Thoughts Are Not the Enemy

By Jason Siff

Jason Siff will be leading Thoughts are not the Enemy: An Introduction to Recollective Awareness Meditation at Shambhala Mountain Center from August 29–September 1. 

Jason-Siff-with-waterfall-headshotWe spend much of our time with our thoughts. The thinking mind will not just turn itself off, become empty and still, once we start meditating. In fact, trying to stop thoughts, or empty the mind, may actually produce more tension and stress around thinking, while fully allowing thinking into meditation may paradoxically lead to peace and tranquillity. But this can only be known through one’s experience. If you like, you can try out these instructions:

• Sit in a comfortable posture

• Close your eyes and bring your attention to your hands touching, one on top of the other, or resting on your thighs.

•  Be aware of the external contact of your hands touching, but do not hold your attention there—just come back to it on occasion.

• Allow your thoughts and emotions into the meditation sitting. Be kind to your thinking mind. Let yourself think the thoughts, be carried by them, and if you get overwhelmed, just bring your attention back to the touch of the hands.

• If you start drifting off toward sleep, let yourself go toward sleep. If you feel restlessness, boredom, or physical pain, it is okay to adjust your posture, lie down, or stop the meditation sitting.

• Try this meditation practice for 15 to 20 minutes at first. Anything that happens in meditation is part of your experience of meditation. Nothing is wrong.

On my retreats, people share their meditation sittings in a group. Everyone in the group listens while one person talks about what went in his or her meditation sittings. A few years ago, a middle-aged man on one of my retreats reported feeling intense rage toward his ex-wife. Normally when he experienced this rage in his meditation sitting, he would try to bring his attention to his breath to calm his mind. That didn’t work this time. So he focused on the sensation of anger in his chest. That helped a little at first, but then he had memories of how his wife had treated him and his hatred surfaced again with even more force than before.

He tried to step back and observe the thoughts as passing clouds, but however much he tried to get some distance from them, he soon found himself immersed in one angry scenario after another. After all of these worthy attempts, not only did he still feel rage, but he also felt like a failure for not being able to transcend it. At this low point in his meditation sitting, he remembered that I said he could fully allow thoughts and emotions into his meditation sitting. He was ambivalent about doing that, fearing that if he allowed the thinking to go on, it would get worse, and he would never get free of it. At this point, what did he have to lose?

He let himself think about his ex-wife. He wanted to hurt her. He imagined various ways of making her life miserable. And, as he let these truly unacceptable and reprehensible thoughts into his meditation sitting, he felt more connected to himself. Though this was the honest truth, he knew he would never carry out the revenge scenarios he had so ingeniously crafted. Something else began to emerge, which couldn’t arise when he was battling his rage.

From being kind to his rage, which included understanding himself with compassion, he began to see more of his role in their relationship; for if he could be so rageful and vengeful, then what was he really like to live with? How was he pushing her away, disregarding her, not feeling any friendliness or kindness to her when they were together? As he explored this new direction in his thinking, compassion for her arose in his heart. By the end of the meditation sitting, he no longer felt like a failure, having gained trust in his own meditative process.

Thankfully, most of our experiences of thinking in meditation are not that dramatic. We mostly have issues with thoughts that distract us and needlessly repeat themselves. But even with those thoughts, when we allow them in and let them run their course, we may find that they die down on their own and we learn a bit more about ourselves in the process of being with them. When we take away the intention to stop our thoughts, we reduce our tension around thoughts, and can become more relaxed overall. Many people have reported that when they have allowed thinking to go on in meditation in this way, they have fewer thoughts, less involvement in certain thoughts, and may even experience long stretches of time where they are with their breath and bodily sensations.

This approach to meditation is called, “Recollective Awareness Meditation.” I started developing it when I was a Buddhist monk in the Sri Lanka in the 1980s. It is a form of Vipassana Meditation, as is Insight Meditation and Mindfulness Meditation, but differs from them in these basic ways:

1. Meditators learn to recollect their meditation sittings as the primary way to develop awareness of what happens in meditation. They then write about their meditation experiences in greater detail and share their meditation experiences with a teacher or a group of fellow meditators.

2. Meditators learn to become familiar with their mind in meditation and begin to trust in the meditative process to lead them further. They learn to make their own choices as to what to attend to in their meditation sittings and develop less dependence on a teacher (or tradition) and thus greater self-autonomy.

3. By allowing thoughts and emotions fully into their meditation sittings from the very beginning, they break down the artificial boundary between how their mind is in meditation and the way it is outside of meditation. The good qualities that arise in meditation then tend to be more accessible to them at other times.

4. Instead of trying to see their experiences as impermanent, they learn how to explore their experiences as being dependently arisen (coming about through causes and conditions). This way of “seeing things as they have become” is at the core of Buddhist philosophy and practice.

On this retreat, I will introduce this approach to meditation, give talks on it, and conduct group and individual interviews. This retreat is for people new to meditation as well as those who have an established meditation practice.

Please feel free to contact me prior to the retreat. I hope to see you there.

~~~

Jason Siff is the author of Unlearning Meditation: What to do when the instructions get in the way and the upcoming release, Thoughts are not the Enemy: An Innovative Approach to Meditation. Learn more about this teacher by visiting skillfulmeditation.org.

Also, check out this Tricycle online retreat form September 2013: Thoughts Are Not the Enemy: A Mindfulness of Thinking Meditation Practice

I Love You!

By Sue Frederick

Sue Frederick is the author of Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side and I See Your Dream Job.  She will be leading Bridges to Heaven: Grief Healing Workshop, July 18-20.

SueFrederickThank you, fear, for being such a powerful teacher, for waking me at night with heart tremors, for unplugging me from my source, for taking on the illusion of bills to pay, children to provide for, a husband dying of cancer, and terrifying self doubt. Such magnificent lessons!

God bless you, fear, for getting my attention more than everything, more than anyone, more than love, more than joy. You found me when no one else could. You sought me out, pushed me into corners, made me weep, made me angry, and broke me in half. Finally, fear, you broke me wide open…

And for that moment of total surrender to the divine, I am deeply grateful. Only then did I embrace my soul again and step fully into the light – refusing to ever go back into your dungeon, refusing to ever be your prisoner again.

Fear, my old friend, I recognize you now when you come to me in the night, disguised as bills, illness, heartbreak, grief or disappointment. – I recognize you, master of disguises. I recognize you by the stirring in my gut as you approach, the quickening of my heart rate, the frantic pacing of my thoughts. Ah ha! It is only you!

And you, fear, are not real…

P1080674BPhoto by Travis Newbill

You are the boogeyman I planted in my closet. The one I told to awaken me in the night so I would learn to dance with you instead of scream and cry. So I would learn to use you as fuel to help me reach my next level. So I would see ultimately that you are my friend, my fertilizer, my divine companion on this journey to rediscover my soul.

I embrace you, fear, because without you I would be nowhere. I would never have jumped off my first cliff into the unknown. I would never have stepped into my first terrifying adventure that changed everything. I would never have found my voice. Because without you, fear, I would still be sleeping…

You can stay in the closet or you can dance with me. It makes no difference. My light cannot be diminished. It never could. But it took you showing up for me to discover that.

Now, fear, my love has destroyed you, flooded your darkness, washed away your disguises, illuminated every crevice where you once hid. When I turn to face you, I only see divine order. I only feel my burning heart pulsing with gratitude, my arms stretching up to grasp the hand that lifts me into the light.

Jason Siff Discusses Recollective Awareness Meditation

Jason Siff leads Thoughts are not the Enemy: An Introduction to Recollective Awareness Meditation, August 29–September 1. To learn more, please click here

Jason-Siff-with-waterfall-headshotJason Siff was a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka in the 1980s when he started developing Recollective Awareness Meditation. In 1996, he co-founded the Skillful Meditation Project and has been a full-time meditation teacher since then. He also trains teachers in Recollective Awareness Meditation in retreats throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia. His first book on meditation, Unlearning Meditation: What to do when the instructions get in the way, was published by Shambhala Publications in 2010.

Recently, he took some time to discuss Recollective Awareness Meditation and his upcoming retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center.

 

You’re Being Blessed at this Very Moment

By Sue Frederick

Sue Frederick is the author of Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side and I See Your Dream Job.  She will be leading Bridges to Heaven: Grief Healing Workshop, July 18-20.

SueFrederickWhen bad news first arrives, it feels like the wind has been knocked out of you; it’s a punch to the gut.  This moment is a great blessing.  This is the brief and sudden moment of calm while your ego mind is stunned into silence.   It’s the holy moment of grace when you can listen to and hear your own powerful intuition, your higher self.  It whispers inside: “This is all going to be okay.  Something better is waiting for you.  This is all in divine order for your highest good.”

That’s the voice of your soul’s wisdom, your divinity, speaking up because your ego has been delivered a swift blow and is temporarily stunned.  But very soon, within minutes, the ego mind fires back up and begins whispering: “How did this happen?  This isn’t fair!  Life is meaningless…”

Your ego mind is beginning the battle of survival that it was designed to do.  This is the mind you agreed to have when you took a physical body for this incarnation.  Yet it’s only half of your mind.  The other half of your mind holds the doorway to your highest self, your divine intuition, and your true essence.  In the brief gaps of silence from your ego mind, your higher self is always whispering the truth.

1926292_673576879375566_1348167414_oPhoto by Jared Leveille of Shambhala Mountain — Friends of the Land

 

If you don’t grab hold of that inner voice, the deeper wisdom of your soul, the ego mind will quickly overpower you with fear messages — shifting into full blown fear and desperation:  “You’re worthless, you’ll never feel love again, you won’t find another job, you’re all alone now, this is a tragedy….”

If you’ve learned to discipline your mind through meditation or other kinds of spiritual practice, the fear and negativity of the ego self can be diminished and contained before it pushes you into depression, illness, stress, and rage.

Every time you choose to indulge the fear voice, you allow it to grow stronger inside until it becomes your boss.  It will fight to reign supreme over your soul’s wisdom.  It tells you to protect yourself, defend your actions, fight for survival, trust no one, close your heart, blame everyone, and that nothing here is fair.

Everything changes the moment you ask to hear your soul’s wisdom. It’s a simple request, an act of surrender to the lesson: “Please show me my soul’s lesson and help me move through this with love and courage.”

That simple request calls divine guidance to your side, fills the room with light, opens your heart, quiets your mind, shows you another perspective on your pain; it illuminates the choices you didn’t know you had.

Your highest self created this moment of pain to allow you to step up to your wisdom, to awaken into love, to embrace your spiritual perspective and take your life to the next level of your soul’s growth.

You’re not a victim to loss, disease, heartbreak, the economy, a terrible manager, or corrupt politicians.  You’re only a victim to your ego mind; it fills you with fear and keeps you from moving into the light.

YOU are a divine being who created this painful moment to shake lose your old patterns of negativity; to provide an opportunity to embrace your soul’s perspective — even while you walk in this physical world.
You came here to merge your divine self with your physical self and create a new level of consciousness for yourself and others.

You intended to be grand and fearless, bold and awake, infused with wisdom, loving and aware.  Your divine lens, your spiritual self, illuminates this path and shows you your next step.

Your ego self says it isn’t possible.

You get to choose.  Just a simple request for divine guidance.  And it changes everything…

Sue Frederick will be leading Bridges to Heaven: Grief Healing Workshop, July 18-20.  To learn more, please click here.

~~~

Please watch our recent interview with Sue Frederick: Exploring Grief, Intuition, and Healing 

Wake up to the Wild (the Wildly Good!)

By Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31–August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12–14.

As this spring unfolds, I’m struck by the environmental and social changes happening world-wide.  It feels like each of us is being called to search deep inside and decide how we’re going to take better care of ourselves, each other, and the earth.

The combination of mindfulness-awareness practice with time in nature is the proverbial one-two punch for our health and well-being as well as for our ability to live in harmony with each other and the planet.  Nature provides valuable lessons for how we can live our lives in healthy balance if we pay attention to them.  When we synchronize our bodies and mind in nature with mindfulness practices, we develop a deeper understanding of that balance.  We can train ourselves to continue to open to a bigger perspective and that state of openness, vitality, and potential that exists within all of us.

We’re making technological advancements faster than we can imagine, yet getting through the day seems to be becoming more and more of a struggle.  As a culture, it seems that we’ve come to a phase where we’re often engaging in activity for the sake of activity.  Many of us are working most all the time and find ourselves engaged in frenetic activity like it’s somehow necessary to legitimize our existence.  In many office environments it’s a competition to see who’s the last one to leave at the end of the day.  Suddenly we’re working 12-14 hour days with little to no mandated vacation and we wonder why we’re so stressed-out.  We’ve forgotten how to simply live.

SMC The Land O'Hern - Print7Photo by Karen O’Hern

We all possess a basic goodness.  It’s not something that we have to get from outside ourselves or that is only achievable once we’ve worked a certain number of hours or demonstrated a certain skill or attribute.  It’s who we already are – basically (or unconditionally) good.  When we shift our perspective from a focus on problems to seeing the solutions that already exist, we come to trust that basic goodness in ourselves, each other, and our society.  Then we naturally know how to take the best care of ourselves and when, where, and how to best lend a helping hand.

From time to time in my busy urban life, I come to a place where I feel a general dis-ease.  I can’t quite put my finger on a particular reason why and I’m confused about what to do.  I’m in the habit of looking for problems in my environment and not noticing what’s right in my life.  I feel kind of  “off” and I know I’m not alone.  We have become what John Muir described as “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.”  The good news is that our “medicine” is waiting for us in nature.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto by Greg Smith

Psychological research in recent decades suggests that spending time in nature improves cognition, relieves anxiety and depression, and even boosts empathy.  It certainly helps, but it’s actually not enough to just exercise outside.  Many of us go out with an iPod or phone attached to our arm or spend most of our time there rehashing the day at work and/or strategies for the future of a budding romance or how to get our kids to clean their room.  Like me, have you ever planned a wonderful hike and spent days looking forward to it’s reality only to find yourself a mile down the trail before you finally realize where you are?  This is where mindfulness meditation helps us to strengthen our ability to fully be where we are, to actually fully inhabit our bodies, and to let our senses wake us up and our hearts soften.

We can make it part of our essential routine to disconnect from the screens and the “treadmill” of our daily lives and venture into the wild.  Even for me here in the heart of Oakland, that doesn’t take more than a 15-minute bike ride into a park in the hills to really feel the fresh air and sunshine on my face.  I can simply let myself be and in doing so remind myself that I am enough as is.  It really is that simple.  Coming together to practice “waking up in the wild” as a group is an excellent way to affirm this commitment to our basic well-being and to create positive change for our collective future.

Join me this summer for another opportunity to wake up to the wild (the wildly good!) both outside and in.  Bring a family member or friend.  Let’s slow down, step outside, look up, let go of the push to be somewhere other than where we are, and appreciate the richness that’s already here.

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31–August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12–14.  To learn more and to register, please click here and here.

Zen Mind, Brush Mind: Kaz Tanahashi

 

Kazuaki Tanahashi will be leading Brush Mind: Zen Calligraphy and Brushwork, August 15–17, 2014

A lot could be (and has been) said about  Kazuaki Tanahashi (who is affectionately known as “Kaz”) — a deeply precious teacher, artist, and activist.  Here, we’ll let his masterful bushwork do most of the talking.  Enjoy.

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Zen Circles

“In the Zen tradition ensos, or circle symbols, have been drawn with black ink on paper, to represent enlightenment. As the multi-colored flow of paint represents the interconnectedness of all life, each circle reflects my hopes, visions and aspirations for a world making healthier choices for the benefit of future generations.”

–Kaz

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Brush Calligraphy

“The ideography that originated in China has been a common writing system in China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan for centuries, although the ideographs are pronounced differently.”

–Kaz

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One-Stroke Paintings

“Tanahashi’s one-stroke paintings … always painted in just one breath, leave a passionate swash whispered trace.”

– Kyoto Journal

To see more of Kaz’s artwork, and to learn more about this incredible master, please visit his website, and check out this documentary on Youtube: Zen Brush Mind; Life and work of Kaz Tanahashi

And to learn more about the upcoming retreat that Kaz will bea leading at Shambhala Mountain Center, please click here.

Interview: Waking Up to the Wild with Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31-August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12-14

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson

Like trees in the forest or fish in the sea, we have an innate ability to live in greater harmony with our environment. While trying to navigate our busy, high-tech world, we can develop habits of mind that leave us feeling disconnected and unfulfilled. Delving deeply into the practice of mindfulness/awareness in nature, we turn our attention toward the subtle interplay of our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and sense perceptions and rediscover how we can open to our fundamental interconnection to all things. Rather than always needing to change where we work, live, or who we love, we can change our relationship to these aspects of our lives in a way that brings us greater happiness and contentment.

Later this summer, psychotherapist, wilderness guide, and Shambhala meditation instructor Kay Peterson will be leading two nourishing retreats–one hiking and the other walking (lower impact)– here in the powerful natural environment of Shambhala Mountain Center.  Recently, Kay took some time to discuss the importance of tapping into the natural world, and how doing so can benefit our daily lives.

Enjoy this interview below, and to learn more about the upcoming retreat, please click here.

Exploring Grief, Intuition, and Healing with Sue Frederick

SueFrederick

Sue Frederick is the author of Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side and I See Your Dream Job.  She will be leading Bridges to Heaven: Grief Healing Workshop, July 18-20.  An intuitive since childhood, Sue has trained more than 200 intuitive coaches around the world. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, CNN.com and Yoga Journal, among others.

Recently, she took the time to have some discussion on the topics of grief, healing, and intuition.  Please enjoy the video interview below, and to learn more about the upcoming retreat she’ll be leading at SMC, please click here.

And, please read this blog post written by Sue Frederick: You’re Being Blessed at this Very Moment

 

Working with Courage

By Janet Solyntjes

Janet will be leading Mindful Living: Teachings and Practices from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), July 23-27

Janet Solyntjes

Janet Solyntjes

In my early years of meditation training I was unable to sit still for long, maybe five minutes, before I would shift my body with hopes of improving my practice. My body hurt, my mind was impossible, and I was crawling out of my skin much of the time. My practice revealed glimpses of “calm abiding” and “dignity,” but it was tough going!

My teachers reminded me that practice was a breeding ground for courage. Courage, I was told, becomes the seedbed for nurturing our deepest aspiration for a meaningful life and for a sane society. It takes courage to be present to the unknown, to touch what is frightening, to let go of what is familiar, and, once again, open. Now I remember to bring my heart to the cushion ~ how else will I cultivate bravery?

Three Minute Practice: The Courage of this Moment

Ask yourself this:

  • What would it take for me to fully inhabit the experience of being human right now?
  • Can I feel the sensations of my body?
  • Am I being tugged about by my internal narrator and not realizing it?
  • What am I really feeling in this moment?

After reading through the list of questions then do nothing. Simply be. After a while, go through the list of questions again. Now once again, simply be. After three minutes drop the exercise and proceed through your day.

Whatever you did during the three minutes required some level of courage (a willing and open heart) for it took you out of the habit of dis-attention into active self-reflection.

Janet will be leading Mindful Living: Teachings and Practices from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), July 23-27.  To learn more, please click here.

Rediscovering the Place of Nature

By Martin Ogle

Martin Ogle recently lead  the weekend program”Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth” and is one of the main organizers of the Four Seasons Program.

Martin Ogle

Martin Ogle

The weekend retreat, “Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth,” was a delightful experience for me.  It not only provided the opportunity to share ideas of profound interest to me, but also to learn from the perspectives of a marvelous group of participants and from the land and history of Shambhala Mountain Center:  A long-time Shambalian and genetics professor offered insights into the synergy of science and spirituality.  Artists and poets shared moving reflections on the beauty and mystery of the land.  And, the symbolism of the Great Stupa blended seamlessly with our inquiry into how our human lives can be in synchronicity or discord with the rhythms of nature.  I believe these insights – and the retreat’s purpose of re-discovering the pace of Nature in scientific, spiritual and mindful ways – set a marvelous foundation for SMC’s Four Seasons Program.

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Photo by Greg Smith

The name,”Four Seasons Program,” itself, provides powerful links between exploring and celebrating the land of SMC and the ongoing inquiry into the nature of the human mind.  The circle and four directions motif, found in the Buddhist Mandala (and Stupa), is a universal symbol that reflects our human relationship to Earth and the Universe.  The labrynths of the British Isles, the Hopi Earth Mother symbol and Zia Sun Symbol are other examples.  There is a real need for the traditional lessons of basic goodness and mindfulness that SMC has provided for decades.  Couched in the context of our human relationship to our living planet, these lessons take on even greater significance. ​

To learn more about the Four Seasons Program and view some upcoming retreats in this series, please click here.