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Why isn’t this Meditation working???

Sangha Member Blog PostsSangha Member Post:  I’ve been practicing Zen for a number of years now and lots of the little things in life have smoothed out…but NOW I have a BIG, HARD, HONKING, problem.  I’m in a big disagreement with someone I’m very close to.

I’ve tried all the normal approaches to make it clear why “I’m right.”

I’ve tried my well-conditioned manipulation techniques…being nice…being hurt…being angry…still no go.

While sitting on the throne of impermanence it hit me.  I was looking for meditation to be my non-god god.  I wanted it to solve my problems…to bliss them away or make them magically disappear.  I got a good chuckle at myself.

Now the problem is still a problem but I’m not looking for a “meditation solution.”

When I sit, if this problem comes up, (and it does because I’m still churning) I recognize the churning as just thoughts…just my thoughts.  I observe the separation these thoughts create between me and someone close.  I observe the suffering I’m putting myself through.  I observe the suffering in our relationship.  I observe the strength of the fantasy world of my mind that places me at the center of the universe.

Who knows, I might even try listening.

Namaste from Mark,
Living and smiling the human koan.

My Life As A Woodpecker

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Yesterday I was meditating when the silence was suddenly broken by the distinctive drilling of a woodpecker against the metal grate on our chimney … D.d.d.d.d.d.d.d … listening … D.d.d.d.d.d.d … listening … silence.

My first reaction was frustration followed quickly by realizing I was “in the moment.”

I started to marvel a bit about woodpeckers – what strange and interesting creatures.

I don’t know about you but I find woodpeckers incredibly optimistic.  In a world filled with bugs … I mean … literally brimming over with bug mass … woodpeckers choose to attack hard objects with sharp protrusions on their skull in the hope of hearing a bug.

If they actually hear a bug they go after it even harder.  Optimistic!

Then I started to see similarities between the woodpecker and my life.

Many times I get so caught up in my personal drama that I fail to look up and see all that is already available and ready to be appreciated.

I muddle along doing “my thing” when some event catches my attention.  Usually it is something where the Universe fails to accommodate one of my desires.  I double down.  I start lots of strategies to make the outcome, MY desired outcome.  My attention becomes even more locked … D.d.d.d.d.d.d.d … I totally separate Self from Not-Self.  I’ve repeated this pattern for years so you’d think the lack of satisfaction with the process would have sunk in.  Optimistic!

Eventually, separations run out of steam or get replaced by the next separation … but what’s really cool is that some percentage of the time I practice observing the separation while it’s occurring.  It might still try to run its course but with less steam and shorter duration and more understanding.

Namaste and Friendly Bows _/|\_

Experiencing Joy and Sadness at the Same Time

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How interesting that if I sit here with Chubbs, my sweet old dog, and his failing health, the whole of all the sorrows of the past few years come crasfamily pething down around me. Do I have the courage to sit here with “just this”, with the tears and the heartache?  Easily, so many other things offer escape and distract me, and I once again avoid the uncomfortable emotions and feel like something is missing.  My thinking mind knows I can’t exclude sorrow and only hope for joy, but it proves difficult to truly be present with this sadness. How does self-cherishing play a part in this? I could sit here and say, “Poor me, look what I have to deal with,” I suppose. Taking care of Chubbs at the end of his life is not exactly fun, but I do it willingly, with love because it is what needs to be done; there is no escape from getting old and dying. In some perverse way this is comforting. What are my choices here? I can feel as though I am being thrown down this path, out of control which, to some extent is true – or I could choose to walk this way holding both the sorrow and joy in my heart. What is joyful about losing a loved one? Even though I feel enveloped in sadness and I am having a hard time living it, simultaneously the tenderheartedness of caring for him shines through as a spark of joy each time he still wags his tail for me or waits with seeming gratitude for me to lift him up the stairs. I’m not losing him, really.  Maybe this is compassion.  To take care of Chubbs is an act of compassion. To sit here and have the courage to be present with the tug of emotion in a myriad of directions is compassion for myself.

Zen is like Allergy Shots

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About a decade ago I took allergy shots.  It turns out I was allergic to nature…go figure.

The way allergy shots work is they mix up a special cocktail of the things you are allergic to and inject you with this allergen soup in increasingly powerful doses to train your immune system to respond appropriately.

My natural reaction to getting a shot is to tense my arm muscles.  It’s not a conscious tensing…it “just happens” at the approach of a sharp needle.  Of course when you tense, the shot hurts a lot more.  By about the 3rd week of 3 shots per week I could consciously de-tense my arm and barely feel the shot.

Most of the real work was going on internally.  There was no conscious activity, but my body was working hard to develop an ability to handle the allergens.  My warm skin and sleepy disposition were the indicators that things were proceeding as expected.

So how does the tie to Zen?

If you are like me we bump through life in a semi-conscious fashion.  Then an issue pops on the scene.  Maybe I have an argument with a friend or co-worker; or, I get in a wreck; or, I lose my job; or my partner leaves me…”the needle”.  I tense emotionally.  I tense physically.  But that’s not the end of it.

The real activity goes on internally as I mentally churn about how “I’m right” and “their wrong”…and I churn and I churn.

Like the needle, I can practice “de-tensing” when issues arise.  This practice starts by recognizing the reason I tense is because I’m not willing to accept the situation.  The world is one way.  I want it a different way.  I tense.  I have separated myself and reality in the present moment.

Then the churning starts as my ego’s defense mechanisms kick into gear.   When I’m paying attention the next part of my practice also turns on…continually bringing awareness to the thoughts of anger and frustration…labeling these thoughts as “just thoughts”…just my thoughts…not something that is real to rest of the world.  Eventually awareness dissipates the waves of ego emotion.  The separation collapses on itself.  I smile again…and the more I practice the more I’m able to handle the allergens of life.

Namaste and Friendly Bows _/|\_

Meditation as a Tool for Awakening

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Buddhism is a practice to awaken us from the “ego trance” of our daily life.

Before I started down the Zen path I had this concept I call “ME”.  It seemed obvious.  It included an unquestioned, almost romantic, view of my individualism.  In fact, I was in love with my individualism.

Some things happened that made me feel great…I wanted as many of those things as I could possibly get.

Some things made me feel bad…I wanted as few of those things as possible…

and I pretty much spent my life seeking the one, avoiding the other and piling on attributes that help distinguish my individualism.  Yay!

So what’s the problem?  We all do this.

The problem becomes obvious (sometimes painfully) when you start to meditate.  You try to quiet your mind.  Maybe you count your out-breaths from 1 to 10 to help you focus.

1…2…3…I need to take the car in to get the oil changed…

1…2…3…Why didn’t I get that promotion. I clearly do the best job…

1…2…3…Am I doing this right?…1…2…3….  You get the idea.

Our ego center engages our thinking.  It’s as if we have a “petty neurotic thought generator” that bubbles up thought after thought. We live under the impression that we control our thoughts, but it doesn’t take many minutes of meditation to realize how untrue this notion is.

The more we pay attention to the present moment, the more we are aware of these thoughts…

and ironically, the more we are aware of these thoughts the less control they have.  The muddy water of our thinking can finally start to settle and we can relax into our true self…no self…the self that no longer strives for individualism…the self that is connected to everything…the self that naturally expresses loving-kindness and compassion from its core…not because we think we should, or because it’s what is expected…it’s the only thing we can do.

Namaste and Friendly Bows _/|\_

Reflections on the Gift of My Mother’s Love: Thoughts after a week-long meditation retreat

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As May rolls around each year, I often find myself thinking of my mother. Not only is Mother’s Day in May, but her birthday as well. This year, I’m reflecting on my relationship with my mother, the ways it’s changed over the years, and the ways I’ve changed as well.

Baby in the water

As a child and a teenager, I often had a hard time getting along with my mom. I didn’t understand her choices, and I felt trapped by the powerlessness of being dependent on her for all of my needs. Her husband, my father, had passed away when I was very young, and my baby brother was even younger. I resented her for being sad, and I was focused on my emotions rather than trying to understand the pain that was in her heart. I also lamented that my life wasn’t as calm, peaceful, or full of certainty as the lives of the other kids at school (as I imagined them).

As a young adult, I rebelled and sought to venture as far as I could away from Appalachian Tennessee and from my family as well. I moved to the Northeast, to South America, and even to Europe for a while, but I settled in Oregon. In Oregon I have felt at home as an adult and as a part of my community in ways that I did not as a teenager growing up in the South. As a member of the Corvallis Zen Circle, I have embarked on a meditation practice, and I’ve begun to explore what family means to me more deeply. And, interestingly enough, when I sit to meditate, I’m sometimes struck by the richness of my inheritance. I realize that I’m not alone on the cushion; my mother, my father, my brother, my grandparents and all of my family are there with me, forming the rhythms of my breath and receiving the kindness in my heart.

Rachael with flower

I try to talk with my mother as often as I can these days. I think about the events and conditions that have shaped her life, and I wonder at her strength and the power and resilience of the light inside of her. I also realize what a joy it is to be able to share my life with her, to ask her about her days, to offer her my love and support, and to receive hers in return. When I consider what’s most important lately, it isn’t making right all of those injustices I have felt about the conditions of my own life or what I have had or haven’t had. Nor is it having adventurous experiences, being successful in my career, or even enjoying the company of many friends and acquaintances that I long for when I reflect. What gives me joy now is knowing that this moment is a moment that I could be contributing to love and well-being in the world. My relationship with my mother is now a sweet gift of opportunity to give and receive this love. It has opened my heart and taught me to see beyond self-cherishing to the vast ocean of inter-being upon which we all sail. 

Beach Sunset

The New Season as a Reminder of Impermanence

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On a short walk around the neighborhood this past weekend,

observing the buds sprouting on plants and the flowers freshly

in bloom, I was reminded of the Buddhist concept of impermanence.   

  IMG_20140324_144142_182         IMG_20140324_144750_447

Just when it seemed to me as though our Corvallis winter, with

its near-record snowfall and low temperature days, would never

end, winter suddenly seems like a distant memory. As with

everything, winter has come and gone and, in time, so will spring.

 IMG_20140324_151533_268         IMG_20140324_151720_287

My work is to observe this impermanence and any associated

attachment or aversion that arises in me. Right now, I’m practicing

appreciating the beauty of new growth and then letting it go.

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Greetings from Corvallis Zen Circle

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happy baby
Our site is in its infancy.  If you stumbled into it please know that it is a work in progress.  Images are mostly placeholders.  The text is random or greeked.  When we go live this site will replace the current CorvallisZenCircle.com website (where the real content is for now.)

Feel free to poke around.  It should be amusing…and feel free to join us on Sundays at the Downtown Yoga Center on 2nd Street at 10 AM.

Namaste and Friendly Bows _/|\_