Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category

Sit happens!

This zucchini (that my friend Erica grew on her plot and donated to the good cause of feeding her friends) and I bonded in just a few days that it stayed with me.

Sitting started happening again, monkey mind and all. Sometimes my buddy Marian and I Skype-sit on different continents but when the time for us doesn’t work out, other company will do.

If you are in Europe and would like to join me for a morning sit once a week or so around 7 am CET, whatever kind of meditation you do, let me know!


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During one of the sittings Reb told us, “Samadhi (mental one-pointedness, concentration) can only be achieved by patiently bearing and quietly observing the discomfort of the body.” It is when the mind is no longer trying to fix what is but is quietly observing it. The physical discomfort in the body indeed provided plenty of material to sit with during the sesshin. I could feel the tensions, contractions and pain in different parts of the body and saw how the mind wanted to escape from them by focusing on something else and not feeling. “This pattern on the wall looks exactly like the lamb from “Little prince”. If I connect the marks on the wood I can trace it! ”

When one particular area in the body was shouting for attention, I’d choose to breathe into it until it became more bearable and then include another one. And after a while yet another one. I would be then holding all of them in awareness at least for a while until something else hijacked the attention and I’d start the process again as if collecting the beads from a broken necklace back on the thread. This kept me quite busy most of the time.

In one of the chapters of “Touching Enlightenment” Reggie Ray describes how “we” comes to be as we encounter discomfort and deal with it by tensing, freezing our body against what we are feeling. He contends that the discomfort we experience in the body work can also be seen as a sign of our progress on the path. “We begin to understand that distress itself is an expression of the “wisdom of the body”. It is the body’s way of letting us know there is work to be done and life that needs to be lived – and our discomfort shows us the way in. Discomfort is always a message – that we are holding on too tightly to our sense of self – and an invitation for us to relax, open, and surrender to the fire of larger experience.” (Reggie Ray, “Touching Enlightenment”, p. 82-83)

Again and again I got reminded why I was actually sitting zazen, that looks so peaceful and relaxed on the outside yet the most radical and the most courage demanding activity that I have engaged in, so far with varying level of commitment. Why? Because in zazen I am asked to stop doing the one thing I am so good at – making conceptual maps of reality and instead practice and experience life .

Reb mentioned again and again the tenderising effect of zazen on body and mind. When this happens, when “meat” softens, some people can break out crying and as those tensions get released. Myself, I am amazed how this has to do with the opening up to whatever shows up at the doorstep, how at the point when I can no longer resist it, the body gets settled and I am left with nothing and… everything. The whole works.

Waiting at the highest point of tension not only became so tiring that the tension relaxed, but so agonising that I was constantly wrenched out of my self-immersion and had to direct my attention to discharging the shot. “Stop thinking about the shot!” the Master called out. “This way it is bound to fail.” “I can’t help it”, I answered, “the tension gets too painful”.

“You only feel it because you haven’t really let go of yourself. It is so simple. You can learn from an ordinary bamboo leaf what ought to happen. It bends lower under the weight of snow. Suddenly the snow slips to the ground without the leaf having stirred. Stay like that at the point of highest tension until the shot falls from you. So, indeed, it is when the tension is fulfilled, the shot must fall, it must fall from the archer like snow from a bamboo leaf, before he even thinks it.”

E. Herrigel. “Zen in the art of archery”

In what ways do you deal with bodily discomfort in life? What discoveries have you made on your journey?

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In my short life as a meditator I’ve noticed that when the mind finally settles down it gets into a creative mode and generates insights. The temptation is then strong to allow myself to stay with those ideas for fear of forgetting or because they appear to be more exciting that just sitting. Wouldn’ that be a waste to let those ideas show up at the door and do nothing about it? What difference would it make if I did explore those ideas during meditaiton?

Ken McLeod in the chapter on cultivating attention in Wake up to Your Life explains how we can reaffirm the old habituated patterns by succumbing to those creative insights:

“Calm and peace in the mind allow you to see things more clearly. When you sit in meditation, insights into interactions with people, business affairs, or personal problems arise spontaneously. Creative ideas and images arise from nowhere. Thoughts and thinking don’t really disturb the quality of attention. Instead of only resting with the breath, you feel that you can use meditation to be more creative, to solve problems and generate insights, and that you can do all that without disrupting attention.
You are wrong.


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Since I started doing sitting meditation one of my legs (or both) would inevitably fall asleep and for the most part the sitting would evolve around staying with those sensations in the body. I know it is not harmful for my health and would probably pass with time so I just accepted it as something I could sit with and even learnt to appreciate as those sensations in the body helped me stay connected to it and the breath.  With time those sensations built a background for my sitting, something I sort of knew would be there and I guess I started identify the sittings  with.

Doing some yoga practice right before the sitting has proved to be very successful in helping me get grounded in the body and those sensations in the legs suddenly disappeared altogether. Now the body feels alert yet relaxed and pleasantly warmed up. However, I soon discovered that when the body is more comfortable the mind is more likely to wonder away and engage in daydreaming and I have to apply more effort to sustain concentration.

I find myself wishing one condition away in preference of the other only to find out that the latter is not at all as I imagined it to be.

Friend, please tell me what I can do about this world
I hold to, and keep spinning out!

I gave up sewn clothes, and wore a robe,
but I noticed one day the cloth was well woven.

So I bought some burlup, but I still
throw it elegantly over my left shoulder.

I pulled back my sexual longings,
and now I discovere that I’m angry a lot.

I gave up rage, and now I notice
that I am greedy all day.

I worked har at dissolving the greed,
and now I am proud of myself.

When the mind wants to break its link with the world
it still holds on to one thing.

Kabir says: Listen my friend,
there are very few that find the path!

From Ecstatic poems by Kabir, versions by Robert Bly

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In episode 118  Buddhist Geeks interviewed Daniel Ingram on his book Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha that Daniel revised and made available online in PDF-format (Thanks, Daniel!)

Why all this excitement about yet another book on Dharma? Books we have plenty of but manuals packed with straightforward techniques – not so many.  Daniel describes it as   “… one of the more practical and technically detailed manuals for high-level insight and concentration practice available, and its maps of spiritual terrain and advice for navigating in unusual territory are world-class. “

I spent the rest of the evening in the arm chair hugging my overworked laptop, slowly going through the first pages of the book.  How do I move forward with sitting? What are the ways to enhance concentration? For the first time I was holding exact instructions as to how I could proceed and no longer worried that wanting to actually move forward with the help of the meditation techniques defined me as a doer and an achiever.

I started with Forward and Warning and then swiftly moved to the section on The Tree Characteristics where Daniel outlines how we can better understand the Three Characteristics (impermanence, suffering and no-self) while sitting.  I soon stumbled over a number of exercises that might be helpful in both increasing the concentration and better understanding impermanence. They keep the mind busy observing the sensations at a fast rate and therefore do not allow it to get lost in thoughts.

Needless to say I feel more motivated to sit now and whenever I can I do those exercises off the cushion, dismantling sensations and mental formations that arise. Nobody can do the work for me (the author is very clear about that) but at least I know what to do.  🙂

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Although not a mega meditator, with time I noticed some effects of meditation and got curious in what exactly happens in the brain when I sit on the cushion and watch my mind jumping around,  patiently learning to bring attention to the intention and stay with life itself instead of the virtual reality my mind entertains me with.  How do these changes in the brain influence how I relate to everything and everyone around, including myself?

I  am now more aware of what is going on inside my body and my head which means that a lot of junk that earlier went unnoticed gets caught in the net of awareness.  When catching a little thought that gets lots of attention  and suddenly swells up to the size of a huge mountain,  in this more awakened state of mind I can trace how it leads to a lower state and starts stinking. I find this little self-observation more valuable than all the years I spent in college as it opens the door to liberation from the years of  being a slave to the small, hungry and jealous mind.  There is little joy in noticing how easily the mental trash can start nesting inside the head but on the other side this is my chance to clean up the house and ensure I do not start unloading it on others.

Here come a few podcasts that answer some of the “hows” about the ways meditation rewires our brain and subsequently influences who we are.


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