Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Longing for Stillness

The clouds move through our Valley
Drizzle then perfect sunshine.
Balancing the elements.
The sky too big for our own smallness.

Coming to this place with these simple instructions.
The vulnerability of this human intimacy challenged.
This breathing into our own darkness.
Somehow being alone in our own arrogant selfishness.

This sitting, allows the chaos of our world to gently yield.
Reaching out through the years.
Finding some grace; some medicine.
That shakes the heart; and loosens our grasp.

Stepping out of a life so long ignored.
Dipping back into one's uncertainty,
forgetting the strength in our own bones.
magnifying the prayer of this mysterious groudlessness.
Softening, for some final blow.

Having beaten the judger in ourselves 1000 times.
Only to crack the old” selfishness” .
What seemed like a battle becomes a symphony.
Holding this simple, wild, unfettered heart.

Our world open to the great stillness.

                                                                 - John Travis

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sloth and Torpor, Incognito

One of my favorite Buddhist phrases is “sloth and torpor”, the translation of the third of the five hindrances to meditation. I was listening to a talk by Joseph Goldstein that touched on this topic. Though typically associated with sleepiness or dullness, he notes that at a deeper level sloth is simply the deep-seated tendency of the mind to retreat from difficulties. He also points out that sloth and torpor frequently masquerade as self-compassion: When we are tired or bored, instead of investigating those states, we often respond to a kindly voice inside us saying, “Let me be good to myself. A nap would be just the thing right now.” Perhaps because I believe Western adaptations of mindfulness practice have too often given short shrift to compassion—and to self-compassion in particular—I have frequently fallen prey to this vice in my own practice. As an antidote, I find it helpful to remind myself that true self-compassion is a willingness to be with what’s unpleasant.

When it comes to effort, there is always a balancing act. If we try too hard to be mindful, the effort itself can become a distraction, yet we can also fall too easily into daydreams and rumination. Goldstein suggests that skillful effort occurs when the mind is relaxed and open, whereas unskillful effort can be recognized by a forcing of the mind. This distinction sounds quite appealing to me, yet when it comes to everyday life, I frequently find myself resorting to cajoling.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


“O longing mind,
dwell within the depth
of your own pure nature.
Do not seek your home elsewhere.
Do not confine your innate infinity
within the mansions of finitude.
Your naked awareness alone, O mind,
is the inexhaustible abundance
for which you long so desperately.”

                                - Sri Ramakrishna

My favorite cartoon is titled “The Worst Thing about Being a Nomad”. It depicts a family traveling through the desert with camels, and the children are asking “Are we there yet?” When it comes to our basic nature, we are all nomads. We are constantly seeking out various forms of temporary refuge, and our minds are forever on the move, skittering away from the present moment. At the same time, we are also nomads in a deeper sense: each of us carries our real home with us wherever we go, and we can rediscover it any time we can “dwell within the depth of our own pure nature.”

Monday, January 7, 2013

Mindfulness as Intimacy with Life

Part of the impetus for this blog is my sense that, in its exploration and appropriation of Buddhist ideas, Western psychology has focused overmuch on the concept of mindfulness. Even so, I think it is valuable to continue to deepen our understanding of mindfulness, and to explore ways to communicate its meaning to a general audience.

I have to confess that the word mindfulness itself has always possessed a certain alienness for me. Until I began to explore Buddhism, it wasn't a term I had ever encountered, and the word mindful had a slightly negative emotional resonance, suggesting the need for alertness to danger (e.g., “Be mindful of your thoughts, Anakin. They betray you.”).

I've found that many non-Buddhists have no context in which to interpret the concept of mindfulness, and that which is unfamiliar is often viewed with skepticism or even fear. One way I like to talk about mindfulness--and a way that has resonance in my own practice--is in terms of intimacy: intimacy with the body, intimacy with the breath, intimacy with the senses, intimacy with thoughts, intimacy with the heart, and, of course, intimacy with life. In addition to connoting deep attention, patience, and lack of judgment, the term also seems to evoke for many an attitude of caring.

Of course, for some the word intimacy has more negative associations, and may evoke fears of vulnerability or engulfment. Nevertheless, when working with those for whom the term has a more positive emotional resonance, I believe it can serve as an intuitive point of connection to the notion of mindfulness. In my own practice, it has often allowed me to enhance the depth and quality of presence.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

                                      - Rumi