Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Importance of Group Meditation

Throughout the past three years we have seen people come and go in our meditation group. Some stay for a few months, some for a year. Some never return, some do. But there is always a group of people who come together each time we meet with a shared intention. To meditate.

We each have our own intention in our practice. For some it is to relax. For some to connect with their higher power or divinity. For others it is a pathway to awareness and self-enlightenment. Regardless the reason, we all sit quietly to accomplish it.

I believe passionately in the power of meditation to change lives. It has changed, and continues to change, my life. I have seen growth and peace in members of our group. I would go so far as to say I believe if everyone practiced 30-minutes of meditation each day it could make way for the utopia we all seek.

Finding that 30-minutes each day can be hard. Discipline, commitment and time-management are required. As most things are in our lives, I have found when life isn't going so easy my practice suffers. I go into a "survival mode" that forgets all about meditation and how soothing it is for my soul. I forget how meditation helps me process what is going on around and inside of me. I forget how it keeps me focused on the "here and now", not yesterday and tomorrow.

When life overwhelms and I enter that survival mode, I stop meditating. I might take a few minutes here or there, but not my regular sitting practice. Time seems to escape me and I'm tired all the time. Meditation is too hard. I can't sit still. I have an encyclopedia full of excuses.

One thing I can't shrug off is my responsibility to my meditation group. I have committed to providing a space for people to meditate twice a month. It doesn't matter how many times I've sat between group meditations. It doesn't matter how much I've read or studied. It doesn't matter how "un-Buddha-like" my behavior may have been lately. All that matters is I provide a safe and comfortable space for others to come together and meditate.

While they sit, I sit.

I always sit at least twice a month, thanks to my group. Sometimes, we must learn to rely on others until we find our feet beneath us again.

I am very grateful for my meditation family.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The powerful impact of sitting

It has been proven for many centuries, in many different ways, that meditation can have a strong impact on personal and spiritual growth.  It is one thing to read and talk about it; however, it is the practical application, the dedication, and the development of patience and perserverance, to realize the benefits of this powerful tool.

During my meditation, I try to remain focused on nothing but the physical sensation of breathing.  I try to remain detached from my thoughts by remaining focused on my physical sensations and still maintaining awareness of the passing thoughts without engaging them.  Obviously, a somewhat difficult task to maintain.  So, as I do every time I sit, I breath, I engage thought, I return to the breath, I breath, I engage thought, I return to the breath, and so on.

I have a coworker that frequently irritates me.  One afternoon this person seriously irritated me, enough to walk out of work grumbling to a friend of mine about this persons latest "offense". 

The next morning I sat in my meditation focusing on the breath and non-attachment to thoughts.  I entered a state where this "situation" with my coworker suddenly arose in my mind.  However, I was seeing it objectively, without emotion.  As I observed my thought process, I realized the latest feelings of irrituation were actually a compilation of a number of other "irritations" I had been maintaining an internal list of.  Again, I simply observed as each situation revealed it's true nature of where it began.  Each one led to the same origination.  Fear.  My irritation was simply an expression of my fear about the true nature of the situation.

However, the thought process did not stop there.  (Remember, this is not an engaged thinking or analysis, it is a natural process that unfolds as you simply observe it.) The thoughts continued flowing until a resolution appeared. Forgive self.  Believe in self.  Do not succumb to fear but to the natural order of things as they should be and embrace where you find yourself within that order.  Be open.  As soon as this became known to me, I felt a gentle peace settle over me.  I felt lighter.  Refreshed.

When I next spoke to my coworker there where things said that, by removing my filter and being open without fear, I realized the basis of my misconceptions which led to my self-induced fear.  Meditation has given me the opportunity for deep self-examination leading to healing, growth, strength, love, and compassion.  When I can see things as they clearly are, without my special pair of rose-colored glasses, I have the greatest potential for personal growth.

This is just one of the many examples why meditation is as important a part of my life as breathing.  I hope that you find the same, no matter what meditation technique you use.  Just find the right tool for you and use it frequently!!


Saturday, December 4, 2010

40 minutes

I have successfully increased my morning practice to 40 minutes for almost a week.  Even though it is only a 5-10 minute extension from what my average morning meditation period has been, it has sometimes felt much longer.  It feels like my brain is stretching...and resisting.  This is good.  Now to observe as my mind stretches, cracks appear, and the pus begins to ooze from my infected mind.

metamorphisis and meditation

The more I study meditation and Buddhism (the philosophy, not the religion), the more I begin to see a connection between the two.  One does not have to be Buddhist to study or understand the teachings.  To me, they are basically psychological and philosophical interpretations of reality.  The teachings of Buddha explain the theory, but meditation offers us the opportunity to explore and experience it.

As a result, I will be expanding this blog to encompass Buddhist teachings, philosophy, and reflections as I am touched by them. 

This will not be an attempt to convert anyone to Buddhism or to teach Buddhism.  It will simply be my reflections on teachings as I experience and understand them.  As I can watch my progress in meditation by reading through this blog, it will also give me the opportunity to observe my growth as I continue to study Buddhism.

Won't you join me on this wonderful journey?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Forever experimenting

I am always curious and interested in exploring different types of meditation cushions and benches.  I have a couple of zafus (admittedly, one has a hole in it waiting to be repaired) and one zabuton.  I have some sort of triangular cushion I picked up at Crystal Gardens that I haven't liked since the first time I used it.  I think it's not well designed for heavy people or people with bad knees.  It is very firm and at a steep angle.

I have a gomden and knee cushions.  Those have been my mainstay for quite some time now.

While visiting a friend he showed me his meditation bench and I got to try it out.  It is a small bench you sit on.  You can cross your legs in front of you or tuck your legs under the bench.  I like to sit with my legs behind me but on the outside of the bench.  The bottom of the legs of the bench are curved instead of flat.  I think this makes a huge difference in the comfort and support provided by the bench.

While using it I have found it easier to find the correct spinal position and to maintain it during my meditation.  There is no strain on the back of my legs since the bench is tilted to fit the shape of my body.

I used it for my first 45-minute meditation a little over a week ago.  I was surprised to find how comfortable it was.  I look forward to many more sits with my new little friend!

The calling ...

I have been feeling more and more strongly it is time to bring insight meditation practice to our meditation practice group.  We have been doing a chanting meditation once a month for about 8 months now.  While I enjoy it and know others do as well, attendance has dwindled in the last few months.  I don't believe quantity is the deciding factor for a group except when one format over another can serve the most people in the greatest way.

Beginning in January 2011, we will start another insight meditation group to explore and grow a personal practice together.  I am looking forward to it and hope members find it equally enjoyable and beneficial.

It feels so good to sit!

Maintaining my daily practice has proven, once again, that regular practice produces greater results.  That doesn't mean I don't struggle with monkey mind or distractions.  I still do.  However, I have reached a point of acceptance with monkey mind and distractions.  I realize that I currently have little control over my mind.  All I can do is continue to bring my awareness back to my breath when I find myself engaging thoughts.

Another huge challenge is hearing distractions and not labeling them or responding to them.  Although, it is difficult when a kitty has decided to join you and begins to knead his paw on my knee.  Did I mention he's not declawed?

Since I meditate before going to work in the morning, I struggle with list-making.  I can be quite a way down a list before I even realize I'm doing it.  Uh-oh!  Time to return to the sensation of breath again!

With all of the challenges, I am finding myself more and more attracted to meditation and the many benefits it offers.  I have been practicing for three years now and realize this is a lifetime journey.  It is one relationship I am committed to without reservation!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Baby Steps

I am very happy to report my practice is back where I would like for it to be!  In one of my previous posts I had looked for suggestions on, basically, how to get my butt motivated!!   What I began to do is try to get up 5-15 minutes earlier each morning.  After a few weeks, I have been able to increase it to 30 minutes earlier.  As a result, I now have the 30 minutes that is my goal (for now) to sit each morning!  What a difference it makes.

One of my favorite videos (posted early in this blog) is someone teaching how to get started with Zen-style meditation.  I loved a part in it in which he spoke of how sitting can be so boring or you spend your meditation struggling with releasing the monkey mind.  However, there ARE those moments, those sits, that you can hear the angels sing because you've reached that state of awareness that transcends physical self.

As I had mentioned earlier, and is a fairly well-known fact, the more we practice, the quicker we see progress in our daily lives.  Since I have met my 30-minute goal, I have found my practice and personal understanding have picked up the pace again.  These are the things that encourage me to hold on and don't let go of my commitment to sit.

This past weekend we had two, count 'em, TWO, amazing sits in our group meeting.  My husband and I facilitate a meditation group and offer two sessions.  The group had grown to a point it was overflowing our meeting space, so we decided to offer a 6 PM and an 8 PM.  While we are thanked for our service to others, they cannot realize how much the GROUP does for ME.  We have to be there.  No getting lazy and deciding not to show up.  It also means sitting for two 45-minute periods within a couple of hours of each other.

In our last group meditation, I was able to reach that point of total awareness more than once throughout both meditation periods.  Normally, I can reach that point in the first or second, but never in both!  It was an awareness that transcends the physical connection to our bodies.  When we reach that point of no attachment to anything, but just experiencing in the moment as it comes.  The mind becomes quiet and our thoughts aren't even clouds floating in the sky.  They have faded into silence.

I have found many people confuse this sacred point of meditation with "blanking out".  "Blanking out" during meditation (which usually means you fell asleep) is great if your intention is to relax.  However, it is my personal belief, that to achieve real progress and change in your life, you must sit with the intention of just allowing yourself to sit.  No judgement.  No goals.  No intention but to sit and be aware.  To observe without becoming attached.  When we get completely silent in body and in mind, but remain aware, that is when we fertilize that seed that eventually becomes mindfulness.  But most definitely, blanking out is not the right way to achieve this.  You must remain aware for the full sitting period.

The most effective method I have found, so far, is when my mind has become that runaway horse again, I gently take it by the reins and bring it back to the physical sensation of breath in my body.  Sometimes it's my upper lip, sometimes it's my chest, sometimes it's my diaphragm. My intention at that point is to redirect my mind.  Give it something else to play with while I practice releasing and allowing the moment to be, just as it is.

We have to take baby steps ... and some of us may take more years than others to learn to walk ... but the point is that you stand up and take each little step as it comes to you.

Now to take another baby step to 45 minutes!!

My kind of kitty ...