Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What is Being Present?

Being present is the best gift we can give someone. It doesn't matter whether you are being present for someone that is deeply suffering and has asked for your help, or you are being present for someone that pushes all of your buttons and throws you into fits of rage. The most generous thing you can do for that person is to be present. Actually, being present might be the best thing you can do for society!

A lot of people are talking about "being present" these days, and that is potentially very good, but there is also the possibility that few people know what it means and for this to become an empty phrase. If this notion of being present sounds elusive to you, you definitely need to question what it means. So the question should arise: what are we being present with?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

3 Steps to Wake up Now

One of my teachers, Lance Brunner, talked about how he worked with doctors in a hospital, helping them be more present. Doctors wanted to be able to connect with their patients more deeply, so Lance gave them a quick practice for cutting through the distracting thoughts in their minds. When they would put their hands on a door knob, before entering a room with a patient, they would go through a series of steps: Stop, Breathe, Be... 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

When you F%@# up

I f@#$ed something up at work, which is embarassing and frustrating. I pointed it out to my boss on Friday and thought about it all weekend. This morning my boss called me into her office to talk about it. She didn't have to say much to kick it off. As soon as I realized what she wanted to talk about I got really chatty, squirrely and over-apologetic. The truth is that I wanted out.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Experiencing Ordinary Perfection

Every now and then I realize there is perfection all around me. This sometimes comes up during or at the end of a meditation sitting, but when it is most profound is when I'm just driving in the car or talking to my wife, or having a beer with a friend. This comes up more and more as my meditation practice gets stronger. 

I didn't often realize these moments of perfection before I started meditating, although once in a while I think I did. Before I started a serious meditation practice, these moments usually arose when I was in nature and when the light was unusually beautiful. I can recall a few sunsets at the beach that were sufficiently mind-blowing for me to experience this gap. These experiences almost always came with a sense of majesty, beauty and tender-heartedness.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Instinct to Be Decent to One Another

I have a few pet peeves. One of those is when people cut in line. I have lived in countries where old ladies will elbow you out of the way to get to the front of a line. 

Another peeve comes up when I see someone get on the metro who obviously needs a seat. Maybe the person is on crutches, but the seats are all taken by young and able people absorbed in their iPhones, so the person that needs a seat is forced to stand until someone speaks up.

Despite the way it sounds so far, this isn't meant to be a moralistic rant. I have been absorbed in thought and failed to open a door for a guy with his arms full of boxes, so I'm not always better. But when we touch into our basic humanity, we are better.

How to Stay Inspired and Keep Meditating

This post builds off of last week's discussion about how to start a daily meditation practice.

You need inspiration to keep any regular practice going. If your goal is to hit the gym every day, you could watch Schwarzenegger movies and think about the huge muscles you will have one day. I'm not sure meditation translates as well on screen, so you'll probably need to find other ways. Here are some ideas on how to keep the momentum going:

1. Set your intention every day, before you start meditating
When you sit down to meditate you can remind yourself why you are doing this. This will probably change over time, or it might change every day, which is fine. When I first started meditating, I often reminded myself before sitting that I was interested in communicating better with people, as well as building strength and clarity in my mind.

How to Start a Meditation Practice: 5 steps

Meditation takes discipline, just like going to the gym or learning to paint. At first, your mind will feel like a perpetual motion machine of random thoughts. Eventually, your mind will start to relax and you'll start to get momentary glimpses of clarity and peace. You'll learn about the contours and features of the mind. You'll find out about things living in the deep dark recesses of the mind, that you never knew were lurking. When you start to figure out how your mind works, you can gain a better connection to others, better concentration, courage, and much more. The benefits might even surprise you!

Here is a list to get you started and help you follow through:

Friday, December 9, 2011

Guest Post: 2 poems over tea

Yesterday I wound up sitting in a Georgetown tea house with a dead cell phone battery and no other forms of diversion. I hadn't yet meditated, and was feeling a bit scattered. So I decided to try to really be present for the experience of drinking the tea -- dong ding oolong -- which, by the way, is really tasty. Pouring the tea, smelling the aroma, sipping it, steeping again... this all became a kind of meditation.

I began to feel like writing down some of what I was experiencing. I wrote:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Head and the Heart

When your mind is like a roller coaster,
you could sit still and enjoy the ride!
My meditation practice has felt a little off this week. My department at work went on a team retreat early this week and there are lots of changes coming, so my mind was filled with thoughts about work. On top of that I've felt angry and aggressive lately. I'm not sure where it is coming from. Maybe it is the coming winter season. Maybe it is anxiety about my wife losing her job. Maybe it is dealing with some of the ideas around Karma that are rocking my world view (see recent posts about Karma).

My morning meditations have felt off balance in the sense that my mind wanders during most of the time that I am sitting. I get anxious and look at the clock

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Karma and Rebirth (part 2 of 2): the Solidity of Your Actions

If there is no heaven and if there is no reincarnation, what’s with all the talk about re-birth? I don’t have all the answers to that question and maybe later I'll have another conclusion, but there is a lesson here that I’m going to take away for the time being: if we have no soul, then the only solid thing, which carries on after we die, is the momentum of our actions.

Here is where the concept of Karma kicks in. The concept of re-death and re-birth can be taken on a very practical level, forgetting the metaphysics. In every split-second, we are making choices and we are engaged in actions. Those choices and actions generate karma in a network of interdependent causes and consequences. They create momentum that carries on for a while and sets off other chain reactions.