Saturday, September 11, 2010

Who Are You Really?

We simply have no tolerance for uncomfortable situations. We cannot wait to get away from anyone and anything that makes us feel uneasy. Some of us become expert at avoiding those situations. This tendency to stay away from what we don't understand slows our growth as human beings. We cannot run from life and yet hope to be fully participating in its richness. The better path is the one that leads us to higher levels of comfort in the larger arena.

Artful Meditation is a vehicle for learning how to become comfortable in difficult situations and how to engage with people who make us uneasy. Mindfulness-awareness practice is the foundation of Living Meditation training. It provides the tools for cultivating loving-kindness and compassion, the qualities we need to be comfortable with life.

Artful Meditation practice moves us closer to our thoughts and emotions and brings us back to awareness of our bodies. This full immersion in the waters of life washes away the veil of indifference that separates us from the lives, indeed the suffering, of others. It is our vehicle for learning to be a truly loving person.

What we discover is that it was our fear of what we didn't know that made us uncomfortable and the greatest unknown in our lives was--ourselves. Artful Mediation helps us to become comfortable with who we are and then we can face the world with confidence.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Escaping the Trap

The mouse that gets caught in the trap because it can't resist trying to eat the cheese is a familiar analogy for the pain caused by holding onto old ideas that no longer work or false ideals that never worked.

No matter how we get ourselves trapped, our usual reaction is to blindly reach for something familiar that we associate with reward even though it invariably leads to dissatisfaction and disappointment.

The most common way of medicating the pain and ignoring the part we play in setting our own traps is through the subtle and seductive games of the conditioned mind. Our everyday mind avoids uneasiness by seeking special states. Drugs are often used for the purpose but we are proficient at using many things to avoid facing our true condition. Sports, spiritual practices, community service, the list is endless. These special states of mind brought about by participation in ego-flattering activities are addictive because they make us feel good, though only for a short time.

When we don't run away from the mundane activities of life and instead pay attention to how we feel and how we behave, we encounter the extraordinary in the everyday. Our innate wisdom is a natural force that emerges when we stop fighting it.

The radical approach, as incredible as it may sound, is to pay attention to our behavior and to our emotions. Without judgement, we recognize exactly what is happening in our daily lives. Eventually, we decide to stop getting in the way of our happiness.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A New Happiness

There is peace and tranquility in nature. Rural areas are mercifully lacking the distractions found in the city. In urban settings, we sometimes need to retire to our bedroom or study to find the same peaceful solitude. Peace and quiet is the perfect setting for learning to meditate. Our everyday mind is adept at grabbing hold of every little distraction and when we find a quiet place, it's easier to get centered and settle down.

The peace and tranquility we seek doesn't wait for us in the country side, however, nor is it a feature of the back room. We bring the balance with us when we close the door and light a candle. We take the tranquility to the outback. In the wild expanse of the outdoors, there is a constant struggle for life to continue. Most wild things are focused on survival just long enough to pass their genes on to the next generation. We're all aware of that. We've seen it enough on National Geographic and Animal Planet. The serenity we see when we look out over a deep mountain lake embowered in spruce and fir is simply another illusion. It's a pleasant illusion that probably has some healthful benefit for us but an illusion all the same.

If we must rely on the outside world to be quiet and peaceful for us to find peace of mind, then we're going to live with a lot of frustration and anxiety. Our lives will not be balanced and our plans will be derailed. The truth is that, at any moment, in the country or the city, at work or at home, disturbances appear, often without warning.

If we want to approach life with stability of mind and the flexibility to deal with whatever may come our way, then we must stop looking for these qualities in the outside world. My first Zen instructor used to tell me to abandon myself to living life on life's terms. He told me this over and over but I was slow in coming to realize that he meant I should practice meditation in the eternal moment--all the time.

When I remember his teaching, I find that I can negotiate any path. Instead of relying on something out there to go my way, rather than hoping for a break, I look to the calmness and stability that I've cultivated within. One of the promises of meditation is that we come to know a new peace and a new happiness; we come to intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us. This promise has come true in my life and it has come true in the lives of millions of others. It will come true for you if you practice.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hidden in Plain Sight

The true nature of reality is that nothing remains the same. Everything changes. We see this everywhere. People come into our lives and then they go. Jobs come and go. Our interests wax and wane.

We search earnestly for the truth in science, religion, politics, Hollywood, and literature, every aspect of our lives, and yet we don't see the truth right in front of our eyes. We even do this right now--the only time and place that we can truly see. We consider the here and now but we are caught up in our thinking, rational minds. How can we see the truth while we are paying attention to our thoughts, the home of our fears, neighbors of our anxiety, our desire, our paranoia? That's not where truth lives. That's the realm of the shared delusions that we pretend is reality.

We have individual delusions too. We have our personal story line about who we are and what we do and why we matter. Most importantly, we adopt prescribed roles that tell us what to accept and not accept. Doesn't matter of course. What we accept or don't has nothing to do with what actually happens, except that we feel obligated to approve and reward what we like and become stressed, frustrated, aggravated and depressed over what we don't. We get so absorbed into what we think, that we become virtual prisoners to it.

When we look carefully at what we actually experience, we will realize that it's not a world in constant flux, it's rather the constant change that we experience. There is nothing to experience if there is no change. Reduce every quantum probability to zero and, presto, nothing to experience.

If our hope lies in finding happiness in the realm where everything is constantly changing, then we are running on empty promises and we are essentially hopeless. The only source of hope and of happiness is in this eternal moment, where we are free of impermanence, for it is in the moment that we have our only existence. The only way to get there is to get passed our conditioned mind, beyond our desire and our fear, away from the realm of thought and into a place of open awareness. I know of no other way to do that than through meditation.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Be Your True Self

A group of goats came upon an orphaned tiger cub and they decided to care for the little tiger like one of their own. The little one began to think that he must be a goat. He learned to bleat and to eat grass and eventually became a very poor specimen of a tiger.

One day a large male tiger attacked the flock and all the goats scattered except for the little tiger that was too weak and scrawny to get away. The big tiger stared at him amazed.

"Are you living here with these goats," asked the adult. "Maaaaaaa" said the little tiger. The adult tiger pondered the situation for a few moments and then brought the little fellow to a still pond.

“Look into the water with me,” said the big tiger and the little one did so and saw his face for the very first time. "You see,” said the larger tiger, “you look just like me. You’re a tiger, not a goat. You’re a tiger like me. Be like me.”

Now, that's the stuff of transformation: ‘Be like me.’ My first Zen master told me that I could learn to live a life of joy. I told him that I doubted this because no matter how hard I tried, I never seemed to be happy. He then asked if I thought that he lived a joyful life. I confessed that I did think so. “All you need to do is believe that it works for me and then do what I do,” he said. In other words—‘be like me.’

That big tiger took the little one back to his den and began to feed him meat for the first time. The little one protested, “But I eat grass”. “Nonsense,” said the adult, “eat this, it’s good for you.” The little tiger gagged at first.

Traditions all around the world agree that when we are first fed the truth, we find it hard to accept. Just like the little tiger, and just like me, we gag because we’ve been conditioned to swallow something else, even though it isn’t good for us.

Eventually, after a diet of his true food, the little tiger grew into what nature had intended. He was happier and was able to live his life fully, just as he was meant to live.

Practicing meditation is the path that leads to the reflecting pool. The still water in which we see our true reflection is the stillness of our deep consciousness. The act of living mindfully, fully aware of our true nature, is the food that best nourishes us.

Most of us are tigers, living our lives as goats. It is social conditioning that teaches us to become something less than we are meant to be. We try to live as we’ve been told but, deep down inside, we all know that something is wrong.

Look into your own inner stillness and see the reflection of your true face. Don’t continue to live a life that you weren’t meant for. You’re just like me. Be like me.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Be Ready for Anything

Life comes at you hard. Be ready for it. Stay centered and balanced. That way you can respond from a position of strength to anything that comes your way.

When you escape the constraints of conditioned thinking, you will gain clarity of mind and see your options more clearly. You will recognize that you have everything you need to deal with life and deal with it more effectively. You will stop relying on common sense, the reasoning based on social convention, and you will rely instead on uncommon sense, which comes when you see things as they really are.

As in martial arts training, Artful Meditation teaches you to keep your center of gravity, to remain balanced at all times, so that no matter what comes and no matter from which direction it comes, you are ready for anything.

If you make preparations based on expectations from past experience, then you will not be prepared when something different assails you. By the time you reposition yourself to react to the unexpected events, it's too late. You are forced to react defensively.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Artful Meditation

The Goal of Artful Meditation is to improve the experience of creative self-expression through mindful awareness. With expanded awareness comes new options and more possibilities, less frustration and greater enjoyment of the creative process.

Artful Meditation is based on the "core elements" of universal meditation practices with a specific focus on creative expression. Artful Meditation workshops are designed to appeal to everyone regardless of religious affiliation or spiritual practices.

Artful Meditation instruction is suited for beginners as well as advanced meditation practitioners and for beginning artists as well as masters. Private instruction is available on request.