Category Archives: Meditation

The Rising and Falling of Sensations

When my partner and I visited the tranquil and beautiful Chuang-Yen Monastery in Carmel, NY in January of this year, we picked up a copy of Mindfulness in Plain English (1991) by the Venerable H. Gunaratana Mahathera, which was printed and donated for free distribution by The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation.  I picked it up this morning for the first time, having had a few minutes’ leisure to enjoy a little reading and reflective time, and this passage on noticing the rising and falling away of sensations during meditation (p. 137) struck my notice. I am grateful to be reminded today of the “delicate operation” of just noticing the full course of sensations:

You want to really see each sensation, whether it is pain, bliss, or boredom.  You want to experience that thing fully in its natural and unadulterated form. There is only one way to do this. Your timing has to be precise. Your awareness of each sensation must coordinate exactly with the arising of that sensation. If you catch it just a little bit too late, you miss the beginning.  You won’t get all of it.  If you hang on to any sensation past the time when it has faded away, then what you are holding onto is a memory.  The thing itself is gone, and by holding onto that memory, you miss the arising of the next sensation. It is a very delicate operation. You’ve got to cruise along right here in the present time, picking things up and letting things drop with no delays whatsoever.  Your relation to sensation should never be one of past or future but always of the simple and immediate now.

Just noticing the full course of each sensation and thought-formation as it arises, abides for a while, and then dissipates into something else helps one refrain from judging it and provides more evidence of the impermanence and emptiness of all sensations and thoughts.  All sensations and thoughts are empty of a separate existence, as they arise from something else and transform into something else.


Filed under Consciousness, Meditation, Mindfulness

Creating A Peaceful Space

“I Stop For Suffering” recently shared a marvelous post, which offered a few simple steps on how to create a peaceful life.  Having read her post, I was inspired this morning to write a complementary piece which offers a few simple steps to creating a peaceful living space.  A peaceful environment can really help to reduce stress and make your home a sanctuary of rejuvenation. Let’s start by focusing on just one room in your house–a room that you would like to transform into a haven into which you can retreat for a few minutes of quietude, journal-writing, meditation, yoga, or some other means of self-centering.

1. Designate this room as sacred space.  Decide that from this moment forth, it will be treated by you and everyone who enters it with respect, mindfulness, and care. (Note: the comment of vpitts231 below has a really great point: perhaps it is unfair to ask others to treat the space as sacred; if doing seems unethical or unrealistic, designating it as sacred to you alone is an excellent option).

2. Care for it as if it were as dear to you as your own eyes. This advice (taken from Thich Nhat Hanh) is the key to generating Mindfulness.  Treasure everything you touch, do, and practice in this room.

3. Clean it daily. Keep it free of clutter. Sweep it (even if it doesn’t appear to need a sweeping).  Dust it (even if it doesn’t appear to need a dusting).  Imagine that as you sweep and dust, you are sweeping away the clutter, debris, and webs of thought in your own mind.  As you clean the room, you clean you.

4. Place a plant in the room and care for it daily.  Be careful to acknowledge and provide its light, watering, and feeding requirements.  Talk to it gently. Play music for it. Love it and care for it as if it were as dear to you as your own eyes.  It will help to purify the air in your sacred room, so give it lots of love.  Just a little attention every day goes a long way to making a plant flourish.

5.Create a focal point for your self-centering practices.I have a little altar with a statue of Buddha in my sacred space.  I meditate daily here, and spend a little time each day tending to my altar.  As I tend to my altar, I engage in Mindfulness practice.  I place a bowl of freshly cut flower-buds in water on it every few days.  I light a Reiki-charged candle before the Buddha every morning just prior to my meditation, and I let it burn all day long.  When I see the candle later in the day, I am reminded of the moment of quiet and stillness that I offered to myself that morning, and am often rejuvenated just by the remembrance of it.  My partner just placed a list of wonderful affirmations before the base of the statue.  I read these affirmations and take their wonderful energy into my meditations.

6. Open the windows. For a little time each day, open the windows and allow a little bit of fresh air to circulate.  This will help to sweep away any stagnant energy.

7. Smudge the Room. Every once in a while–perhaps once a week–smudge your room with sage and/or sweetgrass. I take a few leaves of sage and place them in a seashell that I picked up from the beach on a very special day with my stepdad, Roger.  I light them and let the smoke waft up from the seashell as I walk through the room. I allow the smoke to clear any residual negative energy, concentrating particularly on corners, doors, and windows.  I like to smudge myself, to0, as part of my Mindfulness practice; it feels like a warm energy bath, cleansing away toxic thoughts and residue from interacting with the world outside my sanctuary.

Photo Credit and lovely article on smudging, by “Way of the Wild Rose”.

8. Place a crystal somewhere in the room and cleanse it once a month or more. Crystals come from deep within the earth, and they emit high energetic vibrations.  Having a crystal in your room will help to keep your room energetically clean.  For more on crystals, see a really nice series of posts by Cauldrons and Cupcakes.

9.  Play classical or tranquil music in your room, even when you are not in it!  Sound vibrations also help to clear out rooms of stagnant energy.  Your plant will love it, and your crystal(s) will amplify the positive vibrations of the music.  You’ll be amazed at how wonderful your room feels when you enter it, even if your music has finished playing.  Two of my favorites:

10. Just Be. Enjoy your sanctuary.  You will feel good in it. And, when you feel good, when you feel centered, when you feel relaxed, when you feel Mindful, you will be much better equipped to deal with the world outside it.

Peace, Everyone!!


Filed under Meditation, Mindfulness, Sacred spaces

“No gaining” practice in 2012

This post was written by guest-contributor, Kevin Heffernan

For the past few days, I’ve been thinking about New Year’s resolutions in the context of a statement by Shunryu Suzuki: “Each of you is perfect the way you are…and you can use a little improvement.” How encouraging and humbling in one breath! I think this is essentially the same as Dogen seeing that practice and enlightenment are one. We already are buddhanature, or enlightenment itself. Zazen, which we are encouraged to practice with “no gaining idea,” is just this activity of buddhanature. Perfection and improvement, practice and enlightenment, go forth hand-in-hand. Yet we often turn to practice out of some sense of lack. Similarly, we make resolutions out of some aspiration for improving ourselves. What would this effort to “improve” feel like if we had some glimmer of or even faith in our inconceivable, unescapable, ungraspable buddhanature? What if resistance and realization are made of the same stuff? What if effort or struggle is buddhanature? What would a buddha look like at the gym? How would a bodhisattva balance the checkbook? What would a government clerk look like on a zafu?

Kevin Heffernan is the coordinator of the Richmond Zen Group, at the Ekoji Buddhist Sangha and the Zen Campus Minister at the University of Richmond.

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Filed under Meditation, Zazen, Zen Buddhism

Sitting in the Middle of Squirm

Sitting in zazen is an action whose purpose is Being comfortable in the middle of actionlessness.   Zazen trains the mind to sit with discomfort and hold the pause button on it long enough to notice it and dissolve it.

It is not easy to sit with uncomfortable feelings. They make us squirm. They make us want to do something–to struggle against them– to speak or to act in a way that may provide a momentary release of them, but rarely a permanent solution to them. Reacting to uncomfortable feelings without identifying what they are  may make a situation worse.

For example, someone driving dangerously, weaving in and out of traffic, cuts you off while you are traveling at 70 miles an hour.  A physical “fight or flight” response probably occurs in your body before your mind even fully registers what has happened.  When it does, you may feel anger, dismay or even rage.  At this point, you could react by driving equally dangerously to get that person back; you could curse up a storm to either no audience or the wrong audience; you could weave in and out of your lane as you crane your neck in their direction to lock their gaze long enough to flip them the bird; or, you could notice that you are angry, have compassion for yourself for being angry, wish the other driver freedom from whatever madness has descended upon him, and let it go.  When you do this, you release yourself and others all around you from the consequences of suffering from  rage.  Moreover, you make the world a better place by changing the energetic value of rage into compassion.  Your compassion towards yourself radiates out to another. Other people on the road are saved from your madness, and then their madness in reaction to yours, and so on…

The practice of zazen is not just for mystics and monks. All of us experience discomfort and restlessness in our day-to-day lives. Sitting with squirmy feelings can be uncomfortable. Silence can be rather unnerving. In a moment of intentional quietude, all manner of mental disturbances may parade across the mind.  Zazen trains us to notice them as they arise, smile at them in compassion, consciously let them go, and redirect attention back to Just Being in the breath Now.

If more people practiced zazen, perhaps there would be fewer @#$% on the road!


Filed under Compassion, Consciousness, Meditation, Zazen, Zen Buddhism