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Enjoy the new site! I’ll be updated more frequently now that it’s up.

 

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What are the Three Poisons? [Part One: Ignorance]

The klesas. Also known as the afflictive emotions, the three poisons, the defilements. Out of ten total klesas, three in particular are regarded as the “roots” of suffering.

These three poisons are: greed/desire, hatred/anger, and delusion/ignorance.

Buddhism believes that these unhealthy emotions are what keep us trapped in the wheel of samsara, the cycle of human existence which is destined to repeat itself unless we can break out by becoming enlightened.

photo by ˙Cаvin 〄 on flickr

Ignorance

Ignorance and delusion are considered to be the starting point for the other poisons.

Ignorance does not, in this case, indicate an innocent inability to perceive the truth, but instead an active denial of what is true.

In the Buddhist philosophy, ignorance is a denial to see the world as it is: as impermanent and interdependent. It means that someone doesn’t understand the causes of suffering and how to make it cease, and it means that an individual thinks of him or herself as belonging separate from the rest of the world, instead of being a part of it.

Not recognizing ourselves as being part of the same chain of life, or understanding the impact that our actions have on those around us, cause us to perpetuate suffering in ourselves and others.

Consider this example:

One man thinks of himself as being different from the rest of humanity. His sense of self leads to an inflated ego and a drive to succeed where he is not ashamed of stepping on other people in order to get what he wants. He ignores the connections to other people who have helped him, and instead claims to be a “self-made man.”

He makes it big, and becomes rich, but it never seems to be enough. He’s constantly desiring new things, even though he has more than enough to live comfortably. His grasping nature takes over, and he continues the cycle of abusing others to get what he thinks he wants, even though he becomes dissatisfied very quickly after obtaining something he thought he once coveted.

He doesn’t understand the impact he makes on others, and his inability to recognize the impermanence of all things means that if he loses his fortune, or becomes very ill and close to death, it will be difficult for him to come to terms with the fact that he is no longer the person he’s identified himself as.

The truth is, we’ll never be youthful forever, and our lives are constantly changing. Nothing is truly guaranteed. Remaining attached to what we have despite these truths means that, if/when we lose things, we are left very unhappy.

Ignorance, the beginning of these three poisons, means that we don’t acknowledge or accept these truths, even when they’re given to us.

By accepting the truths of impermanence and interdependence, we can take steps to avoid and manage our future suffering.

Parts 2 and 3 coming soon!

 

Meditation Mondays: Meditating on Compassion

Compassion, as I’ve said many times before, is a fundamental tenet of Buddhism.

Cultivating compassion is essential not only to the well-being of others around you, but also to your own happiness.

Compassion comes from understanding; it is near-impossible for ignorance to breed compassion. We are not often compassionate to the things we do not understand.

You feel compassion for your loved ones: family, friends, significant others. When they suffer, you also suffer.

But how many times do you see someone suffering, and pass by? In the wake of natural disasters, would you feel so much sympathy for victims if you weren’t constantly reminded of their plight on the TV, radio, and in the newspapers?

Do you know how many homeless people live in your town? Do you see them often? Do you feel compassion for them? How often have you helped someone in need? If you don’t understand their experiences, it’s difficult to sympathize with them. But if you have a conversation with someone who has experienced misfortune, you feel yourself warming towards them.

Compassion can be achieved through understanding, but you don’t need to have a conversation with every suffering person to reach understanding;  you only need mindfulness.

photo by pictitious on flickr

Starting with Ourselves

Your meditation on compassion should start with understanding yourself.

Thich Naht Hanh recommends starting your meditation practice by saying, “May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and compassion in myself.”

We can not achieve loving-kindness unless we believe that we are first capable of opening our hearts and feeling compassion for all living things. When I say all living things, I mean all living things.

We should be able to extend our compassion not just to our loved ones, but also to those who have made us suffer.

Recognize the seeds of compassion in yourself. Even if you feel like you aren’t capable of forgiving those who have wronged you, understand that you will be able to with practice. Our enemies deserve our compassion just as much as our friends do.

Loving-Kindness Meditation

As you meditate, first think of someone you like, such as a casual friend, or a mentor.

Extend your love and compassion to that person.

“May he/she be peaceful, happy, and light in body and in spirit.

May he/she be free from injury.

May he/she live in safety.

May he/she be free from anger, disturbance, fear, worry, and anxiety.”

-Thich Naht Hanh

When you have visualized this person and offered love to him or her, select someone more neutral. Not someone you like, nor someone you dislike. A distant acquaintance, or the cashier at the grocery store.

Take this person as your object, and extend compassion to him or her. Imagine his life, feelings, experiences, virtues, and suffering. Understand that he deserves compassion just as much as anyone else.

In the third stage, meditate on someone you love. Offer unconditional love and compassion to this person.

And in the fourth stage, allow yourself to feel compassion for an enemy, or someone who upsets you.

Understand that even a person who has made you suffer is also suffering, and it is likely that he or she has only hurt you because he is himself hurting. Think of your enemy, and his life, values, dreams, perceptions, and thoughts.

As a fellow human being, is he or she less worthy of compassion? (There is a right answer to this question: no person is less worthy of compassion.)

Forgiving Our Enemies

The fourth stage is arguably the hardest. We all struggle with forgiving those who have hurt us, let alone extending our love and compassion to them (even symbolically).

But honestly, does your anger towards them benefit you? Does it make you happier? Do you “get back at” a person by despising them? Do you “serve them right” by carrying your resentment around?

Most likely, you can spend all your time and energy hating someone, and they won’t even notice or care. You’re not doing yourself any favors by clinging to negative emotions.

It’s important to carry a certain amount of dignity around, for self-preservation and to prevent people from taking advantage of you – but will your enemy notice if you quietly forgive them? If you’re embarrassed, or you feel like you need to stick up for yourself and your principles by continuing to hold a person away from you – take a first step towards releasing unhealthy anger by feeling compassion for that person.

Understand that anger comes from within, but forgiveness does too.

photo by Heath School Social Studies on flickr

Practice

Buddhists do not expect that you can successfully practice all of these stages in your first sitting.

You should meditate on the person you like first, and then the neutral person, but it may take months before you can meditate on the person closest to you, and even longer to extend compassion to your enemy.

Try meditating on compassion just once a week, or bi-weekly. Start slowly. In each session, practice loving-kindness on a different person you like, or a different neutral person.

Thich Naht Hanh warns that you should not immediately meditate on the third stage (extending compassion to a person dear to you), because thinking about someone to whom you are so attached can actually break your concentration.

After you can extend compassion to individuals, try it with bigger groups of people. Practice loving-kindness on the people who live in your city, or your co-workers, or even a whole country.

Have you tried meditating on compassion? Share your experiences in the comments, or email me at livingdharmanow at gmail dot com!

Intermittent Fasting: How to Eat Only When You’re Hungry

For the past two weeks, I’ve been experimenting with Intermittent Fasting (IF).

I’ve read a lot of material about the benefits of IF, from Leo Babauta at Zen Habits to Matt Madeiro at Three New Leaves.

And after trying it out myself, I have to say: I’m convinced.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

IF is exactly what it sounds like: daily (or regular) fasting. You may eat only one or two meals a day within a narrow window of time.

You may start eating later in the day and finish eating earlier. If you wake up at 8am and don’t take your first meal until 1pm and your last meal at 7pm, then you are successfully fasting for about 18 hours every day.

The belief is that IF brings us closer to our roots and our ancestors’ eating habits. They couldn’t be guaranteed a steady amount of food every day, so their bodies adjusted to short periods of famine by burning fat reserves for energy.

My Experiences with Intermittent Fasting

photo by food blogger Ashley

After about two weeks where I’ve eaten only one or two meals a day, I’m seeing huge self-improvement in so many areas:

-better relationship with food

-eating only when hungry

-disinterest in eating junk food

-weight loss

-no muscle loss

-more energy

-less time spent every day on fixing meals/thinking about food

-more clarity/concentration

-spending less money on food

My body has quickly adapted to fewer meals. I’m not eating breakfast until 4-6 hours after I wake up. And I feel fantastic.

I used to wander around my house, eating when I was bored, and looking in the fridge for snacks just to have something to do.

Now I’m looking trimmer, I’m not eating junk food, and I’m only eating when hungry.

I’ll eat one or two large meals a day, so I’m getting required nutrients, but my caloric intake isn’t exceeding the calories that I’m burning every day.

Spiritual Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Before I started intermittent fasting, I was eating 3 or 4 meals a day at socially appropriate times, even if I wasn’t hungry. After two weeks of IF, I’m able to recognize the signs that I’m truly hungry, and not just that my stomach is rumbling because it thinks it’s time for food.

I’ve also noticed a greater sense of smell, more energy, clarity, and concentration. My meditation sessions are more intense, and I feel better all-around because my body is lighter.

Less food means less energy spent digesting, so I feel alert, energetic, and focused. After I eat a heavy meal, I’m much more aware of my body and the feeling of sluggishness as I digest.

Intermittent fasting has helped me to become more mindful, more in tune with my body, and able to concentrate more as I meditate.

My mind feels clearer and sharper. Since I’m eating less, I also have less interest in eating unhealthy foods.

IF hasn’t just benefited me physically; the mental benefits are enormous.

How Do I Start Intermittent Fasting?

First I’m obligated to point out that IF may not be for everyone, and if you want the best benefit for your body, you might want to consult a doctor, nutritionist, or other person you can rely on for dietary advice.

Here are the steps:

1. Set goals for what you want to accomplish with your fasting practice.

2. Create a meal plan.

3. Start slowly.

4. Drink lots of water. Unsweetened tea and coffee can also help suppress appetite.

5. Don’t listen to your stomach, listen to your body. You’ll soon learn how to identify the true signs of hunger.

6. Set a window of time in which to eat. Don’t eat outside of that window.

7. Try not to think about food. It’s an unnecessary distraction. Focus on other things. Get work done.

8. Remember that you’ll be able to eat soon. If you feel uncomfortable, realize that it’s only temporary.

9. Eat healthy, whole foods.

10. Don’t starve yourself. Get all the nutrients you need.

11. Spend time meditating while you fast.

12. Start IF quietly: don’t feel like you need to advertise your experiment. There’s still a bit of a social stigma against fasting, and you don’t need to deal with other people’s questions.

13. Understand that when a hunger pang hits, it will be gone within minutes.

14. Know that within a couple of days, your body will adjust to your new eating schedule, and it won’t release the hormones that tell you you’re hungry as often. If you’re patient, you will succeed.

15. Have confidence.

Let me know how your experiments with Intermittent Fasting go! Leave a comment below or email me at livingdharmanow at gmail dot com.

8 Ways to Improve Your Concentration Right Now Without Another Cup of Coffee

So you’re sitting at your computer getting some work done when you remember that you’re waiting on an email. So you open up gmail and look for it.

Maybe you got a message that reminded you of a call you need to make, so you take care of that. Then you open up your RSS feed reader and check new posts from your favorite blogs, and that turns into Facebook and that turns into Twitter, and next thing you know you’re watching videos of cats with their heads stuck in boxes.

Sound familiar?

photo by expatty on flicr

So here’s are six ways to focus your mind and improve your concentration…WITHOUT resorting to caffeine.

1. Brain Dump/Journaling

I’ve discussed Brain Dumps before, and how helpful they can be

The idea is to take every nagging thought you have and write it down. Getting it on paper gets it out of your head.

It’s like when you were little, and had a nightmare. Even though it was scary, talking about it helped calm your fears and relaxed you enough to fall back asleep.

Brain dumps improve clarity and concentration and give you a tidy list of tasks to tackle for greater stress relief; journaling helps get emotional and day-to-day clutter out of your system.

Read Improve Your Focus and Stress Levels Right Now With a Brain Dump to find out more!

2. Meditate

This is probably an obvious recommendation.

Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes, step back from your computer, and turn off your cell phone.

Close your eyes and focus on the feeling of your breath entering and leaving your nostrils, or try counting your breaths.

Your mind is probably feeling cluttered, so don’t be alarmed when your thoughts start racing. Don’t try to control your thoughts, just allow them to pass by.

After a few minutes without external stimulation, you should be feeling refreshed and a little more clear-headed.

Read my post How to Breathe for more ideas about how to structure your meditation session.

3. Tackle Nagging Tasks

Even if you don’t have time for a complete brain dump, make a to-do list of the nagging tasks that have been worrying you. Procrastinating on things you don’t want to do can cause more grief than if you commit to getting it done.

Write down every single errand you need to run, every person you need to call or email, every bill you need to pay, and then go down the list and get each one completed.

I promise, you’ll feel better immediately. And when you no longer have these distractions cluttering up your mind and causing stress, you’ll be able to focus on the other things that need to get done.

4. Exercise

photo by GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS on flickr

Moving your body, even if it’s just for a few minutes, will immediately perk you up.

Stand up, and get away from your desk. Stretch. Walk around the room or up and down some stairs. Do jumping jacks. Take a break to jog to the bathroom.

Regular exercise will improve clarity even more, and give you more energy throughout your day.

5. Eat Something

This isn’t an excuse to eat junk food – quite the opposite. Don’t load up on empty calories, but eat something small for a quick energy pick-me-up. Avoid simple carbohydrates, and go for complex carbs, fiber, and protein.

Some healthy options include:

-carrots

-a handful of nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, etc)

-an apple or banana with peanut butter

-avocado

-eggs

-yogurt (add some honey to it for even more energy)

6. Drink Water

No, really. You can feel sluggish if you’re dehydrated, and it’s easy to be dehydrated without realizing it or feeling thirsty.

The majority of your daily fluids should come from water, not sweetened drinks or sodas.

So even if you don’t think it’ll help, go grab a tall glass of cool water and slurp that sucker down.

7. Get some sleep!

photo by End of Level Boss on flickr

Whether you need to adjust your sleeping schedule so you’re getting enough hours every night or you just need a nap, getting some shut-eye will definitely help your clarity.

Studies have shown that mid-day naps are extremely beneficial. Naps aren’t just for young children anymore!

So do yourself a favor and go lie down for 20-30 minutes. You’ll feel better when you wake up.

8. Step Away from the Computer Screen

Get yourself away from all technology, right now. Go outside. Feel the sun. Go for a walk. Do something away from everything with a power button.

If you need to get work done, take a notebook and pen and head to a different room in the house or office, or escape to another place like a coffee-shop.

I remember reading an article (unfortunately, I don’t remember where it was) about famous authors’ writing habits. One man gave himself four hours every day to sit down at his writing desk. He could do a couple of things there: stare out the window, daydream, do nothing, or write.

By forcing himself to sit down for a specific amount of time every day in a place where he had very few options but to get his work done, he inevitably always started working.

So turn off everything that might be a source of distraction, sit down, and focus.

Have you tried these? What works for you? What doesn’t? Leave a comment below or email me at livingdharmanow at gmail dot com!

 

How to Create a Spiritual Routine

To fill each day with wellbeing, I recommend starting a spiritual or calming routine.

photo by Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton on flickr

This is a routine where you can take the time to breathe and be with your own thoughts, passively. It’s unlike meditation, yoga, or prayer, because there is no impetus to focus on controlling your own mind.

Your spiritual routine should be something which allows you to relax your mind instead of regulating it. But that doesn’t mean your routine should be allowed to cloud your mind; a calming routine should never include surfing the internet or watching TV.

A spiritual routine will nourish you, and allow you to clear up mental and emotional clutter by daydreaming, by allowing thoughts to come to mind at will, have their say, and then depart.

What Routines Do You Already Have?

In my post How to Make Meditation a Habit, I listed many typical routines that one could use to practice mindfulness.

Many of these routines (taking a shower, walking, commuting, cooking, and eating) can also be used to create a spiritual routine.

To get the most value out of such a routine, I would recommend making it significant among everything else in your day. You can’t  make “taking a shower” a calming routine if  you’re late to work every day and have to rush in the morning.

So, if you have a hard time making daily responsibilities into calming rituals, then you should create your own.

Creating Your Own Routines

What do you love to do? What do you wish you had time for? What comes easily to you?

What is a task which you find significant?

photo and artwork by paulateachstm on flickr

Routines I would recommend, to take you out of the hustle and bustle of everyday life so you can spend some time for yourself, are these:

-drinking tea

-gardening or tending

-sketching or painting

-journaling

-yarn crafts (knitting, crocheting, sewing, cross-stitching, embroidery, etc)

-scrapbooking or making a collage

-people-watching

-creating something with your hands (woodworking, building furniture)

-baking or cooking (outside of normal meal preparation)

-volunteering or community service

Set the Mood

photo by flit on flickr

To make a routine spiritually significant to you, you have to set it apart from the normal activities that go on in your life.

So try to make it special in some way.

If you’re drinking tea, light a candle before you start, and always use the same mug. Whenever you bring that mug out, that’s the signal to your brain that your spiritual routine is about to start.

If you’re a gardener, use a special pair of gloves. For a chef, an apron. For an artist, a beret (you know you want one).

Make your preparation for the routine the same every time, so your mind knows when it’s time to settle down.

Start

Now, when you sit down for your spiritual routine, practice mindfulness.

Don’t steer the mind, but let it drift. Relax, or engage in an activity that relaxes you.

Allow yourself to daydream about the past, the present, and the future.

Think about how you fit into the world around you, and how you help others.

Concentrate on your activity, and allow your thoughts to fill your head.

Sometimes you might be struck with creative ideas, motivation, or inspiration.

You might feel like meditating after such a session. If you do have the opportunity to follow a spiritual routine with meditation, I would recommend it. Letting yourself daydream helps mental clutter to rise through your conscious mind and be let go, but meditation afterwards can help clear the remaining thoughts.

Your spiritual routine should relax but also invigorate you and help you feel connected to the world. So many times, people get so lost or busy that they don’t have time to listen to themselves think. Don’t suppress the voice inside of you, but appreciate it for what it is and give it time to be heard and express itself.

Do you have spiritual routines of your own? Please share in the comments below!

How to Overcome the Difficulties of Meditation: Guest Post

How to Overcome the Difficulties of Meditation – By Gerry Davis

Effective meditation can be a hard thing to achieve. 70-80% of our time spent sitting (if we’re lucky) is often spent in a haze of varying emotions and mind-chatter.

It’s made worse when we have specific expectations to achieve a silent mind, and wonder what that would be like. Yet this only plays around with the things “outside” of meditation, as it were.

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “life is a journey, not a destination”; and if you truly apply this idea to meditation, you may find that the whole thing is blown wide open for you.

contributed by Gerry Davis

Diffusing the Mind

When I sit, the first thing the mind tells me is that it doesn’t want to be there, which habitually becomes “I don’t want to be here”. I don’t know if it sounds a little stubborn or unnecessary, but this essentially is the struggle that goes on.

This is where the practice of Mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is the knife which cuts through the unenthusiastic lethargy that often dominates meditation practice. A helpful resource which outlines this is the invaluable Mindfulness in Plain English.

In time one finds that Mindfulness has the effect of diffusing the mind. Even if it is proves difficult to become aware, it’s only a matter of applying a strong dose of  mindfulness to bring one back to the present.

This you might find, is not dissimilar to the next idea…

Saying “I Just Know

A lot of time in meditation is spent questioning, doubting whether there’s anything to all of this malarkey, or wondering what the breakthrough will be like if it comes.

However, underneath it all, intuitively, we know exactly what we’re doing, we know exactly how it works, and exactly why we’re sitting there. And we know that most of this is beyond our modes of description.

Meditation doesn’t require very much faith. When you look at the world and people objectively, and also your own subjective life, you witness so much evidence for the validity and importance of meditation.

And similarly, signs of its effectiveness become more and more commonplace with continued practice.

Look Around

If you’re an eyes-closed meditator, it can be helpful to open your eyes from time to time and take in the space around you.

Practicing looking at the room as a whole is very beneficial and increases mindfulness. You can try to take in more and more without reverting to language or labels to describe what you see.

When you can look at a coffee table without the label “coffee table” popping into your head, you know you’re on the right track.

Starving Vision

This is the opposite of the above idea. Try wrapping a scarf or t-shirt around your head to experience a strange effect, particularly if you continue to sit with eyes open, looking into the blackness of the cloth.

Because your eyes are open, the mind expects to see something, but nothing is being given to it.

Make sure to wrap the cloth gently because if it presses against the eyes it can create colours and shapes. But likewise make sure as much light as possible is blocked out (in your peripheral vision too). This is a very interesting experiment.

Bulldozing the Mountain

The blockages we encounter when meditating are known as  the five hindrances (Anger, Desire, Laziness, Restlessness; and Doubt) in Buddhism. The more we meditate, the more we become acquainted with these feelings, and can potentially gain a more tangible and intuitive grasp of what they are.

Although there are different prescribed ways of dealing with them, for me it helps to see these blockages as a mountain that assumes it can’t be taken down. And you’re the one controlling the bulldozer. All you have to do to flatten out that mountain is to sit and look at it, unwavering in your determination.

In my case, the mountain wins more often then not. But I’ve managed to flatten out a lot of it from time to time. What’s valuable here is a gut-wrenching determination not to back down, and a lot of stubbornness.

Read Mindfully

For times when none of the above work, I find it helps to have a book on Eastern philosophy to read – not to read in the way we are accustomed to, but rather to read it as mindfully as possible.

Observe yourself reading. And try to pinpoint the place behind the eyes where the words become concept and understanding.

And if the mind wanders as you read, notice how oblivious you were to recieving the sentences that passed while you were out.

Dispassion

A common denominator between the vast majority of the things stopping us from meditating well is the element of passion. It’s obvious in certain ways.

If we realize we’ve been daydreaming for the last five minutes, it leads to frustration and anger. The passion here is obvious, but it can be harder to spot in other ways.

Take restlessness, for example. You wouldn’t consider restlessness a particularly passionate state would you? Yet passion is there underneath the surface, driving the restlessness. Similarly when daydreaming about eating a delicious ice cream, here the passion is very subtle.

In essence, passion is what fuels egoic function. In contemporary society, passion is almost exclusively conveyed as a useful, effective, and wonderful force that drives all the colourful things of the world.

But when we sit in meditation we can find that this is very rarely so. And rarely is the mind more focused then when one plucks at the root of passion.

In a dispassionate state, everything tends to become more uniform, and thus beauty emanates from every corner, in seeming contradiction to most cultural assumptions.

Practice Makes Perfect

I hope these ideas have been some help, or in some way intriguing. Ultimately practice is the perfect way forward, but learning to cultivate enthusiasm and a certain kind of healthy stubbornness can supplement the efforts made on the cushion.

Gerry Davis is an artist living and working in Limerick, Ireland. He has had an avid interest in meditation for some time and has recently taken to rambling and writing about it (sometimes at the same time) in one way to see if he can objectify his own practice and in another way to see if just maybe some of his prepostrous observations might resonate with others somewhere out in Cyberville.

Check out Gerry’s blog at http://www.gerrydavis.blogspot.com/.

His art can be found at http://www.gerrydavisart.com/.

How to Make Meditation a Habit

It’s always difficult to start a new habit. Heck, look at me. This blog hasn’t been updated since my school finals started, but now that we’re into summer I’ll be updating regularly again.

Meditation is an easy thing to fit into your day, in theory. But many people (including myself) struggle with making the time to sit down and meditate.

Here are some steps to help you create a meditation habit.

photo by SmilingMonk on flickr

Find Open Slots in Your Day

Depending on how long you want to meditate, you can find dozens of little spots throughout your day where you can take the time to sit. Take a look at your typical schedule.

– Can you meditate first thing in the morning, after you wake up?

– Can you take 10 minutes before or after your daily shower?

– During your commute? (Just not while you’re driving!)

– How about during a lunch break?

– Right after you get home?

– Before or after dinner?

– Once the kids go to bed?

– Before you go to bed?

– Can you involve other members of your family?

– Can you ask another member of your household to take care of a chore in order to give you time to meditate when you need it?

There are lots of pockets of time where you can squeeze in a meditation session. You just have to look for them!

Use Routines to Your Advantage

There are probably just as many boring or repetitive routines throughout your day as there are pockets of time. Mindless routines can be beneficial if you don’t have the time for sitting meditation.

To use routines as meditation, try to concentrate on the task at hand. Block out other stimuli.

Move deliberately, and concentrate on the feeling of each muscle and limb of your body. If you’re eating or cooking, concentrate on the taste and smell.

Routines which you can use include:

– Brushing your teeth

– Taking a shower

– Putting on makeup

– Dressing

– Walking

– Commuting on public transportation

– Waiting in lines

– Filing or Shelving

– Cooking

– Eating

– Cleaning/washing

– Exercising

– Gardening/farming

– Walking the dogs

– Practicing a musical instrument

– Playing a sport

This isn’t to say that none of these routines use brainpower, but that it’s easy to concentrate on movement and feelings as you perform these.

Meditate at the Same Time Every Day

If you’d rather keep to a strict schedule instead of fitting in meditation during open slots in your day, you can set a fixed time.

Set an alarm on your phone or watch or computer, so you’re reminded every day when to start meditating.

Don’t forget to let others know that you won’t be available at that time every day, and be sure to turn your phone and other electronics off. It will prevent you from being disturbed.

Don’t Break the Chain

Jerry Seinfeld is credited with this productivity method.

Get a calendar (desk, wall, or online at Don’t Break the Chain), and set yourself a goal. (Ex: I want to meditate every day for 30 days.)

Then put the calendar somewhere where you’ll see it every day, and cross off every day that you meditate over the next month.

Often, seeing a long chain of days and visualizing how much longer you have before you reach the goal is enough encouragement to prevent you from “breaking the chain.”

photo by EscapePod | Sugarcube Design on flickr

Use a Website to Build Habits

Websites such as Habit Forge can help you build habits. You can sign up (it’s free!), and they’ll send you a daily email asking if you’ve succeeded that day.

If you click yes, it’s added to the chain. 21 days of yes’s, and you’ve succeeded!

If you click no, the counter starts back at 0.

Good Luck!

If you’re serious about creating a meditating habit, try one (or all) of these methods, and let me know how they work for you!

You can leave comments here, or email me at livingdharmanow at gmail dot com.

Meditation Mondays: Train Station

When I visited the Providence Zen Center a couple of months ago, I sat in on the introductory Korean Zen meditation session with my peers. We’d all had experience with meditation of various sorts – guided, Vipassana, and Zen – but we enjoyed the chance for a fresh perspective on a style that we hadn’t studied in depth.

As the teachers were instructing us on the finer points of Zen meditation, one of them said something which got me thinking.

Though I don’t remember exactly what he said, it was essentially this:

“Zen meditation is not necessarily about emptying your mind, or forcing thoughts out of your head. Doing that leads to negative associations which we are trying to avoid. If you push the thoughts away and they keep returning, you’ll feel like a failure, but the truth is that it’s very hard to achieve a totally blank mind.

Instead, you want to notice thoughts as they arise and don’t allow yourself to follow them, but gently let them go.

Your mind is a train station, and your thoughts are constantly riding up to you at the train platform. When an appealing thought-train comes, you board it. If you’re mindful, and you realize that you’re on the train, you should get off at the next stop. But the trick is to not allow yourself to board it in the first place.”

Since that time at the Zen Center, I’ve thought a lot about what that means, and how to apply it to my meditation. I incorporated that idea of the trains and created a visual technique which I find beneficial, and I’d like to share with you.

The Train Station

photo by ksnyan_1975 on flickr

As soon as I close my eyes for meditation, I imagine a train station. Not very much of a train station; I try to keep the visualization simple and easy to return to.

I imagine that I’m sitting on a bench, in front of train tracks, and I’m staring at a brown wall ahead of me.

When I close my eyes, the image of this train station is easy to remember: it’s just brown and squarish, with a wider rectangle of black rails at the bottom and the illusion of depth in my mind’s eye. (You, of course, can visualize a train station however you like! Just keep it simple.)

I focus intently on the brown wall in front of me, and when a thought arises in my mind, I capture it and visually send it on its way as a train down those tracks, away from me. I let it go in my mind, and in my mind’s eye.

So every time a thought, an idea, or a memory comes to me, I make that thought materialize itself as a train, and I watch it ride away.

Whenever I realize that I’m thinking about something, and no longer visualizing the train station, I visualize myself being physically on that thought-train. I imagine the train stopping at another platform, and I very slowly and deliberately disembark. Then I sit down and stare at the wall again.

Every train looks the same, and every train station looks the same. It helps my concentration to have only a couple recurring images, so I don’t have to re-imagine the scene every time.

Structuring my meditation this way helps me notice each thought arising immediately, and also helps me to let go of it deliberately, without forcing the thought away.

I’ve only been meditating like this for a few months, but already I’ve noticed improvement. I’m visualizing easier, and returning to the train station faster.

But even if you don’t incorporate this technique into your meditation, embracing the metaphor may aid your concentration and clarity. Don’t board every train, and don’t follow every thought. Sit quietly at the station, instead.

Try this meditation practice, and give me feedback! I’d love to hear from you in the comments, or you can email me at livingdharmanow at gmail dot com!

Our Global Responsibility

On Sunday, I watched a documentary about hydraulic fracturing (known as “fracking”) called Gasland. Released in 2010, it follows the film-maker Josh Fox after he received a letter from a gas company offering money to lease his property so they could tap into natural gas reserves. He decided to do more research on the process involved, and whether or not it would harm his land, a beautiful plot in Pennsylvania.

His research took him across the United States, to homes of families who had reported contaminated tap water as a result of the fracking going on in their community. Many people were suffering from serious health issues; the chemicals used in the fracking process were making their way into the water supply and causing brain lesions, chronic migraines, asthma, loss of hair, frequent dizziness, and others.

Dozens of water samples collected from affected people were shown, all taken directly from the tap and all of various shades of yellow, murky brown, and black. Some people’s water wells have actually exploded from the methane and other chemicals that seeped into the ground from the fracking process. And some of these families could even light their tap water on fire.

Fracking is a form of drilling for natural gas which uses water, sand, and a chemical cocktail of over 500 different ingredients which gas companies are NOT required to disclose. After the initial ground drilling is completed, the water and chemicals are injected into the hole at a pressure high enough to actually crack the underground rock and shale, which releases the gas.

In 2005, an energy bill passed which exempted the natural gas companies from the Safe Drinking Water Act, established by Nixon to regulate the quality of drinking water in the U.S.

Watching this movie was an experience. The director Josh Fox was able to display these shocking and horrific stories of victimized citizens while still maintaining a dark sense of humor that prevents the audience from becoming emotionally mired in the tragedy. I walked away from it feeling educated, but also (literally) sick to my stomach.

And watching this documentary reminded me of several important tenets of Buddhism which could have prevented this situation if applied.

Compassion

The Buddhist doctrine of compassion is central to the religion. Putting others before you is not recommended, it’s necessary for continued survival and eventual enlightenment. We have a huge responsibility to the other people who share this planet with us, and it’s our job to make this world livable and to grant everyone the same human rights that we want to enjoy.

Some of the most celebrated Buddhists are those who become bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas have the inner enlightenment of a Buddha, but instead of going forward to nirvana, their compassion for all sentient life keeps them on earth, and they postpone their nirvana until they have helped others also reach enlightenment.

If big corporations practiced compassion instead of greed, the world would be a much different place. Compassion for citizens would have encouraged gas companies to do research on the dangers of fracking and other drilling practices, and to publish those results. They might have tried to find alternative methods, or use chemicals which are nontoxic and biodegradable, as well as employing other tactics to keep the natural gases from polluting the environment and water supplies.

If government officials felt sincere compassion for American citizens, they might have insisted on holding big corporations accountable for their actions, instead of allowing loopholes in a system which is intended to keep us safe and healthy.

The Afflictive Emotions

The three afflictive emotions, or klesas, are greed, ill-will, and delusion (also known as desire, anger, and ignorance). These are negative, unwholesome emotions which keep us rooted in suffering and prevent us from reaching enlightenment.

Institutionalized greed is the biggest contributor to environmental problems like the ones created by fracking. Instead of trying to find more expensive methods which will preserve the natural environment, businesses prefer to follow the fastest and cheapest, or whatever will earn them a quick buck.

The problem with big businesses is that since the bureaucratic system is so large and spread so thin, the responsibility for unethical behavior doesn’t fall on an individual’s shoulders; this enables people to ignore their ethical responsibilities in favor of “doing their job” or “following orders.”

In any collectivist system, including business, it takes an individual to stand up for what’s right. Unfortunately, many people have been conditioned not to pursue those courses of action when it matters. This is an example of another klesa, which is ignorance. Instead of ferreting out the truth and acting as a whistle-blower on immoral behavior within a corporation, people are willing to ignore their personal ethics just to ensure profits for a company so they don’t lose their jobs.

This is not any one individual’s fault, but is instead a flaw inherent in the system. Management, expectations, and responsibility within a corporation need to go through a drastic revolution before a business can be made socially conscious.

Global Responsibility


Though there are humans in every country and we all have a different background, a different story to tell, and maybe we all speak a different language, there is still more that connects us than we realize.

The Buddhist principle of inter-being shows us that we are all part of a web, connected to everyone else, and thus responsible for everyone else.

This is definitely evident in examples like the one presented in Gasland; the chemicals and gas used in one area still seeped into the ground, air, and water of surrounding communities, despite methods used to capture and contain the toxins.

There are many links and connections in the world that we still remain unaware of, and so we don’t always understand the repercussions of our actions and how it might affect the community, both on a local level and at the global scale.

Until we do (and if we do) understand the consequences of our actions when we muck around with the environment, we need to assume responsibility for the good of all living things around the world by treading carefully, by acting deliberately and with compassion, and by remaining conscious of our ethical duties.

If you’d like to take action against harmful fracking methods, contact your elected officials here!

Also, leave a comment below or email me at livingdharmanow at gmail dot com! I’d love to hear from you!

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