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Quote: Noticing Your Life May 24, 2013

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“What you begin to see is that the place where you thought your life occurred–the cave of ruminaton and memory, the cauldron of anxiety and fear–isn’t where your life takes place at all. Those mental recesses are where pain occurs, but life occurs elsewhere, in a place we are usually too preoccupied to notice, too distracted to see:

Right in front of your eyes.

Lift your arms up to eye level, wiggle your fingers and see for yourself. That’s where your life is, that’s where your life always has been, in front of you.”

– Karen Maezen Miller, Hand Wash Cold

Leaving Facebook to be More Loving February 22, 2013

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After years of dedicated use, I recently got rid of my facebook account because I noticed that it was negatively affecting my relationships. Being off of facebook means I am more able to pay attention and offer my true presence to someone. And offering my attention is a form of love.

A few months ago, in the midst of a big transition of a new job and new place, I got off of facebook. For good. It was a decision I had been considering for some time, because I could see many advantages and disadvantages of my account.

Facebook was great to have for keeping in touch with friends and relatives, especially while I was living so far from home. In fact, I told myself that the only reason I kept it was to message my relatives who lived so far away, and who I only saw once per few years at best.

The disadvantages were numerous as well, and I’ll only talk about a few of them. A big disadvantage was that it was a huge source of distraction. At any time while logged in, I was likely to go off on what I call an “online tangent,” or clicking on one link after another for large amounts of time, despite alternative intentions.

Another disadvantage was that while I did have access to people’s accounts, my attention was dispersed when I tried to interact with multiple people at once.

And a final disadvantage was I ended up focusing on quantity over quality of friends. I had so many “friends” on my account, but most of them were not my true friends because I didn’t really care about them all that much.

I got off facebook in order to exchange one form of communication for another. Facebook is not the only way to communicate with the people I love—just as my prairie grandmothers! (Another form of communication I prefer is phoning, when I can actually interact with a live person in a give-and-take conversation and hear their voice.)

I wanted a more real form of communication: to be in the real presence of a person, to see a living, breathing human being in front of me. Real communication is more loving because I am able to pay attention to the person. In fact, when you get right down to it, attention is love: (to quote Karen Maezen Miller) what we pay attention to grows and thrives, while what we neglect withers and dies.

Thay teaches that the most loving thing we can do for another person is to be able to say, “I am here with you,” (no, you don’t actually have to say it out loud!). We have to be completely with someone in the present moment, body mind and heart.

Attention is related to meditation because meditation is the practice of cultivating the ability to pay attention. The less time I spend on facebook, the less distracted I ams, the stronger my ability to attend, and therefore the move loving I become.

So I decided to trade up numerous micro-instances of internet attention for rare periods of intense attention in the real presence of someone.

I think by being off facebook altogether, I am not only encouraging love to grow in others, but I am able to receive love more from my friends and family. If being with me in person is the only or best way someone is able to get in touch with me, then they are going to make sure to pay attention to me while they have the chance. Also, my facebook absence means that I can attract my true friends, thus gaining “quality over quantity.” My true friends want to be with me and will be willing to take the time to meet with me in person.

It was a difficult decision to make, but getting off facebook was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I have no regrets! I find that I can be a more loving person when I am able to devote all of my attention to someone when I am really with them. Being able to give my full attention in the present moment is, I believe, one of the most loving things I can do.

Only One Dish At A Time February 8, 2013

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I have found a few instances where being mindful of the present moment can bring a great deal of relief from the stress of a mind overwhelmed by a huge task to accomplish. The title refers to being mindful of only being able to wash one dish at a time in order to complete the task of washing a whole sinkful of dishes.

Note: This is my 2nd post on the theme of washing dishes. Originally I had intended to include this piece in last week’s post Insights from Washing Dishes, but the post was getting a bit lengthy and I decided to use it as a 2nd post this week.

I often go through spells of doing a big batch of cooking at once to last for a few days, and this baking and cooking from scratch can create quite a pile up of dirty pots and pans. It probably doesn’t help that I am tired from a stint of cooking, but I often feel overwhelmed at the thought of making my way through a sink full of dishes to be washed. It can often require me to muster up a great deal of encouragement to convince myself to actually complete the task, instead of just procrastinating and leaving it for “later.”

This thinking about washing a sinkful of dishes is exactly the problem. I can’t wash a sink full of dishes. When I am really mindful, I know that I only have one hand to hold the dish cloth and one hand to hold a single dish at any given moment. In reality, my body can only wash one dish at a time.

Nevertheless, my mind tries to wash an entire sinkful. It takes in all of the information of the entire job to be done start to finish, projecting far into the future. In a way, the mind is “biting off more than it can chew”. And so the result is feelings of dread and overwhelm.

Mindfulness of the present moment can bring quite a relief to the burden of an overwhelmed and stressed mind when I can see that I only wash one dish at a time. And then one more dish. And one more. And one more…And so on  until finally they are all done! All that I have to do is to take care of this moment.  And this moment. And this moment. Wow, its so much easier! Suddenly I feel light, and a sense of ease; washing dishes really is more enjoyable.

I soon had an opportunity to apply this insight to another aspect of my personal circumstances. I dislike marking student term papers. Personally, I think its an impossible task, but I only think so now after trying very hard to do the impossible and undergoing a great deal of stress. In the midst of all of this, I was able to see that it was much more stressful to try to read through and mark the entire stack of papers from a whole class.

Instead, I could simply take one paper at a time, do the necessary work, and reassure myself that I can reevaluate at the end whether more time was available for further additions. Although the more methodical strategy requires me to trust in my capability to do the job efficiently and satisfactorily.

Nevertheless, I was successful in applying this insight to marking papers when I could concentrate only on the task at hand. I gave my full attention to a single paper at a time, and when I was done I set it down and let it be released from my mind. While I wouldn’t say marking was suddenly enjoyable, it was a great deal easier without constantly fighting with and pushing myself to work faster, or worrying about how long it was going to take to be done.

The insight of only one moment at a time can be applied to so many activities in my everyday circumstances in order to feel a sense of freshness, lightness, and ease. When I’m walking, it’s just this step, just one foot in front of the other. Just one piece of clothing to fold. Just this e-mail to write. To me, this approach embodies Zen when I give my full attention to whatever I am doing at any given moment.

I hope that I can find more and more activities to apply the perspective of only one moment at a time. It does take some mental effort, I will admit, to let go of the other preoccupations that visit my mind, and focus on the task at hand. In my opinion, this mental effort is an investment: it may take an input of some energy at first, but once it becomes more habitual, it pays off in the end when I use less energy and therefore have more energy and attention to give to the other activities and people I love. Thay has described it as an art to know how to live freely in the present moment by casting aside our worries. It is an art to know how to be skilful in where to focus my attention.

Nourishment and Healing: Being in Wilderness January 11, 2013

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For as long as I can remember, being able to spend time immersed in wilderness and natural settings has provided me with an abundant source of wholesome states of joy and restoration. I would like to describe how I have incorporated wilderness into my personal situation, what this process looks like for me, and what effects I regularly notice. While I possess a need to be in wilderness that could be viewed as a weakness or a limitation, I have had to look at this tendency as a definite strength at the same time.

Thay puts emphasis on being able to come home to ourselves—body, mind, and heart—in the present moment in order to restore ourselves and to not be swept away by circumstances in which we find ourselves. I have always really treasured this emphasis and I will readily support the benefits of the practice of stopping, calming, resting, and healing.

When I consider the many different strategies or tools I use to take good care of myself—mind, heart, body and spirit—wilderness is certainly a prominent one. I have repeatedly and consistently found that our Eearth and wilderness has profound effects to restore myself in times of feeling severely depleted of well-being, health and energy and from burdens of anxiety, stress and fear. I could even call it my own form of “wilderness therapy.”

How does this process of restoration in wilderness occur? It has happened regularly enough for me these past few years that I am at the point where I have consciously built it into my personal situation. First, I am able to recognize feelings of separation from our Earth, alienation, loneliness in myself, the effects of anxiety and tension, and exaggerated self-focus of a modern urban lifestyle. Even if these states don’t happen to be present, I will go into wilderness anyway to receive a good “boost” to last for some time.

I make arrangements to spend any length of time, from at least 20 minutes, to a few hours, to most of a day. I avoid any distractions (talking on cell phone, listening to music) in order to give my full attention to my surroundings in each moment. I take my time while I explore and move around (walk, cycle, canoe paddle, ski, snowshoe) at a slow pace, enjoying opportunities to stop, sometimes to sit or lie down, and take in everything: to look around, listen to sounds or just the silence, enjoy the smells, feel the air and wind or my body against the ground. When I go into wilderness, it is a full sensory experience and I am fully immersed in our living world.

The effects after such an immersion are immediately noticeable and I consistently find that I am more relaxed and energized, optimistic, carefree, open-minded, and content. Of course, the “r” words usually come to mind most easily to best describe what happens: I feel refreshed, renewed, rejuvenated, revitalized, and restored.

I used the word healing in the title deliberately; I do experience being healed when I am in wilderness. I don’t mean a cure for some disease, but healed in the meaning of the word “to make whole.” I am made whole again when I come back to and integrate a vital aspect of myself and my experience of reality or what is most real.

When I first moved to the city and experienced the split in myself as a result of being cut off from wilderness, I thought that I possessed some sort of weakness, or some defect in my makeup that put me at a disadvantage over other city-dwellers. And I believe this to be true; I am limited in a sense. I can’t live completely indoors without being able to get around outside daily (and sitting inside of a vehicle does not count!). I can’t go for any length of time, such as a few days, without returning to spend time in—at the very least—some sort of green space (a park, a forest, a riverbank, a field). I have to accomodate my regular short- and long-term routine around taking trips into wilderness. I can’t handle long, extended trips in an urban setting, such as downtown Montreal for example, or where I am stuck inside. And finally, I can’t live in the city long term. Also, I find that my need for wilderness and having the living world as my ground of reality leaves me not completely satisfied by the Buddhist teachings and material across which I’ve come so far.

Nevertheless, as a source of self-assurance and a coping strategy to deal with living in the city, I have had to acknowledge that my need for wilderness can also be a strength. First, my source of healing and nourishment is, thanks to my current circumstances, free to acquire and simple to fulfill. It doesn’t cost anything to go for a walk in the forest, or a bike ride along the river. I am empowered when I don’t have to give my power over to a corporation to be nourished, in contrast to purchasing material objects or services, such as an iPhone or paying for a massage.

Second, I think that my way of finding nourishment actually reflects a lifestyle that is more human in that it better represents how we can live happily and healthily according to our basic needs. I think humans have a need to be around other living beings—both plants and animals— and immersed in the natural elements, cycles, and rhythms of our Earth. This is how our species has existed for all but the tiniest fraction of our evolutionary time on the planet, and it is to what we are adapted.

Finally, I think that it is a strength because the wilderness is where I find the dharma, the Buddha’s teachings reflecting the true nature of reality. I find the law of impermanence in the shifting and moving clouds across the sky, the decay of an old tree trunk, the steady erosion of a riverbank, and in a cracked and mossy boulder. I discover the law of interdependence in a handful of living soil full of decayed plants and microorganisms, admidst the frenzied activity of a still forest, and in the soil to which a flower is rooted for its entire life. I see clearly the teachings of nonduality when I cannot draw a straight line between the wetness of the lake and the firm dry land of the shore, between the crisp warm air of late summer and the changing leaves of autumn or between the low prairie and the tall encroaching forest.

My need to be in wilderness has offered a profound and powerful way to be nourished and restored as a result of living an urban lifestyle. This trait has brought its difficulties in having to make accommodations for it by spending extended periods of time outdoors, but it is who I am and I have learned to embrace its benefits.

Meditation and Voluntary Simplicity December 7, 2012

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I would like to write a post about meditation and voluntary simplicity, which are two activities in which I am dedicated that are quite important to me. This post is prompted by an upcoming book club meeting I will be attending in a few days to discuss Less is More by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbansky. I also wanted to write about these two topics together, because I recall that I became interested in both of them at the same time, and its easy to see how interest in one may have prompted interest in the other, and vice versa.

First I will start with a statement that I think should be included in any discussion of voluntary simplicity: I occupy a position of privilege and power that allows me the luxury to be able to choose voluntary simplicity that many people can’t afford to make. I have to acknowledge that my existence as a White, university-educated, middle-class, able-bodied, English-speaking, young, healthy woman makes it much easier for me to choose a different lifestyle than it would be for others. In other words, people can’t afford to choose voluntary simplicity when they are denied their basic rights and struggling to make ends meet.

So what is voluntary simplicity? Simply put, it is choosing to simplify my lifestyle, or to live a more “simple life,” by scaling back on the unnecessary details that occupy my life situation and end up only making me miserable. Much of the philosophy has to do with scaling back on material possessions and external goals, to live a more balanced life valuing intrinsically satisfying goals and inner experience.

However, to tie the philosophy specifically to the practice of meditation, I’ll focus on one important aspect of voluntary simplicity: slowing down. Voluntary simplicity involves slowing down the hectic pace of my life situation to take the time to enjoy the pleasures of being alive, while I am still living on our Earth.

In this way, voluntary simplicity is closely linked to a similar movement, the Slow Food movement. The philosophy behind the Slow Food movement is that when taking the time to grow, buy, prepare, and/or eat our food at a slower pace results in food that will be much healthier for our bodies and more satisfying.

Besides slowing down food habits, voluntary simplicity supports slowing down different areas of the modern lifestyle as a protest to the hectic, fast-paced modern world of electronic gadgets and work productivity. If I am always rushing from one task to the next—from sleeping to dressing to transportation to work to eating to exercising to recreation to socializing—I’m not really enjoying any of my experience because I’m so caught up in “nexting,” in getting to the next thing.

Meditation practice can be a way to slow down and simplify my life situation. I think it could be said that there are some forms of relaxation meditation that might be away to maintain a fast-paced habit, when meditation would be used to relieve the symptoms of experiencing stress in a fast-paced world. Relaxation meditation could be a way to recover the body and mind for a short time, in order to get up and do it all over again.

I don’t see mindfulness meditation as meant for the purpose of relaxation, although relaxation is an essential ingredient for the practice if I want to do it skilfully. Instead of using meditation to relieve or cover up the symptoms, mindfulness meditation has the goal of curing the disease. The goal is to cut the root of what makes me stressed in the first place. And efforts toward that goal aren’t always necessarily experienced as relaxing.

Meditation is slowing down because I am deliberately setting aside the time for formal sitting practice. That is time that I could be using being busy and productive and getting other stuff done! In this sense, meditation at first seemed almost anti-productive. Nevertheless, when I actually started to practice meditation regularly, I realized that it can make me more productive when I am more aware of how I am doing tasks in a more skilful, efficient way. Meditation also fulfills the mind’s need for rest and space, a concept that seems completely foreign in this day and age. Meditation practice can be refreshing and revitalizing when it gives the mind a break from the relentless, habitual thought patterns that leave me worn out. I can get up off the cushion feeling much more prepared to face the day.

Mindfulness meditation is a form of slowing down because in order to do a task mindfully, I have to do it slowly. I have to give my full and complete attention to whatever occupies my activity in the present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches about having a Day of Mindfulness, where we take twice as much time to do anything (cooking, eating, cleaning, tidying, organizing, bathing, washing dishes, drinking tea, gardening, walking). It is at this slow pace that these simple tasks I overlook on my busy days actually become quite enjoyable in and of themselves.

Mindfulness is also slowing down because I am doing one thing at a time if I do it mindfully. Mindfulness supports the practice of uni-tasking! I have to do one thing at a time if I want to actually be aware of what I am doing. In this sense, mindfulness can contradict a multi-tasking culture that expects humans to run like computers: constantly, at high speeds, processing multiple amounts of information at once. When I am multi-tasking, like cooking and talking on the phone at the same time, I end up being less productive or efficient. If I pay close attention to the quality of what I am doing, I see that I end up doing two (or more) tasks at once to a poorer quality, because I make mistakes and I don’t remember what I did afterward.

Spending time in meditation communities reveals to me that the people who attend these groups often have adopted similar attitudes and philosophies of slowing down and having a more simple life. It is quite refreshing to spend time with these people as a break from the dominant culture. Finally, I will add that one of the main reasons I chose not to pursue a PhD, despite many people’s insistence that I should take that route, was that the end goal of having a doctorate degree was completely opposite to voluntary simplicity. The academic lifestyle is not at all what I would describe as balanced or slow, and it didn’t appeal to me in the least.

I chose to focus specifically on the practice of meditation as related to voluntary simplicity, but my meditation practice is part of a larger spiritual practice that incorporates many more of the values of voluntary simplicity. I am quite excited for this upcoming book club meeting, and I know that I have enjoyed similar events in the past.

Speaking of books, here are some of the many titles I have read over the past few years on or related to the topic:

In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honore

No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process (should be no impact family in my opinion) by Colin Beavan

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende (androcentric writing warning)

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of A Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich

Drowning Out My Inner Voice October 1, 2012

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Drowning Out My Inner Voice; or Music versus Noise

The path of practice can bring about some wonderful and very fascinating transformations. One transformation I would like to share is my use of music.

Before starting practice, I listened to music quite regularly. I would have music playing in the background while doing other things, such as housework, cleaning, laundry, surfing the internet, etc. (except reading, because lyrics disrupt my processing of written words). I had an mp3 player that had to be playing anytime I was walking anywhere that took more than 5 or 10 minutes. Music was my entertainment. I used music as motivation to be happier, as consolation when I felt down, and an energizer at the gym.

Lately I have been finding that music is often just noise. I still love to listen and/or sing along to my favourite songs, and enjoy the energizing feeling from time to time of upbeat music. But I’ve noticed that when I listen to music, that’s often all that I will be doing. I don’t need to have music in the background all of the time while I am doing other tasks. I don’t need to have music in my ears when I am walking somewhere—especially when it drowns out the sounds of birds singing, the other kind of music!

And I have especially noticed that my toleration of music has dropped. Whereas a few years ago I could listen to song after song, for hours on end, now I shut it off after a handful of songs with the thought, “ugh, it just sounds like more noise.”

Why the change? Is it just pressure from the Buddhist/ meditation community to enjoy and appreciate silence? Or Thay’s insistence that every moment of our waking lives is an opportunity to practice and enjoy our breathing?

No, I think its something else. Specifically, I think I have made friends with the voice in the back of my mind.

Before meditation practice, I think music was a way to drown out that inner voice that we all hear in the back of our minds constantly narrating our lives, giving the play-by-play commentary. I certainly heard it, loud and clear. And that voice so often was judgemental, critical, impatient, and filled with time urgency.

So music was a way to turn that switch off. I had a lot of other off-switches as well, including alcohol (a very effective off-switch), the internet, and reading. In other words, music was more than just entertainment, music was a distraction from my mental life, my inner life. Music was a way of ignoring what was happening in my mind.

Music still is a distraction for me. I still have plenty of distractions, some of them I am aware of, some of them I am still discovering.

But I think there has still been a big shift towards how I handle that inner voice. The voice of my mind is still critical, still judgemental, and still gets impatient. But not quite as much, I think. And I’ve also been able to tolerate it more, I’m able to handle the criticism and impatience. Because I just see it as part of a mind that is being used to do a lot of things all at once to fulfill a large number of desires.

And I enjoy silence so much more now. Silence allows me to relax, it allows my awareness to sink in to my surroundings. Silence can be a breath of fresh air, a huge relief. Silence seems to be more normal to me, more of the default than it ever has been before.

I have also made a big switch in the type of music I listen to. I still have CD’s leftover from my high school years filled with angry hard rock. I still have many songs of women pining over their only one true love, their only life (gimme a break!). Except for the rare trip down memory lane, I listen to songs that make me feel good, songs that lift me up, energize me, and make me see the world in a positive way. Feel free to check out some of these songs on my page, Happy Listening. I find that the lyrics to these songs come to me even when I’m not listening to them, and when those phrases and lyrics are in the back of my mind it starts to make me see the world a whole lot differently.

How I Came to the Practice: Part 3 – Asian Exoticism and Zen for Dummies June 21, 2012

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(This is part 3 in a series on the full story of how I came to Buddhist meditation practice. Read part 1 and part 2 here.)

My exposure to Buddhist meditation first came through Asian culture in the media. As a teenager, I had somewhat of an exoticism for Asian culture. I was fascinated with a culture from a different part of the world that was so different and so far away from where I was living and the culture I grew up in.

I can remember enjoying Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon which played on TV often. After seeing that movie I sought out similar movies with many of the same cast, including House of Flying Daggers.

I got the book Memoirs of a Geisha for an Xmas gift one year. I also played many video games during high school, believe it or not, and some of them had Asian settings or characters.

I also read my mom’s women’s style magazines and saw that Asian styles of interior decorating were in fashion at that time, particularly the “zen” simplicity look. I think the “zen” style appealed to me growing up in a very small and cluttered home.

I was also an avid reader of historical fiction throughout high school, and loved books set in different historical periods and locations. One day I came across the ridiculously long book Shogun about a Portugese trader who shipwrecked and is taken prisoner in 15th century Japan. I really enjoyed the book and learning about the setting and the culture portrayed. The book also included brief sections where the main character was introduced to Zen meditation and Buddhist religious beliefs, as well as other Zen practices like the tea ceremony.

Later I watched The Last Samurai and noticed similarities between the movie and the book Shogun. The movie also portrayed the main chracter being taught Zen meditation.

My interested was piqued. I wanted to learn more about this meditation technique. At the time, I was living on a farm near a small town in rural Saskatchewan and didn’t know a single soul who had ever tried meditation. I didn’t know a single Buddhist. There were no meditation teachers, groups or Buddhist temples. I turned to my familiar source of information: books.

I ordered a book called Zen for Dummies to be shipped to the tiny local library from a nearby city. I really enjoyed the book and learning about meditation, and still remember the metaphor of the finger pointing at the moon. I actually kept a list from the book of the top 10 things to remember about the Zen of romantic relationships.

One thing the book couldn’t do was connect me to any local resources, because none existed. I was left on my own. I tried practicing meditation at home according to the book’s instructions but wasn’t able to get the hang of it. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t feel like it worked, it didn’t do anything. I wasn’t able to concentrate on my breath, and my mind was constantly wandering. (Little did I know at the time this is exactly what was supposed to happen during my first attempts at meditation practice.)

But I hadn’t completely given up on meditation. Somehow the underlying idea behind it seemed to intuitively make sense to me. I felt like there was wisdom there to offer me. I just had to find a way to access it, to learn it.

I moved away from home and sporadically would try practicing meditation on my own for short periods, sitting on a half-folded pillow on the floor of my room. I had yet to meet another single person who practiced meditation or was a Buddhist.

My connection would be through a university elective course.

Living Simply…Simply Living? April 28, 2012

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The other night I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a local discussion group/ meet-up called a conversation cafe organized by the university and held at a downtown coffee shop/ art gallery. The theme of the talk was “Can we live more simply?”, and as soon as I saw the title I knew this was something I would find worthwhile. I would certainly say it was one of the best events I’ve ever attended!

The main premise of the talk was for people to get together and talk about living more simply, whatever that means to them, how we might be able to do that, as well as why we should be doing it. For some people, living more simply meant giving up activities or objects (vehicles, technology, TV shows, always having the newest things), for others it meant doing other activities they never did before (getting to know their neighbours, making things yourself, visiting local tourist attractions).

I noticed during the talk that some of what was said by other people actually touched on very Buddhist concepts, or concepts that coincided with meditation. For instance:

– one woman described how much she enjoyed travelling in her youth, where she didn’t carry a cell phone or laptop with her. She described how enjoyable it was just to be by herself, with herself,  and not have any major distractions taking her attention away. To me this is similar to meditation and Buddhism because there is an emphasis on solitude and taking the time to pay attention to yourself without distractions.

– someone talked about how they saw that other people seem to be consuming or acquiring objects in order to fill a hole inside of themselves using external objects, instead of trying to find satisfaction internally. They also described how consuming can be a way to avoid having to face questions that can actually be quite scary, such as what is the purpose of my life, or why am I here? I think that meditation is a technique used to look deeply into the reasons why we are consuming and what satisfaction we get out of it, in order to determine whether those reasons are skillful or unskillful.  And certainly, spiritual practice is a way to address the bigger questions of one’s purpose in life, and meditation helps to do that. I think that a daily meditation practice gets me in touch with those deeper questions a little bit each day, maybe not even directly but indirectly (which might perhaps be better in some ways?).

– the fact that everyone was talking about the objects or activities that they were giving up in order to live more simply addressed the Buddhist principle that dissatisfaction/ suffering is caused by attachment, so letting go of objects and activities is a way to let go of our attachments and relieve our dissatisfaction.

I think another aspect that I really enjoyed about this talk was I got a sense of community, or of a group of people who were similar to me and shared similar values and lifestyles, that were getting together for the same purpose and goal. I really got a lot out of that, and this sense of community and similarity is really important to me. I find that I rarely get to meet many people in my day to day life who share my values of living simply and giving up consumerism and materialism, so it really is a treat for me to meet these types of people.

Most people I meet in meditation groups are much older than me, often middle-aged or retired. It seems that retirement makes having a regular meditation practice a lot easier. Rarely do I get to meet people my age or even younger than 40, so when I do meet someone my age, I really treasure it. The group that had gathered for this event was a mix of younger and older people, with a few people my age and younger (20’s or early 20’s), so it was really great to see that.

Also, this event couldn’t have come at a better time for me, because living simply and having an “alternative” lifestyle is something that has been on my mind since the retreat. I found that on the retreat one of the topics that really came up as the answer to the question, “What gets in the way of my being truly happy?” was feeling pressure to live a life that I didn’t want to live in terms of my lifestyle, my job, and where I live. Lately, I’ve been trying to embrace the vision or dream I have of my ideal lifestyle and really try to make it manifest in reality. It seems that the most important thing I can do is relentlessly search for what makes me truly happy.

So for me, being truly happy is one that allows me to have a lifestyle that doesn’t necessarily fit with what I see around me as the “norm.” I don’t want to live a commercialized, consumerist, technological lifestyle. I am trying to embrace that as who I am, and live it with confidence that I am able to find what makes me satisfied.

Feb 17: Replaying the Past, Anticipating the Future March 3, 2012

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I meditated on campus this morning in a meditation room, and I had just come from some conversations with people I knew. I found that at the start of my sit my mind was still in these conversations, where I was replaying them in my mind and trying to determine if I said the right thing.
I was unable to focus my attention on my breathing for any longer than a few moments during my sit, my mind kept wandering off much too easily. There were just a lot of thoughts wandering through my mind, so I found it almost impossible to get concentrated.
When the bell went off this morning, I was making up a story about my vacation, in particular how this is a rare occasion for me to be going on a tropical vacation, compared to other people I know.
Before I leave today I want to share some thoughts about privacy and disclosure. I am a very private person and find it difficult to disclose any personal information about myself to just about anyone, including my closest friends. For myself, I  recognize how valuable it is when I know that other people share similar experiences with me, and that I am not alone in my difficulties. Something I have been trying to do lately is be more open and honest with close and trusted friends and family, as well as acquaintances.
This writing project has been challenging for me to disclose things in writing I wouldn’t even tell people in person. I’ve really noticed how I am still holding a lot of things back, where something happens but I decide I don’t need to write about it: “People don’t need to hear that.” Let’s just say it has been eye-opening for me to see how much I still am trying to keep things inside! But I do enjoy writing, so maybe with more practice I can get better at sharing my thoughts and experiences for others.

Feb 16: Smiling to Planning Thoughts During Sitting March 3, 2012

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Two more sleeps until a week-long vacation and my sit this morning was filled with planning thoughts. I felt like much of the time I was on alert or on guard, trying to predict future problems or trying to foresee what could go wrong. Despite consciously deciding to try my best to stay concentrated during my sit, these thoughts still were arising. I saw that being in this alert, on guard state is really not pleasant at all. But it seemed there was a part of me that felt I had to be doing it, so it was very hard to let go of this need to plan.

Somehow I managed to slow the thought process down enough to notice these patterns in slow motion: Planning thought arises. Awareness of planning thought. Judging thought arises. Smiling to the self-judgement (“Yep, this is what happens”). Returning to the breath.

I noticed today how much a calm body is so helpful to calm the mind. I can try to concentrate on my breath in order to calm my mind at first, but it isn’t until my body becomes calm and still as well that my mind can start to truly relax. It is as if my mind can’t be calm or still unless the bodily state is corresponding to that. It was a very good illustration of the mind-body connection.

When the bell went off today, I was lost in thoughts about how I value the trait of honesty in others.

I also wanted to mention that the past two previous days I was pushing myself quite hard at work, trying to get as much done as I can before I leave on vacation. Unfortunately, when I got home in the evening, I was too tired from the day’s exertions to do anything else (I usually end up just lying in bed or on the couch, maybe reading). This happens very often for me but somehow I keep trying to push myself during the day. It’s quite unfortunate to see how the rest of the day is unproductive when I am trying to be too productive during the day. Hmm… maybe the problem is being attached to productivity in the first place?