Monday, May 31, 2010

Chanting Meditation Video

Here it is.  Amateur video shot during our 8 PM Chanting meditation Saturday night at Spiral Circle.  It's a playlist comprised of seven videos since YouTube won't allow me to upload more than 10 minutes per video.  Troy on Crystal Bowls.  Orlando Meditation Practice Group chanting with and without Deva Premal, Mantras for Precarious Times CD.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Heart-Essence of Buddhist Meditation

Excerpt from Tricycle magazine.  Read the full article online here:
By Lama Surya Das
Artwork by Mia Muratori

The Heart-Essence of Buddhist Meditation
The common roots of various Buddhist meditative practices

Clinging to one’s school and condemning others
Is the certain way to waste one’s learning.
Since all dharma teachings are good,
Those who cling to sectarianism
Degrade Buddhism and sever
Themselves from liberation.
       —Milarepa, The One Hundred Thousand Songs

During my initial private meeting with the Venerable Kalu Rinpoche, my first root guru, I asked him about the main points of meditation. He asked what kind of meditation I was doing, and I told him mindfulness of breathing. “What will you concentrate on when you stop breathing?” he asked.

That was a real eye-opener. Suddenly I realized that I might have to broaden the scope of my understanding of Buddhist practice. In time, I came to discover that it included a great deal more than any one meditation technique and also that the many forms of Buddhist meditation shared fundamental elements.

The philosopher Simone Weil characterized prayer as pure undivided attention. Here is where all contemplative practices have a common root, a vital heart that can be developed in an almost infinite variety of skillful directions, depending on purpose and perspective. Different techniques of meditation can be classified according to their focus. Some focus on the field of perception itself, and we call those methods mindfulness; others focus on a specific object, and we call those concentrative practices. There are also techniques that shift back and forth between the field and the object.

Meditation, simply defined, is a way of being aware. It is the happy marriage of doing and being. It lifts the fog of our ordinary lives to reveal what is hidden; it loosens the knot of self-centeredness and opens the heart; it moves us beyond mere concepts to allow for a direct experience of reality. Meditation embodies the way of awakening: both the path and its fruition. From one point of view, it is the means to awakening; from another, it is awakening itself.

Meditation masters teach us how to be precisely present and focused on this one breath, the only breath; this moment, the only moment. In the Dzogchen tradition we refer to a “fourth time,” the transcendent moment of nowness. In Tibetan this is called shicha, a transcendent yet immanent dimension of timeless being that vertically intersects each moment of horizontal linear time—past, present, and future. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we are quite naturally present to this moment—where else could we be? Meditation is simply a way of knowing this.

Different Buddhist schools recommend a variety of meditative postures. Some emphasize a still, formal posture, while others are less strict and more focused on internal movements of consciousness. Tibetan traditions, for instance, advise an upright spine, erect but relaxed; hands at rest in the lap, with the belly soft; shoulders relaxed, chin slightly tucked, and the gaze lowered with eyelids half shut; the jaw is slack with the tongue behind the upper teeth; the legs are crossed. A Soto Zen Buddhist saying instructs us to sit with formal body and informal mind. The common essential point is to remain balanced and alert, so as to pierce the veil of samsaric illusion.

Although most Westerners tend to conceive of Eastern forms of meditation as something done cross-legged with eyes closed, in a quiet, unlit place, the Buddha points with equal emphasis to four postures in which to meditate: sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. The Satipatthana Sutra says: “When you sit, know that you are sitting; when standing, know you are standing. . . .” This pretty much covers all our activities, allowing us to integrate meditative practice into daily life. Learn to sit like a Buddha, stand like a Buddha, walk like a Buddha. Be a Buddha; this is the main point of Buddhist practice.

While many people today practice meditation for physical and mental health, a deeper approach to practice energizes our inner life and opens the door to realization. In Tibetan, the word for meditation is gom, which literally means “familiarization” or “getting used to,” and in this sense meditation is a means by which we familiarize ourselves with our mind. The common Pali term for meditation is bhavana, meaning “to cultivate, to develop, to bring into being.” So we might then think of meditation as the active cultivation of mind leading to clear awareness, tranquility, and wisdom. This requires conscious effort.

But from another—and at first glance contradictory—perspective, there is nothing to do in meditation but enjoy the view: the magical, mysterious, and lawful unfolding of all that is, all of which is perfect as it is. In other words, we’re perfect as we are, and yet there’s work to be done. In this we find the union of being and doing: we swoop down with the bigger picture in mind—the view of absolute reality—and at the same time we climb the spiritual mountain in keeping with our specific aspirations and inclinations, living out relative truth. “While my view is as high as the sky, my actions regarding cause and effect [karma] are as meticulous as finely ground barley flour,” sang the Lotus Master Padmasambhava, who first brought Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century. By alternating between active cultivation and effortless awareness, we engage in a delicate dance that balances disciplined intention with simply being. By being both directive and allowing, we gradually learn to fearlessly explore the frontiers and depths of doing and being, and come to realize that whatever is taking place, whatever we may feel and experience, is intimately connected with and inseparable from intrinsic awareness.

Continue reading here:,1&offer=dharma

Saturday, May 22, 2010

babies know how

This morning the realization came to me that babies live in the Now.  Each moment is a new experience to them.  They cry when there is discomfort or hunger.  They cry when they want attention.  But the majority of babies do spend a great deal of time either sleeping (dreamwalking?) or staring at the ceiling or a mobile they can't reach or touch.  So until a basic need arises; discomfort from a wet diaper, hunger pains, or the desire for soothing or attention, babies live in the moment.
Each and every one of us was once a baby.  No skipping that phase.  (Although I joke my son was born a toddler because of his size at birth.)  But each of us, at one point, lay in a crib and stared at the ceiling.  Only later do we develop the desire for more and more stimulation.

It would then stand to reason that each of us know how to live in the Now.  But as we grew older we began to rely more on outside stimulation to help us develop into who we are.  We have become addicted to all this external stimulation, and as a result, have forgotten how to live in the Now.

As the old e-mail joke which has circulated many times said, we spend our childhood wanting to be older, become older and then decide we want to be a kid again.  Who says you have to be older to embrace your inner child?  Why not do it now, no matter how old you are.

Go outside and dance in the rain (preferably without lightning around).  Skip from your doorway to your car.  Whistle.  Ride a bicycle. Skip a rope! Sing a silly song in the car on your way to work; something like, "Jack and Jill" or "Humpty Dumpty".  Have fun and be silly!

Enjoy life while we can.  Advice I know I should heed more, and I have a feeling, more of you out there could stand to do so as well.

Be Happy!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

New direction for blog

Troy and I have been invited to speak on an internet radio show today about meditation.  We do not have any certifications that proclaim us Meditation Teachers.  We can only speak from our hearts about what we have learned thus far, how we apply it, our personal experiences, and the personal benefits we've experienced.

As a result, I've decided to take my desire to share meditation to another level.   This blog will be expanded to include all forms of meditation.  Hopefully by sharing what we've learned, then receiving feedback from other practitioners, we can grow our knowledge and expand our practice together.

If you have any suggestions or input, please share!

If you'd like to listen to us on the radio, or listen later to the archive of the show, visit:

The show is today, May 20th from 6-7 PM.  Anyone can call in and make comments about their practice or ask questions - that means any of you too! 917.889.7423 (Not toll free, sorry...)

Monday, May 3, 2010

4th & 5th day of the course: Saturday & Sunday

Saturday we followed the same schedule.  We were instructed by Goenka during one of the sessions to narrow our attention to a specific point for the sensation of breath.  We spent a day narrowing on this point and I began to doubt my ability to do so.  I felt so weak-minded.  It was so very difficult to remain focused on that one specific point only.

Then we were introduced to the first days teaching of the Vipassana technique.

It was a two-hour required sit.  Everyone was discouraged from leaving the room.  I cannot remember the appropriate term for the teaching, but there is one.  It is believed to be the actual process transmitted by The Buddha to his students.  Goenka chanted each step in Pali (Hindu?), then translated in English.  Our attention was moved from our nostrils and slowly expanded to cover ever single inch of our body and back up again.  This process took two hours and he guided us through the entire process.  I became so engrossed in the process I was completely oblivious of any discomfort or pain I was in after sitting in the position for more than an hour.  There are absolutely no words that can adequately describe my experience.  All I know is I returned to awareness outside of my own body when he released us with the closing chant.  Most of the room jumped up, trying to make it out the door.  Some were bursting into tears.  Some were bursting at the seams and trying to get to the bathroom.

Many had sat so still for so long they were completely numb, yet oblivious until they fell when attempting to stand.  I rushed for the door and once outside burst into tears.  I felt like a buzzing bundle of energy.  I felt as if I could fly.  I had an endorphin rush like no drug has ever given me.  I touched eternal bliss.  It was one of the most amazingly powerful experiences of my entire 44 years on this planet.

I felt as if I had to move.  I quickly headed for the women's trail, now a favorite spot of mine.  I walked slowly, looking at everything.  Even though it was winter and most things were brown and dead, it all looked so alive to me.  As the wind blew the trees and bushes, I imagined they were all waving at me.  I felt as if I had stepped into the Roger Rabbit cartoon and everything was singing to me.  I felt so amazingly connected to everything.  It is yet another moment beyond comparison.

Even now it is still staggering to realize just what my mind is truly capable of, IF I can remain focused.  It was very easy to do so when guided by a teacher.  Much more difficult once you enter the real world and have no one to guide you anymore.

Third day at the course: Friday

I lay awake for a very long time that Thursday night before finally falling into a fitful sleep.  I awoke Friday morning. exhausted and with my mind made up.  I was going home!  It lightened my mood a little to think I would be escaping all this pain, discomfort, and suffering.  Kind of funny now that I type that and think of the first of the four noble truths.  "There is dukkha (suffering)."

I went to breakfast same as the morning before and returned to the dorm to take my shower and get cleaned up.  Of those that left the course, almost all left during group meditation.  I think part of it was shame for each of us.  Another part was the desire to reduce the interruptions and facing those that would be staying behind.  As I waited for the 8 o'clock bell for group meditation, I sat on my bed and decided it would be nice to have a good long meditation before hitting the road.  Even to this point, I still have not lost my love or belief in meditation.

I was not concerned with leaving while the others were not in group meditation, so I decided to do the group sit and then pack my stuff and hit the road.  I entered the meditation hall.

It was the easiest meditation I had had in an extremely long time.  The time flew by and before I knew it Goenka was singing the closing meditation chant.  I was so surprised, I decided to stay for the next meditation period and see what happened. 

And that is how I learned to live in the moment.  If I thought ahead to eight more days before I could see my family again, the loneliness became almost unbearable.  The idea of sitting for eight more days, all day long, every single day, filled me with anxiety and fear.  But if I just thought of sitting through the next period and then I could leave if I wanted to, got me through the remaining days.

The schedule repeated itself each day and I easily flowed into it with my one-session-at-a-time attitude.  Before I knew it, it was bed time.  I climbed into bed and slept the best I had since arriving.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Second day at course: Thursday

The really sad thing is, I should have blogged about this right after I came back.  So much time has passed the details of some things have faded.  I know they are there, somewhere.  But access is denied at this time.  Only the bigger things still stand firm.

I approached the second day, Thursday, with some enthusiasm but wondering how in the world I was going to get through T-E-N days of this. 

The wake-up bell rang at 4 AM and I got up.  There was a 30-minute period to get dressed and visit the bathroom.  You had the choice of sitting in your room or in the meditation hall.  I had been assigned a cushion in the center of the room without back support.  I had not yet found that "sweet spot" that allows me to sit for longer periods without back support and minimal pain.  I knew that I would be very uncomfortable for an hour and a half sit, so I opted to meditate in my room, leaning up against the wall.  The time passed very slowly it seemed, but I remained focused on the sensation of breath within the triangle region of my nose.

At 6:30 the bell rings again for breakfast.  By this time I am ready for a break.  We walk slowly and silently, single file to the dining hall.  Breakast is served buffet style with each person fixing their own plate and drinks.  In the dining hall it is very silent and all you can hear is the scraping of dishes with utensils, pouring of liquids, and the sounds normally associated with breakfast.  Each person sits at a table that is affixed to the wall.  A few spots had windows to look out of, but for the most part you stared at a blank wall while you ate.  This helped you from accidentally making eye contact as you would if sitting across from one another. 

I'm not a hot drink person (except the rare hot cocoa when it's cold outside), so I opted for a tall glass of orange juice each morning.  Breakfast was oatmeal and a sliced apple or banana.  As I mentioned previously, I'm not only a picky eater, but not very adventurous either.  So I kept it safe and simple.  The entire time I ate I tried to remain focused on the sensation of breath moving in and out of my nostrils, as instructed the previous evening during the discourse with S.N. Goenka.  It was quite challenging.  At the end of my meal, I signed my name on the list to meet with the teacher at noon that day.  I had been told by Olga, our female manager, I had to speak to him about changing my seating arrangements.

I had signed up for the 7 AM shower time, so I finished breakfast and headed back to the dorm for my shower.  After my shower I busied myself making my bed, cleaning my room, and putting away my belongings.

At 8 AM the bell rang once again instructing us to return to the meditation hall for the mornings first group meditation.  One of my favorite parts at the beginning and end of each meditation was the chanting.  I love chanting!  The audio began with Goenka chanting and then providing us with brief guidance to begin our meditation period.  We sat in silence which is an awesome experience to sit in a room with 45 or so people all sitting in silence and focused on the same intention.  I still enjoy group meditation immensely.  There's just something about being connected in a room full of people with the same intention that is different from the enjoyment of sitting privately.  I won't say I'll ever choose one over the other though.  To me, it's all the same.  It's sitting. 

About 40 minutes into the meditation by back began to ache horribly and my legs were completely numb and screaming.  I was in quite a bit of discomfort but was trying so hard to sit still and not move.  The knee cushions I use are filled with something that isn't quite silent when you shift on it.  When Goenka began to chant again I thought I was going to cry with relief.  Goenka instructed us to take a brief break and return for teacher instructions in 10 minutes.  Almost everyone left the room to use the restroom and/or to stretch.  I did both wondering how in the world I could sit another hour with my back hurting like it was. 

We returned to the room and received our instructions from the teacher in the room.  Each day he would instruct a different group of people to stay behind while the rest were free to stay in the room or return to their room to sit.  Most would choose to leave the room and sit elsewhere.  Some would sit in the hallway, some outside in a chair, some in their rooms.  The first day the teacher instructed the new female and male students to stay behind.  He called us up four at a time to sit in front of him.  He would then look at each one of us in turn and ask if we understood the instructions and if we could indeed feel the sensation of breath.  When asked, I told him I could.  We then sat with him for about 5 minutes to meditate.  After that, he released us to return to our rooms or our cushion in the hall to continue meditating until lunch time.

That first day I returned to my room being too uncomfortable to sit in the hall without back support.  I sat in my room on my bed and leaned against the wall.  I remained focused on the sensation of breath flowing in and out of my nostrils.  When the bell rang at 11 AM, I joined the others in returning to the dining hall for lunch.  The same as breakfast, everyone was silent and only the sounds of people eating could be heard. 

After I finished my meal, I decided to check out the nature trail they had mentioned during our orientation.  Grabbing a banana, I set out for the trail located behind the dormitory and meditation hall.  Walking silently, with head bowed and looking at the ground, remaining focused on the sensation of breath, I entered the trail.  It wasn't very long, but I learned to savor every single inch of that pathway.  I came to feel an intimacy with those woods that I can feel even as I sit here and type these words.  It was my slice of heaven for six days.

At noon the bell rang again to indicate it was time for the afternoon break.  During this time period you were to rest and did not have to meditate.  It was also the time when you met with the instructor, if you desired a private audience for questions.  I met briefly with the teacher to request a chair to reduce strain on my knee and back.  He agreed and told Olga to make it so.  After my session with the teacher, I returned to my room and napped, as did most everyone else.

At 1 PM the bell rang again indicating time to return to the hall or sit in your room and begin your afternoon meditation period.  I decided to lie in bed and practice my breath meditation.  About 45-minutes or so into it, I began to see these images flickering behind my eyes.  They moved very rapidly and were difficult to ascertain what they were images of.  All I could say for certain is they were images of people and scenes, as if viewing many different clips of movies from many different eras and settings.  I began to feel frightened as they moved so very rapidly and I could not remain focused on any one image.  As my heart began to pound (my breath in my nostrils completely forgotten at this point), I saw the image of a large snake wiggle vertically on the right from bottom to top.  Once the snake had left my sight, the images stopped.  All I knew was I felt pretty freaked out and there was no one I could talk to about my experience. 

At 2:30 the bell rang again to return to the meditation hall for group meditation.  I sat there, freaked out by me experience, and attempted to meditate.  As if my feelings of agitation were not strong enough, my legs began to ache horribly and the idea of nine more days began to seem impossible.  I began to doubt myself, "I'm not strong enough.  I can't do this.  I'm so weak." I thought.  At 3:30 we were released again to continue in the hall or return to our room.  At this point, I returned to my room and just lay on the bed staring at the ceiling wondering, "What in the world am I doing?" as my heart continued to pound in my chest.

At 5 PM the bell rang calling us back to the dining hall for our evening break.  There is no evening meal, only fruit and lemon water.  I thought I liked lemon water, but when I tried it the lemon was too strong for me and instead, I just drank ice water and sliced up an apple to munch on.  I sat at a window, staring out at the cold outside, and wondered if I could really do this after all. 

At 6 PM we were called back to the hall for another hour group meditation.  It took me all I could do to sit in the chair and not squirm.  It was a required sit so I could not return to my room without notice.  Through sheer will, I sat there until it was finally time to get up again.  I darted out of the room at tne end of the sit, pacing and trying not to cry from the pain and anguish I felt.

At 7 PM we returned again for the evening discourse by S.N. Goenka.  In 1991, a recording was made of S.N. Goenka teaching the 10-day Vipassana course, same as the one we were taking.  Each evening there was a video taped discourse, same as he gave in the classes he taught.  I wish I could tell you I knew what he said, but I spent the time twisting in my chair and praying for an end to it all.  The minute we were released from the room, I ran straight to my room, climbed under the covers and tried to stifly any sound of my crying from my roommates as they came into the room.  There was absolutely, positively, no way I could sit through another hour in that room!!

As the dormitory quietened and each person returned to the hall, I lay in bed and gave myself over to my tears.  I began to sob and had never felt so alone, so frightened, and in so much discomfort as I was right then.  I was miserable!  But I still had not identified WHAT I FELT.  All I knew was I wanted to run home right then!

For each required sit, the manager would come get you if you did not show up.  True to form, Olga soon came to my room to inquire if I was coming to sit.  I informed her I could not.  As I explained what was happening to me, her eyes filled with tears and she told me she would let the instructor know.  I nodded my head, put my pj's on and climbed into bed thinking it was the last I would see of anyone for the rest of the night.  I was wrong.

Olga returned telling me the teacher had asked if I would come meet with him after the group meditation around 9:10 in the meditation hall.  I told her I would.  When I heard everyone coming out of the room, I put my clothes back on and returned to the hall.  From 9-9:30 PM, students can approach the teacher to ask questions publicly, but silently as people are still meditating in the hall.  I sat in my assigned chair and waited for him to call me.

He called my name and I approached.  He asked me how I was doing and I asked him if we could please speak privately.  He said we could and asked everyone to leave the room.  Once everyone was gone, I fell apart and began to sob again.  I told him about how much I missed my husband and what a physical ache it was.  I told him about the physical pain and I just didn't know if I could take 9 more days of sitting.  I told him how I couldn't get comfortable to meditate.  I told him about the images I saw before me during the afternoon meditation, but I still could not convey what I was feeling. I mentioned my fear that maybe this was too much for me and my bipolar condition and my mind was going to snap. Finally I looked at him and through my tears blurted, "I'M JUST SOOO SCAAARRREEEDDDD!!!"  I was surprised.  Up to that moment I had absolutely no idea what I was feeling was F-E-A-R.  L-O-T-S of I-T! 

That teacher is one of the first teachers I've ever had who could show what true equanimity is.  In case you need to look it up, it basically means to feel compassion for another without investing your own emotions into their drama or the outcome of their situation.  I felt his compassion, but his encouragement was more logical than a plea to "stick with it".  He made me feel as if it truly didn't matter to him if I went or stayed.  He had nothing invested in it because the course was about me, not him.  There was nothing he could do for me, but answer questions about the technique.  He was compassionate to my suffering and understood how beneficial this could be to me, but it had to be my choice.

Those are the wisest of teachers.  The ones who realize they cannot convince you to do something.  You must come to it on your own and your movitation must come from within.  They can encourage and guide, but when you make the decision and make it on your own, the inner strength you feel is much stronger.  This is how he guided me.

I left him and returned to my room.  I changed back into pj's and climbed back into bed.  With the key chain with the photo of my husband and I clenched tightly in my hand, I cried myself to sleep wondering if I had truly lost my mind.  What in the world was wrong with me that I couldn't just be happy with what I had?  Why did I have to keep searching for that unknown "something" that I just knew was OUT THERE.