Coming back to balance

December 28, 2015

2015 coming back to balance (blog)

An Urgent Appeal: Please Respond!

The short version is that we need to raise $6,000 in donations before the end of the year in order to break even. Feel free to read the details below, but if you’ve benefitted from the work we do, or appreciate our efforts to make meditation teachings more widely available, please respond by contributing generously so that we can continue to provide our activities for everyone to enjoy.

It would be wonderful if you could donate $1000, or $100, or even just $10 — whatever you can afford.

  • If you want to use a credit card, you can click here, enter the amount you want to donate, and then
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Optimizing your brain for happiness and effectiveness

December 23, 2015

Buddha portrait isolated on white

A huge amount of research over the last few years has shown more clearly what happens in the brain when we meditate, and how meditation benefits us. Meditation, for example,

  • Helps to slow down aging of the brain
  • Increases thickness in parts of the brain to do with memory and learning
  • Reduces mind-wandering and unhappiness
  • Increases the thickness of parts of the brain connected with emotional regulation
  • Improves concentration
  • Reduces our susceptibility to anxiety and depression
  • Helps us tolerate pain
  • Reduces feelings of isolation

It may seem rather staggering that one activity, or collection of related activities, can lead to such a varied range of benefits. It is clear in fact that meditation has not … Read more »

The Four Noble Truths of intimate relationships

December 21, 2015

Because the Buddha was a celibate monk, there can be a tendency for us to see intimate relationships as a distraction or hindrance to the spiritual life. But the Buddha himself described marriage as potentially a source of great happiness.

Both husband and wife are endowed with faith, charitable and self-controlled, living their lives ethically, addressing each other with pleasant words. Then many benefits accrue to them and they dwell at ease.
He went as far as to claim that a happy marriage was divine or angelic in nature when he said that a couple can be like two devas (angels, gods) living together.

Moving in the direction of having this kind of fulfilling relationship … Read more »

Seeing yourself with loving eyes

December 4, 2015

father holding newborn

Imagine that you’ve been transported back in time, and you have the opportunity to hold yourself moments after your own birth. How would it be to cradle that tiny body in your hands, to see this small being, newly emerged into the world, so full of potential?

What would you want for this tiny version of yourself? I’d imagine you’d want him or her to grow up healthy and happy, to have the resilience to deal with life’s difficulties, and to be a kind and ethical person.

What would you feel? Love? Protectiveness? Joy? Care? Awe?

Would you have any anger or resentment against this newborn you? I presume not. Any blame? I doubt it.… Read more »

What is insight practice?

December 1, 2015

reality

What is insight practice? Before answering that question, let’s back up a little and ask, “What is the Buddha’s teaching, or Dharma, essentially about?”

Dharma is about attaining freedom from suffering. All Buddhist practice has this aim.

There are of course many different kinds of Dharma practice. To use a classical model, there is 1) ethical practice, 2) meditative practice, and 3) wisdom practice. These all work in different ways to reduce our suffering.

Ethical practice makes us look at what we do and say, with an eye to whether, in the long term, we are causing ourselves and others suffering. So we train ourselves not to cause physical harm, not to deprive others of … Read more »

“Meditation Freedom” podcast

November 19, 2015

The other week I was interviewed by Sicco Rood for the Meditation Freedom podcast. He’s interviewed a number of well-known teachers, including Lama Surya Das and Ven Pannavati, both of whom I was honored to meet at this year’s Western Dharma Teachers’ Conference. If I sound a little flat, it’s because just before the recording took place I’d heard that a beloved aunt had passed away.

meditation freedom podcast

Lovingkindness meditation, using natural language

November 12, 2015

girl hand giving flowers

When I was first taught the metta bhavana (“development of lovingkindness”) practice, back in the early 1980s, I was encouraged to use these three phrases: “May I be well; may I be happy; may I be free from suffering” (altered to “may you…” or “may all beings…” in the other stages of the practice).

I was told that the exact words weren’t important, and that you could use your own phrases if you wanted. But none of the teachers who led the classes I went to ever offered any alternatives, which sent out a message saying that these were the “proper” and “authorized” ones.

But they worked! I remember the first time that I noticed … Read more »

How meditation can reshape our brains

November 11, 2015

Neuroscientist Sara Lazar’s amazing brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.

Sara’s team at Harvard University uses neuroimaging techniques to study neurological, cognitive and emotional changes associated with the practice of meditation and yoga. They also incorporate measures of peripheral physiology (breathing, heart beat) in order to understand how meditation practice influences the brain-body interaction.

Standing in line meditation

November 9, 2015

This nice little video from Sharon Salzberg arrived in my inbox this morning. It describes a simple practice of bringing mindfulness and kindness into the act of standing in line (or queueing, as we say in my native Britain).

This is something I do a lot. It transforms what can be a frustrating experience into one that’s grounding and joyful. Give it a try.

Step seven: Making every effort to stay on the path of recovery

November 7, 2015

photo-1427830401569-89572cf6d5c6x600

Once you think you’ve got recovery, you’ve lost your recovery. Because what is recovery? It is a path that can take us to liberation and freedom. Recovery is always changing. What it looked like when you first had one week of abstinence, is very different to what it will look like after one year or after 30 years.

‘Once an addict always an addict’, is often a saying we hear. There is good sense in this phrase, because it reminds us not to delude ourselves, and think: ‘right i’ve not picked up my choice of distraction for six months I’m okay now’.

Let’s not delude ourselves because we can think the same after 20 years … Read more »