25 April 2018

Review: Meditation: How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind

Meditation: How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind Meditation: How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind by Pema Chödrön
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“But the Buddhist teachings are not only about removing the symptoms of suffering, they’re about actually removing the cause, or the root, of suffering.”

It took me a while to read this, not because it was difficult, but because I'm reading several books and this one kept moving down on my Kindle list.

If you are new to meditation, I recommend this book. Pema Chödrön's writing/teaching style is simple, but not simplistic. There is a lot of depth to what she writes/says. This depth comes from studying such works as Shantideva's The Way of the Bodhisattva, etc.

If you read this and actually do the exercises and put into practice what is being taught, I believe you'll be well on your way to a meditation practice to be happy about.

That's not really what it's about though. Too many times we believe that meditation will make us better people, that it will magically make us more relaxed, more this or that. It's not about good or bad, but about waking up. Meditation is a key ingredient on that path. Not because of the merit we gain or the attainment of some degree of saintliness. It is because we learn to see the world as it is instead of how we perceive it to be.

I'm going to shut up now and let you read it. If you want to, of course!

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08 February 2018

Review of Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

This book is a great foundational read for the Shambhala lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. There are many important topics covered by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I have read about some of these in other places, but some were new to me.

The idea of warrior-ship initially seemed to be the complete opposite of Buddhism. Chögyam Trungpa, however, allayed my fears with an excellent explanation of this concept. The remainder of the book, of course, describes the path to becoming one of these warriors.

What the book lacks in practical instruction it makes up for in laying a solid groundwork for beginning and continuing on the path of a warrior.

I enjoyed this book for many reasons, not least of them is the clear, easy-to-read writing style of the author. Don't misunderstand that to mean simple to achieve.

I came at this a little backward, I think. It seems that others have read this one first, and only then moved on to read other books by Chögyam Trungpa and others from this lineage (e.g. Pema Chödrön). I started by reading Pema Chödrön's work and slowly made my way to Chögyam Trungpa.

Does that matter? I have no idea. I have gained a lot from this way and so I assume it didn't break me.

If you're new to Shambhala, Tibetan Buddhism, or Buddhism in general I recommend this book.

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08 December 2017

Review of Kabat-Zin's Full Catastrophe Living

You can read Jon Kabat-Zin's Mindfulness for Beginners to learn how to do mindfulness. This book tells more about what mindfulness can do for you.

I put off reading this book for a long time. Partly because it's so thick. Now, I've listened to the audio version and never once noticed how long the book is. There's great stuff and stuff that may surprise you. For example: Mindfulness has no goal. So, even though the author talks about stress reduction, pain management, etc., those are gravy. 

There are some people who are not able to sit with their pain. It's not easy for anyone, but certain folks have a particularly difficult time doing it. They may require actual in-person training. 

I've studied Buddhist texts on mindfulness and Kabat-Zin brings the most pertinent aspects to non-Buddhists in a way that works as well. One major lack, however, is the interconnectedness with other teachings that are needed to help with sitting with unwanted emotions.

When it's all said and done, mindfulness is at its core paying serious attention. This is a great introduction and intermediate level text in the practice.

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28 November 2017

Mindfulness for the Holidays

NOTE: This is a post I wrote for NAMI Juneau's Blog and Newsletter. A big thank you to Crystal for her editing!

The holidays can be a wonderful time of year. They can also be stressful and for some individuals living with a mental illness, the holidays may exacerbate symptoms. Perhaps there is the loss of a loved one who is not joining the family at the table this year. There may be negative or strained family dynamics that make it difficult to gather. There can be the stress of trying to find the right gift for everyone, or if money is tight, not being able to buy gifts at all. If any of the above sounds familiar, this may be the time of year for serious self-care.
When I notice signs that mental illness is rearing its head and triggers are going off left and right, I find that stepping back and practicing mindfulness is a quick and powerful way to care for myself. Mindfulness practice has gained a large following. I think some people avoid the practice out of fear that it is too difficult or too involved, but at its core, mindfulness is simply the act of keeping the mind on what is happening inside and outside of your body.
Some teachers recommend starting with a small piece of fruit, like a raisin or a plum and simply using your senses to notice all you can about that object: the color, texture, scent, taste, and possibly sound. They also state that there is no goal of mindfulness. It’s not about relaxing or attaining an enlightened state. If you are searching for those, you are, by definition, not practicing mindfulness. That is not to say that relaxation doesn’t occur while practicing and there are many relaxation techniques which rely on mindfulness. But, aiming at a goal takes you out of the present, which is where mindfulness happens.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of the most popular teachers of secular mindfulness with his book Mindfulness for Beginners, and his more extensive book, Full Catastrophe Living which is based on the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction workshop. The first is a basic, sound introduction to the practice, the other is an 8-week course for reducing stress in all areas of life using mindfulness.
This newsletter is not the place to give a complete introduction to this practice, but a sample may be in order. Here is a three-minute practice to try:
  1. Take a moment to be still. This is your time for mindfulness practice.
  2. Begin this mindful check-in by feeling into your body and mind and simply allowing any waves of thought, emotion, or physical sensation to just be.
  3. Maybe this is the first break you have had, today. Maybe you’ve been busy. As you enter the world of being rather than doing, you may notice the trajectory of the feelings that you’ve been carrying within yourself.
  4. There’s no need to judge, analyze, or figure things out. Simply allow yourself to be here and now, in the middle of everything that is present at this moment. We’ll take about three minutes to check in with ourselves in this way.
  5. As we near the end of this mindful check-in, congratulate yourself for taking the time to do this practice and to directly contribute to your health and well-being.
(Adapted from Stahl, B., & Goldstein, E. (2010). A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. p 21).
As far as that gift buying stress, this article in PychCentral says, “New research from American University proposes that mindfulness can counteract the adverse impacts of mindless consumption due to automatic thoughts, habits, and unhealthy behavior patterns.” The key to mindfulness is awareness.
Mindfulness won’t change you. What it will do is provide more awareness of what you are doing and experiencing, allowing you to make the changes you want to make.
Here are a few more resources for handling grief, the feeling of having too much to do, and healthy boundaries.
Here’s to a less stressful, mindful holiday season!

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28 October 2017

Review of Maurer's One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way

I had heard of this concept, but it was only about a year ago that I picked up this book. Immediately, I found ways that small steps could help me make the changes I wanted to make in a couple of areas. Still, because of life and demands, it took me a while to finish it. But, I did. One small step at a time. That's a half joke with a whole truth.

It's not like there is no place for large steps. Many times, though, we tend to overwhelm ourselves with that idea and freeze ourselves. Nothing changes. We don't move.

One really good thing about small steps is that course correction is more easily facilitated.

Maurer writes, "Try to see kaizen as a process that is never done." It's a way of looking at and approaching things that we can use throughout our lifetimes and in several realms. It's not just a business book. It's a thinking book.

If your life's perfect, you probably don't need this book. For the rest of us, it's pretty handy. I recommend at least giving it a shot.

One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, by Robert Maurer

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