centered experiencers of emotions to becoming interconnected creators of emotions. Unfortunately, resistance cannot hold back evidence. If you begin to believe that you can train your mind to live happily in the world, and you practice building skills, observing, without judgment, the ground and the sky, self and other, thoughts and feelings, breath and body, your paradigm will shift. You will become rounded and move to a humble and glorious position in the grand scheme of things.

When we begin to take responsibility for our emotional reactions, we may gather lots of evidence that we are not in control. That is what we have been doing for our whole lives. That is our habit. That is how we have trained our minds. The training is not in creating the emotions we want, it is in engaging the emotions that we get. To train for happiness, we engage with sadness. To train for relaxation, we engage with stress. To train for love, we engage with hate. Whatever we get, we use to train. If we feel relaxed, happy and loving, we can train with those. We create those feelings too.

Emotions change quickly, circumstances change slowly. Circumstances change in days, weeks, months, and years. Emotions change in seconds, minutes and hours. You will always be working to change your circumstances, those are less under your direct control than your emotions, they require interaction with others. Learning to create emotional conditions that you can tolerate or enjoy will help you work harmoniously with others to address your circumstances and the circumstances of the world.

Paradigms change quickly on a personal level, but take longer on a political level. You might not even notice when your paradigm shifts. If you feel sadness without despondency, it is likely shifting. If you feel pervasively well, recover quickly from emotional setbacks, find yourself being generous, and are consistently aware of the present moment, it has shifted.

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Zenlightenment

When I began looking into Buddhism, I got the idea that enlightenment was something that happened to serious practitioners after lifetimes of practice. I didn’t even believe in reincarnation. I had the idea that enlightenment was a state of mind reserved for a special group of people and not something I could hope to achieve. Then I came to Zen.

Enlightenment is central to Zen. My early impression of the Zen practice was that there was an urgency to experiencing enlightenment. It was not something that could wait for several lifetimes, it was something that had to happen, now. That idea was reinforced through the use of sudden or subtle noises in Dharma talks, chanting, sitting for meditation, transitioning between sitting and walking meditation and eating. When we chanted, we began with the large bell and chanted and bowed to the rhythm marked by a stick and a gourd. When we began sitting meditation there were three soft bells. When it was time for walking meditation, bells again. When the Dharma talk was over, three loud claps of a clapper. When sitting meditation was over, those startling claps sounded again. Each of those noises was a reminder, an opportunity, and an urging to wake up. Before we ate, we recited a verse that ended with, “I shall receive this food in order to complete the task of enlightenment”. In Zen, enlightenment is not something that can wait for your next life. It should always happen now.

Although our teacher did not encourage us to read, he asked us to read the Platform Sutra about the Sixth Patriarch in China, Hui-Neng. Besides teaching sudden-enlightenment, Hui-Neng taught that enlightenment is our basic state. Everybody is enlightened. That is how enlightenment is always available to anybody at any time. It is what we are. That is why trying to become enlightened interferes with being enlightened.

I think our pre-meal chant was a bit of a joke. How can we complete the task of enlightenment? How do we complete the task of being ourselves? We can put our task aside and be enlightened as we taste the food that nourishes our bodies. Yum yum.

 

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Meditation and Mindfulness

Practicing meditation and mindfulness regularly will change how you relate to your life. If you practice mindfulness all the time, then there is no need to make a distinction between meditation and mindfulness. Until then, it is good to distinguish between the two practices. Mindfulness is an approach to life that involves bringing your awareness and compassion to the present moment. Meditation is taking devoted time to practice sustained focus. If you meditate regularly, you naturally practice mindfulness throughout your day. If you are mindful regularly, you naturally find times to meditate throughout your day. When this becomes your normal way of being, you just do it.

If you do not have a regular meditation practice, you can still practice mindfulness. Being mindful doesn’t take any extra time, it doesn’t take any extra energy. To practice mindfulness, you need to check in with your mind and body. We do this naturally when we get hungry, thirsty, tired, or have to go to the bathroom. We get signals that we have to take care of our body. When we notice those feelings, we act and take care of our body. Mindfulness is like that.

Our whole experience comes to us through our body. We see, hear, touch, smell and taste through our bodies. Our mind takes all of that in and makes an experience out of it. Being mindful is simply noticing what is happening, recognizing the experience, and finding compassion to ease pain.

When you practice mindfulness, you recognize that everything is constantly changing. You also recognize how you relate to each change. You see what changes feel good and what changes hurt. Rather than wishing that things wouldn’t change, or wouldn’t hurt, you continually address the hurt you encounter with compassion. Compassion recognizes, engages, and soothes the pain. If the pain moves on, it releases the pain.

Your brain and body are constantly changing too. Your current brain and body has created your current mind. As you practice mindfulness, you allow your wisdom the opportunity to influence the change process. Your brain, body and mind naturally become more compassionate and aware.

A simple mindfulness practice involves checking in with your body throughout the day. Take time to breathe. A conscious breath is a compassionate breath. Notice your sighs, they are your body relieving tension. When you bring your attention to a sigh, it becomes an act of compassion. When you notice your pain or the pain in others, take a moment for compassionate reflection. When you change activities, take a moment to notice that you are changing. Let go of the old and engage in the new. When you walk, notice your steps. When you eat, taste your food. Meet the good sensations with appreciation and the difficult sensations with compassion. Keep noticing what you notice.

You can start a mindfulness practice as you go about your daily routines and notice your awareness. If you want to increase your mindful abilities, add a meditation practice. If you want to start with a meditation practice, begin by meditating. Try to confine your mindfulness to the 20 minutes that you spend meditating. You won’t be able to contain it. It will spill out into your day. That is how meditation leads to mindfulness.

Your wisdom loves to reorganize your brain, body and mind to feel alive and well. Meditation and mindfulness lets that happen.

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No Expectations

High or low expectations are too much. If you have high expectations, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. If you have low expectations, you are setting yourself up for mediocracy. If you have no expectations you are open to whatever comes.

When you love somebody, you have a lot of expectations. You want love to be everything you expect it to be. Love will never be what you expect it to be. Love always blows away your expectations. Love will let you fly and it will slam you into the dirt. If you love somebody, just love. Don’t expect anything.

If you don’t expect anything you are ready for anything. If the person you love loves you, rejoice. If the person you love loves somebody else, rejoice. That is true love. If you can love that well, love will always work for you.

If you fly, fly. If you are in the dirt, dig. If you are in love, love. That is enough.

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