Beginning Meditation? Start Here

How to meditate? Different traditions answer that question differently. In Buddhist mindfulness, you start by focusing your attention on the breath. The Buddha himself gave instruction on this breath meditation in the Anapanasatti Sutra.

According to this Sutra, or discourse by the Buddha, there are steps along the path of mindfulness. The way to begin, however, is to be aware of the breath−or more precisely−the sensation of the body breathing.  Meditation Practice could start in many ways, but we are already in the habit of relating to our body (and happily, we are breathing). So the breath is a natural and familiar focus for gathering the mind.

In the sutra, even before the Buddha gives instructions on how to meditate, he gives advice on preparing to practice. In other words, even in beginning meditation, there is a way to begin.

Continue reading “Beginning Meditation? Start Here”

A Waste of Time

tinisThe $600/hour litigator is wearing a custom suit. A smart dresser, and if it helps to paint a picture, yes, he’s from Brooklyn. Nothing much gets by this savvy fellow. He’s talking to me. But right now, he’s not making a lot of sense.

“So Michael, how’s the meditation retreat up there in Vermont? You know, I could use a little R&R. Why don’t you and I head up to one of those retreats of yours and kick back? I think we’ve earned it, don’t you?”

Continue reading “A Waste of Time”

A Secret Shared

Tonight I have to be at the meditation center. Our little study group, all long-time practitioners of Buddhist meditation, will meet at 5:30. With our teacher’s blessing, 8-10 of us are reading and discussing sacred “terma,” or “hidden treasure” texts from the Shambhala tradition.

The road to this study group was long. Many years of dedicated meditation practice, contemplation, retreats, and funds were required. Perhaps this is why we are so few.

Students of meditation, we are also school teachers, engineers, bookkeepers, artists, Internet geeks, business executives, nurses, parents, and grandparents. The two texts under study highlight different views on the path of meditation and realization. Outside of our little group, we don’t refer to these texts by name or otherwise.

Last week, this most sacred of sacred, most inner of inner, contemplations began with Brussels sprouts. Roasted actually, with olive oil, and a dash of lemon. Catherine, following a simple recipe from Donna, brought these intriguingly named vegetables to share in our potluck. (Yes, the original sprout might have been cultivated in Belgium). It is not in my nature to appreciate Brussels sprouts. But these were lauded as exceptional and I was surprised how much I enjoyed the one I ate.

As we snack, we talk–current events, both local and global, inspiring or entertaining books, our own news, or news of others. The conversation, superficial or personal, is often animated–all of this without a PDA or a glass of wine. I know what you’re thinking: we must be old. Well, perhaps. We do all seem to be over 40. But our schedules are full. Savoring our exchange together, we are ageless.

If communication isn’t moderated, one might wonder, how it is that members of a group don’t all talk at once? What accounts for the smooth flow of speaking and listening that includes everyone in the group? According to social scientists, the answer is eye contact. And how often do we simply look at a face—and not because we’re waiting for change, or thinking about a kiss, or trying to manage the impression we hope to make?

Faces tell a story. The thoughts we’ve entertained over the years shape the way we hold our jaw, furrow our brows, manage our hair, and shift our gaze. Enjoying Brussels sprouts and Vermont cheddar (my contribution), we read the stories that life has written in the eyes, laugh lines, and crow’s feet on each other’s faces. And we listen–appreciating what is said, and what is unsaid.

I’m not sure why, but this social time is remarkable. Maybe it is the power of the meditation center, a neutral but uplifted space where one is somehow both a host and a guest—and neither. Certainly relaxation is encouraged when food is shared.  Perhaps our mutual intention puts us at ease. We all profess an interest in being less confused, more awake to life and more capable of being helpful. Certainly, we would acknowledge the benefits of slowing down in meditation and finding the space for contemplation.

Having snacked, chatted, listened and looked at each other, we clean up and head into the meditation room to find a seat, taking our sacred and secret texts with us. We arrange ourselves in a circle. Energized from our time together, there is a sense of relaxation and even celebration. Each class seems to begin with the same fresh discovery: we can connect, know and understand each other. None of us is so different from the other.

Sitting on my meditation cushion today, I am emotional. This small group of people has shared so much: years of study and practice, campaigns to establish and host spaces for others to learn meditation, and now the study of advanced and esoteric teachings on the nature of reality. But our spiritual accomplishment manifests very simply and humbly: we can be together, eat and talk. We have learned how to appreciate, respect and maybe even love each other.

Opening our texts, there is a silent acknowledgement. Whatever we may uncover in our study of the profound and sacred, it will arise out of what is shared—our humanness. And these insights, however subtle or surprising, will be accessible to everyone, anywhere, at any time—like the secret of a good Brussels sprout.

For Men Only: A Valentine

Dear hombre, how can you be in relationship if you don’t know, well–how to be?  Whether you are strutting in your Cole Haans  or clumping around in Carhartts, stress leaves you hard to find and blinds you to beauty in the moment.

Regular mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce stress—in other words, meditation supports relationship success. Here are five ways:

1)    Take-Home Pay In tuning you up, we can’t ignore the green. Your ability to provide is a turn on. But if you take work home in the form of worry, that’s unpaid overtime. By allowing you to trust yourself as you are now, mindfulness meditation gives worry a rest. When work stays at work, your pay rate jumps. A would-be partner wants to know that you value your time. How else can you value theirs?

2)    Yes Captain! Meditation lowers bad testosterone, you know, the kind that has you doing 60 in a School Zone and fondling the remote when a partner wants to share. OK, maybe studies are still looking for the bad testosterone, but how many times have you blown by signals a mate was trying to send? In meditation, the now is enjoyed. Rushing to be somewhere you’re not loses its appeal. Slowing down, you are longer driven; you are the driver. That makes you the pilot of your own ship. Pilots are sexy.

3)    Cleaning Up It doesn’t take a neuro-scientist to understand that meditation makes a better brain. Regular mindfulness practice reveals a bigger and brighter world. Your brain notices—and comes along for the ride. Every man-cave looks bigger and better without the clutter. Mindfulness meditation is mental hygiene. Promising partners will require hygiene before neurons are allowed to transmit.

4)    New Tricks No offense, but the boredom of old dogs is contagious. Ignoring the fluidity of life, habits bring tension rather than the safety they promise. Sure it’s a guy thing, but why double down on a lack of imagination? By training you to say “yes” to what is new, meditation opens the door to adventure in the moment. Appreciating your friend in a fresh way, you can start over. Starting over is new romance.

5)    Being There Are you married to your PDA? Who wants a three way with a digital device? Learning to “be” in meditation reveals a space that longs to be shared. You don’t just need a network to plug in, you are the network. You would demand it from an Adroid, what about your connectivity? A heads up (if you can manage it), your iPhone will never cook you eggs at midnight or smile at your dimples.

It’s best to learn meditation from someone trained in teaching a basic technique. Search on “mindfulness meditation” to find qualified instruction where you live. The next step: to support your practice, make a space for meditation in the man cave. Your meditation cushion (or bench) is a conversation piece that suggests there is more (or less!) to you than meets the eye.

Of course, to put your feet up with the one you love requires something your partner won’t be able to resist: Real Estate. You might not have the coolest crib, but in mindfulness you will discover something essential for meeting and hosting your Valentine: Space.

Editor’s Note: Cole Haans? I don’t think you could find a pair within 100 miles of northern Vermont where we at Samadhi Cushions live and make the Zafus and Zabutons we are famous for. Not sure how to explain the vibe here in Acharya Greenleaf’s post. Was that a copy of Men’s Health Magazine I saw peeking out of his bag of Dharma Books?

Meditation–It’s Science!

We report here on several groundbreaking new scientific studies with impressive results for those practicing mindfulness meditation.

First, scientists have discovered that regular meditation sessions can help couples get along. In one experiment, self-avowed “difficult” spouses were asked to practice once a day on their meditation cushion. After three months, over 60% of their suffering partners found the new meditator “more bearable.”

“Sure he’s less moody” confided a relieved wife, “but when my husband is meditating, the TV is off, he’s not making a mess and he’s not bothering me. This is really working for both of us.” An unexpected outcome: having had “some time to think about it,” 40% of the troubled spouses concluded that “the difficult one” in the relationship was actually the non-meditating member.

In another study, teens practicing mindfulness showed a dramatic change in speech patterns. 75% of subjects studied were able to finish sentences they themselves had started in a way understandable by a member of the older generation. “The declarative sentence is back!” one researcher gushed.

“I’m cold.”  “It’s pretty outside.”   “You look nice.”  These were just a few of the sentences completed by teens in the study.  “For some of these kids, it is the first time they have committed to a sentence—seeing it through to the end,” boasted the researcher. “There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment,” he added. The teens engaged in mindfulness were also 50% more likely to be “where you last saw them,” compared with teens in the control group. Teen video gamers, however, still outpaced meditators in this last statistic.

In another revelation, it turns out that awareness activates the “brainstem, thalamus, and posteromedial cortices.” [The brain–Ed.] A study in Florida looked at retirees over 80 practicing daily breath awareness. Seniors sitting in meditation posture once a day showed a “startled clarity” as well as a “heightened sense of irony.” “Meditation gives these seniors the space to consider the alternatives. Just being where you are can lead to changed assessments,” remarked the lead researcher. “Some of the subjects were genuinely surprised to discover they were still breathing,” he added.

In a Great Britain study of career-minded twenty-somethings, 50% of the very busy respondents were less likely to lose their iPhone in a pub’s toilet if they had a daily meditation practice. Subjects (some for the first time ever) were able to leave their iPhones behind while visiting the loo, accounting for the drop in, well, drop-ins.

“These people are chronic multitaskers.  For many it was the first time they had ever focused on just doing one thing and doing it well,” commented the lead researcher. Respondents also reported a new sense of “inner peace” as well as the end of embarrassing images emailed accidentally from the WC.

Lastly, a groundbreaking investigation looked at creating a “meditative space” for toddlers. In a simple room, 3-5 year-olds were invited to play quietly without additional stimulation from adults, electronic media or educational toys. To the amazement of researchers, one 3-year-old named Lucy played with a piece of crumpled graph paper for over 45 minutes, before turning her attention to a strand in the carpet.

“It was as if she was seeing things in her world that we can only imagine,” recalled the researcher, who labeled the experiment “cutting edge.” The mother of another child, a 4-year-old, reported that after a 20 minute brush with simplicity in “the quiet room” her toddler no longer insisted on trying to hold both his “juicy-juicy” and his “crookie” [juice and cookie–Ed.] in just one hand. (An iPhone belonging to his Mom could be found in the other, the researcher noted.)

“We haven’t quite worked out the iPhone and visits to the potty,” reported the Mom, “but at least he seems to have a firm grip on the thing.”

Editor’s Note: Dear reader, here soon we will post a blog with links to some additional (and possibly more authoritative) studies. The art for the blog is by Acharya Greenleaf’s dad, Newcomb Greenleaf, who is exploring Japanese Temple Geometry.

 

 

 

 

Meditation Space: NERCF

It is Friday afternoon.  I am sitting in a visitation room in the Northeastern Regional Correctional Facility, one of two buildings in St. Johnsbury that are the Northeast Correctional Complex.  The other building is a work camp, with much looser security.  This is a medium security facility.  Entry and exit is by a series of doors around a central common area.  Into or out of that area, only one door is opened at a time.  You wait to get in, and you wait to get out.  It is affectionately called the Bricks.

I am a volunteer at the Complex, but have worked mostly at the work camp.  A group of us from the St. Johnsbury Shambhala Center have been trained as volunteers and we had a program where we could escort inmates from the work camp to our center to sit or for classes. That program was discontinued two years ago when there was a change of administration at the correctional center.  We offered sitting sessions at the camp for a while, but couldn’t get a good time slot when there was a room available.  No one came and the program disappeared.

Last week, Chris, the director of volunteers emailed me and told me of an inmate who claimed to be a Buddhist.  The inmate was requesting Buddhist artifacts and objects including deity pictures, a prayer wheel, rune cards, four kinds of tea, and a mala.  He made his requests as part of his freedom of religion rights.  Chris wanted to know: did you need these things to practice Buddhism?  I told him that except for the rune cards, all of these things might be used in Buddhist practice at different times.  I offered to visit, and he agreed to set it up.

The inmate, Robert, was not housed at the work camp.  He was in “restrictive housing” at the Bricks, solitary confinement.  I could see him, but not without a glass barrier between us.  We had originally arranged the meeting for yesterday, but Chris wrote:

“It seems that we have an inmate that is currently living in the visiting room (he is on a status that makes it so he is unable to have access to a bathroom, as we think he has drugs in a body cavity). I am not sure if he is going to be removed from that cell by this afternoon, is there any way we might be able to reschedule you for tomorrow afternoon? I just don’t want you to show up and be turned away in the event that he is still in the dry cell.”

So here I wait today, wondering what had transpired in that room the day before, thinking about the incredible variety of situations in which people find themselves.

The visitation area is two rooms divided by thick paned, double glazed windows.  There are two stalls on each side, facing one another.  In the middle of the glass of each stall is a round metal device to speak through.  My room is painted puss green, with light puss green accents.  The other room is the same green with white accents, better lit and slightly more cheerful I think.  There is a solid panel on my left that provides privacy from the adjacent stall, but no such panel on the inmate side.  Scratched crudely in the glass on the other side is a large F**K, readable backwards.  The chairs are heavy plastic.  There are no meditation cushions.

After a few minutes Robert is escorted in.  He is about 6’3” with a head shaved about two weeks ago and two days growth of beard.  I can tell immediately that he has more energy than he needs.  We introduce ourselves and begin chatting.  He interrupts me often.  He is a student of the late Lama Yeshe, he says, and he presses pages of his book up against the glass for me to see.  He never met Lama Yeshe, but he has this book.  He wants me to know how dedicated he is to the deepest Buddhist practices and that he needs these accoutrements, mostly a mala, to allow him to chant his mantra, “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.”  “Just like Tina Turner” he says, and although I have never been especially impressed by that particular celebrity endorsement, when I needed to spell the mantra, I Googled “Buddhist mantra Tina Turner.”  I tell him that in our tradition, we sit silent mediation for quite a while before we ever use a mala.  He is unconvinced.  “Who is going to supply the mala?” I ask.  “They are about $50.”  He is less unconvinced.

He is disappointed.  He says he had been expecting a monk, and I am clearly not a monk.  He brags about his wife.  I can relate to that, I sometimes brag about my wife as well.  He says she is a mystic and has wisdom that you can’t even find in books.  But, when I ask him whether she can send him a mala, he has only a weak excuse why she cannot.  These situations have many layers.

“Robert, have you ever had meditation instruction?” I ask.

“No.”

Would you like me to give you meditation instruction?

“Yes.”

“Okay, let’s start with the posture….”  When I tell him to relax, he looks at me and a big smile spreads across his face as if he is wondering how I could have known he had a hard time relaxing.  We sit for about ten minutes.  It seems good, but I usually have good meditation in places like the prison.  When I ask him what he thought of the practice he complains about distractions: jingling keys, telephones, voices.  He wants his mantra back.  I tell him: “Ten minutes a day, try it.”  He still wants his mantra back.  I tell him again: “Ten minutes a day, try it.”

He has a court date on Monday for sentencing and it is unlikely that he will be returned to the St. Johnsbury facility.  If he is, I promise him that I will be back to see him again.  When I ask why he is there, he tells me he is a “street pharmacist.”  When I ask why he is in solitary, he tells me that when his rights are violated, he just won’t stand for it.

“I am not like everyone else.” He says.

If there is a next time, I may talk with him about the all inclusive first noble truth.

 

Meditation Space: White River Junction

White River JCT train yard

When I lived at the meditation center, I liked to visit this cute little Vermont town.  Having lived in cities all my life, I would strain to imagine what it was like to live, day in and day out, in White River Junction.   After dropping someone off at the train station here, I would kick around in the railroad yard in a wistful, longing way.  It hardly seemed possible to actually live in such a place, unless one were either financially independent or willing to live very simply… but ten years and several twists and turns later, here I am, living near White River Junction and frequenting the Shambhala Meditation Center that happens to be located right next to that old train station.

White River Junction: A meeting of the White River and the Connecticut River; a meeting of Interstates 89 and 91; a meeting of trains and buses; a meeting of old and new, rich and poor, nature and artifice; a meeting of me and my mind; a meeting of me and other humans who are meeting their minds.White River JCT Shambhala Center

The meeting of my mind starts the moment I step into the White River Shambhala Center.   Before I can even name what I’m sensing, I’m softened by the earthy red of the hallway walls, the rich warmth of the big wood bench, the flash of flowers in the alcove, and the awkward but direct smile of the person in a blue blazer who is stationed near the door.  Whatever I was worrying about – and there’s always something – instantly falls away.  I’m here, but what’s next?  I’ve come a little late, so I need to sit on a meditation cushion in the hallway until the gatekeeper lets me in.  It’s an awkward few moments, and I see that I have the courage to bear them.  I notice that rushing up those stairs affected my heart rate, and I can feel it slowly settling down.  After a few minutes, I’m ushered into the meditation hall.

I furtively look around to see who else is there.  A few people I recognize, a few I don’t.  The person sitting in front of us by the gong looks back at me, and then her eyes return to their place about four feet in front of her.  I do the same with my eyes.  I start to feel my body on the cushion.  I remember the meditation instruction I’ve been given about posture, breath, and thoughts.  This is starting to feel good.  I’m doing it – I’m meditating!  No matter how many times I’ve brought myself to this place, there is always a feeling that I’ve never done it before – never been here, exactly, before.  Just as I’m starting to get lost in the self-congratulations, there is the sound of a coupling of train cars outside the building, and I really wake up!

White River JCT train yardSometimes on the meditation cushion, the meeting of one’s mind can feel just like that – like two boxcars colliding; other times, it’s more like the meeting of a tributary and a major river, or a merging of traffic on a highway, or a joining of old and new, rich and poor, nature and artifice.  It’s best to just stay curious, as they say, and to relax in the knowledge that, as they also say, it’s all good.  Who is this “they” anyhow?

When I’m on the meditation cushion, I’m also meeting the minds of the many who have gone before me.  Meditation practice is a raw and lonely experience – there’s no one looking, really, which means that there’s no one to blame or to praise for your experience, particularly.  But there is a vast world of beings past and present who have done or who are doing what you are doing right now, and you meet their minds the minute you decide to try to meet your own.  So it’s not entirely lonely, but still, it’s your experience and yours alone.

The person sitting in front rings the gong three times, and a train hoots as if to confirm that the sitting session is over.  Someone tells us about upcoming classes and events at the Center, and then we are strangely free to get up from our cushions.  I’ve been anticipating this moment for much of the sitting session, but now that it’s here I’m a tiny bit sad that my time with myself is over.  We have been invited to stay for cheese and crackers, and I find that, even though I’m usually shy – plus I have lots of other things to do – I do want to linger a moment with the others who have spent their last hour on a cushion in this space.   I’m feeling oddly celebratory.

White River JCT Shambhala CenterThus the meeting of me and others in my community who are committed to meeting their minds.  When we step out of the meditation hall and into the community room, I can feel that my session hasn’t really ended.  There are just more sights, sounds, thoughts, and so on to attend to and let go of.  Some of them are quite beautiful, or tasty, or interesting.  Others make me uncomfortable.  For a while I can remember to meet them all with equanimity.   It is as if my time on the meditation cushion has given me some kind of “equanimity momentum,” and I now get to coast for a while with others who are similarly relaxed.  I recall the Shambhala phrases “ordinary magic” and “enlightened society,” and I wonder if this is it!

A lot goes on at a Shambhala Center.  The offerings – and the opportunities to offer oneself – are incredibly diverse, and they seem to never cease.  At the heart of all this activity, though, are the small and brief meetings that take place moment by moment.  May they be gentle meetings, and may they cause all beings to flourish!

 

Meditation Space: Los Angeles

Meditation Instruction, L.A. Sports Arena

CareNowLA - free Medical and Dental, Los Angeles Sports Arena

Greetings from Los Angeles – the land of swimming pools and movie stars! LA is a place of tremendous energy, speed, and creativity. It’s a place where the temperatures are sunny and pleasant, yet within the Hollywood community (where I work) the personalities which are celebrated often are not. It’s a place where even the most experienced practitioner can easily fall into outsized aggression (you sit through the mind-numbing traffic on the 405), and where in certain parts of the city the dream of finally being “discovered” is the subtle subtext to almost every line at the Coffee Bean. When visiting Shastri Ethan Nichtern recently gave a talk on the Westside of LA, he titled it appropriately, “Seeing Clearly in a City of Illusion”.

Yet, as is always true, with a bit of slowing down and a sense of space, you can begin to see the reality of the ground here. LA is full of amazing and wonderful people and we have a warm, tight-knit, and generous Shambhala community, many of whom work within the very entertainment industry that gives the city both its prevalence and speed. We have actors, writers, producers, musicians, film and media technicians of all kinds in our sangha, and for them the challenge can often be how to see basic goodness in an industry (and city) so often focused on power, celebrity and money. Yet within that dynamic there lies tremendous energy which can be ridden, and which I believe, helps fuel a tremendously active communications mandala here which is just bubbling with ideas.

One large aspect of the communication mandala for LA is outreach (the other being publicity) which is headed up by Kate Summers. Outreach has a whole lineup of programs it is attempting to roll out over the next few years – some simple, some outrageous – but one program in particular that Kate spearheaded last year stands out.

In October, SMCLA (Shambhala Meditation Center of Los Angeles) was a participant in CareNowLA, a free Medical and Dental clinic for under-served communities. Over 4 days, roughly 4500 people lacking health insurance showed up at the LA Sports Arena to see doctors, dentists, optometrists and other specialists, all of whom offered their services for free. As part of that, SMCLA was invited to have a booth where we could offer meditation instruction on the spot. So we did.

Over the course of the 4 days, a number of members from our sangha came down to staff the booth, and we estimate we gave meditation instruction to 250-300 people, most of whom had never received instruction before! For all who staffed the booth, it was a tremendously opening experience, a direct and raw connection with generosity and compassion, not only from us but in the energy and feedback we received from the people who came to our booth. Attendees were warm and wonderful and as we explained the programs our Center offered, many said they wanted to explore it further.

On Sunday evening, after we had wrapped up our booth at CareNowLA, a young man in his twenties showed up at our Westside Center for evening nyinthun. During a group discussion, he said he and his mother had no health insurance, had gone to CareNowLA for treatment, and had come by our booth for meditation instruction. As he explained further after the nyinthun, he had always wanted to learn to meditate and for the first time found a path he resonated with. His experience at CareNowLA had inspired him to come by our Sunday Sit, and he and his girlfriend were planning on starting to regularly attend our Young Adult Meditation Group.

Our entire sangha was moved by how taking a leap had such immediate and direct impact in the world. And our communications mandala, which saw how we could actually move into the world, continues to be inspired by the Sakyong’s tremendous Vision for Enlightened Society, especially as manifested in the Kalapa Acharya’s view that “Sitting is not enough.”

So please remember that amongst the flashing strobes and gossip driven celebrity worship, there are some in LA, just off camera, who understand the very same energy which drives the spectacle also fuels tremendous generosity and compassion. And that Basic Goodness exists, even (perhaps) on TMZ.

7 Reasons for Community

In our Meditation Space category we feature stories from people sitting on meditation cushions and practicing community. In case you imagined that having a community was optional, here are 7 benefits of community life that suggest otherwise:

 

1. Calming Consumerism. With the vagaries of real relationships, our community is never the “best” one. These days, everyone wants the best for “me.” But community isn’t a “me,” it’s a “we.” In community we’ll have friends, friends who don’t agree, and friends who don’t agree and need help. Always wanting the best for ourselves makes life a competition or a shopping trip. A life that culminates in shopping might not be meaningful. To give, to share, is to find meaning. Aren’t you tired of shopping, even for agreeable friends?

 

2. Seeing Yourself. In community there are the “good” ones and the ones whom, for whatever reason, you can’t abide. There are also those who live in your blind spot.  You don’t notice them and they can’t figure out what planet you are on. Exploring community is an exploration of you. What you love in others, you can see in yourself. What you can’t abide, is a mirror reflecting back too brightly. And the ones you never see? You tell me.

 

3. Leading and Being Led. We’re rough on our leaders. Perceiving a fault, we give up on them. In the meantime, we follow our impulses as if they were kings. Leadership isn’t just an idea, it’s a necessity. The reality of leaders means you have to find your own place. And yes, you might not be #1. If you don’t know how to give feedback and support to your leaders, you don’t know how to make a society. If you don’t know that, where do you live?

 

4. Rubber Meeting Road. These days, everybody talks a good game. A trendy men’s magazine in a doctor’s waiting room has advice about meditation, acceptance, emotions—you name it. But if all you do is read, sit alone on your zafu cushion and chat up self-help with a friend over calamari, you might imagine that something more has happened. It’s a good start, but trust me, your journey has only just begun. Join other volunteers in one effort and you’ll be amazed. There is (a lot) more work (for you) to do.

 

5. True Romance. Connecting eye to eye with a larger world, our hearts (and trustworthiness) are revealed. In community we open our hearts and let down our guard. In the relationships of community others can find us. Romance isn’t just about seduction and “getting lucky,” romance has to be earned. In community, romance is earned.

 

6. Inspiring Change. Meditation is featured in the popular press, but why? If meditation is part of your plan to finally “get it together,” you’ll need help. But to celebrate (the word root means to gather in a group), there has to be a shared reason. I’m sorry, but if your only community is a bunch of guys hoping to lower their resting heart rate, how is that helping? Find a community with a vision that reflects the goodness of human society and you will grow. You just can’t do it alone.

 

7. Learning to say goodbye (and hello). Life is change. While we imagine something else, life slips away. Of course if you keep moving and talking, you might never notice that Mary is gone and that John just arrived. Spend all your time building sand castles and you’ll be surprised by a wave. Community teaches us the ebb and the flow, how to laugh and how to cry—how to be human. Can you afford not to be who you are?

 

Editor’s Note: Mr. Greenleaf joined his meditation community when he was in high school. Some of us gave up on community in high school. Most of us have grown up since since then. Can’t community grow up too?

Meditation Space: Chicago, IL

Meditation in Chicago

I’m Gina Caruso and belong to the Shambhala Meditation Center of Chicago, which is housed in a vintage estate along Sheridan Road not too far from Lake Michigan. Chicago is known as “the City in the Garden,” or Urbs in Horto. Gardening, it turns out, cultivates more than the plants around our building; it’s a magnetizing force that attracts people to the Shambhala Center.

Most summers I would garden in the front of the building and several people would stop and ask me about meditation. Inevitably they would ask what we do, or mention how they walk past the Center and always wanted to stop in. People have a natural curiosity and motivation to find ways to work with what arises in their lives. Sometimes it just takes that simple human connection to help them explore the Shambhala Center. It becomes less a building on the corner and more of a place to explore their humanness. I’d be surprised and heartened by people’s immediate candor once they knew what we do: I’d hear stories of stress at work, challenges caring for aging parents, and the general release of what’s on their mind.

Along the Shambhala Buddhist path, there have been many teachers who plowed the hard ground before us and allowed Shambhala teachings about Basic Goodness and kindness to grow. I can’t help but be reminded of this as I turn over the ground to Black-eyed Susans, sharing with passers-by how meditation can help them in their daily lives.

When I welcome newcomers to the Center, I offer them different ways of doing sitting practice, such as the traditional cushions – zafu, zabuton and gomden – but also using a stool or just a chair. It’s helpful to let people know they have options for meditating so they can stay engaged with the practice.

The Chicago Shambhala Center – like many other Shambhala centers – has a great balance of fluidity and structure. Fluidity in that someone can come and go as they please without expectations, and structure in that if someone wants to relate more deeply to building community and to their practice, we have forms and structure to support that. It’s inspiring to know people from the first day they come in for meditation instruction, to coordinating events, taking Buddhist refuge vows, and becoming an integral part of the community.

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods and we’re branching out into satellite centers south and west in the City. Not only can people take meditation classes convenient to where they live, but they will have the main center on the north side for larger programs. Also, we are pretty close to Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin so our sense of a “center” is really more regional.

I remember my first time going to the Shambhala Center and how instantly I felt at home. Looking back, I think it had to do with the people there feeling at home at the Center, and I wanted to know and experience what it felt like to be a part of that community.

Twelve years later, as Chair of the Governing Council at the Center at a time when the world has so many challenges and as people have a real desire to feel a sense of belonging, that sense of community is even more needed.

It’s helpful to ask ourselves “What will support awake mind and benefit society in this moment?” And asking others what they do to support awake mind, especially in the container of a Shambhala Center, makes the journey that much more workable and inspired, much like how amazing it is when those Black-Eyed Susans come up every year.