Archive for October, 2010

Meditation Musing – When is Meditation?

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

The physical benefits we derive from meditating are very impressive but few of us can spend a significant amount of time at this practice and not have it touch our spiritual nature. Stilling our minds, feeling our heart beat and listening to our breathing directly connects us with that most wonderful and complex creation, the human creature that is us. Moving through our lives with a meditative attitude, developing the equanimity that allows us to observe without becoming attached to, or repelled by, our experiences, allows us to marvel at the complexity and depth of the world around us. For many of us the experience can be a connection to whatever we perceive as the Highest Power of our universe.

It is easiest to envision meditation as someone sitting with their legs crossed on a cushion with their hands arranged mystically saying special words. In actuality meditation is a state of mind and not a location or activity. When one understands that all meditation starts with being mindfully in the Now, then the obvious corollary is that any activity that involves being in the Now can be meditation.

The parishoner who kneels at the altar and prays the Rosary is meditating if they are mindfully considering their prayers and actions as they do so.

My friend the gardener, who finds her connection, peace, and tranquility in the soil is meditating when she kneels down, focuses her mind and begins to commune with nature as she plants, weeds, cultivates and encourages her flowers to grow.

The runner who submerges herself in the pace, rhythm, and breathing of her exertions, if she is being mindfully in the Now, is meditating.

The cook, who mindfully prepares food for his household is meditating if he is in the Now and paying attention to the moment as he handles his ingredients, considers the tastes and flavors he is combining and creates something more than nutrition by putting a significant portion of himself into his preparations.

By extension one could argue that the line worker in the factory would be meditating if he is in the Now and being mindful when he attaches the widget to the gizmo as it comes down the production line.

Watching a sunset with the right attitude is definitely meditation.

One of the most traditional Ways makes extensive use of walking meditation. The technique consists of being mindfully aware of yourself and your environment as you perform that most basic of activities, walking.

So, if meditating brings us closer to our Highest Power then it makes sense that carrying our meditative attitude outside the zendo helps us connect our daily world with that Highest Power.

On a recent beautiful fall day here in Wisconsin I chose to remove myself from the urban area I live in and spend the day in a not too distant forest. After a few hours of walking through the brilliantly colored trees and fields that are autumn here I felt drawn to sit for a few moments and experience the Now. As I listened to the sounds, smelled the aromas and felt the wind and sun on my face I composed myself, took three slow deep breaths and opened my eyes to look at the forest.

I felt a surge of energy and was filled with a wonderful sense of peace and serenity. I remember thinking to myself “This is my connection to my God and my Universe”. I was Meditating.

Namaste
Jim

No Comments

Category Meditation, Uncategorized | Tags: Tags: , , ,

When I Grow Up I Want To Be More Like My Dog

Monday, October 25th, 2010

I’ve decided that my dog knows quite a bit about living life to the fullest. When he’s tired, he simply heads to his favorite spot in the sun and takes a nap. When he wants his belly rubbed he comes and makes it clear just what he wants. When Indy’s hungry there is no doubt that he would like a meal. You know when Indy’s in the mood to play because he simply starts playing. Smart guy!

Because Indy is so clear about what he wants he is seldom disappointed. Indy is a brilliant life coach! He’s teaching me lessons every day and I’m doing my best to learn from him.

When I work with clients, whether life coaching, Reiki or meditation, I am always encouraging them to practice excellent self-care. While I may forget to practice this myself from time to time, my buddy Indy offers gentle reminders. If I’m a bit too serious, he reminds me that life is to be enjoyed by showing my just how much fun there is to be had in a short wrestling match.

One of the life coaching lessons I continually strive to learn better is to embrace and express certain emotions. While laughter and joy are very easy for me to share other thoughts and emotions are more difficult for me to express. Fear, anger and grief are very difficult for me to share with others or to simply release. In the past I have found that I had a tendency to stuff or simply deny these feelings. Here’s the thing, although I may prefer to deny these emotions they do still exist. The body, mind and spirit has a full range of emotions, and whether I like it or not, my body, mind and spirit will find a way to express these emotions. They are not intended to be denied, bottled up or stuffed. They are there for a reason! A full range of emotions keeps us healthy and it’s vital that we each find a non-destructive way to express these emotions.

What do you do? For me, writing is therapeutic; digging in the dirt, walking and of course being with my buddy Indiana is extremely helpful. When Indy’s sad or upset he doesn’t hesitate to come to me and indicate that he simply wants my company. Sometimes it’s enough for him to just hang out with me, other times he needs some real exercise. I have a lot to learn from my dog.

I am learning, though to be honest I am sometimes a slow learner. 🙂 At the very young age of 49, I am slowly becoming more comfortable sharing feelings, thoughts and emotions that I have always accepted in others easily. Life coaching, Reiki and meditation have all helped me to understand that being sad or angry is no more destructive or negative when present in my life than they are in anyone else.

This is a good time to acknowledge and appreciate not just my resident life coach Indy, but also dear friends and family. These folks not only allow, but at times even gently prod me to share as much as I feel comfortable. I’m so grateful for that. Equally as important, they do not demand that I share; they simply hold the safe space and remind me that all emotions, thoughts and feelings are welcome and safe. That’s powerful stuff and I can’t say how grateful I am.

Indy reminds me every single day that it’s okay to have a full range of emotions and to share those emotions with others. You will have absolutely no doubt when my buddy is happy, that nub of a tail wags so hard that I’ve often thought how remarkable it is that it’s still attached.

What do you do to express yourself? Do you dance? Perhaps you retreat to a private place with your thoughts…maybe writing is your thing. There are so many ways to express yourself, talk to a loved one, call a friend, laugh and or cry at a movie. Exercise or take a bath, read a book and let your emotions pour themselves out. I don’t know what’s right for you and you may not know at this moment either. If you can’t figure it out by yourself, give me a call and I’ll be happy to help you figure it out.

I’m going to keep studying and allowing my own personal life coach to assist me in this growth, Indy’s really quite good at this whole process. I encourage you to find discover what allows you to express yourself. In the meantime, I will continue to strive to live life more like my dog. In the moment and expressing all emotions to the fullness that is appropriate this very moment.

Namaste,

Sandy

Meditation Musing – Posture

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

There are many thoughts about the posture one should take when meditating with many Ways presuming that their Way is the only correct method. For many of us most of these “correct” ways are not practical or possible but we still meditate and we still derive benefit from our meditation.

Why does it matter?

Unless one sees meditation as a form of penance or punishment a primary aspect of our posture and position is to be comfortable. Most of us find it difficult to Sit for long periods of time if we are not comfortable. Trying to hold an uncomfortable posture can certainly be a distraction if our purpose is to remain in the Now. Most of us find little benefit if our meditations center around “I hurt Now”. Few of us would find it a beneficial mantra.

The Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, generally credited with bringing Zen to America and the author of the seminal book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, tells us that we Sit with our legs crossed as a way of minimizing the duality of our body. When we stand or sit as in our normal manner we have a left side and a right side. When we sit with our legs crossed we have the right foot on the left leg and the left foot on the right leg. This is intended to merge the right and left sides of our bodies, facilitate the connection between the right and left sides of our brain, and remove or minimize our dualistic perceptions of ourselves. When we sit in a crossed leg position we are also creating a tripod stance, generally thought of as the epitome of stability. This stability of posture is thought to help provide us with a stability of mind.

Most Ways tell us that we should Sit with a straight back or spine, generally as a way to encourage or facilitate the movement of our energy (ki or chi). This emphasis on posture and head positioning can serve other purposes for the student of meditation. One purpose is to provide a focus for the mind, that is, to occupy the mind with the task of monitoring posture in order to keep the mind in the present moment. Another purpose is to allow the Master to see if and when his students allow their posture to change, usually indicating a loss of concentration or wandering from the Now. At this point the Master corrects the student in whatever manner he uses, returning the student to the Now.

For our purposes, let’s move from the ideal to the practical.

Meditating in any posture is much better than not meditating at all. Most of the meditators I know sit in a chair and many of them derive great benefits from their Sitting.

Keeping the back straight does allow energy to flow through the body efficiently but it is also the optimal position for the use of our lungs. By sitting up straight we allow ourselves to take maximum advantage of the benefits of abdominal breathing which provides maximum blood and organ oxygenation and triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, activating a “relaxation response” in the body. Probably just as important is that our bodies have developed the way they have for a reason and when the human spine is properly positioned we actually use gravity to help support us.

The position that we use when we Sit can often become a part of our practice and arranging ourselves in a particular way at a particular time can be a signal to our body and brain that we are about to meditate. When I Sit at home I sit with my legs crossed in a large cushioned chair. When I Sit in the zendo I sit with my legs crossed on a meditation cushion. This is the Way I have learned over many years. More importantly, to me, is that I do many things when I sit down. I do only one thing when I sit with my legs crossed. I Sit.

Serenity is our zendo and we are located at 13825 W. National Ave. Suite 100,
New Berlin WI 53151. If you are in the Milwaukee area and would like information about our Meditation Groups or are interested in our New Meditator workshops, or would like one-on-one meditation coaching please contact me at jbarrett10@wi.rr.com. We also appreciate constructive comments or subject suggestions for this blog.

Namaste,
Jim

Crossing Guard, Life Coach

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

The other day I was on my way to work, a short jaunt from Milwaukee to New Berlin. For some reason I took a slightly different route than was typical for me.  I’m so glad that I did.

As I approached the middle school I noticed that the crossing guard that is usually there was in fact not there today. Instead there was a man I had never seen before. I swear this man simply exuded happiness and joy. It was in his entire being, his simple presence almost shouted in a most cheerful way ‘Happy, Joy, Fun’. Interesting. He wasn’t doing anything all that different than what many crossing guards do; it was the look on his face I think that made the difference.

This gentleman was using both arms to wave to folks driving by. Not in a frenzied, lunatic way that you might imagine as I say he was waving with both arms. Nope, he was simply sending a smile and a greeting to everyone. This man was offering his love to each and every person who happened to be lucky enough to pass him by.

As a life coach I encourage each person I work with to think thoughts that make them happy, to offer a smile even when they don’t quite feel like it. I ask my life coaching clients to make a deliberate effort to offer peace to the world through their body language, their words and their energy. This man had all of this down pat and it made my day better to simply see him.

Such a simple wonderful gift. You and I can offer this gift to others as we go through our day as well. It makes a powerful difference to the way I feel if I muster a small smile when I’m feeling glum. I feel just a tad bit better. Hmmm, that’s worth taking a step further. It turns out that offering a smile and a kind word feels even better to me and when I receive a kind word and smile from someone else I remember it for hours and hours. These are such simple, small steps. Practically no effort at all! But it feels so very good.

When I offer a smile and a kind word, I feel better and so does the person I shared with. The life coach in me says that it’s very important to keep this lovely energy going, keep spreading it around. I like to encourage my life coaching clients and even many of my Reiki clients to do a bit of homework. I ask them to make it a point to catch themselves when they want to offer a word that is less than kind, when they begin to think a negative thought or get irritated at something that is happening in their world. At that moment, I ask them to make a deliberate offering of peace and love to the situation or people involved. If they can’t quite muster love, I ask them to offer peace and calm. This homework is to continue for a full week.

When we chat about this deliberate offering of peace,  I hear how the clients became more and more aware of their thoughts. As the week went on they more easily noticed their tone of voice, how they held their body and they became very aware of the words they were speaking. This awareness led them to making deliberate choices. They began to ask themselves if offering the words they were going to say would help or hinder the situation and then spoke accordingly. My coaching clients tell me that they find themselves less stressed, feeling better and being more patient with others. Nice, very nice.

All of this is what this wonderful crossing guard does for me each time I see him. He puts me in mind of the cheerful flowers that bloom in my yard. I now find myself deliberately taking that route so that I have the opportunity to share a cheerful smile and a wave in the morning. It feels pretty darned good. This wonderful man is acting as a life coach and I very much appreciate the continuing lesson. Thank you sir.

Namaste,                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Sandy

Meditation Musing – Breathing

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Many Ways of meditation understand and stress the importance of proper breathing. In the Way of Yoga this process is called Pranayama and can be very complex. For most of the rest of us disciplined breathing can and should be an integral part of our practice for many reasons and these reasons bear discussion.

When talking about the disciplined breathing of meditation we are referring to slow, deep, abdominal breathing that uses the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. This is the breathing of relaxation and for many reasons it is difficult, if not impossible, to be tense while breathing in this manner.

Breathing is normally an automatic process and for most of us it fulfills the function of oxygenating our blood and organs. It is believed by many that controlled breathing bridges the gap between our voluntary and involuntary body systems allowing a stronger connection between our conscious and subconscious minds. Abdominal breathing uses our lungs in a more efficient manner and the resulting muscle movement helps massage and oxygenate our organs more than chest breathing alone. Slow, deep rhythmic breathing triggers our parasympathetic nervous system and automatically stimulates our relaxation response which lowers our heart rate and causes muscle relaxation. All of these physiological changes lead to a feeling of less tension, which most of us find to be beneficial.

Many who practice martial arts as their Way believe that breathing is the key to the focus of their minds, and hence the chi or ki which is essential to their Way. Meditators also use their breathing as a focus and, when coupled with that gentle, persistent return to the Now, breathing can be the anchor that helps extend our mindfulness and helps lead the way to that place we go when we Sit.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of our meditative breathing is that of focused awareness. By focusing on and becoming aware of our breathing we are taking the first step towards listening to ourselves and our world in real time. This is called being in the Now and is the place from which all meditation must start. Many would argue that this focus and the process of being in the Now is what separates meditation from sitting quietly and thinking. Both beneficial practices but not the same thing.

When we use breathing as a part of our meditation practice the transfer from the zendo to our daily lives becomes very valuable. With the automatic coupling of focused breathing and the calm, physical and mental state associated with meditation we can defuse our own tenseness, anxiety or fear simply by taking a few deep abdominal breaths, as we do when we start to Sit. When faced with a physically demanding situation both the meditator and the martial artist can take their deep abdominal breath and focus their energy. Children are often delighted to learn that the relaxation of their minds and bodies by the application of focused breathing can provide them with control of their minds and bodies in a time and place where they have very little control over anything else.

Namaste,
Jim