Archive for the ‘Sylvia Boorstein’ 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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I just finished my morning meditation.  Because my recent resolutions involve both regular meditation and regular morning writing (15 minutes, 5 days/week), I seem to have developed a new form of “monkey mind”:  I call it the “write this” category of “thinking.”  As I meditate, my mind keeps jumping to plans for what I can write about.  As any writer knows, writer’s block is a particularly invasive, pervasive, and paralyzing occurrence.  And since fears commonly rise to the surface during meditation, it makes complete sense that my mind attempts to spend my meditation time trying to deal with this particular fear — especially since I have been writing after I meditate each morning.

To change this, I thought to try to write first; however, my morning goals need be accomplished while also accommodating my partner’s morning schedule.  Then there is my need for my morning cup of coffee (as a side note, I am rereading Sylvia Boorstein’s It’s Easier than You Think, and her opening section is about our conceptions of spirituality and how this doesn’t always jive for people with her own love of morning coffee.  I’ve tried to quit coffee in the past, thinking that it’s bad for my anxiety, but my shiatsu practitioner once described coffee as her “joy,” and I thought, “It’s my damn joy too!”  And joy goes a long way in helping to prevent anxiety).  Dorthea Brande, author of Becoming a Writer,  actually recommends the first thing in the morning approach:  get out of bed, stumble to computer, write.  First thing.  Before coffee.  Before yoga.  Before shower.  But this subconscious writing isn’t really the writing that I’m trying to do.  I don’t have time to continue to write throughout the day, so my morning writing time needs to be rather conscious.

Alas, I don’t seem to have a perfect solution.  “Monkey mind” is an inevitable part of meditation, and I think that being aware of this new category “counts” for something.  That is, part of the practice is about noticing our thoughts and coming back to present/breath.

But before I forget — some upcoming writing ideas (freshly hatched during this morning’s practice!):  my happiness project goals and update, difficulty with “natural breath,” posting about sugar addiction to healthy lifestyle group google page.

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About a month ago, I did a retreat at Kripalu. It was a yoga and meditation retreat, and the meditation portion was on metta meditation with Sylvia Boorstein who was a student of Sharon Salzberg. Metta means “loving kindness,” and for an explanation of the basic concept of metta meditation follow the previous link. Sylvia’s version is a mantra based meditation that uses the phrase(s):

May you feel protected and safe
May you feel contented and pleased
May your body support you with strength
May your life unfold smoothly and with ease

While I thoroughly enjoyed the retreat and felt like I understood metta meditation (it felt a little like tonglen to me), I also thought it would not be a form of meditation I would practice in my “regular” life. I practice a mantra form of meditation
; however this series of blessings that Sylvia presented to us seemed very busy in my brain. My mind did not feel quieted or even like it was moving toward being quieted. Instead, I decided to integrate these ideas into my regular practice my reciting them as little prayers/blessings at the beginning and end of my meditation. That is, until lately….

One of the quotes that Sylvia opened our retreat with was from the Buddha:

“What a person considers and reflects upon for a long time, to that his mind will bend and incline.”

I think that though I have strongly felt meditation has the power to change my life/our lives, I really didn’t buy into this idea that if we focus on compassion, on loving kindness for very very very long and intensive periods of time, then eventually our minds will that way bend — naturally, automatically, instinctively. And for me, that is very important, as my mind currently does not tend to bend that way, or at least not in certain situations.

And so today, I thought maybe I should really give a meditation of loving kindness a try. So this morning, I gave up my mantra for the series of phrases that Sylvia recommended. I blessed myself with these first and worked my way toward folks that are not so easy to bestow loving kindness upon.

But interestingly enough, it is the person I love the most in this world (I’m sure that I’m not alone in this) who is most difficult, at times, for me to act kindly towards. But,

Since this meditation is concerned with the welfare of the living, one should not choose people who have died; one should also avoid choosing people towards whom one may have feelings of sexual attraction.

this means that I can’t exactly direct these blessings toward that person. Ultimately though, the idea is that when I have spent enough time (hopefully in this lifetime) reflecting in this metta-way, then the person whom I love the most will be the recipient of my loving kindness.

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