MF 38 – Nourishing Meditation Practice Remotely with Wild Mind Teacher and Founder Bodhipaksa

MF 38 – Nourishing Meditation Practice Remotely with Wild Mind Teacher and Founder Bodhipaksa

MF 38 – Nourishing Meditation Practice Remotely with Wild Mind Teacher and Founder Bodhipaksa

Biography: Bodhipaksa is an accomplished teacher, published author, and founder of the popular Wildmind web site. He recently (Oct 2012) gave a TEDx talk on compassion (“The Surprising Secret of Unlocking Compassion”).

He has been meditating and practicing Buddhism since 1982. He was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order (former known as the Western Buddhist Order) in 1993. In addition to his work with Wildmind, he leads activities at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire, and for nine years he has taught a summer course to low income teens at the University of New Hampshire.

He was formerly the director of a retreat center in Scotland, and was center director at the Rocky Mountain Buddhist Center in Missoula, Montana. He completed a Master’s degree in Buddhist approaches to business at the university of Montana, and founded Wildmind in 2001.

He has published several books and audiobooks on aspects of meditation and Buddhist practice, and is well-known for his guided meditation recordings. As the director of Wildmind and the father of two young children, Bodhipaksa understands the challenges of balancing a meditation practice with a busy life. His online courses have been running since 2002, and he has received consistent praise for his practical, down-to-earth approach as well as his care for and commitment to each student.

What brought you to a meditation practice?

It was a confluence of things in his life. Bodhipaksa was young and in high school, 17 or 18 years old, when he got interested in finding some kind of religious path, to find meaning and purpose in his life.

He did some exploration of left-wing politics, in an era where the communist party was very strong at the time. It was idealistic, socialism that attracted him. He’d been an atheist since he was eleven years old, the concept of God didn’t make sense at all. He did go back to the New Testament, interested in the ethical teachings of the New Testament.

He did come across references of Buddhism. It was not well known in Scotland at that time. But Buddhism made sense to him. It was rational to him, and didn’t require any belief in a supernatural being, etc.

At that same time, he went through a personal crisis as well. His friends went off to do other things, and left the area. His friends were very important to him, and he experienced a lot suffering. He felt quite lonely, anxiety, and a feeling of not fitting in. He had a hard time getting on with the people remaining.

Bodhipaksa was looking for something that gave his life meaning and purpose.

The idea of meditation as being a way of finding happiness within oneself was attractive to him. Because the outside world didn’t seem at all reliable.

Unfortunately there was no way for him to get to a meditation class. The nearest town was about 30 miles away, and might as well be on the other side of the world, as he didn’t drive. So it wasn’t until Bodhipaksa went to Glasgow, to the university, and he saw posters around campus, until he started going to these classes.

Did your sense of what you were looking for change as you started going to these classes? Anything you wanted to delve more deeply into?

Bodhipaksa had some particular experiences fairly early on. On particular day, he was with some classmates, and they were sitting together in the car to go home. And he was in a terrible mood, he tended to be very irritable in those days. In some ways he was quiet sensitive, and irritation was his defense mechanism in those days. He was listening to this conversation these two girls were having, and getting annoyed at how trivial and trite it seemed. But he caught himself getting really annoyed.

“And I remembered this loving-kindness practice that he had learned.  And just started saying to myself, “May I be well…. may I be happy… may I be free from suffering”. And it completely stunned me, but after 3 or 4 minutes of this, I actually felt really happy! Nothing mystical, or anything like that, meditation just works.”

Yeah, it’s pretty radical..

It does actually work. Today, I’m getting into teaching very short meditations to people, just 3 or 4 minutes long. They very often, almost everyone reports they’ve experienced a change in their level of well-being.

The reason for teaching these short meditations is because he’s very interested in helping people to make meditation part of their life. The trouble is that we teach meditation, make them sit through 25, 35, or 45 minutes of meditation.

People can get the idea that meditation isn’t real meditation, no point in doing it, unless you sit for 45 minutes. And then they go home at the end of the meditation class, and the next day its like, OK, I suppose I should meditate. Do I have 30 or 40 spare minutes?

No of course they don’t, because their lives are already full, they’ve already got a bunch of habits and responsibilities. And because they have this idea that it has to be a full fledged long meditation, or it is not a real meditation. And they end up not doing it at all.

So Bodhipaksa tries to encourage people to just try tiny 3 or 4 minutes of meditation, this is what you can do. He gets them to do the meditation standing up, or sitting in a chair. Get the idea across that you don’t need special equipment, get all setup, or lighting all the candles.

Yes, in our daily life is where the real fruits of meditation are..

Yes, especially with regularity, consistency in practice.

Do you find that the folks who do the mini meditations repeat the meditations until it becomes part of their lives..that something kicks in that activates within the person that then practices automatically, where it might be really helpful to de-escalate the inner turmoil? 

Yes, I think it’s quite hard for people to start meditating on their own. This is maybe another reason to encourage people to do shorter meditations. Because what we’re asking people to do is to apply a certain mindset, things like being patient, and kind with yourself. Recognizing that it’s OK to be distracted. You’re not the worst meditator in the world because your mind is distracted and all over the place. 

People bring a lot of unhelpful attitudes into the practice, so it can be quite difficult to get a meditation practice established.

Did you find that as you as you bring these meditations online, that this influences the way you’re doing these meditations? Because some of the folks are like you were when you were young in a remote place far away from a meditation center. So maybe that is part of the reason why you decided you wanted to bring it online to make it accessible to people who are like you at an earlier time in your life?

That’s really interesting. I haven’t made that connection before but i think that’s quite possibly the case. Yeah I have a very strong sympathetic, empathetic response to people who are in isolated situations, and who find it difficult to get a meditation practice started, and there are a lot of them. 

How many are there, what is that like since you’ve been doing this since 2001?

Yeah, I’ve doing it for a long time. I mean when I said there’s a lot of them I was thinking there’s a lot of people in a similar situation and perhaps the entire state where there’s hardly any meditations centers. And you have to travel like a 120 miles to get to a meditation center.

But in terms of how many I managed to reach through online activities is quite difficult to count. We have a lot of traffic to our website. I have this website with structured guides to meditation, all free. There’s recorded guided meditations that you can listen to. The Wild Mind web site get something like a 150.ooo thousand visits per month. 

Wow, that’s a lot. 

Yeah, and they’re all over the world as well so when the last time I looked, there were visitors from every country in the world except for think Western Sahara. It’s a disputed area, government or maybe there’s not even the internet there. Quite possibly there’s no internet connection. 

You wrote a couple of books about diets. Did that change as a result of meditation in any way?

Yes, it did interestingly. To put this in context. I first got in touch with a practicing Buddhist since I’ve been meditating. I was going to the University of Glasgow and I was training to be a veterinarian which is something that I had wanted to be for a long long time. Since it was a long time, probably since I was about 14 years old. 

I was in contact with Buddhists and most of the Buddhists I knew where vegetarian. And I actually hung around with Buddhists a lot. I really enjoyed being with them. I was actually working with a Buddhist company during my summer vacation. We’d eat with each other, going to each other’s houses after working all day. So I was eating a lot of vegetarian food but I was almost militantly anti-vegetarian.

People would say you’re eating a  dead animal. I didn’t affect me at all at that time. It was completely normal and natural to me to eat meat. And then my entire veterinary class went to a slaughter house.

One of the things that you’re trained to do as a veterinarian is meat inspection.  Two aspects to it There’s the welfare of animals before they die, and there’s also inspecting carcasses to make sure they’re not diseased so that cancer and infections and things don’t get to the food supply. So we had to go and learn how to do these things. 

And the very first day I went into the slaughterhouse was quite horrifying. First of all those the smell of the place felt absolutely disgusting. Nobody else having this reaction I think it was possibly because I had just for several months not been eating much meat and been living a vegetarian diet. As I was hanging around with other vegetarians.

I had to have a scarf wrapped around my face to try to filter out some of the smell. And then we went through into the killing floor to have a look at the end of the day and they’d finished slaughtering animals for the day. There was a pig which had been spotted which had been quite badly injured. And the animal welfare rules say, that the animals to be killed as quickly as possible. So I saw my first pig being slaughtered, by being shot in the head and having its throat cut and bleeding on the floor.

And at that point the question or statement, “you do realize that that meat is a dead animal” is something that made sense. I didn’t actually make a conscious decision to become a vegetarian. I just went home and I couldn’t eat it anymore. We already had some meat that we bought for our meal. And I just looked at it and I realized I can’t eat this. And I think it was a combination of, as I mentioned not having it very much meat for a while, while hanging out with vegetarians. Their philosophical approach to vegetarianism had not really affected me on a conscious level. 

I think the meditation practice that I’ve been doing had perhaps woken me up. Because I was the only person out of like 40, 45 people.  The only one who had this kind of response. 

I don’t want to have anything to do with this.

Yeah so that it opened you up in in a sense to the the suffering of someone else. Kind of like an empathetic response.

I think so yeah. I’ve been doing a combination of mindfulness of breathing and loving-kindness practice for several months. And at that point I think it opened me up in an empathetic way.

I also noticed on your website you mentioned you see your children as your spiritual teachers. Maybe you can explain that a little bit what you mean.

Well , so you’re a meditation teacher and you go and teach your meditation class. You’re friendly and understanding to everybody, even when people can be quite difficult. And you’re patient with them. It is much more difficult to maintain that sense of, I’m in public, and I’m in charge of myself and I am emotionally non-reactive, kind and patient.

It’s much more difficult to maintain that kind of equanimity when you’ve got a child who’s screaming at you. Or having a temper tantrum or really upset about something. Doesn’t want to do what you want to do. Or even when they’re sick you know. When my kids were really young and I’d have to stay up half the night, holding them up right because they couldn’t sleep lying down, because of an earache, etc. 

It really tests you. Children push your buttons and they learn how to push your buttons . So it teaches you to practice patience and kindness in a much deeper level. Because when you’re doing it at the meditation class, it’s relatively easy to do.

When you’re in public and people are watching you, you’re on your best behavior. But you can also remember to be on your best behavior all the time when with your kids. And you don’t feel like anyone is watching you when you’re on your own with them. 

Yeah just like at the workplace, you know it’s easier to be nice there too because you’re you’re also getting getting paid to be there and so forth.

 I think sometimes the amount of time that people spend at work leads to that familiarity that breeds contempt. That’s also a very good practice place for sure. Especially at meetings, where people disagree with you, it’s very easy to get heated and to get stubborn. 

And in terms of your website, what inspired you to decide to do the Wild Mind web site about meditation full time? What what makes you realize this is something that you wanted to do full time right?

It is now. It was not full time at first, it was a very part time thing for a long time. The idea for the website came to me but I was doing a master’s degree at the University of Montana.  And I had this decision that I wanted to go and study Buddhism at University. I wanted to do a master’s in Buddhism.

And the reason for that was because being smart can be a bit of a problem sometimes, because it can seem quite easy to get your head around Buddhist teachings. And because you think you understand it, you don’t ask yourself the deeper questions, like do I really understand this?

On an experiential level. Does this even make sense. Are there contradictions. Because you can sometimes find yourself holding contradictory ideas in your head. And you can flip from one to the other without even realizing that you’re doing. It is very common to do that. So I wanted to be challenged to think more deeply about about the Dharma, about Buddhism.

And I was lucky enough to bump into professor of Buddhist Studies who is looking for a teaching assistant. And a teaching assistantship would pay for a masters degree.

However, and this was a real stroke of good luck. It wasn’t possible to do a pure masters in Buddhism at this particular University. There weren’t enough for credit courses available. So was gonna have to do some kind of interdisciplinary masters. And choose two different areas of Buddhism. And something else and focus on both of those areas but especially on the overlap between them and I considered various options. I was quite interested at one point in studying Zen Buddhism and so on studying Japanese. But my adviser pointed out that would take many many years to develop enough proficiency in Japanese and Chinese, which I’d also have to learn, classical Chinese, in order to be able to make any use of that.

And it occurred to me that one of the things I’d always really love doing was running businesses. Hadn’t really thought of myself as doing that. But when I was in Glasgow and involved in Dharma center there, I volunteered to run the book shop. I love the craft of taking something and making it work well. And making it appealing to people. Increasing the range of books there, expanding things, building things up

So I love that, and then moved into a Buddhist center for a number of years. A retreat center in the Highlands of Scotland when I arrived it was a very small scale operation then. Again I just love building it up and be able to reach more people and being the benefit more people. 

And so I thought well maybe I could study Buddhism and business. A really intreaging thing to do. Most people do what you’re doing right now and give a little nervous laugh. Buddhism, business? Aren’t they the complete opposite? (laughing)

But of course in the Buddhist teaching there’s the 8 fold path, which is the core teaching of Buddhism, and one of the aspects of the eight fold path, is right livelihood . So that’s Buddhism and business. It’s how to make your work into a practice.

So I was studying classes in the business school and I was studying Buddhism in the philosophy department. And I was trying to think what am I gonna do with this degree. Where is this going to go. I had friends who were Buddhists who were running businesses, and I got involved. And looked at whether I might be able to apply the principles I was learning to their particular businesses.

Lin Chi in trashHello dogs! (NOTE: Sorry, the dogs were barking for a few seconds at this point..As you can see, our dogs can be troublemakers. They want to apparently insert themselves not just in pots, pans, and trashcans, but also in the podcast!)

And then it just it just came to me one day, but it just came to me that the internet at that time (around 2000) was not a good place to go if you want to learn meditation. There were people who were advertising meditation classes there, but you can’t go onto the internet at a particular time and learn how to meditate.

And I thought well you know you can. People don’t think it’s unusual to learn meditation from a book to go out and buy tons of books about meditation. People don’t think it’s unusual to go out and buy a CD on meditation. And then you can do all of those things on the internet.

So I worked on putting together a structured program, and actually wrote a grant proposal to the Council of learned societies and managed to get some grant money. Which funded me for a summer to work on writing and recording some material and I tried to make in the University first of all of it was an online course. Just within the university and then I you know that started the website and that was 2001 November 2001.

And and then it started attracting people to come to it, and and how did you do change over time, to meet whatever needs they had. Did you just do it based on whatever feedback you got?

Well things just kind of evolved. My original idea was just have a website where people can come and we can learn something about meditation. And that was it. Trouble, I was a graduate student and I could barely scrape through a week and feed myself. Never mind set a website. I had a friend who was a Buddhist was fairly successful businessman and I told them about my idea for this website and I said I’d probably need a couple hundred dollars to get started. He said, no problem at all more like this one particular time. He asked if I thought about doing meditation classes online, because he knew I was a meditation teacher. And I thought, yeah I know how I could do that. I Immediately thought about how you could you could do that with discussion forum and readings and guided meditations.

And so after starting their website I moved into having online courses . And people liked the recordings I done. So tried to put some of  those CD and CD did very well. And things just gonna took off from there.

And then did the CD’s then turn into downloadable audio?

Yeah we’ve the website now has a an online store, where you can buy CDs. The online courses have changed quite dramatically. I used to work with a small number of people quite intensively. And have a daily correspondence with them about their practice. That limits you to a small number though. 

Now there’s a suggested donation, no fixed charges. If you got some more money use another level of donation. And so you know we’re getting in our most recent course there is like 227 people.

You also mentioned prison, do you the same way with them?

Yeah for several years I went along to the state prison for men in Concord, New Hampshire, where there was already a meditation group. They don’t have a lot of internet access in prison, for obvious reasons. So that was actually an incredibly fulfilling thing to do. This was quite frustrating in some ways not because of the inmates that the staff was often making it quite difficult. I would drive an hour there and discover that was something else planned at the chapel that day, and no one had bothered to call any of the volunteers. So you drive an hour home again. So sometimes it it was quite frustrating.

But the amazing thing was that these guys had an incredible depth of practice, as they were living in very difficult circumstances and the Dharma practice, their meditation practice was a lifesaver. But it was actually inspirational to be with a group of people who are so committed to the practice.

It was much more satisfying in many ways then teaching meditation class in my my local Dharma center just down the road. Where you know in some cases people would come along and meditate in the evening. But that was the only meditation that they did all week.

It’s almost like that image of your hair being on fire. I have a sense that if you’re in prison you’re more willing to make a full commitment. Then in the case that you’re not in prison where you got lots of distractions and other things. 

Yeah absolutely the problem became one of time and resources. My then wife and I adopted two children , and she wasn’t working anymore, because she was staying with them. Staying at home to look after the children. And a lot less money came in, and I just have to be more careful about how I spent my time. So unfortunately there was one of the things I had to withdraw.

Their group is still meeting by the other people who stepped. I also went down to a couple of prisons in Massachusetts as well to manage to get somebody else to take over.

And you also mentioned you worked with low-income teens have at one point.

That was the University of New Hampshire. There was a program there is actually a federally funded program called Upward Bound. And everyone thinks I’m saying outward bound, and think it’s about camping. It’s a federally funded program that started in the nineteen sixties. Back in the days when people had a consensus around helping people from low-income families to get into higher education, and when they saw it as a good thing. Because it would strengthen the nation, because you’re tapping into talent, that might otherwise go unrealized.

And so the program means to help teens from low-income families prepare for college. Very well actually none of their parents have ever been to college. Often their parents are quite impoverished. Sometimes now your mental health problems substance abuse problems etc. So they were great bunch of kids and I did that for ten years. I have very tentatively started doing some meditation with them. I was basically asked to come in and help teach them study skills and personal development skills.  And I was a little hesitant about it at first, because it’s something that really precious to me. And the thought of taking something very precious and offering up to a bunch of people who might not appreciate it, or think it was boring or dull or something like that that was that was scary.

But I took the risk and I started introducing to meditation to the low-income kids, and found out very quickly it was their favorite thing of everything that was being taught. And they wanted more of it. It became a regular thing, and we did it in every single class. And they found that very beneficial.

Did you notice it changed them as well?

It’s kinda hard to tell, whether meditation changes people. I mean I’m getting a bunch of people I don’t really know very well I’m teaching to meditate. By the time I’m getting to know them they had only been meditating for a few weeks. But a lot of them said that they find it helpful. I have to go on their reports, rather than mine. 

How do you explain Wild Mind in terms of working with habit patterns?

It was just a name. Well it’s become in a way just the name. I would explain it in terms of ecosystem for example. An ecosystem doesn’t have anyone in control of it. There was no one saying, okay we’ve got too many insects you know, let’s send in the birds. There’s no one saying, oh, there’s a clearing. Let’s plant seeds so that some trees drop. It just all you know works perfectly and beautifully.

So meditation can bring about something like that as well. First we feel compelled to meddle with our minds. Feeling like we always need to be doing something. And actually we do need to do something at first. You know we need to make some kind of an effort. But with practice you can get more of a sense that your meditation practice is just happening. It’s just something that’s just arising within you. And it can happen quite beautifully.

There can be no conscious intent to do anything. You’re just sitting there. It’s like sitting observing a forest and seeing all the life going about its business, doing whatever it does, staying, keeping in balance. And it can be like that with the mind well. You’re not doing anything but sitting there.

And sometimes even when you’re not watching you get the sense there’s things going on. I’ve had many times in my meditation practice, where I’ve become mildly distracted. And I’m thinking about something, and then I realized. Oh, I’m distracted, let’s go back to my experiences and notice what my experience is. And I find that my experience is very different from what it was before I got distracted.

Suddenly now I’m really happy. And it’s really easy to be calm. My mind feels bright and I feel energized And it’s like, while my attention was out of the way, some parts of me were collaborating to produce this beautiful experience for me to come back to.

And so, yeah there is there is a sense in which I’m using this word Wild Mind, to suggest something quite expansive. Also tend to use a lot of nature images.

I think all meditation teachers end up using a lot of nature imagery, as it is very evocative. So we talk about sitting like a mountain.

We talk about letting your mind be like water so the water. You stop stirring the water, and you just let it settle down and let it become clear and and calm. And able to reflect. You find but as water calms down, you can see into it. With your mind calming down, you can also see into that more easily.

So there’s a lot of nature imagery that tends to come into meditation practice. Again this idea, of the wild as being something spiritual.

But I don’t tend to think about why I called it, “Wild Mind” very much these days. 

But it’s really nice to let meditation help you become aware of the background (nature), instead what is often the foreground (our minds). The Background comes to the foreground.

You’re also an individual coach. Is that part of the website as well?

It’s something that’s available through the website. It is something that’s fairly new for me as well. As I mentioned I did quite a bit of coaching in my early days when I first saw online courses. I mean a lot.  I was doing a lot of coaching. But primarily through text. Corresponding with them pretty much on a daily basis. And that’s where I got the idea from being on the generation X dharma teachers conference this past summer. And there were a few people there who are coaching.

Folks listening to this might be thinking, maybe that’s a helpful way to have somebody like a coach, “see your back”. You’ve already mentioned your kids, and that’s wonderful. That folks folks like us who have families. They look at the back of our necks as well. They can see the parts of ourselves that we don’t necessarily notice or wanna notice as much. And as a coach you kind of do that as well, seeing patterns that someone else might not recognize as easily?

Yeah, I think that’s one of the big advantages of Kalyana Mitta (spiritual friends) or special friendship. It is interesting you look at the scriptures and you see that, “spiritual friendship is the whole of the spiritual life“. That is a very strong statement.

There’s actually very little in terms of teachings apart from that, spiritual friendship. I can think of a couple of suttas where either the Buddha either discusses spiritual friendship or praises spiritual friendship in a detailed way. But it’s not really developed very strongly. One of the advantages of spiritual friendship is it helps you to become conscious of things that you’re not so conscious of.

Is there anything else that you would like to tell people that would be listening now, who want to be free from suffering?

There are many things I could say. The first thing that springs to mind is to find some kind of balance in your meditation practice. A lot of people when we they go to learn meditation take up some kind of mindfulness practice. That’s the most common thing. So you’re sitting watching everything or paying attention to the body are you sitting watching thoughts passing through. And letting go of them.

That’s all great so wonderful very good thing to do. That’s an excellent practice. But there’s a whole other side of practice which involves working with heart. And developing more kindness and developing more compassion and developing more appreciation. And that is really important.

One of the things that I’m quite wary of in the modern Buddhist world is, there is this emphasis on the goal, as being having a particular kind of insight. And so people want to have this kind of insight.  They want to see you through the illusion of self. Which is a completely valid, and wonderful thing to do. And everyone should have that experience.

But the Buddha’s ideal of somebody who’s awakened was not just somebody who has that insight and seen through the illusion of a separate self. But the Buddha’s ideal was of somebody who is like an ideal human being. Somebody who is warm and compassionate and kind. Somebody who is patient and who is able to live in a very simple way. So some of those elements tend to get lost in people’s practice because they’re focusing on developing mindfulness and insight.

But if you’re doing that, you not really aiming at becoming the kind of person that the Buddha was encouraging us to be. So you’re not really aiming for the Buddha’s goal was. So I really encourage people to take up not just mindfulness practice, but also some kind of loving-kindness or compassion practices as well.

Great advice. I know my my teachers teacher put that, is he said, “I’m not interested in your enlightenment experience. I’m interested in the day after.” (laughing)

I really appreciate your time and and your kind words, and I hope that folks can check out your website. 

Thank you.

Resources

MF 27 – Amanda Gilbert – Meditation and Mindfulness Researcher at UCSF

MF 27 – Amanda Gilbert – Meditation and Mindfulness Researcher at UCSF

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.

Resources

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MF 25 – The Daily Zen Creator Charlie Ambler Talks about his Meditation Journey

MF 25 – The Daily Zen Creator Charlie Ambler Talks about his Meditation Journey

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.
Lao Tzu

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.

Insightful!

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.

Resources

MF 21 – John Martin Zen Buddhist Student

MF 21 – John Martin Zen Buddhist Student

John Martin Zen Meditation Student

John practices in the Zen Buddhist tradition of Robert Aitken (Diamond Sangha)

This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview

John was attracted to fundamentalist Christianity as a teen for a few years. It did not work for John. He abandoned all religion in his 20’s living an agnostic/atheist life. He was accepting things that other people were saying, and he decided he was not going to do that again.

He stumbled on a book On Zen by Alan Watts. That caught his attention. Then started to figure out how to meditate, learned a bit from the TM movement.

Did you understand what parts of it?

He did not understand all of it, but he did get non-duality. This was a whole new understanding that opened up for John. He by then had his own meditation practice on and off. Year on, year off kind of practice. He would feel that he would need to get back into it.

Where you attracted to meditation as a way of insight, or as a way to experience something you were looking for?

Maybe more the insight. I got fairly involved in the lead-up to the presidential elections in 2004. When that was all done, and the dust settled, I realized I was full of anger and even hatred towards the chosen political enemies. Then I phoned the Zen Center after finding them online.

Have you found that joining a group is different than meditating alone?

Yes, definitely. Especially the first couple of years, John derived tremendous support from the regular weekly sits, and meditating and support from other people. That whole structure that keeps you on the cushion, and prevents you from a moment of restlessness coming along, and tricking you into jumping up, and doing something else. And the book studies have been very helpful.

So the structure is very helpful too?

Yes, extremely helpful. If you see structure as a means to an end, as a tool, then you wouldn’t see it as limiting or old-fashioned tradition that doesn’t fit the modern era. It’s there to help people.

How has your relationship with those perceived enemies changed at all?

I don’t think my political views have shifted much. My indulging in hatred is way less than it used to be (laughs). So that’s a good thing! The hatred thing, the target is no longer individual people. There are so many facets to a complex society, some not functioning well, sick, very poor design. So a person may get elected to congress.

For example the structure of congress is stacked against you. Very hard to be an awake and honest person, and not get corrupted by the money from the lobbyists and so forth, when you’re in that environment all the time.

So, I guess I’ve shifted from individuals to the system that I perceive as something that is bad.

Do you see that a system can be shifted by individuals or groups, or completely needs to be uprooted or re-designed?

Uprooting is a tempting fantasy, because it is quick. The ultimate expression of that is war. You perceive an enemy, and the best thing is just to eliminate your enemy.

But then you assume of enemy as outside?

Yes, the enemy is all outside, and things good is all in me, and all things bad in someone else.

But to truly have a culture evolving into something healthier, does require the individuals in that culture, become more aware, educated and enlightened.  And developed in a balanced way, where not just our minds, but our hearts are also developed.

Has this way of long-term seeing changed the way you get attached to outcomes?

Perhaps, I understand how to be unattached to outcomes, but more focused on the nature on your actions, is perhaps a more spiritual way to be in the world.

When you practice there is a certain letting go of the desire of certain outcomes, not having strong attachments to certain outcomes, whether in your immediate area, or the larger geopolitical arena?

Yes, I’ve probably developed a little in that direction. As things play out from my actions, I’m not necessarily in control. I might do something in one particular thing in space and time, but the consequences of what I do in that spot, goes on without me. It’s better to focus on the nature of my act. Am I acting free of greed or, desire for revenge, hatred. What is my true motivation I think is more important, than banking on a particular outcome. Because it never comes out that way anyway, even driving to the store to get milk.

Yes, that reminds me of your example you mentioned  of an instance of road rage?

Yes, I have an 2 examples of my own road rage. Both times I was really surprised I had this in me, I didn’t know it was there.

I was just getting on the freeway, it was fall, rainy and dark. I was careful to look for a space in traffic. and this guy comes zooming in. He roared by me, and it made me jump. It triggered this rage in me, it took me 2 miles on the freeway to get this under control. This whole time I sat with this rage. I realized if I had a much bigger vehicle, and it was banged up, I would have chased him down and bumped his car and driven him into the barrier. That’s how illogical and enraged I was. I just had a little car and couldn’t catch up.

So I started thinking….what does a Buddhist do in this situation I thought? I think you just be a bit detached, just watch it, instead of being it, but 2-3 miles, I did start to settle down.

Second time, similar incident, also someone roared by. And in this case not only was I powerless, but my wife also screamed at John to slow down. She reminded him to slow down, and he might escalate the situation. those are two instances, where I had to struggle to become detached from the rage I experience inside of me.

What was also important was the constraints that I have, I had a little bit of a rational mind, but also external constraints, the realities of traffic, not doing something that was even more dangerous. and my wife reminding me to get sane again.

But there are also other times, when there were no external constraints at all, and then there will be that moment of choice.

Sure, give us another example.

This involves you and Kristina! (laughs)

This was one of the very the first times I showed up for Zen, and we exchanged names, and one of you said something like, “Are you new to Spokane? Have you lived here long?”

And I asked you two, well how long have you been in this town?

And Kristina laughed at the way I said that. And somehow, and this is just me, not you or Kristina, I took that as a kind of a put-down. That i was using a phrase that was dated, or maybe she thought I was pompous. He felt judged. But as soon as she laughed, I could feel myself getting defensive.

And that moment, if you catch it right at the beginning, that’s when things are most fluid. I didn’t even have words behind this decision. I just made the decision, I wasn’t going to go there, just going to watch it happen.

There’s my feeling vulnerable, and insecure again, feeling judged again. That sort of thing. Because i was able to catch it in the very beginning, it just evaporated. It was an experience of freedom. I did not make a psychic cage around myself. I was free. 

You didn’t take it personal?

Absolutely not, the laugh happened, my judgement happened, my reaction happened, I just watched it happen. And then I was fine, I was done with it.

Another example of a positive outcome. Many years ago, Mary and I had a disagreement. We were getting at each other a bit, and she said something that hooked me. I watched the whole thing happen. I watched the words go in, and there was a strong visual component to this experience. It was like I was looking inside myself. I could see this happening.

Inside myself, looking down through my spine, at the bottom there was this dark pool of liquid. Like mud. And I looked down, and I saw this shape starting to emerge, and as it came out, I saw it was this coiled snake. But it was really anger at what my wife said. It was halfway out, and I still had a choice. At that moment I still had a choice. I could say yes, or no to this thing, and so I said no . And it went back down.  No anger at that point.

What about present-moment awareness, have you noticed that change over the years of practice?

I think so, I’m more aware when I’m not in the present. I can kind of pull myself away from all my head trips that takes me out of the present. When I’m going to beautiful scenery, like on a walk, I’m much more likely to actually notice it, like smells and sounds as well as the sights.

Is that something from practicing in that moment, or over time practice?

Yes, the second thing, it’s a cumulative effect of practicing over time.

Is there anything when you’re not on the cushion that is practice related?

Sometimes I’ll use the Tibetan mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum. When I feel a need to be more in my heart than my head, I use that, and I visualize my energy going from my head to my heart.

The jewel is in the lotus, that which I seek, I already am?

Yes, the jewel in the lotus, the lotus being the heart. The pearl of great price, The jewel that we’re all seeking. We don’t know that it is there, we have to put our attention there, to live from that spot.

When I’m really feeling really scattered, irritated, tired, bored,  I will sometimes use that.

What is the role of a teacher in your practice?

I get to ask Jack (John’s teacher) some questions, that I don’t know who else to possibly ask those questions of that nature. He’s reassuring for me. Sometimes I don’t know where I am in this journey, even though I have some mental road maps. Like the 10 ox herding pictures. But I don’t know where I am on that road map. I need a second opinion on that (laughs). Am I more or less awakened than I think I am?

Any other tips, or inspirations that help you?

Your questions make me aware that I can do much more on a daily basis to remind myself to return to the present. I think I might make that a project to jot down some of those tools and use them more often. I just tend to notice more frequently where I am, where my attention, awareness, and energies are.  Sometimes that’s all you need.

And you intend to keep on practicing?

Yes it’s been good for me. One of the aspects of Zen that is a good fit for me, is that in my youth I was so much in my head, and Zen is merciless at cutting down those head trips. Pushing you out of that comfort zone.

Resources

 

 

 

 

MF 9 Carol Grever – When Your Spouse Comes Out – How Meditation Helped Heal

MF 9 Carol Grever – When Your Spouse Comes Out – How Meditation Helped Heal

Interview with Carol Grever, author of My Husband Is Gay: A Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Crisis, Glimpses: A Memoir in Poetry, When Your Spouse Comes Out: A Straight Mate’s Recovery Manual, Memory Quilt: A Family Narrative. Carol is a straight spouse recovery expert, as well as a practitioner and teacher of Buddhism.

This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview

What brought you to a meditation practice?

It was chaos in her personal life that brought Carol to a meditation practice. She says that her former husband came out after 30 years of marriage, so the rug was pulled out. He was in a relationship with another man, unbeknownst to her for most of the marriage. He led a double life for almost all of those years. He said to her that he had, “homosexual tendencies”. But he had acted on them for a long, long time.

She was also looking for meaning in her life.

Meditation became her refuge. It was a way to let go, to be in the moment, not to go back to the “what ifs”, and “how stupid I am”. She could get into the present moment.

This transition didn’t just go from one day to the next right?

They put their personal life on the back-burner. They had a business, and it took about 4 years, before they lived apart. In the beginning of that, they tried to make their marriage work. They decided then to separate, being unable to make it work.

She was taking Shambala weekend retreat training in a retreat setting during those 4 years of struggle. It’s typically 8 hours of meditation training. That is how she kept her sanity through meditation practice.

What were some of the breakthroughs during these meditation intensives?

Staying in the present moment is very important. And not trying to go back and second-guess everything.

Learned to follow the breath, “If you can stay and follow your breath, whatever is happening, will pass.”

The concept of impermanence became real. Whatever it is, will pass.

She was learning about the depth of her own spirit. She was feeling mostly sadness. She was in deep grief, felt betrayed, angry at times.  As if someone dear had died. In a way that had happened, because the man she thought she knew was not the same man.

Was this one of the reasons you were drawn to Pema Chodron as a teacher, she often talks about these things, having the rug pulled under from you, impermanence, groundlessness, the certainty of uncertainty, everything falling apart, and so on.

Yes, she went through a similar experience before she became a nun. Her husband also ran away with another woman. That gave her a depth of understanding for situations like Carol’s.

Pema told Carol the first time they met, that, “having the rug pulled out could be very good news”. Carol was in the depth of her sorrow, so thought it was crazy at first. Pema also said, this is an opportunity to grow. So she started looking at the event that way from now on.

She also started studying meditation with meditation teacher, Dale Asrael of Naropa University. She is a wonderful teacher, that is how she began. She then went to the Rocky mountain dharma center, and got connected with Pema Chodron. She further did the Shambala training.

Carol also leads a Dharma reading discussion group, a small Sangha, or community. That is also very important to her, along with lojang practice, and meditation. She does work with straight spouses, and interviewed hundreds of straight spouses, which is how her books came about.

What insights did she get after she started seeing the events as an opportunity?

Carol learned how strong she can be, she felt devalued at first, unworthy, there must be something wrong with her. She was blaming herself at the beginning.

She learned through these quiet times, that this had nothing to do with her (that her husband is gay). It had to do with her husband needing to become more authentic in his own life. She came to appreciate that, that was one of the real benefits of a meditation practice. She could sit with it, and begin to understand it.

This doesn’t have to remain a crisis. She came to see that they could both come through it.

So you developed compassion then for this struggle for authenticity? We all struggle to with being authentic due to society’s, parents, etc expectations. 

Yes, you learn to forgive, forgive what came before. And understand that the other person was doing what they thought they had to do. Her husband is now free, authentic, and married to his male partner. They both now have a wonderful life.

“We had to free each other”.

And understand the motivations in order to pass through it and heal. And forgiveness is a big part of that.

How do you see your practice now?

She has learned that service is the real reward, and is the real path.  She took up the Mahayana Bodhisattva vow as a Buddhist. The gist of that is that to exchange self for other. To put yourself in the other person’s place. It’s about service.

Since then she has devoted her time to service working through the blog, and doing peer counseling, and working with straight spouses.  The books are also part of that. She writes and teaches in this dharma group. She feels she has a sort of perfect circle of activities to act out the Bodhisatva’s vow.

You’ve written a book of poetry as well, where you talk about how your sense of self changed, could you read a couple of poems?

She realized she had a kind of record of turning points through her lifetime. Some are through her experience as a straight spouse, and some as a Buddhist.

She reads from, “Glimpses: a memoir in poetry”.

This first poem is about looking back (a record of turning points):

Retrospection 

(some sentences from this poem)

..What was certain wasn’t..
..Tree ornaments lovingly hung.. radiate moving memories..
..Time passed, prior life with it.
..Lives transformed..
..What was certain..wasn’t..
..It happens this way…another year, another begins.
…We pack away the past..
…out of sight, but always present.
…Ornaments and delusions, keen reminders of all we were, when we thought we knew.

It kind of captures the movement of this life. Everything changes. It’s not bad.. it’s how we grow, it’s how we learn..cannot escape impermanence, it’s not all bad, and these reminders are really precious.

She just read Thich Nhat Hanh’s, “No death, no fear”. She talks about photographs of yourself, how they are the same, yet totally different. It demonstrates the movement of life.

She also reads the poem, “On Separation”. 

..Root bound no more..
..Total change required..
..circling inner walls..
..Confinement slashed..
..Wounded but vital..
..Timid new roots push tenderly past outgrown patterns..
..Boundaries fall, rawness feeds renewal…

Renewal is a daily recurrence. Clinging to non-movement. Friction and clinging cause so much pain, trying to stop the movement.

Granny Hiphop

My hair is graying..
My mind is straying..
It’s not too late to contemplate..
To heal all hate…and mend my faith
My days are free..to just be me..

It’s truthful, it’s authenticity. She sees that in her own life, how in business how she was trying to Be who she was not. She kept the front up, and it was exhausting. When she was done with the business, and she sold it. Her first thoughts were after this business, “Who am I”? She didn’t even really know.

Now she is beginning to get a feel for something greater than what she thought she was at that time. She now sees her as part of a bigger whole, the ultimate.

She really wants and is becoming more real now, authentic.

Resources

Books Authored by Carol Grever (Click on the images below to purchase)

What do people in a situation where they discover that their spouse is not straight. A combination of therapy, spouse recovery, and spiritual practice?

Yes.

When you’re sick of hearing the stories, which is a sign of growth. Then you can move into a longer term therapy, you can do a long-term recovery.

Is this still as much an issue?

Yes, social pressure, career pressure, religious pressure is still very much an issue keeping gays and lesbians from coming out. Still a lot of prejudice in the work force, difficulty in advancing.  Carol knows this, because her books and offerings still help many people.

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