Yes, we are meeting 'in-person'

Exciting News! For those of you in the Vancouver / Camas area we are meeting again in-person at the Breathe Wellness Company. If you are comfortable meeting with us in-person at this time then please join us at 7pm on Sundays. Plan on arriving ten minutes before to get settled. We will be following all current WA State guidelines and I ask that you are mindful and respectful of other people's comfort levels. I will be wearing a mask but will remove it once we are settled and distanced to lead the meditation. For now we will not be having after-meditation tea but hopefully soon. I will be updating our website with the latest details so check back here if you are unsure.

Note that we will NOT be meeting on Sunday 31st October (Halloween).

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Here Comes the Sun


 Here Comes the Sun

 

 It's a beautiful morning here as I write this. I say 'as I write this' because living here in the Northwest we know that at any moment it could cloud over or rain. I haven't looked at the forecast for today - not that that always helps - but right now looking out of my window it looks wonderful out - and I am looking forward to getting at least a little 'outside time' today.

Spring officially started last week, and this morning it really feels like it. It is hard not to feel joyful as we experience this time.

In the practice of 'Mudita' we are encouraged to cultivate joy in our lives. Mudita is often translated as 'sympathetic joy,' or joy in the joy of others - but that can be misleading. Mudita is joy in the well-being of all beings - including yourself. It is that wellspring of joy deep down that is neither selfish nor jealous, and that isn't conditional on things going well.

Mudita is one of the four Brahma Viharas, sometimes described as the 'Heavenly Abodes.' To me the important thing here is that they are 'abodes' - places you live, not places you visit.

I'll repeat that - Joy is not a state that we should just visit when things are sunny in our lives. It is a place we should be working to dwell in permanently, regardless of what is going on in our lives.

And of course that is hard. We all have a tendency to lose our joy when things get tough. And that is why we do the practice.

So I'd like to suggest a little re-framing. When the weather is sunny and beautiful don't be joyful because it is sunny and beautiful - instead use it as a reminder to live in joy. That way when the inevitable clouds come you can remain in that joy.

Metta, Chris


I have linked below a fully-guided thirty-minute meditation on cultivating joy. If you like feel free to incorporate it in your practice however you wish. A few of us have committed to press 'play' at 7pm PT on Sunday - you are welcome to join us then if you wish.

 

Sunrise Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Self and Others

 


Self and Others

In the traditional form of Metta meditation we are encouraged to bring to mind four people: our self; a  friend; a 'neutral' or little-known person; and an enemy (or difficult person). This simple formula allows us to explore our feelings about those we know well (self), those we know little (neutral) and those we naturally like or dislike (friend and enemy). By doing this we practice by putting specific people into the natural 'buckets' that we use in our everyday life.

But of course this is just the form. The realization that we get through actually practicing the form is that those 'buckets' - the ones we are encouraged to use - are artificial and mere constructions. The person who is unknown this week may become best friend or sworn enemy next week. Enemies become friends and vice versa.

When we start the practice it is tempting to think that what we are doing is trying to become as loving to 'bad' people as we are to 'good' - but that is not what we are doing. Instead we are learning the delusion of splitting the world up into known and unknown, liked and disliked.

Metta practice always starts with generating love and goodwill to our self. This is important for two reasons. Firstly because for many of us our ability to love others is limited by our ability to love our self. If we are full of self loathing or even simple insecurity we will find it hard to truly love others. So sometimes it is good to just practice generating goodwill and love to our self.

The second reason practicing Metta for our self is important is that we can use it as a benchmark for how we work with others. We know that we feel suffering and wish to be happy, and we can practice understanding that the same is true for all others too - even those we fail to like.

In our day-to-day life we take a very 'situational' view on how we judge people. An example I like to give is to imagine that you are driving down the freeway, and as you change lane you realize that you have just badly cut someone up. Your thoughts in that moment are probably initially of embarrassment, and then of rationalization - "I'm tired," "I was distracted by thoughts of work," "It was hard to see."

Of course, when we turn things around and someone cuts us up the judgement is usually much quicker - "They're an idiot and shouldn't be allowed on the road."

This is the situational thinking. If we were truly rational we would instead recognize that the same reasoning should be applied here. Instead of immediately assuming they are terrible drivers we could wonder if they are having a bad day - just like we sometimes do.

It is this kind of re-framing that the Metta meditation practice helps us to achieve. It isn't so that we can be some magnanimous being who can deign to love bad people. Instead its so that we can understand that deep down we share a common experience of suffering, that we all wish to be happy and free from that suffering.

I have linked below a fully guided meditation where we follow the traditional Metta Bhavana form with an emphasis on exploring this false duality of 'self' versus 'other.' If you are unfamiliar with the form then this would be a good one to practice to start. A few of us have committed to press 'play' at 7pm on Sunday 21st March - you are welcome to join with us if you wish.

Metta, Chris

 

 Photo by Steven Lewis on Unsplash

 

 

 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

One Year On
(Meditation for Sunday 14th March)

 


One Year On


Exactly one year ago a few of us sat around a small speaker and listened to a guided meditation by the teacher Jack Kornfield. It was the last time that we would meet together in-person before everyone realized the importance of staying distant. The meditation was on how we work with fear and uncertainty, and couldn't have been more appropriate.

The week after that we were all in lockdown, and I resurrected this 'Metta Letter.' At the time we were expecting this to last for a few months at the most and so I dived into the library of old recordings so that we could continue to sit together virtually, even if we couldn't sit together in the same room.

But then the letter started to get a bit of a wider audience - what started as a note to just our local group gained some readers from further afield. And I have been very blessed an honored by those of you who have sent kind words, and those of you who have listened along to the guided meditations.

Over the past year we have contemplated sandcastles, acrobats, ghosts, lutes, poems and a menagerie of animals including tigers, elephants and water-snakes.

And so, one year on I want to express my gratitude to all of you who read these. I know that we are all bombarded by content in our inboxes nowadays, so I am very thankful to those of you who have taken the time to read these as they come out.

Things are still uncertain but there is cautious optimism that we will be able to resume the local sit in the not-too-distant future. However, if people continue to value these messages I will carry on with them even after we have resumed our in-person meetings.

So I would like to ask a small favor from you. As we hit the one-year anniversary I'm taking stock and contemplating how to move forward with these. I want to make sure that I am providing the most value I can to you all in your paths. So, I would love it if you could drop me a short note - specifically letting me know what you value about these, what doesn't work so well for you and what you would like to see in future messages. If any of the past messages have particularly resonated with you - or annoyed you - it would be great to know which was which.

I know several of you have already given some kind and helpful thoughts, so huge thanks to you.

I think it is appropriate that even given the strange and challenging experience of the last year we keep our focus on gratitude, so I have linked below a short guided meditation on gratitude. As usual, a few of us have committed to press 'play' at 7pm PT on Sunday 14th March. You are welcome to join us then if you wish, or to use this in your practice in any way that helps.

Next week I will resume with a new letter, but until then thank you all for your continued engagement.

Metta, Chris.

 

 

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Earworm


 Earworm

A week or so ago a 47-second song clip from a superhero TV series went to number one on both the Billboard charts and on the Apple streaming charts. It has been streamed over four million times and has become quite the internet sensation (warning - it is a mild spoiler for the series so don't click through if you're planning on watching!)

But the viral success of the song isn't what I want to underline here. Rather that for the last couple of weeks it has been Stuck. In. My. Head.

Yes, it is a classic earworm and no matter what I am doing, or where I am it will sneak up on me and I'll find it going round and round in my brain. To her infinite displeasure I even find myself randomly singing it to my wife. I am sure you have experienced the same with some ditty or other. It can be catching, too - I won't be mean and mention Oompa Loompas, but if I were to I am sure that quite a few of you would be cursing me for the rest of the day - so I won't.

As a meditator earworms are fascinating. They are examples of what psychologists call 'involuntary cognition,' and it is their ubiquity and seeming randomness that makes them so fascinating.

When we meditate we work on first being more aware of the processes that are going on in our mind, and then on having better control of what takes up our 'mental real-estate.' We do this by first learning to observe, then accept, then by choosing to cultivate the healthy processes - those that spring from love, compassion, joy and equanimity. In many traditions this is called Mind Training, and is central to how we meditate.

So while an earworm may seem benign - or infuriating - it is still something we can work with. When those Oompa Loompas appear, even (especially) if you are sitting on the cushion, you can choose to observe it, work with it. That is part of our training.

Metta, Chris.

 I have linked below a fully guided meditation on Mind Training. A few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday March 7th. You are welcome to join us if you wish, or of course to incorporate it into you practice in any way you like.