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…”

Focus Your Awareness with These Visual Breath Practices

Awareness awakens when attention is focused on breath’s coming and going at our nostrils. This awareness can expand to include the whole body breathing and bringing our mind the gift of undivided attention. To awaken, pay attention. 

It’s that simple. When our mind wanders (that’s when, not if), as soon as we’ve noticed, we gently return our awareness to our breath. And smile. Mind-wandering isn’t failure. Observing it is an important part of getting to know our mind. That too is part of contemplation.

We dwell in a culture saturated by electronic media. This can bring us wonderful things. Yet it can come at the price of the hacking of our attention. I hope your average attention span isn’t like the crow’s, always distracted by any shiny flashing that might prove to be a juicy beetle. Meditation trains us in one-pointed concentration, so we’re fully aware of what’s in front of our nose, and nothing else; in this case, our breath and ourselves in our environment.

Since we’re not controlling our breath, nothing need feel forced, as in concentrating for a test. There’s no tension at all. Mindful attention is as light as a butterfly, yet strong as an ox, free as a cloud and easy as drinking a cup of tea. It’s an absorption, as is doing anything we love.

Honing Our Concentration 

When we are grounded in awareness of breathing, we’re establishing a base for a single-pointed concentration that is, itself, meditation. Mindful concentration frees us from playing out mere concepts about our life, so we can live life fully as it is here and now. 

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Daily Practices to Strengthen Your Relationship in Challenging Times

Just recently, our nine-year-old daughter taught us a profound lesson about the nature of relationships.

She arrived home from school one day in a frenzy. She stomped around her room trying to get our attention. She complained incessantly about our dinner choice. She broke down into tears over a slight bonk to her knee.

When we finally sat down for dinner, we asked her, “Is this how you act at school?” 

“No, you guys,” she said, “I use up all of my good behavior at school. By the time I get home, it’s all gone and this is what’s left.”

After a day spent managing the stress of work, caring for your kids, or even just watching the latest news, you may find that you’ve used up all of your good behavior.

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How to Manage Stress with Mindfulness and Meditation

What Is Stress?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress is the brain and body’s response to change, challenge, or demand. It is the body’s natural defense against danger brought on by an event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. When a stressful event occurs, the body is flooded with hormones to avoid or confront danger. This is commonly referred to as the fight-or-flight response.

Stress can become a chronic condition if the proper steps to manage it are not taken. Chronic stress can cause chemical changes in the body that may raise blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. Long-term stress or high levels of stress may also lead to mental and physical health problems.

How Do You Respond to Stress?

Strategies like ignoring or denying stress (what experts call avoidance coping), or distracting ourselves, which may be effective short-term, can also undermine our health and happiness in the long run. Research published in the Journal of Research in Personality shows that present-moment awareness, a key feature of mindfulness, increases stress resilience and effective coping.

Present-moment awareness involves monitoring and attending to current experience rather than predicting future events or dwelling on the past. Studies show that an individual’s disposition toward remaining in the present moment is linked to numerous health benefits including lower levels of perceived stress, anxiety and depression, improved mood, and a sense of improved well-being.

In the study, a team of Australian researchers examined the effects of present moment-awareness in a sample of 143, well-educated university students and staff (76.3% female) who were part of an online mindfulness training course. The researchers surveyed the study participants with a focus on three stress response variables.

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What the Longest Study on Happiness Reveals About Building a Fulfilling Life

We’re constantly being fed images of things that are supposed to make us happier and our lives fuller. A recent survey of millennials asking them what their most important life goals were, shows that over 80 percent said that getting rich was a major life goal. And another 50 percent of those same young adults said that another major life goal was to become famous. This belief influences how we move through life; we push ourselves harder at work, pressure ourselves to achieve more, and continuously chase after things we believe will make us happy.

Most of what we know about shaping a happy life is from asking people to remember the past, however, hindsight is anything but 20/20. We forget some of life’s key lessons in the vast number of memories we might have acquired throughout the years. To combat this, Harvard University ran the longest study of adult life that’s ever been done. The Harvard Study of Adult Development tracked the lives of 724 men for more than 75 years, asking about their work, their home lives, and their health. Here’s what they found out about what really keeps people happy and healthy.


1. Social connections are good for us, and loneliness kills. It turns out people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to the community are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less connected. People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner, and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely, Dr. Waldinger explains.

2. Keeping your close relationships, closer. It’s not the number of close friends you have, or whether or not you’re in a committed relationship, but the quality of your close relationships that matter. Living in the midst of conflict is bad for your health. High-conflict marriages without much affection, according to Dr. Waldinger, are perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.

3. Good relationships don’t just affect our bodies, they protect our brains. The same study also showed that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper and longer.

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Sharon Salzberg on Why Love Will Drive Out Hate

I think more than almost anything, the quotation that has returned to my mind again and again in this last period of time is from James Baldwin, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

Pain abounds, and it’s often so hard to look at. Anyone who has practiced introspection—meditation, psychotherapy—has had to work to separate revelation of their damaging emotional patterns from humiliation about them. They’ve worked to not add shame to challenging states, to keep love and compassion toward themselves the predominant environment within which they can then keep looking.

It seems easier, and more automatic, to project that pain outward, to declare someone the “other” and at fault, to feel safe in the certainty that some view you hold is superior to all others, to finally feel you amount to something. 

I don’t know how to get someone else to look at their pain—their fear, grief, sense of unworthiness—unless we are in the context of mindfulness training that they have chosen and I can be the voice of loving clarity that can help them through it. I don’t know how to effectively challenge vicious, destructive views of whole sections of society (though I’m committed to trying). I freely admit I can be wrong or deluded in my own views, but that doesn’t mean I think all views are equal. 

The internet tells me the most popular thing I’ve ever posted is, “Compassion doesn’t mean we don’t fight. It means we don’t hate.” 

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