How Often Do You Look In The Mirror?

A thought for today that comes from the Four Foundations in Mindfulness class:

When was the last time that you really looked at yourself in the mirror? If you have looked in the mirror, it was likely to shave, put makeup on, style your hair, or check your clothing choice. It seems vain to look in the mirror for any other reason. However, it can reconnect you with your body to stop for a few seconds and really take a look at who you are.

Mirror

Try this out when you are feeling disconnected. Look in a full length mirror at each side of you, even
taking a moment to think about what you look like from the back.

Some things to consider:

1. How do you take care of your body?

2. What does it look like, really?

3. How do you feel and how are your feelings expressed in your body?

4. How connected are you to your body?

 

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemediation.com

 

Meditation Timer for iPad or iPhone

Meditation isn’t easy so I get pretty excited when I can find something that helps out. I was reading in 8 Minute Meditation  that you should use a timer so that you don’t have to keep checking the time. It’s one distraction you can take out of the picture. This struck a chord with me because I tend to watch the clock a lot and then let my time slide a bit when I feel like I haven’t done a good enough job. When I use a timer, I can just wait until the bell rings and stop with no judgement about how “good” or “bad” the meditation was. After all, there is no such thing as a bad meditation. The important part is that you do it at all. 

When I meditate in a group or class setting, I really like the bell sound. Like Pavlov’s dog, I can settle right in when I hear that sound. I found a timer for 10, 20 and 30 minutes on my favorite podcast, Zencast. The only downside to this timer is that it is at the very beginning of the list of podcasts. So, to find it each day, I have to scroll past over 250 podcasts to get to it. Hmmm, I wonder if there is an app for that? 

iTimer
Sure enough, I found a few apps for meditation timers and settled on one that I thought had the most features including choice of bell sound which I felt was important. Insight Timer made by Spotlight Six is the perfect app. For $1.99, it gives you the choice of 1, 2 or 3 ending bells, seven different bell sounds and a nice feature that lets you specify the delay before the starting bell rings, giving you the right amount of time to settle in before you start. I also appreciate the log feature. I don’t use this feature to criticize myself for not doing it right. Rather, I have found that I often get more out of my meditation than I thought. And, I have found that happens even though I inevitably plan out something in my sitting time. 

With this app, it is so nice to have someone ring the bell for you and to have that beautiful sound of a tibetan singing bowl without the cost of purchasing one. 

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com

Meditation and Lifestyle

What is the inter-relation between meditation and your lifestyle? How does one effect the other? This may include your job, your diet, your family, and how you chose to spend your time. You may be surprised to hear this story recounted by Shinzen Young on his website, “I once heard a group of Americans invite a Japanese Zen monk out for dinner. 'What do you like?' they asked. 'I not like mac-ro-biotic. I like mac-do-nald,' was his reply.”

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Often when we begin meditation routines, our lives begin to take on deeper meanings and follow more enlightened paths. In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle talks about interweaving one's outer purpose with one's inner purpose. He says that our outer purposes (such as being an accountant or a student) don't really matter as long as we do them in a way that expresses our inner purpose. However, once we begin to live deeper, more meaningful, spiritual lives, often our old outer purposes have lost meaning. It is not uncommon to find that after a spiritual awakening a new career is in order. It's nice, of course, when our outsides can match our insides and vice versa. If daily meditation is prompting you to make changes to your job, go for it.

When it comes to diet and nutrition, you'll find meditators of every persuasion—as the quote says, from macrobiotic to MacDonalds. Many strict Buddhists do eat vegetarian, vegan, or other special diets, and if you are so motivated such a diet would certainly not harm you or your meditation practice. Again, the longer we meditate, the deeper meaning our lives have, and the more important it becomes to treat the body as a temple. In meditation, we reach our hands out and feel the precious gift of life. Upon feeling that, it's hard not to treat it with the utmost respect. Just like many lose the desire to sit in a cubicle shuffling papers all day, some also lose interest in junk food and other unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking. As these things stand in direct opposition to the entire point of meditating, they are good things to evolve past.

Have you also noticed that meditating has affected your family life? Some may find that they are a better parent—more patient, more loving, more accepting, more tolerant, more fun-loving. Meditation might also give you the inner-strength, peace, and courage to repair old family hostilities and grudges. It is hard to justify harshness towards one's children or holding on to family dramas when one is simultaneously devoting time to mindfulness and attaining greater serenity.

Furthermore, the more involved you get with your meditation practice, the more you may find other aspects of your life also changing. For example, you may be less interested in watching TV and playing video games. Perhaps you'll find yourself reading more or spending more time working in the garden or on other outdoor hobbies.

There is no right or wrong way to live as a meditator, but as long as you are being true to yourself, then your practice has meaning.

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com

 

Source:

http://www.shinzen.org/

 

Living in the Present Through Meditation

Living in the present is a true gift that frees us from our pain and anxiety.  When we focus on the present moment, we gain control of lives that can be spinning out of control. In the present, we are liberated from the mistakes, regrets, guilt, and traumas of the past. In the present, we are liberated from the worries, anxieties, and overwhelming tasks from the future.

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During meditation, we connect to the present moment because we are momentarily not distracted by our racing, chattering, ego-driven minds. We cannot have the peace and serenity we have during meditation while we aren't meditating because the voice in your head can run non-stop. One of the many tedious and arduous things about the voice in your head is that it is almost never present. The mind loves to bring up past hurts, to dwell on things we cannot change from the past or the future, and to obsess with worry about tomorrow, next week, next year, and even death.

You might think that living in the present is a pop-psychology band-aid to today's problems, but it isn't. Being present doesn't promise that you will never suffer. Being present does have the power though to help you gain acceptance and understanding, to surrender to what is. By focusing our attention on the “here and now,” much of the discomfort, pain, and agony we experience dissipates. Being present is an invitation into the stillness, which is where peace, serenity, and long-lasting happiness can be found. This is where meditation comes in. 

During meditation, one steps away from the hustle and bustle of normal living. By quieting our minds, we may not realize that what we are then doing is living in the present. With the voice in the head silent, we are unable to let our thoughts drift anywhere but to the present. When we realize, as spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says in his popular book The Power of Now, that we are not the voices in our heads, we then see that we only ever exist in the present. This means that 90% of that mental chatter filling up our minds is not us. Living in the present moment has that kind of power.

  ~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com 

 

More Information:

From the Pure Life Mediation bookstore: The Mirror of Mindfulness by Tsele Natsok Rangdrol

Is There Such a Thing As a Bad Meditation?

Have you ever gone into a meditation with high hopes of reaching the great, deep, peaceful, distraction-free space that you got to yesterday or last week? It's probably safe to say we've all been in that position. Sometimes we just can't get there, and that's OK too. 

Personally, I don't think there is anything like a “bad” meditation. Even a meditation session that was a bit on the shallow, distracted, or superficial side would nevertheless still be 20 minutes of quiet time and stillness, a gift in and of itself. If a particular meditation experience turns into one long planning session, there were likely a few times where the brain got exercise by bringing attention back to the breath. If it is particularly hard to stay seated, it’s progress to stay with it for just a bit longer, no matter how long.

It is important to remember that meditation requires practice. Why do we practice? Because proper meditation takes effort, discipline, and concentration. It is a learned skill that must be honed and maintained. If meditation were just as simple as closing your eyes and breathing than it would hardly be something worth attaining. The entire point of meditation is that it is a special time. It is sacred. It isn't a common phenomena or feeling. It is something to be attained or earned.

Some days just can't be “winners.” This is a fact of life. Consider a poor meditation session as another opportunity to practice the basic principles of meditation—acceptance, mindfulness, self-awareness, etc. You can even use it as an opportunity to take your next session more seriously, if that is the right word. Learn from the session you are unhappy with and focus on what can be improved for next time.

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com

 

Pros and Cons of Using Guided Meditation CDs

Guided meditation CDs are very popular today. There are a myriad of different guided meditation CDs available—some focusing on general meditation (enlightenment, relaxation) and others very targeted to specific goals (weight loss, financial stability). You can even get a wide variety of guided meditation MP3s from purelifemeditation.com, iTunes and Amazon.com. Are guided meditation CDs effective? What pros and cons are there to using them?

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Guided meditation is when someone else talks you through a meditation session. They may begin by telling you how to sit, how to breathe, and what to focus on. As the session progresses, the guide may walk you through certain images, give you mantras to repeat, and so on. At the end, the guide will show you slowly out of the meditation and have you re-open your eyes. While you can participate in a guided meditation in person with a meditation coach or group, what is most common today seems to be the use of pre-recorded guided meditations.

Some meditation traditionalists feel that guided meditation fails to teach the meditator mental discipline and concentration power. There is no doubt that self-directed meditation does genuinely teach one how to meditate while a guided meditation merely provides the experience of meditation. What is the difference and why does it matter? Like anything else, if you have the ability to reach that deep meditative state on your own, that merely means you have a deeper understanding, awareness, and respect for it. Because meditation is an activity so closely related to mental discipline, it is a particularly valuable skill to have. Research shows that experienced meditators develop better behaviors and healthier feelings than non-meditators—this is because they have actually changed their brain structures through the process of repetitive meditation. None of these benefits have been observed in those who practice only guided meditations.

If the choice is, however, something or nothing, a guided meditation is definitely better than nothing! The truth is that we live in a fast-paced world in which many people seek out meditation solely for relaxation and inner-peace. Not everyone is interested in training their brain or the proper Eastern tradition of meditation—it's just that simple. There are a million different reasons to meditate and types of people doing it. For example, those who are meditating to relieve symptoms of their ADHD may find that guided meditations are the only thing that works for them—period. Those who are too busy and spread thin with a variety of commitments may appreciate that meditation is one of the few things they don't have to “work at” but can just sit down and enjoy. Guided CDs can bring many master teachers right into your home or work. You may never be able to attend a class by Ekhart Tolle but you can listen to his ideas and teachings any day of the week. The possibilities are limitless.  

Regardless of your situation, it never hurts to have a few guided meditation CDs handy. You never know when you might want or need a little assistance from such a source to get into your meditation routine.

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com

photo courtesy of Axel Kramer

How to Maintain a Regular Meditation Practice

Does the task of maintaining a regular meditation practice seem daunting? For many, especially those new to meditation, meditating daily can be like anything unfamiliar – there is a lot of anticipation and fear before you start but much satisfaction after you become familiar with the routine. In order to make meditation be a welcomed practice each day, it is beneficial to reduce that initial anxiety. How?

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What is it that intimidates you the most about meditating each day? Is it the time commitment? Is it that you struggle turning the voice in the head off? Is it that you have intrusive thoughts of past traumas when you close your eyes? As you come to understand your resistance to meditation, you can begin to deal with it. There are solutions to any hurdles you are feeling. Something that helps many new meditators ease into a daily regimen is remembering that even after a “low-quality” or “unsatisfactory” meditation session, one still feels some sense of peace and serenity. Something is always accomplished!

It is helpful to create a meditation regimen that you can turn into a routine. Maybe for you, it's easier to start out meditating just 3 times a week for only 10 minutes each. If this is less intimidating, go with it. Many people find that immediately before bed or upon waking in the morning is the best time to meditate—fewer distractions and a quieter mind. Others find it helpful to create a special “meditation space” in which they can go to get away from distraction. Their special meditation places may have small fountains, comfortable floor cushions, incense burning, a stereo with a collection of relaxing CDs, a timer, plants, and other soothing sounds and sights. Additionally, it can be helpful to have a selection of guided meditation CDs on hand for days when you aren't feeling up to the task. Finding a local meditation group can also put you in the company of a support system and kindred spirits.

To maintain a regular meditation practice, some find routine helpful, others find it to be a turn-off. Personally, I prefer meditating some days with a group and other days alone; sometimes in the morning and other times in the afternoon and still other times twice a day; sometimes in my house and other times outside in nature. I enjoy varying my meditation technique based on the mood and needs of the day—sometimes using visual imagery, other times focusing on loving compassion, and other times with a guided meditation CD.

Either way, learn about meditation. The more you know, the stronger your practice will become. Any meditation road block you are feeling has no doubt been experienced by countless meditators before you. Don't give up! Meditation is a learned skill that must be regularly practiced and honed to function optimally. Know that each time you meditate, it will get easier, less intimidating, more effective, and more profound. Make a commitment for meditation to be a priority, and it will show you very quickly why it is worth it—before you know it, meditating will feel like coming home to an old friend. You'll magically have all the time you need for it. 

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com

 

Being a Better Listener Through Meditation

Although there isn’t any real scientific proof on this, I believe that one of the benefits of meditation is that it can help you improve your ability to be a good listener. One of the key elements of being a good listener is, of course, paying attention. If your mind is racing and full of distraction, clearly this can interrupt your ability to give your full, undivided attention to the speaker.

Listening

What is good listening? There are many qualities that fit under this umbrella. For example, a good listener is able to focus completely on the speaker and his/her words without interruption. A good listener also asks empowering, thoughtful questions to clarify and gain a deeper understanding. A good listener is empathetic and often tries to walk a mile in the shoes of the speaker. A good listener will often provide a safe, private, quiet environment for the speaker to open up and start talking (possibly by turning their TV and cell phone off or stepping away from a loud, crowded area if the conversation is over the phone). A really good listener will mirror the body language of the speaker, either consciously or subconsciously. An extra good listener will use these three simple steps when it is the appropriate time to respond to the speaker:

1)    Listen actively (described above)

2)    Validate the speaker (“Oh, that is horrible,” “I can see why that was frustrating,” or “Yes, you had every right to be angry.”)

3)    Give options, not advice (Often asking the speaker what their options are is quite empowering. They will frequently solve their own dilemma, which gives them control back and begins their healing.)

So how can meditation help someone improve their listening skills? As meditation is a way of quieting one’s mental chatter through stillness and silent spiritual contemplation, that meditative serenity can be carried throughout the day. Meditating can provide a sense of peace that lasts hours or days longer than the short meditation period. If distraction is a problem for you while you’re trying to listen, meditation can help you turn the volume down on the ever-chattering voice in the head. Additionally, meditation teaches increased focus and concentration, which can also translate into better listening. If interrupting is a problem you have, meditation can help you gain control of that boisterous voice in your head wanting to interject comments and criticisms as someone speaks.

One thing science does prove is that meditation does change people’s brain structures to be more empathetic. Several studies have been done in which the brains of expert meditators with at least 10,000 hours of meditation time were compared to brain scans of non-meditators. The results showed that the expert meditators had actually grown the area of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) responsible for empathy larger. Not only were the limbic systems or emotional networks of the meditators stronger, but their pre-fontal cortexes were also highly active during meditation. So if empathy is where your listening needs work, meditation is a great tool.

Remember you have two ears and just one mouth for a reason!

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com

 

More information:

Using Your Senses During Meditation (Listening)

 

Maintain Your Meditation Practice While You Travel

It can be challenging for many people to get a meditation routine set in place and to adhere to it. When unexpected events arise or the routine gets interrupted, it can be that much more challenging to stick with the program. One thing is for sure though, the stronger your meditation regimen is at home, the easier it will be to translate it to other places and situations.

Travelers

Whether you travel for work, family, or fun, see if there is a meditation group you can join in the town you'll be visiting. Search for listings of local yoga studios, metaphysical bookstores, hospitals, and churches on purelifemeditation.com. Having a group to join increases the likelihood of continuing to meditate while you're away. The group members can serve as motivation and support, bringing out the discipline you require. It can, of course, also be a wonderful way to meet new people and connect with them in a unique way.

If the place you're traveling to is by a river, ocean, forest, or other natural feature that you are not used to, take advantage and do a beachfront, lakeside, or deep forest meditation while you are there. Not only will it help you broaden your meditation skills and experience, it can give you a wonderful and special connection to the place you're visiting that post cards and souvenirs will never match! In fact, you could think of each trip you take not as a kink in your meditation regimen but as a chance to meditate all over the world—one city at a time.

In general, use the same principles you relied on to create your meditation routine for keeping it in effect while traveling. Agree to meditate in a specific place, free from distraction, calm, and quiet. Pick a set time each day; preferably upon waking or as you fall asleep. Using the same soothing music each time can help trigger your brain that it's meditation time, regardless of where you are. When you are feeling a bit distracted, have some guided meditation CDs on hand to help you get into that deep, still place within.

Meditating while traveling can be challenging, but like sticking to your diet or budget while away, it is easily managed with some planning and dedication.

~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com

 

When Was The Last Time You Offered Your Time For Free?

I love this story that I originally heard from Jack Kornfield. It is a heart warming, thought provoking reminder to give a little more. 

The Tire Iron and the Tamale
By JUSTIN HORNER
Published: March 4, 2011
During a roadside breakdown, who didn’t stop, and who did.

During this past year I’ve had three instances of car trouble: a blowout on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out-of-gas situation. They all happened while I was driving other people’s cars, which for some reason makes it worse on an emotional level. And on a practical level as well, what with the fact that I carry things like a jack and extra fuses in my own car, and know enough not to park on a steep incline with less than a gallon of fuel.

Each time, when these things happened, I was disgusted with the way people didn’t bother to help. I was stuck on the side of the freeway hoping my friend’s roadside service would show, just watching tow trucks cruise past me. The people at the gas stations where I asked for a gas can told me that they couldn’t lend them out “for safety reasons,” but that I could buy a really crappy one-gallon can, with no cap, for $15. It was enough to make me say stuff like “this country is going to hell in a handbasket,” which I actually said.

But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants. Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke any English.

One of those guys stopped to help me with the blowout even though he had his whole family of four in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to three hours with my friend’s big Jeep. I put signs in the windows, big signs that said, “NEED A JACK,” and offered money. Nothing. Right as I was about to give up and start hitching, a van pulled over, and the guy bounded out.

He sized up the situation and called for his daughter, who spoke English. He conveyed through her that he had a jack but that it was too small for the Jeep, so we would need to brace it. Then he got a saw from the van and cut a section out of a big log on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top and we were in business.

I started taking the wheel off, and then, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones, and I wasn’t careful, and I snapped the head clean off. Damn.

No worries: he ran to the van and handed it to his wife, and she was gone in a flash down the road to buy a new tire iron. She was back in 15 minutes. We finished the job with a little sweat and cussing (the log started to give), and I was a very happy man.

The two of us were filthy and sweaty. His wife produced a large water jug for us to wash our hands in. I tried to put a 20 in the man’s hand, but he wouldn’t take it, so instead I went up to the van and gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I’d send them a gift for being so awesome. She said they lived in Mexico. They were in Oregon so Mommy and Daddy could pick cherries for the next few weeks. Then they were going to pick peaches, then go back home.

After I said my goodbyes and started walking back to the Jeep, the girl called out and asked if I’d had lunch. When I told her no, she ran up and handed me a tamale.

This family, undoubtedly poorer than just about everyone else on that stretch of highway, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took a couple of hours out of their day to help a strange guy on the side of the road while people in tow trucks were just passing him by.

But we weren’t done yet. I thanked them again and walked back to my car and opened the foil on the tamale (I was starving by this point), and what did I find inside? My $20 bill! I whirled around and ran to the van and the guy rolled down his window. He saw the $20 in my hand and just started shaking his head no. All I could think to say was, “Por favor, por favor, por favor,” with my hands out. The guy just smiled and, with what looked like great concentration, said in English: “Today you, tomorrow me.”

Then he rolled up his window and drove away, with his daughter waving to me from the back. I sat in my car eating the best tamale I’ve ever had, and I just started to cry. It had been a rough year; nothing seemed to break my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn’t handle it.

In the several months since then I’ve changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and once drove 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won’t accept money. But every time I’m able to help, I feel as if I’m putting something in the bank.

 

Justin Horner is a graphic designer living in Portland, Ore. This essay was adapted from a message-board posting on reddit.com.