The Lonely City

We talked after the first meditation about  vulnerability and openness in relation to sitting meditation. We also talked about the inevitable human condition of loneliness, which we all feel but which can be transformed, if we allow ourselves to open to those feelings of vulnerability.

I’m reading a beautiful book on along these lines called “The Lonely City”. Read more about it here:

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone


Shifting attitude in meditation

One of the ways we learn to practice meditating with kindness toward ourselves is to allow our thoughts to show up. How is this kind? One reason is that our thoughts can just arise without us having to make a big deal about it: we are safely sitting in meditation and we don’t have to react to the thoughts moving through. What can they do to us? Isn’t it an interesting idea to kindly and gently observe our thoughts without reacting violently to them, shoving them away?

When little children have nightmares, doctors have told them to imagine the scene, remind themselves it’s just a dream, and turn around and face the monster and ask, “what do you want?” This therapy has been highly successful in the treatment of nightmares.

“Value your ability to stay with and tolerate your thoughts and emotions rather than detach from them.” –Jason Siff

Here’s some more of what we discussed: How and why we need meaning in our lives:

Yes to Life, in Spite of Everything: Viktor Frankl’s Lost Lectures on Moving Beyond Optimism and Pessimism to Find the Deepest Source of Meaning

Welcoming thoughts

A little bit challenging for me getting in touch on Sunday: our power was out! But I got on Zoom with the group via cell phone and had enough power to get through the meditations and discussions.

I talked about our difficulties in dealing with obsessive thoughts in particular: it may seem contradictory to home in on obsessive thinking when we’re sitting. Our teachers generally instruct us to go back to the body and the breath to calm down and basically get rid of the constant onslaught of unwelcome thoughts and emotions. But Jason Siff, in the book: “Thoughts are Not the Enemy” suggests a different technique: stay receptive to the thoughts and emotions and don’t necessarily shut them out. If you fear discomfort and even fear acknowledge the fear. “Be kind to the fear. It is all right to have these feelings in meditation.”

Thoughts Are Not the Enemy

Open and kind to our thoughts

Today we discussed a talk Jason Siff gave on accepting our thoughts and emotions, even if we feel aversion to their content. Metta can be a powerful means of connecting ourselves with others and allowing us to begin to generate kindness to ourselves, but often it can also create a sense of defeat when we can’t eradicate uncomfortable thoughts and emotions at will. An alternative strategy would be to accept our cravings and aversions, not immediately seeking an antidote to cover these impulses in a judgemental way. Instead, we can track the thoughts as they arise with the intention of learning more about where and how they have arisen. As we tolerate difficult thoughts and emotions, wisdom and understanding have the opportunity to arise.

Drifting off….again!

We talked about sleeping, losing control, and memory.

First of all: being overwhelmed serves no purpose:

Meditation may help insomnia, but the reason given here is probably incorrect. Let’s discuss:

And finally, here’s the lovely article on memory and how it’s not quite what we think it is. The bottom line is that we know so little about this, but we, the meditators, can explore our inner world!



Recollective Awareness and Meditation Transitions

I think it’s useful to look at the what’s happening in your mind when you sit down to meditate, and luckily, Jason Siff has spent a lot of time doing this as well. If you have his book: “Unlearning Meditation” you might want to read chapter 18: Primary Transitions. We bring our every day thoughts, emotions, and feelings into the meditation as we begin to sit. A few things can happen at that point.  I talked about this in class today.

What is interesting is that you can investigate what happens to you as you transition further into the meditative state. This doesn’t follow a specific plan  or defined path, but if you are receptive and gentle, you may be able to watch as you transition from everyday concerns to a calmer state (or even sleep!). It changes all the time; and that makes it interesting!


Kind To Your Mind

Delicate Mind, Kind Minder

©2020 Jason Siff

On many an occasion, when asked whether I believe bringing one’s attention back to the breath constantly is a useful meditation practice, I have replied that I believe the human mind is very delicate, sensitive, and is easily wounded when force is applied to it, even from within. Harsh intentions in meditation lead to inner conflict, struggle, and often times, result in damage. Meditation practices that use “effort, discipline, force” to achieve focused attention on the breath (or any prescribed object of meditation) start from the premise that the mind is unwieldy, immature, unskillful, lacking in concentration. For many people, the messages are similar to what they received in school, that they have to apply discipline to succeed, they must study hard, keep focused, be productive each moment or else they won’t get the top marks. And then, weeks, months, or years later, their minds forget much of what they learned, having moved on in their studies, repeating the same learning process as before. Our education system has primed us to be brutal with our minds in pursuit of learning, so why wouldn’t we gravitate toward meditation practices that employ basically the same methods?

Maybe that explains why many people initially distrust a meditation practice that allows mind wandering, fantasy, drifting, repetitive thinking, immersion in emotions, and all the other so-called distractions of our school days. Open meditation practice is like looking out the classroom window at the tree leaves blowing in the breeze while the teacher is lecturing. It can be embarrassing at times, like forgetting your textbook, or not having done your homework, and being called on to do a report in front of the whole class. And it may seem like you are not getting to the same place as your classmates who are following the discipline religiously, for they appear to be working hard and you feel like you are goofing off. But, when it comes to meditation, the opposite might be true. You are not being lazy, inattentive, or just following your bliss. Rather, you have stepped into a world of greater complexity, diversity, variation, more so than you probably ever imagined, and you are confronted with the prospect of being aware of multiple layers and dynamic patterns of your inner experience, exploring it thoroughly, and learning how to make skillful choices within your meditation sittings.

This is not something that can be taught in a classroom. It is lifelong learning. And, because it originates with a kind, peaceful intention to engage your inner world as it is, the delicate mind blossoms into authentic realizations instead of being conditioned to have experiences that match preconceived ideas.

Angry Times

A number of you have been dealing with issues of anger, suppressed anger, and anxiety. Here’s a (rather truncated) article on how we deal with anger as Westerners and how other cultures might deal with anger:

Working with Anger

…And more on thinking about where your anger may be coming from:

And finally, some important information about white supremacy and why Black people know a lot more about it than white people.

Reckoning with white supremacy: Five fundamentals for white folks