A Time for Healing (Meditation)

Things have been weighing on my mind.

I sit on a few nonprofit boards. The continuing decline in stock markets has left these institutions possibly imperiled.  At the beginning of the week, on Monday, I had a mole removed.  An hour drive through blowing snow to a visit with the dermatologist scheduled two months earlier.  During the drive, a cell phone call from a patron to invite me to assume temporary Board Chair responsibilities for a struggling arts organization.  More time will be needed.  Outcomes uncertain. The phone call makes me remember long-scheduled commitments to teach meditation looming ahead on my schedule.  I had yet to prepare for these.

In the examination room, stripped down to my underwear and socks.  The doctor asked me if I thought meditation could be “healing.”

Here it is, my big chance to influence Western Medicine.  “Yes,”  I answered, intoning with talk of body, mind, and breath.  Key, I added, was intellectual understanding or “view” for successful meditation practice.  All of this while the doctor scanned my exposed skin with what looked like a fancy magnifying glass. Somewhere in the middle of my pitch, I lost him.  Running behind schedule with his patients.  Limited time for chitchat, I guess.

He stopped his scanning at a mole on my back.

“Whoa.  OK, this one’s gotta go.”

“Oh, really.  When should we do this?”  I asked, imagining a time down the road when the thought of this procedure would fit in comfortably with all of the worries pressing in on my schedule.

“If it’s OK with you – Now.”

I sputtered something about my immediate plans for the day and then came up with the real question – “Will it hurt?”

“Just a pinch.”

Some more reassurances and a needle prick later there was casual talk about the doctor’s upcoming trip to San Francisco, future emails and phone calls with “results”.  Eavesdropping, I thought he was speaking to the nurse until it dawned on me that he was talking to me — referring to the erstwhile piece of me that needed to be tested for cancer.  Six days later and a few fitful nights and anxious dreams, the still sore, quarter-sized crater in my back is looking like it just might heal and I haven’t heard anything from the good doctor.

Abandoned Paper Bag
Abandoned Paper Bag

“You are so lazy!” my wife, Jeanine exclaims in exasperation on Saturday – referring to a paper shopping bag emptied of its contents but left to languish for an hour on the floor of the kitchen. I couldn’t disagree. Heightened anxiety distracts me. If left to fester, immobilization is the result.  OK, so call this existential crisis “laziness”.  I didn’t have the energy to split hairs.  In any event, to be sure, more than my usual share of household ineffectiveness had characterized the past week.

During this week my customary morning meditation practice has also faltered.  Sure, meditation practice is healing.  But probably not if you don’t do it.  Last night having exhausted all distractions, I finally talked myself onto the Zafu and Zabuton in our meditation room.  While sitting and paying attention to my breath, I faced my anxiety.  A jumble of thoughts and emotions pressed on my mind and future.  Behind all of them lingered a heightened sense of mortality. My practice was pinching.

Slowly, coming back to mindfulness of my breath, I stopped fighting.  The anxiety relaxed into a sense of sadness and loneliness. Was my suffering brave, a profound and timely confrontation with impermanence?  Or was it the worry-prone machinations of a comfort-obsessed coward?  No way to know.  Sitting on my meditation cushion, late on Saturday night, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  The sad lonely feeling was a relief.  My mind was settling.  A week of dithering about, trying to postpone this meeting with myself, was over.

Saturday night I slept well. Sunday morning, for the first time all week, my physician-mind woke me up with a prescription for “healing” meditation.

“Oh really,” my anxious-mind replied. “When would you like to do this?”

“If it’s OK with you”, my physician-mind replied, “Now.”

Editor’s Note: In diagnosing suffering, its cause and remedy, the person known as the Buddha is sometimes called “The Great Physician.”  For inspired and thoughtful texts on healing meditation see Tulku Thondup’s Healing Power of Mind and Boundless Healing.  For the tradition’s take on what the “physician-mind”  might look like, see the Medicine or Healing Buddha.

Impermanence, or College Students Are Getting Younger

I assumed the group of students visiting our store here in Barnet were from a high school, but it turned out they were from Indiana Pennsylvania University.  This is one way I’ve noticed the passage of time lately: college students are much younger now than when I was in college.    However, photos recently posted to Facebook  show that I and my classmates were just as young then as today’s college students are now.   Curiously, when I see these photos there’s a lack of recognition: people look younger than I remember them.  I haven’t seen them for twenty years, but often their current (“after”) photos look more like my memory of them than the 20-years-ago (“before”) photos do.  (Except for those like myself with significant hair loss and weight gain.)



There was never a sense that I would age, and in fact I think I still don’t believe it.  Life would continue for sure, but I would – will – continue always to be as pretty and as energetic as 20-year-old me.  And since I don’t age, and death only happens to old people, that’s something else which never crossed/crosses my mind.  But a surprising number of my friends from college are no longer living.  People who were younger than me.  A dear old friend of mine died of a heart attack a few months ago; she was 41.   Can you see where I’m going with this?

Of course,  whenever I really start to contemplate my own impermanence,  thoughts begin flickering about things which I need to do before I die, and so I’d better get practicing to become a famous middle-aged bald rock musician, or getting in shape so I can experience the smells of Everest Base Camp first hand, or go bungee jumping in the Grand Canyon.  But the thing is, these thoughts don’t stay with me for long.  People usually apply the old saw “you can’t take it with you” to the accumulation of wealth or material objects, but it seems to apply equally well to the accumulation of thrilling, or entertaining, or mind-numbing, time-consuming,  experiences.  I can’t take them with me either.  Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with bungee jumping, or with owning a nice house, or watching Star Trek reruns on my laptop, or whatever.   Certainly if one is engaged in what seems necessary,  is doing what truly brings them joy, that joy will generally spread infectiously.  If I can apply another old saw, it’s not what you do but how you do it.

So the question  (besides “What is this thing called life and how do you do it?”) becomes, What is it that truly brings me joy?  Which some days is easy enough to answer and some days is not.  But the best way I’ve found of asking, or addressing, that question – both of those questions – is to sit down on my meditation cushion and simply look at this human life in this moment.  Sitting here between heaven and earth, at, as I think Thoreau put it, “the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment.”

Now all I need to do is take my own advice and sit my butt down on my zafu

Cheerful New Year

Shrine Room Ikebana
Shrine Room Ikebana

Last Wednesday the 25th of February was a new moon day. It was also the day that the Samadhi Cushions staff celebrated the lunar New Year. Losar in Tibetan, this is called Shambhala Day in our community and it is how we mark the beginning of New Year.

For some of us, the day included practice of Sakyong Mipham’s Birthday Sadhana – a beautiful contemplation on the preciousness and fragility of this life as well as the meaningfulness of our actions and their effects.

We celebrated the day at Karmê Chöling, the affiliated retreat center nearby. The highlight of the day was a festive lunch offered by the retreat center for staff and visitors. The retreat center was in full splendor with a beautiful shrine, fresh Ikebana, as well as the annual reading of I-Ching. The day was capped with a “Shambhala Ball.” Which included a procession of some of the community leadership. Upon entrance to the ball, each leader was asked a question related to meditation practice – with the rest of the community looking and listening attentively.

The 10 days leading up to the lunar New Year are understood to be fraught with the possibility of the ripening of negative potential – both internally and environmentally. The distressing news on the economy in the last few weeks certainly hasn’t undermined this view. On this day we renew our aspiration to be of benefit to others and to relax the reflexes of self-concern. This seems especially difficult to do in these times, which challenge our presumptions of security and stability. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that somehow exerting ourselves on behalf of others – following the path of the Bodhisattva – is the only way forward both for us and our fellow citizens on earth. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama – if you want to be happy, think of others.

This year is the year of the Earth Ox and is said to signify new beginnings. Endurance, however will be necessary and steadiness is needed. Especially in this year, the choices we make will have a long-term impact. These choices should be good. To the extent that our actions reflect an understanding of underlying realities, they will yield positive results. This is a year to “go with the flow.”

In my experience, the best way to do that is grounded in the practice of meditation. Sitting on our meditation cushions and practicing mindfulness slows us down, allowing for the possibility of recognizing the flow while at the same time realizing that we have the personal strength and flexibility to let go when we need to. Happy and cheerful New Year. The very best of “the flow” to you in the year ahead.

Anywhere But Here

Sweat seems to have broken out on your upper lip, even though the late afternoon temperature is cool. You have a knot in your stomach and a searing pain in your left shoulder with no idea why. The polished wood floor seems to be moving up toward you, and the room, though large, feels small and cramped. You don’t remember the name of the person on your right, even though it seems you’ve been in the room with them forever. In any case, they haven’t moved in so long, you’re beginning to think they’re asleep — or worse. Crazy wild thoughts and emotions surge through your head and as they do, tears well up. Your hosts seemed nice enough at first, but now they appear menacing and militant. You’ve come to the conclusion that your survival depends on not moving or fidgeting at all, and in the back of your head a plan of escape is forming. Based on a simple deception, it will begin with the pretext of a trip to the bathroom and end — with any luck — at your abandoned car in a parking lot at dusk. If the plan works, you should be able to escape without detection.

A recurring dream about being kidnapped by drug lords? A never-ending holiday meal at your in-laws?

No. Welcome to Day Three of your first mindfulness meditation retreat. You have 7 days to go and you are beginning to realize something you didn’t really know before — meditation takes guts. At the same time, a question is beginning to dawn. Either intensive meditation practice is a recipe for insanity, or — and this is even more disturbing — your thoughts are in the habit of strutting around in your head like inmates at a madhouse. Apparently, it is only your frenetic habits and schedule that has kept you unaware of the state of things.

This last question begins to sow a seed of doubt. You had always treated your experience more or less objectively. You are here, your experience is there. Good happens, bad happens. You react accordingly. Day three raises the question: What if things don’t work like that?

Day Three is full of physical pain, mental suffering, and bewilderment — and a hint of terror. Your experience, however, comes directly up against a dawning realization: in the midst of the personal drama – NOTHING IS HAPPENING. You are sitting up straight in a quiet room on a meditation cushion. You can feel your breath going in and out. A gong rings now and then to signal walking meditation, mealtime or bedtime. By most measures, the retreat center feels secure and inviting. Only the sense of quiet, the many hours of sitting still, and the absence of familiar distractions and preoccupations are foreign.

Maybe I’ve exaggerated a bit, but this scenario represents a crucial moment in the life of a meditator. Eventually, the obvious benefits of regular meditation, both mental and physical, may draw you to explore intensive practice. It is in the intensity of retreat that habitual patterns of thinking and feeling are fully exposed. These insights aren’t exclusive to the practice of meditation. Endeavors that intensely engage our body and mind make us to notice how we get in the way of our own aspirations.

The mirror on our experience in a mindfulness retreat, however, reflects not only dysfunctional aspects of our relationship with our experience and ourselves, it also highlights the inspirations behind our never-ending strategies for coping with this confusion. Without familiar distractions and comforts, what we notice is a sense of speed. We are always pushing. Always reaching for a solution, a fix. While clearly helpful, short daily or occasional meditation practice can sometimes suffer from this habit of always attempting to patch over — fix-up — our experience in some way.

On retreat, the push behind these efforts to manage experience is exposed and exhausted. We consider for the first time that we could just be, simply, nakedly — without the promise of a “next thing.”  We find ourselves suspended in space. It is scary, but at the same time, strangely familiar. As we slow down, our senses are sharpened and details reveal themselves. Thoughts buzz, but plainly out of step with the simplicity of experience; they lose their power over us. We notice our reaction to situations, but it is becoming harder to say which came first — our experience or how we feel about it.  We begin to see that our habit of constant movement toward or away from situations and experience doesn’t help. We become inspired to sit still.

Looking at the thought of escape on Day Three inspires a frank conversation with ourselves:

“OK, we get to the car, then what?”

“We ride.”

“Where do we go?”

“Well, for starters a burger would be nice. You need protein.”

“A hamburger?! After all we’ve been through together, all you can think about is a hamburger?!”

“Well, I’m not really into tofu. Anyway, I said for starters.”

“And after the protein?”

“We ride.”


“You need rest. You haven’t been sleeping well. Somewhere where you can rest. You should sleep.”

“Sleep? I’ve been getting plenty of sleep. And all I’ve been doing is sitting here. Where – where do you want to go?”

“Doesn’t matter really. Anywhere.”


“Anywhere but here.”

This last admission makes you sit up on your Zafu cushion with a start. “Anywhere but here?” Something about the tone of the voice. This is how you’ve been talking to yourself? For how long? You become curious, suspicious even. Who are you, really? What are you about? Hamburgers? You readjust your posture and settle onto your meditation cushion, resolving not to move.

Strangely, the pain in your shoulder has vanished. You feel relaxed and good. The colors and shapes in the meditation room have become clear and bright. The timekeeper’s face seems soft and kind, no longer menacing. Outside, a light snow has begun to fall. Through the window, you can see the late afternoon sunlight catching the tops of the branches on bare trees, giving them a pinkish glow. In the distance, a swath of whitish blue sky is visible, the edge of a cloud bank lit by evening sun.

Suddenly, the beauty of it all takes your breath away. Next to you, the head of the unmoving person has begun to nod. You hear the unmistakable sound of a gentle snore. They’re not dead; you think to yourself, they’re just asleep. From the kitchen comes the smell of dinner and your stomach grumbles. You’re hungry. The smell is familiar, miso soup — most likely with tofu. You smile.  For the first time, in a long time, you’re not going anywhere — and it’s fine.

You’re just here.  Welcome.

Editor’s note:

At Samadhi Cushions, we emphasize that meditation should be comfortable. We make and sell meditation cushions and benches with dedication to the idea that the posture of meditation doesn’t have to be torture.  To be honest, our inspiration goes deeper. Yes, we do want you to be comfortable. Yes, please do choose your favorite color so it matches the decor in your meditation space. Yes, please learn the basics of Calm Abiding Meditation in a regular meditation practice at home. This is how most of us begin and a proper beginning is important. At the same time, we understand comfort in its original meaning — to give strength. We make cushions so they will support you at critical moments — like late afternoon on Day Three of your first meditation retreat.

Meditation: Learning to Stay (and Go)

This past Christmas Holiday, I was able to share a moment with my 10 year-old  granddaughter. In the car, during one of many excursions, we enjoyed a song from the 1980’s that I had heard many times and she was hearing maybe for the first time. It has a great beat and simple lyrics which makes it easy to sing along. It also increases the likelihood of the song getting stuck in my head, which it did long after the Holidays had passed.

As Valentine’s Day approached, this song came back to haunt me. On this day devoted to romance and relationship, some of us will be faced with exploring the boundaries of love  with those we care for.  Mixed and missed messages from our partners, friends and family may cause us to doubt the nature and tenure of our relationships and compel us to look for answers to our insecurities.

Experience in meditation can help us navigate the tumultuous waters of relating to loved ones, but it also teaches us that the first relationship we have to cultivate is the one with ourselves. Missing this last point seemed to characterize the lyrics from the song, Should I stay or should I go, from the British rockers – The Clash. The song I enjoyed in such a fresh new way with my granddaughter.

Darling you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

To be honest, there is something that makes the heart a little lonely in the process of meditation. We admit to ourselves that there are no answers from “others.” There are only our own answers. This is because the questions are our own.

Now I need to address the singer:

You may be looking for answers outside yourself. In meditation, we sit with ourselves and our questions. The question itself points toward its answer. When is the last time you actually sat with yourself? Something about the tone here suggests that its been a while.

If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ’till the end of time

This request puts your partner in a difficult position. As a meditator, you may have transcended the concept of time, but a promise to be in the relationship until this illusory concept ends may still seem like an overly long commitment — even for your beloved. A meditator will give room for anything to arise in the relationship. As discussed earlier, the future may not include you. This is consistent with your study of impermanence.

Always tease, tease, tease
You’re happy when I’m on my knees

The kneeling posture is traditionally the posture of supplication and respect. It is meant to be pleasing, so there is no reason why your beloved shouldn’t appreciate it. But be sure to kneel on a zabuton mat replacing your zafu with the kneeling bench if you plan to be in this posture for a long time. Clearly, you are no stranger to prayer – which is good – but being teased may be a message from the phenomenal world: lighten up! This light-hearted attitude is the essence of meditation and will serve you well when the final answer comes down. Note: it could also be that your partner is unkind.

One day is fine the next is black
So if you want me off your back

In meditation, we learn to accept the ebb and flow of life and to allow space between ourselves, our loved ones and, well — their backs.

Once again you are pushing a bit. Why are you on your beloved’s back? And if you are, meditation should help you be there in a caring, sensitive way – so they won’t want you off or maybe won’t even realize that you’re there. Seriously, it’s doubtful that honest and direct communication will take place from this position. Hint: you know you’re on your beloved’s back when you don’t bump into each other any more.

If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double

There is no escape from the troubles of life and relationship. Your song reflects this insight.  At least you are admitting that hanging around might be hard, but how do you know this? From your experience of the past?  In meditation we realize that things are neither as good or as bad as we think they are, and that while we are likely to repeat destructive patterns, the present  moment is always here and always fresh. We are never condemned to repeat the past. Don’t assume the worst. For that matter, there is no reason to assume anything.

This indecision’s bugging me
If you don’t want me set me free
Come on and let me know
Should I cool it or should I blow.

Let’s face it, inviting your beloved to tell you to “blow” isn’t the most romantic thing you ever did. Meditation makes us sensitive to the power of language. Your “edge” expressed here is no doubt beginning to trouble your beloved — serving to undermine your own case, so to speak. Meditation also helps us read signs from the world. Have you wondered why your loved one doesn’t answer you?

Come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go.

The discipline of meditation should help you to stay, as you may have heard. But what if your partner doesn’t want you to stay? How does meditation address that? The experienced meditator will be able to “sit” with the request to “go” and hear it clearly without overlaying their own confusion. Of course, at some point even the experienced meditator will have to go (if asked to do so).

If that is the case, there is no doubt that this shift, while hard, will be an opportunity for you. The fact of change means we can deepen the only truly lasting relationship we have — the one with ourselves. There is no question that, in the relationship we have with ourselves, we should stay, not go. This is the path of meditation. It takes heart.

Cheerful Valentine’s Day from the Staff at Samadhi Cushions


We’ve put a Samadhi Cushions page up on Facebook.  So now if you’re on Facebook during working hours and notice that I’m online, that of course means that I am working diligently.

The slightly more exciting, if less time-wasting, news is that the Lojong Slogan Cards are back in print and back in stock and ready to ship.  So everyone who was missing a reminder to regard all dharmas as dreams, to self-liberate even the antidote, to be a child of illusion, to transform mishaps into the path of bodhi,  to be grateful to everyone, to always maintain a joyful mind, to abandon any hope of fruition, once again you can obtain this wonderful aid for training with slogans in all activities.

Kneeling Bench, Kneeling Bench, how do I use thee? Let me count the ways.

I noticed something the other day. In the midst of doing some research about how people find us, I stumbled on a website with a link to the kneeling meditation bench on our website. The thing is, this site was a bit out of the ordinary.

But first, yes, we are working on a meditation bench with folding legs. The Kneeling Meditation Bench – from the Zen tradition — is a bench suitable for those with trouble sitting in a cross-legged posture. Folding legs make for easier transport. Decent hinges – that is hinges with some tension that will hold their place are, however, very expensive. At the same time, we don’t want to make a bench with legs that flop around when the bench is carried. Stay tuned, we have a new design in the works and we’re optimistic.

Our video on Meditation Benches shows how to use the Kneeling Bench if you are curious. Ours is made here in Vermont from solid hardwood and is used with the Zabuton mat. The Zabuton cushions the knees, shins and ankles during sitting.

Now, about the referring website. We visited this site, with cheerful pastel colors for its design and upbeat copy with a helpful tone. OK, this is where it gets tricky. This site is dedicated to practices that come under the general heading of something often identified with two letters connected by an ampersand (&). These are the same two letters that head up the words “Sitting Meditation”. Connect the two letters that begin these two words with the ampersand and you should be following the drift.

The spiritual path, it is said, requires surrender, but here was discussed surrender of a different sort. Some say we are a slave to our own egos, but of course this usually involves being a slave to other things along the way.

“Not just for meditation” read the helpful comment next to the link. I guess it shouldn’t have as a surprise that the kneeling bench supports a posture that allows one to properly humble oneself before something less than the divine.

Our experience of the world, they say, is subjective. To one person, our meditation cushions and benches are support for a practice that uncovers the natural sanity and gentleness inherent in us all. For another, is an entirely different affair. To be honest, we were a little shocked by the referring web site. Still, perhaps we should take the long view. It might be better to have a meditation bench in someone’s toolbox than not to have one. Someday, that same bench may be used to free the buyer from the chains of ego and self-obsession.

While we wait for a bench user to wake up to the inspiration to move beyond the bonds of indulgence, we can still wish that the bench will bring someone happiness, if even for a little while and in unintended ways. Until then, we will submit to making and selling the Kneeling Meditation Bench to whomever wants one. It is our painful pleasure.

Michael Greenleaf (Samadhi Cushions Marketing)

Memo to Self: Please Find the Time to Meditate

Why, Self, am I writing to you? Well, for one thing, you’ve been a busy lately. I’ve had trouble getting your attention. Sometimes you can get someone’s attention with a memo, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Anyhow, why do I suggest that you find the time to meditate?

For one thing, the last time you invested some of your precious time in mindfulness meditation, the results were good. You slowed down a bit, you were actually able to listen to people when they spoke to you, and you were happier and less impatient. You’re better able to realize that rushing things doesn’t help. Everything has its time. You were able to begin appreciate your life, moment by moment.

The Past and the Future

When you sat in meditation, you spent less energy worrying about the future and fretting about the past. There is something funny about the past and future, I don’t know how to break this to you, but they don’t exist. They were and will be, but they’re not.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for the future and also mull over your decisions in the past. It’s just that it would be good to be able to distinguish the past and future from what is happening now. When you get really speedy — and you can, especially when you haven’t sat on your zafu and zabuton in a while – you tend to lose this distinction. Mostly I see you leaning in to the future, as if by rushing into it you could manage it better.

Why Worry?

Do you have to worry so much? Just sitting, paying attention to your body and the sensation of breathing, can help you let go of worry. Why don’t you sit on your cushion more? Just a little bit pays such big dividends. It’s kind of crazy not to do it.

And why are you rushing — by the way? Do you have a train to catch? Are you on the run from the law? Is there something you’re not telling me? You keep saying there is “no time.” There is something funny about this idea of “no time”. You always say that you’re working now to have time later, but when this time arrives later, half the time you have no idea what to do with it, and you wind up lost in meaningless distractions. Is that what you worked so hard for? Maybe you are so used to rushing that you forget how to relax when you actually can. Sometimes I think you worry too much about what other people think, and that makes you anxious. What have you got to prove?

Your Mantra

The other funny thing is that that your mantra of “no time” (at least you have a mantra!) has an underlying assumption – that there will be time later. Rushing through each moment is a good way to ensure that when this promise of future time comes – if it ever does (see future above) you’ll be so unfamiliar with the present moment, you won’t even recognize it. That’s the real meaning of “no time.”

One Thing at a Time

The other thing Meditation helps you relax is your nasty habit of trying to do two things at once. There is something funny about the present moment. There is only one of them. Of course these moments follow each other in quick succession, but – as we covered before – there is no way to stack them up or “maximize” your time. When you meditate, you realize better that there is only one moment and only one thing do to in that moment. That helps you keep some balance in your life.

Part of life is movement, and doing things. But there is a part that doesn’t move – ever. It can be scary to see this, but meditation gives you a safe place from which to witness and accept the subtleties of life. (If you need a hint, there is a connection between the fact that nothing happens and everything happens, more on that another time.)

Consumed by Time

Sometimes I think you have this idea that time is another thing for you to consume, like your supply of 100% cranberry juice that you’ve socked away in the pantry (how can you drink that stuff?!) and don’t like to share with anyone (not that anyone would want it). Anyhow, there is something silly about your approach to time. If someone puts you on hold for more than a minute, you’ll hold a grudge for life. Then you spend two hours in front of a Batman movie without enjoying it! I just don’t get this.

It’s All about You

That’s another thing meditation helps you relax — your obsession with yourself. Who died and made you center of the universe anyhow? I mean really. But seriously, you do get this oversized view of yourself sometimes. Where does that come from? I think that is part of the logic of rushing – if the boss wants something right away, I mean everyone has to jump, right? There is something funny about having an oversized view of yourself. For one thing, who is so special? You or the voice in your head who voted you #1. I know you can be down on yourself, too. But the same logic applies. Life would be a lot easier for you if you lightened up on your self, by the way.

Meditation helps you see

Meditation helps you see that the last thought you had about yourself and your requirements was just that – the last thought you had about yourself and your requirements. There are obvious reasons not to jump every time you have a thought. For one thing, you have a lot of thoughts, so it’s just not practical. For another thing, your thoughts are always changing. Chasing after thoughts is like putting the kids in charge, the result is chaos. Thoughts do grow up sometimes; those thoughts can be helpful. You’ll know when you meet a grown-up thought and not because they’re so serious!

A Little Sad

Sitting on your meditation pillow, slowing down in mindfulness brings the insight that everyone is going through exactly the same thing you are. You are really very much alike. Everyone is rushing from something, to something, trying to find something that the future will bring or outrun something that the past has delivered. Most of the time they look a little worried – definitely preoccupied. This makes me a little sad.

Listen Self, I don’t mean to overwhelm you — and thank you very much for your attention – but LIFE (in the form of a moment) is right in front of you waiting to be celebrated and appreciated (it’s the holidays after all!) What’s stopping you?

Don’t tell me you don’t have the time.

–Trinley Senge

I Got To Do A Program!

The last meditation program I did was a year and a half ago when I staffed a dathun. But this time I got to be a participant, which hasn’t happened since…2001? Somebody correct me if I’m wrong.

Theree were other programs I might have done that weekend. In fact I was quite torn since Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche was teaching at his center in Vershire just 45 minutes away. But I ended up doing the program here at Karme Choling, over Labor Day weekend (and into the Tuesday): His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche gave the empowerment and taught and led us in the practice of a Yeshe Tsogyal sadhana.

A tiny amount of background for those unfamiliar: His Eminence is the father of Khandro Tseyang, the wife of our teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and while in Tibet prior to 1959, was close to the founder of Shambhala, Chogyam Trunpga Rinpoche, from whom he received important empowerments, including the Rinchen Terdzo. So there are strong family and dharma ties among the teachers.

Among us students, however, we seem to be used to quite different practice styles. Chogyam Trunpga Rinpoche had a brilliant command of the English language (to the point of giving his American students elocution lessons), taught nearly exclusively in English, and liturgies used by his students are beautifully translated and printed by the Nalanda Translation Committee, and recited in English. So we always know what we’re saying (whether we understand the full meaning is of course another question). Now, given a Tibetan original which is often in verse and so has particular rhythms and melodies to it, and an English translation which is quite elegant but generally has an emphasis on meaning rather than on meter, the chanting style developed in the Shambhala community is a one-note unison, a monotone. Which can have quite an energy and drive and rousing quality to it in a group situation.

Pretty much any time you see a documentary on Tibet or on Tibetan Buddhism, or come across one of those old Nonesuch recordings of Tibetan monks, you hear melodious chanting, you hear cymbals and drums and various blaring wind instruments. If you come to a Shambhala Center, you hear some monotone chanting, sometimes with a drum. So it can be hard not to wonder sometimes, what are we missing?

Well, here I was part of that full treatment. Most of the practice was chanted melodically in Tibetan, with the occasional bursts of cacophony on drum, cymbal and conch-shells. Salient sections were repeated in English, and for the most part there was interlinear translation in the text so with a little back-and-forth glancing we could know what we were saying (at the risk of losing one’s place in the text). And, doing four sessions a day, it wasn’t long before there was a general familiarity with what was going on anyhow. Certainly a good deal of the immediacy of the meaning was lost, but a whole other dimension was added, an added emotional quality, a further sense of immersion, clarity, and heartfeltness to the practice. Often when we switched back to the English text there would be a sense of, “Oh, so that’s what I’ve been saying,” but it would also suddenly sound very flat.

At the end of the day, Rinpoche’s daughter, Semo Sonam Palzom, would sing the Yeshe Tsogyal mantra with a haunting, spine-tingling melody.

With the before-breakfast sessions starting at 6:30, and the after-breakfast and after-lunch sessions running usually around three hours with no break, after four days of this I was pretty wiped out but also amazingly energized.

And then I had to go back to work. The next day I was talking on the phone to someone who asked, “Are you sick? You sound different.” And I said, “Oh, no, I’m fine, I’ve just been chanting in Tibetan for four days.”

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