Meditation Los Angeles

Category: MBSR

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


Stream Entry at the New York Times

Wow, right there in the New York Times! A piece about a real (failed, oh well) attempt at stream entry! You just don’t see this very often. The piece, entitled “The Anxiety of the Long-Distance Meditator” just completely caught the attention of this longish-distance runner, and features Daniel Ingram and an appearance by Hokai Sobol, even. The real stuff, in my opinion. From what I know…

Here’s a brief quote from the article:

Ingram was encouraging but also somewhat ambivalent. He seemed to have some reservations. I soon found out why: the next day everything fell apart. My mind jangled like a live wire — old fears and insecurities, the heartbreak of an unhappy love affair — images and judgments tortured me for hours and then for days on end. I dreaded the meditation now — it was like sticking my attention into an electrical socket.

My schedule collapsed. I couldn’t sit, and the prospect of walking around the room pretending to be a wonder-struck bionic ninja was agonizing and ridiculous. Instead, feeling guilty, I went for long walks in the 100-degree heat, accompanied by the sinister hum of cicadas. People went on retreats for months — years even —- yet the thought of being confined for three more weeks terrified me. There was a Greyhound station in Huntsville, a 20-mile hike. Filled with self-loathing, I decided to leave the next day at dawn, before Ingram could convince me otherwise.

I plugged in the guesthouse phone and called a friend, looking for comfort. Ingram happened to make his visit then; as he entered I quickly put down the phone. He arched an eyebrow. “If you’re gonna blow the retreat, we have free long distance up at the house.”

I continue to do my body scans, yoga, and sitting meditation — the grab bag that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) offers for combatting stress, anxiety, etc. I’ve skipped a couple days, maybe. Tonight is the last class.

Daylong Retreat

Tomorrow doing the MBSR retreat. I’ll probably go to the early pre-session at the beach. Why not? Might as well get some negative ions. I’ve cooked up a barley soup that should carry me through the day. Looking forward to it.

Back to Sitting

Technically, I’ve not been sitting much. I’ve been doing body scans and yoga meditations. Alternating. But now, in my MBSR class, we are moving back into some sitting meditation, which was a bit difficult. I’m no longer used to the sit. I tried some lovingkindness (though I’ve largely forgotten the words) and some inclusive awareness to pass the time. In the end, the 30 minutes went by without too much discomfort.

Yesterday had a wonderful body scan. I mention it because it informed my sitting meditation today. Thinking about sensation. In MBSR we talk about the triangle of experience — that most experience is made out of three components: thoughts, emotions, sensation. The useful trick of a body scan, in my opinion, is that it gets one focussing on sensation. The same could be said of Mindfulness of the Breath meditation practices as well, I suppose. But there’s something about moving from one body part to another that keeps the restless mind at bay — a new play thing, a new thing to focus on… And then just sensation.

Gives one the chance to bypass, sidestep all that mindless chatter. And emotions.

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.

Many Hours Later – Mindful Listening

Still meditating. Have continued with the MBSR class. About 15 minutes into a meditation where we were focussing on sound someone in the neighborhood began blasting “Eye of the Tiger”, and that’s when I suspected Obama had won the election.

The body meditation is a good place to work from if you’ve had a lot of difficulty concentrating recently, as I have. Because it’s so structured. There’s a good one, here, at InsightLA’s website.

Another great thing in the class was the mindful listening exercise. Since the class has over 25 people, we broke into groups of 5 and introduced ourselves, spoke about how our practice was going. Often I find such exchanges can be tedious, but the added component of having a substantial focus on your body while listening and while speaking, was very interesting. It’s easier, in my experience, to focus on your body sensations while listening — quite a bit more difficult while talking. I suspect this is because we do a lot of social monitoring when we are talking, gauging our audience. Who knows. In any case, I recommend this practice.

You could do it at almost any time, if it occurred to you.

Running Meditation

Though I’ve not posted for quite some time — I continue to meditate daily. Last evening I just started an MBSR class — Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, the secular take on mindfulness meditation as formulated by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The class is large and as people introduced themselves I was rather impressed with the level of self-disclosure and variety backgrounds. There are a lot of very stressed out people out there! A lot of suffering.

We progressed to a body-scan meditation and I’m pretty sure I fell asleep almost immediately. My consolation is that I don’t think I snored — which I once did rather loudly at the conclusion of a yoga class many years ago.

In my running, I am focussing on form. So this body-scan meditation feels familiar. I’m awakening to the many facets of running form. That it’s really not just the legs. How the whole body is flexing together in various units and subunits. The shoulders must be relaxed, the arms moving like pistons, forward, but loose. The foot plant, below the hips. The hips pushing forward. The posture erect.

In fact, I treat my easy runs as something of a meditation. Since I’m not bothered about the intensity and pacing so much, I can really focus on form. This has been wonderful. With the body scan — you also bring body consciousness into focus in unexpected ways. The jaws, the throat, the nasal cavity. So you might say I have two practices going at the moment.

I’ll be sharing more about my experience in the MBSR class, soon. My overall impression of the class is favorable, indeed.