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Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

Principle ONE: Self-Awareness of the Root of Suffering

Sunday, October 11, 2009

This is part 2 of 6 in a series of posts about the Five Principles and Supporting Practices of Conscious Social Change

Principle ONE: Self-Awareness of the Root of Suffering
The first step in cultivating presence is practicing self-awareness. This begins by exploring the root of suffering. When we inquire into the nature of our own pain, anxiety and fear, we can better understand where it comes from in others. Every person suffers to some extent, mentally, emotionally and physically. For many circumstances, our deepest discomfort comes from simply wanting things to be different: we want what we don’t have and we don’t want what we do have.  

First, we’re always seeking what we don’t have – whether that is greater influence, personal relationships or more economic security.  These desires can even be rooted to our positive change work – a desire for more success, publicity or funding for our work.  We can easily become convinced that our happiness hinges on obtaining that which we want.  And yet, it is this grasping or “attachment” itself that causes our discontent. Through self-awareness, we discover our ability to withstand our anxiety, and we begin to discern between what it is that we desire and what it is we actually need.

Second, we all also go to great lengths to avoid pain and suffering. Whether we fear failure, inadequacy, a loss of power, embarrassment, physical pain, poverty or another unwanted condition, our efforts to protect ourselves are often at the expense of another. Again, it is the aversion to the situation – the “I don’t deserve this” thought – that causes us suffering. Through self-awareness, we come to realize we actually do have choice in every situation: acceptance or action, and we are empowered to pursue a path of conscious change with compassion, rather than unconscious action.

Supporting Practice ONE: Mindfulness Meditation
One practice that supports deepening self-awareness is mindfulness through meditation. Mindfulness is opening to the present moment whatever it is, without judgment, without attachment, without preference and without aversion. Just paying attention to what is. In order to be mindful in our actions we have to first cultivate mindfulness and presence in ourselves.

Meditation is a practice of sitting and practicing mindfulness of the self.  It is a mental discipline that helps us clear the mind so that we can achieve not an intellectual understanding, but a deeper wisdom or insight about what is in us.  Meditation trains us to be with our discomfort and pain without reacting or pushing it away. We just notice it, and we come to see that emotions are impermanent as they come and go. Mindfulness through meditation supports us in moving beyond all the blocks that separate us from others and dusting off the essence of who we truly are underneath.

A Story
On one particular day a few months ago I phoned a friend 30 minutes late for a scheduled conversation.  Everything was running over that day and I had all sorts of to-dos stacking up in my mental in-box.  I apolgized with a flurry of excuses and dove into an overview of our agenda until my friend stopped me and asked slowly, “How are you?” 

Her words were like a long deep breath.  She listened to my assessment of my current stressful situation then asked another question slowly, “Is there anything it feels like you need to do right now that would help take some pressure off you?”  I took a moment to meditate, empty my mind, breathe, relax.  A simple solution came to mind and quickly all other stress melted away. 

Ever since that afternoon, I ask myself regularly when I feel the tell-tale signs of stress taking over, if there is anything I feel I need to do, then I dive into a moment of meditation and breathing.  Without fail I always emerge in a clearer state. I think meditation and mindfulness of one’s emotional and mental state are powerful regulators of peace and balance, and are accessible anywhere, anytime. But they require practice, just like with exercise. The more I practice meditation in moments of solitude and silence, the better able I am to bring mindfulness into situations of chaos and activity.

Demons in the Sacred Circle

Monday, September 14, 2009

I’ve been reading Pema Chodron’s The Wisdom of No Escape.  It is a powerful book of wisdom from a meditation retreat she led in Canada.  Today’s reading titled “Taking a Bigger Perspective” offered the following to me:

People often say, “Meditation is all very well, but what does it have to do with my life?”  What it has to do with your life is that perhaps through this simple practice of paying attention – giving loving-kindness to your speech and your actions and the moments of your mind – you begin to realize that you’re always standing in the middle of a sacred circle, and that’s your whole life…Everyone who walks up to you has entered that sacred space, and it’s not an accident.  Whatever comes into the space is there to teach you…Our life’s work is to use what we have been given to wake up…to let the things that enter into the circle wake you up rather than put you to sleep…You can leave your marriage, you can quit your job, you can go where people are going to praise you…but the same old demons will always come up until finally you have learned your lesson, the lesson they came to teach you.  Then those same demons will appear as friendly, warmhearted companions on the path.

Yesterday my husband joyfully came to tell me that he’d invited some good friends to dinner.  I immediately felt a rush of disappointment.  Though I truly appreciate these friends, I had been carefully attending to my personal practice, had planned my Sunday to encompass time outdoors, time alone meditating, working out, reading and numerous other things that did not allow time for entertaining guests, and the shopping, straightening up and cooking that it would require.  I wanted to protect the introspective time I had committed to, but I wasn’t sure how to compromise – we couldn’t retract an invitation and I certainly couldn’t hide in my meditation room during dinner.  This whole scenario hampered my mood, which then lingered on to affect my day’s joy-intended activities.

Reading Pema Chodron’s teaching came at a perfect time.  I realize that this whole situation was a growth opportunity for me, a chance to wake up.  My husband and I both had underlying good intentions – his beautiful spontaneity had responded with joy to an opportunity to connect with friends – my commitment to inner practice wanted peace and tranquility.  But I was trying to separate and isolate my introspective time from the rest of the world.  Instead, as I shifted my perspective to see this whole occasion as events entering my sacred circle as a teaching, it became clear that my attachment to my own agenda was what was causing me angst, not my husband’s sociability.  With a broader perspective, I saw as well that I was sabotaging my own desire to have balance between inner and outer, self and other.  You can’t just disappear into a cave and shut out life.  Well, I guess you can.  But the key lesson and practice for me is how to bring the peace, harmony and introspection INTO life – how to integrate it. 

I can’t separate them, because they are not separate.  To live a life that embraces consciousness in every moment, you cannot depend on being able to go deeply within and inquire only when the circumstances are perfect – still, quiet, alone, on a soft pillow.  Every moment means every dynamic, messy moment.   While quiet and solitude are restorative and important, we do not have to disengage as a condition or requirement to find clarity and reconnect with ourselves in each moment.   

In the end, our friends decided not to come to dinner for entirely other reasons.  And though my day was cloaked with unneccessary angst, I now express my gratitude for the lesson that entered my sacred circle, which now walks with me as friendly, warmhearted companions on my path.

A Breakfast Meditation

Thursday, April 30, 2009

This morning I decided that each day of my fast I would do two things – one personal and one for social change. I invite you to join me:

1) A breakfast meditation: During the time you might normally have breakfast, consider doing a 5-10 minute meditation. It will help clear your mind and bring awareness to your connection to those suffering in Darfur. Here is a short explanation on how to do a meditation. I will later try to record this as a video that it can serve as a guided meditation while you actually sit:

Sit cross-legged on a mat, pillow or carpet or sit in a chair with your two feet on the floor. Rest your hands with palms down on your legs or loosely together in your lap. Try to sit in a way that is noble, with your spine straight, as if there is a string pulling on you from the top of your head. Now, close your eyes. Draw your attention to your breath. Take a few deep cleansing breaths, and then relax your breathing. Try not to hold your breath or even pause between the in-breath or out-breath. Notice where they connect if you can. Take a few moments to bring exquisite focus to just your breathing. If a thought arises, just notice it. Say to yourself “there is a thought” and then let it go and refocus on your breath. Next, bring your attention to your body. Feel your sitting bones placed firmly on the earth or your chair. If on a chair, feel your feet planted squarely on the earth. Feel this connection with the planet and other people walking on this same soil. Draw your attention to your face and release any tension in your forehead and jaw. Next, draw your attention to your neck and shoulders and release any tension you find there too. Keeping your spine straight, release any tension in your back, arms and legs. As you sit relaxed and breathing, take note of what you sense in your immediate environment – the temperature, smells, sounds, any breeze passing over you. Now notice your internal emotional space. What are you feeling right now? Allow these emotions to arise and bring to you any wisdom or clarity. Do not try to push them away if they are uncomfortable, just be with them.

As you completely embrace your self as mind, body and emotions, allow your attention to consider the people suffering in Darfur. Drop for now all defenses and open to your knowledge of that suffering. Let it come as concretely as you can…concrete images of your fellow beings in pain and need, in fear and hunger, in IDP and refugee camps. Relax and just let them surface, breathe them in…the vast and countless hardships of our fellow humans. Notice how this affects your body, breathing or emotions. Just be with that awareness without too many thoughts. Breathe in that pain like a dark stream, up through your nose, down through your trachea, lungs and heart, and out again into the world yet…you are asked to do nothing for now, but let it pass through your heart…keep breathing…be sure that stream flows through and out again; don’t hang on to the pain…surrender it for now to the healing resources of life’s vast web. If you experience an ache in the chest, a pressure within the rib cage, that is all right. The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe. Your heart is that large. Trust it. Keep breathing. Shantideva, the Buddhist saint, guides us by saying: “Let all sorrows ripen in me.” We help them ripen by passing them through our hearts…making good, rich compost out of all that grief…so we can learn from it, enhancing our larger, collective knowing.

Now, as you breathe in, imagine that you are breathing in the brightest light into the crown of your head and down your spine into your sitting bones that are touching the ground. When you breathe out, let that light flow back up your spine again into your heart and then let it radiate outward to the people of Darfur. Let it radiate out to those who are perpetrating the genocide. Let it radiate out to the decision-makers who are paralyzed with fear, apathy or indecision. Continue this light-breathing until you feel a sense of peace and completion, that you no longer hold onto any anger, grief, pain or suffering. Open your eyes.

2) An act of social activism: Each day following your meditation, take the time to do one act of social activism for Darfur. Take a look at the Act Page of the Darfur Fast for Life website and then call the White House, text Secretary Clinton, contact the media or email your friends and family.

Each day approach this fast from the inside and the outside.


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