Monthly Archives: August 2014

Lovingkindness

1. Heart and head

Mindfulness can seem a heady endeavor. Many of the meditations we do specifically require us to engage our ‘higher brains’ – our executive function or prefrontal cortex (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130604114001.htm)– to be inquisitive and investigate experiences impartially, just like a scientist would. Lovingkindness meditations strengthen the areas of the brain that support compassion, connection and joy.

The more experienced compassion meditators showed a larger brain response in areas important for processing physical sensations and for emotional responding.

A seven-week lovingkindness meditation course also increased the participants’ daily experience of joy, gratitude, and hope. The more participants meditated, the better they felt.

-http://www.mindful.org/the-science/neuroscience/your-brain-on-meditation

2. Compassion breeds contentment

We are social beings hard-wired for connections with other humans. Fostering positive attitudes toward ourselves and others seems to bring us some degree of peace and joy, but it’s not always easy. As we meditate on these ideas, sadness can arise as we become more aware of relationships, whether with ourselves or others, that are fraught. We may find too that what we can not accept in ourselves, it is very hard to accept in others. So we practice accepting and having compassion for ourselves just as we are, imagining ourselves to be the young child we once were, someone easily deserving of compassion and love. Sometimes it is easiest to call up these feelings by imagining a pet or young child, a being with no strings attached. We can expand our feelings of lovingkindness from there.

Like a caring mother holding and guarding the life of her only child, so with a boundless heart of lovingkindness, hold yourself and all beings as your beloved children.

-Buddha

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere else insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were simply necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

-Alexander Solzhenitsyn

3. Week’s practices

  1. Notice a routine activity.
  2. Practice a meditation each day. Aim for 20 minutes. Try the lovingkindness meditation a few times (see link below).
  3. Notice when your attitudinal foundation arises on its own and try cultivating it.

4. Resources

https://soundcloud.com/silvertortoise/sandra-finkel-loving-kindness

Postivity, by Barbara Fredrickson and J Pers Soc Psychol. Nov 2008; 95(5): 1045–1062.

Advertisements

Just noticing

Responding and reacting

As we sit to meditate, we may notice the desire to change things, to react in a certain way. Perhaps we notice a loud whirring noise and want to look out the window to see what’s making such a ruckus. Perhaps we notice a stiff neck and want to move our head to a different and maybe more comfortable position. Perhaps we notice a brilliant idea and want to write it down before we forget it. We practice letting things be. The sound outside is just a sound, we can notice. The crick in our neck is just a sensation, the thought, just a thought.

All phenomena … resemble an illusion, mirage, dream, or reflected image, a celestial city, an echo,
a reflection of the moon in water, a bubble, an optical illusion, or an intangible emanation.
-The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Preliminary Practice

3-minute breathing space (adapted from Libby Robinson)

Step 1. Orient yourself to yourself. Become aware of bodily sensations and thoughts. Just notice them, saying to yourself “OK, that’s how it is right now.”

Step 2. Focus your attention on the breath. Use the anchor of the breath to be really present

Step 3. Expand your awareness. Notice the breath, the body as a whole, and sensations from outside. Exploring a light, spacious awareness.

 

Week’s practices

  1. Notice a routine activity.
  2. Practice a meditation each day. Aim for 20 minutes. Practice mindfulness of noting at least twice.
  3. Notice when your attitudinal foundation arises on its own and try cultivating it.
  4. Try the 3-minute breathing space at set times each day, maybe right when you get to work, or when you first wake up in the morning. Using at these calmer times can help you have this technique available to you in more stressful moments.

Resources

http://franticworld.com/ – the website that accompanies a nice book. Recorded meditations available.

The Train to Chicago

1. The mind-body disconnect: driving on instinct
Have you ever been driving and gotten so lost in your thoughts, you no longer noticed where you were going? Maybe you ended up at your intended destination by instinct; or maybe you ended up at home when you’d meant to stop at the store. Either way, your mind was in one place, your body in another, and you were not fully aware of either.
We often use instinct to our advantage – we don’t have to remind ourselves to breathe, we naturally smile when someone we love crosses our path, we instantly release our hand from a hot stove, we steer our child away when he wanders toward the street. Even so, we can be aware of our instincts and reactions. And with practice, we may find ourselves choosing responses more and more, whether that’s stopping at the store on the way home from work or not saying harsh words to our partner when she/he does something annoying.

From a peaceful center
we can respond instead of react.
Unconscious reactions create problems.
Considered responses bring peace.
With a peaceful heart
whatever happens can be met
with wisdom.

-Jack Kornfield, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace p153

2. Noticing thoughts
Sometimes the mind seems to get on a train to Chicago and we don’t even know it’s taking a trip until it’s half way there. We look up, and… Hello Kalamazoo! We can start to notice the journey the mind is taking earlier and earlier. We don’t have to control the journey, just notice.

During meditation, a simple method in which we use thinking to stay present rather than carrying us away is ‘mental noting’. This is the practice of using a simple “note” to calmly name – as a whisper in the mind – what we are experiencing.
-Gil Fronsdal, http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/mental-noting/

Rumi’s poem “The Guest House” provides a beautiful take on this idea.

3. Week’s practices

  1. Notice a routine activity.
  2. Practice a meditation each day. Aim for 20 minutes. Practice mindfulness of noting at least twice.
  3. Notice when your attitudinal foundation arises on its own and try cultivating it.
  4. Try to notice one moment each day in which you feel especially good. What triggered it? Notice how your body reacts – your lips, your eyes, your heartbeat.

4. Resources
http://franticworld.com/ – the website that accompanies a nice book. Recorded meditations available.