One Year On The Cushion

This month marks one year since I’ve started meditating on a regular basis.  From something that started as a 10 minute a day practice whenever I felt like squeezing it in, it’s become one of my favorite daily activities.  That half-hour in the morning when I’m trying to cultivate something (typically mettā) somehow positively changes the entirety of how I approach my day, regardless of how that half an hour goes.

While there are many things it has taught me, and still is, here are some of the benefits I’ve gotten from it:

  • I can has patience, even as a person with ADD.
  • I don’t have to take everything that happens to me personally as most of the time, a person’s reaction has nothing to do with me and everything to do with where their head is at.
  • I can tell myself “I love you” and mean it without reservation and understanding that I don’t have to be perfect to be loved, even by others.
  • My expectations and perceptions are most often the cause of my suffering.
  • Changing how I relate to things can make situations that seem undesirable  into neutral or even pleasant experiences.
  • That my emotional states don’t have to influence my overall sense of well-being
  • I can forgive a person without forgiving their actions.


Many thanks to my friends in Profound Existence for their understanding, support and love for helping another lost soul onto this path.  Without you all, I probably wouldn’t still be on this path and so stoked to keep with it!

My First Retreat (By Fischer-Price)

A while back, I had posted about starting a meditation practice.  I’ve been continuing on that practice since then and have a nice daily practice of it now.  As I’ve been noticing the changes having such a daily practice has had for me, I’ve been wanting to attend a retreat to see what one was like.  I had a bit of an idea of what I’d experience from listening to Dharma talks and from listening to the experiences of my fellow Dharma Punx at Profound Existence and I really liked what I heard.  And having just recently come out of a relationship, when I saw that the retreat was named “Resting the Weary Heart and Mind”, I was pretty much sold.  So this past weekend (25 Feb 2011 – 27 Feb 2011), I went on my first meditation retreat at the Insight Meditation Society’s Retreat Center.

The way this particular retreat worked is you arrive mid to late Friday afternoon, get settled in, have dinner and then start in on the retreat Friday night once all of the paperwork and jobs are assigned (each participant in the retreat gets a housekeeping job as a way to practice mindfulness in an everyday task).  Once that was settled, we had our first sit and meeting with the teachers around 8:30.  At which point, we undertook a vow of silence for the weekend, to help us keep focused on being mindful and reduce distractions.

The weekend was basically a series of sitting and walking meditations with some instruction and Dharma talks mixed in with the sitting meditation.  Saturday was pretty much all sitting and walking meditation outside of meal times.  While I was aware that the retreat was basically a structured schedule for meditation, it’s something else to see it on paper and experience it.  It never actually felt overwhelming, but once I stood face to face with it, the thought did cross my mind ;)

Even with that being said, I really enjoyed the weekend.  Due to all of the focus on mindfulness, Saturday felt like one of the longest days I’ve experienced.  Time really seemed to slow down when you’re working at being present in every moment of the day.  In particular, somewhere in a mid-afternoon sit on Saturday, when we were focusing on sounds, my mind really seemed to slow down or take a step back. All of the sudden, the thoughts that always pop into your head didn’t show up as often, and I was much more aware of them when they did rather than getting lost in a thought and realizing minutes later where my attention was.  This image of an expansive black circle popped into my head during that time, as if the awareness and newer degree of quiet were related.  Like the circle represented the mind as a blank slate, and the thoughts would float up into the bottom of the circle, get acknowledged as thoughts and fade away.  From then until our break for dinner, the mind pretty much stayed in this state even through a walking meditation.

The retreat really helped me to realize that the practice is about focusing on the body, not so much just the breath.  I hadn’t really been as aware of that before.  While there have been times I’ve been focused enough on my breath that I feel like I could count the hairs in my nostrils simply from the sensation of the air moving through them, it really hadn’t clicked or felt like that it was necessarily part of the body.  The combination of the walking meditation into the practice and the guided meditations that focused on the body sensations really helped this click for me.  Though in some ways the walking meditation almost felt like cheating because it’s easy to be aware of your feet when one of them is hurting every time you step on it ;)

As I’m still fairly new to Buddhist meditation, I’m still figuring out which parts of it make sense for me.  Some of the concepts about karma and rebirth I’m still undecided about, mostly related to the multiple-actual-lifetimes concepts rather than the idea that each moment or mind-state is a birth and a death.  So it was kind of interesting and fun to see how my mind responded when these topics came up in the Dharma talks over the weekend.  Initially, there was a kind of knee-jerky awareness in how I responded when the topics came up.  But as the weekend progressed, I was mostly able to just notice when one of these topics came up and acknowledge the current state of difference of opinion without my mind coloring in that difference with judgement, fear, or simply not knowing.  This has long been a stumbling block for me (having trouble believing in something once the brain starts to question it), so it was nice to see once again that the brain can change even the more stubborn or ingrained patterns.

As we left on Sunday, one thing that I noticed and perhaps was a bit surprised on was how happy I was afterwards.  I’ve been noticing my level of overall happiness increase as my practice continues, but I thought some of that was in part to normally using loving-kindness/metta or compassion meditations in my daily practice.  And while there were one or two of each of those meditations in the weekend, the weekend was mostly focused on being mindful and being aware of your body.  So it kind of caught me as a bit of a pleasant surprise to notice that level of happiness from mostly just being aware of the body in present moment.  Granted a number of the books I’ve read and the Dharma talks I’ve listened to talk about this, but I think it had slipped into the back of my mind until I actually experienced it myself.

I am glad decided to do this and am very grateful that places like IMS exist to allow people to further their practice and work at discovering for themselves what being in the present moment, even for a split second, can do.  I eagerly await the next retreat I go on (with as little suffering I can generate in relation to that eagerness :-P).

Bike and Destroy!

Thanks to needing to take my mind off of something at the end of June, I’ve started biking again.  I bicycled a lot as a child (mostly as a means to get into town to spend money I shouldn’t have), but haven’t done much since recovering from my last knee surgery in 2002.  Mostly this was because my bike was in need of major work and wasn’t worth investing the money in.  However I didn’t want to spend money on a new bike if I wasn’t going to bike enough to warrant it.  But thanks to needing to take my mind off of something, I threw caution to the wind and got a new bike and I am loving it!

As I wasn’t sure if I would bike much, I went to the local bike shop and got a lower end hybrid (Trek 7000).  My last bike was a hybrid as well and I enjoyed it because it went a decent speed on concrete and also allowed me to play a little off the road.  I’m typically not gentle with things, so it seemed like a good combination again.  My usual romp is through Mine Falls Park, which is right near where I live.  A nice long set of paved and dirt trails without motorists and great for a hybrid.

Since I’ve gotten the bike however, I’ve ridden almost every day.  As an ADD person, I was wary of losing interest in riding but so far that hasn’t hit me.  Maybe it’s the variety of the paths I can take through Mine Falls Park or just the scenic beauty of it.  The time I spend biking is great, not only is it more outside time and fresh air, it really sets me at ease and lets the brain process stuffs.  And even if I get a flat tire, I don’t mind the walk home to fix it since it is such a nice area to ride in.

The exercise part has been very welcome too!  Biking is one of the better exercises for my bad knee so this is a great way to keep it stretched and happy.  Being a computer nerd, it’s easy to get into the zone and forget how many hours you sit in a chair.  However I find myself looking forward to biking every day.  I’ve put over 150 miles on the bike so far (averaging 6 miles a day) and it’s easy to feel almost daily how much stronger the leg muscles get from all of the work.  The only downside to all of this is it has cut into my shapely figure by 12 pounds so far.  :-P

Now to find something to do in the winter months when it’s too snowy to ride…

Start of a Spiritual Revolution

For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve been looking for something more to life.  It has always seemed that there is something inherently wrong with the way affairs are conducted in this world.  Rarely have there been any answers that make sense or feel like something I could put myself behind without feeling like I compromised a part of myself doing so.  Finally it seems I may have found something that makes sense to me, I can put myself behind and not feel compromised doing so.

Being raised in the U.S., I was brought up with the usual Christian beliefs that permeate the majority of the population here.  However I never really felt any connection with Christianity.  Some of the moral lessons made sense, but I never felt that there was a God there.  Plus it seemed if there was a higher life form that created us, this one was pretty petty.   If there is a deity, I’d surely expect a lot more out of it.  Not so much in the sense of the way we normally expect a lot more out of people but more that such a being would be beyond most if not all of the behavioral pitfalls that we mere humans experience.

I never encountered anything that made me feel like there was a creator or deity-type being, so it was hard to look to religions for a greater sense of purpose or meaning.  I also never really liked the whole idea of getting someone else to solve your problems, deity or otherwise.  It seems like we should be able to solve our own problems.  Outside assistance is a good thing, but looking to others for the answers and wanting them to come save you seemed wrong.  Not that it isn’t a nice idea when you’re down but it feels like an injustice to yourself and those you make yourself dependent on.  However this does get harder and harder as life goes on and you can’t find the answers to your problems or won’t act on the answers you do find.

Recently I have come to a point where I feel like I have to find this meaning in life or I essentially will self-destruct.  The American Dream isn’t enough.  I need something with more than material gain as an end goal.  I need something that lets me feel like I make a difference at the end of the day.  I want something akin to the zealotry of a righteous cause but without all of the downsides and polarized viewpoints.

In my soul searching and despairing, I remembered a book I had read a few years ago called Dharma Punx by Noah Levine.  It’s the auto-biographical story of a SoCal punk rocker from the ’80s who hit rock bottom and found his salvation in Buddhism.  I had a lot in common with this book and really related to it (though thankfully not the drugs and juvie).  Like Noah, I have a huge rebellious streak and take very little at face value.   In the telling of his story and the way he recounts his path out of his destructive youth, he opened me up to some possibilities I had not overly considered or been exposed to before.

I just recently found out that he had written another book called Against The Stream which is essentially a guide for those who want to take a path similar to his.  What I really like about his approach here is that it talks you through the steps without the overly religious connotations attached to it.  It shows how you can undertake your own personal spiritual rebellion and then make your own decisions about how to do things.  And it’s all based on love and kindness.  There’s no “do this or you’ll go to hell”, no deity involved,  it appears to be  just about better understanding your mind and training it to better handle what life throws at you.  And of course it involves rebellion so it knows how to speak to me! :-P

Reading both Dharma Punx and Against The Stream showed me something that appears to fit with the core parts of who I consider myself to be without sacrificing other parts.  I don’t know if it will actually fit in the long run but hard to know that before you try it.  And if nothing else, it’ll help alleviate the whole “meaning and purpose” problem that’s been like a stabbing pain in my brain.

Watch out breath, I’m focusing on you!

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Embracing The Pain

So as some of you who know me already know, I am currently recovering from knee surgery. Now comes the fun known as physical therapy.

On December 10th, I had my ACL replaced again (second time) in my left knee. The first one didn’t work out so well, and my knee had started developing a bad habit of not wanting to straighten out at semi-random times. So hack and slash it was!

This recovery is supposed to be much faster as I had a cadaver ligament put in place of another graft like last time. In fact, little more than a week after the operation and I’m able to already put weight on the leg. Not off the crutches yet but between physical therapy and good old fashioned healing I’m on the mend.

What They Haven’t Told You…

Stumbled across an interesting article on the web tonight. It’s a translated copy of a recent letter Osama Bin Laden wrote entitled “Letter to the American people”. While I can’t say I agree with everything he has to say, mainly the religious elements, there’s a lot of it (especially the latter parts) that I feel the American public stands to be better educated about. The fact that this didn’t show up in the mainstream news is rather disturbing and to me shows you where their priorities lie.

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun?

So it’s been a while since I last posted. A lot has gone in in the last month or so. Comings and goings, people coming back in and out of life, all of these fun things.

I’ve spent a good bit of time with Gimp lately, and it’s been a blast to spend some time with him again. It’s also nice to be able to have a friend to reassure you of certain things that sometimes others can’t do. It’s been a big moral booster. It also makes me wish I had spent more time with him in the past, that I hadn’t let our friendship go so lax after rooming together. But all in all I’m glad that he’s understanding. You rock Gimp!

Layoffs really suck. Lots of people where I work got laid off recently, including some good friends and it’s just not the same anymore. It kinda makes me wonder about my future there, and what I want to do. I’ve never really had career goals, I’ve just been lucky to get where I am and lived it day to day. It’s been an extremely rewarding experience and I’ve learned a lot. But still it makes me begin to think of what I want out of a career or life in general for that matter. And I can’t say I’ve really had any goals of my own, just obsticles I know I’ve had to complete somehow to get to a job. Now I’ve got to think of what I want to do, and what exactly I want out of this life.

The Body Walks Forward, The Mind Walks Backwards

So I started going for walks again. Haven’t done that in a month or so. And the funny part is for some reason every time I go for a walk I always seem to reminisce somewhat. It seems I dwell a lot on what might have been missed opportunities and such. I guess I just always find it interesting to do a little memory roll-playing and see what I think how things would have ended up as if I had tried this, or done that or whatnot.

It’s not that I’m necessarily unhappy with how and where I’ve ended up but there are definitely some changes I’d like to affect in my life, and some regrets to learn from.

I guess it’s just when you don’t have anything to keep you busy the mind wanders :) And when you have no plans for the future all you can do is live in the past.

An Insight Into Inspiration

What you might find funny about some of the poems here now and some of the poems to come is that for the most part they are about friends.

Now that in itself isn’t so funny, but after reading some of them, especially more so for the older ones, you might begin to understand.

See, I’m kind of a wannabe absolutist. When I think of things, especially like acceptable behaviors, I really think in black and white. But when it comes down to it and it shows up in life, I kinda end up not being able to do that. Because life really isn’t black and white, and that perhaps is one of the greatest plights we face. But before I end up on some philosophical tangent, I’ll try and finish what I’m trying to say.

Everyone has character flaws, and one of the biggest parts about being a good friend is learning how to deal with those. Depending on the person, that can be terribly difficult or it can be easy. It can cause friendships to end as well. And since I’m a wannabe absolutist it kinda makes this even more fun for me sometimes.

And out of this little paradox I’ve created for myself comes the inspiration for some of my poems. A lot of the angrier ones are about friends in moments of frustration. They don’t necessarily represent how I feel about them all the time, but how I felt at the time I wrote it.

So I can’t say this is the formula for how all of these are created, but this does apply to some of them. I may indicate from time to time which ones those are, but for the rest of the time I’ll let you guess :)

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