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    Review and Invitation to Thursday Night's Meditation Group

    Hi Everyone,

    Last week, in our weekly group, we began to explore the topic of mindfulness, specifically the "mindfulness" approach to formal meditation.

    Up to this point, our series had focused more on approaches to meditation that emphasize the use of mantra.

    To review, we're talking about the the formal sitting practice of meditation. Meditation in a general sense means deliberating or pondering a topic. We do this all day long. But when we sit in the formal practice of meditation, we dispense with everyday thinking and feeling for a while and practice deliberately focusing the mind in a very specific way, with the aim of refreshing, regulating and restoring the body/mind.

    Meditation practice is analogous to vinyasa practice, in that both our minds and bodies are in motion all of the time, moving in a variety of different ways. When we practice vinyasa yoga we move our bodies deliberately, in a highly orchestrated and intentional way. With meditation we sit and move our minds in an orchestrated and deliberate way as well.

    Meditation is the intentional movement of mind, more specifically, it is the movement of attention according to a deliberate method, with the intention of producing a more relaxed, open, adaptive and resilient state of mind and body, and ultimately, insight into the true nature of things.

    Meditation is procedural. One follows a prescribed movement of awareness. It is always a loop or circle. We begin with a focal point, experience distraction away from the focal point, then return to the focal point. There are two movements: focusing (toward a focal point) and releasing (letting go of distraction to return to the focal point).

    Meditation that relies primarily on sustaining a focused awareness using concepts and feeling is called mantra meditation, while meditation that relies mainly on releasing attachments and aversions to concepts and feelings is generally called mindfulness meditation. Both are useful, in different ways, and both are worth learning and practicing.

    In both types of meditation, one is "mindful" or paying attention in a very specific way. One is taught to focus the attention on a thought or sensation, and then, when the mind wanders to some habitual pattern of thinking or judging, to release the attachment to that habit of thought and return to "center," the focal point we began with, breath or mantra usually. This "centering" practice is the basis of all meditation.

    A further step in some versions of mindfulness meditation, mainly *vipassana* practice, is to learn to observe the contents of mind from a frame of "non-judgmental, moment to moment" awareness. Being able to consistently achieve this state of mind depends on our being able to systematically release judgement and fixed ideas, and that's where technique and skill in releasing comes into play.

    We began discussing this aspect of practice last week and we will continue to explore the techniques of releasing in coming sessions.

    Meditation, like asana, succeeds or fails on the basis of technique. Proper understanding of instruction,

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    Four Recommended Articles on Meditation

    If you're interested in either meditation or the teaching or study of meditation, you might want to take a look at these four articles, mostly from mainstream sources: Sam Harris, author of the bestselling "Waking Up, A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion," Aurora Healthcare, Gaiam Yoga. They offer a good, thorough overview of contemporary meditation practice.

    To begin, let's clarify what we mean by meditation. "Meditation" is a broad category. Saying "meditation" is  like saying "sports" instead of saying "tennis" or "football." In essence, any type of sustained mental/emotion focus could be called a meditation. So when we speak of the practice of meditation for the purpose of self-development or self-improvement, what exactly do we mean by that?

    It's complicated. Meditation practices have been a part of every religious, philosophical and spiritual tradition. There are hundreds of different approaches and techniques of meditation, most of them embedded in a cultural or religious tradition, many of them shrouded in mysticism and superstitious thinking.

    Buddhist tradition describes meditation as a sitting practice that allows for insight into the true nature of reality.

    Yoga tradition describes meditation as an internal practice that provides for the systematic release of resistance and stress from the body/mind, allowing one's true nature to shine forth.

    I would define meditation as any formal, internal, deliberate mental/emotional practice (for me, true meditation must engage both aspects of subjective experience) that consistently

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    Thousands of You

    "When there are a thousand people in the room, there are a thousand different Katies in this chair..."
    --Byron Katie

    So, for every hundred people you interact with in your life, there are a hundred different takes on you, one for each person.

    Your Mom sees you one way, your boss sees you another. Your friends each see you in terms of what they focus on, what they value. A politically focused person might think you're not as involved in politics as you should be. A needy friend might want more of your attention. You get the idea.

    So which you are you? Some of them? All of them? None of them? You get to decide.

    We are all multifaceted beings. Our perceptions of ourselves and one another are multifaceted as well. We are many people to ourselves and a slightly different person to everyone we meet. There is no one truth about who or what we are. And whoever we are today, we'll be subtly different tomorrow, and the day after, and so on.

    Identity, as a fixed value, is a fiction. Who we are is a relative value, meaning it depends on who it is that's doing the evaluation, and when they're doing it and why.

    People can't be pigeonholed. Identity -- who we are -- is a mixed bag and a moving target, and it all depends on your point of view. A patriot from the perspective of the opposition is a terrorist.

    Plus no one is any one thing for long. We're constantly changing and evolving. Which is why fixed ideas about ourselves or one another aren't a good idea. People can surprise us. We can surprise ourselves.

    Leave room to discover more. Leave room for surprises. Don't imagine that you know anyone completely, or better than they know themselves


    What Works in Coaching and Therapy (Or Any Relationship)

    "Over fifty years of research shows that it is not the type of therapy that provides the conduit for emotional growth and healing. In fact, research shows that client traits are the first factor that influences the success of therapeutic outcome and the second factor is the trust that the client puts in the therapist, as part of the strength of their unique and personal therapeutic relationship."-Margarita Tartakovsky,

    Therapy is, in essence, a partnership, so results depend mostly on the quality and efficacy of the therapeutic partnership or alliance between the therapist and client, and the quality of the relationship, in turn, depends on the overall intelligence and life experience of both client and therapist, with a special emphasis on relational responsiveness and emotional intelligence:

    Emotional Intelligence
    the capacity to be aware of, manage, and express one's emotions appropriately and usefully and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically so as to strengthen harmony, cooperation and constructive outcomes.

    Other factors to be considered would emphasize social and relational skills on the part of both the therapist and client:

    1. Communication: knowing how to listen to and understand others and also being able to share one's own thoughts and feelings clearly and honestly

    2. Respect for differences, showing respect for others, demonstrating appropriate empathy, sharing, demonstrating mutuality, reciprocity and fairness in one's relationships with others. Very little blaming or criticism of self or of others.

    3. Conflict Resolution skills: conflict-resolution skills include techniques such as staying calm, a willingness to engage in fair and open discussion (reflected by a lack of defensiveness or cross-complaining or argumentative behaviors), staying focused on the topic at hand, being less interested in being right and more interested in a mutually agreeable resolution, being ready to forgive or apologize, knowing how to bridge differences and find common ground, demonstrating good faith by keeping promises and commitments

    4. Empathy: Demonstrating an accurate and appropriate understanding of the feelings and needs of others by exhibiting compassion for others and a willingness to support others according to their needs

    5. Emotional self awareness: the person has made inventories of their strengths and weaknesses and is striving for improvement; able to accurately self evaluate -- neither over- or underestimates their own social worth and relative importance

    6. Stress management: strives for equanimity amidst loss and gain; monitors and manages one's own stress levels; understands that the quality of one's own life depends less on circumstances and more on one's response to the circumstances

    Any and all of these things contribute to good outcomes in coaching. Where they do not exist we would do well to learn them.


    Words to live by...

    “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Helen Keller

    In the long history of life and the world, there has never been any part of creation -- man, woman, plant, animal, insect (and let's also include forests, mountains, oceans, worlds -- even galaxies)-- that has had any kind of preeminence or control or dominion. We all exist in relationship to one another, each in his or her or its own way, each in its own time and place. And each for our own season.

    We are secure to the extent that we accept the truth of our mutually interdependent existence. We are secure in that we all have our place in the grand scheme of things -- no one thing more important or necessary than any other.

    No one and nothing has ever had control. Influence, perhaps, but not control. A seeming momentary advantage perhaps, but no one has had an inside track. No one has enjoyed true independence. We've all utterly depended on one another, first, last and always. We've all been important, and meaningful, and necessary and significant each in our own way, whether people or society has recognized it or not.

    The world is secure. Security lives on that level, on the level of the whole. The world, as a whole, is in control, secure. It is ever-arising, ever-renewing, self sufficient but only as a whole. We are secure in that we are part of that great whole. Parts can never control. They can influence, but they can't control. We have no separate existence or power excepts as parts of a whole.

    We are each an integral part of all that has ever been or ever will be. But as parts we will never have control -- nor do we need it.

    So no one individual person or thing has every needed to be secure or in control. It has never even been remotely possible. We live in probabilities. We live in borrowed time. We depend utterly on that which gave rise to us, whether we call it God or the Universe, or Nature or Life. Loss and gain, give and take, rise and fall -- this is the nature of Life itself. We are secure in that we are provided for and maintained by that which birthed us -- we have no independent existence, no independent security or control.

    We all are born and die utterly dependent on that totality which gave rise to us and we are secure only in our dependent role within that larger whole, that ever expanding system that is true mother and true father to us all.

    When the prayers say, "May the good lord hold you in the palm of his hand..." or "Give us this day our daily bread..." hasn't that always, already been the case? Could there be any life apart from that?

    The history of one such as Helen Keller serves as a shining example. She was beset with crippling disadvantages -- blind and deaf. She was completely dependent and vulnerable, as are we all. And yet she lived her fearless words. Her life became a thrilling adventure and she lives on as a brilliant example to all of us.


    Be more like a plant than like a jewel

    "To be a good human is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertainty, and on a willingness to be exposed. It’s based on being more like a plant than a jewel: something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from that fragility."

    -- Martha Nussbaum


    "There is no finish line in life" and some other expressions I'm fond of saying...

    1. "There is no finish line in life," meaning life is never over, life is never done. You either get the prize and keep going or correct course and keep going. Another way of thinking about it is that every ending is a beginning. Another aspect of this is the idea that enjoying the trip is every bit as important as reaching the destination.

    2, "Things have no meaning, no value, no significance outside of a context," meaning, the value of anything is determined by how much you need it, and how scarce it is at the time. A breath of air is worth a great deal to you if you're drowning.
    What things mean depends on the context in which the are said. Things spoken in anger are always exaggerations. Also true of things said in fear or in grief.

    3. "A full belly cannot understand an empty one." A corollary of #2. That one comes from my Grandmother. Probably an italian proverb, one of the few she was able to translate. Most of them could not be properly conveyed in English for some reason -- they lost their meaning, as in "A head that doesn't talk is nothing but a coconut."

    4. "Beggars can't be choosers," which conventionally means if you're a beggar, you must take what you're given. When I say it, I mean if you act like a beggar you can't be a chooser. Not acting like a beggar means taking responsibility for whatever it is you're doing and do it with grace and dignity and conviction. And if possible, with charm and style.

    5. "If no one wants to spend time with you, don't complain. Ask yourself if you'd want to spend time with you, given how you're acting."

    6. "The only sin is self attack." I got that one from William Blake. I believe it to be a very useful idea. It doesn't mean that there are no other destructive or harmful behaviors. There are. It means that the only thing that separates you from your better nature and makes it difficult to correct your bad habits and behaviors (which is what I think a sin really is) is self abasement, self condemnation, self attack. Self acceptance is a pre-requisite to change. We erroneously think that if we accept something, it will stay that way. Not so. Accepting something allows us to deal with things in a comprehensive meaningful way.

    7. "There are three ways to be in relation to anything: 1. Putting up with things, which is a form of passive resistance. 2. Resisting things, which keeps things from evolving and changing, and 3. Accepting or welcoming things, which allows us to deal with them and move on." Another version of #6.

    8. "Love never fails. It is the refusal to love that fails."

    9. "Don't hurry. Don't wait." Another corollary to #6. There's too much fear in hurry, and there's too much passivity in waiting. Try being patient and looking forward to things instead.

    10 "Your desires, like everything else, are given to you by Nature. Do your best to honor and support their fulfillment." Caveat: desires never feel desperate and never feel resistive. They feel good. They feel like relief.

    11. "If Life has inspired something in you, it has also provided the means and the possibility of fulfilling that inspiration." Sort of like #10.

    12. "Whatever it is you're upset about, it isn't happening now." That's because being upset is always a contrast between memory and desire, neither of which is happening in the present moment.

    13. "Take care of today and the week (and month and year and decade) will take care of itself."

    14. "Truth can't be said or put into words." Line one of the Tao te Ching. One should not confuse the menu with the meal, the toy with the box it came in, the map with the terrain.

    15. "Trust your experience, not your ideas." Example: Stick your hand in a bucket of water. Do you have to think about it to know whether your hand is wet? Knowing doesn't require thought. It is not knowing that requires thought. Pondering is playing with uncertainty, with possibility. Trust your knowing -- your direct, non-verbal experience over your verbal beliefs or what someone else has told you.

    16. "You're no better than anyone else. And no one is better than you." No exceptions. Ever. Trying to be the best or your best is idiotic.

    17. "Don't try to be happy. Try to enjoy yourself, find ways to be satisfied."

    18. "Everything is apples and oranges." Comparisons are convenient, but ultimately they break down, and then they are odious.

    19. "Love is not desire. Love is not something that can come and go. If it can come and go, it isn't love."

    20. "The future will not be found in the past. Nor will the future be found in the present. Don't bother looking in either place.

    21. "Human beings are utterly incapable of predicting the future in any kind of consistent way." Another form of #20. Which is the reason why Foxwoods makes so much money.

    22. "Nobody knows nothing." William Goldman said this about the experts in the movie business. Don't put too much stock in experts, as in doctors, lawyers, financial advisors, therapists, economists, politicians, publishers, hiring managers etc. Even the best guides get lost. Make use of guidance, but ultimately you must rust yourself.

    23. "The things you focus on, for better or worse, will get bigger for you." Focus on what you have and watch it grow. Focus on what you don't have and watch it grow. Your choice.

    24. "Don't criticize. Don't complain. Don't blame. Don't condemn." Ever.

    25. "Get in the habit of saying, "I love the idea of (fill in the blank with whatever you want.)" And leave it at that.

    26. "Don't support anything you don't want or anything that makes you unhappy." See: smoking, overeating, bitching, resisting, finding fault, etc. Another corollary: "If you don't want to eat it, don't buy it. Don't even go down that aisle in the supermarket. Make it easier on yourself to resist temptation."

    27. "Focusing on what fits and what gives relief breeds peace and well-being. Focusing on what doesn't match, what doesn't fit, what adds tension, breads energy and change." Think about it.

    28. "Every creature follows their own nature. What can control accomplish?" From the Bhagavad Gita. It's sort of a foundation for #29.

    29. "Follow the path of least resistance." This is Nature's way: always the path of relief, tension buiding toward relief, not tension building toward more tension.

    30. "Don't follow the road less traveled. Follow the road that appeals to you, the road you'd truly prefer to be on, whether it's well travelled or not."

    31. "If there is a Punch and Judy show going on inside of you, try to remember that you're the puppeteer." This one is self-evident.

    32. "You can't really say you've seen anything unless you've looked at it from at least three different perspectives." I learned this in drafing class.

    33. "Things are never the same twice." From Heraclitus, "You can't step in the same river twice." Life is ever new, ever growing, ever improving.

    33. "An all around good attitude is, 'Happy where I am and eager for more..."

    There are a lot more, by the way, but it's getting to be supper time. (That wasn't one, but it might as well have been one. See #28-30, 33.)

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