“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

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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 »

Radically changing ourselves through insight

November 2, 2015

realityLetting Go Into Reality (Nov 9–Dec 20)

The entire point of Buddhist practice is to bring about freedom from suffering. We can free ourselves from much of our suffering by becoming more ethical, more mindful, and more compassionate, but becoming a more skillful, “better” person isn’t enough. In order to bring about the maximum degree of freedom from suffering we have to radically change the way we see ourselves, and our relation with the world. This change comes about by developing insight.

On the six weeks of this event you will learn to:

  • Look deeply at the nature of your experience
  • Observe and accept the fact that everything within your experience is in a constant
Read more »

Distractions as hypnotic bubbles

November 2, 2015

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As we meditate, thoughts bubble up. Many people are bothered when this happens, and tell themselves that there’s something wrong or that they’re no good at meditating. But having a lot of thoughts arise is OK. Our minds produce thoughts. It’s natural.

While bubbles in water contain gases, the thought bubbles that arise in the mind contain stories. Sometimes the stories inside these bubbles are emotionally compelling, and we can’t resist sticking our heads inside to see what’s going on. The bubble now surrounds our head like a 3D holographic display, complete with images, sounds, and tactile and other sensory information. And the story we’re witnessing is interactive! We now start playing the role of … Read more »

Let your distractions be your teachers

October 31, 2015

white swan feather on the black background

Once, many years ago, I was meditating—or at least I was supposed to be—and I found myself wondering what the Pali for “Palm Pilot” would be.

I had one of these electronic devices in front of me (if you’re not familiar with this ancient technology, think of it as being a very primitive iPod Touch) because I was leading a retreat and had been reading notes from it. I recognized that this train of thought was a hindrance, and as I wondered why it was happening it occurred to me that it was an expression of playfulness. Could it be, I inquired, that my meditation had been lacking in playfulness? Had it been a bit … Read more »

Taking the self out of self-compassion

October 29, 2015

man looking at universe

One of the most interesting studies I’ve ever seen was by James Pennebaker, a University of Texas psychology professor, and Shannon Wiltsey Stirman, who is now associate professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.

Poets are particularly prone to taking their own lives, and Pennebaker and Stirman were interested to see if the writings of poets who had killed themselves contained linguistic clues that could have predicted their fate. They matched together, by age, era, nationality, educational background, and sex, poets who had and had not killed themselves, and ran their works through a computer program that looked for patterns in the language they used.

What they found was that the poets who … Read more »

Mindfulness: what it’s not

October 16, 2015

old padlock with key on a green wooden wallWhat is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is when we observe our experience rather than merely participate in our experience. When we’re unmindful, we’re certainly experiencing, but we’re “merely participating” in that experience, swept along in the flow of our thoughts and fantasies, caught up in thinking without being aware of what we’re doing and what effect it’s having on us, and not realizing that we have the choice to do anything else.

When we’re mindful, we observe our experience. We know that we’re thinking. We’re aware of what effect our thinking is having (for example that it’s making us or others unhappy). We’re aware we have choices about what we do and what we think.

And that’s … Read more »