Exploring the Third Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering and the realization of well-being. A talk by Lyndon Marcotte at Cenla Meditation Group on 3/19/13.
Archive for the ‘Buddhism’ Category
The Second Noble Truth is that there is a cause for suffering. By looking deeply into our suffering we can set out on the path toward healing and liberation. This is a talk by Lyndon Marcotte at Cenla Meditation Group on 3/12/13.
Life doesn’t always go according to plan. The First Noble Truth is that life contains suffering. By recognizing suffering in our lives we can begin to heal. This is a talk by Lyndon Marcotte at Cenla Meditation Group on 3/5/13.
My teacher says that Westerners are stuck in their heads too much already, and it is good to develop awareness of our bodies as well as our minds in meditation practice. One of the simple meditation techniques that helps us to reconnect with our bodies is Vase Breathing.
You begin this meditation by finding a comfortable seated position. Just begin noticing your breath. Don’t try to change it. Let it settle into it’s own natural rhythm. After you have settled for a moment, on the next inhalation breathe awareness into the very center of your head. Hold it there for a second or so. When you exhale, breathe awareness down into your body in a quick body scan. Repeat.
My wife is a preschool teacher. She uses “conscious discipline” with the four year olds in her classroom. An expression that she uses often to help an angry or upset child is “take a deep breath and get some oxygen in your brain.” It may be just a visualization technique, but it has real benefits immediately. Most of us go through our day with shallow, rapid breathing under stress. Taking time to breathe calmly and deeply has real effects on our mood and can improve hypoxic states.
When we go through our daily activities on “auto-pilot,” we may go hours unaware of our bodies until we have a feeling like aches and pains or hunger in our stomachs near lunch time. When is the last time you were aware of the third toe on your left foot unless you hit it on accident?
In breathing awareness down into our bodies we are just reconnecting with the rest of the body which supports our heads and busy thinking. We are a whole person and not just the thoughts that we think. Feel your heart beating, your lungs breathing, the blood flowing through your veins.
Vase breathing is a simple way that helps us reconnect with our bodies that can be done anywhere at anytime, even before picking up the phone or walking into a meeting. It can be done sitting up, lying down, or walking, and even a few breaths or a few minutes can help you to refocus, be centered, and present.
Walking Meditation is still pretty new to me and took some getting used to. I’m finally getting past the wobbly beginner’s stage. Yes, when you walk extremely slowly and mindfully, it’s hard to keep your balance at first, lol. In walking meditation you let your steps be the focus of your awareness rather than your breath when you walk.
A couple days ago while practicing I was struggling to get my awareness out of my head and into my feet. For a moment I thought, “I’ll never be able to walk across the room without being distracted. This is impossible!” Then it occurred to me that I only have to take this step mindfully, not the next twenty. Then I take the next step mindfully and the next…
We can’t take the next 20 breaths mindfully, but we can take this one mindfully. We don’t have next week or even today. All we ever have is now. We don’t even have the past. It’s gone, but we can choose to be here now. To be present. To be mindful. To be awake in this moment.
Most everyone that’s new to meditation practice has expressed the same conflict and confusion. How do you tell your friends and family about your practice? The internal dialogue surrounding the decision is an interesting paradox worth exploring for ourselves.
You may have been at this for a while now and realize that this is something that you want to become a regular part of your life, or you may have realized that being yourself, being connected to the universe, practicing kindness is your life. It’s only natural to want to talk to others about something good that has happened to you. You may even have the best intentions of wanting others to find the happiness and calm center that you have discovered, but you know that some people in your life won’t be very receptive. Some may even be very judgmental and say hurtful things to you. So there is this conflict of wanting to share about your practice and the way you see the world and being afraid of being judged by loved ones who just don’t understand.
First, we need to explore our motivations for wanting to tell others about it but also explore why we are afraid of being judged by others. On one hand we may want to share our experience with others as another form of seeking approval and validation from people. While not to let anyone know about the changes we’ve experienced is a fear of rejection and losing approval. It’s really a paradox. The ego is at play in both decisions, but realizing how it’s at work gives us areas to explore and work through.
- What is it about me that craves the approval of others?
- Why do I need others to validate my experience for me?
- If I can’t be myself around those that love me, do they really love me or the idea of me?
- What is it about rejection that terrifies me and paralyzes me?
Second, we shouldn’t try to evangelize others to bolster our own lack of confidence. I ran across a wonderful Taoist insight by Chuang-tzu this week that we could learn from:
She let’s the confused stay confused
if that is what they want
and is always available
to those with a passion for the truth.
When we free ourselves of this desperate need for approval, we can be truly ourselves. When someone that we love has a genuine need or has expressed interest in changes they see in us, we can have the courage and humility to be honest and to be kind in our responses.
Remember, the Buddha said, “Be a lamp unto yourselves.” We don’t have to seek validation for the path that we know is right for us, but we also don’t have to force our way on others who may not be ready at this time or ever.
Practice loving-kindness and mindfulness for their own sake, whether anyone understands why you do or not. Just be yourself. Be present. Be kind. Let your life touch others and let your actions speak louder than words. Explanations won’t be necessary.
So I saw your post about Christianity & Buddhism. I am a Christian, but I adore other religions teachings as well, especially Buddhism & ones similar to it. Your blog made me not feel guilty anymore about that actually. But what I’m here to ask is; I’ve always been curious about meditation, but I’m unsure of how to go about it. I could merely google it, but I think I’d rather ask you. I think hearing your opinion, advice, or resources would be much preferred. So can you tell me about it?
I think more than anything meditation is about being yourself, being honest with yourself… seeing things as they are. It’s not about getting to a special spiritual state or other-worldly place. It’s about being here, being here now in this moment, because that’s all we have. It’s not always a pleasant experience, although it can be. It just is.
Try not to start out trying to over do it or being something you’re not. A good beginning practice is just breathing or loving kindness meditation. (The links take you to posts I wrote about my experience with both.) Try to sit for just 5 minutes a day, then work your way up. If all you do is put your body there and breath for 5 minutes, it can make a big difference. You can sit cross legged or half lotus or try lying down on the floor with your eyes open or closed, whichever comes easiest for you.
You can try a simple body scan. Just breathe. Notice the air going in and out of your nose, your lungs. Notice your chest rise and fall with your abdomen. Just be there. Notice any tension in your body. Don’t judge it, just be aware of it. When you exhale, imagine you are exhaling into that part of your body and letting the tension drain through the floor. Don’t expect anything to happen or to feel a certain way. Just be you and know that it’s ok.
Hope that gives you an idea. The best simple, non-sectarian book on meditation I’ve read (3x’s now) is Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg. It’s a 4 week guided teaching in 4 types of mediation practices with an audio CD of guided meditations included. It’s really easy to understand and practice.
I wish you well. Feel free to ask any questions. I’ll be glad to answer them privately.
I do consider myself to be Christian, or this is the way I would say it: that’s my mother tongue. That’s where I come from, and that’s my mother tongue. That’s my heritage.
– Krista Tippett, from an interview with Buddhist Geeks podcast, “Carving Out a Life of Meaning”
Christianity is my mother tongue. It’s what I know, who I am, and in my blood. I’m very comfortable and fluent in speaking it, even though most conversations are about what it isn’t as much as what it is.
I first began practicing mediation about two years ago in response to a health crisis I experienced. (You can read more about it here: My Journey Into Real Happiness) It was a purely secular, self-help attempt on my part because medication was not working. I didn’t even entertain the thought of Buddhist teaching for a long time. It was simply something that helped me and made me feel better. Almost a year ago I started reading more about Buddhist teaching to gain some understanding and context for what I was experiencing in meditation. The dharma, the teaching, really ignited my meditation practice and helped me to take the practice off the cushion and apply it to everyday life.
Buddhism isn’t a religion as such. There is no one to worship. There are teachings but not some universal dogma which everyone must believe or suffer for all eternity for rejecting. We’re already suffering here and now, and most of it is of our own making, Buddhism teaches. In Buddhist practice we can walk back down the path that led us into this mess. We can begin to understand it. We can make choices to be aware of our thoughts and actions. We can be kinder to ourselves and others.
Somewhere I read that Buddhism isn’t something you believe or something that you are, it’s something that you do. When one master was pressed on the question “Are you a Buddhist?,” he simply answered, “I practice Buddhist meditation.” I don’t think Buddha himself would self-identify as a Buddhist, nor would Jesus likely be able to identify with all that has been done in His name.
I think my best answer today at this point in my life is that I am a follower of Jesus who practices Buddhist meditation. Christianity may be my mother tongue, but I’m bi-lingual. As I become more fluent in this Eastern tongue, it has informed my Christian faith and enriched my daily life. There will never be a day when I cease to follow Jesus, but I have incredible respect and appreciation for this ancient path that has at last introduced me to myself.
Namaste and Peace Be Unto You
If you are interested in the correlation of the two practices, I highly recommend:
- Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian by Paul Knitter
- Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Naht Hahn
- The Enoch Factor by Steve McSwain
I first meditated almost two years ago. At first it was a purely an attempt to gain control over an immune system out of control and stress consuming my life. I experienced an immediate change in my health and was able to get off a lot of prescription meds soon after with the help of vitamins and supplements.
For almost a year afterwards meditating was something I did sporadically as needed, when I had time for it. It was an exercise in self-help. While I continued to derive health benefits from the practice, the principles, and natural vitamins, I didn’t take it seriously.
About 9 months ago I began sitting with more regularity, at least weekly. When I picked up Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness in January of this year, it gave me tools to deepen the practice and engage it more fully.
I began sitting for several times a week until I was sitting everyday by the end of the 28 day journey through the book. By the time I finished the book mindfulness was no longer just something I did sitting on a cushion in the corner. I began practicing mindfulness throughout my day. I continued the practice since February, sitting almost daily with a few exceptions. I also learned not to beat myself up for missing a day or getting off course.
A month ago I decided to go through the 28 days of Real Happiness again and made a serious commitment to sit at least 20 minutes a day everyday from now on. This practice became much easier with the support of my wife and kids who recognized it was here to stay, and I hope also saw that I was more pleasant to be around as a result.
The second 28 days has just ended, and I have really enjoyed the journey. There were several not so pleasant moments on the cushion such as dealing with a monkey mind, difficult emotions, or sleepiness, but I had discovered a way to work with those moments so that even they were included in my practice.
While I intended to just sit at least once a day, I quickly found myself sitting twice a day most days of the week. It was no longer something I had to make time for. It was something I truly wanted to do, and it began to feel more and more like the path that felt right for me.
This is how I came to the practice of meditation or how the practice came to me. It’s something that I have committed to continue and make a regular part of my life. The challenge is “taking the practice off the cushion,” seeing how it affects everyday life, and trying to practice mindfulness and lovingkindness in each of those moments. I don’t always get it right, but at least I’m aware and awake for perhaps the first time. When I blow it, I can always start over and just begin again.
Theravada Buddhist meditation is feeling more and more like the path for me. That is not to say anything negative against Mahayana, Vajrayana, or Zen Buddhism. I still enjoy several teachers from those schools and continue to learn a lot from them.
Next to Theravada I have the most affinity for Soto Zen, but overall I just feel most comfortable with Theravada, in particular Vipassana and Metta. All of this has been pretty confusing for a while, but I think it comes into focus when it’s supposed to and not a moment sooner.
“Be a lamp unto yourself.” – Buddha
I’ve been thinking a lot about Karma. I really don’t believe that karma is getting what you deserve. I don’t think you build up animosity in the universe like static electricity that’s going to come back and bite you in the ass for what you did. That’s about as immature as fundamentalist Christians who think God is going to punish you for every little sin.
Karma, as best I understand it, is simply cause and effect. I don’t think it’s a moral judgement or supernatural punishment or reward for anything. If you do destructive harmful things to yourself or others, the eventual effect is likely to be pain and suffering. If you do acts of kindness, you are likely to receive appreciation, a smile, or maybe just the satisfaction of giving yourself away on behalf of another.
I don’t think we should live our lives looking over our shoulder for karma to come creeping up on us to get even, but I do think that we should realize actions have consequences. The better understanding we have about how all of our choices affect everyone around us, the better choices hopefully we will be able to make.
If you want to reach a state of bliss, then go beyond your ego and the internal dialogue. Make a decision to relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved, and the need to judge. Those are the three things the ego is doing all the time. It’s very important to be aware of them every time they come up.
– Deepak Chopra
In meditation we use mental noting to name thoughts and feelings as we observe them and let them go. This observation of ego has helped me to be more aware of my own ego while sitting and throughout my day. When thoughts, feelings, or actions arise I’m able to be the observer. “Oh, you’re wanting affirmation. You’re afraid of losing control. You’re judging them.” Simple observations shift our mindset and take our practice “off the cushion.”
Article from National Catholic Reporter. An interview of Paul Knitter about his bookWithout Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian. I highly recommend the book to anyone new to Buddhism or feel a sense of “double belonging” at this time in your life.
So, mindfulness and meditation isn’t all warm fuzzy feelings. When you dig deep, you often dredge up some real junk. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always manifest while you’re sitting and ready to deal with it.
More and more I see my ego at work. I see emotions before they rise and they’re not all pleasant ones. The longer I sit with them lingering in the air like unwelcomed guests, the easier it is to name them for who they really are.
“Your ego wants to be stroked again. You want to be in control again. You’re judging that person to make yourself seem better again. You’re really just scared of being alone again. You’re really just scared of being a failure again…”
At least I see them now, I remind myself. At least I can do something about them instead of acting on them. At least I can edit before I press send.
So I should see it as progress or maturity, right? Maybe, but it still feels like crap! I can’t apologize for having an ego or feelings. It’s part of what makes us human.
Now I need to go sit with them for a bit. I don’t expect to get rid of them, but I want to get to know them, to make peace with them… and myself.
Today my son did something that he knows not to do. He reluctantly came and told me that he needed help because he did what I told him not to do. In the past I’m ashamed to say that I might have gotten angry depending on the kind of day I had. I might have raised my voice or reminded him how many times I’ve already told him not to do that anymore. I might have fixed it but would have sighed, complained, and growled my way through it.
Today I just checked out the situation, realized what we needed to do to fix it, and asked for his help to get it done. I never placed blame, never got angry, never raised my voice, and most importantly never belittled him for making a poor choice.
I love him, and it’s really no big deal. I can’t undo what has been done, but I can do something about what I will do. These are changes that I have control over. Say what you will about mediation, but it makes a difference, even when we least expect it.
Metta is my favorite type of meditation and the one I find least distracting. I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much because intercessory prayer was always a challenge to me.
It wasn’t hard to know how to pray or to genuinely want people to get better when I prayed, but I was never quite sure of who was on the receiving end of those prayers, if they would answer, or even cared at times.
For whatever reason metta comes natural to me. It feels right; actually it feels good. Metta is compassion. It is meditating on a mantra rather than your breath or footsteps.
The most awkward part of metta for me initially was wishing myself well. You begin by saying:
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.
Then you repeat that for someone close to you that you love:
May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you live with ease.
Next you repeat that mantra for someone you encounter but may not know, like a waitress, a guy who jogs on your street every morning, or someone who works in the same building as you do.
Finally and most difficult you repeat that mantra for someone you have problems with, someone you may not get along with at the moment.
What happens with metta is that you learn to be gentle with yourself and others. You learn to treat people like fellow human beings, even those you may have problems with. You develop empathy for others.
I like to say each phrase on the exhaled breath. It’s important to put your full attention and intention behind each mantra. Mean what you say, or “fake it till you make it.” Eventually, you’ll find that you do mean it, and it will show up the next time you speak to a stranger on the street.
It’s true that breathing meditation might not be the easiest method for Westerners to begin with because we are so locked up inside our heads already, but I find that paying attention to the entire respiration is more helpful than the movement of air in our nostrils alone.
Feel the air pass through your nostrils down your airway into your lungs. Feel them fill up and expand. Feel your abdomen tighten to push the air out again. Feel the rise and fall of your chest with each breath. Feel your heart beat slower as more air moves throughout your body. Feel the blood running through your body to carry oxygen to all your cells.
When you take in everything that is happening, it is much easier to feel connected to your whole body and not just be stuck in your head.
I like to sit with candle flame, a little water fountain, or both. Something about the movement is very helpful in meditation. The last few days the brown candle has been burning high with a much larger flame than usual giving off black smoke as it burns. I’ve managed to ignore it mostly, thinking that I might need to trim the wick.
This evening as I watched it flicker wildly, wondering if the black smoke will leave soot on the wall, I realized that I was judging the candle for not being what I thought a candle should be. Why couldn’t it be like the green candle calm, still, and clean? I accepted that it will burn as it pleased and let it go.
Nearly 15 minutes later as I had became calm and present I noticed both flames burning smaller and calmly. They almost seemed to mirror how I was feeling at that moment. I had read somewhere that we should welcome every feeling in our bodies even the unpleasant ones, because they too have something to reveal to us. I think I understand now.
This morning I had a great conversation with someone who has been on this path for much longer than I have. Here are just a few of the insights that stuck with me. I share them mostly to help me remember and come back to them but hope you gain from them also:
- The single greatest need we have as human beings is to be ourselves. It lies beneath every other need we have.
- Being and being yourself are one and the same. Being is not the verb and yourself the outcome.
- Meditation is not the latest pill to cure what ails you.
- Breathing meditation may not be the best way for Westerners just starting meditation because we are so stuck in our heads already. Just being in touch with your body can be a much easier way to begin and more helpful in relaxing than just breathing meditation.
- Concerning “taking our practice off the cushion”, in a recent interview Reggie Ray says that “Your cushion is your body.”
- Our bodies are our schedule. We should listen to them in deciding what we will do with our day.
For further information on integral Buddhism read Benjamin Riggs’ articles onelephantjournal.com.