Friday, December 14, 2007

Bliss Routine

The following meditation routine was originally taught by Craig at a Dharma Punx session. You willneed to block out 30-40 minutes in a relatively quiet area. A particularly good session will produce a mindstate of feeling complete awareness, concentration, and elation in the present moment. Even if you don't get an amazing experience out of it, this meditation will still be helpful in relaxing you and helping you to be more present. The routine is as follows:

1. Sit in a comfortable posture with your eyes closed and ground yourself fully, keeping energy in your spine to stay in an upright posture while allowing the rest of you to relax.
2. Scan your body from top to bottom and systematically relax areas of tension, starting with your eyes, jaw, shoulders, chest, stomach, arms, hands, legs, and feet.
3. After a few scans, note what cannot be relaxed at this time. From this point on, accept that remaining tension and don't even regard it as tension. You are in the most natural state you can be in at this time, so accept it as your current state and move to the next phase.
4. Begin bringing your attention to the breath. Pick a particular spot to focus on, like the spot where the air exits the nostrils or the expanding area where the air flows into the lungs. Watch that area.
5. When thoughts come up note them and gently move your attention back to that spot of the breath. If a line of thought completely derails you, you can briefly re-ground yourself, do a quick scan, and then return to the breath.
6. Continue focusing on following the breath and returning to the breath for the next 20 minutes or so. During this time continue to relax your body and bring your awareness more and more into your body, regarding the chatter of your mind as harmless noise as you exist wordlessly within your body, following the breath.
7. When you feel your concentration is good, scan your body again and pick a spot that feels particularly grounded and stable. This is often a chakra point, like the spot between the eyes or the belly button. Move your focus from the breath to that empty, grounded and stable point on your body, and start to really focus and concentrate on that spot. Let that spot ground you inside your body even more fully. You can do this for the next 5-10 minutes.
8. Towards the last 2 minutes of the session, move to the last phase. Open your concentration to all sensations in and around your body at once. Feel your breath, the aches in your back, the numbness of your legs, the air around your head and arms, the tension in your chest, the sounds around you and behind you. Accept it all and enter a state of complete awareness in this moment.
9. Open your eyes and let the visual sensations in as well. Compared to the narrow focus of the breath or the spot you picked, all the sensations of the body and senses are vivid and enveloping in the present moment.
10. To close, take a few deep breaths and then take a bow to thank yourself for the practice you are doing.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

After the Ecstasy The Laundry, by Jack Kornfield

The most impactual sections of Jack Kornfield's book After The Ecstasy, The Laundry are not written by Kornfield at all -- rather, they are the first-hand accounts of Catholic Nuns, Buddhist Monks, Jewish Rabbis, and Hindu Mystics, in their own words, as they describe both their ecstatic religious experiences and their all-too-human struggles. Many modern spiritual works read like a how-to-manual on how to achieve a permanent state of happiness and bliss, whereas Kornfield's goal is to expose the spiritual path, warts in all, for both its imperfection and its grace. Nor does Kornfield insist that Buddhism is the only path -- though his focus is on the buddhist path he seeks to highlight the familiar experiences and struggles common in all walks, both in his discussions and in the revealing and tender accounts he shares of others.

The most suprising revelation in the book is Kornfield's assertion that even beings who are enlightened still have struggles, doubts, depressions, prejudices, and family troubles after their awakening. Kornfield even warns us that those teachers that claim to have achieved a flawless ascent and tell us we can too have done more damage than anyone to the buddhist practice. Kornfield's assertion brings into questions our assumptions about what it means to be enlightened. We would like to imagine a Buddha to a Saint to be perfectly wise, moral, and faultless. In reality, though, enlightenment is a fundamental shift in how we approach ourselves and our world, but work remains to be done to apply that new knowledge to everyday struggles. To know something and to act upon it are two very different things, and life tends to throw us challenges that would cause problems for any human, regardless of their spiritual development, simply because we are still human. Buddhism and other spiritual paths transform us in amazing and satisfying ways, but it does so within the humbling confines of the human condition.

That there are qualities to life and being human that no amount of spirituality can overcome is the humbling goal of Kornfield's book, and in a larger sense the goal of Buddhism itself. Life is beautiful and precious, but it is also harsh and painful and this pain is completely unavoidable. Even a loving enlightened being will still suffer, struggle, and die. To accept this deeply painful truth is the path to transforming this life into something that is deeply powerful and fulfilling. Life is not conquered by conquering, it is conquered by utter defeat. In that defeat grows grace, love, rapture, and a lasting happiness.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Despite being extended into a full-length book, the vast majority of The Secret can be easily condensed into a page of text without leaving anything out. Much of the book is alternative phrasings of the singular concept or self-promotions on how effective this concept is. The book's internal self-promotion is in keeping with the main concept, which posits that a positive attitude towards something will make it more effective. Here is The Secret:

The Law of Attraction: For human desire, like attracts like. When the mind wishes for something the universe provides. Hence wishing for positive things and keeping oneself in a positive frame of mind will attract positive things to that life, and vice versa.

However, the universe only recognizes the positive or negative energy of a wish, not the exact phrasing of the wish. So for instance, if you are constantly worrying about being in debt and are making wishes to yourself like "I hope I don't go into debt" the universe only hears you focusing on debt and gives you debt. So positive wishes must be accompanied by a positive attitude and optimistic frame of mind to attract positive results.

To cultivate a positive frame of mind, the book recommends visualizing the thing you want and fantasizing that it is already yours. It also recommends getting out of negative attitudes and bad moods as soon as they arise because bad moods attract bad things to happen. Relaxation meditation, remembering happy moments of one's life, and doing enjoyable activities are recommended to bring one back into a positive state of mind.

Debates about the true effectiveness of positive thinking aside, the biggest flaw in The Secret is that it is a tool presented without accompanying moral guidance. If one wants to be rich or have a new car, sexual partner or job, one is simply encouraged to wish for those things, without questioning the true value of what one is wishing for. The book focuses very strongly on using The Secret for material gains, and does not discuss or encourage making wishes for the benefit, joy, or well-being of others. Even if The Secret works, it is an empty tool, allowing people to continue to focus on and wish for frivolous things -- new cars, theme park rides, lottery winnings --- that they do not really need for their own happiness.