Meditation Los Angeles

Category: Buddhism

Back, getting back into it.

My trusty meditation timer says I’m up to 33 days in a row. While I think this sort of counting is, um, counterproductive — I believe it also falls under the umbrella of what some folks (i.e. Buddhists) call “skillful means”. In there words, while counting, at least for me, has an acquisitive and obsessive quality — it also does wonders for motivation.

So there it is. I’m meditating again.

I’ve just asked myself to do it every day, no strings attached. So if that’s two minutes a day for a week on, that’s just fine.

And I’ve started to feel a difference. Will check back in a few.

Wings of Desire

This past week I sat — meaning, of course, meditated — three times and did not sit four times. Not so hot. I’ve fallen off meditating for 20 minutes and did a couple 10-minute sessions, too. Oh well. Today I sat for 20 minutes. I was again somewhat taken aback by the wash of blah blah blah thoughts — you know the stuff, unfinished business, to-do lists, grand schemes and how to execute them. But this is not one of those blogs, usually, where I spend a lot of energy sharing my hum drum blah blah blah thoughts.

A water main burst somewhere on our street last night. It’s burst before. It busts the street open and cracks spread from the tarmac right over into our house and into my fragile mind. Not having water is like camping. It’s fun if you’re camping. So I was in a bad mood this morning and in the car with the kids was cursing the traffic and really about to just let loose on a rant but stopped myself for a second and thought: equanimity. That moment when you hold the entire experience. Not just the thoughts, the emotions, but the experiencer — the witness. The part of you that is outside thoughts, emotions, sensations. Not identified with these things. Just watching. I tried to grab onto that. It is fleeting.

I think that’s part of what makes Wings of Desire such a delightful film. The angels are witnesses. Deprived of actually living, they observe and marvel at many of the every day experiences the characters are having, without being swept up in the thoughts and emotions (which, I suppose, they are not having) of the moment. You might say their experience is dispassionate, but it is not without sympathy. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, but it was my impression that the angels are not distant, cerebral. Au contraire. My impression is that they were moved by the many of the experiences they observed.

This, I think, is a kind of ideal equanimity. (It makes me wonder if the film maker, Wim Wenders, is a Buddhist.) An equanimity that is not swept up by the emotions, sensations of everyday life, but nevertheless is deeply sympathetic to the experience. It is not empty or barren. There is kindness. And when we are feeling unkind toward the blah blah blah thoughts, kindness becomes invaluable.

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.

Isms

I’ve always felt that “Ideology is Stupid” is a good approach. I came across what I think is an incisive critique of the Secular Buddhism movement, as promulgated by Stephen Batchelor and others. Mind you, I’ve enjoyed several of Batchelor’s books very much. I’ve reread at least two of them with great enjoyment.

The critique goes something along the lines of — examine the faith that underlies even this secular Buddhism. Any faith tends toward viewing something as sacred, and as such, more valuable than other approaches. Better to be outright religious than hold some kind of fake non-religious stance. Not sure I agree wholeheartedly with that, but find this piece to be stimulating.

Worth a look. On the Faith of Secular Buddhists at Speculative Non-Buddhism.

It’s interesting to me because I think you can get caught between a McMindful approach (see previous post), which waters down and limits meditative practice to stress relief on the one hand, and a worshipping, religious, Buddha as great father (or belief in reincarnation, etc.) on the other hand.

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.]

Too Religious

Somewhere smack in the late middle of this podcast on the mindfulness of breathing by Alan Wallace he starts talking about the bardo. If you’re not up on Tibetan Buddhism, the bardo, as I understand it, is the limbo where the soul (or whatever you want to call it) exists in the 49 days following death, before it goes on to its rebirth.

Generally, I’m used to the type of nightstand (some call it “consensus Buddhism” — where Westerners pick out the parts they don’t like) Buddhism where people don’t get into the karma or rebirth thing, because it’s generally not what people come for. But out in Phuket, this kind of talk might play a little differently. But I was in my living room. So it kind of took me aback.

For my very subjective money, the karma and rebirth thing is where Buddhism just starts to look like every other religion and offers you the panacea of a better life in some not-now future. It starts to be precipitously much less interesting. I was turned off. I’ll probably return to this series of podcasts at some point, though. As there’s lots of good stuff. But for now I need an extended break, I think.

I’ve just wrangled a free (or fee reduced) spot in another meditation class, which is nice because the thinking, thinking, thinking has been quite relentless lately, and I could use another perspective.

 

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

Mapping the Territory, Not Monolithic

Have hardly touched the newer books, but continue to incorporate the Alan Wallace meditations in my sitting practice, though about half of them I’m doing in corpse pose. I thought I might fall asleep, lying down at 5 a.m., but it hasn’t happened yet. Dr. Wallace’s voice is quite alert, and his mind is vigorous. I am inspired by the number of meditative practices that are out there.

I have been fortunate to find a very good book that maps out much of the meditative territory, explaining the different meditative practices and how they relate to one another, support one another, which I shall share in a future post. The most basic example of this is simple “concentration” practices, as a prelude and support to “mindfulness” practices such as Vipasssana. Wallace is filling in some of the blanks. He focusses on the mindfulness of breathing meditation. Then he contrasts and supports by “settling the mind in its natural state,” or meditations on one of what some Buddhists have called the four immeasurables — meditations on qualities such as lovingkindness, compassion, empathetic joy — and so forth (sorry, I don’t know my immeasurables!)

I am struck by how alert and precise these practices are in their focus. There is no room for spacing out or becoming groggy, though of course, this happens from time to time — but within the practices there are precautions against slipping into the mush.

It reminds me of a passing crack the Dalai Lama’s brother made about zen meditators in the Pico Iyer book (short review: can’t really recommend, but interesting) — he called them “those vegetables in Japan!” Of course, this is probably not fair, but it illuminates that neither the practices, nor the communities are monolithic.