Fall Alumni Series 2 Resources

"Finding Ease in our Practice" resources will be added here to compliment our weekly group sessions. This content will stay up through Dec. 31, 2017.

Week 1: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Theme: You can't stop the wave but you can learn to surf. It is natural for the beginning of a meditation period to sometimes be like wading into powerful surf. The waves that have been created by real life conditions are unfurling onto the shore. They ebb and come back again. After a while, sometimes a number of minutes, we make it past the rough surf and the deeper water is calmer. This transition within a period of meditation is often palpable. You might feel yourself spontaneously exhale or feel your face relax or your shoulders drop - when you hadn't even realized they were tense.

 

Some periods of meditation may seem entirely like rough surf and these times are often periods of integrating thoughts and feelings or consolidating memories. While these times seem so unlike the peaceful meditations we crave or may have experienced before, they are valuable and are building momentum for greater equanimity. These meditation experiences call on our patience and loving kindness for they can be enormously challenging, while at the same time so valuable.

How do we cultivate peace and ease?

Option 1: Present moment awareness of just one thing. It is often suggested to choose the simplicity of silent present-moment awareness of the breath. 

Choosing to fix one's attention on one thing is letting go of mental diversity and moving to its opposite, unity. As the mind begins to unify and sustain attention on just one thing, the experience of peace, bliss, and power increases significantly.

Such a consciousness is like having six telephones on your desk ringing at the same time. Letting go of this diversity and permitting only one telephone (a private line at that) on your desk is such a relief that it generates bliss. The understanding that diversity of mind is a heavy burden is crucial to being able to focus on the breath. Ajahn Brahm, Kindfulness

Option 2: "Do nothing." 

When we let go of directing attention, we set up a situation where nature will support us to find ease and peace. We have an opportunity to rest and do nothing, not even control attention.

 

Drop your intention to control your attention. Whatever sensory experience that happens, let it happen. You may get sleepy. You may get lost in monkey mind for period of time. Let whatever happens, happen. When you start to feel like you need to do something about it - let go of the intention to control your attention.  - Shinzen Young

Intention implies that over which you have complete control.

Drop - means to stop controlling.

If you can't drop the intention for even a second, then it's not entirely free will and therefore, not something to try to control and just let it happen.

If "noting" makes you racey, do nothing.

If "do nothing" makes you spacey, do noting.

How to Practice "Do Nothing" Meditation

Do Nothing Meditation by Shinzen Young (15:01) 

Shinzen talks about the technique he calls "do nothing", which is associated with what other traditions call choiceless awareness, just sitting, the great perfection (dzogchen), and mahamudra.

 

Shinzen's instructions for how to do this is: "Let whatever happens happen. As soon as you're aware of an intention to control your attention - drop that intention."

"See, Hear, Feel" Meditation (11:07) by Shinzen Young

A group member referred to this meditation in class on Tuesday evening and I said I would post it here for convenience. You may have seen it in an October newsletter. 

Query of the week: What is your expectation for how your mind should be during meditation? Ask yourself this before a period of meditation. Invite a perspective that is compassionately aware of the life conditions that may be contributing to your mental state during meditation.

Article: Our current theme of Finding Ease in our Practice builds on what we discussed in the first four sessions this fall. If you weren't able to be there, or just would like a refresher and some extra perspective, this article gets to the heart of the matter.

It’s Not Mindfulness Without Kindness  by Shamash Alidina

Week 2: Tuesday, October 31, 2017

 

Theme: What is it to be present, without effort? A sense of ease and well-being are more likely to arise when we get out of our own way. Sometimes this is a mental experience, such as with the techniques discussed last week with the "Do Nothing/Open Awareness" approach or focused attention on just one thing, but it can also be a physical experience. The mind is remarkably responsive to information from the body, as we may recognize in times of pain or body discomfort. This week our exploration relates to how we sit, following along the teaching of paraplegic yoga teacher Matthew Sanford.  

How to Practice - Body Awareness Meditation by Matthew Sanford - This meditation starts at 53:29  (Transcript below)

 

  • Land in your body.

  • Start by sitting back and slouching in your chair. Sitting back. Just feel what you feel. It's kind of dull. Notice you think this is comfortable, relaxing but it's hard on your neck.

  • Sit up. Come forward and have your feet right under your knees. Feel your "sits bones" - have your knees right in front of your hips, your feet right under your knees.

  • Feel your sits bones, the bones in your rear end. Drop your chest and relax... That's your sits bones being like "butter." Now, make   sits bones like knives. Make them sharp. Feel the movement of awareness up the spine. 

  • Lift the front side of the chest. But as you do that, ground down through your feet at the same time. So, you're making your sits bones like knives, you're feeling up your chest, but you're also grounding your sits bones down, and you're pressing down through your inner heels.

  • Take a couple of breaths. And then release. Notice the difference in quality and sensation when you let fall behind the gravity point, fall behind the balance point.

  • Now, come up forward again. Make your sits bones like knives. Lift the front of your chest. Ground down through the feet. Try to broaden, not just through the front of your chest, but across the back ribs too. So you try to lift and broaden through the front of the chest and the back ribs. As you do, feel your inner thighs, and ground through your inner heels. So you're grounding down through your feet, down through your inner thighs, and you're breathing, take a couple of breaths. And then release. Release and go back to the heavier place. The sitting posture you started in, that you think's relaxation... 

  • Now, come forward and put your forearms on your legs. And now as you press down on your forearms on your legs, press down and slightly lift your chest. As you breathe, broaden across your collarbone. And then relax... Inhale ... Ground up, lift up through the chest. And then exhale and go back down.

  • Now back up again. Bring your hands on the front of your knees, ground the sits bones, pull yourself slightly forward, lift in and up. Take a breath. And then release and let your back go.

  • Again. This time, come forward. Ground through the feet, lift up through the chest. Come back. And then release. And again now, feel, ground your sits bones, take a couple of breaths. Broaden across the back ribs. And now stretch up through the top of your head. And then release. 

  • Now, just notice what you feel.

  • Sit up again. And notice after just moving your spine, maybe you feel a tingling, maybe or a buzz, or a little shaky just a little bit. That's the beginning of the silence waking up in you. Your nervous system, getting a charge. That's living in your whole body. Breath into that. Don't be afraid of that. Don't be afraid of the silence in you, coming to life. 

Meditation: 1-Minute Grounding Meditation (1:23) Cara Bradley Try this along with the sitting posture instructions above. 

Video: Autumn Leaves (2:03:26) - a visual feast for the eyes and some open eyed meditation. I use it with the sound off. You can play your own music.

Video: Adaptive Yoga - Full Class (1:15:36) Matthew Sanford - whole yoga class.

Week 3: Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Theme: Gladdening the mind. Dovetailing on what we discussed a lot during the first four weeks of the fall season, introducing kindness to the system can be transformative. Take the average day when we begin a meditation, everyday worries and responsibilities circling around us, our body also having its say, we may find ourselves experiencing physical tension that is a response to what's happening in our mind. To help, we can start by gladdening the mind. Many things can help gladden the mind. Meditation teacher Thanisarro Bhikkhu starts simply with "Think thoughts of good will." Some find it helpful to read a short passage or poem. Some light incense or a candle. You may like to use some essential oils, or have a cup of tea. 

How to practice: As part of the transition to meditation practice, take a few minutes to gladden the mind. This might just look like mentally offering good will to friends, family, all beings .... your choice. Alternately, consider ways you can use the enjoyment of your senses to have some moments of enjoyment before meditation. Some days, even brushing one's teeth can provide the kind of refreshment that allows for changing gears and slowing down. Welcome all of yourself to be present. Remind yourself that there is no requirement that we feel any particular way when meditation. To let go of goals can be an act of kindness as well. 

Query of the week: What helps you to feel soothed or mentally "gladdened"?

Meditation 1: Guided Breath Meditation (12:18) Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Meditation 2: Gladdening the Mind (18:05) Tara Brach

Article: Gladdening the Mind - From Discovering Mindfulness

Week 4: Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Theme: Rest. Does meditation feel like work to you? Many, at least at some point, say that regular practice can start to feel like one more thing on one's list to accomplish. These past four weeks, we have discussed several strategies for how to find ease in the practice, all of them of a complimentary but different nature. 

The first: Give yourself time to get through the surf zone of the busy mind. Then choose the strategy that best suits your needs. Do you need more structure or less? This might be based on your personality or preference, or possibly related to how over structured or understructured your life currently is.

The strategies noted were:

  1. Focus on one thing, like "breath awareness"

  2. Let go of trying to focus and "do nothing"

  3. Take some time to fully "land" in your body - such as through some chair yoga, or even just a few stretches in your seat or lying down.

  4. Gladdening the mind. At the beginning of practice, give some attention to something pleasant, like "thoughts of good will" or something that is pleasant to your senses.

How to practice: 

This week, in the group we will practice all of the above mentioned, but at home, I want to suggest you try a type of meditation that is best done while wearing headphones. There is a type of "music" used for meditation called binaural beats. Sometimes the beats are used without music or are accompanied by nature sounds. I prefer the ones I have found on Insight Timer but Youtube is good too.

Binaural Beats Meditations: 

On Insight Timer:

  • Anxiety and Stress Reduction Binaural Beats Meditation (21:00) (soft music)

  • "Release Meditation" Flowing Water Binaural Beats (20:00)

  • Theta Dimension 10 or 20 - Binaural music

On Youtube:

How to practice: Find a place where you won't be disturbed. Wear headphones if you can to experience the benefits of the pulses of sound.

Query of the week: What have you gained from meditation practice this fall that you may not have experienced otherwise?

Video: Everyone Matters: GRATITUDE by Louie Schwartzberg (5:54)

Articles:

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