Consider what thoughts sprout in your mind during a typical day. You spend some of our day thinking about what you are doing in the present moment, yet, you might be surprised how little time you actually devote to this. Some thoughts occur on purpose, using our conscious attention. For other thoughts, we do not decide to think them; they simply live in our minds. We spend endless hours on these mind-wandering thoughts.
Our stream of consciousness is simply a flowing series of thoughts running through our minds. Many people’s stream of consciousness takes the form of an internal monologue. Consider what form your stream of consciousness takes.
Do you think in pictures or words? Do you think in more than one voice? What influences your thoughts? You might find the answers to these questions intriguing. On a recent Internet forum, participants answered these same questions. Most said they think in words as opposed to images or sounds. Most notice their internal monologues take the form of a debate or discussion with another voice or person. Their audience or discussion partner changes depending on what they are “speaking” about. Some explain that the content and even the syntax of their thoughts is affected by the last book they read.
A Child’s Stream of Consciousness
Do children experience their stream of consciousness in this same way? In 1993, researchers at Stanford University brought children (one child at a time) into a room. One researcher asked an assistant to sit and wait on the other side of the room facing a blank wall. Then the researcher asked the child if the assistant in the chair “is having some thoughts and ideas or is her mind empty of thoughts and ideas?” Ninety five percent of the three-year-olds responded that the researcher’s mind was empty of thoughts and ideas. Eighty percent of four-year-olds responded in this same way and forty-five percent of six- and seven-year-olds answered that the researcher’s mind was empty of thoughts and ideas. Five-year-olds did not happen to be part of their research pool. In comparison five percent of adults answered as these children did when they were brought through the same process.
The researchers conducting this study concluded that the children who said the researcher was empty of thoughts were simply not aware of their own stream of consciousness. Consequently they were not aware of the existence of the researcher’s stream of thoughts. I disagree with this conclusion. I think it is possible thier mind is clear.
If children already have naturally quiet minds should we teach them how to clear their minds? Based on my experience with children and the research available, I don’t believe children, especially young children, need to spend a lot of time learning highly disciplined focused meditation. However, many other types of meditation are fun for children and offer many benefits. (Sensational Meditation for Children provides 8 non-mind clearning meditations.) With that said, introducing children to meditations that involve focused attention is helpful in small doses so that when they want to clear their minds, they have the skills at their disposal.
Sensational Meditation for Children is a great book that provides four meditations that help children clear their minds. One leads children to focus on their breathing, another teaches children how to repeat a mantra, the third provides a progressive relaxation meditation to help them sleep, and the fourth guides children to let go of thoughts and emotions down a grounding cord. I consider the focused breathing and mantra meditations to be disciplined focused meditations.
What to Expect when Teaching Meditation to Children
As adults we may have difficulty accessing our inner mind to experience the images, sounds, and feelings that arise in meditation. This may be because society puts a premium on a certain kind of rational intelligence, at the cost of imagination and creativity. Children, on the other hand, are by nature imaginative, and happily use their inner and outer senses to explore their inner and outer worlds. I find in general that the children I teach are far more open to the practice than my adult students. They grasp far more easily that a feeling can have color for example.
Although a certain level of quiet is necessary for meditation, this level is different for children. In fact, strict guidelines and discipline make it hard for children to meditate. Children do not require a dark, quiet room or a place free from distractions when they meditate. Children can easily jump into and out of meditation when something interrupts them. Much of this ability is due to their brainwave state: children naturally exist in a meditative state.
If a child opens his or her eyes and looks around during meditation, this is fine and you can simply encourage the child to place their hands over their eyes. Children might also speak aloud; this usually will not interfere with the flow of their meditation if kept to a minimum, even in a group setting. If the child asks questions during the meditation, softly reply. When he or she makes simple comments or observations, let it become a part of the experience.
No matter what state dawns at this moment, can there be just that? Not a movement away, an escape into something that will provide what this state does not provide, or doesn’t seem to provide: energy, zest, inspiration, joy, happiness, whatever. Just completely, unconditionally listening to what’s here now, is that possible?
When you come to see and understand the nature of “what is,” its simplicity, its immediacy, its uniqueness, and its transience, then it is also understood that there is no point in formal meditation. You’re sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and the thought comes, “I will go and meditate.” Then you see that there is simply no point, because what you are is “what is.” What is is, and so why go to find it upstairs?
The beauty of meditation is that you never know where you are, where you are going, what the end is.
There is no way to become what you always already are and what always already is. If practices such as meditation have any usefulness, it is in exposing the illusion that something is lacking, or that there is something to attain, or that there is a meditator who needs to be transformed.
By their very nature, intentional practices cannot help but reinforce these illusions to some degree, so some people have compared spiritual practices to fighting fire with fire. One old Zen master famously said that he was selling water by the banks of the river. There is on-going debate in nondual circles about whether practices such as meditation inevitably come from and reinforce the central illusion, or whether they are potentially useful or maybe even essential.
Words like “meditation” and “inquiry” get used in many different ways to mean many different things. I don’t recommend or practice any kind of traditional, formal meditation, but I’m not against it either. And I do highly recommend exploring the nature of reality with awareness by giving open attention to actual direct experience Here and Now.
As for formal meditation practice, whatever shows up is the only possible in this moment. It is as it is. If Zen practice shows up in your movie, then for you, Zen practice is apparently necessary, until (perhaps) it isn’t. For another, the same insights that come to you through Zen practice might come while driving down the freeway, or being in prison, or raising a child. There is no one right path, and ultimately, there is no path at all. The path is pathless and the gate is gateless.
In my story, I went from formal Zen practice to being with Toni Packer, a former Zen teacher who left the tradition, hierarchy, rituals, ceremonies, texts, and dogmas of Zen behind. I lived and worked at Toni Packer’s retreat center for five years. We still had silent retreats and sat silently, but the schedule was always optional, we could sit in armchairs and recliners as well as on meditation cushions, and there was no “practice” in the usual sense — no counting the breath or working on a koan — we were simply invited to be aware of whatever was actually happening and to investigate the sense of a separate “me,” and see if it was real. From there, I got involved in the Advaita satsang world and then with what I like to call radical nonduality, which points to the utter simplicity of what is and to the inescapable groundlessness that you cannot not be. Formal meditation fell away, although I continue to enjoy being silent and “doing nothing” whenever it invites me, but I no longer think of it as “meditation.”
In my story, in addition to meditation, there was also drinking, drugs, radical leftist politics, and a whole host of other things that happened. Only in the story, after the fact, can we separate these things out from each other and imagine that one of them caused this and another caused that. All of that is a dream-like fabrication. The whole story is a fabrication. Nothing really happened.
The only “meditation” that I ever suggest now, and it is only ever a suggestion, is the possibility of exploring the present moment with awareness. I don’t mean by this any kind of deliberate “practice” in the sense of sitting in some special upright posture, or counting the breath, or repeating a mantra, or working on a koan, or trying very hard to “be present.” I simply mean hearing the presently arising sounds, whatever they are — traffic, birds, wind — feeling the breathing, feeling sensations, seeing thoughts as thoughts, and seeing firsthand how stories unfold, how suffering happens, how entrancement in an imaginary world happens, how decisions and “choices” actually occur, how actions are initiated.
Exploring what exactly is this “me” who seems to be authoring and doing and experiencing “my” life — can it actually be found? This isn’t about trying to maintain some special state of present moment awareness “all the time,” but rather, I’m pointing to something much more open and spacious. I don’t call this meditation and it is in no way separate from the whole of life. It doesn’t get you anywhere, but it may expose the mirage-like nature of the meditator and the destination.
In the absence of this kind of non-conceptual exploration, I’ve noticed that it is easy for people to get stuck in thinking about all of this and trying to resolve it intellectually through analytical thinking and philosophizing. Of course, there are plenty of pitfalls in any kind of intentional meditation as well, especially when it becomes a methodical practice, set apart from the rest of life, and embedded in a system bound by tradition, hierarchy and dogma (as in much formal Buddhism). And even with the simple kind of present moment awareness that I just talked about, as soon as it becomes something special, as soon as “I” am doing it “to expose the mirage-like nature of the meditator and the destination,” then immediately it does exactly the opposite — it makes the meditator and the destination seem more real.
You can’t win, and in fact, enlightenment is total defeat of the one who wants to win. Along the way, whatever shows up is perfectly appropriate at that moment. Everything changes. What feels alive and useful today may be deadening and useless tomorrow, and visa versa, because what’s truly alive is never the same from one moment to the next. We don’t have to make one way right and another way wrong. Everything has its place. In the absolute sense, nothing can really help you or hinder you because there is actually nothing separate to be helped or hindered. Whatever you do or don’t do, you can never be anything other than the groundlessness of being — there is no way in and no way out — because this is all there is.
Meditation, like everything in life, happens by itself. There is no meditator who can make it happen or “do it right. ” But right now, and only right now, stopping, looking, and listening can happen, if this interest arises. True meditation is a kind of invitation (from the universe to itself) to stop, look, and listen. To see what is. To be what you cannot not be.
That doesn’t always feel good. It doesn’t turn “you” into some Perfect Person. By nature, there are sunny days and cloudy days. Weeds come back. For as long as we’re alive, no matter how many times we take out the garbage or do the laundry, more accumulates. One of the epigraphs at the beginning of my last book, Awake in the Heartland, was from Suzuki Roshi: “For Zen students a weed is a treasure. ” Realizing that is the beauty of true meditation.
I’ll share with you a story about my experiences with meditation. Perhaps it will illustrate how paying attention to actual present moment experiencing can expose illusions and undo suffering.
I remember clearly the day when it was first seen that most all my thoughts were about the future. I was at the San Francisco Zen Center at my first all-day sitting. We were told to just sit there in silence, not moving and doing nothing, and see what happened. Suddenly, at some point during that day, as if a light had just been turned on in a previously darkened room, it was clearly seen that virtually every thought I was having was about the future: what I was going to do with the rest of my life, what I would do next week on my vacation, where I would look for a parking space tomorrow when I went to work, what I would do later that evening when I got home, what I would do on the break that was coming up soon. It was a revelation. My God! 99.9% of my present waking life was taken up in daydreaming and planning for an imaginary future that never arrived, because — like the mirage lake in the desert — the closer I got to it, the farther it receded into the distance.
I’d undoubtedly been doing this for years, but without realizing it. Now the light of awareness had been turned on, and the pattern was being seen. But that seeing didn’t mean that the habit fell away permanently right then and there, never to return. On the contrary, for the next decade and then some, it persisted. But now it was not happening in darkness; it was being exposed by the light; it was being seen: Oh, I just spent two hours thinking about my future and I feel very unsatisfied, hmmmm….Oh, I just had a long conversation with a friend about what I should do with my life, and it was very unsatisfying….Oh, that just happened again…..and so forth. The habit persisted, but the seeing was acting on it in invisible ways, eroding its believability and its allure. As Joko Beck once said, if you watch the same old movie a thousand times, eventually it will get boring.
I began to see more clearly the allure of this pattern of thought – what was pleasurable about it and what kinds of discomfort it was trying to allay. I noticed how addictive these thoughts about the future were. And I also began to see how unsatisfying this pattern of thought was, how it was a form of suffering. At the same time, I was discovering through meditation that real happiness and joy and peace are only found here and now in being fully awake to this moment. In the sounds of traffic and the sensations of breathing, I found that there was no story, no time, no future, no me, no suffering, no problem. Nothing was missing. And I discovered that this listening presence is always available. I found that it didn’t matter where I was or what the external scenery was like, the jewel was always right here.
One day, over a decade later, I was in Chicago talking on the phone to my old friend and teacher Toni Packer and she asked me what I was going to do after my mother died, where would I go. It dawned on me that I hadn’t been thinking about it! Wow! How unlike me! I realized that I wasn’t obsessing about the future anymore. That whole preoccupation had fallen away and I hadn’t even noticed! There was no dramatic, line-in-the-sand moment when this habit fell away. It happened gradually, imperceptibly, over the space of a decade. It left so quietly and so gradually that I didn’t even hear it going.
I rarely think about the future at all now except in the most practical and necessary ways, and almost never in that obsessive way that I once did. Yes, every now and then this old habit makes a brief re-appearance and the mind begins spinning a future scenario of some kind, but it doesn’t last long or take hold and occupy me in the way it used to. I can’t remember the last time I spent hours plotting out the rest of my life. The seeing that began that day at the SFZC revealed and slowly dissolved the habit pattern until finally it was essentially gone or at least so fully exposed and dis-armed that it was no longer a major preoccupation or source of suffering.
The same kind of gradual dissolving seems to have been happening slowly over many years to the sense of solidity, separation, independent agency, and selfhood. Sure, along the way there have been light bulb moments of exquisite clarity and insight, ahh-hha moments, “breakthroughs” of various kinds, profound experiences of oneness or non-separation, expanded experiences, but these all come and go, as do moments when the old conditioning fires up and takes over. But over time, and always right now, things seem to get simpler and simpler.
The imaginary problem dissolves. Some people do report sudden, huge, momentous, permanent, line-in-the-sand transformations, but this has never been my experience, and I don’t think change usually happens in such a dramatic and final way. Certainly, it doesn’t have to happen that way. But because we hear those stories of sudden, final, permanent transformations, we often get very hung up for a very long time on trying to duplicate them.
We want and expect instant, dramatic and permanent results. And usually, we are disappointed. It can happen that an old habit will dissolve instantly and permanently in one great flash of light, never to return ever again, but this is not very often the case. And even then, we never know when it might come back.
Ultimately, we discover it doesn’t really matter whether an old habit shows up again or not, including the habit of identifying as the bodymind and feeling encapsulated as the character. All such experiences are seen to be momentary, dream-like appearances arising in awareness, including the “me” who claims to be the owner of these experiences. There is less and less preoccupation with improving, fixing and perfecting this imaginary “me,” who is seen to be only a mirage.
When we get caught up in seeking some “final” shift or transformation, it is always about this imaginary “me,” and it is a set-up for disappointment. If we begin imagining that “I” have had a permanent shift, it is instant delusion, and a new self-image to protect and defend.
All states and experiences come and go. The ever-present groundlessness is not an experience, nor is it a state that “the person” enters, permanently or temporarily. “The person” is a momentary appearance that comes and goes within the ever-present groundlessness.
People often experience meditation as humiliating and disappointing. They had hoped it would make them calmer and happier, and instead, they are more aware of upset and agitation. Instead of thinking less, they seem to be thinking more than ever before (or maybe they are simply more aware of all this obessive thinking than ever before). On top of that, what is seen in the mirror of awareness is not the person they want to be or think they should be. It is not the person they have imagined themselves to be. To our horror, we see ourselves being manipulative, greedy, self-righteous, self-absorbed, mired in old habits, and even worse, unable to fix or control all of this. The humiliation and disappointment come from taking it personally, imagining that this person is who I am, and then having ideals of how “I” ought to be, and it also comes from the illusion of control (I “could” and “should” be doing better, rooted in the illusion of an autonomous, separate self).
But gradually it is seen more and more clearly that none of it is personal and that there is no “doer” who is doing any of it, neither the “good” stuff nor the “bad” stuff. It all happens. The “me” who tries to control the chaos is only an image, a thought, or a bunch of thoughts. And those thoughts and images arise unbidden, secretions of the brain. Like everything else, they arise from the ten billion conditions, or we could say, from nowhere (a.k.a. now / here).
When we are judging it and taking it all personally — when we think the habit is “bad,” and that it is my doing, and that it means something about me — we suffer over its persistence and our disappointing lack of control. When it is realized that every moment is empty of self, that it is all an infinite Self-realization, that there is no way in or out of groundlessness, then everything is allowed to happen in its own way, at its own speed, as it does anyway.
The whole effort to “be here now” falls away along with the one who needs anything to be different from exactly how it is. And this very shift–in which it is seen that nothing has ever happened, that there is nothing to shift, that all shifts are dream-like events, and that Ultimate Reality is never lost–this shiftless shift is enlightenment itself. Because all the destinations and all the shifts that can be experienced are all like that mirage lake in the desert — imaginary — it never arrives, or if it seems to arrive, it slips away again.
The emptiness (or presence) is what’s real, not the appearances. Here and Now is all there is. Thoughts about the future and memories of the past all happen Here Now. “Being aware” and “being lost in thought” are different dream-like movies appearing Here Now. Different scenery, different locations, different experiences all appear Here Now. Wherever we seem to go, Here is always here.
Meditation is simply present awareness, here and now. It sees thoughts for what they are — insubstantial, momentary blips of energy that produce amazing movies in which the illusion of time and space is unfolded along with all the stories of all of our lives. And when all of that thought-constructed dream-world is transparent, the jewel of here and now is obvious. It shines.
We wake up to the luminous, vibrant aliveness that is manifesting as the sounds of rain and traffic, the smell of coffee, the taste of tea, the cool breeze, the green leaves sparkling in the sunlight and dancing in the wind, the white clouds blowing across the blue sky, the red fire truck streaking past, siren wailing. This is the extraordinary miracle of ordinary life. It is always available, but only ever here and now.
And this vibrant aliveness is equally present as dullness, boredom, depression, anxiety, restlessness, agitation, worry, upset, addiction, and all other forms of overcast, cloudy, turbulent or stormy weather. Enlightenment is all-inclusive. Nothing is left out. Nothing different is needed. It’s not a perpetually sunny day. It’s the absence of the one who needs to be better. Enlightenment points to that groundlessness which is equally present as every experience, that infinite Self-realization which is realizing itself in everything.
Meditation as I mean it is not something you do for a future result. It is not something “you” do. It is simply awareness itself seeing through the thought-constructed movies and ideas that are so mesmerizing, including the desire for experiences, transformations and future results. It is seeing the false as false, deconstructing every frame, demolishing every landing place, every foot-hold, every answer. It is the wonder of not knowing, not the dead weight of dogma and belief. True meditation is always only about Here and Now, not some future benefit or attainment. Meditation is the aliveness of actuality (seeing, hearing, sensing, touching, being).
It is the absolute simplicity of what is, not methods or techniques designed to achieve results. It is an invitation to let all the answers and formulas go, to enjoy the extraordinary in the ordinary, and perhaps to discover that there is no separate one to be bound or free. Meditation is without repetition. It is always utterly new.
Many schools of meditation put great emphasis on posture. There is a mind-body connection, or more accurately, mindbody is one undivided process. Posture does have an effect. You can explore this for yourself by sitting erect, chest out and open, raising your arms skyward, looking up, and saying, “I’m really depressed.” The depression isn’t very convincing, is it? It just doesn’t fit with that posture. Contraywise, you can try slumping over, hanging your head, and then saying, “I’m really happy.”
Again, not too believable. The posture itself doesn’t fit or support happiness. You can also compare Rodin’s famous statue “The thinker” with most any statue of the seated Buddha and it is at once obvious that these two postures embody totally different states of mind. “The Thinker” is living up in his head while the Buddha appears deeply grounded in something much more stable and quiet than thoughts.
So, posture and mind-state are certainly related, and there is definitely something to be said for sitting in a way that is open, relaxed, stable, awake, and grounded – a way that allows the breath and the energy and the life-force to circulate freely through the body, a way that feels undefended and open. But awareness is here in every posture, and you don’t need any particular posture. Meditation can happen on a recliner, in an armchair, on a meditation bench, on a cushion. It can happen sitting, lying down, standing up, walking, running.
You certainly don’t need to be in some kind of cross-legged lotus position or bolt upright on the edge of a chair, and sometimes, these officially sanctioned postures can actually convey and enforce rigidity and tightness more than openness and stability. So experiment.
Likewise, there is often great emphasis in some schools of meditation on not moving — sitting motionless, often for hours and days at a time. There is frequently excruciating pain in the body after hours upon hours of motionless sitting, but you are encouraged to keep sitting and not move, unless you feel that you are seriously injuring yourself. Of course, there is no way to actually know whether you are causing serious or permanent injury by ignoring pain signals, and many Zen students have ended up with lifelong disabilities as a result of toughing it out, which is always a strong temptation in group settings, perhaps especially for men and for anyone with a bent toward perfectionism or success.
I did this kind of practice for many years, but I came to regard it as more harmful than helpful. However, I did learn something valuable from this kind of rigorous practice, and I can understand why many Zen teachers choose to keep perpetuating this practice. By sitting through whatever arises without moving away, you learn to stay with whatever is showing up, to not escape.
You learn to sit through an itch without scratching it, and you discover that when you don’t scratch, the itch goes away. On the other hand, as we all know, when you scratch, the itch often gets worse. Likewise, with pain, you discover that by resisting it, by tensing up against it, by thinking about it, it gets worse and seems overwhelming, whereas when you can completely open to it and relax into it and explore the actuality of the sensations with awareness, you find that it is no longer overwhelming and may even become interesting.
You discover, by observing it closely, that “pain” is not a solid thing, but rather, it is ever-changing vibrations that come and go. So, by sitting through whatever arises without moving away, you learn to stay present with unpleasant experiences — pain, uneasiness, anxiety, depression, anger, sadness, fear. Instead of going with the habitual tendency to escape, which reinforces that tendency every time it is repeated, you learn instead to stay present, to not move, and to open up to and explore what is arising.
The habitual tendency to escape may provide temporary relief, but as most of us discover, in the long run, our escape strategies usually serve to compound the problem. Anyone who has struggled with addiction knows what I mean very well. So, while I don’t recommend sleeping on a bed of nails, I do think there is something valuable to learn by staying present with whatever is arising and not moving away, and especially with those experiences you most want to avoid. I don’t mean staying with the storyline, but rather, staying with the bare sensations. And you don’t have to be bolt upright and absolutely motionless in the lotus position atop a meditation cushion to do this. It can happen in an armchair in a very relaxed and natural way.
Within all religions, there seem to be variations of style ranging from informal to formal, low church to high church, easy-going and permissive to strict and highly disciplined. What I’ve found by swimming in many different pools is that there are strengths and weaknesses with any way you go. Even though I have left formal practice behind, I can see that for some people, at some moments, it may be the perfect way. Years ago, I studied karate very seriously. First I was with a teacher who was very informal — there were no belts or belt tests and no visible signs of rank, we didn’t wear uniforms, and the style in the dojo was very relaxed and easy-going.
Then later, I studied with a different teacher who was very formal — we had frequent belt tests, we always wore uniforms and belts, we bowed to the teacher and observed a strict and formal etiquette in the dojo. And guess what? It was the second, stricter, more formal school, the one with the belt tests and the ranks and all the seemingly silly rules, where I really took off, broke through my barriers, found my inner power and courage, and realized that I could be a black belt.
This had never occurred to me in my wildest dreams in the first school, where I never really broke out of deeply conditioned ideas of myself as disabled, weak, cowardly, unathletic, and so on. In the more formal school, in some way that was palpably facilitated by the form and structure, those ideas were totally shattered, and they were shattered in a very embodied and visceral way, as in Zen, where the practice is very down to earth — lots of attention given to posture and to how you clean the toilet.
So, I mention this not to promote formality, but simply because it speaks to the positive aspects of form, ritual, rank, meticulously observing seemingly silly little rules, and all those things that Toni Packer and radical nonduality and I have thrown out the window.
There is a place for everything. But there is no advantage or disadvantage to any of it. Wherever you go, here you always are. The difference between one way and another is the difference between one dream and another dream.
When people first take up meditation, they usually imagine that it is about self-improvement and getting somewhere. They usually think of it as a special activity that “they” are doing. True meditation, as I have encountered it, is actually all about seeing through all such ideas. Ultimately, it is about seeing through the meditator, recognizing that there is no “self” here who is meditating or making choices or thinking thoughts or acting in the world.
There is no “me” who is going back and forth between clarity and confusion, between “getting it” and “losing it,” between contraction and expansion, or between identification as boundless awareness and identification as the character. There is no way “out” of Here and Now, and no “me” to come or go, or to “be here now.” All such concerns fall away.
Inquiry: What is It?
The penetration of this mystery requires that one not foreclose it by substituting an answer, be it a metaphysical proposition or a religious belief. One has to learn how to suspend the habit of reaching for a word or phrase with which to fill the emptiness opened by the question.
When we start inquiring into what is holding us back from realizing the truth, we come to the realization that there is really nothing there. There are no obstacles. Nothing is holding us back from awakening….We are the one who imprisons and we are the one who liberates.
Self-inquiry directly leads to Self-realization by removing the obstacles which make you think that the Self is not already realized. –Ramana Maharshi
Who (or what) am I? What is this right here, right now?
When everything perceivable and conceivable disappears, what remains?
What was your face before your parents were born?
Asked of any object: What is it? Beyond the label or the description, what is it?
Asked of any thought: Is it true? Can I really absolutely know that this is true?
These questions are not asking for conceptual answers. The thinking mind is in the business of finding such answers. That’s its job. It’s a survival function. And in a certain realm, it works beautifully, nothing wrong with it. But when it comes to these ultimate questions, it doesn’t work at all. Any answers we come up with are just dead words, dead ideas.
Grasping is one of our earliest and most primal survival reflexes. We grasp with our hands, with our gut, and with our minds. Our human conditioning reinforces the tendency to grasp for answers. In school, we are rewarded for having the right answers, and we feel stupid if we don’t know. So, it may be very uncomfortable and unfamiliar at first to not reach for an answer.
The questions posed in spiritual inquiry are of a different nature than the questions posed to us in school. These questions of spiritual inquiry are not looking for answers, although we can easily supply answers with the thinking mind. After all, if we’ve been around this spiritual stuff for any time at all, we probably know all the “correct” answers to these questions. What am I? “Pure Consciousness,” we might think. Or (if we haven’t read very many spiritual books yet), we might say, “me,” or give our name. Or (another “advanced” answer) we might say, “Nothing at all.” Or, “empty space.” Or, “The One Self.” If we look at our computer and ask, What is it? We might say, “My computer,” or we might be more sophisticated and say, “energy,” or “consciousness,” or “Oneness,” or “emptiness.” But notice right now that these are all words. Labels. They may be pointing to something that is not a word and not a concept. But the words themselves are not that to which they point.
It’s relatively easy to learn the right answers, the right words — to talk the talk. But these questions are inviting something else entirely. They are inviting us to fall into the open space of questioning, to dissolve in not knowing, to wake up as the wonder of wordless awareness — to “suspend the habit of reaching for a word or phrase with which to fill the emptiness opened by the question.” These questions invite us to discover what can never really be put into words or concepts, although words can certainly be used to describe or point to it.
Inquiry can also mean living with a question that interests us. For example, Is there free will? Or, Who makes choices? Or, How does a decision actually happen?
Instead of looking to see what others have said about this subject and then giving the “correct” answer, whatever we think that might be, inquiry instead invites us to look and listen and see for ourselves. So we might begin to actually watch, very closely, as decisions and choices get made. It could be little ones like whether to get up after you’ve been sitting down for awhile, or big ones like whether to get married or take a new job. Really watch closely and carefully as the process unfolds. Notice the thoughts that arise, and investigate where these thoughts come from, and who controls them. Investigate this not with analytical thought, but with awareness. Look and see. Where do impulses, thoughts, intentions, and ideas arise from? Can you catch the actual origin? Are you in control of the thoughts that arise? Even if you seem to be “choosing” to think positive thoughts, from where does the urge and the intention and the ability to do this arise? Does it always work? How does a decision unfold? Can you find (or control) the decisive moment? Can you find the one in control? How does an action originate at all? Is there a beginning and an end to anything?
This is a meditative inquiry that can go on over many days or weeks or years. It’s not something you do with a quick look and then you confirm the answer you already believe to be true. It begins with letting all your answers and beliefs go, and not knowing what you’ll find. Starting fresh. Looking with total innocence. Always being open to the possibility of seeing something entirely new and unexpected.
This kind of inquiry is not a form of seeking, which is result-oriented and rooted in a sense of dissatisfaction and incompleteness. Inquiry is rather a kind of exploration and discovery rooted in curiosity, interest and love. Much as a lover explores with delight every minute detail of the beloved, this kind of inquiry is an act of love. Much as a child explores the world with open curiosity and wonder, this kind of inquiry is a form of play and self-discovery. It is not something you finish doing. Seeking can fall away (if you’re lucky). But inquiry is a life-long exploration and discovery that is never finished. It is a way of being. In fact, it is the very nature of life itself.
In the end, inquiry and meditation are both simply about being open and awake here and now. The dividing line between formal meditation and everyday life falls away and every moment is meditation. That doesn’t mean that every moment is spent being deliberately mindful or doing some kind of intentional inquiry. It’s more like noticing that everything — even so-called distraction – occurs Here in the open space of awareness, and that there is truly no way out of the present moment. The present moment is eternal (timeless) – it is always Now. There is nothing else. Everything is included.
by Joan Tollifson
Joan Tollifson writes and talks about what remains when everything that can be doubted drops away. She points beyond belief to the simplicity of what is. Joan has an affinity with Advaita, Zen, and radical nonduality, but she belongs to no tradition or lineage. She has lived in northern California, northwestern New York, Chicago, and she now lives in southern Oregon. Joan is the author of two books: Awake in the Heartland: The Ecstasy of What Is (2003) and Bare-Bones Meditation: Waking Up from the Story of My Life (1996). She is currently at work (or play) on two new books.
In Zen practice, the Bodhisattva is a person who vows to use their wisdom to help other beings awaken.
Traditionally, it is said that the Bodhisattva puts off his or her complete enlightenment until all beings have crossed over to the other shore.
When we consider the depth of this image, we see how it actually reflects the truth of our own life and the challenges which relationships present.
We might actually believe that we could all rest thoroughly in or as Nirvana if it weren’t for those pesky ones called “others” who keep disturbing our bliss.
You can participate live or listen to the recordings later, at any time, from anywhere in the world.
Join Diane Musho Hamilton and the iZen Sangha for our 10-week telecourse starting Saturday, September 11th at 8-9:30am PT, 9-10:30am MT, 11-12:30pm ET.
The willingness to work with the difficulty in ourselves and others is precisely the Bodhisattva’s commitment. But how to do this? According to the Mahayana tradition, the bodhisattva path shows us how to clarify our aspiration, practice the Six Perfections, and develop the skillful means to actually help others. In this ten-week journey, we will explore aspects of the Bodhisattva path, seeing how true awakening naturally leads to a living with an open and generous heart in the midst of all of our humanness.
What You’ll Learn During Our 10-Week Journey
Week One: Great Joy
It is said that that when one glimpses one’s true nature, one also sees how practicing the Buddha Way benefits all sentient beings. In other words, what is good for you is simultaneously good for others; there is no separation at all. This is cause for Great Joy.
Week Two: Practicing the Precepts
A Bodhisattva understands the importance of receiving the precepts, and frees him or herself from the complications, tedium, and suffering of unethical conduct. Learning moral discipline is the first expression of the Six Perfections, providing a container for practice and an example of being awake.
Week Three: The 3 Vehicles: Relative, Absolute, and Free-Functioning
Relative and absolute realities are like two arrows meeting in mid-air. How, then, do we view the precepts from the relative view as a practice, as the absolute reality, and the freely functioning expression of wisdom and compassion which is the Mahayana or the Great Vehicle?
Week Four: Causality, Karma, and Responsibility: Hakujo’s Fox
This koan depicts an encounter between a Zen Master and an old monk who is suffering his karmic predicament – he has been made to live as a fox. This koan invites us to consider the ways that we are bound by our conditioning and subject to the ripples of cause and effect throughout time. Ultimately, Zen master Hakujo correctly points to the need for taking 100% responsibility for our life.
Week Five: The Six Perfections: Generosity
Bodhisattvas practice all of the six perfections, especially generosity or dana. How is it that giving freely actually sustains and nourishes us? Is it possible to happily swing the bucket of our own life, inviting others to come and get it?
Week Six: Patience
The most important and least understood of the perfections, patience doesn’t arise from being old, worn-out, powerless, or tired. Patience arises from directly from zazen and the recognition of what is, indicating what and when things can happen.
Week Seven: Diligence
Like patience, diligence if often misinterpreted as willfulness. In our exploration of the Six Perfections, we will look at diligence not as willfulness, but as willingness. We will explore what happens to our energy when we trade self-will for staying curious, open, and available.
Week Eight: Meditation and Wisdom
Bodhidharma said that “When the wondrous stillness flourishes, and the body of reality appears, this is dhyana paramita, the perfection of meditation. When the wondrous stillness opens into illumination, changeless, eternally abiding, not attaching to anything, this is prajna paramita, the perfection of wisdom.”
Week Nine: The Four Vows
The Four Vows are recited and embraced each day in our practice, and they express the embodiment or manifestation of the Buddha Way. Bodhisattvas joyfully commit to others, helping them attain maturity and freedom, participating with them in wisdom and compassion.
Week Ten: Appreciate Your Life
Taizan Maezumi Roshi reminded us to “Appreciate Your Life.” In week ten, we will see how the expression of appreciation and gratitude is the pure reflection of the Bodhisattva’s Path, revealing and enhancing the beauty of life as we see, experience, and live it.
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A study published last month shows strong benefits between meditation and cognition. The study suggests that the mind may be easier to cognitively train than we previously believed.
Psychologists studying the effects of mindfulness meditation found that meditation-trained participants showed a significant improvement in their critical cognitive skills (and performed significantly higher in cognitive tests than a control group) after only four days of training for only 20 minutes each day.
CHARLOTTE – April 16, 2010 – Some of us need regular amounts of coffee or other chemical enhancers to make us cognitively sharper. A newly published study suggests perhaps a brief bit of meditation would prepare us just as well.
While past research using neuroimaging technology has shown that meditation techniques can promote significant changes in brain areas associated with concentration, it has always been assumed that extensive training was required to achieve this effect. Though many people would like to boost their cognitive abilities, the monk-like discipline required seems like a daunting time commitment and financial cost for this benefit.
Surprisingly, the benefits may be achievable even without all the work. Though it sounds almost like an advertisement for a “miracle” weight-loss product, new research now suggests that the mind may be easier to cognitively train than we previously believed. Psychologists studying the effects of a meditation technique known as “mindfulness ” found that meditation-trained participants showed a significant improvement in their critical cognitive skills (and performed significantly higher in cognitive tests than a control group) after only four days of training for only 20 minutes each day.
“In the behavioral test results, what we are seeing is something that is somewhat comparable to results that have been documented after far more extensive training,” said Fadel Zeidan, a post-doctoral researcher at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and a former doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where the research was conducted.
“Simply stated, the profound improvements that we found after just 4 days of meditation training– are really surprising,” Zeidan noted. “It goes to show that the mind is, in fact, easily changeable and highly influenced, especially by meditation.”
The study appears in the April 2 issue of Consciousness and Cognition. Zeidan’s co-authors are Susan K. Johnson, Zhanna David and Paula Goolkasian from the Department of Psychology at UNC Charlotte, and Bruce J. Diamond from William Patterson University. The research was also part of Zeidan’s doctoral dissertation. The research will also be presented at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society’s annual meeting in Montreal, April 17-20.
The experiment involved 63 student volunteers, 49 of whom completed the experiment. Participants were randomly assigned in approximately equivalent numbers to one of two groups, one of which received the meditation training while the other group listened for equivalent periods of time to a book (J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit) being read aloud.
Prior to and following the meditation and reading sessions, the participants were subjected to a broad battery of behavioral tests assessing mood, memory, visual attention, attention processing, and vigilance.
Both groups performed equally on all measures at the beginning of the experiment. Both groups also improved following the meditation and reading experiences in measures of mood, but only the group that received the meditation training improved significantly in the cognitive measures. The meditation group scored consistently higher averages than the reading/listening group on all the cognitive tests and as much as ten times better on one challenging test that involved sustaining the ability to focus, while holding other information in mind.
“The meditation group did especially better on all the cognitive tests that were timed,” Zeidan noted. “In tasks where participants had to process information under time constraints causing stress, the group briefly trained in mindfulness performed significantly better.”
Particularly of note were the differing results on a “computer adaptive n-back task,” where participants would have to correctly remember if a stimulus had been shown two steps earlier in a sequence. If the participant got the answer right, the computer would react by increasing the speed of the subsequent stimulus, further increasing the difficulty of the task. The meditation-trained group averaged aproximately10 consecutive correct answers, while the listening group averaged approximately one.
“Findings like these suggest that meditation’s benefits may not require extensive training to be realized, and that meditation’s first benefits may be associated with increasing the ability to sustain attention,” Zeidan said.
“Further study is warranted,” he stressed, noting that brain imaging studies would be helpful in confirming the brain changes that the behavioral tests seem to indicate, “but this seems to be strong evidence for the idea that we may be able to modify our own minds to improve our cognitive processing – most importantly in the ability to sustain attention and vigilance – within a week’s time.”
The meditation training involved in the study was an abbreviated “mindfulness” training regime modeled on basic “Shamatha skills” from a Buddhist meditation tradition, conducted by a trained facilitator. As described in the paper, “participants were instructed to relax, with their eyes closed, and to simply focus on the flow of their breath occurring at the tip of their nose. If a random thought arose, they were told to passively notice and acknowledge the thought and to simply let ‘it’ go, by bringing the attention back to the sensations of the breath.” Subsequent training built on this basic model, teaching physical awareness, focus, and mindfulness with regard to distraction.
Zeidan likens the brief training the participants received to a kind of mental calisthenics that prepared their minds for cognitive activity.
“The simple process of focusing on the breath in a relaxed manner, in a way that teaches you to regulate your emotions by raising one’s awareness of mental processes as they’re happening is like working out a bicep, but you are doing it to your brain. Mindfulness meditation teaches you to release sensory events that would easily distract, whether it is your own thoughts or an external noise, in an emotion-regulating fashion. This can lead to better, more efficient performance on the intended task.”
“This kind of training seems to prepare the mind for activity, but it’s not necessarily permanent,” Zeidan cautions. “This doesn’t mean that you meditate for four days and you’re done – you need to keep practicing.”
The paper, “Mindfulness Meditation Improves Cognition: Evidence of Brief Mental Training” is available on Pubmed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20363650.
Public Relations media contact: James Hathaway, 704-687-5743 email@example.com
Research Source: Fadel Zeidan, 704-578-1271 firstname.lastname@example.org
While there are many different types of meditation, there are two general classifications: concentrative and mindfulness. In concentrative meditation, you focus on clearing your mind to provide you with greater concentration, awareness and clarity. In mindfulness meditation, you open your mind to become more aware of the things around you, such as scents, sounds and thoughts.
The easiest way to engage in concentrative meditation is to sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Relax and count your breaths as you breathe through your nose. Take deep breaths, hold them and let them out slowly. This helps you to get oxygen into the lowest portions of your lungs.
There are times when you mind may wander, but you refocus on your breathing to get rid of your thoughts. You can also focus on an object when meditating or you may want to repeat a phrase or a word. This is called mantra meditation in which you can choose to repeat the word or phrase aloud or silently in your head.
View the video below to see how easy meditation can actually BE!
If you are agitated or worried about something, your breathing will be short and fast when you first start this type of meditation. As you start to relax, your breathing will slow down and become regulated. As you focus on your breathing or on an object, your mind will become absorbed with the regulation of your breathing and all other thoughts will vanish from your mind.
Zen meditation is one type of concentrative meditation in which you concentrate on the functioning of the heart. There are three main aims in this form:
to develop the power of concentration
to awaken your inner sense of wisdom
to recognize the action of the Supreme Being on your inner self
The idea is that once you are able to rid yourself of the thoughts of everyday life, you can reach that inner sense of peace that exists in everyone. It helps to calm the mind and body to give you insight into the nature of your existence. You must be patient and persistent in meditating in order for your mind to become clear.
Raja Yoga Meditation is another type of concentrative meditation. This form of meditation helps you to gain control of your mind to enable to you to develop a sense of peace. The life force of your body moves through the spine so that awareness is able to move into the “Third Eye” which is a point between your eyebrows.
Your mind is not passive and there can be many thoughts racing through it. You try to free yourself of these mindless thoughts and focus on the real meaning of meditating to achieve a pleasant feeling throughout the body.
Mindfulness meditation involves a passing parade of thoughts, emotions and images through your mind. You sit in a meditating position and instead of trying to banish the thoughts from your mind, you allow them to enter. You do acknowledge that they are present but you don’t concentrate on them. This allows you to develop a calm approach to your problems so that you don’t react quickly.
Instead of focusing on one individual thought or scene, you allow each though to become part of the bigger picture. It trains your mind to meditate on things in your life over which you have no control so that you have a heightened sense of inner peace that will enable you to go on with your life in spite or extreme difficulties.
Learn more at WildDivine.com
By artfully combining beautiful biofeedback activities with effective meditation and breathing techniques, Healing Rhythms allows you to transform the rhythms of your mind and body as you watch them play together on-screen.
Healing Rhythms is an entirely unique and interactive program that uses biofeedback to help you to achieve a deeper sense of well-being, to relieve stress, and to live a stronger, more balanced life.
Healing Rhythms, is the first biofeedback training program that brings together the most prominent leaders in the field of health and wellness – doctors Deepak Chopra, Dean Ornish and Andrew Weil.
Wearing three finger sensors that track your body’s energy levels, you move through enchanting and mystical landscapes using the power of your thoughts, feelings, breath and awareness.
Wise mentors guide you throughout the realm, empowering you with yoga, breathing and meditation skills.
Unlike traditional computer games, Journey to Wild Divine incorporates a biofeedback unit called the Light Stone that allows the story and events of the game to unfold based on your brain activity, blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate and other critical bodily functions.
Stop for a second and let that one sink it.
Yes, this is a computer adventure game that you not only control and influence with your intellect by figuring out what to do next, but it’s also an inner-active journey that reacts in different ways depending on your
* brain activity
* blood pressure
* muscle tension
* heart rate
* and other critical bodily functions.
Tell me that isn’t just about the coolest thing you’ve heard recently?
The Journey to Wild Divine is the first “inner-active” computer adventure that combines ancient breathing and meditation with modern biofeedback technology for total mind-body wellness. Progress through the realm using the power of your thoughts, feelings, breath and awareness.
The unique biofeedback hardware in The Journey to Wild Divine helps you learn to balance your physical and emotional responses to life.
Wearing three finger sensors that track your body’s heart rate variability and skin conductance, you move through enchanting and mystical landscapes using the power of your thoughts, feelings, breath and awareness.
Wise mentors guide you throughout the realm, empowering you with yoga, breathing and meditation skills needed to complete over 40 biofeedback ‘energy’ events.
Build stairways with your breath, open doors with meditation, juggle balls with your laughter, and so much more. The Journey makes biofeedback, a popular method of alternative health care, easily accessible and empowers you to take mind-body wellness, literally into your own hands.
Navigate through a realm of enchanting beauty as you wander through mountain tops, waterfalls and sumptuous gardens.
Throughout this game you’ll practice breathing and meditation techniques, like the heart breath, an ancient yogic breathing technique that will help you achieve control over your mind & body to help reduce stress and improve physical and mental wellness.
Learn important skills about personal health, relaxation, and finding a calm place inside. With The Journey to Wild Divine: The Passage, you can practice new and exciting meditation and breathing activities for advanced training as you learn to integrate this wisdom into your daily life.
According to Dr. Deepak Chopra,M.D.: “The Journey to Wild Divine allows people to influence what is happening in their body, in their mind, and the world they create everyday.” -
Biofeedback hardware is included with The Passage. Wisdom Quest is a software only product that works with the hardware from The Passage. Learn more about the Wild Divine Project