Taking Back My Spiritual Practice

As you may have noticed (or the bruise to my ego is more likely that it has gone unnoticed by all but me) I’ve allowed my writing to fall by the wayside.  What has become more disheartening to me is that my spiritual practice has also fallen into obscurity as well.

This didn’t register with me right away.  I slowly became aware of my non-existent practice gradually.  Ironically, in conversations with others, I had convinced myself that it was in full swing.  But, of course, this was not true.  I always find it amusing how the Universe finds ways of pointing out your hypocrisy.

When I was fully engaged in my yoga practice (3-4 times a week) and sitting nightly for meditation I was rarely angry, I had a consistent feeling of peace, and I was much thinner. But, slowly, I started going to yoga less and less, mediation became a thing of the past, and I have creeped back up past the 200lb mark.

It has been anger and discontent that have been the most telling signs of my fallen away spiritual practice.  It is, as always, most telling when I’m driving.  I freely admit that I inherited my father’s lack of patience, especially behind the wheel of a car.  But, it has multiplied to the nth degree in the past few months.  I find myself screaming at drivers for the most ridiculous reasons.  How dare they drive the speed limit.  How dare they pull out in front of me.  Could they possibly go any slower as they make that turn?  I often feel that these actions are taken against me personally (yes, my ego is highly inflated as a result of not practicing).

I can no longer ignore the signals the Universe is throwing my direction.  This week I decided to take back my life and reignite my spiritual practice.  No more excuses.  No more, “maybe tomorrow.”  It is time for me to take control.  I refuse to allow myself to continue wallowing in anger, discontentment, and depression.  Let the journey back begin now.

Lighten Up Your Resolutions

I’ve never been one for making New Year’s resolutions.  I didn’t bother because I knew I would just wind up breaking them.  Resolutions tend to be large grandios dreams of what we would like to accomplish.  They become so inflated and detailed that we don’t follow through on them.

This year I will stick with my resolution of not making resolutions. I will, however, take heed of how I will continue to develop myself mentally, physically, and spiritually.  These are my areas of mindful determined improvement:

1) Writing – I love to write, but I don’t do nearly enough of it.  My favorite yoga teacher, Lezlie Laws, writes in her blog that artistic time should be scheduled regularly.  One of my favorite posts of hers discussed the widely held assumption that artists shouldn’t be hampered by schedules and time tables.  I don’t know about you, but I work better when my time, whether artistic, personal, or professional, is meted out for the most efficient outcomes.  I will not schedule myself to the point of impossibility.  I will layout a reachable goal that will allow a strong writing habit to be formed and nurtured.  I have many writing objectives I’d like to meet, but I will start small and build from there.

2) Physical activity – I am working to lose weight and get my health under control.  Of late, I have complained about aching knees, acid reflux, migraines, and myriad other ailments. Some of these come from work stress, but just as much comes from being over weight and out of shape.  So, last week I began taking matters into my own hands.  I began the Couch to 5K training.  My first few sessions have gone better than I hoped for.  It was quite a pleasant surprise.  But, unlike most resolutions, I did not set a lofty unattainable goal for myself when it comes to adding physical activity into my life.  I HATE going to the gym, I feel self-conscious and lost.  I do, however, enjoy walking around the downtown area.  I’ve been doing that already for the past few weeks.  So, why not add in some running?  I’ve always said I would only run if a murderous clown was chasing me, but the Couch to 5K training app has really put things into perspective for me.  I have also been lucky enough to have a great group of friends go out running with me.  Just last night five of us went out running together in our own little running club.  It made the 30 minute session fly by.  Having these valuable assists along the way is helping build a habit quickly. I’ve also set a goal to run my first 5K in March.  This will help me stick with it.

3) Spiritual growth – Today I began 2015 with an hour yoga session followed by 30 minutes of meditation at my favorite yoga studio.  For me, yoga has always been a form of physical meditation.  The asanas and focused breathing allow me to remain mindful and present.  Following this with quiet, contemplative meditation was just an added New Year’s bonus.  Meditation is vitally important to me.  It is also the task I often allow to fall by the wayside.  As I mentioned in another recent post I frequently make the excuse of not having enough time.  As I’ve told you before one of my favorite Zen proverbs is, “you should meditate for 20 minutes every day, unless you don’t have time, then you should meditate for an hour.”  Daily meditation is a goal I am setting for myself this new year.  I will not force myself into a certain time of day, but I will build it into my schedule the way I will build in my writing.

What resolutions will you parse out and whittle down from the grandios pie-in-the-sky dreams to manageable obtainable goals and habits?  Start your new year off right.  Set yourself up for positive self-improvement.

Namasté
Matthew

The Construct of Time

How often do you think to yourself that there isn’t enough time?  Not enough time to complete a project, to run all of your errands, to sit down and enjoy reading a good book, to do all the things you need and want to do.  I have definitely been a victim to that thinking.  I often am now.  The problem becomes either stressing ourselves out trying to get everything accomplished or, my method, doing nothing and stressing or getting depressed because nothing is done.

Fear not, I am here to tell you now that time is merely a construct that we have invented to imprison ourselves and trick us into believing we have no control over our lives. That is simply not true.  Though I am better, currently, at do as I say not as I do; I improve daily.

So, if time is not the enemy we perceive it to be does that mean your work deadlines and doctor’s appointment times don’t truly exist?  Well, no.  That’s not where I’m going with this.  We will always have the deadlines and time constraints, for the world still believes in the concept of time.  However, there are small ways we can break out of time’s grasp and rebel against this heretofore necessary evil.

My biggest rebellion is to take myself out of the physical world and enter the spiritual world through meditation.  There is an old Zen proverb that says, “You should meditate for 20 minutes every day, unless you don’t have time, then you should meditate for an hour.”  It makes me laugh because my biggest excuse about meditation used to be, there isn’t any time.  Once I began carving out that 20 minutes a day I could feel the stress knots begin to loosen a little.

Another way I have made myself a time rebel is to take 20-30 minutes a day to do something I enjoy.  This usually means reading something I like.  Whether escaping into a world of fiction or reading a book that further explores my spiritual nature.  It may be the only reading I do in a day, but it becomes my time.  I am also working on fitting in more time for writing.

I consider reading, writing, and meditation my three favorite gifts to myself.  I enjoy doing each of these and as I feel overwhelmed by responsibility I recognize how quickly these three gifts fall by the wayside.  Now, I have begun to use time as a weapon against itself; carving it out to include my gifts to myself.  We may never be free of humanity’s invention of time, (in the divine perspective time is insignificant) but, we can find small ways to become time rebels and capture more for ourselves.  Things will always need to be accomplished under the guise of time, but for your own sanity become a time rebel, even briefly, every day.

Namasté
Matthew

Affirmation Meditation

I’ve written before about my meditation practice.  I’ve also discussed how it is precarious and that I don’t always do it consistently.  I have been away for a while.  But, coming back recently, I’ve added a little twist that I find quite refreshing and rewarding.

I am a huge fan of Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Abraham (the Law of Attraction), and Neale Donald Walsch.  Each of these authors/life coaches are fervent believers in the power of positive thinking.  They preach the value of affirmations.  Sending your thoughts of how life should be out into the Universe so that it is reflected back to you.  I have begun using these affirmations as a part of my meditation practice.

My typical meditation lasts 15-20 minutes.  I set a timer (I used Insight Meditation Timer on my iPhone).  With that timer there is a “gong” every 5 minutes.  I typically focus on my breath, in and out, in and out, in and out.  Recently I have added positive affirmations to the last 5 minutes of my meditation practice.  This helps me add a feeling of involvement in the track my life is taking.

I have always loved Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditation guidance. He invites practitioners to say or think, “Breathing in I calm my mind.  Breathing out I smile.”  I take this a little further.  I start by thinking, “Breathing in I am…” and here is where I add my favorite affirmations.  I focus on one thing I’d like to change or improve in my life and repeat it over and over or I choose numerous ones that will also send the positive outcomes I’m hoping to obtain out into the Universe. As I breathe out I think, “Breathing out I smile.”  You can also think to yourself, “Breathing out I am at peace.”  Here are some of the affirmations I use.  You are welcome to try them yourself or go for it and create your own.

Breathing in I am…

…at peace.
…happy.
…healthy.
…in a career that I love.
…living a life that fulfills me.
…financially abundant.
…intelligent.
…a powerful human being.
…confident.
…love.
…worthy of love.
…worthy of a career that I am passionate about.
…beautiful.
…strong.

The list can go on and on.  You can say each one as you breathe in and follow it with either, “Breathing out I smile.” Or, “Breathing out I am at peace.”  That choice is yours. But, even if you aren’t a Kool-aid swallowing believer in the power of affirmations, adding them into your meditation practice (which has proven mental, physical, and emotional benefits) can’t hurt to try.

I wish you all the best with your meditation practice.

Namasté
Matthew

Coming Back

After many months away, tonight I returned to my meditation cushion.  I have too often looked at it tucked away in my closet and thought to myself, “you haven’t meditated in a while, you should do that.”  My response varied but it turned out the same, “I’m too tired!” “Maybe tomorrow.” “I have so much to do, I just can’t right now!” No matter my excuse the outcome has been the same; no meditation.  And I have suffered for it.  I don’t feel as “free and easy” if I don’t meditate.

Tonight was different.  I have been reading a few self-help books of late.  I know many of my readers may, perhaps, roll their eyes at the idea, but I find many self-help books…well, helpful.  I have a stack I’m moving slowly and thoughtfully through.  I’ll admit, I’ve always wanted those books to be an instant cure.  They are not, they are only helpful if you’re willing to work at the steps they offer.  Tonight, as I sat eating dinner alone (I think my current feelings of loneliness prompted much of my self-help need) I was reading Ask and It Is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks.  In it Esther describes the importance and ease of meditation. I loved what was said.  “Sit in a quiet room. Wear comfortable clothing, and focus on your breathing.  As your mind wanders, and it will, release the thought and focus upon your breathing.”  This is perfect advice for meditating.  So, after thinking about it while I ate and later explored Barnes and Noble, I decided to do more than give my meditation cushion a passing glance.

So, I came home, lit the candles and incense on my altar, dialed up some Enya on my iPhone and sat my excited rear end on my meditation cushion.  At first it was perfect, like greeting an old friend you’d been missing.  But soon, the relationship began to turn.  My mind wandered, often.  “My back hurts.  My feet hurt.  How long have I been sitting here?” All of this ran through my head as I sat trying to meditate.  I couldn’t believe how badly I was doing.  I used to do this all the time.  “Patience, you’ve been away a while.  It will come back.”  My consciousness was coming through as the voice of reason.  “As your mind wanders, and it will, release the thought and focus upon your breathing.”

That’s just what I did.  I stopped beating myself up.  I closed my eyes and breathed. Before I knew it I was smiling as I meditated.  I felt peace returning to my entire countenance.  Then, abruptly, my time was up.  Should I keep going?  Is 15 minutes enough? “Yes, it is enough,” my consciousness was telling me.  “Return tomorrow,” it added, “and give it 15 more minutes.”  “Do not push yourself or you risk growing to resent your meditation time and that is counter productive.”  Sometimes I’m pretty brilliant if I do say so myself.  But, seriously, as with any new or revisited endeavor, don’t push yourself. Be patient.  Allow your self to grow and mature into the practice.  It was my ego that was whining about being a poor meditator.  My ego wondered why it wasn’t the same as it was before.  I have to release the ego, as I released my wandering thoughts, and stay with the person I am and the meditator I am in this very moment.  If I’m too hard on myself, I won’t go back to the cushion.  And I so desperately want to be on that cushion again.

Namasté
Matthew

Overwhelming Desires

English: The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign

English: The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know I shouldn’t be making this judgment but, I was a complete failure in my practice while I was in Las Vegas.  Now, that being said and putting the dramatics of my ego aside I know I let my desires get the best of me.  We all have desires that’s natural; Financial desires, emotional desires, sexual desires, physical desires.  In Buddhism our practice is to control these desires and eventually realize that our true peace comes from the cessation of these desires that ultimately bring us pain.  So, how do we do this?  Well, I’m still working on that.

 

I had quite a bit of time alone in Vegas.  At times it allowed me some quiet contemplation.  But mostly it allowed me boredom and some bouts of depression.  I have to admit here that as a Buddhist that contemplates impermanence I have never been very good with change.  I don’t do well in changes of routine, changes in lifestyle, changes in how things operate as I am used to.  Of course, I don’t let that stop me.  Because as an ironic twist I am a lover of adventure.  I love to explore and observe.  And that’s what I did to help jar me out of my malaise when I was alone.

 

The Forum Shops - Caesars Palace - Las Vegas -...

The Forum Shops – Caesars Palace – Las Vegas – Nevada – United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Vegas my solitary adventures often took me to the Las Vegas Strip.  The center of this hotbed of sin and degradation in the middle of the desert.  I say this with a grand helping of sarcasm.  I love the strip.  But, where most go to the strip to gamble I went to the malls and walked through the hotels.  Fashion Show Mall, The Forum Shops, The Shops of the Grand Canal.  I went to them all and wandered in and out of stores.  I found things I wanted and knew I couldn’t have because they were ridiculously overpriced.  I found things that were on sale and I immediately jumped and bought them.  Hats, shorts, shirts, headphones, a charger, a mug; it was retail therapy at its most obvious.  In the moment I didn’t care.  I talked myself out of items to find my self back in the store an hour later purchasing the very product I’d talked myself out of.  I’d get back to where I was staying, purchases in hand and wonder to myself, “was all of this really necessary?”

 

NOOOOOO, it was not necessary.  It was me trying to cure my loneliness and mild depression of the changes I was experiencing.  It also didn’t help that I was lax in my meditation practice.  These events merged to form a perfect storm of shopping until I dropped.  While I was in Vegas I blogged about the importance of maintaining your meditation practice while on vacation.  But, that post was the perfect example of, “do as I say, not as I do”.  I recognize that much of this could have been avoided if I had stuck with my meditation or stepped it up and meditated more often.  Sadly, I did not.

 

As a Buddhist and as someone who is working very diligently not to be so hard on myself I should not be passing judgement.  As I work back into my full meditation practice, now that I’m home, I should and will focus on how to avoid these emotional pitfalls in the future. Treat your practice the way your GPS device treats you.  (I love this analogy and I admit fully that I stole it from Dr. Oz and his co-author on many books Dr. Michael Roizan).  Your GPS calmly gives you directions.  If you miss a turn it does not scream at you, “YOU STUPID FOOL!  LOOK WHAT YOU DID, YOU MISSED THE TURN!  YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN SUCH AN IDIOT!”  Instead the GPS simply tells you, without any judgement whatsoever, “at the next available opportunity make a U-Turn and proceed to the proper path.”  Simple right? When you make a wrong turn in your practice don’t beat yourself up, simply make the U-Turn, without judgement, and return to your proper path.  You must treat yourself gently with love.  That is what I am currently working on now that I’ve returned to my regular daily routine.  I am trying to remain mindful of where I needed adjustments to my practice and aware that I do not and must not beat myself up over my behavior.  So, I now tell myself and anyone else that is struggling the way I am…

 

…welcome back to the path.
Namasté
Matthew

 

 

Vacation Meditation

I’m sitting in my best friend’s apartment in Las Vegas after finishing the first meditation of my vacation.  This is my fourth day on vacation and I have found a reason every day not to meditate; not formally at least.  I have taken moments to remain present, especially when I was hiking up Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles.  The view was spectacular and the realization of how out of shape I am definitely kept me present and focused on my breath.

The Mona Lisa.

The Mona Lisa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have often extolled the virtues of meditation and as I am taking my first holiday since adopting a regular meditation practice I have had the opportunity to focus on how important vacation meditation can be.  Let’s face it, vacations can be calming and restorative.  They can also be hectic, stressful, and filled with activity.  If we are not relaxing in the sun on the beach with a cold drink in our hand we are more than likely looking at a guide book or map trying to fit in as many sites as possible into our limited time.  We want to pack as much experience into our short window of a holiday we possibly can.  We run through Grand Central Station trying to catch a train.  We rush past priceless master pieces just to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Mona Lisa.  We ignore the powerful energies of an ancient Celtic ruin to make our lunch reservation on time.  We don’t take the time to be present in the moments we are creating.

How often on vacation do you feel tired, overwhelmed, and cranky?  Do you snap at your travel partner?  Do your children see your frustration as they ask for the millionth time, “when will we get there?”  Do you leave some place you were looking forward to seeing with a sense that you missed most of what was there?  Then you are wasting your holiday. Meditation can help you enjoy your holiday more.  I know you may not believe that, but it’s true.  Start each morning and end each night with just ten minutes of focused meditation and it can help you slow down and truly enjoy the holiday you’ve paid a great deal to be on.

It will help you remember to put down the guide book and truly see, hear, feel, experience what is happening around you.  Don’t read about the Piazza Navona stand at its center and drink in your surroundings.  Actually look at the faces of the people as they move through.  Look at your children as they discover what is being offered to them.  Have lunch together and savor the smells and flavors of the food.  Listen to your loved ones as they regale you with their versions of the holiday experience.  Every step you take, every moment you pause, every site you see can be a form of meditation; either passive or active. And all you need to jump start staying present in each of these individual moments throughout your vacation is a morning and evening meditation practice.  Take it a step further and involve your entire travel party.  Invite everyone to experience true awareness.

If you have been actively meditating for a while the addition of a morning and evening meditation while you’re on holiday will not be a burden for you.  If you are new to meditation or just want to improve your overall vacation experience it may be a slight adjustment for you.  You can wake up just ten minutes earlier than you planned and go to bed ten minutes later than the others you are with.  It is an investment.  The ten minutes you take in the morning to ground and center yourself will allow for a more stress free day. And the time you take at the end of your day will help to restore you after all of your adventures.  Take this little bit of time for yourself.  It will all be worth it.

Namasté
Matthew

 

Yoga As Meditation

As you have read in past posts meditation has not come easy to me. It is something I still struggle with. Even tonight as I sat it was very difficult for me to remain in the moment with my practice. However, I have come to terms with many of the issues I was having with meditation that were holding me back. The moment I knew I could finally meditate was when I realized that the yoga I was doing three to four times a week was a great form of meditation.

From the moment class begins the entire focus is on your breath. My yoga teacher even goes as far as saying, “if you do no other pose during class, but you are still breathing mindfully, you are doing yoga.” Those yogis reading this may not agree one hundred precent but I love this statement. This reminds me that just as in meditation, the breath is paramount to all things. Yogis are encouraged to focus on the breath which leads all movement during practice. If the breath is lost or cut off; back off of the pose. The same is true in meditation. When the mind begins to wander and the breath is no longer the focus, nor is the present moment; back off of the thoughts and return to the breath.

In yoga there are resting poses that can be returned to when the yogi is completely out of breath, losing focus, getting frustrated, etc. The foundational pose in yoga (please understand that is from my perspective and my practice) is Samasthiti. It begins each yoga class. Feet together standing straight up, shoulders back and down, and hands with palms together at your heart center. Yogis are called to Samasthiti at the beginning of class. From this pose the breath becomes the focus. No further pose is attempted until the breathing comes in line. It is the same with meditation. You cannot move into a deeper form of meditation until the focus is ready. This is done by breath awareness.

As mindfulness develops and meditation moves into deeper practice, if concentration wavers, the practitioner always returns to the breath. This is similar to the pose of the child and simple seated pose in yoga. These poses are designed to allow the yogi time and space to regain their breath so they can rejoin the practice. Then of course comes the mother of all resting poses, Shavasana (the corpse pose). This is the final pose in yoga where the mind is released, the body is relaxed, and the yogi lets go. It is complete relaxation. It is in this pose that I often repeat mini-mantras I use when I meditate. “Breathing in I calm my mind. Breathing out I smile.” I also will each part of my body to relax. This gives me an even greater focus on the now. I mentally move to each part of my body and invite the hands, the feet, the chest, the pelvis, the shoulders, the stomach, etc. to relax.

So, we have the focus on breath. Important? Yes. It is the grounding that is necessary in yoga and seated meditation. It is also the way to refocus both practices. You cannot meditate if you are holding your breath and you cannot do yoga without the breath either. How else is yoga a form of meditation? Without your full, focused, mindful attention throughout the practice you will not be a successful yogi. I have allowed my mind to wander many times in yoga. During the standing series I often will lose balance, even in the simplest poses. Forget about trying to hold an actual balancing pose. When I teach yoga to my middle school students I remind them over and over again how important it is to keep their minds focused on the poses (especially the balancing ones). You may also notice that as your mind wanders so does your breath. And, once the breath is lost so is the proper practice of yoga. The yogi then returns to the breath through one of the resting poses and then begins again.

The key to both sitting meditation and yoga as meditation is to not beat yourself up when your mind wanders. You are not incompetent. You are not the worst yogi or meditator on the planet. The fact that you are on the cushion or on the mat makes you the greatest (though many yogis and Buddhists would say greatest denotes positive versus negative and those are not recognized in the practices). The point I’m trying to make is; come back to the mat as often as you can. Come back to the cushion as often as you can. Do your yoga at home and go to class to gain a sense of community. The same is true with meditation. Meditate at home but join a sangha or community of meditators to help you gain further insight into your practice. Each time your return to your mat or sit on your cushion with the mindfulness that is required to practice; you are meditating. And every time you meditate or practice yoga you are improving and that is all you can ask of yourself.

Namasté
Matthew

 

There Will Be Times…

…when your meditation practice feels stunted. When your concentration falters every few moments. When you stare at the timer wondering to yourself why it doesn’t appear to be any closer to the end then when you looked at it three seconds ago. Does that mean you stop the timer, turn off the music, blow out the candles, douse the incense? My answer to that is no. You keep sitting. This lack of concentration can be a test to your practice. Can you continue to sit, even though you aren’t feeling successful? Can you lean into your feeling of failure and stay with the moment? You will never know if you get off your cushion before it’s time. As I’ve said in previous posts, you sit with the body and mind you have at this very moment. You do not try to make it something it cannot be. The more you force the more difficult and frustrating the process becomes. Sit with the frustration, see the practice to the end. Go back to your breathing as often as you need to (that may be every ten seconds and that’s ok). Once your practice has ended, contemplate where your challenges lie. If it’s one time that you are distracted, figure out what has you off kilter. Not enough water? Too much going on at work? Fight with a loved one? Too much caffeine? Too full? Too hungry? Headache, stomach ache, or other ailment? Then know for your next sitting what you need to change. If this is a continuing issue you will need to explore deeper. What series of challenges are holding you back from full concentration? What can you change? Are you sitting too late at night? Too early in the morning? Are you getting enough sleep? Is there a major project at work that you can’t get off your mind? Are you and your spouse fighting on a regular basis? There may be one or several issues that you will need to drill down into to ensure you can concentrate on your meditation. Even if the problem cannot be solved during this contemplation session, you still continue to sit in meditation practice. Do not give that up. Keep sitting, every day.

…when your relationships will feel unfulfilling. Does that mean you give up on friends, family, a spouse? No, you do not. You must sit with this feeling. You must get to the root of the issue. Where is this lack of fulfillment coming from? Are you not spending enough time together? Are you not spending enough time apart? Is your emotional life suffering? Is your sex life suffering? Where do you sense the problem lies? Everyone knows relationships take work. You cannot abandon them just because a snag has been hit. Your first step is to explore your feelings as they pertain to your unfulfilled relationship. If you cannot pinpoint from whence your own personal issues stem, then your partner, or friend, or loved one has no way of meeting you in the middle. Once you have ascertained your basic concerns and needs the dialogue must begin. Discuss everything openly and honestly, without judgement and without blame. And above all else, remain present in the moment. Remember, the conversation is the relationship.

…when emotions will over power you. Anger will spark. Jealousy will ignite. Depression will drown you. It is how you handle each of these that will effect you. Anger often stems from feeling out of control. When you accept that the only person you can control is yourself, then the anger diminishes. You will still have bouts of anger, but you will not let them control you. Jealousy often consumes because we wish to possess someone. The sooner we learn that we cannot possess anyone the easier our relationships will become. Life is filled with impermanence. The more you try to possess someone the more they will slip through your fingers like grains of sand. You must sit with this feeling of jealousy and find its root. What in your past has occurred that makes you wish to possess someone? Why do you desire to terminate their independence? You cannot be fulfilled if your jealousy is the only thing that forces someone to remain with you. Find where it comes from and work to change your perceptions. Depression often feels as though we’re drowning because it becomes all we can think about. Often depression is a chemical imbalance and there are many ways to combat that imbalance through therapy and medication (I utilize both myself). But, that is not the depression I am thinking about. I want to focus on the depression that occurs when we don’t get the promotion we wanted, or a relationship ends before we expected it to. Often times our depression grows from a disappointment of not getting what we had hoped. Buddhism teaches us that expectations cause suffering. If you were expecting to be the next vice president of your company and you are passed over, you suffer. If your spouse leaves you after your expectation was “till death do us part” you suffer. The question then becomes how do you battle these expectations. I remember the advice I was given over and over by my mentor when I was looking to be promoted in my retail job, “don’t worry about getting the next position, show how amazing you are at your current position, that’s when they’ll know you’re ready.” This proved to be great advice and has stuck with me, even as I practice now. We all want the best out of life, and I’m not saying don’t go out and try to get it. What I’m saying is don’t get so caught up in your expectations of how it has to be that you forget to give your best effort in the present moment. Don’t forget, it’s the only moment you have.

The key to each of the “whens” I’ve written about is to remain in the moment with each. Stay present with your meditation. Sit with the disappointments. Lean into the anger. Delve into your jealousy. Discover the root of your depression. Explore your expectations. Embrace your lack of fulfillment in your relationships. You cannot run away from any of these; they will give chase, they will catch you, and you’ll still have to deal with them. When you ferret out the root causes you will begin to find your way back to the right concentration you need. Don’t be afraid, it may be painful, but it’s worth the energy you put into it.

Namasté
Matthew

Remaining Present During Meditation

I know that I ruminated on this topic in my post “The Elusiveness of Meditation.” Remaining present during meditation was the bane of my practice, for the longest time.  I have not perfected a particular way to remain present while I meditate, but I do have a few tricks I’d like to share.  Hopefully they will work for you.  If they do not, feel free to tweak them for your own use or completely disregard them.

My first trick I borrow from my favorite Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh.  Again, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts Thich Nhat Hanh relates to his pupils that focus on and awareness of the breath is vitally important.  He suggests a few things you might say to yourself to keep your mind focused on the breath.  “Breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing in.  Breathing out, I am aware that I am breathing out.”  Another that he recommends – which is my favorite – is, “Breathing in, I calm my mind.  Breathing out, I smile.” This has a wonderfully simple and happy feel to it. Thich Nhat Hanh also reveals that the simple act of smiling relaxes many of the muscles in the face.  You are doing yourself multiple favors by smiling.  When my mind is bouncing here and there and everywhere I will begin focusing back on my breath and using the mantras taught by Thich Nhat Hanh.

On my home altar I have a stone candle holder in the image of the Buddha.  There is a slight smile on the Buddha’s face.  When I want to remind myself to relax and smile during meditation I will gaze at the Buddha’s face; his smile in particular, and I can’t help but smile in return.

Another trick I use to remain present is my own process.  I recently purchased a mediation cushion, or zafu, from Amazon.  When I meditate on my zafu I sit in the half lotus position with one foot resting on my knee.  As a way to remain present in the moment I will give a mental rundown of my body’s position.  “I am in the present moment as I sit on my zafu.”  “I remain present during my meditation as I align my spine to sit up straight.”  “I feel my legs crossed over each other as I meditate and remain present.”  I will even mentally comment on any pain or irritation my body may be experiencing.  “While I am present in this moment I feel the tingle of my foot as it falls asleep.”  “I am present in this moment as I feel how my left arm itches.”  I try not to focus too much on the physical feelings because then it becomes too easy to attach myself to those feelings.  It is one thing to use a physical pain or irritation to maintain awareness of the present moment.  It completely defeats the purpose if I allow myself to become attached to those feeling and begin to complain or whine.  “My back hurts.  My toe itches and won’t stop.  I need water.  I want a massage, etc.”  Don’t let it become an excuse to let your mind wander and take over the meditation.

One last trick I use to remain present comes from Eckhart Tolle.  You may remember him from his master class with Oprah Winfrey a few years back.  His book, A New Earth, was an Oprah Book Club selection.  He and Oprah did an online class for five weeks.  Tolle’s ideas are deeply rooted in Buddhism (another experience that helped set me on my current spiritual path).  In his book and during the online class Tolle suggested that audience members focus on the underlying energy that is constantly surging through the body.  He insists that if you focus you can feel this energy as it moves through every single part of your body.  At first I was skeptical, but when I truly focused I could feel it.  It was like a tingle that I could feel in every digit, every limb, every organ of my body.  After I’d been doing it for a while I could feel the energy pulsing through me.  This awareness of my body allowed me to feel alive and vibrant.  I still use this idea to help ground me in the present moment.  It is highly effective.  I’ll admit to you right now, it may take you some time to master this particular trick, but once you do, I promise you’ll be amazed.

Start by focusing on the crown of your head.  It will probably begin by feeling like your pulse beating in the top of your skull.  That’s the perfect beginning.  As you focus more you will begin to feel the tingle.  Once the tingling begins, move your focus to your forehead, then your eyes, nose, lips, chin, and so on down your entire body.  If you remain focused on this task you will remain present.  If you find your mind slipping and wandering, gently “shhhhh” the fussy baby, start back at step one and Thich Nhat Hanh’s breathing exercises until you are fully focused again.

My final suggestion is to download the mobile app, ReWire.  I have mentioned this app several times, and I cannot talk enough about how amazing it is.  You can use the ReWire tracks or you can use your own music.  I mix it up from night to night and use both.  I am particularly fond of ReWire’s track “Calm” and I love listening to Enya from my own music. The beauty of this app is it keeps you present during your meditation by allowing you to focus on the vanishing of the music track.  When the music stops you just tap the screen of your mobile device.  If you aren’t paying attention the mobile device will vibrate to bring you back to the present moment.  If you are trying too hard to anticipate the next vanishing, and tap too soon, the mobile device will vibrate again.  This app has worked wonders for me.  I am extremely grateful to the Buddhist Geeks podcast that brought this app to my attention. I highly recommend this app, especially if you’re a techie like me.

Don’t try to be perfect in your meditation.  It won’t happen.  Your mind will always wander. You’ll have good days and you’ll have crappy days.  Sometimes your mind will cooperate and others it will drive you bonkers.  It is much like my yoga teacher, Lezlie, tells us at the beginning of each class, “focus on the body you have tonight, whether it’s energized and ready or whether it’s tired and needs calm; that is the body you are working with.”  It is the same with your mind during meditation.  Work with the mind you have at the moment, because that moment is the only one that matters.  Just like each individual moment of your life.

Namasté
Matthew