We have been working with creative ways to reflect before and after our meditation practice. One way we discovered is through free-form writing. In the piece below, we chose the topic of permission to do any practice in Reflective Meditation and wrote for 15 minutes, then shared our writing with each other. We then wrote again for another 15 minutes and did the same thing.
This is the result, with a little editing, of course.
–Linda and Nelly
Meditation Teacher: We will be sitting in silence. You can have your eyes open or closed, and please choose a comfortable posture that you think you can hold relatively still with. You can move if you need to, and you can get up from the posture and stop the meditation at any point. You have the permission to do any practice you would like. This is a chance for you to sit quietly and allow some kindness and gentleness to your practice. Curiosity about your choices in the meditation sitting and in your life are important. Your physical and emotional needs are important. You may become more aware of them, and if so, you can attend to them during the meditation sitting.
Meditator: Wait these are not the typical meditation instructions! You are saying them wrong. I have sat with many teachers and they always tell me what I should do in the meditation sitting, and they even guide me and remind me throughout the session. And, I must say, usually in a very pleasant voice. Now, I really don’t know what to do. How could you just leave me here alone with my own mind? I don’t think you really understand how painful it is for me to keep listening to myself. It just doesn’t shut up. Are you saying that is OK? That it is alright for our minds to swing like monkeys from tree to tree? That you like monkeys? Well I don’t! That is the reason I am coming to meditation. I think you are mean, withholding. You think you are better than me because you trust your mind, and it has become your friend.
Meditation Teacher: Wait. There is another part to our instructions. Maybe I leave it out, or don’t touch upon it enough. Maybe it gets lost in the invitation to befriend your mind and emotions and sensations. Maybe it is difficult to hear because it is embedded within the method, and these instructions put you into trying to figure out why I am saying what I am saying.
We support grounding yourself in meditation. In any way that you do. And, if you don’t know how to ground yourself, we will give you a place to start. When your body is sitting still, and your mind is moving, you become more aware of what is moving. It seems so obvious. So, what are your choices? You can focus on your body, or a part of your body. It is still so maybe that will enhance your stillness. You can focus on the breath. It is moving and that can be soothing. You can repeat a word or phrase to yourself. That can be focusing. You can scan your body. You can let your mind wander. You can imagine an image.
Meditator: But I am telling you I don’t know what to focus on. Or what will work for me. Each time I go to meditate it is different. It drives me crazy that I can’t just do the same thing each time and feel better. Feel relaxed. Because if I can’t feel relaxed or calm at some point, I will not be able to continue doing this. This is irritating at best, and torture at worst. Are you listening to me? Do you really understand what it is like to have so much going on? So much resistance and aversion? To be so self-critical of myself and others, that it feels dangerous? I don’t want to increase that!
Meditation Teacher: Yes, I am listening. And, I am not sure what will work for you. This is a trial and error process, meditation is. I hope that you can give this a try – sitting still and becoming more aware of what moves, what stills, reflect upon it and then talk about it with us. I hope the comfort of the practice comes after the meditation sitting, if you did not find it within. I hope that you will find your authentic creative way of practicing that leads you to greater wisdom and compassion. Is it enough that I am sitting with you, and to know my own practice and direction? Is it enough for me to offer you a space to find your own direction?
You have permission to do whatever meditation practice you want to or try a more open, unstructured “approach”. I confess, sometimes I don’t want to hear about how you use meditation as an escape from the troubles of your life. But sometimes I use meditation that way and it can be relieving.
Honestly some of our troubles are too hard to bear. That’s the definition of dukkha “that which is hard to bear”. Staying with that which is too hard to bear can be dangerous, the route into trauma and nervous system dysregulation and all the mental, emotional and physical symptoms that accompany it. This neither an onward-leading direction (in the language of dharma) nor a healing direction (in the language of psychology).
How do you know what is too hard to bear? How do you find the line when rather than stretching, you have truly harmed yourself? Reflection within and after meditation helps you discern this.
We aren’t suggesting you “tough it out”, though this view is deeply embedded in our culture and within meditation perspectives. Though we are suggesting you find new ways of relating to that which is hard to bear and that which is too hard to bear.
In our instructions we suggest you identify and develop a perch, a neutral vantage point from which to either immerse your attention or be with your troubles in a more bearable way, with a bit of distance. The ongoing practice of meditation and reflection helps you discern the ways you naturally calm and cope, as well as develop new ways that are more possible with the inward focus of meditation.
Ah, this is the art of meditation. Art is learned from trial and error. Art is in the eyes of the beholder.
“Perhaps a new era is dawning where large organizations and charismatic leaders are less needed for individuals to learn the dharma and maintain their practice.”
– Anna Markey, Coast and City Sangha
How to continue with dharma and meditation amidst ethical crises was at the heart of the GenX Buddhist Teachers and the Sakyidhita conferences last month. I came away with a few questions to contemplate and discuss with our sangha:
- Is meditation in itself enough for an ethical practice?
- How effective is adding in recollection and reflection?
- Why do we consider it important to share our meditative experience with other people, allowing our vulnerabilities to be seen, knowing that others may have a different perspective?
- What else could be included in a process of ‘ethical reflection’?
– Linda Modaro
Within our topic of Ethical Transformation, the Panel on Integrity and Enlightenment including Grace Song, Brother Phap Hai, Roshi Chozen Bays, Lama Willa Miller and Singhashri Gazmuri. Photo by: Shundo David Haye
Sample Closed Group – Sharing Reflections
Tuesdays from 1pm to 2pm PST
Sample Open Group – Short Dharma talk, 30 minute meditation, sharing reflections
Thursdays from 5-6:30pm PST
Our practice has deep roots in early Buddhism but lives in the modern era. One of the ways I am integrating our past and present is by changing the image on Sati’s homepage. Images on websites come and go rapidly, but this change is made with careful consideration and with the knowledge that it will change again.
Like the image of the Quan Yin or Padmapani statue, the new image personifies Reflective Meditation: a human being in meditative posture. When you look closer at the statue, it is hard to say he or she for the gender. I would like to keep that mystery going forward, but since both embody the feminine, I will refer to them as she.
She who is new to Reflective Meditation sits with all her colors. Her ethnicity is not clear, even her skin tone could be interpreted as colored with some white. Her eyes are closed, and she holds still amidst swirling movement around her. Her bare chest and red lips speak of knowing the world that she lives in. Like some youth of the day, the multi-colored wrap comes with a beanie on her head. I sense an openness to and blending with the external atmosphere – how the spiritual and secular blend in our contemporary culture.
She seems to encapsulate flowing creativity, whereas the statue holds her position firmly with an ancient history. Quan Yin and Padmapani are from an exotic culture different than our own, when great sages walked the earth. Her form was sculpted in a highly-skilled artistic process that started with wax and then cast her bronze. Head bowed, there is a dignified humility in her posture. She is not exactly a monk or nun, but still wears flowing gold robes with intricate patterns. Flowers in her hair and bangles on her wrists are simple adornments of eastern culture. She represents lineage and tradition, a meditation practice that has principles and depth.
Like any history, she will leave her imprint upon us. I hope the new image brings forth what we have learned from our history, and what we hold dear now. She is on the homepage to welcome you to our practice and sangha.
I can relate with students when we ask them to talk about their experience of a meditation sitting and they don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to write about this month. So, instead I chose an image that expresses my state of mind. We can compare this image to a process we might find ourselves in, in meditation; not empty of content, but hard to describe. In it, the variety of experiences do not hold together in narratives, and there is no desire for them to form. There might be a mood we can catch, or quality that resonates and has meaning for us. Sometimes, just that is enough.
Sati Sangha recently created a new resource for keeping up with reflective meditation retreats that are happening globally. We would love for you to take a look at the new site and share any feedback with us. Also, if you’d like to add your event to the list, please contact Linda Modaro.
New Reflective Meditation Retreat: http://www.reflectivemeditationretreat.com/
Retreat. Go inward before you go forward. It is good advice that we can’t always take.
We may need some supportive conditions to help this develop. A time to practice backing away from something that we are close to. A big Time Out, let’s say. Kind of like when you behaved badly as a kid and were made to go sit alone in a corner, and you found this not a punishment, but a gift. No one bothered you, you could think about what you wanted, and you didn’t have to make nice when you didn’t feel like it.
Retreating is a loss of time with your dearest friends or family, loss of a well-deserved vacation, or the freedom of unscheduled time. What comes instead?
A chance to be away from your habitual world, and not have to conform to cultural norms so quickly or strictly. A relatively safe way to get to know yourself, alone in a group of people practicing quietude. You will rub up against other points of view on a retreat, and the characters that tell these perspectives. A chance to filter and sort them at your own pace.
Remember the wishful phrase “What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas”? Well, the opposite is true with retreats. What happens on retreat becomes your meditation practice and informs your life when you return home.