When we meditate together in the Online Gatherings, people are encouraged to arrange themselves however feels appropriate in that moment. Some of us lay down. Some of us sit up. Some of us move from one position to the other within a session.
In the past few years, I’ve thought a lot about teaching. More specifically, I’ve thought a lot about what guides my teaching. What are the core principles shaping my presentation of meditation in the world? I find myself coming back to three main elements again and again.
Weather around these parts has shifted. While most days still get hot – or, at the very least, warm – there’s a coolness in the air that communicates quite clearly: things are changing. It’s tempting to tumble into some sort of narrative about this. ‘Summer’s hard on me,’ for instance, ‘I can’t wait for fall!’
One could – quite justifiably, I believe – look at this world of which we are part and feel concern. Polarization and conflict, political, economic, and environmental instability, aggression, uncertainty, and fear are all prominent aspects of our present landscape, never mind some of the more specific difficulties that might be pointed to.
This has not been an easy piece to write. My schedule is overfull right now. My to do lists are overburdened. Concerns about the present and worries about the future are robust and active. These are coming at me like the crows that sometimes dive toward my head each spring, mad with an intention it’s hard to outrun.
Bruce Cockburn is on tour right now. I’ve written before of the fact that, having followed his career for so long, every new release from this artist feels like checking in with an old friend. Since the advent of YouTube, every new tour provides something similar.
I have, over the years, been asked all kinds of questions about meditation. There have been big questions and small. Difficult questions and easy. Questions I’m able to respond to immediately and others that have required time – in some instances, a span of years – to consider.
I offered a livestream meditation practice earlier today. This is something I do on Insight Timer with some regularity now. Usually the first Monday of every month sees me host a very short (15-20 mins) exploration of embodiment there. Still, Livestreaming is not something I’m overly familiar with.
I’ve been working with a practice known as ‘labelling’. This is something I find useful when my attention begins to wander a lot in meditation. And my attention has certainly been wandering of late. In brief, this practice involves acknowledging moments of distraction – moments in which I drift into rumination and storytelling – by labeling the experience ‘thinking’.
I was watching television the other night. Hardly the activity one might expect for a bit of meditative insight, but this is the truth: I was watching television. I’d tried viewing from the couch. Laying on one side and facing the TV, I found my glasses far too temperamental for this position.
I believe meditation has much to offer. I believe, for instance, that the practice can allow us to relax some of the gripping we do. Gripping to hopes. Gripping to fears. Gripping to expectations. Gripping to identities. All of which seems to cause a great deal of tension and suffering.
At the beginning of every practice session, I spend a few moments sitting quietly. I stop all obvious movement and orient my wandering attention in a single direction. I’m not too forceful with this. I don’t define that single direction too precisely. Nor do I demand too much fidelity in this regard. All of which means there’s a fair bit of drifting during this span.
I’ve struggled with this post. Three different drafts have been readied. There’s a sense of pushing in each of them. Too much knowing where the piece is going. Too much wanting to be something specific. As a result, not one of these feels quite right to me. Which is frustrating for any number of reasons.
I woke this morning and thought of meditation. My body was rigid with tension that had accumulated through the past several weeks, the last few months. I could feel worry grip beneath my shoulder blades, between my ribs, in the webbing of my fingers and toes. ‘Can’t wait to practice,’ I thought with anticipation, ‘and let all this dissolve.’
Tracey Lindberg’s Birdie was greeted with a mix of acclaim and consternation upon its publication in 2015. The story of a Cree woman’s recovery from the wounds of her past resonated with many – “The novel Canada has been waiting for,” Leanne Betasamosake Simpson announced – and confounded others.
I was exhausted. I’d made it through several high intensity weeks and now it seemed the bill had come due. I couldn’t concentrate. It was a struggle keeping my eyes open. My body ached and every few minutes another yawn stretched into the room. All I could think with any clarity was, ‘I am so tired.’
I recently had an opportunity to present at an online embodiment conference. It was a one-time session, late on a Monday night. Though our gathering was small, we shared a pleasant hour together – practicing, for the most part. And practicing, I felt, in a way that was far more settled than one might expect.
I make a lot of Caesar Salads. For whatever reason, people tend to like what comes out of our kitchen in this regard. As a result, the dish features regularly in our home diet and in what I am asked to share in other contexts, on other occasions. The initial recipe came from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham.
It’s been some time since I’ve written here. Initially the issue was overwhelm. Spring kept me in near non-stop motion for months. Early summer’s catch up and recovery was not much easier. Through each span, any thought of updating was immediately swept aside by fatigue, by the next thing to do – sometimes both.
“I’ve been having difficulty connecting to my practice…” This statement arrived via email recently. There was much more to the exchanges that followed, but this was the core of the matter: a sense of disconnection with practice. Because so many of us struggle with this from time to time, I asked my correspondent if I could share some of what passed between us.
I’m not yet two days back. I returned from Colorado Sunday evening. A full day’s travel concluded the remarkable journey that was this year’s Winter Meditation Intensive at Dharma Ocean’s Blazing Mountain Retreat Centre in Crestone. Roughly one hundred fifty people came and went during the four-week event.
I recently spent a few days in Boulder, Colorado. Dharma Ocean was hosting a series of meetings in which the overall direction of this lineage was to be explored and I was invited to take part. It was a fascinating, illuminating, and exhausting trip! Shortly after agreeing to this journey, my good friend and teaching peer Laurel Miller emailed.
One of the most potent teachings I ever received was presented in an unusual way. I was meeting with a mentor for a reason I no longer recall. We sat face to face, knees a foot apart. I cannot remember whether our conversation had started or not. I do know, however, that at a certain point the person across from me leaned forward. He placed his mouth near one ear and whispered, “Don’t go broad, go deep.”
‘I’ve got a project due.’ ‘The garden needs attention.’ ‘Friends are coming to visit.’ ‘I’m kind of tired.’ ‘America’s Got Talent airs tonight.’ ‘I practiced yesterday.’ ‘It’s too noisy around here.’ So reads a quick – and truncated – litany of reasons we give ourselves for not meditating. ‘It’s too sunny out.’ ‘The room is cold.’ ‘I’m bored of meditation.’ ‘I’m not good at meditation.’ ‘Maybe after I read the news.’