Category Archives: moment

Great Gratitude Retreat

I just led a daylong Great Gratitude retreat that seemed to leave everyone in a state of bliss and yes gratitude, according to their end of the day sharing.



Going into silence is such a delicious thing to do, although people always think it sounds scary. ‘How can I possibly not talk for hours (and in the case of longer retreats, days) on end?” Easy! One student at the end mentioned how surprised she was at how pleasant it was to be quiet, to not have to think of something to say, and to be together as a sangha in mutual appreciation without needing to communicate orally or even by eye contact. This lovely interior experience is fully supported by the community, and that’s something people forget when they think about going into silence.


We did a traditional Vipassana Buddhist style retreat: sitting meditations alternated with outdoor walking meditations. The decks with their boards set the natural walking meditation aisles for formal walking meditation. The gardens were for less formal meandering and communing with nature. At different points throughout the day meditators would take a seat by the waterfall to do a listening meditation. One meditator kept returning to the base of an old oak. At the end of the day sharing she said it helped her feel her roots. One meditator took note of the great number of species of animals that share the garden with us, sensing community. Another noticed her comparing mind, how enjoying the garden got infiltrated by thoughts of ‘Why isn’t my garden like this?’ One meditator developed gratitude for her feet as she did walking meditation, and recognized what a gift they are, how some people don’t have the use of their feet or their feet are in pain. One meditator felt the flush of creativity that being fully present can provide.

You might say well of course it is easy to be present and grateful in a garden on a beautiful spring day, but what about being present amidst life’s difficulties? What about being present with pain and hard choices?

We practice in the garden so that we learn the way to the present moment in any situation. We learn here and apply what we have learned out in the busy world. Since so much of what we struggle with in life has little to do with conditions in the world but much to do with how the mind grasps for, clings to and turns away from whatever arises in our experience, it isn’t necessary to provide unpleasant situations to get the mind to struggle. The mind does this with everything, until we recognize it and find that we can make room for all of life experience if we simply expand our spacious open embrace.

Even in a lovely setting we can find something to bother us. As I walked on the cedar decking, I couldn’t help noticing how shabby it was, how mottled, how in need of repair. But after a few periods of seated and walking meditation, I walked the same course and found the same boards to be beautiful pieces of natural art! That’s how the mind is. It finds fault in conditions and situations, and then when it settles down — when the tuning fork of meditation has brought it into balance — it sees beauty everywhere. So if we took this retreat on the road, if we transported it to a slum in Mumbai, at first we might be overwhelmed by the squalor, but after a period of meditation we would begin to see the beauty of the people, the colors, the patterns, the sounds and the energy of life being lived. We would, as people often do, fall in love with something that we had felt such aversion for just a few hours before.

Another example: I used to go on a wonderful Buddhist women’s retreat up above the world famous Muir Woods where towering redwood trees fill a deep canyon. During each day of my retreat I would walk down the trail into the canyon and enjoy the quiet of the areas away from the tourist-trodden trails. Towards the end of the retreat, I decided to venture into the populated areas. In that state of mindfulness, my heart filled with such love for the flocks of this colorful species with their bright t-shirts and hats, each little grouping a family or fellow-travelers having its own little world of interaction. What a falling away there was for me of the attitudes, opinions and cynical judgments I carried about my species, especially in crowds. This is the gift of meditation. It doesn’t turn us into zombies. It removes the dust-trapped veils that have prevented us from seeing clearly and experiencing great gratitude for this gift of being present, wherever we are.

So what is ‘great gratitude’ and how does it differ from plain old gratitude? Plain old gratitude is counting your blessings, and that’s a lovely thing to do. What kind of unfeeling ingrates would we be not to be grateful for the good fortune we have? People who have less health, wealth, love and beautiful surroundings would say, ‘Hey, if you’re not grateful, then step aside. if I had what you have I would be soooo grateful.’ How often have we been in that position ourselves, thinking ‘if only’ we had the blessings some other person has, we would be so incredibly grateful? (That ‘if only’ is a very painful place, one that doesn’t disappear with acquisition, but sets the stage for more ‘if only’ desires.)


So we count our blessings. Of course we do. We are not automatons that don’t feel pain at the loss of these kinds of blessings. But when a loss happens, through our meditation practice, we stay present with the experience, noticing what arises. We might notice the heavy pressure in the chest that is so often associated with loss, for example. We stay present enough to hold ourselves with tender compassion. We are willing to feel what we feel and not rush to get past it. We understand that the dark valleys of our lives are where the fertile soil is. Instead of wallowing in the mud, getting stuck in our story of loss, we nurture ourselves, have patience with the process, and grow from our experiences.
One thing we learn from loss is that the blessings we can count on our fingers are conditional: our health, our wealth, our homes, our loved ones. These things we are grateful for are finite, changeable and undependable — all the things that make being attached to them a sure fire way to cause dukkha, suffering.

Is there anything that is infinite that we can be grateful for? Yes! We can feel great gratitude for this very moment just as it is, with all its joys and all its sorrows. As long as we are conscious we always have this very moment. Pleasant or unpleasant we have the experience of being present.

In moments when our conditional gratitude falters, when we want things to be different from the way they are, or we want things to stay the same and we dread change, can we open to that infinite quality of gratitude for being present simply to experience it all? And in that way can we soften our tight clinging and our fear-based belief that without these things we could not go on?

The practice (for the retreat and perhaps for you if you choose to do it) is to notice both the finite gratitude for specific blessings we can name, and then expand into infinite gratitude for this very moment just as it is. There is room for it all if we are present and compassionate.
We feel gratitude for being conscious in each moment as it reveals itself. We learn the fine art of holding it lightly and savoring it. This devout gratitude sheds light on the darkest despair, allowing us to discern the treasure buried deep within. It allows us to experience pain as a symphony of passing sensations. Deep unconditional gratitude can be a constant companion that opens our eyes and our hearts. And ultimately, at the moment when we breathe our last precious breath, we are grateful even for this.

We can simply let the great gratitude breathe us, illuminating our lives.

Tied up in Bows

Often when I am going about my day, I notice varying levels of tension in my body stemming from my sense of need to get things done, to have everything on my to do list completed and tied up with a bow. Even if my body is telling me, sometimes begging me, to relax and rest, I can’t rest until the project I am working on is done.

But what is ‘done’? In the scheme of things, there is no ‘done’. One project comes to a state of completion for the moment, and another that I hadn’t been paying attention to rises up to take its place. Where is this state of doneness?

Even death isn’t done. It too is a transition of some sort, certainly physically, and perhaps on some other level as well. I don’t know. None of us knows for certain. We each have our own views or beliefs, our hopes, but these are all just guesses about the great mystery that awaits us all. It is part of our practice to rest with that great ‘I don’t know.’

Have you noticed how in life things always need doing. Just the daily necessities of taking care of ourselves call us to take action. Right now my stomach is saying, ‘Breakfast!’ and my thoughts are saying, ‘Hang in there! I just want to get this post edited and then…’ 😉

As much as we might like to think it’s possible, we can’t tie everything in our lives up with tidy little bows. When we believe we can, we get ourselves tied up in knots of anxiety.

But instead of focusing on all that wrapping and tying perfect bows, what if we pause to notice the gift that exists in each moment? Whatever our circumstances, whatever is going on, there is a gift here. Can we notice the bow itself, the pattern of the paper, the shape of the box, the colors, and the texture?

Let’s take our time as we unwrap this moment, as ordinary a moment as this may seem. Let’s really notice sensations, thoughts and emotions arising and falling away. Whatever is inside, we can give it this moment to unfold in its own way, to reveal itself, to allow ourselves a sense of wonder.

This gift is present in every ordinary moment. For example, next time you are standing in a checkout line, instead of succumbing to the impatience of getting past this experience so you can ‘get on with your life’, take a breath, tune in to physical sensations, and allow yourself to be present for the gift. Savor this little postcard from the intersection of humanity. What a gift to be alive and in community! Enjoy the exchange of words, practice kindness that is only possible when we slow down enough to be present.

These gifts are not are under someone else’s Christmas tree. We are not outside of life,  looking through the window, wishing it was ours. The gifts are offered in every moment of life as part of the direct experience of having a body-mind to experience it.

Often when we are busy tying things up in bows, we are striving to please someone else — a friend, a family member, a boss, a client, a work or volunteer community — and we get so caught up in wanting to provide perfection that we become tied up in knots and difficult to be around. What kind of gift is that?

Next time you are doing something for someone else, notice what is present in your experience as you endeavor. Is there ease? Or is there anxiety? Is there love? Or is there fear?

What could we put in the gift we are wrapping that could possibly be enjoyed by anyone if we do it with this sense urgency and unease?

The real gift we bring to the table is our ability to savor and appreciate the many gifts that are given in any moment. Even our most fundamental activities can be regarded in this way — not as demands on a rigorous to do list, but as the gift of simply being alive to experience the doing in a way that is less driven, creates less stress and more joy.

I know when I rush around as if my to do list is a whip being cracked on my back, the effort I make does not feel wise at all. I feel like a demanding whiny ingrate. ‘This is how I use the precious gift of life I’ve been given?’ I ask myself.

Then I feel worse, of course, because beating myself up about it is not very useful. So I do remember the practice. I pause. I sense in to notice where the tension is in my body. In my jaw? In my neck? Hmm. I notice other sensations as well, and by bringing my full attention to sensation I begin to release the tight knot I had been tying, thinking I was making a pretty bow.

Then I send myself some metta, loving-kindness, and some compassion. It’s okay. I resist the urge to get entangled in the name calling blame game that labels me ‘uptight’.

Sometimes it helps, when I feel the whole world is on my shoulders, to remind myself that this whole earth, is a tiny speck in a tiny universe, in the seemingly infinite cosmos. For some this might feel terrifying to recognize one’s personal insignificance in the grand scheme. For me it feels very restful. What a load off! Even if just speaking in earthly terms, there’s over six billion people on this planet. Surely I don’t have to ‘do it all’!

Isn’t living in the present moment, doing what needs to be done in a very present and loving way, the greatest gift I could give, to myself and others?

Sounds good. Let’s give it a try why don’t we? Let’s open the gift of this present moment. In every moment.


Exercise
Think of your own to do list.
Now notice any physical sensations in your body, especially any tightening that might happen as you think about all you have to accomplish.
Let go of the thought of the to do list, and stay present with the sensations in the body.
There is that tightness, yes, but notice what else there is in this moment.
Close your eyes and sense into the overall energy in the body.
Notice temperature. Notice texture. Notice any sounds. Notice what you see — color, contrast of light and dark, patterns.
Allow this moment to be illuminated by your attention.
Notice thoughts and emotions as they arise, and see them as simply thoughts, simply emotions.
Rest in this state for as long as you like.

You may find that the tension in your body releases, that the inner struggle eases, and that there feels like a lot more room and time to do whatever needs to be done.

Then, if there is something on your to do list that stands out, see if you can let go of the end goal, the need to be done with it. Attend the task with kind attention. Feel your body as you do it. Feel the joy of simply being alive to move muscle or engage in mental activity in this way.

If you find tension arising, pause, let go of the goal, and return to the moment, this gift of a moment you are so joyfully unwrapping.

Eightfold Path: Right Speech

The third aspect of the Eightfold Path is Right Speech. This is a very challenging one for most of us. When we were kids, we discovered that words are powerful. Even though we said ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me’ we knew even then that wasn’t true. Words can cut, they can scar, they can destroy. We got hurt by them and then perhaps on occasion we turned around and hurt others. As children we might have relished the little power we could find in our lives, and words surprised us with their power. We could make people laugh. We could make people cry. We could make people angry. We could make people look at us and smile. This word stuff was huge!

I remember being eager to grow up because it seemed to me that grown ups were generally nicer. They didn’t say cruel things, they didn’t make fun of me. Of course much of children’s talk is not purposely cruel, just bluntly honest, curious and untimely. When they see something different than they are used to, they stare and ask questions. This is appropriate for their main quest in life at their age: to discover this new world they find themselves inhabiting.

As children we may have received some variation on the theme of ‘children should be seen and not heard’ and if we couldn’t say something nice we were told not to say anything at all. If we felt the pressure of those sentiments, we may now as adults find we have a greater resistance to the idea of Right Speech than to any of the other aspects of the Eightfold Path. We want to feel we can speak our truth. We don’t want to be silenced. We may feel that to be quiet is to be dis-empowered, because we recognize that indeed words have power. We want to be able to express ourselves in our own way, and we don’t want our speech to be dictated by some set of rules that might squelch our unique creative expression.

We want to feel absolutely free to say what we want, but then sometimes we end up feeling terrible when our thoughtless words leave destruction in their wake. Words have power. We know this is to be so, but still we find ourselves occasionally talking without thinking, talking in ways that are harmful to ourselves or others.

And at that point, even if we have resisted the idea of Right Speech, we can appreciate it as a valuable tool for reflection. It, like the other aspects of the Eightfold Path, is not a rule but a guidepost to light our way out of the murky mire of our guilt over having misspoken. “Why do I feel so miserable?” we ask ourselves. The guidepost of Right Speech reminds us that unskillful speech can cause misery, and we might want to review the speech we’ve been using, asking ourselves,” Was what I said true, useful and timely?” for these are the three criteria of Right Speech. If we are feeling miserable, chances are we can’t answer ‘yes’ to all three.

With the regular practice of meditation our mind becomes more spacious so that we can see our thoughts and hear our speech more clearly. This spaciousness has given us at least glimpses of Right View (sensing in to our deep connection), and has brought us into alignment with Right Intention (to be fully present in the moment and to be kind to ourselves and others.) So now we can see more clearly whether our words are rooted in Right View and Right Intention, and are therefore most likely to be true, useful, kind and timely. Or whether they are rooted in fear, from a view of ourselves as separate and in need of defending. These fear-rooted words are weapons. They have been crafted to cut or to block out. Becoming aware of the roots of our words is vital in developing a natural and authentic expression that is true, useful, timely and kind, i.e. Right Speech.

Through trial and error we find our way, allowing our errors to be valuable learning experiences. Beating ourselves up about it every time we mis-speak is not Right Speech, but only compounds our errors. Acknowledging what we have done and being compassionate with ourselves as we gain personal insight into the ways in which we have misused words, is an ongoing practice. We have habitual patterns of speech that have the power of a lifetime worth of energy behind them, so we need to be patient with ourselves if from time to time we slip back into unskillful ways of expressing ourselves.

At the heart of Right Speech is deep listening, settling into the moment fully, accessing that deeper vaster vantage point of connection, so that we can truly hear what the other person is saying. If our mind can let go of planning what we will say next and truly stay with the conversation as it unfolds, we create a safe environment for honest exchange.

By being in the moment, we are less likely to say “You always do this” or “You never do that.” Instead we might sense into our body to gauge our emotional state and express our truth grounded in this moment. The “I feel…” statements that will naturally arise out of this kind of inner awareness are more useful and timely than accusatory statements that dredge up grudges from the past.

When we are fully present in this moment we are not rushing to the next appointment, or thinking about what to make for dinner. So we are better able to listen with full attention and patience, and take the time to speak with consideration and a full heart.

To develop Right Speech with others we need to really listen to how we talk to ourselves. Are we rude, scolding, name calling, or diminishing ourselves in some way? If we spoke to someone else that way, would we expect them to want to be around us? If we spoke that way to a child, would it be abuse? Does our self talk seem comfortable because it’s what we heard as children?

If so, we must remember that our adult self is here now to see more clearly and to set boundaries when we are abusive in our language. How can we possibly expect to speak with kindness to others if we are constantly speaking so cruelly to ourselves?

As we begin to consider incorporating Right Speech into our lives, let’s bring metta into the mix. Metta/loving kindness is the radiance that helps this guidepost cast a much brighter light. If we send metta to ourselves saying, “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be peaceful,” our interior conversations are more likely to be kind, if only because the contrast between this well-wishing message and our usual rudeness is so sharp that it makes us aware that we are taunting ourselves as cruelly as any playground bully or critical parent ever did.

Developing kindness in our interior speech comes from the wise understanding that we are acceptable because we are an integral part of all that is. No exceptions. Metta is like the sun, shining on all equally. The sun doesn’t pick and choose who is worthy of its light. Nor does metta. It doesn’t matter if you think you are deserving. There is nothing you have to do to receive the absolute blessing of Metta.

So we begin with ourselves, using metta to set the tone of our inner dialog. We use our awareness to begin to notice the kind of language we are using towards ourselves, the predictions of failure, the ‘I told you so’s when we fulfill our own negative expectations. With our increasingly spacious awareness we see the tight tangle of our thoughts become looser, so that individual thought threads become more visible. We can follow them back to their roots. If they are statements of judgment, if they are enemy-making, if they make us feel tension in our body, they are rooted in fear.

And what is fear? Fear is simply a momentary forgetfulness of our true nature. Fear rises up because we feel separate. Feeling separate, of course we feel we need protection. We are not aware that our fear draws to us exactly what we fear. It excites the energy of fear in others and they respond in ways that further exacerbate the situation, confirming our worst fears.

Metta practice is something we can do whenever we recognize fear arising. Metta awareness is one of the fruits of the practice, one of the Four Brahmaviharas (heavenly abodes), but it is also a gateway into Right View or Wise Understanding. It is particularly valuable in developing Right Speech because it uses words.

When we begin a conversation with others, we can send them metta as well. The briefest pause at the beginning of a conversation to take a breath, bring ourselves fully into the moment and send out metta to the other person, can make all the difference.

When we understand our connection to each other, when we see that we are one with this great infinite energy, we can release our fears, our clenched fists and jaws, so our words don’t build fortresses but celebrate the connection we feel. And when we remember our intention to be kind and to be fully present in the moment, we are much more likely to speak from a sense of deep connection, and our words will be true, valuable and timely.

As you can see, by practicing Right View and Right Intention we are more likely to use Right Speech, We are more able to discern whether what we want to say satisfies the three criteria of being true, useful and timely. If it is not, then silence is the better choice. But this is a very different silence from the zipped mouth we imagine. Because if we have Right View and Right Intention we have a quiet loving presence that doesn’t need the power of words to communicate. We are not in need of a power tool to accomplish a task. We are in need of nothing more than what we have – our full awareness of the present moment, our full understanding of our own deep connection to all that is.

If you have ever been on a silent retreat, you know how delicious it is (especially if you are a talkative person) to simply give up speech all together. To just let it go of all that potential for misunderstanding and simply be fully present in the moment with no agenda except to be fully present in the moment.

Of course, we still have our interior talk. And being able to hear our various inner voices and all their discussions, advice, scolding, etc. is a real gift to ourselves. On a silent retreat this inner discussion may feel amplified because it’s the only show in town. No radio, TV, books, internet, MP3 player, or exchanges with others. Just this. Whoa! A real opportunity for inner discovery! A real opportunity to send metta to ourselves, metta to all the raging aspects within us, metta to the wondrous natural world we inhabit, metta to our teachers and our fellow retreatants – the wonderful sangha (community) that shares this dedicated practice to awaken to this moment, to awaken to understanding our deep connection, to awaken to awareness.

Eightfold Path: Right Intention, Part Two

I mentioned in the previous post that as meditators and Buddhist practitioners we have three main intentions: First to develop a regular practice, second to return again and again to the present moment, and third to practice kindness to ourselves and others. In this post we will explore these three intentions in a little more and find useful means to help keep our intentions.

Intention: To develop a regular meditation practice
Setting the intention to develop a regular practice involves first recognizing that the practice is valuable. To the degree that we have already practiced, in a class or retreat, we may have begun to notice a subtle or perhaps significant change in our lives. This recognition of the gift of meditation sparks the desire and fosters the discipline to maintain a regular practice.

Setting up a regular practice requires a few practical decisions. Where, when and for how long will we practice?

Choosing a place to practice in your home, you will want to find somewhere you can sit comfortably erect where you will not be disturbed. Many people find creating a specific space is useful in reminding them to practice – everything set up just so. But this is a very portable practice, and place is ultimately not that important. Sitting in the airport waiting for a flight is as good a place as any. But in this tender time of developing a regular practice, designating a specific spot in your home and setting out reminders – a zafu cushion, an altar, a bell, for example, can be visual aids to remind you to practice. But place alone is not enough.

Setting a specific time that works best in your daily schedule and keeping that date with yourself no matter what is very important. Let meditation be the non-negotiable focal point of your day, and work everything else around it. For many, first thing in the morning is the best time. It’s usually quiet, easy to be alone while others sleep or have already left for the day, and is less likely to be interrupted by phone calls or doorbells. Usually the mind is not yet full of the day’s story, making the sitting easier. If mornings are a busy time for you, you can either get up earlier so you can have the time, or choose another time of day that works best, not just on some days but every day. Right before bed is another time of day that is usually available, but it is more challenging as most of us are inclined to fall asleep.

Setting a length of time for your practice is also important. Ideally you want to meditate for 30 – 40 minutes, or twice a day for 20 minutes each. There are no hard and fast rules on this, but its important that when you set a time you keep it. If you are new to meditation, starting with ten minutes, then working up to a longer meditation is a good way to go. You can set a timer to help you stay with the meditation.

Taking your personal practice seriously can be challenging at first. You are not used to sitting in silence with your eyes closed, and when your thoughts wander you might actually physically begin to wander, acting upon a thought of something you have to do. Be kind to yourself during this adjustment period, but don’t give up! When you find yourself reaching for the phone or standing at the refrigerator door, with great compassion but firmness bring yourself back to your practice.

Intention: To be fully in the present moment
In our practice we find ourselves lost in thought and we bring ourselves gently back to an awareness of the breath and sensations in the body. In our daily lives we can also use this embodiment practice, just sensing in to our general sense of aliveness, as well as to any specific sensations. We can run our hand against a texture – a rough fabric, a smooth stone, the bark of a tree. We can listen to sounds without attaching story to them that leads us into memories. We can look around us with fresh eyes, noticing light and shadow, pattern, color, varying levels of detail, etc. – using our artist eyes even if we never intend to paint what we see. We can really taste our food as we eat, savoring the melding flavors.

To help you stay in the moment notice when you are multi-tasking and decide which thing you will stop doing and which you will continue to do right now. Giving full attention to whatever we are doing is necessary in order to stay in the moment.

Notice when you are doing something out of habit, i.e. mindlessly. We want to bring mindfulness to all our doings. For some people it helps to turn habits into rituals. Think Japanese tea ceremony and the possibility of bringing a beauty and artfulness into making the bed, brushing your teeth, washing up, and cooking. On retreat we each have yogi jobs in which we learn to be mindful while doing simple useful tasks. It changes everything to have these daily duties change from things to be gotten through before ‘real life’ begins to being the essence of life well and fully lived.

Pay attention to the moments in between ‘real life’: waiting in line, waiting on hold on the phone, waiting at a stop light. See these as opportunities to pause, calm down, sense into the body, to be fully present with all that we see and experience. Don’t waste your time ‘killing time,’ filling these periods with mindless distractions. Each moment is a precious gift if only we can bring our full awareness to it, no matter what is going on.

For more about staying in the moment go to the Archive and read the posts in July 2008.

Intention: To be kind to ourselves and others
Developing kindness begins with noticing how we are treating ourselves and others now. When we are nice to people, is it an act or our true feelings being expressed? When it’s an act, then it’s not kindness, not a true caring. Instead it’s using kindness as a tool to keep ourselves safe from potential harm, or using it to obtain a desired result. That’s not really kindness at all.

If this false kindness is our modus operandi, once we know people, we may feel we can let down our guard. And because we see kindness as a shield or a tool, we might feel we can set down our shield and let our true feelings out. Perhaps we misinterpret a sense of connection as entitlement to impose our opinions, or we think we are creating intimacy by being (maybe teasingly) abusive. We may treat the ones we love with less respect, because for us respect is based in fear, and we no longer fear them. We may feel we have a certain shorthand together so we can skip the niceties of please and thank you. Or perhaps we feel that those close to us should understand us and we shouldn’t have to be kind.

These kinds of interactions with others are usually about power, and the need for power is rooted in fear. So when we stop to listen to how we talk to ourselves in our minds, it’s not surprising to find we are calling ourselves names and beating ourselves up at every turn. Rooted in fear, seeing the world as a dangerous place and ourselves as bumbling idiots making mistake after mistake, it is almost impossible to be truly kind.

True kindness stems from the Right View, from that shift of vantage point from seeing ourselves as separate in need of creating a protective fortress and operating our of fear, to seeing ourselves as an integral part of the universe, as interconnected with all life. We see that we are yet another expression of the loving creative mystery.

Once we make this shift – even a brief glimpse of this wise understanding can transform a whole life, the way one drop of something can flavor a whole glass of water – then we can become the natural conduits of the loving energy (metta/loving kindness) that flows through and around us, previously unnoticed.

This is vital understanding. We have all experienced the ‘kindness’ of people whose body language spoke otherwise, and we have felt the discomfort of that dishonesty. From our deeper more spacious vantage point, we can have compassion for them. Because we can imagine how they treat themselves, how cruel their inner conversation must be. We know because we have experienced it ourselves.

In order to develop true kindness, we must start with ourselves. We will explore this more fully in an upcoming post on Right Speech as we notice the language we use when we talk to ourselves. But there is much more about loving kindness/metta in the August 2008 posts. Check the archive.

Setting these three simple intentions will radically enhance your life. Start with one of them, the one that resonates most deeply right now, and begin. Then begin again. No matter how many times you lose the intention, it is there for you. Keep it alive. Write it down and put it some place you will come across it often. Explore it with as much spaciousness and compassion as you can. The rewards are infinite, and absolutely free!

In this post election moment


Globally shared euphoria. This is a new emotion for me! As I sit with it, I marvel. I watch how just the thought of ‘President Obama’ sends a warm bath of relaxation through me, how my lips of their own accord turn up at the corners. How my eyes tear up for joy.

I also feel incredible relief. So much so that I am aware in retrospect of all the fear and tension I was holding. And how much I had denied myself the right to hope for this outcome. I allowed myself to want it, to work for it, but not to hope for it. Strange.

Oh, and I feel pride! I am so proud of our nation! I am proud of how this albeit imperfect system of government actually does work well at times. My faith in the fine tradition of transition of power has been restored. (But we still need to make sure every vote really does count in all future elections!)

I am proud of Senator McCain. As he gave his concession speech, he displayed the best of himself, the person that seemed to have gotten lost in campaigning.

I am proud of all the donors and volunteers for the Obama campaign, some of whom I know personally. We all did things for this campaign we have never done in our lives. My friends Michael Rosenthal and Marleen Roggow traveled from California to Michigan to knock on doors and canvas college campuses. Most of my friends made phone calls to swing states, but my friend Patti Breitman made calls every weekend for many weeks. I’m sure other friends were doing whatever they could as well. I am proud of Barbara Gately and Stephanie LeGras who early on in the campaign asked me to design a website called Women Over 50 for Obama, which I did as part of my volunteer work for Obama. I am proud of myself as well. I joined Toastmasters in order to get up the nerve to pick up the phone for Obama!

I am proud of all the people who stood in line for hours to cast their votes, who did so with great spirit.

I am proud of the way campaign was run. It was incredibly efficient, clean, collaborative, inventive and just plain brilliant. Bravo!

I am proud of all those in public life who stood up for Obama early on.

I am proud of Michelle Obama whom I would like to nominate right now for president in 2016.

And most of all I am proud of our President-elect Barrack Obama. He has a deep awareness that keeps him clear, steady, genuinely caring for all people and the planet. He holds the world in an open embrace, with love and lightness. He sees through the mudslinging mess and brings the conversation to a new level. His natural born leadership skills and his ability to bring out the best in people so that we may all work together to solve the many challenges we face, are exactly what we need right now.

So yes, I am proud. And excited! And grateful!

Undoubtedly other feelings, thoughts, concerns will arise in the coming months and years, but in this moment right here and now, I am – and I am not at all alone in this – deliriously delighted! Elated! Euphoric! YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Meditation: Coming into Relationship with our Thoughts

There are various ways to be in relationship with our thoughts that can be helpful in meditation. One many people use is to imagine the mind as clear blue sky and thoughts as clouds floating through. Another, is to think of thoughts as a river or sea. As beginner meditators most likely we are submerged so deeply in our sea of thoughts that we don’t know which way is up. But if we relax a little we will naturally rise to the surface, to air. A practiced long distance swimmer comes up for air on a regular basis. And as meditators we learn to do the same, coming back to our breath over and over again as we swim in a sea of thoughts.

Sometimes we can have our head above water for long periods of time, perhaps floating on our back, enjoying the spacious air and vast sky. We are still with our thoughts. They sparkle on the surface of the sea or are the waves that we body surf. And if we submerge into them, we know which way is up, and come up for air on a regular basis.

Both these analogies remind us that thoughts are naturally arising phenomena. We train ourselves to be in relationship with them, not to push them away or scold ourselves for having them. We can even let go of the idea that these are ‘our’ thoughts, freeing us from judging them, feeling ashamed of them or intoxicated by their brilliance. There are other swimmers in this sea of thoughts! Other minds through which these thoughts, or ones very much like them, flow.

If visualizations like these don’t interest you, perhaps you can embrace the physical manufacture of thoughts – all those electrical impulses in the brain. How much of your identity is attached to the specialness of the way your heart beats or other inner workings of your body? The brain makes thoughts. That’s what it does. Of course, the thoughts are affected by a certain set of causes and conditions, and are filtered through your inherent and acquired set of habitual patterns and perceptions, but still and all, they are just thoughts. Understanding that this is part of the brain’s function, that this is what the mind does, releases our need to control our thoughts, and frees us to simply notice them as they arise into our awareness and pass away.

Finding a way to be in relationship with our thoughts is key, because thoughts are such a dominant part of our moment to moment experience. And because thoughts will often pull us away from simply being in this moment — into remembering or revising the past or planning for or worrying about the future — becoming aware of them and knowing how to gently return to the breath is central to developing a meditative practice.

Introduction to Metta

Last month I focused on being fully present in the moment. Rooted in this moment, we are capable of much more than we ever would have imagined. We are able to be with whatever is happening in our current situation in a more open accepting way.

We are better able to stay in the present moment if we have an open friendly relationship with our thoughts and emotions. This quality of open friendliness is an aspect of loving kindness or ‘metta’.

Metta is a Pali word that translates as loving kindness, but it is a much more expansive state than the kind of selective love we feel for our family and friends, or the simple acts of kindness we do to them and to people of good will.

Metta is a more radiant quality. Like the sun, it shines on all without regard to personal preferences, desires, aversions and judgments.

Metta is rooted in the universal source of infinite love that we access when we are fully present in the moment. We become conduits of that radiance and we feel pure loving intention toward all beings.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? But maybe not very realistic? Or maybe it doesn’t sound good at all! Notice your response.

Like being in the moment, metta is a practice. Being curious about our response to the idea of metta, of radiating love to all beings, is a good place to start. Right where you are, neck deep in preferences, aversions, and judgments. Sit with what thoughts and feelings arise as you read about metta. See if you can allow your thoughts to float up without feeling you either have to defend or deny them. They are just thoughts.

Is it difficult? That’s fine. Difficult or easy, it’s just the practice. Stay with it. Give yourself repeated opportunities to be in an open friendly relationship with your thoughts.

Now, if you can, try the first step of the traditional metta practice: send metta to yourself. You can use any wording that feels right. Standard Buddhist blessings include, “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be free from harm.”

Close your eyes and sit in silence, then allow these blessings to rise up and fill you. Say them silently or out loud. It doesn’t matter. See what happens as you say them. How does it make you feel? Peaceful or agitated? Is it easy or difficult to give yourself blessings?

If difficult, explore why you feel you don’t deserve your own blessing. Observe thoughts that come up and question whether they are the truth.

We bless ourselves first because we can’t share what we don’t have. Just like the instructions about the oxygen masks on the airplane. If you don’t put the mask on yourself first, you won’t be able to help anyone else.

So may you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from harm.