Sep 2 2011

Minute Meditation – One baby step on discovering a Spiritual Path

I am like many of you: very busy. We can forget the things that are important to us. Sometimes this means forgetting to pursue our spiritual path. At these times t is important just to remind ourselves to take a step back and do something little, the equivalent of one step down our potential spiritual path. It may be that you are like me too busy or it may be that you are starting off and need something concrete but simple. This is an opportunity to try meditation without doing some heavy thing in a formal setting. Do this at home. I do it in my living room.

I do something I call the Minute Meditation. It usually take a little longer than a minute, but the idea is the same. It is a version of a zen meditation, not original to me at all. But I suspect most valuable spiritual ideas aren’t original but simply rediscovered.

Sit comfortably. I usually sit with my lower legs folded underneath my upper legs, with my body erect, eyes closed. I close my eyes because I often have little kids running around me and I find it less distracting to my practice not to see them. If you are naturally stiff like me, this will take some practice, but I find it to be a very comfortable and centering position to sit. Next I simply breath in. Breathing in as deep and slowly as I can. Focusing only on my breathing. Then, when I cannot breathe in any more, I breathe out, just as slowly and just as evenly as I inhaled. One full breath takes me about 20-25 seconds. I do this ten times, incorporating the counting as part of the concentration process. The object is to focus your mind completely on your breathing and counting and let go of all other thoughts. To quiet the mind.

Sounds easy, right. What could be easier than breathing in and out and counting to ten. Nothing.

It is really hard even for this short period not to have thoughts drift into your mind. To notice my kids laughing  or yelling or whatever other distractions you have. That is normal. When the distractions be they thought of work, the dog barking or your own discomfort with the posture, you recognize the distraction and let it go. Refocus on your breath. Continue with your breathing and counting. When more distractions come, say hello to them and let them go. And Breathe.

You can do this mediation anywhere. Any time. You don’t need a lot of time. You simply need to act.

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Aug 24 2011

If You Aren’t Running Fast Enough – Stop!

I am like many of you: very busy. We can forget the things that are important to us. Or if we get busy enough, even forget to pursue our spiritual path. This website has suffered from that problem, because I was running.  I have been running so fast that I didn’t notice that as fast as I was going I wasn’t on my spiritual road any more.

So I stopped. I stopped to find my way again. I wasn’t lost. Disoriented is a better term.

This isn’t a new realization, it happens from time to time.

There is a simple solution – stop! I know it is contra intuitive. We feel like we have to run every where, to get as much done in a day as possible. Not just at work but spirituality. I mean isn’t it better to do a full hour and a half ashtanga yoga session than ten minutes of a simple meditation? If you answered like me, the immediate answer was yes.

What had happened to me was I had lost perspective: if I couldn’t do the full yoga session, I didn’t do anything. The little things weren’t good enough. When I realized that was where I was at, I stopped.

I  can’t devote my life to finding spirituality but I still want to explore who I am. I am a spiritual without religion. Because I can’t do all I want  doesn’t mean I shouldn’t stop trying. Nor should you. Moving too fast was my reason. You may have another excuse. Just stopped believing in God, or dumped your religion.  Stop.

Maybe it isn’t that you have too much activity but that your mind is racing, mulling over so many things that you can’t seem to settle on anything. Stop!

This is what I did: something very simple. I started meditating again. Not for two hours, not even for ten minutes. But I started again because it works for me. I don’t even do it every day, but I do it. Because I stopped I could see I had drifted.  I don’t meditate very long but a few minutes down my spiritual path is  progress. I am on my road again. I will continue share my journey with you.

Please join me. If you are going too fast in your life, stop and comment, and say why you haven’t been pursuing your spiritual life, and what you can do to slow down.

There may be good reasons that you found yourself running, share them.

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Jun 3 2009

Giving Thanks, a New take on an Old Theme

At some point in my spiritual journey I abandoned bowing my head and giving thanks for the meal I was about to consume. The whole process seemed hopelessly out of date. Wasn’t it based on some simplistic version of God as an old benevolent guy with a beard? But somewhere along the same path (it is interesting to note that we can abandon and renew the same processes for different reasons) that I learned that giving thanks need not be directed at a vague concept of an anthropomorphic God. Gratitude is something very basic to our culture, to most cultures. We express gratitude to someone for doing us a service. We teach our children this idea when they are very little.

When I look at the plate before me, I am grateful that I have a full amount of food to eat. Millions of people don’t have that luxury today, and millions won’t tomorrow. I am thankful that I live in a comfortable house, where weather and temperature are not an enemy but an inconvenience.  My gratitude stems from my circumstance. Whether that means I am blessed or lucky is a conversation for another time. That my children are healthy and happy has less to do with a good work ethic and intelligence than circumstances of my birth. But I am still grateful. And ultimately gratitude is a practice. You practice removing yourself as the center of the universe in this practice. It is a reminder that when I eat, and my children eat, that this is not the only option for everyone. I am hoping that with time this gratitude will extend into other areas of my life. That in my gratitude for the very small things that I could easily take for granted, I will learn to appreciate the bigger events and people in my life. The practice of thankfulness will exercise the gratitude muscle.

I don’t practice gratitude every time I sit down to eat. But it wouldn’t be a bad thing if I did.

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May 17 2009

Are you Awake?

I don’t mean awake physically. In many ways we are like the Keanu Reeves character in the film The Matrix . We live our lives, often happily, but still unaware that we are missing something. We might even feel that there is something beyond getting a Starbucks double shot latte or arriving late to work. Waking up is the first important step in a journey of transforming spirituality. Unlike the movie we don’t need to take a blue pill or a red pill. But we need to step outside ourselves for a moment. It is extremely difficult. Often we need a catalyst to accomplish this. Catalysts are important because they can move us past the normal and the comfortable to real insight. What can a catalyst be? A death in the family or traumatic event, great anger or joy might propel us past our usual experience of life.

I am not saying that it is impossible to wake up without a catalyst, just harder. The obvious way is to get outside of your normal environment or engage in activity that is not typical for you. But they have to be of the type that can change your perceptions. A couple of examples are a retreat and fasting. The first separates you from your every day experience, so is in a way like a self induced catalyst. Fasting is an important subject to explore at another time, but it too can focus your attention enough to propel you out your “normal.” When I first felt the moments of clarity, of wakefulness, it was always when I was outside my comfortable environment. In these moments you see with clarity what is important to you, what pursuits spiritual or physical you should follow.

In the case of finding yourself awake because of a catalyst, like a death, you can see your life, perhaps your behavior so differently than you ordinarily see it, that you wonder why you never saw life with such perception before. And in moments of wakefulness you have an opportunity. A powerful opportunity that comes with this clarity: transformation. Transformation is more than changing an activity, it is altering who we are. If change is scary for most people, transformation can be terrifying. It often means moving past things that don’t work in your life, but are extremely comfortable. This is why you need to wake up to transform your spirituality. If we keep wandering down a road where everything is comfortable it can be like walking throught a tunnel that is air conditioned in summer: we are comfortable but we see nothing. Being awake often means stepping out of the tunnel, out of  the air condidtioning and seeing the sunshine fall on flowers. It may be hot, but life is much more beautiful this way.

I will return to the topic of wakefulness another time. The important thing to remember is that when you are awake, you need to act. Do not wait until you are back in your regular enviroment to change. If you wake up and discover that some spiritual practice is amazing. Don’t promise yourself you will start a practice at some date in the future. Begin now. And I mean now.

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Apr 29 2009

The Smiling Meditation

In this article I haven’t yet jumped into the pool of effective spiritual practices. There are many. But I will dip my toe in the water with a simple meditation that I learned in the Excellent book Essential Spirituality.  I am going to suggest this meditation before I explain why I think meditation in its different forms is powerful and important spiritual  practice. I am doing this because not everything that works or is good, begins with the mind or our rational thought process. Maybe it can be explained by it later, but often we adopt things in life because it works. This is a meditation you can do anywhere. It is simple and satisfying.  This introduction takes longer than the meditation itself. It is like meditation lite.  For the skeptics (good for you), its success has its basis in our own human physiology. If you are inclined to dismiss the spiritual side of it, that is up to you. It will still feel good and be good for you!

How to do the Smiling Meditation

Ready? Wherever you are simple take a deep inhalation saying to yourself “This breathe I take is relaxing.  And as you begin to exhale smile and say to yourself, “This breathe makes me happy.” It should take a few seconds. Now, do it again.

It is important that you smile.

It is not important if you feel like smiling or not. What is important is that you smile and breathe. We have power in simple things. By smiling it tells our body we are happy, even if we are currently less than ecstatic. This is a simple act.

But involves taking action. This is not passive Spirituality, waiting for someone or something to do something to us. I will not tell you how you will feel, after doing this only a few times.

There are physiological reasons why this simple exercise done repeatedly will transform your mindset. But the fact that it can be explained scientifically does not negate either its power or spiritual impact. Finding spirituality without religion does not need to defy logic.

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