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Archive for December, 2007

My latest stress is on choosing a form of meditation. Yes, I know, meditation causing stress is kind of defeating the purpose.

At the last group meditation, it was suggested that when you settle on a mantra, you should continue to use/work with that mantra for at least three months before you try another one. I felt okay about that because I used Om Namah Shivayah for a very long time (only supplementing it occasionally with So-Hum) before I started trying the Buddhist mantra of Om Mani Padme Hum, yet I have not settled on a regular practice. By that I mean, I practice regularly, but it’s more like design your own meditation. Sometimes I combine the half-open/half-closed eyes of the Buddha with a new age mantra. Sometimes I focus solely on the breath without a mantra. Sometimes I do a new age breathing exercise followed by a Shambhala style meditation, and so on. So far my knowledge of meditation is a strange combination of contemporary Western forms of Buddhist practice, with a little bit of ancient Tibetan forms, and some new age stuff mixed in.

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During the discussion at group meditation on Wednesday night, one woman asked about what to do when she has a song stuck in her head that she can’t get out. I often have this same issue. The group leaders explained that it is a practice, that you must proceed gently, of course. You can’t wrangle the song out of your head or get mad at it or aggravated. They also suggested turning off the radio more often in the car and going to your heartspace and your mantra instead. I have found myself doing this instinctively lately.

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Pema Chodron describes the practice of tonglen, which is supposed to awaken bodhichitta (the enlightened mind) and “put us in touch with genuine noble heart” (When Things Fall Apart 88). The idea is essentially to breathe in suffering and breathe out happiness and joy, directing it to those who need it with “the wish that everyone could feel joy” (When Things Fall Apart 88). Breathing in fear, pain, suffering is supposed to break down or remove the armor we use to protect ourselves from such feelings.

I hope I’m doing it some kind of justice in describing it here, but the basic idea is to breathe in pain and breathe out relief. This can be on a large scale or small scale. It can be a pain or fear we personally experience or one that we have no direct experience with/in.

I’ve tried this a couple of times during recent meditation. At first I was quite nervous. It seemed a bad idea to breath *in* pain. I had worked with my shiatsu therapist to breathe in love and breathe out fear, so this idea seemed very counterintuitive to me. It also took a great deal of energy and concentration.

The first time I did it was during the California wildfires back in late October when people were living in fear of losing their homes (and some of them did). Fear is something I am quite familiar with, though never have I experienced it on that level. I breathed in the fear and sense of loss associated with the tragedies that strike from natural disasters.

The second time I did it was with a fear that hits a little closer to home and had to do with the fear that can sometimes come simply from being female in this world. Dark streets, unlit parking lots, broken down on the side of the highway alone — sometimes you can feel quite vulnerable (not to say that men don’t experience vulnerability in any of these situations, but it is different for women). I breathed in the fears of those who have been raped or abused in their lives, the worries of single mothers on their own trying to raise children, the vulnerability of those who live and/or work on the streets, and I tried to breathe out relief.

I would definitely want to institute the idea into my life in a regular way, but I will say that I found it very difficult to keep up for the entire time I was sitting (between 20 and 30 minutes). It is very intense, and it kind of freaked me out at times. Still, I suppose this is part of the practice — sitting with the “freaked outness.”

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