Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Escaping the Meditation Guilt Trip

I have long had the sneaking suspicion that Buddhists are especially prone to guilt—that it lurks underneath meditation cushions and leaps out from paintings of Bodhidharma’s bushy, judgmental brows. Perhaps I’m projecting, but it seems that many Buddhists, especially converts, begin to meditate because we are hoping to find the special thing that will complete us. Even though Buddhist teachings state that we all have buddhanature, the very act of striving to uncover it can end up reinforcing the idea that we are in some way lacking. So when we don’t have the time, energy, or discipline to sit, we end up feeling guilty.

That guilt can sometimes be a helpful motivator. I, for one, have trudged to my cushion countless times out of sheer obligation, and have often risen 30 minutes later grateful for the nagging sensation that kept me on the middle path. Yet stewing in guilt can become a pointless exercise in masochism.

In any case, there is no denying guilt’s power. But how can we work with this power? Can we use guilt to help us stay committed to practice, or does laying a guilt trip on ourselves ultimately do more harm than good?

Tara Brach, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is the founding teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC, says that all emotions can hold intelligence—even guilt. She suggests that one way to understand guilt better may be to observe how it arises and learn to recognize its intelligence as well as its pitfalls.

“With healthy guilt, the message is that we have behaved in a way that is not aligned with our values and heart,” said Brach. “If we are listening, it can be a wake-up call. It reminds us to deepen our attention, remember what most matters to us, attune to our impact on ourselves and others, and adapt our behavior.”

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How to Fail

If there is one skill that is not stressed very much, but is really needed, it is knowing how to fail. There is a Samuel Beckett quote that goes “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” That quote is what will help you more than anything else in the next year, the next ten years, the next twenty years, for as long as you live, until you drop dead.

There is a lot of emphasis on succeeding. We all want to succeed, especially if we consider success to be things working out the way we want them to. Failing is what we don’t usually get a lot of preparation for.

So how to fail?

We usually think of failure as something that happens to us from the outside: We can’t get in a good relationship or we are in a relationship that ends painfully; we can’t get a job or we are fired from the job we have; or any number of ways in which things are not how we want them to be.

There are usually two ways that we deal with that. The first is that we blame it on some other—our boss, our partner, whoever. The second is that we feel really bad about ourselves and label ourselves a failure.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Tibetan Uprising’s 60th Anniversary

Responses to the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising, a Buddhist meditation center’s First Amendment lawsuit against an Alabama city goes to trial, and a Buddhist nationalist party gains support in Thailand. Tricycle looks back at the events of this week in the Buddhist world.

By Matthew AbrahamsMar 16, 2019

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on the cover of Time Magazine

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.

60th Anniversary of Tibetan Uprising Day

March 10 was the 60th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, when the Tibetan people revolted against Chinese occupation, leading to a harsh crackdown and the flight of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and other religious and political leaders in the following days. In the run-up to March 10, Chinese authorities reportedly increased security and surveillance in the region and Time magazine featured the Dalai Lama on their cover. Reuters reports that police armed with automatic weapons were present in the Dalai Lama’s hometown of Taktser throughout the week, and that the officers denied access to a reporter trying to visit the village made up of around 60 houses.

Related: Sixty Years in Search of Freedom

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Meditation Month 2019: Noting Pleasant, Unpleasant, and Neutral Sensations: Exploring Feeling Tone

Week 3 of Martine Batchelor’s guided meditation video series

By TricycleMar 15, 2019

Tricycle Meditation Month is our annual challenge to sit every day for the month of March. In the third week of our free practice series, meditation teacher Martine Batchelor will continue her exploration of mindfulness by asking us to turn our awareness toward the tonality of our experiences.

This practice builds on the first two videos in the series, which led us through mindfulness of the breath and body and listening meditation. Using the tools of anchoring and looking deeply, which we explored during the first half of the month, Martine shows us how to develop mindfulness of feeling tones.

Feeling tones refer to the basic pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral quality of a sensed experience and are distinct from feelings such as anger, happiness, joy, sadness, or fear. By paying attention to feeling tones, we can become more aware of our range of experiences and begin to see how the tones change throughout the day.

Download a copy of this talk. It has been edited for clarity.

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How to Be in the Body (Without Jumping Out of Your Skin)

“To stop your mind does not mean to stop the activities of mind.It means your mind pervades your whole body.”—Shunryu Suzuki

Meditation happens in the body. I think we can mostly all agree on that. For a wide variety of Buddhist meditation practices, our embodied experience is the object of our meditation—be it the rise and fall of the breath, the sound that hits our ears, or the sensations on our skin. Yet when we sit down to meditate, we often end up trying to catch and subdue an out-of-control mind, apparently forgetting about the body’s role in the practice. Why does this happen? Part of the reason is that being in the body is hard.

For many of us, our bodies can be a painful and confusing place because our feelings reside there, according to the Buddhist understanding. The Buddha did not break up human experience into a simple duality of the psyche (immaterial) and physical (material). Rather, he taught that our experiences can be classified into five categories called the skandhas, or aggregates: form, meaning the physical world; sensation; our perception of those sensations; mental formations or actions; and consciousness. In this framework, an emotion is not a singular cognitive event, but rather a series of dependently arising phenomena that the mind perceives and mistakes to be independent.

The moments between perception and conditioned response can happen so quickly that we do not make a distinction between our initial experience and our reaction to it.  This begins to change when we develop a regular meditation practice. Since meditation involves accessing and deepening our awareness, eventually (whether we like it or not) we will begin to notice aspects of what can be called our body-mind that had been previously dormant.

We begin to see that these feelings don’t just arise in the body; they get stored there. Like an attic that accumulates dust and cobwebs when ignored, our body-mind of sensations, feeling memories, and emotions can “clutter,” resulting in a challenging emotional life. So just as our corporeal body suffers when we don’t take proper care of it, so too does our body-mind. Yet, we are often not taught how to tend to our emotional body-minds, so we are unfortunately left with habits of numbing, avoiding, and suppressing the felt experiences that arise within our bodies. This becomes an even bigger problem when we have unresolved trauma or severe emotional injury.

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