FIVE THINGS TO DO AT THE BEGINNING OF A SIT

stones seated in meditationFIVE THINGS TO DO AT THE BEGINNING OF A SIT

(With a debt of gratitude to Leigh Brasington, who suggested them.  Feel free to modify and alter to suit yourself and your practice – I know I already have.)

1. GRATITUDE.  spend a few moments generating gratitude.  For all that we have to be grateful for – health, life, resources, the teachings and our access to them, opportunity to practice – we all have things we can be grateful for, and it’s good to begin meditating with a grateful heart.

2. MOTIVATION.  Spend some time getting in touch with your motivation to practice.  Why are you doing this? To see deeply into the true nature of reality? To be present to each moment?  To awaken to your own true nature as boundless love?  To develop kindness and friendship towards yourself, just as you are? To life, just as it is?  To know life at it’s essence?   To achieve liberation for the benefit of all beings?  Conscious contact with a Higher Power?  Ease, peace, calm? Whatever works best for you, that can serve as a reminder, should the going get rough, or the practice stale.

3. DETERMINATION. Spend a moment rousing some resolve, some energy, some determination. To stay awake, to stay present.

4. METTA.  Include, at the outset, some time offering yourself some loving-kindness, some friendliness, some unconditional love; setting an intention to be kind to yourself regardless of what arises during your practice. If you like, you can also offer this kindness and wishing well to other beings, or all beings, as well.

5. “Breathing in, I calm body and mind.  Breathing out, I smile.”  This comes from Thich Nhat Hanh and is a good transition to the sit.  It points our attention to the breath.  Spending the initial period of a sit giving attention to the breath is a good way to calm the mind, and generate concentration.  Concentration gives rise to happiness.

Remember:  comparisons are odious.  Don’t compare this sit to any other, or even any moment in this sit to any other moment.  Or you to a projected or imagined “real” meditator.  We are not trying to “achieve” anything, or put preference on one mind-state over another.  Sure, concentration feels great, but sometimes we can’t concentrate.  If the mind is distracted, just note, “distraction” and keep going.  “Whatever one frequently thinks and ponders upon will be the inclination of their mind,” says the Buddha.  When we blame ourselves for what arises during our sitting period, we just reinforce the habit of self-blame and condemnation.  Just be present to the truth of the moment with kindness, and keep going.  Have fun!

GRATITUDE – THE ANTIDOTE TO THE COMPLAINING MIND

snoopythanksI once heard Werner Earhard, the founder of est, say that, if one were ever to come face to face with God and to report back on the experience, one might say, “Well, she’s radiant, and there is nothing she doesn’t know, and she can do anything – – but she’s a little bossy.”  The point being, you can always find something to complain about. And you can focus on that, or you can focus on the good. There will always be both.

This week in our group, we talked about gratitude and its benefits. People who have an “attitude of gratitude” seem to live longer, have better health, and of course, they enjoy their lives more. Negative emotions flood the body with stress hormones, which over time take their toll on all of our organs. Gratitude floods the body with endorphins and neuropeptides like oxytocin and other “feel good” hormones, reduces stress, and is therefore good for health and longevity.

Anyone can be grateful when things are going well. The harder part is learning to be grateful when things are not so good. In the midst of any difficulty, one can always find something to feel grateful for if we look for it, even if its just a breeze on our cheek, the sound of music or the sight of a bird in flight.

Worry is about the future.  Gratitude brings you back to the present moment.

In James Baraz’s course in “Awakening Joy,” he gives some suggestions for developing the gratitude muscle:

  1. LOOK FOR AND APPRECIATE THE GOOD STUFF – KEEP YOUR RADAR OUT FOR LOOKING FOR THE GOOD
  2. APPRECIATE OTHERS, ESPECIALLY IN THE WORKPLACE AND AT HOME
  3. APPRECIATE YOURSELF – YOU BECOME LESS DEPENDENT UPON PRAISE FROM OTHERS
  4. YOU CAN EVEN HAVE GRATITUDE IN THE MIDST OF A DIFFICULTY.  ASK YOURSELF: WHAT CAN APPRECIATE IN THIS SITUATION  WHAT LESSONS CAN I LEARN?

Gratitude towards ourselves is often the hardest. Instead of going over our mental “to-do” lists and seeing where we are falling short, try taking some time at night before you go to sleep to look at the day counting what you DID accomplish, or what kindness you might have shown. Let yourself feel good about the things you did right, instead of only toting up the things you did wrong or fell short on.

Take time to appreciate your sense organs – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin – as well as your lungs, heart, digestive system, endocrine system – – in short – the miracle of the body, heart and mind, and life.

And I promised to post this:

The Top Ten Ways to Become More Grateful

Adapted from Attitudes of Gratitude by M.J. Ryan

1. Focus on what’s right in your life instead of what’s wrong.

2. Take a moment to say one thing you are thankful for at dinner.

3. Say “thank you” to others as often as possible.

4. Especially when they’re annoying or frustrating you, remember why you love your

spouse, kids, and friends.

5. Don’t compare your life to others. When envy arises, ask yourself: how can I create more

in me of what I see in them?

6. Give thanks for your body. What can you appreciate about it right now?

7. When difficult things happen, ask yourself: What’s right about this? Yes, it’s awful, but if

something were right about it, what would it be?

8. Look for the hidden blessings in challenges. How have you grown?

9. Imagine that this day is the first and last of your life. How would you tryou treasure it?

10 Practice daily—a written journal, email to a gratitude partner, etc.

 

FORGIVENESS – GIVING UP ALL HOPE OF A BETTER PAST!

I’d hoped to get this posted in September, our time of new beginnings, but posting it in October is a good chance to practice self-forgiveness.

In any event, as the seasons turn, and we begin out new “season” at InsightLA, a good thing to do at the beginning of the year – or any other time, for that matter – is to reflect on the harm that one has done, the harm that has been done to one, and to make an effort to forgive.  Forgive self, forgive others, and forgive life.

Here are some things I’ve learned about forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness is good for you.  Forgiveness lowers blood pressure, releases tension, even improves immune response.  Holding onto resentment releases stress chemicals that lead to backache, muscle aches, dizziness and upset stomach.
  • Forgiveness increases happiness:  Studies show that people who are able to forgive and let go have improved feelings of contentment and well-being, and are generally happier than people who are unwilling to let go of feelings of having been harmed.
  • Almost nobody wants to do it!  Forgiveness requires letting go of “cherished wounds;”  the stories we have told ourselves many times over about the wrongs we suffered, and the harm that was done to us, and how we’ve suffered as a consequence.  It requires “changing our minds”  and letting go of long-held, deeply ingrained habits of thought, many of which seem to make us feel better, by elevating ourselves over the person who harmed us.
  • Forgiveness is not a way to deny pain.  You can’t leapfrog over the hurt.  You first have to acknowledge the pain of the harm, to grieve the loss, to experience the pain of betrayal.  Attempting to leapfrog over this is called “spiritual bypass.”  A way of using pseudo-spirituality to avoid feeling pain.
  • Forgiveness is not the same as condoning.  It doesn’t mean you were “wrong” to be angry, or that the other person is “right.”  You don’t need to understand or sympathize with the wrong-doer.  You are letting go for your sake, not for theirs.
  • Forgiveness is a recognition that my lust for revenge, my resentment, my cynicism, hurts me.  Not the person who harmed me.

The Buddha said that when we carry a grudge of hold anger towards another, it’s like picking up a hot coal to throw at someone.  We’re the one who gets burned.

Nelson Mendela said resentment is like drinking poison, hoping the other one will die.

Catherine Ponder has said “when you hold resentment towards another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel.  Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”

Coming soon:  How to practice forgiveness.  Also, forgiving ourselves, and forgiving life.  Stay tuned!