Monthly Archives: December 2012

New Year’s Resolutions That Work

If you incorporate mindfulness into your New Year’s resolutions, you will achieve them.

For example, if your intention is to lose weight, practice mindful eating. If you are in the present moment when you grocery shop, peruse a menu, prepare a meal and chew your food, you will tap into the body’s wisdom. With mindfulness you will enjoy the whole process of nourishing yourself. It is when we go mindless that we over-eat, unaware that our stomach is full. It is when we go mindless that we eat food we are programmed to want but that does not satisfy our body’s hunger. When we are mindful, if our body isn’t hungry, we don’t think about food. What freedom!

If your intention is to exercise more, incorporate awareness into your practice. As you exercise, sense into the body, feel the movement, follow the breath. You will feel more fully alive and find joy in the movement. If you are doing exercise that requires a certain set of repetitions, do the counting based on your breath or pulse. This helps you stay in the moment, anchored in physical sensation, so the mind is less likely to wander off, get bored and stop exercising.

If your intention is to spend less money, be mindful of when you need something and when you are following a desire based in some complex impulsive pattern that does not serve you. This will help to make wise spending easy and pleasurable.

You can see how mindfulness can apply to any resolution you might make. If you don’t see how it applies, let me know and we can talk it through. (Make a comment below.)

The New Year is a powerful time to make a change in our habitual way of being. When I was 25, I quit smoking as a New Year’s resolution and have never smoked another cigarette in 40 years. Yay! Since so many in my family died from smoking-related diseases, I am especially grateful for my having made that resolution at a young age. But it is never too late to make a wise choice.

The common joke is that we will all fail in our resolutions. But if our intention is grounded in wisdom, and if we practice mindfulness, we can do it!

In Buddhist thinking, every moment is a fresh beginning. In meditation, our mind wanders and when we become aware of it, we simply begin again. Just so, it’s important not to sabotage ourselves by thinking that if we failed one time, then we have to wait until next New Year’s Day to try again. Every moment is a fresh beginning. We reset our intention grounded in mindfulness, and simply begin again. We can use the idea of the beginning of a new year to inspire and support us, but if we use it as an excuse to give up, then let go of any attachment to the New Year as some be all end all point in time.

In our practice we have two ongoing intentions: The first is to be present, and as you can see in the above examples, the resulting mindfulness helps us to live wisely and joyfully. The second intention is equally important: To be compassionate with ourselves and others. In this way, we don’t waste time beating ourselves up or blaming someone or else. We understand that we and they are human, prone to error, and that we are all in need of loving kindness. We don’t have to make up excuses for our behavior. That’s just a habituated pattern of fear-based justification that distracts us from being present. Instead we simply recognize our error, apologize and make amends as appropriate, see where we went astray from our intention, sense into our breath and begin again.

I wish you every good blessing in the New Year and always.

Holiday Traditions in Transition

When I was fourteen, my brother was living away from home as Christmas approached. My mother decided that the Mexican tin Christmas tree would suffice that year. You can imagine how I felt after a whole lifetime of large and wonderful Christmas trees.

On the day before Christmas my brother arrived home as a surprise. What a surprise he got to discover that without him there was no sense of Christmas in the house. He said, ‘Stephanie, get in the car!’ and off we went down to the Christmas tree lot, found the last scraggly tree and brought it home, filling the house with the aroma and joy of the season. My hero!

My mother was not a Scrooge by any means. She had made our Christmases into fantasy wonderlands throughout our childhood, but she was clearly ready to move on. I wasn’t. My brother wasn’t. My father didn’t care either way as long as there was harmony in the household. The tradition was not allowed to die, even when the hub of that tradition wanted to let it go. Why?

Traditions are a contract between a group of people, in this case a family. For any change to happen we need to come to some agreement about what works best for everyone involved. This is a conversation that needs to happen well in advance, before the wheels of holiday habits begin to roll to their inevitable end.

Feeling the need to change some of your traditions? 

While it may be too late to change traditions this season, here is what we can do right now. Using our developing skills of awareness and compassion, we can notice what works and has meaning for us in our traditions. We can notice what aspects of the holidays we dread. Where is there just too much? Where is there not enough?  We can write down our observations as note to self, and have a discussion with family and/or friends as to how to modify these traditions to suit the needs of all. We can plan the conversation for, say, next September.

In our discussion in class, we shared some of the transitions we had made and some we would like to make. The main transition for women our age is letting go of being the hub of the holidays, letting our children, many of whom are parents now, take on the role of making the holidays as they want them to be. They need to establish traditions that are sustainable for them and their children.

When our children were young, we moved into a house and inherited from the previous owners a toy train set up to go under the Christmas tree. How fun, we thought! But that first Christmas we were constantly dealing with whiny complaints that the train had stopped and numerous times a day we had to carefully sweep the track clean of fallen needles from the tree. The next Christmas the train did not appear under the tree. It was an unsustainable tradition. Our youngest son has little children now, and what to my wondering eyes should appear under their tree but a whole Disney tram set up circling around the tree! Our ten-month old granddaughter is now seen by all as godzilla, crashing and trashing the tram. Hopefully it will survive this season so she can enjoy it the next!

We may think that making a transition is a difficult conversation to have. But what was clear from our discussion was that if one person wants change, others are also ready to change, to step in and take on more of a role. Had my mother had a conversation with us rather than simply absenting herself from the whole scene, we would have been happy to create Christmas! It wouldn’t have made as good a story to tell now, but it would have been more skillful.

The biggest gift we can bring to any gathering during the holiday season is the simple sense of being present and compassionate. We can model being compassionate with ourselves by being honest about our limits. When we do this for ourselves, we are teaching our children to take care of themselves as well.

Staying present in the moment seems impossible when gatherings need to be planned and prepared for. Our whole thinking gets focused on a single point in time somewhere in the future.

What’s the dharma way?
First we can remember that this is not a challenge that Buddhist monks have to face, though there must be some monks and nuns who are in charge of planning celebrations such as Vesak, usually in May, that celebrates the Buddha. Just as we do, they probably get caught up in the desire to make everything right. Perhaps they rotate responsibilities and they want to make sure they do the job at least as well as if not better than their predecessor. Out of generosity, they want everyone to have a positive experience.

And, just like us, when they recognize that driven quality of seeking perfection, they bring themselves back to the moment anchored in physical sensation, and send metta to themselves — May I be well — and to any others who are foremost in their thoughts, especially to those who seem to be working at odds, creating obstructions.

What other skills do they bring to it that we can use as well?
First, they know that they are not solely responsible. They can delegate, share the workload. We can do this too. To do so we need to be sure that the others feel this is something worth doing. If it is just our agenda, something we are trying to promote, but others are just along for the ride, then we can’t expect them to engage fully. For any gathering, there has to be a shared sense of value.

We can’t give other people our sense of values, but we can listen to theirs and see where there is agreement. This is important information for the creation of a celebration that has meaning for all. Perhaps the other parts that have meaning for us can be shared with like-minded friends, or as a personal thing we do for ourselves. As grandparents, for example, if our children don’t like to sing, we can still share it with our grandchildren. Passing along traditions often goes from grandparent to grandchild. Parents have so much on their plates already.

Second, the monks and nuns never put any activity above the importance of meditative practice. In this way they are supported and guided by the dharma. They don’t set it aside as inconvenient. They fit any seasonal activity in their pre-existing practice calendar. Even if we are not able to make it to class, we can have a dedicated practice. Even if we are ill, we can take our rest in the dharma.

Visiting Buddhist monks at Spirit Rock tell the gathered sangha that as householders our path is much more challenging than theirs. We practice meditation, study the dharma, have insights, etc. while living in the world of endless distractions. They admire our ability to do so. While we don’t want to get cocky about it, we also can appreciate the truth of this and give ourselves compassion as we go about our daily duties.

We could go on retreat for the whole holiday season and forget about the whole thing. Or we could go traveling and do likewise, while observing the traditions in other cultures, watching how families come together at this time of year, while we sit in a sidewalk cafe and observe the hubbub.

Those are certainly options. Take a moment to see if the thought of such getaways makes you feel longing or horror at the very idea. This gives you useful information to work with, if not for this season then for next year.

If the idea of giving up the holidays all together is abhorrent, yet you find yourself still dreading them, then spend some time really noticing what aspects you are dreading, and which aspects give you joy.

As a young parent, I also remembered that in my childhood, I was so focused on Christmas morning that I was miserable when it was over. The ‘Is that all?’ wasn’t a sadness over the end of presents as much as exhaustion from switching from future-leaning mode into post-Christmas moment mode. So as a young parent I set up a series of smaller traditions that brought the joy of the season and spread out the fun. We had neighborhood caroling, a day of cookie making, an adventure into the country to cut down the tree at the tree farm. The result was that our children seemed less frantic about Christmas itself. It was a very special day, but it wasn’t the be all end all that it had been in my childhood.

But how do we enjoy THIS holiday, beyond using it as investigative information for next year?
First, we take care of ourselves. In this season of darkness, there is a craving not just for eggnog and social interaction, but for a quiet down time for ourselves. There is something in our nature that wants to hibernate like a bear, wants to burrow in and take more naps. For some this may be seasonal affective disorder, where the lack of sunlight alters their chemical make up and brings on a sense of depression. But the rest of us are also affected by the changing of the seasons in one way or another. All of us can be mindful and find ways to assure that we are balancing our activities for our physical and emotional well being.

Second, we can say no to whatever social event doesn’t excite us. By being present with what arises when we look at our invitations or our calendar, we can gauge what we are doing because we think we should, and what we are doing that nourishes us. Why we think that others benefit when we drag ourselves to events where we don’t want to be, I have no idea. It’s a distorted idea of duty, perhaps? Would you want anyone at your party who didn’t really want to be there? It makes no sense.

If there is a sense of not-enoughness, rather than a sense of being overwhelmed, we might consider adding some personal traditions that have meaning for us individually. We might want to find a way to give to those in need during what can be a very difficult time of year. What local community programs are in place that we could join in order to help make the season bright? 

We might feel the need to spend more time in nature. Rain and snow won’t melt us! Bundle up and get outside!

Whatever we do during this season, we can send a lot of metta as the best gift of all. When we are among friends, family, coworkers or fellow shoppers we can let go of the entanglement, and enjoy the experience of simply being alive to be part of it all. There is something magical about silently being fully present to look, listen and savor this fleeting gift of life in the faces and voices of fellow beings, with all their quirks, and yes even the jerks! It is a pleasure beyond measure.

Whatever your holidays and whatever your traditions, I wish you every joy of the season.

The Second Foundation of Mindfulness — Feeling Tones

To most of us the word  ‘feelings’ is pretty much interchangeable with the word ‘emotions.’ But the Buddha grouped emotions with other mental phenomena like thoughts. We will explore the sense of this grouping when we study the Third Foundation of Mindfulness.

The best way I can think of to show the difference between feelings and emotions is to talk about my two little granddaughters. Oh goody!

The elder of the girls at 2-1/2 has a complex array of emotions that she feels and expresses all day long. She says ‘I love you’ in a heartfelt way. She can say ‘I’m sorry’ with true remorse. Yesterday, riding by a lawn full of inflated Christmas decorations including a Santa on an airplane with a moving propeller, her first word was ‘Mine!’ That was a strong emotional response, typical of a two year old. The decorations were not just interesting or pleasing to her. They were something she felt strongly that she had to have in that moment. Of course, she knew they weren’t hers, so she quickly added a more modest and reasoned request: ‘Let’s go back and look at that again.’ But that first ‘Mine!’ was such a clear (and funny) display of strong emotion. As she grows, she will have an even greater array of complex emotional responses to the world and her experience.

Meanwhile her little sister at nine months has feelings. She observes her world with all her senses, interacts with it with curiosity. If an experience is pleasant, she smiles, laughs or moves her body to the rhythm of music and sings. If it is unpleasant she cries or cranks until someone feeds her, changes her diaper, or sees she is rubbing her eyes and so puts her to bed. Over the course of the coming years she too will develop a complex range of emotions, but for now she is a perfect model for the instruction in the Second Foundation of Mindfulness. She experiences pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. Our practice is to notice that we do too.

As I write this I am sitting here with a lovely view of the mountain. It is a pleasant experience. I am at ease in my body, neither too warm nor too cold, no aches or pains. I recognize this also as a pleasant experience. I do notice my stomach is beginning to register a little hunger, but it is not to the point of unpleasantness. So I register this as a neutral experience, neither pleasant nor unpleasant.

Being mindful, we can note our bare feelings about every aspect of our current experience in this way. The Buddha’s instructions for contemplation of feelings are: When feeling a pleasant feeling to know ‘I feel a pleasant feeling;’ when feeling an unpleasant feeling to know ‘I feel an unpleasant feeling;’ when feeling a neutral feeling to know ‘I feel a neutral feeling.’

Give it a try right now. Without trying to change anything about your current experience, simply pay attention to the physical experience of being here. Sit with an open awareness of experience, alert to all senses. Then note each aspect of your experience as either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral in that moment.

If you prefer, you could do a slight variation. Sense into your experience and seek out a pleasant sensation. Be with that for a bit. Then seek out an unpleasant sensation. Be with that for a bit. Then seek out a neutral sensation. This could be as simple as picking a patch of skin on your thigh to notice. Be with that for a bit.

Notice how this exercise relies heavily on what we learned in the First Foundation of Mindfulness: To sense into physical sensation. We dive back into the First Foundation again and again. We ground ourselves in its wisdom.

What are the benefits of this kind of noting?

First, it is an aid to mindfulness, another form of noting what is arising and falling away in our present experience.

As we practice, we begin to see that these feelings change. What is pleasant or unpleasant one minute may become neutral in the next. This helps us to develop an awareness of the nature of impermanence and frees us to let go of our dependence on them for our happiness.

Feeling tones are like the weather. We would think it absurd to get emotionally wrought because clouds move across the sky or the sun shifts positions throughout the day. Just so, as we notice pleasant, unpleasant and neutral experiences arising and falling away, we recognize that these experiences are natural and inconstant. Just like the weather. We become less reactive to them.

There are several other benefits that we will discuss in our first class in January. For now we can just incorporate this practice into our meditation and into our day. You might experiment with looking for the pleasant experience within a neutral or even unpleasant experience. For example, while shopping in a crowded grocery store aisle, you might feel rushed, anxious to get the list accomplished. But if you look for the pleasant within the experience, you might find that the aisle is full of bright colors and patterns, the music is something you’d like to dance to, and the other shoppers and store employees are ready to smile at the least provocation, if even just one person (that might be you!) is anchored into the moment and the pleasure of simply being alive. It won’t take any longer. The list will still be taken care of, but so will you, and in the process you might spread some joy. ‘Tis always the season for that!

First Foundation of Mindfulness – Review & a Few More Thoughts

We have completed our exploration of the Buddha’s First Foundation of Mindfulness, focusing in turn on the breath, postures, contemplation on the body, elements and death.

When you pour a concrete foundation, you want it to cure before you start adding more layers. Just so, I want to take the time to review and discuss the First Foundation of Mindfulness before we move on to the Second. If you missed any of the dharma talks within this section, then the links above can take you to where you need to go to ‘fill in the blanks.’

If you are just joining the discussion, you have a ready-made curriculum in the links above. Take your own time to do so in a way that is meaningful for you. You might set aside a period of time every day to read and reflect before or after meditation practice, for example. You can also visit the pages on the right column of the blog for more explanation and basic instruction.

The First Foundation of Mindfulness is one dharma lesson that could be a full life practice on its own. Sensing into physical sensation and knowing that we are sensing in to physical sensation. All that follows is rich and valuable, but only if we have laid this first foundation. You will see as we proceed how each one builds on the last.

What we have learned in this exploration is the basis of vipassana practice. We could go so far as to say that without this First Foundation, we don’t have a vipassana (insight) practice since that is where the original instruction for vipassana bhavana* comes from. So let’s make sure we understand it!

In our most recent class we had a discussion on anything from the previous talks on the First Foundation of Mindfulness that were still unclear, as well as any insights that came to the meditators from the explorations.

We focused a good deal of our discussion on the breath. In this tradition we do not change the breath but focus our awareness on the natural rising and falling of the breath. I had to repeat this several times during the class because even though the meditators practice in this way, most have knowledge of various other trainings, such as yoga or qigong where there are breath exercises that consciously alter the breath for a particular purpose. These are all fine but they are not recommended for the ongoing practice of insight meditation.

In this practice, we are not actively trying to change things to make everything right. Instead we are cultivating a way of being with things as they are. So it is how we relate to causes and conditions in our lives that is our focus. So the breath is as it is, and we cultivate our ability to attend it. This noticing may bring about change in the breath, but we are not actively working to change it. We are not finding fault with the breath for being ‘too shallow,’ a prevalent opinion in our culture. If we sit in an erect but relaxed position, we naturally open the column of the rib cage for the breath to breathe; if we notice and release whatever tension we find, and if we simply sit and know that we are sitting, the breath will be fine. Let the breath live unjudged! It certainly deserves it, as it gives us life and all. Just saying.

One of the meditators mentioned a particular breath practice she has found very calming where you inhale to the count of four, hold the breath for the count of seven, then release the breath to the count of eight. So I had her lead us in this and it was very interesting.

One meditator mentioned that she does a count to match her heart rate, so being led was difficult since our hearts don’t all beat at the same rate. This was a useful observation for any of us wanting to do some of these practices.

I mentioned a qigong instructor named Ken Cohen who provides a series of breath exercises. These various breath practices are perfectly fine and could be valuable. I only want to be clear that they are not a part of the basic practice of insight meditation.

A few minutes of breath practice before meditation could be useful in the process of establishing a personal practice. Without a teacher, a bell, a sangha, a class time, a setting that tells our busy mind ‘Now it’s time to meditate!’ we may need some amount of ritual to transition into our practice, especially at first.

Here is the guiding question to know whether such a practice, or any ritual, is beneficial: “Is this guiding me toward a mindfulness practice or is it potentially a hindrance to it?”

How could a ritual become a hindrance?  I promote what I call a ‘portable practice.’ The beauty of insight meditation is that you can do it anywhere at any time. There is nothing required but the intention to be present and the intention to be compassionate. When we add rituals or objects that we depend on to get us where we want to be, then we are creating conditions that could become hindrances. ‘If I don’t have my (fill in the blank: altar, breath practice, beads, spoken chant, etc.) then I can’t meditate.’ If we set up anything too elaborate, we undermine our ability to practice in say, the airport lounge. If we are dependent on causes and conditions, then we are not centered, grounded in our own experience.

So that was the review, but here are some things to consider that we didn’t cover in any of our previous explorations of the body as the First Foundation of Mindfulness.

The Body Google
Our body is a storehouse of information as well as the vessel in which we are able to function in this world. As we deepen in our ability to sense into the body, we also learn to listen to it in a way that was probably foreign to us.

If we have chronic pain or illness, this listening can help to alleviate physical suffering. With the enhanced awareness, we might notice the conditions around each occurrence. You don’t need advanced training for this, just a willingness to notice. 

For example, if your back ‘goes out’ you can ask what was happening in your life in the days leading up to it? What condition arose? This cause could be a difficult conversation that you had or are dreading having; a challenging deadline that lies ahead or that you failed to meet; a worry over the well being of a loved one; the loss of a job or fear about the future; guilt about the past; or any number of things that cause tension, stress and mental or emotional anguish that quite often will be experienced as physical pain. 

If we learn to listen to the body, then to ask questions of ourselves about what is going on in our lives and in our minds, we can alleviate the pain! If this is an interesting area of exploration for you, I highly recommend the books of Dr. John Sarno, an orthopedic surgeon who began to see the mind-body connection quite clearly in his many patients and has an excellent prescription that is free, except for the price of his paperback book, and easy. Reader, it changed my life! If it can change someone else’s, I hope you will forgive me this bit of promotion. If you know someone who might benefit, speak up. I am ever grateful to my friend who told me about it.

The Aging Body
As we age, mindfulness becomes increasingly valuable to keep us going in health and happiness. We can care for the body best by being mindful of what we are doing with it, by being considerate of its needs and by paying attention where we are going so we don’t trip and fall. 

We can notice if we are being overly cautious or protective, as if the body is fragile. This makes for added tension that in turn is a setup for harming ourselves, getting into pain or avoiding activities that might be healthful. We can notice if we are driving the body too hard. We can notice if this driven quality comes from some fear-based emotion, and is therefore unskillful. We can notice when we have a sense of well being. We can appreciate it without clinging to it, wishing it could stay this way. That in turn causes more tension, and then we lose the sense of well being we have found.

While this is the end of our discussion of the First Foundation of Mindfulness, it is just the beginning of our own internal awareness of how to live mindfully in this human form so that we can best appreciate this fleeting gift of life.

* Vipassana bhavana is Pali for insight meditation. It is the oldest of Buddhist meditation practices, as taught in the the Buddha’s Sattipatthana Sutta (which is what we are currently studying.) The word vipassana is Pali. Passana means seeing or perceiving, and vi means ‘in a special way.’ Bhavana means mental cultivation.

First Foundation of Mindfulness: Elements

The Buddha taught about the elements of the body: earth, air, fire and water. As we develop a sensory awareness of physical nature, we can enhance that awareness by noticing these four elements as they show themselves in our experience.

As we walk we can feel the earthy mass and weight of our body succumbing to the gravitational pull of the earth.

As we breathe we can feel the air nature of our body, how the largest proportion of our body is in fact oxygen (65%).So we can breathe  in that sense of aliveness and connection with the air around us.

We can experience the element of fire as we exert energy and burn calories, as we note the temperature of our body, both internally and on our skin. Our neurons fire an elaborate electrical system in our body. And our hormones have a potentially fiery component, creating a burning sense of urgency and passion.

We experience water in our being — saliva, sweat, a full bladder. Or we notice a lack of water in thirst or skin dryness. We take in liquids and emit them. We know we would not survive long without water. Dehydration is death. Water is life. We are liquid beings.

In focusing on the elemental nature of our body, the Buddha has added another effective way for us to sense into the body in order to be anchored in the present moment. Try noticing one or the other of the various elements as you go about your day. You will probably find yourself being present, grounded and able to see more clearly the reality of whatever is going on within you and around you.

But the focus on elements also has the potential to bring us home to an awareness of the body as an intrinsic part of all nature. Looking at the science of elements — not just the Buddha’s four overriding elements but the whole periodic table — we find that everything, including our body, is made up of all the same elements, but in varying amounts.* For example, while the core of the earth is iron and other heavy metals, the earth’s crust has many of the same elements as the human body.

In our group discussion one meditator mentioned the fact that everything is mostly space at a microscopic level, which creates an even greater sense of commonality. And then we talked about how if you are working with a photo on the computer and you zoom in very close to the edge of any object in the photo, the edge disappears. It makes you really question the reality of the edges that we take for granted! Am I really in a skin container? Skin is protective but also permeable. It is in a constant state of shedding and regenerating, so that it becomes a part of the atmosphere and the ground we walk on.

When we begin to look at the reality of our physical nature, we can let go of that self-imposed sense of separation, as if we are alien intruders in the natural world, an invasive species. Those of us who love nature may find it difficult to see the nature in ourselves or in others of our species. And those who accept the inherited culturally promoted idea that nature is just a pile of useful resources for human use are at an even greater disconnect from understanding the reality of not just inter-reliance but inter-being. We are all one!

This collective sense of alienation from others of our species and the rest of nature is the direct cause of the abuse of each other, other animals, plant life and the earth itself. So this meditation on the elements allows us to recognize that we are all family here. We can relax into a sense of unitive ease. We can be kind. We can be cooperative. We can take the needs of all beings into consideration. It is a very powerful meditation well worth incorporating into our practice and into our daily lives.

Still not feeling it? I have come up with a couple of analogies we can play with to help remind ourselves that we are all made up of the same stuff.

I always like cooking analogies so here’s one to consider:
Just as a fully stocked kitchen can provide an amazing variety of meals, we can think of the universe as a full pantry of elements where anything can happen. And it did! Here we all are — humans and millions of other species of animals, plants, and all manner of rocks, and then all the ‘man-made’ objects created out of combining the elements found in nature.

Another analogy:
Imagine a huge set of Lego blocks — the basic blocks, none of the fancy pre-fab stuff. Now imagine them infinitely smaller, so small we couldn’t even see them in the microscope. They are subatomic blocks.

Now imagine that we are all Lego constructions. I am a Lego woman, living in a Lego house with my Lego husband. We drive in our Lego car to the Lego store, take walks in the Lego forest, and enjoy the company of our Lego family and friends.

We could live our lives without thinking about our Lego nature, and most of us do. That’s why it throws us every time some Lego construct comes apart and gets repurposed as something else. We are shocked because we thought this version of Legoland, this version of ourselves, our family and friends and where we live, was permanent. We thought these were solid structures! They are not! They are all made up of subatomic building blocks of life!  

If we have some part of our awareness knowing this is Legoland, then we understand the nature of the universe we live in. We see that we are all one in the sense that we are all made of the exact same stuff — maybe you’ve got more blue Legos in your make-up and I’ve got more red, but we’re all Legos. Everything is Legos.

The fundamental building blocks of the universe come together and fall apart with regularity. The world is full of cycles and seasons. The only constant is change!

If we are distressed with how things fall apart, then we can take comfort in the unitive nature of it all — that we are not and never have been separate. That we have always been and will always exist, at least at the subatomic level, just not in this particular Lego shape. We are in and of the universe, we are stardust, we are expressions of the sun itself, the earth itself. We are never alone, no matter how isolated we may feel at any given moment.

So these experiential exercises we undertake — sensing into the physical nature of our being — are meant to help alleviate the suffering that we cause ourselves when we engage in erroneous thinking. When we believe in permanence, we suffer because we are shocked, maybe even horrified, when things fall apart. The erroneous thinking that we are each of us encapsulated and separate also causes us to suffer. The separation we perceive is just a conceptual convenience for making our way in the physical world. We are not separate! There is no separation!

These realizations that we come to are awakenings to the reality of life. This is insight meditation and the whole purpose is to foster our own insights into the nature of reality.
The Buddha encouraged his followers to find out the truth for themselves. He did not want people to simply accept what he said as truth and parrot it to others. This is a tradition that continually sends us back to ourselves, to our own experience to discover the truth. This is a truth that is based not in books but in our bodies, in our tuning in to our senses to access full awareness in this present moment.

So as you listen or read a dharma talk, don’t take it as the whole of an answer. Think of it like going to the safe deposit vault at the bank. The teller, just like the teacher, has one key. You have the other, the one that makes it possible for you to not just receive the dharma, but to experience it for yourself.

So what does your key look like? It consists of wise intention and wise effort in your meditation practice. The insights rise of their own accord when you give yourself the time, space and silence to experience them.

If in reading on you find this is not sitting right with you, just notice it. Maybe it’s not time for this. We each need to notice and honor our own cycles and rhythms. We need to be autodidactic in the way we learn, following the wisdom within. This is not a linear exploration but something much more organic.

So how does this sit with you? What does it bring up? Give yourself some time to practice sensing in. Then give yourself some time in silence to notice your thoughts and feelings. This is your exploration.

*Elements of the human body:
Oxygen (65%)
Carbon (18%)
Hydrogen (10%)
Nitrogen (3%)
Calcium (1.5%)
Phosphorus (1.0%)
Potassium (0.35%)
Sulfur (0.25%)
Sodium (0.15%)
Magnesium (0.05%)
Copper, Zinc, Selenium, Molybdenum, Fluorine, Chlorine, Iodine, Manganese, Cobalt, Iron (0.70%)
Lithium, Strontium, Aluminum, Silicon, Lead, Vanadium, Arsenic, Bromine (trace amounts)