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…”

A Meditation for Letting Thoughts Float by Like Bubbles

This practice is meant to help you become mindful of the mind as a process. Practicing awareness of the mind helps break our addiction to the contents of our  mind. When we meditate on the mind as though it is a process, as though each thought is like a bubble floating, we can experience the spaciousness of awareness. We can practice allowing each thought we have to pass without getting into the thought bubble and floating away with it. Most importantly, we practice being patient and kind with ourselves as we explore this practice. 

1. Find a way to sit that feels good and grounded. Adjust your posture so that your spine is erect without being rigid or stiff. Allow the rest of the body to be relaxed around the upright spine, maybe resting your hands in your lap or on your legs. Allow your eyes to gently close if you haven’t done so already. Bring full attention to the physical sensations of your sitting. Allow the breath to be natural. 

2. Begin with a body scan. Scan from the crown of your head, all the way down to your toes, and as you scan through your body try to find any places where you are holding tension. See if you can soften and relax those areas, because you’ve probably been holding it for long enough. Begin at the crown of your head, making your way down, feeling every sensation and softening your forehead, the little muscles around your eyes, your jaw, and your tongue. Continue to scan down while relaxing your neck and shoulders. Continue down your body while feeling the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen. See if you can soften your belly, with each inhale and exhale softening it a little bit more. Make your way down the rest of your body, all the way down to your toes. 

3. Feel where your body is supported. Next, see if you can feel into the places where your body makes contact, whether it’s with the ground, a chair, a couch, or whatever you’re sitting on. See if you can feel the sensations of your body being supported, the pressure and weight of your solidity, and all of the sensations that make up the experience of gravity in your body. 

4. Bring your full attention to the present time and experience. Acknowledge the full range of what’s happening in this moment: Thinking is happening, hearing is happening, and seeing is happening (even if your eyes are closed). Tasting, smelling, physical sensations, and emotional sensations are all present. Allow all the experiences to be as they are, and redirect your attention to the sensation of your breath. Let your other senses fall to the background as you bring your awareness of the breath to the foreground. 

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A Guided Practice to Connect with What Matters Now

I call this practice taking time for what matters. Life can be very distracting. It’s so easy to get caught up in a blizzard of our own thoughts, which are interestingly, sometimes the thoughts of others that have planted themselves in our brain. Like something we heard on the news or a passing comment that latched onto us like a stain on the carpet.

In this contemplative practice, we take a moment to drop beneath the chatter and appreciate the quality of our being—just being. So we’ll begin with a few minutes of basic mindfulness practice.

1. First settle into your body. If you’re seated in a chair or on a cushion, feel your bottom touching the cushion. If you have to lean back in the chair, feel how the back of the chair is touching your body. Feel your feet or your legs touching the floor.

2. Feel the weight of gravity pulling you down—down onto the earth.

3. Your upper body is upright, but not stiff. Your eyes can be open or closed if you’d like. Your hand is slightly inclined and your chin is down in a gesture of humbleness. Your hands resting easily on your thighs.

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How to Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

I guided the meditation with fewer words, leaving ever more space. The air seemed to crackle with restless silence. Afterwards, several students said they prefer more guidance—otherwise, they felt they were floundering. I grew curious and asked the group, “What’s wrong with floundering?”

Floundering can make you feel excruciatingly vulnerable. It feels threatening and as if you’re out of control. It drips with embarrassment, weakness, a sense of being off-kilter. Everyone’s agreed then. Avoid floundering!

But since we’ve all had to grapple with many destabilizing factors, off-kilter is what’s on the menu lately. Perhaps floundering with grace and openness is the next big skill we must learn, to be resilient in the face of uncertainty and distress.

Floundering Toward Clarity

It’s inevitable that we’ll flounder when we can’t see the way forward. We flounder until we collect enough experience to proceed with more clarity. You might flounder in the face of what you’ve never had to do before and have to figure out in a hurry. Maybe you’re suddenly homeschooling your child, reorienting your job life, or choosing to listen and learn to allow the deep and necessary work of having conversations about racism to help change the world. You might be very smart and still flounder incompetently the first time you have to run a Zoom meeting or help your dad—or someone else’s dad—understand that the joke he just told is inappropriate. You might flounder when someone holds you accountable for something you thought was fine yesterday, but now you understand differently. Floundering can feel very awkward, so have some compassion for yourself. If you can stay with it, eventually you’ll likely find firmer ground.

We flounder until we collect enough experience to proceed with more clarity. You might flounder in the face of what you’ve never had to do before and have to figure out in a hurry

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A Practice to Welcome Gratitude with Sharon Salzberg

This practice, from Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Change, opens a doorway in your heart to gratitude and receiving happiness.

1. Sit or lie down on the floor in a relaxed, comfortable posture. Your eyes can be open or closed.Now bring to mind a pleasurable experience you had recently, one that carries a positive emotion such as happiness, joy, comfort, contentment, or gratitude. If you can’t think of a positive experience, be aware of giving yourself the gift of time to do this practice now.

2. Take a moment to cherish whatever image comes to mind with the recollection of the pleasurable experience. See what it feels like to sit with this recollection. Where in your body do you feel sensations arising? What are they? How do they change? Focus your attention on the part of your body where those sensations are the strongest. Stay with the awareness of your bodily sensations and your relationship to them, opening up to them and accepting them.

3. Now notice what emotions come up as you bring this experience to mind. You may feel moments of excitement, moments of hope, moments of fear, moments of wanting more. Just watch these emotions rise and pass away. All of these states are changing and shifting.
Perhaps you feel some uneasiness about letting yourself feel too good, because you fear bad luck might follow. Perhaps you feel some guilt about not deserving to feel this happiness. In such moments, practice inviting in the feelings of joy or delight, and allowing yourself to make space for them. Acknowledge and fully experience such emotions.

4. Notice what thoughts may be present as you bring to mind the positive. Do you have a sense of being less confined or less stuck in habits? Or perhaps you find yourself falling back into thoughts about what went wrong in your day, what disappointed you—these thoughts can be more comfortable because they are so familiar. If so, take note of this. Do you tell yourself, I don’t deserve this pleasure until I give up my bad habits, or I must find a way to make this last forever? Try to become aware of such add-on thoughts and see if you can let them go and simply be with the feeling of the moment.

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6 Mindful Books to Keep Your Mind Healthy

1) Out of My Skull

The Psychology of Boredom

James Danckert and John D. Eastwood
Harvard University Press

A plethora of books that attempt to rehabilitate boredom as a normal, even valuable, experience have found their way to the Mindful offices in recent years. The benefits of boredom are still trending. This tome by Danckert and Eastwood, both professors of psychology (at University of Waterloo and York University, respectively), stands out because it explores not just what boredom can do for you, but what boredom is and why it (paradoxically) deserves our attention.

“Boredom reveals an important aspect of being human: We have a strong need to be engaged with the world around us,” they write. It’s the interplay between our circumstances and our brain’s response to them—being stuck in an airport, for example—that leaves us “caught in a desire conundrum, wanting to do something but not wanting to do anything…that is currently doable.” We all naturally want to immerse our skills, talents, and mental faculties in something. Certain traits and behaviors, however, can change how susceptible to boredom we are. Case in point: The ability to steadily focus our mind on whatever is happening around us means we’re engaged, therefore not bored. Neglecting to hone attention skills seems to be “a logical cause of boredom.” Boredom may result in positive expressions, such as creativity and the elusive “flow state,” but it can also contribute to risky choices, poor self-control, and even mental health struggles.

What readers will find here is not a straightforward path to using mindfulness to combat the dreaded boredom in our lives, but rather a highly researched yet accessible account of boredom’s psychological and social implications, as well as some solid recommendations for how we might choose to work with it.

2) Humankind

A Hopeful History

Rutger Bregman
Little, Brown, and Company

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