Meditations to calm the edgiest lawyers

Recently, an acquaintance presented me with a small book. It was devoted to meditation. Perhaps the individual in question did not know me well, or knew me altogether too well. In particular, the donor either recognized or failed to recognize that I am entirely too twitchy to lie down, say “om” and allow my mind to empty itself until it is on a par with the brainpan of Paris Hilton.

The meditation book, I discovered, had a family. In the bookstore, there were collections of meditations for women who do too much, men from extraterrestrial locales other than Mars, people who don’t talk enough, chefs who hate cilantro, hairstylists with gambling problems, and people who like to watch curling, or perhaps it was hurling. Every over-or under-indulgence in the usual pursuits was represented by a pocket-sized volume equipped with 365 variations on the same theme: apparently, all of us need to become more serene.

The style was simple. Each page led with a quotation, followed by the “meditation,” a paragraph designed to make the reader more mindful of his neglects, addictions, behavioral or hypertrichological propensities. The daily input concluded with a thought for the day, or in some cases, such as for agnostics married to people who like poodles: a prayer.

It occurred to me that there was a missing category: Meditations for Lawyers! So, I thought I’d take a crack at it.

May 5, 2010

QUOTE FOR THE DAY: How sharper than a serrated knife is a Memorandum of Decision denying a Motion to Strike a thoroughly ludicrous cause of action.
– Cleopatra

MEDITATION: It is all good, even the authorities which do not control, including the laws of Nevada and Alabama. Consider the wisdom of the court’s decision. Breathe deeply to try to comprehend its obscure reasoning. The peace of the universe will brim up like boiling coffee. Understanding and letting go of needless whiny questioning and blaming the associate who argued the motion is the key to peace.

PRAYER/THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: I will accept the judgment of the Court. I will write a scathing electronic mail to my client excoriating the decision, and exculpating myself from blame. Help me, Mr. Spock, to disengage from my toxic and bothersome emotional reactions.

That felt pretty good, I thought I’d try again.

Aug. 9, 2010

QUOTE FOR THE DAY: Sometimes, in depositions, I think about committing grievous bodily harm to my opponent.
– St. Cauda Equinus

MEDITATION: Remember to limit your objections to form. Do not allow that aggressive tone to enter your voice, because the next time, there will be videotape. Be still in the knowledge that your client is doing the best she can. Only those who have weak cases resort to using belligerent tactics. Stop thinking about homicide. It will only cause you irritable bowel syndrome. Quiet your racing thoughts and do not click your pen like that. It’s annoying.

PRAYER/THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: I ask the Spirit of the Universe for the strength not to leap across the conference room and throttle my opposing counsel. I ask for the grace to remember that her Manolo Blahniks are compressing her toes painfully. I will not allow myself to think about the recent verdict against my client which allowed her to buy six pair of them.

It’s amazing. I feel wonderful. My pulse is down to 170. My mind is purging unhealthy thoughts, like tritium from a Vermont power plant. Next, “Meditations for Tax Attorneys Who Have Trouble Remembering Numbers;” “Reflections for Attorneys Who Whistle in Court,” and, “Daily Thoughts for Attorneys Who Wish They Had Majored In Ceramics.” Goodbye, indigestion! Hello, Simon and Schuster! •

[via Connecticut Law Tribune]

Amy F. Goodusky, a former paralegal, rock ‘n’ roll singer and horseback riding instructor, is of counsel at O’Brien, Tanski & Young in Hartford.

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Cat’s guide to attaining enlightenment

After so many years in Japan, I have come to realize that it is not so hard to achieve enlightenment. As long as you’re a cat.

Among the enlightenment-seeking general populace, cats seem to achieve their goal faster than any other animal or human. Even kittens seem to bound out of the womb happy to learn that they came into this world as kittens and not, say, mice. So they have a good platform to start their road to enlightenment.

Just food, water, sleep and meditation can bring one to a state of enlightenment, according to my cat, who achieves enlightenment every day, at least once. To think it takes some people 20 years! They ought to be taking lessons from my cat who, I do admit, is very wise.

So here is the Cat’s Guide to Attaining Daily Enlightenment, a method she herself has developed to perfection over many years of constant practice (well, at least eight years, anyway).

Start off every morning screaming and yowling at around 5 a.m. Don’t worry about waking others up. This is a ritual that is obviously very important to get your meditation off to a good start. Once everyone in the house is awake and moving around, take your place on your meditation cushion.

Find a good place for your cushion, preferably under a Bodhi tree. My cat prefers a position directly under a wall-mounted Bodhi heater.

First, get focused. Sit upright, back straight, paws placed in front of body turned slightly to the outside. If you find it hard to concentrate, try facing the wall.

Now, lightly close your eyes. Smile.

As you slip into deep meditation, you will find your body being pulled downward toward the cushion. Don’t resist. Let your body be drawn, in its entirety, into the meditation cushion. From here, you can take on various meditation positions. Breathing is very important. Breathe deeply, letting out cute little mewing sounds with every exhale. Enjoy the moment! Enjoy the power of the Bodhi heater.

After about an hour, (but certainly don’t rush yourself if you need more time), extend your right leg out in front of you and streeeetch that leg. Open the claw slightly and leave it there. Take in a deep breath and let out a big, long sigh. Put your head back down on the cushion and do a little more mewing.

If you can, envision yourself devoid of life. Drape your body over the cushion with your limbs completely limp. If you hear someone in the room say, “Is that thing alive?” you’ll know you’ve succeeded.

So now let’s, very slowly, turn over and lay on the other side for a while! Relaaaaax . . .

Now, when you’re ready, (no hurry, you’ve got all day), let’s curl up for a bit. Ready? Cuuuuuuurl. Cuuuuurl. Bring your tail around and nestle your nose into it. Contemplate this position for a good long while. Don’t stop smiling. Take your paws and cover your face.

While you relax, absolve yourself from fear and self consciousness. After all, you are in the safety and comfort of your own heated mansion. Gooooood. Release any previous feelings of kitty greed, superiority, aloofness, conceitedness, or any of the appalling 52 kitty mental states. Gooooood kitty.

Enjoy being a cat. A good cat doesn’t ask for much, and appreciates what he doesn’t have. Appeal to these cat sensibilities. Now, when you’re ready, (take an extra half hour if you need it) let’s turn over on our backs. Let your paws dangle above your body in the air, relaxed. Stretch out and turn your body into a half-circle, put your head to the side. Smile. Goooood. Take deep breaths.

By now, 5 p.m., you should have released your attachment to desire and self. You want for nothing. You want no money; You could give birth in a cardboard box. You’d even give away your kittens for free.

You have truly achieved mindfulness, exude contentment and feel a oneness with the Buddha. When you come out of your Awakened state, move slowly, take your time to come out of it completely and only after some thought, take leave of your meditation cushion.

Now would be a good time to get something to eat or drink, take a walk and have a pee. After you’ve finished that, take a sniff around the house to make sure nothing is awry. With the confirmation that nothing has changed since your last inspection, head back to your meditation cushion under the Bodhi heater. It’s time for another session!

[Amy Chavez, Japan Times]
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Can meditation stop me getting angry?

A few months ago, I tore up a copy of Grazia and spat on it because I had decided my byline was too small. So a friend, who witnessed the assault, suggested I try meditation. “It might help you with your anger,” she said, observing the drool dribbling over my chin and on to the magazine. “But I like living my life in homage to An American Werewolf in London,” I replied. “No, you don’t,” she said. “And I have seen you shouting at buses.”

It seems that meditation does have health benefits, particularly for neurotics with anger and anxiety issues such as myself. This week American academics published the results of their research into the joys of transcendental meditation (TM). Apparently guinea pigs (human ones) who practised TM showed a 48% decline in depressive symptoms. Last year another study indicated that there were 47% fewer heart attacks, strokes and premature deaths among transcendental meditation-heads, which tunes in with what my friend Yogi Cameron, the former male supermodel, has told me. “Yogis,” he once said, “choose when to die.” So – could meditation save my copy of Grazia? Could it save me?

There are many different types of meditation, I learn – it is a big aromatic buffet of love. It is popular with the great religions – praying or clutching a rosary can be considered a type of meditation – and, as a leisure activity, it is at least as old as war. There is mantra meditation, where you continually repeat a chosen word or phrase (transcendental meditation is a type of this) mindfulness, yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong. All promise serenity and healing and an end to assaults on blameless magazines. I choose to try out mindfulness because, according to my blurb, it will help me “experience myself” and learn to “live in the moment” through posture and breathing work. (For Tai Chi, on the other hand, you have to stand up.)

So I telephone and beg to be admitted to a Meditation for Beginners class (£8) at the West London Buddhist Centre. It is in Notting Hill, the evil yummy mummy/latte vortex, which is surely the last place in London in which I am likely to have a spiritual experience. A few days later, I walk past the building, quite unconsciously, twice. This, I believe, is called denial. The anger and anxiety wants to stay in power. It is like having Peter Mandelson in my brain.

So I walk in late, to a cream basement room with a small shrine. Buddha is there. For some reason, he reminds me of a very small football fan. The scene is like a Sunday afternoon at my late grandmother’s. A group of women and a man with a beard are comatose and covered in blue blankets on the floor. Only the EastEnders omnibus is missing.

A man called Duncan is leading the group. He is tall and pale – handsome but slightly ghostly. He has a sinewy yoga body and bright blue eyes. He smiles gently and tells me to sit on a chair and close my eyes. I obey, and Duncan begins to say calming things. I don’t remember them all, because I can’t use a notebook with my eyes shut, but I do remember him saying: “Feel your tongue.” He encourages us to feel and to be aware of every part of our bodies and, above all, to concentrate on our breathing: “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out.”

There is neither a television in the room, nor books, so I decide to go along with this madness. I take a long sigh, like a Mills & Boon heroine submitting to a racked company director, and I surrender to the Saturday-morning silence. I feel like I am plunging down a well to somewhere untouchable and terrifying. This, I suppose, is myself, without distractions. I muse on how much I love my nephew Blobby – not his real name – and how I am going to buy a stew pot in John Lewis later. “Breathe in, breathe out,” says Duncan, in a mesmeric voice, “Breathe in, breathe out.” I almost fall asleep.

At the end of the session, I feel happy and giggly. I lie on the floor in my blanket, laughing like an insane person, or a baby, or an insane baby. I think I must be very tired. I speak to a few of my fellow travellers. They all seem to be in recovery from a terrible personal crisis, although I do not know if they too shout at buses.

I have a brief chat with Duncan. He is about 50 and he seems very posh, although he says he isn’t. He is concerned that I might tease Buddhists in my article. “Everyone teases Buddhists,” he says. Me? Tease Buddhists? I am supposed to be interviewing Duncan, but there is no point interviewing anyone after meditating. You just fall over. I ask: why am I so tired? “It’s the subject matter,” he says, “You are sleepy because it is a way of disengaging from being present.” We postpone.

Instead, I read the literature that Duncan has given me. “Mindfulness,” I read, “means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. There is nothing cold, analytical or unfeeling about mindfulness. The overall tenor of mindfulness is gentle, appreciative and nurturing. It is about being more aware in the present moment. This makes life more enjoyable, vivid and fulfilling.” To me, this is language beyond gobbledygook. Perhaps I will have an epiphany after lunch?

Later, I face the first challenge of my meditating life. I go to see my friend Raymond in Kentish Town. I am making him lamb stew. But when I put the stew pot on the hob, it explodes. “The pot has exploded,” I tell Raymond. “Oh, dear,” says Raymond, not moving from the sofa, where he is reading a book titled Town Planning in Britain Since 1900: The Rise and Fall of the Planning Ideal. “I’m sure it will be fine.”

“It has exploded,” I say.

“Oh dear,” he says, and turns a page. If I had not meditated, I believe I would have maimed Raymond. But I do not; I am calm. I feel a sense of serenity, which I have always associated with unconsciousness or Valium. And so I simply bin the stew and leave. When he calls later, to say he has removed the stew from the bin, cooked and eaten it – “It was horrible” – I emit a serene cackle.

A few days later, meditation calls me back. I actually want to do it. Could the anger be ready to fly away, like a bad love song? This time I go to City Lit in Holborn, which has a mindfulness class, again run by Duncan. Again, I am late – the power of denial! So, when I go in, 20 women are sitting on mats with their eyes closed, doing the practice session. One opens her eye and scowls at me. I scowl back. There is also, inevitably, a solitary man. In meditation class, there is always a solitary man. It seems to be a law.

When everyone has opened their eyes, Duncan checks if they have done their mindfulness homework. Everyone has been asked to practise meditating for 10 minutes each day and to record their pleasant thoughts, also noting what moods and feelings accompanied the precious pleasant thought. Not everyone has done it, which seems to make Duncan cross. He winces. The class is full of obsessives. Duncan asks us to write the word “flower” on a piece of paper, and meditate on it. At least three people ask for more paper because, says one, “I didn’t write ‘flower’ in the middle of the page.”

We practise again – I close my eyes, listening to Duncan talk about tongues and feet and the need to be aware of them and live in them; again I fall down the friendly well. It’s easier this time. I am possibly entering the realm of nothing matters. Everything. Will. Be. Fine.

I love this new sensation. Normally, when pouncing from anger to anger, I end the day gibbering and falling into a half-sleep from which I awake exhausted, usually with a BBC3 reality show still murmuring in the corner. (Once I awoke to watch a man in a wheelchair ballroom dancing.)

Then, we have an event. A woman in the street outside screams and I am pulled back into Holborn. She screams again and the kind thoughts melt, cinematically. I panic. I am a failure! A monster! I hate everyone and everyone hates me! I feel my body contorting, into a giant fist. I feel Hulk-ish. I have always identified with the Incredible Hulk, for obvious reasons; I can even play his theme tune on the piano. But this, I know, is familiar; this is why I am here – to be cured of my anxiety and its inevitable sequel, the desire to punch pot plants. I tune back to Duncan, my salvation. “Breathe in, breathe out,” he says. “Breathe in, breathe out.”

I take Duncan out to lunch to ask why meditation works; I am sure it is working, but I do not know why. “The refusal to acknowledge ourselves,” he says, “is the cause of most grief. Meditation will lead you to a relishing of being alive, but it can only be known through direct experience. Even pain,” he adds optimistically, “can feel quite rich.” But he thinks I should work on my posture. Apparently I sit there with my head lolling on one side, like a stroke victim.

I continue to meditate and as I do, I can feel the anger waving goodbye. I stay soothed. For example, a friend asks me to a dinner party. I fear dinner parties like I fear Nazis. But I go, and I am polite, even when someone asks me if I have cystitis. (I do not.) Meditation is effective, I fear. I am in danger of turning into a rug. I am in danger of being happy.

Tanya Gold, The Guardian

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“This Is Getting Old,” by Susan Moon

This is getting old, by Susan MoonSusan Moon is one of Buddhism’s funniest writers. In this new book, Bodhipaksa finds, she’s also one of Buddhism’s most honest, moving, and beautiful writers.

Title: This is Getting Old
Author: Susan Moon
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-59030-776-2
Available from: Shambhala and

My first encounter with Susan Moon’s writings was The Life and Letters of Tofu Roshi, which fondly parodied the language, idiom, and culture of the Zen tradition in which Moon practices. It’s the best Buddhist humor writing I’ve come across. That was in 1980, which is 30 years ago, now. That’s a long time. Realizing that makes me feel old, which is appropriate since Moon’s latest book is subtitled “Zen Thoughts of Aging With Humor and Dignity.”

This is a book about aging, but it’s not at all depressing. Susan Moon is a very funny lady. She has a chapter about her family’s history of retinal detachment that includes the following line about contact lenses: “They required at least as much daily care as a small pet–a canary or hamster–without providing any companionship.” I can imagine those words coming from the lips of David Sedaris. Even the title of the book is a lovely, playful double-entendre. This is aging. This is what getting old’s like. And it’s getting old. I especially loved the opening to the final chapter, “This Vast Life”:

“Every morning, I vow to be grateful for the precious gift of human birth. It’s a big gift, and it includes a lot of stuff I never particularly wanted for my birthday. Some of the things in the package I wish I could exchange for a different size or color.”

Moon herself would say she’s a very funny “old lady,” although I don’t tend to think of late-60s as being old these days. Still, she’s 30 years older than when she wrote Tofu Roshi, and she describes in meticulous detail the kinds of changes that have taken place in her body and mind since then — hair graying, bones thinning, memory failing — and that’s a lot to deal with. Moon has almost two decades on me, but I’m already starting to experience my body as aging. From that point of view, This Is Getting Old is a good reminder, to people who aren’t yet old, of what’s in store for them.

The Buddha said that in his youth he was “intoxicated with youth,” and don’t we all, in our younger days, see old age as something that will never happen to us — not because we plan to die young, but because we think of old age as a personality defect, or we think of elderly people as having always been that way. Perhaps Moon’s book will find itself mainly in the hands of “boomers,” but that would be a shame. Anyone interested in Buddhism, whose key teaching is impermanence, would appreciate this up-close portrait of what’s in store.

This Is Getting Old is a collection of essays on different topics more or less related to aging. Mostly the stories focus on Moon herself, but there’s a particularly moving chapter (“The Breathing Tube”) about her mother’s car accident, and her death after three undignified weeks in hospital. There’s a coda to that story in a a later chapter (“Talking to My Dead Mother”) in which we learn that Moon had just finished the final edits to a book her mother had written–only three weeks before the crash. Moon’s mother never got to see her own book in print. That’s painful to hear, but it reminds us that death is like that — it doesn’t wait until you’ve wrapped everything up before it takes you away.

There’s a chapter about depression called “I Wasn’t My Self,” which initially struck me as being rather tangential to the theme of aging. Depression, after all, can strike at any age, and Moon was far from elderly in the several years she dipped in and out of that experience. But in retrospect it’s an essential chapter. This Is Getting Old is pervaded by the theme not just of aging, but of loneliness. In fact, of the two, loneliness may be the more dominant, since much of the content is about what it’s like to no longer be desirable, to know that you may never have sex again (and, more importantly, not to have someone with whom you can have sex), what it’s like to end a relationship and have the thought “I’ll die alone” taunt you day after day. Moon’s depression seems to have been her strongest experience of the loneliness that still haunts her in her 60s.

This Is Getting Old is an aubiographical book. I say this just to be clear that it’s not a series of reflections on aging treated as an impersonal phenomenon. Moon shows us aging rather than tells us about it, and she shows us in a breathtakingly honest way. She’s very open about the pain she’s experienced at various times in her life. And she never seems nasty, even when she’s talking about people giving her a hard time, like her mother driving her mad with disparaging comments about her hair. And, as I mentioned, she’s very, very funny. I found that I liked her more and more as the book unfolded.

I’ve just finished a book on the six element practice, which teaches us about impermanence and not-self, and I wish I’d had the opportunity to read Moon’s beek earlier. She has some beautiful passages on the elements:

“There’s no empty space. The air is fluid, making room for us, so that each of us inhabits a nook that is exactly our size and shape. The air kindly moves with us when we move … We’re all connected, molecule to molecule. I’m held by everything that’s not me.”

You’ll notice that Moon writes beautifully.

This Is Getting Old is beautiful, funny, warm, honest, and existential — what’s not to love?

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Chairgasm in the basement: My intro to tantric meditation

Neal Pollack: Faster Times

When I went to my first San Francisco Yoga Journal conference in 2009, I mostly found myself wandering around the Hyatt confused, frustrated, physically exhausted, and waiting for lunch. This year, I returned with a strategy, a curriculum of sorts. I’d barely do any physical yoga at all; with that, I’ve become all too familiar. Instead, I’d begin my journey into yoga’s subtler aspects, its deeper mysteries. It was time for an introduction to Tantra.

Most people, if they’ve heard of Tantra at all, would say, “Oh, yeah, that’s that thing Sting and his wife do before they fuck.” Until pretty recently, I’d have said the exact same thing. And now, though I know far less about Tantra than I do about, say, the mechanics of the NBA Draft Lottery, I’ve begun to acquaint myself with some basic facts.

Essentially, Tantrism is a school of yoga that began to emerge around 800 A.D. in reaction to certain facets of Vedic orthodoxy. Yoga at that time had grown quite practical, rigid, and exclusionary, and Tantrism brought a mystical element to the proceedings, the possibility that yoga could be practiced by anyone, including, shockingly, women. Tantric practitioners saw yoga as a way to tap into the “divine energy” of the universe. Sometimes this was achieved through identification with traditional Hindu deities, but, since many of its practitioners were Buddhist, that pantheon didn’t always apply. Alternate paths to the divine included meditation, scholarship, mantra (either recited privately or sung with a group), and other, more complex “secret practices” that probably cost a lot of money.

The popular Western yoga form that most closely resembles traditional Tantric practice is kundalini, what with its chanting and its coiled-snake energies and all. But Tantra is actually a complex, variegated body of spiritual work that has only really begun to leach its way into contemporary yogic study. You’re more likely to find a class about paganism than one about Tantric yoga.

But at the Yoga Journal conference, which caters largely to extreme yoga weirdoes like me, Tantra can carry the day, as it seemed to this year. There were lectures in Tantric philosophy, courses on Tantric history, and intimations of larger things to come. I tuned in to some of those, and also took a class called The Art Of Tantric Meditation.

The class leader, Sally Kempton, was (and is) an extremely advanced meditation teacher, which either made it totally ironic or completely appropriate that the class took place in a thin-walled basement conference room in the middle of the convention’s noisy and crowded Yoga Marketplace. From the crackling walkie-talkies and guys who occasionally walked through the room whistling and wearing beige work shirts, I gauged that we were also directly adjacent to some sort of maintenance closet. It was noisy in there. We sat in straight-backed conference chairs, the color and consistency of old puke, and attempted to connect with the divine.

As any master teacher worth his or her cushion would, Sally Kempton told us to ignore the sounds. More accurately, she asked us to let the sounds penetrate our consciousness, notice them, meditate on them, and then let them go. The sounds were, like our breath, or bodies, our thoughts, and everything around us, part of a greater cosmic energy. I found myself somewhat distracted by the extraordinarily hot woman sitting to my left, so close that our knees were almost touching, though the distraction had less to do with the fact of her extraordinary hotness than with the fact that she kept fidgeting with her cell phone by pulling it in and out of a plastic Bakugan backpack. Why, I wondered, did this woman have such a backpack, and how could I incorporate the backpack into the Tantric idea that all physical things are really just a condensed form of “divine light”, or sound vibration? This was a difficult question that our teacher wouldn’t be able to answer, because there was no way in hell I would ask.

In any case, we did many different meditations over the course of two hours, including one where Kempton taught us an interesting technique to intensify and then expel negative emotions. Then arrived the moment of truth, the money shot, so to speak. The teacher announced that we would now do a sexual energy meditation.

In traditional Tantrism, sexual-energy rites were practiced by obscure sects as a kind of clan initiation, and had very little to do with mainstream belief. In contemporary interpretations, they’re a way for middle-aged hipsters to blend their Shiva and Shakti energies together into a series of million-dollar orgasms. What we did in that basement conference room was neither obscure nor wealth generating, but it definitely felt good.

The teacher said: Imagine something extremely sexually arousing. I initially thought of Lynda Carter, circa 1976, but that seemed like kind of a cliché, so instead I concocted a few other scenarios that I won’t share with you right now. Regardless, as she instructed, a warm feeling, almost like intense light, began to emanate from my genital center. No, it wasn’t a boner. Don’t be perverted. This was a higher sensation that transcended mere sexual pleasure.

Then she told us to take that divine feeling and move it through our bodies, starting in our toes, and then into our ankles, and then our calves, and then our legs, and then our thighs, and traveling upward through various meridians and chakras. Getting to such a place wasn’t so hard, really. I’d been meditating all morning, even all weekend, and my mind was primed. As I sat there in that shitty chair in that shitty room with its shitty carpet, a strange kind of semi-ecstasy permeated my every pore. My body began to involuntarily shudder with pleasure.

Next to me, the hot woman with the Bakugan backpack went “OHHHHHHHHHH!” Then the woman sitting next to me on the other side, in a slightly lower tone, went, “MMMMMMMMM!” Not wanting to be left out, I murmured a deep, low, “AHHHHHHHH!” The room had reached a state of Samadhi, where our individual selves had dissolved into a greater cosmic consciousness, probably fueled (though not in my case, I swear), by fantasies of having sex with George Clooney.

Then it was over, and our teacher released us into a room where entrepreneurs were selling stretchy pants and massage balls. A few hours later, after I’d gone to The Ferry Building to quite wisely invest $3.50 on a mixed “meat cone” from Boccalone, I returned to the conference to attend a lecture on the future of Tantra in the West. On the way there, I ran into the woman who’d been seated to my left.

“So, that workshop…” I said.

“Yeah, that was kinda weird,” she said, without looking me in the eye. “What’s up?”

And then she walked away, spastically and hurriedly, carrying the secrets of the Tantra in her Bakugan backpack.

Follow Neal Pollack on Twitter

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Act Normal: The cultural confusions of an English monk in Thailand

Act Normal: A Documentary by Olaf de FleurRobert T. Edison was born and raised in Nottingham, England. When he was fourteen years old he began to practice Buddhism. At eighteen he became a monk and went to Thailand where, for a decade, he spent his time in monasteries as Bhikkhu Dhammanando.

He became the first Buddhist monk in Iceland when he moved there in 1994 and founded a Buddhist sect.

In the title sequence from the documentary, Act Normal, directed by Olaf de Fleur, Dhammanando shares an amusing story about mistaking the Thai national anthem for an advertisement.

Act Normal can be purchased from Poppoli Pictures.

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Auntie Suvanna: When love hurts

heart shape drawn in condensation on a bleak looking window

A young man in a troubled relationship seeks advice for Wildmind’s resident advice columnist, Auntie Suvanna. What’s the best path when you’re hooked up to someone who sees you as being the source of all her problems?

Dear Auntie,

I stumbled upon you while searching for Buddhist relationship advice, and I hope you can help me. It is a rather long story, but you did say in the post I read that you need details so here goes…

First, I have not been studying Buddhism for very long now, only a few months, and not very consistently at that. But a lot of it matches my own feelings already.

I have been in a relationship that has been going slowly (or quickly?) down hill for a couple years. The woman I am with (or not with now technically) is the one and only person I have ever had a relationship with, basically at least, but more on that later. We met online when we were both 19, and after only about 8 months she ended up pregnant. She moved two hours to live with me when she was about 6 months pregnant, something she really wanted to do at the time. We had had a few problems before, but I never thought anything of it because I had nothing to base it on so I just took it to be normal though they were probably signs of worse to come.

I have always known she had it rough all her life, and for a slightly less time known she suffered from some depression, though it wasn’t until recently I found out just how bad. I always felt like it was my duty to save her and sacrifice some of my happiness to make her happy. I would do almost anything she asked me too and besides school and work she basically has controlled when and where I can go or what I can do for a long time.

She has deep, deep depression and a long history of abuse by both parents, and she is a bit bipolar. She is also deathly afraid of doctors, and is completely against seeking any kind of treatment for it. I have always hoped I could cure her, but I think all I did was give her something to cling to and base her happiness on. I thought that a lot of her emotional instability was due to being pregnant, or hormone imbalance right after, but it never stopped and only got worse.

I am not an argumentative person, and though there are many things that have always bothered me, I tend to forget about them rather quickly until they happen again. She likes to start arguments all the time about simple things and then escalate them into larger things like me not appreciating her, or her hating her life and how it is my fault. And she has never been able to accept fault for anything. If there is a problem in our relationship it is never a matter of compromise but of it being all my fault.

But in May I did something I am not proud of and started talking to another girl. Well my fiance found out I was talking to her and was obviously upset and I said I would stop talking to the other girl, but I did something I am even less proud of by continuing and eventually near the end of May had sexual relations with her. Ironically my fiance found out the next day and that of course lead me to where I am today. I know I was wrong in what I did and let my desires bring me and others suffering, and it was a firm lesson to me on that matter. For some reason I didn’t feel I was doing anything wrong, and I guess I just wanted to feel like I was loved again, and felt trapped in my then current situation. And I have never been much of a liar except for that period of time.

Well, we made up at first but things have been rocky ever since. And only seem to get worse. She of course doesn’t trust me at all and so now she spies on everything I do online or any calls or texts I send, and she will call me at random times to try to catch me . And she becomes more and more suspicious as time goes on. I guess it is from all the other relationships where similar things have happened. I’m NOT doing anything bad anymore, but in addition to making me feel even more distant, she is even more controlling so I get even less freedom.

She has decided that she can’t be with me anymore and is certain she wants to move back home. I really want to be with my son, but I know that we are two very different people. I am rather passive, she is aggressive. I believe in forgiveness and non violence, she holds grudges for a very long time and feels that violence should be used against those that wrong her. I don’t care what other people think, she cares a lot about what others think and is embarrassed by me sometimes. I don’t care about marriage, she cares a great deal about it. I don’t care about the standards society has imposed for life, she wants most of that. My views on relationships are very different from hers. We have little in common as far as interests go either. I am ore about living in the present, and she focuses on the past and the future. And my Buddhist views are completely different from her religious beliefs. There is a lot more so just take my word for it.

I desperately want her to be happy, and to get rid of her depression and learn to love herself. How should I manage this situation so that I can show her compassion but not lead her to stay with me only to continue the same old cycle as before? Am I wrong to want to seek happiness myself, or should I teach myself not to desire anything more than what I have now? I am so confused…

I am sorry that is very long and you probably didn’t need that much detail, but I have a problem with going into too much detail.

Whatever your reply, thank you,

Hi Anonymous,

Ask Auntie Suvanna is a humorous column (or tries to be anyway!), and Auntie thinks your situation sounds rather more serious than what she would usually publish. Perhaps this time Auntie’s advice will be a tad more sober than usual.

Childhood habits of interpreting and responding are deeply ingrained; the deeper and more unconscious they are, the less able we are to see them and work with them. We can’t see how our habits are creating further suffering for ourselves (and usually others). I wonder if loving is what challenges those patterns the most, which is why relationships are often so horribly painful.

Even if you don’t want to be in the relationship anymore, going to counseling might facilitate some healing between you, and for each of you individually. It may be hard to get this going, especially since you say you are more passive than she is and she is very resistant. If this isn’t possible, you could get some individual counseling and work on the parts of the dynamic that are coming from you. For example, perhaps thinking of yourself as someone who can save other people, get rid of their depression for them, is something you could look into.

We often think in relationships that the problem is the other person. The way Buddhism sees such things is that the primary cause of any experience is what we have made of our own mind, and that no matter what we consider to be the reason we are responsible for what we do. Which isn’t to say that we should stay in situations that are obviously unhealthy, or espouse a philosophy of ‘everything is my fault.’ I guess it’s something other than, on the one hand, blaming everything on externals (which of course we ourselves chose at one point), or blaming everything on ourselves, saying if we just fix our mind (for example by not wanting anything) everything will be fine. Some different way of looking at what is causing suffering is needed, all the while cultivating kindness toward this difficult situation (life) we find ourselves trying to navigate.

I hope this is helpful at least in some small way.

Lots of love,
Auntie Suvanna

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Auntie Suvanna: Breaking up, the Buddhist way

The Break-Up Movie poster

Dear Auntie,

I only recently decided to become a Buddhist, so I’m still trying to work out how best to apply it to some situations in my life. I was especially wondering if there is a good way to break up with someone in a Buddhist manner. I am currently in a relationship that just isn’t working out, but I can’t think of what to say to end it without causing a negative situation. I really don’t want the person to be hurt, or for there to be bad feelings between us. Break ups most often do seem to end that way, but I was hoping that by taking a new approach this time, in keeping with the Buddhist tradition, it could work out better for both of us. Do you have any advice for me? Thank you very much!

Concerned Beginner

Dear Concerned Beginner,

Your question is not an easy one. You might as well have asked, What is the best way to separate someone from what they desire?

Traditional Buddhism has had little to say about relationships. Part of the reason is that Buddhist texts were preserved by celibate monks who spent their days memorizing suttas and doing formal practices such as Recollecting the Loathsomeness of the Body. So you probably wouldn’t want romantic advice from these people (or perhaps Auntie underestimates them?)

At any rate, Buddhist practice generally focuses on the cultivation of impartial love, friendliness and awareness. How can you apply this in your situation? What might it mean to break up with someone “in a Buddhist manner”? Might it mean, for example, leaving in the middle of the night while they’re asleep? That’s what the future Buddha did before his awakening. This really pisses people off. Turns out, this story is apocryphal; the Buddha probably was never even married. Ha Ha!

Considering the celibates and the accounts of the deadbeat Buddha-dad, not to mention the various Buddhist abominations to good taste (at least in titles) such as ‘If the Buddha Dated,’ we don’t have much to go on here. Perhaps Auntie may be excused in turning now to a non-Buddhist source, such as Richard Nixon, for guidance.

Here’s what he said at the White House after he resigned:

Always remember others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.

Not that your former girlfriend or boyfriend will necessarily hate you, but they might. And even though you seem pretty mellow at the moment, you could start hating him/her later. (And all this in response to the person we gazed at with doe’s eyes perhaps only days before — tragic!) And even though of course in many ways he was an unethical person, take the good advice from Tricky Dick and try not to get swept away by aversion. Set an intention for yourself to speak in a way that you can be proud of later – or at least in a way you will not regret.

Beyond this it’s hard to make specific suggestions about how to approach this without knowing the particular personalities. [Dear readers, when you ask for Auntie’s advice PLEASE give her more detail!] Moving into the future, examine your mistakes as much as possible and resolve not to repeat them or, at worst, resolve to bring more awareness to them next time around. Try not to base choices in your life on what is essentially a pheromone fog. This will reduce suffering for all.

Auntie Suvanna

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The joys of Zen Coffee

Zen Coffee, by Gloria ChadwickThere are many paths to Awakening, including the path of Zen Coffee, Gloria Chadwick’s hip new take on Zen mindfulness.

Zen meditation is pure and simple; it’s accomplished by sitting quietly, clearing and stilling your conscious mind by not allowing your thoughts to wander or intrude while letting your mind empty itself. If a conscious thought enters your awareness, you acknowledge it as merely a thought and gently let it go, without attaching any feelings to it, giving it any importance, or thinking about it. You simply allow your mind to be quiet.

The objective is to reach a state of nirvana (the attainment of enlightenment and the freeing of yourself from attachment to worldly things) where you transcend the physical and you’re aware of everything, understanding it completely within your mind as you achieve a state of divine awareness of your inner nature.

A more active form of Zen meditation embraces mindfulness–your thoughts are completely in the present moment, you’re totally aware of where you are, what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, and you’re accepting what you experience without judgment. This keeps you centered and connected with your current emotions and experiences. Mindfulness is first accomplished by simply breathing and being aware that you’re breathing. Your breath brings your awareness into the present moment, centering you completely into right here, right now. The objective is to again reach a level of nirvana (the attainment of a completely enjoyable moment that provides the embracing of an ultimate experience of harmony or joy) which allows you to tune into the calm, peaceful essence of your inner nature.

You can incorporate both forms of mindful meditation into a Zen coffee. How often, while drinking a cup of coffee, have you spaced out, letting your thoughts go completely, emptying your mind and simply enjoying your coffee and a peaceful feeling of just being? You were mindfully meditating, filling your mind completely in the present moment, letting go of all other thoughts except what you were experiencing with your coffee. Perhaps you focused on the warmth of the cup in your hand and tuned into the aroma and steam rising from the coffee. Perhaps the warmth of the coffee soothed your spirit. Perhaps you perceived the steam as an ethereal wisp of your inner nature, letting the aroma of the coffee and the peacefulness of your inner essence completely engulf you.

  Drinking coffee in a Zen moment transports you into a meditative frame of mind…  

Or perhaps you drank it down without a second thought. Even quickly slurping a cup of coffee provides you with an opportunity to transcend your physical nature and the everyday world for a time, if you will take a mindful moment to be aware of and enjoy your coffee. Drinking coffee in a Zen moment transports you into a meditative frame of mind where you are completely in the present moment. Just like the steam rising from your hot coffee, you can rise into the ethereal essence of your inner nature.

Quietly sipping your coffee offers you time for yourself, a nurturing respite from your busy lifestyle. The quiet time you spend for reflection and introspection brings relaxation and refreshment to your mind; it offers you a nice and much-needed breather to get into the calm, peaceful essence of you. You can sit in solitude in a Zen-like state of meditation with your coffee to ease and erase the stresses and strains of your everyday experiences with the warmth, taste, and aroma of your coffee as you nurture the inner essence of you.

The quiet, meditative moments you spend in this manner bring you peace and serenity. It is here, in this quiet time and meditative place of peace and harmony within yourself, that you become in tune with your inner essence, with the true nature of you. This works wonderfully well if you can find a few moments for yourself to sit in silence and just be with yourself. If you can’t, you can still tune into yourself with a cup of coffee in any situation you find yourself in. This is how the Zen of coffee works. You can achieve many peaceful moments of harmony while you’re on the go and racing around, running through life. Coffee gives you a quiet time, a moment or two every now and then, scattered here and there, to de-stress and drink in the mindfulness of Zen; to relax and reflect; to go within your inner essence to replenish yourself and refresh your mind.

Zen Coffee is for people on the go; it offers an active approach to mindfully meditating in every moment of your busy life. It offers you many ways to bring peace and a sense of serenity into all your experiences and activities, to be in harmony with them. As you race through life with your coffee cup in hand, you’ll find many mindful moments to meditate.

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Ask Auntie Suvanna: On eating vegetarian monkey brains

Monkey looking intently at a baby monkey

You ate what?

Dear Auntie,
Can I still consider myself compassionate if I like to eat vegetarian monkey’s brains? A local vegan restaurant serves it, and it is delicious.
Ethical Eater

Dear Ethical,
It’s clear that when it comes to vegetable-based meat substitutes, emotions run high. Many people, both vegetarians and omnivores, feel that it is completely stupid to eat fake meat. Others say, well if you like the taste of meat, but don’t want to cause harm in that way, why not? The practice can be attacked and defended in various ways. In addition, some meat eaters seem to get a bit touchy around vegetarians, as if vegetarianism were invented as a direct attack on their lifestyle, just to make things inconvenient. And then there are the vegangelicals…

Why are we so righteous about food? Why do people care so much about what other people, even complete strangers, eat? Is the biggest issue in your world today whether your vegetarian acquaintance likes Tofurkey sandwiches? And this happening in a country with the most unhealthy people in an industrialized nation. But it just occurred to me that I am supposed to be answering questions, not asking them.

Your vegetarian monkey’s brain is probably made of wheat gluten, also known as seitan, pronounced similar to – but otherwise having nothing in common with – “Satan,” unless Satan is a vegetarian, which seems unlikely. Seitan has been used by northern Asian vegetarian monastics for hundreds of years as a protein-rich alternative to meat. The monk who came up with the famous unanswerable question, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” had perhaps eaten a seitan monkey’s brain that day, which would explain a lot.

Overall, I would say that if you currently consider yourself compassionate, and you are, you may continue to do so while chewing wheat gluten, even if said wheat gluten has a remarkably brain-like texture. The only reservation I might have would depend on whether or not the vegans actually screw the head-shaped wheat ball into the table and saw off the top of it. If so, you may have in fact gone over to the dark side, where there is no compassion.

Auntie Suvanna

Ever despair at how to cultivate lovingkindness for Dick Cheney, or ponder the effect of anti-depressants on Buddha Nature? If so, check out Auntie Suvanna, who applies her unique wisdom and wit to your queries about life, meditation, Dharma, family and relationship issues, or anything else that comes up.

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