Archive for the ‘Shambhala’ Category

Years ago (shockingly six years have somehow passed since I started this blog!) I wrote a lot about my struggles with choosing a form of meditation and whether that choice encouraged me to keep my eyes opened or closed.

Last week a friend came over for our “happiness project” group, asking if she could borrow a room in our house for a bit before the meeting started because she needed to fit in some meditation.  First of all, I truly admire her flexibility in finding time and space for her practice.  I really need to take that in and try to apply it to my own life (for example, once I arrive at work I act as if any chance at meditation is impossible.  When, in fact, I have my own office with a door at the end of a hall that few people venture down — a completely viable space for meditation to happen whenever I need a quick break and time to refocus my energy).

After my friend wrapped up her meditation in our den, she talked about how relaxing her practice is and how she can get so far into it that the outside world melts away.  I have never achieved this in meditation.  I told her how I am lucky to achieve three breaths before my monkey mind jumps in.  It turns out that she does a mantra based meditation (eyes closed, one sanskrit word with “good vibration” — she didn’t tell me what word — in her head).  This got me thinking about shifting my meditation practice again — back to where I began.

For the past few years, my meditation has been in the tradition of Shambhala instead of the mantra based and metta meditations that I practiced early on.  So for the past week or so I have gone back to doing eyes closed with the mantra –” om mani padme hum.”  This has been going well, but also meditation has been doing the work that it is intended to do by revealing my continued obsession and difficulties with decision making.  While I am meditating, I keep getting hung up on whether or not this is the “right” mantra for me.  Additionally, at night I have been reading Sylvia Boorstein’s Happiness is an Inside Job.  Her method is metta meditation, which I learned from her on a retreat and found it to be both delightful and truly challenging (compassion toward my enemy = not easy).

I think that my issue with the “jewel of the lotus” mantra is that I have trouble understanding its meaning.  It is difficult to accurately translate Sanskrit into English, and this phrase, for whatever reason, seems particularly elusive.  The 14th Dalai Lama, however, gave a simplified meaning as follows:

“Thus the six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha[…]”

Ultimately most meditation practices that come out of ancient/historical religious or spiritual tradition have, at their heart, the goals of mindfulness and compassion.  Metta meditation works this directly into the meditation practice, but this does not mean that meditating in a different way somehow excludes that focus or those goals.  So perhaps this mantra isn’t as distant or distinct from my beliefs about meditation as I once thought.  Practicing the transformation into pure body, speech, and mind of a Buddha does actually consist  of mindfulness and compassion toward humanity and all living beings — the same way that another of my favorite mantras does:


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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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When I learned to meditate, which was a mantra-based meditation style, I was instructed to close my eyes. As I became a bit more familiar with Buddhist meditation, I learned that it is more common for one to keep their eyes half open/closed than having them closed all the way. This soon became an obsession of mine that took away (and continues to) from my meditation practice. Silly, I know. I know that gentleness and not getting so hooked the the precise nature of meditation is important, but I couldn’t stop getting caught up on the state of my eyes.

I tried to do Shambhala style meditation with my eyes gently open part-way, my gaze slightly out in front of me, and with a focus on my breath — letting go of the mantra. I found having my eyes open distracting, yet I told myself that this is part of the “training” that is meditation — exercising the ability to stay present despite distractions. I also completely understand the reasoning for keeping one’s eyes open — to stay awake. Meditation is a practice of being completely and most fully awake and present, so keeping one’s eyes open certainly seems key to doing that; however, I never come anywhere close to falling asleep when I have my eyes closed during meditation. I feel more comfortable with my eyes closed, as I am not worrying about gaze flitting here and there or about straining my eyes from being cross-eyed for so long. I am able to relax more deeply into the meditation when my eyes are closed, but I’m not relaxed to the point of a dream-like state at all. I recognize my thoughts more clearly with my eyes closed, and I’m able to then release them more readily. I’m more aware of my inner-self with my eyes closed, as I feel that is where the gaze is directed.

There are many different takes out there on the web regarding this question of eyes open or closed, but here are just a few:
The Shambhala.org site — “Technique of Meditation

Should I meditate with my eyes open or my eyes closed?

Meditation workshop

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Welcome to my meditation journal.

I began meditating regularly a little more than a month ago, after meeting a wondeful shiatsu practitioner who reminded me that “meditation is the best medicine.” Her intensity toward my own commitment to meditation just triggered something in me, and it stuck. I’ve been sitting daily ever since.

I knew (and know for that matter) very little about meditation. I had attended some free local meditation classes, which introduced me to a mantra based meditation. The class’ leader would begin by reading us a list of mantras, which she repeated three times each. She told us to just to choose whichever one we were drawn to, whatever resonated. At my first class I immediately chose “om namah shivaya,” having no idea that it is one of the most well-known, commonly chanted — an initiation mantra of sorts. Whatever the case, it worked for me.

Since then I have experimented with a few different mantras, in addition to trying out a shambhala approach to meditation as explained by Pema Chodron in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa.

The idea for this blog simply came out of the fact that often when I’m meditating and my mind does its wandering, I find myself reflecting on the act of meditation itself and almost composing blog-like entries in my head. Language is my living, so “writing” in my head is common for me. Still, as I let those thoughts go and return to my breath, the feeling of wanting to write them down remains. I figure that if I maybe start recording them, I’ll let them go more easily. Also, I am just easily entertained by some of the things the mind does while meditating, and thought the mind’s antics would make for good blog material. Here is today’s example:
I’m in the middle of “om namah shivaya-ing” when suddenly I am thinking how important it is to carve out the time to do this. “Carve” is the exact word that my mind uses to describe the act of making time for myself and my practice. This leads my mind to think of the billboard on the side of the highway with a Dunkin’ Donuts advertisement that reads, “Carve out some time for a pumpkin muffin.” I always read that ad, and with the accompanying picture of the latte and robust pumpkin muffin, it works on some level. Yes, I think, that looks inviting (though I LOVE pumpkin muffins, I hate Dunkin’ Donuts, but that, after all, is the magic of advertising). Anyhow, I NEVER made the connection between the word choice “carve” and “pumpkin.” (Did I say I do language for a living??). In fact, I often marveled at the simplicity of the ad and wondered why that statement exactly? Suddenly, today during my meditation, the wonder of Dunkin’ Donuts’ billboard advertising became remarkably clear. And I felt silly. And I had to just laugh at myself.

In addition to serving the purpose of recording the wildly diverse wanderings of a meditating mind, this blog is also an attempt to find out if I am alone in these random (and sometimes confusing and sometimes wonderful) meditation sessions. It’s to get me reading other material out there and interacting with others who are starting on this path and hopefully some who are futher along it and can share advice and insight. It’s also to help me keep track of the resources that are out there — linking to valuable site, retreat information, classes, and so on.

Please share your own experiences, leave a link to your own writings or resources on meditation, or comment on my various entries.

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