In this episode I offer some thoughts on what it means to me to meditate and how it brings about a stillness and settling of mind. I also mention this imprint (Guidepost; Inscription) of Silent Illumination (Shikantaza or Just Sitting) which is recited in some Zen meditation practice centers.
The Imprint of Silent illumination
Silent and serene, one forgets all words:
Clear and vivid, it appears before you.
When one realizes, time has no limits.
When felt deeply, life becomes vibrant.
Singularly illuminating is this bright awareness;
Full of wonder is the pure illumination:
Dew in the moonlight, a river of stars,
Snow-covered pines, clouds hovering on mountain peaks.
In darkness, it glows with brightness;
In shadows, it shines with a splendid light.
Like the dream of a crane flying in the frosty mist,
Like the clear water reaching the autumn sky,
Endless eons dissolve into nothingness,
Each indistinguishable from the other.
In this brightness all striving is forgotten.
What is this wonder? Alertly seeing through confusion
Is the way of silent illumination and the origin of subtle radiance.
Vision penetrating into radiance is weaving gold on a jade loom.
Subject and object influence each other.
Light and darkness are mutually dependent.
(In the audio Youtube clip below you can hear what happens when gigantic cumulonimbus clouds start to build up that will have thunder and lightening as well. Normally we think of thunder sounds after lightening, but in this case, out here in the desert, this rumbling thunder sound can come just from the friction of cloud building) The episode ending has a shorter clip of this sound. Below you can listen to the sound for 8 hours!)
There is neither mind nor world to rely on,
Yet the two mutually interact.
Drink the medicine of correct views,
Beat the poison-smeared drum.
When they interact silence and illumination are complete;
Killing and bringing to life is a choice to make.
At last, through the gate, one emerges.
The fruit has ripened on the branch.
Only this Silence is the ultimate teaching;
Only this Illumination, the universal response.
The teaching, not heard with the ears,
And the response is without effort.
Throughout the universe all things glisten,
And each expounds the Dharma.
They attest to each other,
And accord in dialog responding in perfect harmony.
But when illumination is without stillness,
Then distinctions will be seen and harshness will arrive.
If within stillness brightness is lost,
All will become wasteful and dull.
When Silent Illumination is complete,
The lotus will blossom, the dreamer will awaken.
The hundred streams flow to the ocean,
The thousand mountains face the highest peak.
Like geese preferring milk to water,
Like bees gathering the choicest pollen,
When Silent Illumination reaches the ultimate,
It penetrates from the most subtle to the greatest.
I embody the original tradition of my lineage:
The body, sunyata and the arms, mudra.
From the beginningless to endless, only one task,
though expressed in 10,000 shapes and forms.
The basic matter of our line
hits the mark straight and true.
Pass this on in all directions
without a wish for gain.
This is the practice called Silent Illumination.
By Hongzhi Zhengjue; translated by Sheng Yen; adapted by Mountain Lamp
It is our cognition, which is in essence an interpretation system, that curtails our resources. Our interpretation system is what tells us what the parameters of our possibilities are, and since we have been using that system of interpretation all our lives, we cannot possibly dare to go against its dictums. Juan Matus
I’ve never seen a 100% white or 100% black person. Have you?
I have however all my life seen so called “whites” clearly showing a multitude of colors on their skins.
yellow with fever,
blushing and embarrassed with pinks and reds,
sickly off colors,
Just as TV technology started out as black and white, and is now millions of colors and pixels in resolution, so do I think to a large extend our world views, went from two-dimensional (earth is flat, that person is white, or black) to 3-dimensional with many shades of colors.
There has been an increased interest in seeing reality more fully in higher and higher definition. The higher resolution, the better and clearer we can see things as they really are.
As I mentioned on Episode 25 when chatting with Charlie, it really helps to slow down in order to process that higher resolution of life.
If you’re rushing from one thing to the next thing, it will prevent you from fully seeing what is right in front of you though! So does thinking or worrying about the past or the future. Or playing tapes and records about what should be or how good or bad we are.
Interview with Amanda Gilbert – Meditation and Mindfulness Research
Amanda Gilbert is the Executive Director for the Sugar Stress Environment and Weight Center and a Clinical Research Coordinator for the Aging Metabolism and Emotions Center at the University California, San Francisco. Her work focuses on conducting and implementing clinical research in meditation, mindfulness and mindfulness-based stress reduction, as well as examining how these restorative health behaviors affect our minds and biology.
As a long-term meditation practitioner, she draws on years of personal meditation experience and training to advocate for the life-changing effects of a daily meditation practice.
In addition to conducting clinical research on meditation, she is a meditation teacher to those looking to learn and start a daily meditation practice through one-on-one individualized sessions where she connects contemplative science to daily practice. Her mission is to support as many people as possible in experiencing optimum daily well-being through meditation and mindfulness.
Note: This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview. Listen to the audio above to get the full interview.
How did you get started with meditation?
Many start a meditation practice for health reasons, or dealing with stress, or getting curious. And some start to meditate from a religious point of view. And also it is for some about cultivating meaning.
For Amanda it was about healing, physically, mentally, and spiritually from challenges she went through as a young adult. She’s been in the health and wellness field for a long time.
Perhaps there is something more. She wants to connect with herself, her intuition, her inner knowledge, her heart, and higher self. The path for Amanda has been cultivating a meditation and mindfulness practice.
Was there something, an event or moment that triggered this?
Amanda has had her moments to that were beautiful opportunities to shift, to have a breakthrough. To set yourself on a different path. For her it was more of a life path. Many books on self growth, meditation and self development. And really all the information was pointing her to meditation path.
Also, Amanda was exposed to great teachers in the medical world. One of her first teachers was Deepak Chopra. He has a book called, “Quantum Healing”. She was given that book during a breakdown leading to breakthrough period in her life.
When you approach it through biology, it really speaks to the effects and power, and outcomes of a meditation practice. So she started reading a lot of literature on what a meditation practice can do for us physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. All this reading led her down a path of a meditation practice.
What particular practice did you start with?
Amanda started with mantra based practice in 2009. Earlier she was exposed to many other meditation and mindfulness practices, her undergraduate degree was in holistic health and wellness. But she got serious about doing a daily practice. That is when it clicked for her.
The mantra practice is powerful practice for a novice. Reason is that the mantra is a way for our minds to focus on. Translates as mind-vehicle. It’s a word, similar to in and out, in breathing techniques. By combining with Sanskrit it can be meaningful.
The mantra based practices are a way for beginners to develop a strong practice. She can see that through her research and teaching meditation position.
Would you say that the mantra practice is an attention practice just like paying attention to your breath practice?
Yes, we are focusing on an object of attention. So that object of attention is the breath, or the mantra. It is intentionally placing the focus on that object.
Saying from the Buddha: You can place your attention on the object of focus, just like you focus your attention gently on a flower.
In meditation we are growing our attention/focus muscles. We are cultivating those muscles.
Did you notice any particular benefit that stood out from this mantra practice that was trans-formative, and encouraged you to continue practicing after that?
It allowed my mind to focus on something, something for it to chew on during her 30 minute morning and evening meditation. It allowed me to meditate. All of the fruits of meditation happen in those moments between the thoughts. In that space, that stillness, silence between thoughts. Between the ego having it’s way, having it’s ability to be behind the wheel, running the show.
So the benefits and outcomes are in the moments between our thoughts.
She have a tendency of an overactive mind, which was one her first barriers, or obstacles in a meditation practice. I’m just thinking, thinking. A huge string of thoughts, huge mind wanderings.
Having a mantra to focus on having my mind focus on, was the key to allowing her the freedom to move beyond thought. To move in the space and stillness of meditation.
And a way to anchor you into the present..A lot of us have mind-wanderings, like 50% of the day the average person is mentally wandering.
Yes, very much so. One of the top outcomes that we’re seeing through the lens of research, is a decrease in rumination and decrease mind wandering. And an increase in focus and attention. This can be seen through measuring the participants subjective, psychological experience of a meditation training, as well as seeing this in the areas of the brain.
We’re seeing areas of the brain light up, that are more focused on attention, and executive functioning. We’re seeing better neuroplasticity in the brain due to meditation and mindfulness practice.
Explain neuroplasticity a little bit more.
Yes, that is the ability for your brain to change, and to start new behaviors, patterns, new ways of decision making. Cultivating new neural network pathways in your brain in order to have different behaviors and different experiences in your life.
This can be really helpful with destructive mind and habit patterns, such as depression or other destructive thought patterns right?
Very much so. That’s really what we’re seeing. The beauty of mindfulness research is that it allows you to see the changes in the brain and in the body. Past research has been focused on the brain. Those who are in the diagnosis of depression or PTSD, or any neurologically and psychologically based depression oriented diagnosis. We are able to see a shift in the brain and cognitive functioning. Also we’re seeing in the last 5 or 10 years or so a big change in the body. More recent research is focused on the body and biology.
What that looks like is:
The effects of mindfulness and meditation on inflammation, gene expression, heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol, sleeping, eating habits. And of course your cell health, and cell aging. which is getting down into the minutiae of the mitochondria in the cells of your bodies.
What particular aspect of that research excites you the most right now?
Amanda’s favorite study was conducted by the center for investigating healthy minds with Richard Davidson in Madison, Wisconsin. Did anything change from an inflammatory marker standpoint, from just 8 hours of mindfulness training. They found that yes! You have a decreased expression of pro-inflammatory genes from just one day of meditation and mindfulness.
Amanda and colleagues at UCSF, have just published and presenting a study of theirs. They found that a highly stressed population of maternal caregivers mothers of autistic children who went through 12 weeks of mindfulness training, increased their total sleep time by 34 minutes by the end of the 12 week mindfulness based intervention.
And as we all know, sleep is one of the top pillars of health and resilience. Your days will be substantially better with sleep. So mindfulness and meditation do affect our biological circadian rhythms as well. Very exiting findings.
Can you measure quality of sleep as well?
Sleep disruption is how we measure quality of sleep. But it was really the total amount of sleep time. This group actually started to go to bed earlier as well. And how often do we tell ourselves we’re going to bed earlier, but then we don’t follow through it. But this group was able to shift their bed time to earlier, thus benefiting their sleep as well. What we’re able to say then, is that having a meditation or mindfulness practice is able to encourage better health behaviors.
Any meditation tips for those listening who have sleep problems?
Yes, part of our population we’re able to see through our mindfulness mobile app, were doing some practices, body scans, loving kindness meditations and mindfulness practices. Ranging from 3-20 minutes. What we can think about is how can we reduce our stress before going to sleep? Is that sitting and breathing for 3 minutes, or guided meditation for 20 minutes. Or just having a moment of consciousness around how am I able reduce my stress, to turn off the executive functioning. That drive for the day. How am I able to settle the body?
My own practice is actually able to slow down. Amanda loves breathing meditations in the evening. Primarily morning meditation practice. But at night it is great to just slow down, or switch it up, like with a guided meditation. Whatever it takes to get a more restful and de-stressing experience.
You mention morning meditation and the importance of it. This affects the evenings as well. So this sets the pace for the rest of the day right?
Yes, when she goes to sleep at night, Amanda looks forward to the next morning practice. Meditation has changed her life, since she started meditating in 2009. Now the practice is second nature for me in the morning. I get up, have a sip of tea, or lemon water. Then she’s goes into practice minimally for 20 minutes, and more on other days. And then again in the evenings I actually look forward to this morning routine. It’s another sign that a consistent meditation practice can affect all other areas of life.
Has there been research to explore what the optimal times are for the most fruits of meditation?
That is Amanda’s own personal research interest. In the Vedanta ancient text they recommend at least 20 minutes each morning. And in primordial sound meditation they recommend 30 minutes, because it takes the body 15 minutes to biologically and physically settle down. Then you are actually able to meditate, once your body is in a rhythm of the breath. So these ancient practices figured it out a long time ago, without the hard nosed sciences.
TM also recommends a twice a day practice of 20 minutes as well. There was also studies where they found it through heart rate after 25 minutes. This is where the meditation research field is going. Her hope is to see the field honing in on the types of practice, the amounts of minutes of practice to see the shift in well-being. And to have individual tailoring to see what works best for each individual. We all have our own stories on what brought us to meditation. So there is that individual tailoring that scientists can hone in and take a look at.
And what about the benefits to mini-meditation?
Yes, that is mindfulness. Amanda likes to differentiate between formal practice (20 or 30 minutes of sitting), and moments of mindfulness. Being able to connect to our breaths, those are to her moments of mindfulness. And also outcomes of our formal meditation practice. You can actually cultivate a stronger connection to these mindful moments. During our meditation practice, we hone in on our home energy. That’s the feeling of our hearts, essentially we’re going home to our Self. You getting to know yourself so much better during those moments of contemplative reflection.
That shows up in moments during the day, where you have choice of how you respond to situations. You end up avoiding stress reactions.
So it benefits each other, and mutually reinforces each other then.
You also a study about vacation vs retreat. Because a retreat is really going home, settling even deeper than a 25 minute meditation.
Yes, I love this study. That study showed us a number of things, which can be applied to our own practices. 2 out of 3 of the study groups were new meditators, with zero meditation practice. We randomized half the group in a vacation group, and the other half as a meditation retreat at the Chopra center of well-being.
What we found was that novice meditators who went through the meditation retreat, 10 months later showed greater psychological well-being. Decrease of negative affect, decrease in overall negative experiences during that day.
Instead of just going on vacation, but if you go in and learn the life affirming tools of a meditation practice, then you see more long-term effects in your life. The vacation effect wears off. It’s just like buying a new car, within 2 months the joy has worn off.
The second finding was that we had a 3rd group who already had 6 months or more experience with meditation. This group was already more healthy psychologically and physically, so what we find is that the power is in the practice. We see that with experienced long-term meditators, that you will be able to see the effects and outcomes of a daily meditation practice.
So you could say a retreat is more trans-formative, as compared to a vacation, which is more of a recharge.
Yes, exactly. That is one of my favorite studies to reference.
Amanda’s hope is to get as many people as possible to meditate as possible. Her mission is to support as many people as possible in experiencing optimum daily well-being through meditation and mindfulness.
In this post I would like to share some practical ideas for how you can easily bring meditation into your daily work life. This might be especially helpful if your current workplace does not have a dedicated meditation room, or higher level endorsement of this beneficial practice.
I’ll show you how you can incorporate, “mini”-meditations and mindfulness at your place of work, without having to look weird, or needing a, “meditation room”.
This said, having a dedicated meditation room in the workplace would of course be a great asset and high level endorsement of wellness!
I don’t have Time to Meditate at Work!
You may think that you don’t have time to meditate at work! Sure, most of us don’t have dedicated chunks of time during the day to practice formal meditation.
No problem! Lets break down a workday, and see how you can get the benefits from meditation during your workday. Some simple techniques can help you stay fresh throughout the day, and also help you through that afternoon slump.
Most of our jobs involves a lot of sedentary sitting at a computer. But you still get up to go to meetings, or get some water, get your lunch, pick up your mail, go to the restroom, etc. Each of those transitions are opportunities for a quick mini-meditation!
A meditation does not need to be a certain number of minutes or a designated time to be of benefit.
Don’t take my word for it. Try it out and verify with your own experience right now!
Try this Mini-Meditation!
If you are sitting in an office, straighten your back if possible, with your head and ears in alignment with your shoulders.
Put your feet flat on the ground and feel the connection of your feet to the ground.
Lay your hands on your lap, so that your shoulders can totally relax.
Check your breathing, let the breathing relax as well.
Now close your eyes, especially if your screen is still on.
Take just 10 deep and conscious breaths, not hurrying it, or slowing it down on purpose, just 10 relaxed breaths.
Count on each in breath, so that for each in, and out-breath, it counts as one. You can count to 5 (each in and out breath counting as one, next in breath and out breath, count as 2, and so on until your count is at 5 or 10, then return back to one).
Add another 10 if you have another minute!
After you have opened your eyes, tell me you don’t feel just a little bit better!
In all likelihood these 10 breaths took you about a minute of your time. Now imagine doing this multiple times a day, maybe once an hour, and you start to see how this feeling of relaxation and recharging and refreshed clarity might benefit your day at work and into the evening and next day.
Breaking Down a Work Day
So, let’s take a workday and break it down to see where you can squeeze in some mini-meditations.
Going to Work
First going to work. Most of us get into a car, or you get into the subway, or perhaps you are walking or biking to work.
All of these transitions give you an opportunity to meditate if even only for a few breaths.
In the case of your car, be mindful of getting in the car and sitting down. Why not close your eyes and take 3-10 breaths before cranking the engine? Try it, and you will find yourself more intentional and conscious behind the wheel, which will also keep you safer and more awake on the road.
Now say you’re driving, if you like to listen to the radio, you could once in a while hit the pause button, or take a break from listening to the radio (maybe during a commercial) and again breathe consciously for 5 or 10 breaths at a time (there is more distraction while driving, so 10 breaths will be harder to keep track of at the same time you’re trying to be focused on driving.)
Another opportunity to do this simple breath meditation, is while waiting at a stoplight or traffic jam. Why not use the stop lights as small opportunities to meditate? Especially since they may seem like time wasters and may even be frustrating.
Make that waiting your queue to meditate, and become aware of how tempting it is to not want to be present in the moment, because you want to be at your destination.
These are all ways we can become aware of how easy it is to avoid the present moment, because there is always something better in the future to look forward to. The problem with that is that we then end up “missing our appointment with the present” as Thich Nhat Hanh has so wisely observed.
For the subway, bike, and walking meditation, use similar technique as explained above. Find something as your queue to do a short meditation, like waiting for the doors of the subway to close, or waiting at a pedestrian light.
Walking Meditation to your office
So those are some ideas of what you can do to incorporate meditation on the way to work. Same thing when you leave your car to walk into the building. Use the walk to your office to practice walking meditation.
This doesn’t mean you have to walk super slow; just be conscious while walking. Slowing down helps, as we do hurry a lot, and are overall as a species walking faster than we did a decade ago.
Pay attention, and hear the birds, or jackhammer, or cab honking, or fans above your head as you walk underneath them.
Notice your feet walking over the concrete. Notice your breath as you walk in various situations. Is it hurried as you walk over the boardwalk? Does it slow down as you walk on a quiet hallway?
Each breath is unique, and each breath will inform and teach you about how present, relaxed, or tense you are in that moment. Is your breathing coming from your chest or lower down from your abdomen?
The lower and more relaxed your belly and breathing, the more beneficial for your oxygen distribution and your well-being. If your breathing is tense and shallow, don’t worry, just keep practicing. It may just be tense in certain circumstances.
With consistent practice, it will over time get relaxed more often, and you’ll start enjoying the present moment more and more. This will happen even in parts of your life that you previously thought were “boring” or “tedious”.
Opening Doors Meditation
So now you’re at the office, how do you open the door? Is it conscious, or on auto-pilot? How do you greet your workplace by way of opening the door and entering into what is a Big part of your life? This stepping into your office may be a good time to internally think about some of the reasons why you are grateful to have this particular job (even if it is not what you want to do the rest of your life). Being grateful as you get in the office will help you feel good and more purposeful about why you are there at that time
It will likely also make your day go more smoothly, even when there are fires.
Sitting Down into Your Office Chair
So now you sit down or stand to start the work day. That moment of sitting down, just like in the case of getting into the car or subway, is another opportunity to take a few breaths and pay attention to how you sit down and go about your work day.
Check your posture, that it is upright and not tense. Same with your arms, if they’re tense from holding the mouse, it will manifest itself as tightness in your shoulders and neck and turn into repetitive strain.
Now the trick is to maintain that upright posture throughout the day. And of course it is very easy to get totally absorbed in your tasks and end up slumping towards your screen or sitting way too long at a time.
So here are a couple of ideas you can try to avoid that slump creeping up on your as the day wears on, which then can turn into fatigue, if not checked.
What has worked well for me while working in various job environments and continues to do so, is setting timers. I’ll link to a couple of options here. You can use a Youtube meditation timer, such as this 8 hour video, with a mindfulness bell or bells going off, every so many minutes.
You can also install a mindfulness timer app on your computer or smartphone, to help remind you to get up and move around or meditate for a minute or two.
I’ve also tried kitchen timers, however, the mindfulness bells sound way nicer!
One caveat though, if you use meditation bells too often, you may end up ignoring them. So vary them up if need be. And one thing I’ve noticed about a kitchen timer, is that if you use one that keeps on beeping until you reset it, it will force you to get up from sitting, and this will have the beneficial effect of forcing you to move. You can then utilize that pause to reset the timer as an opportunity to walk stairs, or do some stretches, exercises, or do some cleaning.
I’ve gathered all kinds of mindfulness bells and timers here on one page:
Once you have picked a mindfulness sound that works well for you, I would suggest trying different settings and see which one is most optimal for you.
For example, you could try a bell once every 30 minutes, or perhaps in a very demanding day, at least try once an hour.
If you can’t take a 5 minute walk, at least close your eyes in front of your computer, and just allow yourself to breathe for 10 or 20 breaths as mentioned earlier in this post.
As always recommended, please check your posture while doing that to make sure it is upright and awake.
This also has the added benefit of giving your eyes a break from staring at a monitor.
Getting Up and Walking is Crucial for Your Health!
Because extensive sedentary sitting is now known to not be healthy, and is now even compared to the harm of cigarettes. If possible, also try getting up for a brief 5 minute walks through the hallways or staircases of your office or office building. (An outside walk is of course even better. Try to fit that into your day routine as well if possible)
If you have staircases, great! Staircases are ideal, because they are very conducive to meditation. They are quiet, sparse in decorations (distractions), and peaceful. Give that a try! Stairs also have the added health benefits of being a good workout for your body.
If you have only a couple flights of stairs in your building, then just go up and down several times depending on how much time you have.
A consistent slower pace might be more conducive for meditation and mindful walking.
The nice thing about that, is that if you do this every hour or 45 minutes, that when you get back to your desk, your blood is flowing again, your brain is oxygenated, and you can then fully do another chunk of focused work again and be very productive!
You can also do the same type of quick mini-break whenever you walk to the restrooms, the water cooler, or fridge, and before a meeting.
By all means experiment, try things out, the idea is just to incorporate or weave small little mini-meditations throughout your day.
The restroom doesn’t just have to be a place to “get your business over with”.
It can also be a rest-room, where you can take a minute or two to meditate!
For guys like me, even when standing, you can still take an extra 5-10 breaths before finishing up. That’s standing meditation. Same when washing hands, and drying. I notice with many people, the whole procedure is hurried, and treated like an inconvenience. Especially when there are lots of thoughts and busyness in the mind, it will express itself in the way you wash, and dry your hands.
In my case, I often drink about a glass of water an hour, so that consequently meant about one restroom break every hour or two.
If you are a director or manager and you are having issues with unproductive meetings, try and incorporate a one minute meditation right before starting a meeting.
Allow everyone to enjoy some calm and a few moments of silence, and create a collaborative meeting environment where team members can feel included, whether they are extroverted or introverted. Create a conducive meeting environment where it is less about showing off and more about drawing out and giving room to each team member’s talent. Where attention is gathered, instead of scattered.
During lunch take notice of what you’re eating, really enjoy your food. And be mindful of how much you eat and how it affects the rest of your afternoon. If you eat mindfully, and slower, your belly will be able to signal that it is satisfied better, thus decreasing the risk of eating to much. Eating too much, or too much sugar may cause an afternoon slump.
See if you can repeat the above process of taking breaks in the afternoon. As you get better at it, notice how it may be harder to do the meditation/walking breaks in the afternoon.
If taking meditation breaks is more difficult, it is most likely because our will power decreases as the day wears on, we of course get more tired.
All the more reason perhaps to focus even more on these little breaks. It will much improve how you feel in the afternoon. Remember that by breathing fully and mindfully, it helps our brain keep oxygenated, which will help us feel more awake and fresh and available for each moment.
Be Kind to Yourself!
Lastly, be kind to yourself, don’t beat yourself up if you are doing this hundreds of times, and you don’t see whatever results you are expecting, or you forget to do it, etc.
I stumble with this practice all the time too. And it can be more difficult if your environment or job changes a lot. You’ll have to then develop new mindfulness cues and routines.
Just let it go, and try again at the next opportunity and tomorrow.
Start with one moment during your workday. With one thing that is easiest for you, and continue to incorporate more and more moments, or mini-meditations throughout your workday.
This mindfulness practice is a way of life, an ongoing process of becoming more aware and awake, not a goal to reach or something to cross of the list of things to “do”.
This is not about doing, it’s about learning to be here and now, and show up and fully appreciate your one and only precious life. In the process, you will increase your appreciation for everything else as well.
Enjoy the stumbles and discoveries of being forgetful and messing up. It is a wonderful gift just to be able to take a deep spacious breath and feel alive. And let me know if you tried any of this and what your experience was in the comments below!
MF 25 – Charlie Ambler from The Daily Zen Talks about his Meditation Journey
Note: This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview.
What brought you to a meditation practice?
Charlie describes himself growing up as a rather impulsive and anxious. His grandmother (a music historian) interviewed John Cage, the composer at one point. He gave her a copy of a book on Zen Buddhism. Charlie ran into the book, as a 13 year old kid, and was curious about it.
He got more and more interested in Buddhism, and started reading more about it online as well. He then started practicing it in his room, the various breathing meditation exercises. He settled on simple and direct method of Zazen Meditation breathing. He’s 22 at the time of this interview, so it’s been about 9 years since he first got interested in Buddhism and meditation.
Charlie finds that if he doesn’t meditate regularly, then he’s more prone to anxiety, destructive ways of thinking and harmful habits. He then feels generally less centered, and less creative.
And what specific practice are you using at this time?
Now he’s doing zazen meditation, or breath counting.
He remembers the old saying,
“Let your thoughts come and go,
but you don’t serve them tea.”
Have you noticed changes in your day to day life?
When he was younger, it was easier to meditate, there was less, a smaller bank of sensory information. Meditation was easier, despite the fact that he was a hyperactive kid. But now with all the reading he’s doing, and responsibilities and things and thoughts that come with adulthood, and the busy life in the big city (New York) he finds it more difficult to practice. But for that reason it is more challenging and rewarding as well. All the more reason why it is so important for him to do it each day.
He practices detaching himself from wanting to get anything out of it. Meditation becomes very difficult when you want to get something out of it.
You get into a chasing mind, which makes it all the harder.
Yeah you get into thinking about thinking, a circular cycle. Once you allow yourself to step back from your own thoughts, and get less stressed out. It helps, gives your problems less importance, let them come to pass.
Has your practice changed your outlook on life, you post on your web site how your thinking has changed?
When Charlie started he was reading about meditation he ran into more of a new age corporate way of viewing meditation practice. Like how a meditation practice would allow you to accomplish your goals, do your job really well, etc. But then as he dug deeper into the eastern writing behind meditation, he realized that the Zen school was more talking about divorcing yourself from attachment to expectations and outcomes.
He realized that this was part of this larger concept, well illustrated in Taoist writings, where you step back from something, you have this strange side-effect where you end up achieving it, by stepping back. He then quotes:
By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond the winning.
Charlie finds that when you practice meditation for a while, you don’t find yourself planning ahead 10 years ahead. He finds himself less trying to achieve things, instead to just do things. The funny contradiction in that is that when you stop caring so much about the results of what you’re doing, you end up doing a ton more.
Ever since Charlie has really implemented that philosophy, he finds himself far less anxious about starting things. Just throw yourself into things, just do them. The key is to just do things, not care about the results. Learn from them yes. Sometimes the results is just garbage, and sometimes it works out.
There is also a part of understanding how who you are changes, the attachment and creations of personas changes too..
Definitely, Charlie found himself confronting himself with the Zen idea of true self, and how you find your true self by looking inward.
There’s the true self, a healthy ego, who you really are, and the false self ego, which is a combination of the various personas, cultural and social influences.
Yes, the meditation practice has helped me at least partially shed ideas of who he thinks he’s supposed to be. Make him less prone to idolizing and trying to be like other people. To learn from people, but not to emulate them. Or imitate them. Take only what feels true to himself. That questioning yourself and your beliefs seems to come naturally to Charlie when he meditates. Try to do something that is more in alignment with who he really is. Move away from things that are not in alignment with his real self.
Would you say your project with the daily Zen is more in alignment with who you really are?
Yes, it is now. The greatest gift I got from working on this site, is figuring out who I am. It’s reflected his own internal struggles with writing. Like periods with lots of sappy quotes, that don’t really have much meaning. Or the derivative articles like, “10 things to help you do your job better” listicles, that I thought I was supposed to write about. He then decided recently, like a year ago, that he wants to do this for a while. He wants to do it in a way that reflects himself, and feels true to himself.
So he removed all ads, and simply do writing and pretty art like images. This writing blog practice helped him do something that gives him fulfillment. Even if no one read it, Charlie would feel grateful.
Yes, the Daily Zen now really expresses who I’m actually am. Charlie finally feels that it is real to him, because it expresses who he actually is. This makes the writing so much easier, because he’s writing from his own point of view, about concepts he encounters while he meditates. Instead of trying to emulate Thích Nhất Hạnh, or Allan Watts.
If he gets lazy, and stops meditating, the process becomes much more difficult.It encourages him to continue his practice. And the practice itself provides him with most of the content.
Do you practice with others?
No it’s always been a solitary pursuit. He’s gone through a few sessions, but trying to get to a point where he can lead meditation sessions.
So the Daily Zen website is one way that encourages you to continue to practice..
Definitely, the following has grown significantly, and that provides a social element that keeps me practicing. Everyday that gives a level of encouragement.
For the folks that don’t know about your web site, is it just the site, or also the Twitter and Facebook account.
It started exclusively as a twitter account. when Twitter was very young. That is where he feels the biggest sense of community with it. Most of the discussion is on Facebook and Twitter, but most of the social interaction is on Twitter. And it is fun, and zen in a way, because twitter’s 140 character limit. They have to be brief! Good forum for quotes and aphorisms.
What have you found that resonates the most with people on Twitter?
Short statements by himself or found in other places like quotes from books, that elucidates a certain idea about compassion, or meditation, or mindfulness. Sort of brief aphoristic statements do very well, sometimes way better than I anticipated. I share long posts, but most favorite and successful are quotes.
That resonate with you as well?
Yes, my own favorites, like little zen proverbs.
“After enlightenment, the laundry”.
“Let go or be dragged!”
Quotes by Tolle, Osho, Thay, Alan Watts, spiritual teachers, etc.
Others are little bits of wisdom that reveal ideas that is like zen in nature. Even Nietsche who hated Buddhism, who has similar ideas nevertheless.
“When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” Where your world is made up your thoughts. And what comprises your thoughts ends up coloring the way that you experience the world. That really ties close into what my experience of meditation is.
You mention on one of your posts,
“The world becomes amazing when we acknowledge mere existence as a miracle in and of itself, and when we appreciate what is and has always been, rather than what could be.”
How did that understanding occur to you at some point?
Yes, that is something a way of thinking that occurs during meditation at some point. Appreciating everything equally. Where there is no judging things as good or bad, just letting them wash over you. It comes for Charlie as a comedown from good things in relationships and things like achievements that happen. There is a return to reality once the euphoria washes away.
That state is pretty arbitrary, that sense of contentment, and that state of euphoria is available at any time… We’re taught that it needs a stimulus (like a great job, or getting some other reward) before you can feel this excitement about life. If you learn to discipline your mind , you can experience it just by looking at for example an animal, or the sky, doing anything, etc. That is the biggest take away from that type of non-judgement that occurs during meditation.
I think there is also an element of slowing down that helps with this appreciation of the miracle of life. You mention about humans fabricating needs, and things that keep us from experiencing the miracle that is life right in front of our noses. Quote from Charlie’s web site:
“A false sense of necessity is the mother of invention, and humans will never rid themselves of this need to fabricate new needs. We can learn from cats and other animals to relax, to love in a simple way, to eat when we’re eating and sit when we’re sitting. Humans always seem to be existing for something else, but animals exist for the here-and-now.”
It’s a weird thing and weird political idea. There is this, “the cult of progress”. Constantly building new things, going to the next level. That to him represents the the kind of societal craving that individuals have that makes them unhappy. He wonders if that is contributing to a mass unhappiness. People so obsessed with the future, because of technology and all these other things. And as a result forget the past and neglect the present.
Yeah, that’s where I’m at, its the kind of practice that makes it OK to change your mind. Change is OK, 6 months I might feel differently.
Any example of where you bring your meditation practice with you?
It is easy trap when you live in a major metropolitan area to be totally inundated by the chaos, sensory information overload in modern cities are really insane places. Sometimes it still jars me. Like when I go into an area, like times square, or Manhattan, with a lot of skyscrapers, it used to paralyze me, how artificial is, it used to give me anxiety.
But now I see myself as part of the whole thing, I’m a functioning part of this thing. Just like Alan Watts says you’re a functioning part of the universe. He has a great speech about New York City, where he teaches his audience to view the city, as akin to a human body, with all the organs, where it functions autonomously, thanks to all the individual cells. And the cells end up being individual people, animals, and machines.
Living in the city forces you to see yourself as not apart from the city, but as very much part of the fabric. That translates for me into everything. You’re part of everything, and someday you die, you don’t disappear, you just transform into a different thing. Its this concept of universality, recognizing that you are part of everything. It didn’t cause me anxiety or an inflated sense of ego. When you understand it in some way, it’s a humbling experience.
You don’t really feel forced to assert yourself.
But at the same time it doesn’t make you so small that you become non-existent, there is something that also comes forth that brings forth your unique individual contribution…
Yes, there is this Jiddish concept that my mother really likes, called the jadsahara. This idea that you are both a speck of dust, as well the universe. So folks either feel either on top of the world, or feel insignificant. The key, I think is instead you want to go beyond one side or the other, transcending both, realize that you are both. Both insignificant, and very significant. If you’re alive, you’re always going to exist in some form or another.
So does this also change your choices, and intentions, as a result of how they live on in some way or another..
Yes, that is how I view karma, the ripple effect of your actions.
Ep 24 – Guided Meditation with Kristina Rood and Ocean Wave Sounds
Kristina used to do diet counseling, and has practiced Zen and TM meditation for a long time. She will be interviewed on this show one of these days, so she can expand on her meditation journey. Please use the comments area below to share your thoughts on this meditation.
She would be happy to create another guided meditation, like a specific meditation for dieting if there is interest.
See also below the Youtube version of her ocean meditation.