I relate to Buddhism not so much as a world view, religion or philosophy, but as a set of practices that can help us live very deeply.
The formal teachings are sort of like a road map. It doesn’t do much good to read or think about a map if we’re never actually going to hop in the car and go anywhere.
However, assuming we are prepared to hop in the “Buddhist vehicle” and engage with its practices, it’s very helpful to know the most important thing the map is actually saying.
To quote the Buddha himself, “I teach one thing and one thing only—dukkha and the end of dukkha.”
Note: the video is essentially the same as the text below. Pick whichever format you like best!
The working metaphor I use for mindfulness meditation is of an archeological dig.
In archaeology, a dig starts with shovels and pick axes, with tools and processes. Eventually, this culminates in the discovery of artifacts, fossils and other treasures.
Mindfulness meditation is very similar.
We start with method and fundamentals, learning to be present-moment-aware with an equanimous and curious attitude. After this stabilizes, it culminates in “insight” into the nature of our hearts and minds. Continue reading
I previously wrote about how the path of wholeness, awakening or sincerity is actually about integrating three different roads:
- The high road, consisting of joy, bliss, love and living our deepest aspirations.
- The low road, consisting of becoming intimate with our shadows/struggles, and working through whatever is preventing us from living on the high road.
- The middle road, consisting of our everyday life, a place where we come down to earth, find our sense of humor and embrace what is.
Today, we’ll talk about the role that mindfulness plays in walking these three roads.
The High Road
In a very real way, a moment of mindfulness is a moment of total engagement and intimacy with life. It’s a moment where our entire reality is vivid and lucid—colors are sharper, sounds are fuller, body sensations are more textured, our emotions are juicier and our love is more fluid. Continue reading
The Basic Framework of Different Meditation Approaches
In the practice of transcendental meditation (TM), a meditator repeats a mantra over and over, usually for a period for of 15-30 minutes. This mantra repetition tends to “override” the habit of thinking. In turn, it leads to a sense of calmness, peace and inner stillness.
In the practice of loving-kindness meditation (Metta), a meditator might repeat well-wishing phrases or consciously reflect on people or things they love the most. This practice tends to “override” whatever difficult emotions we are experiencing. In turn, it leads to feelings of love, kindness and warmth.
Often when people think of meditation, they think of these types of practices—doing some kind of mental judo in order to produce a certain effect, like a quiet or empty mind, or feelings of love and warmth.
While those meditations can be very powerful, the aim of mindfulness is a little different. Instead of trying to make the mind a certain way, like peaceful or loving, mindfulness simply teaches us to be aware of all things without reactivity.
To put it another way, sometimes the best mindfulness practice can actually happen when the mind is very active and chaotic, or filled with intense emotions. This is because instead of trying to get rid of difficult experiences, mindfulness teaches us to find freedom even while they are happening.
One of the main ways I’ve come to think about the path of sincerity, awakening or wholeness is that it actually consists of three separate roads. A truly integrated and enlivened spiritual life needs to include all three of these.
Here’s a very brief summary of the three roads:
- The high road consists of joy, passion, love and living our deepest aspirations.
- The low road consists of becoming intimate with our shadows/struggles, and working through whatever is preventing us from living on the high road.
- The middle road consists of our everyday life, a place where we come down to earth, find our sense of humor and embrace what is.
The entirety of my work as a teacher and coach is to help people walk and integrate these three roads. Here’s a more detailed description of what they look like and why they’re important:
There’s an ancient story where a layperson approached the Buddha and asked him about the greatest joys of living in the world.
When monks or serious meditators asked him this question, he would reply by talking about the fruits of meditation; mostly, inner freedom.
However, this was an everyday person, and so the Buddha told him the top four types of joy for a person who lives in the world.
The first three came down to outer freedom: having wealth, using wealth and being debtless. These allow us to do what we want, when we want—whether that’s eating a mango, watching a movie or writing poems in a redwood grove. Continue reading
This blog revolves around the idea of sincerity, which is really nothing more than living truthfully. However, even though sincerity is quite simple, truth is a little more complicated.
Let’s say your friend has you travel an hour to meet him somewhere. Once you arrive, he texts you to say that he got caught up in some things, and won’t be able to make it. He texts you that AFTER you arrived!!!
You feel irritable and angry, and are tempted to lash out. However, you also have a deep rooted intention to be kind in the world.
What to do? What way of responding would be most truthful for you?
By the end of this post, you will have a better sense of the most sincere response.
For starters, there are basically three levels of truth: psychological, emotional and spiritual. The secret to a life of sincerity is becoming intimate with all three, recognizing their realities and their limitations.
When someone is beginning to explore meditation, it’s often somewhat confusing which style to actually do. There are seemingly endless options, ranging from the world’s major spiritual traditions to more secular approaches to individual teachers with their own “innovative” style.
For example, there’s Zen buddhism, Vipassana, Yogic meditation, Taoist meditation, Christian meditation, secular mindfulness groups, heart-centered meditation, Advaita Vedanta and countless fusions or other integrative approaches.
Of course, all these approaches to meditation are getting at something similar, and yet they’re also quite distinct. In today’s post, I hope to give some clarity on the basic framework underlying all meditative practices.
May this benefit you and your journey into yourself!
The Two Basic Questions Of Any Meditation Practice
1) What do I actually do?
2) What is the purpose of doing that? (aka why?)
Why Go on a Meditation Retreat?
Before I went on my first retreat, I had practiced yoga and meditation on and off for a couple years. That period was sort of like the courting phase of a new relationship. I was trying it out—practicing once or twice a week, reading some books, engaging with others who did the practices, and seeing what happened.
Needless to say, I became convinced that there was something really powerful for me in this practice. I decided to “go for it,” and signed up for a donation-based 10 day Vipassana Meditation retreat that I had heard about through word of mouth.
I had just left an eight-week silent meditation retreat in Lumbini, Nepal and was sitting patiently in a local shop with a Nepali man named Jupiter. He was halfway chatting with me, halfway filling out my bus ticket to Varanasi, India. Midway through, he paused and looked at me with a curious glance before asking, “are you always like this?”
I smiled, a little confused, thinking maybe he was referring to the large beard I had grown in two months of no shaving; I said, “do you mean my beard?”
“No, I mean how peaceful you are.”
“Oh…. Well, I’m generally a pretty tranquil guy, but I just got out of a meditation retreat, so probably more than usual.”
By the end of the night, I was on a horse carriage riding through the streets of Varanasi, a twinge of novelty in my eyes while roaring with laugher over the chaos of Indian nights—the horns and lights and street dogs and glitter-like colors in every which direction. Continue reading