Daily Life Mindfulness: A Practical Reflection


The following reflection originally appeared in the newsletter I sent out on December 29th, 2024.

Feel free to read just the bold words and skip the rest, maybe even only reading the sections that interest you. 




Introducing Daily Life Mindfulness

This past week, I visited my family of origin in Wisconsin for Christmas

In contrast to my typical daily life routine, where I have lots of duties and need to do quite a bit of critical thinking, over there, on “vacation,” I had very little that I needed to do.  I largely put aside work and managing my life situation, and just let myself slip into the flow of the days.

One thing that piqued my interest was where my mind would go in all the restful moments.  When just sitting on the recliner by the fire.  When having a casual conversation.  When playing a slow-moving board game.  When walking around the neighborhood.  In all of this, observing the mind without judgment.  Just a gentle curiosity.

What I noticed is that it tends to go one of four places:

  • Thinking, usually revolving around “the story of me”
  • External stimuli, like checking my phone, reading something, or doing a puzzle.
  • A dull sleepy state
  • Present moment awareness*, like feeling my body, hearing sounds, or resting in open awareness of the whole flow

The first two are basically two sides of the same coin — the mind that seeks stimulation, whether internally via thought or externally via some activity.  They are both ways we run from the present moment.  The first one is sometimes referred to by neuroscientists as the Default Mode Network; that is, the place our mind defaults to when we don’t need to exercise a lot of brain power.

In turn, a major thrust of long-term meditation practice is to shift our default from stimulation-seeking to present moment awareness, not just during formal meditation, but all across the day.

Today’s reflection is an exploration of how & why to do this.

*Note: I use the terms mindfulness, awareness, presence, and present moment awareness as synonyms.


Low Brain Power Activities

If you considered all of your life’s activities, you could roughly divide them into three categories:

  • Low brain power, like laying in bed, going for a walk, exercising, showering, or washing dishes
  • Medium brain power, like listening to music or a not-too-complex audiobook, cooking a multi-part meal, city driving, or writing simple emails
  • High brain power, like doing any kind of reading, writing, listening, or talking that relates to something complex or nuanced

It’s helpful to begin by getting curious about the low brain power activities — where does your mind go when you do these things?

For example, if you’re standing in line at the store, waiting in the doctor’s office, or sitting in a traffic jam, does your mind just rest in present moment awareness, noticing the pressure of the feet on the ground, the tingle of the body, the flow of sounds, all the lights and colors, and just letting the urges and thoughts pass through like bird songs chirping in the background.

Or, does it spin round and round in thinking, like rehearsing conversations, managing your work, planning the day, considering your finances, worrying, regretting, complaining, and on and on?

Or, does it follow the urge to check your phone, put on a podcast, call someone, or grab some reading material?

Chances are if you aren’t intentional about it, you’ll do anything but be present moment aware.  Just notice this!  No judgment.  No problem.  Just a gentle curiosity.

The more we get curious about these low brain power moments, we start to see that the curiosity itself brings awareness.  

Rather than cruising through the day on autopilot, we hold the intention to bring presence to these restful moments.  When we inevitably notice ourselves spinning in thought, we kindly say, “hello thinking, no thank you,” and soften back into awareness.  When we notice the urge to grab our phone, we kindly say, “hello craving, no thank you,” and relax back into awareness.

If we do say that no thank you, there will likely be an uncomfortable feeling that arises.  A sense of agitation, ickyness, or restlessness.  This is a great sign!  It’s the meditator’s equivalent of the “burn” a runner might feel on mile five.  We learn to love this feeling.  It means that spiritual growth is happening — that rather than just blindly chasing stimulation, we’re learning how to be with what is in a relaxed open way.

Another way to put all this is that by being more intentional with our low brain power time, we’re re-programming the “default” of our mind.  One teacher put this simple question to me, “is your center of gravity found in awareness or thinking?”  Considering our answer as more of a spectrum than a binary, we can get a good sense of how free we are by placing ourselves on that spectrum.


Formal Meditation

In the above section, I suggested getting curious about where our mind goes during low brain power activities, all across the day.

However, it’s hard to do this without a daily formal meditation practice; that is, a set period of time where our singular objective is to be relaxed and aware.  It’s a practice of seeing all the random thoughts and urges, and saying, “hello, but no thank you.”

Ultimately, the skill that we transfer into our life isn’t the ability to focus so intensely that we can block out all our thoughts, urges, and feelings, but rather, it’s the ability to calmly see them and not get entangled; to let them pass on through like birds chirping in the background.

The more we can do this in the very low brain power environment of “formal meditation,” we know intuitively that we can do it all day long.  We start to understand that the low, medium, and high brain power distinctions are completely arbitrary.  In every moment, there is just awareness and objects of awareness.

This is similar to how if you went to cooking school and made lots of great dishes during class, it’s not like you have to be in class to cook well.  The idea is that you learn the underlying principles so you can go back to your own kitchen with a deeper, intuitive understanding of what makes a tasty dish.

Of course, as you take this skill of present moment awareness off your meditation cushion and into your life, noticing the senses, and kindly saying “no thank you” to the compulsive thoughts and urges, you won’t be perfect, but that’s okay.

Again, we’re slowly re-programming the default of our mind.  Like the earth rotating around the sun, it goes slowly, but if you’re patient, it does go.


Back to Vacation

Here’s a simple yet profound teaching: awareness is always possible right now, but it’s much easier to realize that with supportive conditions.  Some people focus too much on the always possible, and then aren’t actually very aware because they don’t bother to take any precautions.  Other people focus too much on seeking supportive conditions, and miss the fact that awareness is right here, not in the future after they’ve done X, Y, and Z.

The profundity of that teaching is being able to walk the middle way between these two pitfalls of (1) not enough effort and (2) too much managing.

For example, it’s absolutely 100% possible to be aware while thinking, using your smartphone, or engaging in high-brain power activities.  However, until we have quite a lot of skill and/or momentum in our practice, we’re probably not going to be very aware during those activities with any kind of consistency.  They are like going for a 13-mile run — not many people could do that tomorrow, but with sufficient training, most people could do it in a year.

What I have seen actually work for people to shift their default mode is to start with focusing on the places where it’s easiest to be aware; that is, low brain power activities.  As above, this starts with a daily formal meditation practice.  It branches out into all the restful activities of our day, and slowly creeps into higher and higher brain power tasks.

Furthermore, the shifts become entrenched more deeply through retreats, a simple lifestyle, and filling our days with supports, like reading reflections like this one or going to spiritual community gatherings.

In practice, the shifts usually aren’t so dramatic, like from 0 percent aware one day to 100 percent aware the next, but rather move 1 percentage point at a time.  Although, of course, while they usually aren’t so dramatic, sometimes they are.  Medium-to-large insights do come as a product of intentional practice and can radically shake up our mind’s center of gravity.

Anyhow, on my Wisconsin vacation, I took all the high brain power tasks away from myself, which made it considerably easier to be aware all day long.  My awareness wasn’t perfectly continuous by any means, but there was a noticeably stronger stream of awareness than normal.  Now, back into the land of writing essays like this and managing all sorts of life details, that extra momentum is still here. The awareness comes a little more naturally.

This is to say that all periods of heightened awareness create the conditions for future awareness — like the “snowball effect,” as we keep at it year after year, all the moments add up to something more than we could ever imagine.


You Can Still Do Things

It’s worth stating explicitly that being present moment aware in your daily life doesn’t mean you can’t do things, like go on your smartphone, watch movies, read books, have conversations, play a board game, or think about everything under the sun.

The idea is that we’re learning to live our lives from the seat of wisdom, as opposed to the seat of reactivity and autopilot.  In turn, if there’s something important to check on your phone or think about, great, do it!  If it would be fun to play a game with your kids or friends, wonderful, do it!  If there’s a podcast or music or dharma talk you want to listen to, fantastic, do it!

In other words, with the tasks we engage with, we more and more do them because our intuitive wisdom says it’s a good idea, as opposed to just impulsively seeking stimulation, internally or externally.  Of course, look carefully.  What I’ve noticed is that at least 90% of my thoughts and urges, if not more, are just autopilot at work.

As for how awareness fits into the picture, imagine a friend sent you to find a screwdriver in the tools drawer of their basement.  If you didn’t turn the lights on, it would be very difficult to find that screwdriver, but with them turned on, you’d probably find it pretty easily.

Similarly, awareness is like turning the lights on in our mind.  It shows us our thinking, mindstates, and urges.  It cues us into what’s truly important and what’s just noise.  It gives us the opportunity to pause before taking action.  In turn, the more awareness, the more our intuitive wisdom has a chance to grow.  Slowly slowly, we gain a deeper capacity to kindly say, “no thank you,” and relax into a gentle, calm presence whether we’re washing the dishes, reading a book, or writing a dissertation.



If you want to play with this, you could keep it simple and investigate the question, “where does my mind go in its restful moments?”

However, if you want something more concrete, I suggest picking one low brain power activity that you do every day, like showering, dishwashing, or walking the dog.  For one week, set a clear resolution to do that task with present moment awareness.  If you’re not sure how to do that, put away all media and pick one sense, like body or sound, and try to stay connected to that while you do the activity.

Of course, you’ll inevitably drift off into thought or feel urges to chase external stimuli — maybe only catching yourself five minutes down the rabbit hole.  No problem.  No judgment.  Whenever you notice this, just relax, soften, and return to present moment awareness.  The shifting of the default is a marathon, not a sprint.

Once you have a feel for being aware during that activity, you could expand it and add a second activity.  Or, perhaps, try what I do, and treat all non-high brain power periods as meditation time.

The more you take all this to heart, you’ll notice that you live more and more “with the lights on” — how wonderful it is to have the light of awareness shining within and without!

p.s. are you aware right now?


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Every Buddhist Meditation Group/Center in Portland Oregon

group of meditators
Intro to Buddhism & Meditation in Portland

When I first arrived in Portland, I spent countless hours both online and conversing with others trying to find the various Buddhist communities in town.  After some years of exploration, I’ve learned every single Buddhist group in Portland (I think!), and have organized them here on this page.

At the time of writing, I’ve personally visited about half of these groups.  However, I am not offering any specific endorsements.  The intention of this page is merely to state the options.  I will try my best to keep my comments factual and data-focused.

Although, I will say that the best way to find a group is always just to check a few of them out and get a feel for what seems to resonate.


A Few Notes to Keep in Mind

  • This article is up-to-date as of April, 2024; however, places are always changing their schedules. In turn, I’d recommend following the below links to verify the current status.  Also note that if something is offered as a hybrid event that’s both in-person & online, I just marked it in-person.
  • While every center has its own flavor, some centers have multiple groups throughout the week and/or are led by different instructors, which may have a very different feel from each other.  It can be helpful to check out multiple groups at the same center!
  • You don’t need to join, sign up, become a Buddhist, or go through any initiation process to go to any of these groups.  You just show up as you are and are free to never come back again, or keep returning as long as you like!
    Continue reading

200 Mindful Moments

While I’m a big fan of formal meditation, I’m equally fond of bringing mindfulness into the fabric of my day.  In turn, today I’ll share a great tactic that can help you bring an additional 200 mindful moments into your next month.

Briefly put, every time you use the restroom, before you leave the room, close your eyes, plant your feet firmly on the ground, relax your shoulders/jaw/abdomen, and take one great big deep breath.  This whole process will take you about seven seconds, and then you simply proceed with the rest of your day.

Each time you do this, it’s an opportunity to re-calibrate; to let go of a little tension, hurrying, habit-energy or mindlessness.  It’s a way to come back to yourself.

Of course, every single mindful moment probably isn’t going to change your life.  However, as most people go into the restroom around seven times a day, if you do this every time for a full week, that’s 50 mindful moments.  Take that to a month, and you’re now at 200 mindful moments added to your life.  When added together, you’re forming a tapestry of mindfulness that really starts to be significant.  You’ll notice that the mindful moments tend to compound, and you’ll probably start spontaneously taking them at other points of the day as well, without any prior plan.

The effect is that your whole life becomes more guided by mindful clarity and presence, even just 5% more, all from taking a simple deep breath in the bathroom.

It’s worth mentioning that at its core, a “mindful moment” is an inner experience — putting a break in the momentum of your thoughts and habit energy.  However, it’s pretty hard to just randomly pause this momentum.  In turn, I’ve found the easiest way to do this amidst a busy day/life is with a physical pause, found through that bodily stillness, muscular relaxation, and a deep breath.  Body and mind are intimately connected.

I recommend the bathroom as the pause-location-of-choice because everyone does it a handful of times a day — enough to be noteworthy, not so much as to be overwhelming.  If you prefer, you could easily substitute before eating, when sitting down into a chair, when putting on shoes/slippers, or any other activity you reliably do 2 to 10 times a day.  Keep it realistic.

Some of you may or may not be convinced this is a worthwhile thing to do.  In turn, I leave you with this question:

How might your next month be different if you had an additional 200 mindful moments?

A Rough Guide to Meditation Posture + Recommended Supplies

One of the most common questions I get revolves around meditation posture.  In turn, this guide is my attempt to share the essential info on how to go about the sitting posture.  It’s sort of like several articles in one — use the index as a guide and feel free to bounce around!

What Is the Best Meditation Posture?

There is no such thing as the “best posture.”  Traditionally, we’re instructed to practice meditation while sitting, standing, walking and lying down — basically, any position we can put ourselves in.

However, the stereotypical image of a meditator is of course doing “sitting meditation.” This is because it tends to offer the best balance of relaxation and alertness. For example, there are fewer distractions than when walking, less likelihood of falling asleep than when lying down, and a little more relaxing than standing.

In turn, for sitting meditation, we simply want to choose a posture that helps us feel relaxed and alert. Trust yourself. Whatever seems like it works is probably best!

There are a few styles of cross-legged meditation (shown in the photo below), and it’s also perfectly okay to sit in a chair. Different postures work best for different people, so it can be good to experiment!

All Postures are Uncomfortable!!

Some people have chronic pain or discomfort, and the experience of being in their body is not particularly pleasant.  Other people can get comfortable in a meditation posture for a few minutes, or maybe even an hour or two, but in either case, that position too eventually becomes uncomfortable.

Even the most flexible and in-shape person in the world will experience discomfort after walking for 7 hours continuously, or lying down for 14 hours without moving.

What I’m trying to say is that meditation is not about avoiding discomfort, but rather learning to be with both comfort and discomfort with equanimity, perspective, and patience.  However, it’s certainly a good idea to be kind to ourselves and choose optimal postures.

So set yourself up for success.

If cross-legged meditation isn’t comfortable for more than a few minutes, then sit in a chair — really!  If that doesn’t work, give more time to walking meditation or lying down meditation.

You could also take a longer-term approach and do what I did — develop a regular Yoga practice.  Over the course of years, your body will become noticeably more open, flexible and comfortable.

To Share a Personal Anecdote…

When I started meditating I couldn’t still without discomfort for more than five minutes.  During my first meditation retreat, the teacher literally called me in for a private interview to ask if I was doing alright because he noticed how much I was fidgeting, moving, and adjusting my body.  It was rough!

Fast-forward many years and I can now sit cross-legged for about 60-90 minutes pretty comfortably.  When it inevitably starts to get uncomfortable (some days when I’m drowsy it happens very quickly!), I don’t move right away and use the discomfort as practice.

And, while I sit cross-legged on a cushion about 75% of the time, I also sometimes use a bench, do standing meditation (especially when I’m sleepy), occasionally do chair or lying down meditation, and turn most of my walks into “informal meditation.”  In other words, it can be helpful to switch it up!

This is to say that physical discomfort in meditation is something most people experience, but armed with info like this, we can make the most of it.

See this article on the difference between formal & informal meditation.

A Few Key Tips for Sitting Meditation

Here are some helpful tips for any of the postures shown above.

  • Maintain an upright/straight spine with about 5-10% slack, like a guitar string that’s neither too loose nor too tight. One tactic to experience this is to imagine there is a string that runs from your pelvic floor, through your midsection and up to the crown of your head. Take a big inhale and imagine you are lifting that string up to the ceiling as much as you can.  Your spine will be 100% upright.  Notice this is rigid and tight.  Then on the exhale relax the string, and find a resting place where your spine is upright, but there’s about 5 to 10% relaxation/slack in the string.
  • Keep your knees either at the same level as your hips or lower.  This helps keep the natural curve of the spine and will help prevent back pain.  Often times, this means sitting up higher.
  • No “floating” knees!  If you’re cross-legged on the floor and your knees don’t touch the ground, put a cushion or blanket under them so they aren’t floating a few inches above the ground.  This will help prevent knee-pain, and will also help keep your feet/legs from falling asleep.  This is shown in the photo below.
  • Relax your muscles! It’s very possible to keep an upright spine even with a relaxed pelvis, abdomen, jaw, shoulders, and forehead. One powerful practice is simply noticing our unconscious tendency to tense our muscles (which also tenses our mind!).
  • For sitting cross-legged, “Burmese style,” also shown in the below picture, is the most popular.  Unless you have an extreme amount of hip flexibility, I do not recommend half or full lotus, as it tends to put subtle levels of stress on your knees that will reveal themselves in the long-run.
  • In the below photo, note that his feet are going to start to hurt a lot, as he has no cushioning under them. Always put a rug, blanket, “zabuton,” etc. under your feet.

Is it Okay to Adjust my Posture During Sitting Meditation?

Yes! It can’t be stressed enough that there is nothing special about staying perfectly still (or even the sitting posture itself) — it’s all just an aid to help us be more aware.

However, we are training our ability to be responsive instead of reactive.

In turn, if any mild discomfort starts to come up, the idea of insight meditation is to notice your worries and other reactions, and see if you can allow them to be there without grasping onto them or trying to push them away!  See if you can find patience, ease and choicefulness even amidst discomfort.

Often times, shifting our attitude a little bit and giving discomfort permission to be present leads to it fading away.

Although, if it doesn’t fade away, and the discomfort becomes stronger or just too painful, then it’s actually really wise to shift your posture. Just consciously notice that you’re doing it!

What to Do if my Legs or Feet Go Numb?

Similar to what I said in the previous section, the first step is simply to notice it and give it permission to be present!  Physical numbness can also be a beautiful opportunity to develop wisdom: to notice our reactions, emotional responses, the sense of it being “bad” or the idea that “my meditation will be better if it goes away.” Simply to notice all that and allow the numbness as well as the mind space to just be.

However, people do get particularly nervous about their legs or feet going numb, and fear it might be causing harm. I’m not a doctor so don’t take this as sound medical advice (and defer to your doctor’s judgment if you’re really concerned), but my opinion is that unless you’re maintaining numb legs for a few hours at a time, you’re not going to hurt yourself.

I’ve done many meditations with over an hour of numb legs and the feeling always returns. In many years of teaching, going on retreats, and talking with hundreds if not thousands of other meditators, I’ve never heard one story of someone doing irreparable harm because their legs went numb during meditation.

In other words, if it’s at a distraction level that’s gentle enough you can still have a patient, curious, accepting and/or equanimous attitude, don’t worry about it!

However, if it becomes too distracting, there are two good options:

  1. Adjust your posture!  See the previous paragraph — no brownie points for sitting like a statue, but if you do move your posture, see if you can do it intentionally and consciously instead of just reactively swinging your leg out 😉
  2. Use this gentle “method” to return the feeling to your legs. Basically, leg/foot numbness happens because your sciatic nerve, which runs from your lumbar spine through your leg, gets pinched around your hips. The remedy, random as it may sound, is to lean forward for about 30-40 seconds, put your hands on the ground in front of you, and put your weight into your hands.  Feeling will return!

What Meditation Cushion to Use?

Of course, you can just use a chair or any pillows/cushions lying around your house. However, getting the optimal supplies can make a big difference in the enjoyability and easefulness of meditation. I personally like to have a bench, a home cushion, a zabuton, and a travel cushion. However, for most people, one cushion or bench and a zabuton (if you’re not on a carpet/rug) will do the trick. I regularly use all of the below, and they each make excellent choices:

  • Best affordable cushion. This one is made out of organic cotton and is sufficiently wide and tall. I really like it.  Note that if a cushion is too narrow for your behind to sufficiently rest on it, it tends to lead to numb legs.
  • Best overall cushion. This is my “everyday” cushion and favorite overall. It’s made by a guy at the Portland Saturday Market, so can be purchased there live, but he may also ship. Note it’s made out of a millet blend, which I find quieter and more comfortable than the more common buckwheat grain.
  • Best travel cushion. This inflatable cushion has three chambers, which gives you a little more control to get the ideal support. I use this a lot for travel (even just going to the park!).  Enter the code “pathofsincerity” at purchase, and both of us get a small discount!
  • Best meditation bench.  If you get a bench, I would recommend one with upholstery, as it will be softer on your bottom than solid wood. The linked bench also has hinged legs, which make for easy transport.  However, if portability doesn’t matter to you, the company in the “best affordable cushion” link has a fixed-position bench at about half the price of this one.
  • I also really like kapok cushions as they feel like cotton but are more durable (fabric doesn’t compress), although I’ve mostly stuffed my own, so have none from personal experience to recommend. If you go this route, just make sure to get one wide enough (like 15+ inch diameter) and not too overstuffed.
  • Zabuton. A zabuton is a roughly 3′ x 3′ plush floor mat you put under your cushion, and what your feet rest on. If you have carpet or a thick rug, then a zabuton isn’t necessary, but if you have hard floors, getting a “zabuton” makes a big difference.  The linked zabuton is hands down my favorite I’ve used.  It’s latex, which means it’s comfortable, will last a very long time without compressing, and also comes with a nice carrying case.

Another article you might enjoy is should the eyes be open or closed during meditation?

How To Quit Shopping On Amazon (And What It Will Ask Of You)

After shopping regularly on Amazon since 2004, I quit shopping there in 2019.

This post will tell you how I did it, how I made the transition to life-after-Amazon as easeful as possible, and how this decision has helped me step into deeper integrity.

Importantly, I am primarily writing this for people who already understand Amazon is detrimental to society, and desire to make the switch, but are overwhelmed by the ubiquity of Amazon and don’t know how to go about it.

I’m not going to lie to you — it will take an effort to break from the biggest retailer in the country.  However, my hope is that the strategies & reflections below will cut through the complacency, and bring that part of you that wants to more fully to the forefront.

The post is written section-by-section, so feel free to bounce around the table of contents.

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The Appropriate Amount to Give at Donation-Based Events


As someone who leads regularly donation-based events, is steeped in a Buddhist tradition that has existed entirely on donation for 2,600 years, and lives in a community where donation-based events are bountiful, one question I often encounter is, “what is the appropriate amount to give?”

What follows is a guide on how to approach that question.  However, I’m not going to actually tell you “the appropriate amount to give,” as that sort of misses the entire point!

Instead, I hope to show you the intentions behind that offering, different ways to think about appropriateness, and hopefully empower you to make your own informed decisions. Continue reading

Ultimate Meditation Resource Guide – Books, Courses, Movies, Buddhism, Technology, etc.

This resource guide is the fruit of 15+ years of intensive dharma studies.  I tried to put the best of everything I’ve encountered into an accessible, progressive guide to help you deepen your own journey. It felt like an impossible task to make it readable, but with the table of contents, hopefully it will flow smooth enough!

Here are a few initial notes:

1) This guide will emphasize “depth” into a single tradition (Theravada-Vipassana Buddhist Meditation / mindfulness / insight meditation), but also “breadth,” exploring how other resources/teachings can really help to expose blindspots, develop complementary skills, and take us much deeper.

2) Books & media are helpful, but actual direct experience is what makes the real changes – pay close attention to the resources to actually dive into meditation, such as guided meditations, courses, and live opportunities.

3) I’ve direct linked to anything available free online, although basically all of these are also available as hardcopies for sale, and some as audiobooks.  While free is great, I personally prefer mediums that don’t involve looking at a screen, so I’d generally recommend printing them, or buying the book / audiobook.

May this be of benefit to you!

The Quick & Fast Version – Top Recommendations

You’re about to encounter an enormous guide that might seem overwhelming, so I thought I’d right away offer my top recommendations that get right to the point.  Feel free to only read this.

  1. For total beginners to Eastern Spirituality, try The Dalai Lama’s The Art of HappinessIf you are more intellectually inclined, go for Sam Harris’ Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without ReligionInversely, if you are going through a tough time, try Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart.
  2. Easily the #1 book I recommend is Gil Fronsdal’s, The Issue at Hand, which is a concise & excellent presentation of Buddhism and meditation.  Part of what makes it so great is that it is impactful for both beginners and intermediate students.
  3. Take a meditation course.  A few possibilities include:
    1. My live, bi-annual Awareness+Wisdom Insight Meditation course
    2. This short & easy course for total beginners to mindfulness meditation
    3. Gil Fronsdal’s 6-week intro to Insight Meditation course.
    4. An in-depth online meditation course with two of the most senior Insight Meditation teachers
  4. Read my favorite meditation book, Relax & Be Aware, by my teacher Sayadaw U Tejaniya.  He also has several books available for free download on his website — you could read the excellent Don’t Look Down on the Defilements, They Will Laugh At You in less than an hour.
  5. Broaden your practice by reading:
    1. Bhikkhu Bodhi – The Noble Eightfold Path.  Short & straightforward, perhaps the best book I’ve read that explains the greater Buddhist framework.
    2. Ajahn Jayasaro – On Love.  Could read in one sitting – short, deep & original while staying true to the classic Buddhist teachings.
    3. Robert Augustus Masters – Spiritual Bypassing.  It is important to learn how meditation can be used to avoid our wounding vs. genuinely heal, transform & grow.
    4. Kristin Neff – Self-Compassion.  Also, check out the free meditations and exercises on her website.  Meditation without heart falls flat – important to find some way to bring it in.
    5. Adyashanti – True Meditation.  Peppering our meditation with a little non-dual simplicity helps ground us in the essence of the practice.
    6. Rob Burbea – Seeing that Frees.  When you’re interested in a more nuanced book with seriously deep meditative wisdom.
  6. Keep Practicing!
    1. Try Insight Timer, get involved with a local community, go on a retreat, commit to practicing every day, even if only five minutes!
    2. Parooze the rest of this list at your leisure.


Studying Theravada-Vipassana Meditation

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Zen Meditation vs. Vipassana / Insight Meditation

Buddha Moon Image

In the Buddhist tradition, there are three major lineages / styles-of-practice: Theravada, Mahayana & Vajrayana.

Personally, I spent several months living at the Upaya Zen Center, where I practiced Zen Meditation full-time (a style of Mahayana Buddhism).  I also spent a couple years as a Buddhist Monk in Myanmar, practicing Vipassana day-and-night (a style of Theravada Buddhism).

Today, I’ll discuss what I see as the essential way they are the same and different — let’s start with a story!

A Buddhist teacher once asked a group of kindergartners, “what is the purpose of eating breakfast?”

One responded, “to have energy for the day.”

And then a second young one answered, “the purpose of eating breakfast is to eat breakfast.”

These two answers beautifully illustrate the primary similarity and difference between Zen and Vipassana.

Both traditions are grounded in mindful awareness of the present (“eating breakfast”).

However, the primary emphasis in Vipassana is on cultivation, on channeling our mindfulness in such a way that we develop insight, wisdom and, ultimately, inner freedom (“energy for the day”).

In Zen, the primary emphasis is on being present for the sake of being present — their perspective is that inner freedom is found right here, so we should just focus on the actual act of “eating breakfast,” or whatever else we’re doing.

What we’re getting at here is a fundamental difference in mindset / attitude.  Let’s consider some more examples:

The purpose of driving is to get from point A to point B.
The purpose of driving is to drive.

The purpose of calling technical support is to get your device fixed.
The purpose of calling technical support is to call technical support.

The purpose of reading this article is to learn about meditation.
The purpose of reading this article is to read this article.

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A Deeper Dive Into This Distinction

Let’s use the driving example.

Of course, when you leave work and it’s time to go home, there’s something really important about knowing that your purpose is to go home.  If you completely let go of that purpose, you might drive the complete opposite direction, get lost, run out of gas, alienate your family by not arriving home, run into a brick wall, etc.

In other words, you really do need to have a sense of direction.

But there’s a potential pitfall here.

If you’re so focused on where you’re going, you never appreciate where you are!  You might have a 30 minute drive, and the whole time your mind is off in the clouds, imagining what you’ll do when you get home.  Multiplied to your entire life, if you’re too goal oriented, or always focused on where you’re heading, you miss out on your actual life.

If you deeply study Zen and Vipassana, both of them actually agree: you need to have a sense of direction, but you also need to be present for the ride.

However, as I mentioned before, the Zen tradition more so emphasizes being present for the ride, which helps you increase your capacity to let go, and to really appreciate & make friends with the present.

Inversely, as Vipassana emphasizes the cultivation, they lay out the road map to get home with all the possible routes, and help you troubleshoot any potential complication.  If there’s a traffic jam, do this.  If you get a flat tire, do that.  If you start freaking out, do the other thing.  This approach causes you to deepen your intuitive wisdom on what works and what doesn’t, and slowly leads to an effortless and robust presence.

When I’ve met “intermediate-level students” from each tradition, the Zen folks come across differently than the Vipassana folks.  When I’ve met “advanced-level students” from each tradition, they each carry the similar qualities of wisdom, groundedness & presence.

In other words, while they take different roads, they both actually lead to the same place.

A skilled teacher of either tradition will eventually get you to learn both of these lessons on a deep, internalized level.  Personally, I’ve found it helpful to study both traditions as they balance each other out well, but it’s really not necessary.

As in the initial story, the most important part is the simple fact of “eating breakfast,” getting in your car, or being mindfully aware of the present.

In summary, there is more that unites Zen and Vipassana than differentiates them!

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Is focusing Intensely On My Studies The Same As Meditation?

I get a variety of questions sent to me, and every so often I post them on the blog.  These have a bit of a different flavor than most blog posts, as I’m trying to give a practical/useful answer to an individual.  Enjoy!

Question:  Is it possible to be mindful while being intensely focused on something like studying, or being “in the zone”?

Answer:  Hello there, it depends on how you are focusing.  For example, if you are intensely focused on your studies, and a fly starts buzzing around your ear, how do you react?  If you start to get really annoyed, and then ten minutes goes by, and you realize you’re “out of the zone” and are in a bad mood, this isn’t what mindfulness is about.

Inversely, you’re on the right track if you’re able to notice, “oh, a fly is buzzing, no problem, just some sounds in the background, I’ll keep on with my studies.”  In other words, in mindfulness practice, focus needs to be paired with an eye to self-understanding or “wisdom,” noticing our different reactions, emotions and thoughts.   This aspect of “wisdom” helps us have more choice & freedom in life – which is the ultimate aim of mindfulness.  Most people find it really helpful to develop this through “formal practice,” but you can absolutely do it through other activities too.

It has a bit of Buddhist jargon, but I found this short article really insightful – it tells the story of when someone asked when of the top Buddhist meditation masters of the 20th century, “what is the difference between rock climbing and meditation?”

Worried about Meditation posture – what to do?

Question:   Hi David, I’m wondering how I should sit when meditating? I can comfortably sit with my legs crossed but I am worried about my posture.

Answer:  Hello there, the first thing to know is that there is no such thing as the “best posture.” The point of the posture is to help ourselves feel relaxed and alert, so we can engage in our meditation. This is usually aided by having a straight spine, keeping our knees either at the same level as our hips or lower, and remaining relatively still. Different postures work best for different people, but if you can sit comfortably with legs crossed, this sounds great – keep at it!

If any mild discomfort starts to come up, the idea is to notice your worries and other reactions, and see if you can allow them to be there. Usually once you notice them, they tend to fade away. However, if the discomfort becomes stronger, or it becomes really painful, then it’s actually really wise to shift your posture. Just consciously notice that you’re doing it!