Meditation Los Angeles

Category: books

Nightstand Buddhists

If you’ve ever read that description and it cut you, you know who you are. If you’ve been imbibing of the McMindfulness, and imbibing deeply then you might have been lulled into the idea that you know something of mindfulness, Buddhism, both. You would be forgiven. If you’ve become comfortable with the terrain, are ready for a little more, why not try these links?

1. The Angry Asian Buddhist. Kind of self-explanatory. Written in America. Nice set of links, too.
2. Sujato’s Blog. I think he’s an Australian monk. Thoughtful, informed, well written.
3. Speculative Non-Buddhism. You have been warned! A group of academically inclined critics. This way to the rabbit hole.

I’m off to a quick meditation.


No Days In A Row

I’ve been meditating about once a week lately. Hope to rededicate. Started reading The Mindful Way through Depression which is quite good.

Pema Chodron’s “How to Meditate” — A Minor Classic?

I was fortunate enough to get a review copy of Pema Chodron’s upcoming title, How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind. (To be published 5/1/13 by SoundsTrue.)

Recommended. I have read quite a few meditation books and this is one of the better ones, for sure. The key is the subtitle — because really only section one is devoted to the technique of meditation. After that this book rather artfully addresses various difficulties meditators face — whether it be the ceaseless wandering of the mind, the surge of unpleasant emotions, the discomfort of crossed legs.

The book is actually more like a handbook of psychological difficulties one might encounter during meditation, and some very handy suggestions as to how one might deal with them. It’s interesting to me that Chodron studied under Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I believe it was he that said Buddhism would come to the West as a psychology.

The writing is fresh and direct and mostly steers clear of jargon. She writes about meditation in ways that are just different enough from other things I’ve read that I found myself underlining quite a lot in the book. Many of her book covers note that she is the author of “Things Fall Apart” — perhaps one day they’ll note that she’s the author of How to Meditate. She might just have a minor classic on her hands.

[It would appear this title has been available as an audio recording since 2008 — I believe this is its debut as a book, however.]

Stumbled Upon By Chance

I am not superstitious, fatalistic (in the sense of things being fated), or overly enamored of coincidence, but I must admit to a certain wry pleasure at finding a copy of Dharma Punx by Noah Levine in the free community library* a few blocks from my house, just a few hours before the final MBSR class. You see, Levine founded a meditation center that’s also not so far from my house, and it’s the clearest alternative to pay classes at the moment. Pay as you can sort of stuff.

Not only was it a book that I’d considered buying idly, but it had originally been purchased at Vroman’s — a likely point of purchase, even. The cover, tattoo’d hands in prayer, always turned off my middle-class sensibilities a little. And though I can’t say I expected to like the book much, I’m 60 pages in and finding it engaging, though I can’t say I like the guy much. Was surprised to find that his dad wrote a baker’s dozen of fairly respected meditation books. In a week or so, I’ll plop the book back in that library.

The class ended on a good note. Again, I was touched by the honesty and forthrightness of the class members. There was some silly stuff, but a really nice bunch of people. So, despite a lukewarm reception for the MBSR, I will pursue meditation. To be continued.

Blog not dead yet!

*these libraries are more like postal boxes — but delightful — see the link

Extended Break, Indeed

Still meditating, but having less to say about it. Still doing the MBSR class, but don’t have much to say about it. It’s the secular version of meditation, and body scans, and a little yoga. A kind of caterers platter of techniques for beginners.

I doubt very much they’ll ever talk of liberation, and while religious Buddhism turns me off I miss the jazziness of implied freedoms in the offing.

For those seeking just that kind of jazz, I recommend the page from where the quote comes. It’s about the lack of focus, in most secular, insight meditation practices on the Three Characteristics, those being, as the writer translates them, Impermanence, Suffering, and No Self. Here’s the quote:

Somehow this exceedingly important message just doesn’t typically seem to get through to insight meditators, and thus they spend so much time doing anything but looking precisely moment to moment into the Three Characteristics. They may be thinking about something, lost in the stories and tape loops of the mind, trying to work on their stuff, philosophizing, trying to quiet the mind, or who knows what, and this can go on for year after year, retreat after retreat, and of course they wonder why they don’t have more insight yet. This is a tragedy of monumental proportions, but you do not have to be part of it! You can be one of those insight meditators that knows what to do, does it, and finally “gets it” in the grandest sense.

The wonderful Jack Kornfield has an interesting section on Wisdom in one of his recent books where he covers this issue, in typical, wise, non-dismissive, instructive fashion.

Off Topic: Vivian Maier

For the photo enthusiast, there’s a wonderful review and assortment of photos to gaze at from the new Vivian Maier book, here, at The Online Photographer (TOP). Maier might be what photographers now refer to as a “street photographer.” She also happened to be a very private person, so it is something of a marvel that these photos were discovered at all. They could easily have disintegrated in storage.

Apparently, the book does her work justice, and if they say that on TOP, then I would tend to believe it. Recommended good stuff.

Jack Does It Again

I continue to meditate daily, which continues to astound me, on some level. Perhaps it does because I am basically a lazy person. For that reason, I am impressed by meditators that adhere to a somewhat dogmatic, pragmatic, goal driven ethos. I continue to admire many such practitioners. And I tend to shy away from those with a more “Let It Be” approach.

We are so often attracted to our polar opposite, our opposite charge. It’s helpful for me to approach meditation with discipline, but let’s face it it would also be beneficial for me to do many hours of Lovingkindness meditation, which I naturally avoid (though do do from time to time).

I found a passage in Kornfield’s Living Dharma that articulates some of these thoughts, for instance:

Choosing an approach is a much a matter of one’s personal style and karma. For some, a strict teacher, rigorous discipline, and goal-oriented practice are right. Often this approach balances with their own internal lack of discipline. For others, particularly goal-oriented individuals whose predominant expression is attainment in the world, the practices of letting go, just sitting, just watching, are a balance for their habitual striving.

Bringing the mind into balance is the essence of meditation. Striving, not striving: Both can bring balance. Eventually, whatever practice one follows must be let go of, even the practice of letting go.

I have only lazily dipped into this book, put off in parts by some of the very traditional views of the meditation teachers profiled (karma is a sticking point for me), but again I am struck by the wisdom and eloquence of Jack Kornfield. Though I’ve not really read it yet, recommended!

Confused About All Those Different Mindfulness Practices?

If you’re like me and occasionally confused by all the different meditation practices and how they fit together, I’ve got a book for you. It’s limited to the Buddhist practices, though, so if you’re into Vedic meditation or TM or Sufi dancing then you’re out of luck, I’m afraid.

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel Ingram does a nice job of parsing out the different practices and how they fit together, support one another. Full disclosure, I haven’t actually finished reading the book, but it seems pretty solid to me. It also includes a warning, which I found somewhat amusing, but I suppose the tone is not for everyone.

You can see customer reviews of the book and product information at Amazon, here. The kindle version of the book is quite a bit more cheaper than the paperback (about $13 v. $30), but if you’re not ready to spring for this the book is on the web in wiki format, here, completely free of charge, which is how I’m reading it.

Check it out.


Last Day for 99 Cent Mindfulness Gems

Just a note to say these books all appear to be delightful. I’m well into Journey to Mindfulness, which is written with heartbreaking simplicity. It also happens to be a very honest and straightforward account of a Sri Lankan monk’s life, and includes some real surprises. I have not reached the point yet where he comes to the United States.

And I also started the Beyond Mindfulness mostly on the strength of the author’s name, as the title didn’t exactly thrill me, seemed just like a cash in on the earlier title. But it is so much more than that. Again, so beautiful in its simple style — here is a book that focuses on concentration practices and how they complement and strengthen mindfulness (Vipassana) practices.

I’ve hardly touched the Eight title, but would be surprised if it isn’t very good.

I mention all this since I picked these three titles as e-books — each for 99 cents — and today is the last day, if I understand it correctly, that they can be had at that bargain price. These books would be worth it for $15 a pop — at this price they are just gold.

Grab one, or all of them, at your favorite e-book emporium. Here’s the promo info.

Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Gunaratana

Journey to Mindfulness by Bhante Gunaratana

Mindfulness Day

Did you know today it’s (the second annual) Mindfulness Day, as promoted by Wisdom Publications, to commemorate the anniversary of the first publication of Mindfulness in Plain English? While Bhante Gunaratana’s title happens to be an excellent book, I’m not too excited about a day dedicated to “mindfulness” — whatever that means. If you take a look at the website, you’ll find that the word has become nearly meaningless.

You will also, however, find a good deal. Several of Wisdom Books’ titles, including several of Gunaratana’s are on sale as e-books for 99 cents until September 15. That’s a pretty good deal.