Working with compassion in our practice

After our first sitting meditation, I read a quote from Pema Chodron about meditation practice: 

Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.

John very clearly saw this as an invitation to look at the practice of compassion. We ended up having a great conversation on how we all defined compassion, and how we work with it. How can we have compassion for people who we believe have reprehensible behaviors or beliefs? Who is deserving of compassion? Do we know how to show ourselves compassion? 

Before we sat for a second silent meditation, I read the following:

You do not have to leave the room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait. Be quiet, still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet. -Franz Kafka-

I also offered a story about grief and the movement of the heart as compassion arises: this is what’s happening in the news right now:

https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/10/us/orca-whale-still-carrying-dead-baby-trnd/index.html

(by the way, the mother has stopped carrying the dead baby and has rejoined the pod)

Open Death Conversation on August 29

I would like to invite you to join me in an online Open Death Conversation on August 29, from 6:30-8:30 pm. This is a similar group conversation to the Death Café, which I’ve spoken to some of you about, but this event will be online and I will use a format that is recommended by the Zen Hospice in San Francisco:

https://www.zenhospice.org/education-training/mce/online-programs-and-workshops

I attended the Zen Hospice Open Death Conversation (ODC) last month, and it was a wonderful experience. The organizers gave me a set of guidelines for facilitating a ODC. Remember, I will be a facilitator, not a teacher. That’s why I’m not charging for this (although a donation to Zen Hospice or a local non-profit organization that focuses on end-of-life issues is recommended).

Here’s the overview from the guidelines:

Overview

At Zen Hospice Project, we dare to look at death directly and consider what we want for ourselves and how we might prepare for not getting what we want when our time comes.

Our online Open Death Conversation is a forum for discussing the many aspects of death and dying. We are not attached to any outcome. We do not direct the conversation. Everyone is invited; we only ask that participants show up with an open heart and open mind and allow themselves to go where they need to go. Through conversation, we bring death out into the open.

We have no agenda other than to generate meaningful, energetic conversation free from judgment. Drawing inspiration from the thousands of heartfelt conversations that Zen Hospice Project has had over the years of caring for dying persons and their families, we invite you to join us.

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The event which was hosted by Zen Hospice last month was 3 hours long, and the time passed very quickly. However, I can’t really do more than a 2 hour conversation, so I think the best way to give us all time to talk is to limit the number of participants to 10 people. Please send me an email and that will be your registration. First come, first serve. You should also know that there is no religious affiliation attached to this, and no expectation of knowing meditation, Buddhist or otherwise.

This is filling up really quickly, so if you’re interested, please contact me!

Dealing with difficult emotions

Sunday’s sitting was about dealing with our emotional and difficult issues. The main thing I want to emphasize about this is that everyone is going to have difficulties, and everyone is going to feel they are coming up short somehow in dealing with their issues. We have to try to forgive ourselves and allow difficulties to arise, and I hope we can work really diligently on being kinder to ourselves. It’s best if I give you the link for the worksheet from the MBSR online class: “Turning toward difficult emotions”:

https://palousemindfulness.com/docs/turning-toward-emotional.pdf

I also urge you to watch this TED talk; I found it very inspiring (and I’m not a pushover for these things!):

 

 

 

Judging Mind

We talked today about how much we judge ourselves and others: how our practice is going, for example, and how much we compare ourselves to others or even to how we meditated in the past. All of this takes us out of the present moment and leads to all sorts of guilt and angst. However, even if we can’t STOP ourselves from judging, how about if we stopped judging the judging?

Take a look at this article:

https://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/transcribed-talks/judgmental-mind/

I also offered the group an exercise based on the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction practice called STOP, which encourages you to take a one-minute breathing space.

  1. ‘Stop’: Take Stock of what is happening right now by checking in to the heart, mind, and body.
  2. ‘Take a Breath’: Turn your attention to the breath it wherever it is most noticeable in your body. It could be in the belly, or the chest, or the nose… Become aware of the breath as it comes in, and as it leaves the body. Allow your breath to stabilize and anchor you in the present moment. .
  3. ‘Observe and Open’:Pay attention to your present moment experience. Expand your field of awareness to include a sense of the body and the world around you: sights, sounds, smells, etc.
  4. ‘Proceed with new Possibilities’: Go on your normal activity with the newly acquired knowledge from your moment of mindfulness. Now you can re-adjust what might have gotten out of balance, both internally and externally. Generate an attitude of curiosity and openness.

Mini Death Cafe

I told the group about my experience yesterday with the Zen Hospice “End of Life Conversation.” I was very impressed with the experience. There were 9 people using the Zoom platform, including a wonderful facilitator.  The people weren’t all Buddhist practitioners, but had a very varied background and from a wide range of ages. I was impressed at what a thoughtful experience it was. The group (and our group today) talked a lot about how alienating grief and caregiving was for them, and how hard we are on ourselves in our expectations of how we deal with the issues surrounding death and illness.

I am going to get written instructions from Zen Hospice on how to facilitate this End of Life conversation. Several people in our group are already interested in participating. We just have to figure out when and if we can handle a 3 hour long workshop (with breaks!).

Meanwhile, here’s a link to the workshops that Zen Hospice hosts:

https://www.zenhospice.org/education-training/mce/online-programs-and-workshops

Also, I mentioned this article about the “Rainbow Bridge” from the New Yorker. I think it’s funny, but not everyone necessarily will:

https://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/the-rainbow-bridge-for-your-cat

 

Going Against the Stream!

Today (Sunday, 15 July) we talked a bit about the Foundations of Mindfulness and why we are interested in moment-by-moment awareness. I used the following article from Tricycle by Stephen Bachelor, who talked about why the Buddha stressed mindfulness of the breath, the body, feelings, mind, and objects of mind. It wasn’t just to become calm, but to understand and accept ourselves just as we are:

Foundations of Mindfulness

We then talked a bit about art: I got off on a bit of a tangent with a short discussion on Neandertal art. This started with me talking about how deep our conditioning likely goes: back into our evolutionary past. I always have thought that Neandertals have received bad press when they were quite sophisticated. And I just read a Scientific American article showing they were abstract thinkers as indicated by cave paintings:

Ancient Cave Paintings Clinch the Case for Neandertal Symbolism

Abstract images in Spanish caves date back 65,000 years—millennia before Homo sapiens set foot in Europe—settling a long-running debate over Neandertal cognition

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ancient-cave-paintings-clinch-the-case-for-neandertal-symbolism1/

Finally, I recommended that we try out new ways of “being in the moment”: perhaps by sketching and painting even if that’s not something we may think we’re any good at. It’s yet another way to be “in the moment.” This is the book I recommended to people, but Danny Gregory has written a number of them, and they’re delightful:

The Creative License

 

 

Concentration vs Mindfulness and everything in between

Today in class we talked about the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between concentration (or one-pointedness) and mindfulness (or open awareness). It’s interesting to move back and forth between the two, and see the relationship or overlap between the two.  I referred to a great book called “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana. The complete book is online, but here’s the section on Concentration and Mindfulness. I highly recommend you check it out!

http://www.vipassana.com/meditation/mindfulness_in_plain_english_16.php

Doubt and the Existential Crisis

Today in the Sunday sitting group, I finished up the Five Hindrances with a discussion on the fifth hindrance: Doubt. I wanted to make the point of differentiating between the freedom to question the teachers or the teachings (which I believe can be a positive experience or process) and the doubt that leads to dilettante behavior and indecision. Gil Fronsdal, a Theravada teacher, differentiates between “questioning doubt” and “hindering doubt”:

“Doubt as a hindrance is a mental preoccupation involving indecision, uncertainty, and lack of confidence. It causes a person to hesitate, vacillate, and not settle into meditation practice.”

You can read more about his take on doubt as a hindrance here: https://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/the-five-hindrances-handouts/doubting-doubt-practicing-with-the-final-hindrance/

Our country appears to be mired in a deteriorating social and spiritual crisis. I cited today’s opinion piece in the New York Times which blamed the 25% increase in suicide to an existentialist crisis. Anxiety, depression and a lack of some spiritual or communal anchor may also lead to an existential crisis. I was moved to talk about doubt and feelings of unworthiness which might cause people to stop meditating. Insight meditation has the potential to lead us toward a more stable awareness from which we can face the struggles and impermanence of our lives with more ease and enable us to feel more connected to our fellow humans, rather than separate and alienated.

Here is the link to materials I used on the Five Hindrances: http://insightmeditationcenter.org/articles/FiveHindrances.pdf (from the Insight Meditation Center, Santa Rosa, CA)

Opinion: Suicides have increased: is this an Existential Crisis?

(please note: the piece is very opinionated, and I sort of liked the comments from readers better!)

And this is really quite good:

What is an Existential Crisis?

NEW! Online class available starting April 22

Impermanence: A Buddhist Perspective on Coping with Change
An Online Course with Wendy Eisner
April 22-May 26, 2018

live sessions: Thursdays from 7-8:30pm

Course Registration: $60 for 6 weeks

We all know that everything changes, but do we really understand impermanence? The Buddha considered the concept of impermanence to be a core teaching, and encouraged his followers to meditate upon it, discuss it and contemplate it. I am offering a 6-week course on this topic to do just that. The course will be accessible to everyone: Buddhists, non-Buddhists, beginners as well as experienced meditators. The views and topics that will be introduced in this course can be as simple or complex as you, the student, want to make them, but the material will be presented in a way that will be understandable and stimulating. Most importantly, I will present talks, discussions, and recommend practices that can potentially enrich your life in a practical way. This is an important point, because the Buddhist practice of Insight meditation is designed to be completely relevant to your life–right here and right now.

Take the course at your own pace. The only scheduled event will be the weekly video dharma session. This will be recorded live, so even if you miss it, you can access it from the website and watch it any time. Registration gives you exclusive access to course materials available at wendyeisner.com.

Please note: in keeping with Tri-State Dharma’s policy, no one will be turned away for lack of ability to pay. Contact Wendy if you are in need of a scholarship. Donations help to make scholarships possible.

The course includes:

  1. Access to the course materials (password protected). You can download the syllabus, worksheets, dharma talks, meditations, and readings 24/7.
  2. Live Weekly Dharma talk: This will be a real online class with Q&A, discussion and guided meditations (1.5 hours). They will be recorded and accessible any time for all enrolled students. Zoom technology has proven easy to use for everyone, and you can sign in via phone, tablet, or computer.
  3. One-on-one, online or phone conversation with Wendy (if desired).
  4. Weekly worksheets with study guide and links to readings and meditations.
  5.  Invitation to join my ongoing online sitting group.
  6. Guided online meditations and meditation instructions (video and text).
  7. Weekly contemplation (text).

March retreat and talks

There are only a few spots available in the Tri-State Dharma retreat that Helen Vantine and I will be teaching starting March 23.  We will give priority to those registering for the weeklong retreat until February 23.   On February 23, we will release any remaining spots to weekend retreatants who are on our waiting list.    Please register through our website now: www.TriStateDharma.org/residential/

On another note, I have been asked to give talks to various groups (libraries, non-profits, and community organizations) in the past months, covering topics from current environmental issues to meditation techniques and everything in between. I have considerable experience as a public speaker. I would like to spread the word that I would be open to giving talks on topics within my area of expertise.  Here’s a list of some talks I have given or will be offering in the near future:

  1. Introduction to mindfulness meditation
  2. American Buddhism and Environmental Sustainability as a Continuing Act of Compassion
  3. The Practice of Lovingkindness and Compassion
  4. Practical Meditation: Innovative ways to deal with whatever the world is throwing at you!

Of course, I’m also always happy to give talks on climate change and my research and work with the Inupiat Eskimos. I am an emeritus professor and my research is all peer-reviewed and current.