The New Year is traditionally a time to try to make positive changes for the year ahead. And yet most of us have had the experience of starting out with a rush of good intentions, only to find ourselves collapsing back into old habits very quickly.
Having recently finished teaching a seven-day retreat over the New Year, the same pattern can be seen after a period of intensive practice. Many people experience a wave of inspiration, and have the intention, post-retreat, to renew their commitment to meditating on a daily basis.
Yet again, these intentions often don’t last very long. The momentum of daily life re-asserts its hold on us, and we’re soon back where we started. When one retreat participant was recently asked on their retreat registration form to describe their daily practice, they wrote that it mostly consisted of “looking at their meditation cushion and feeling guilty!”
Establishing and/or maintaining a daily meditation practice
Most of us can probably relate to that description, at least at times. So this month, I’d like to focus on some strategies for establishing or maintaining a daily meditation practice.
Dan Goleman and Richie Davidson are both well-known names in the fields of psychology, science journalism and neuroscience, and they have recently co-authored a book laying out their most recent research on the benefits of meditation. Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, published September 2017 To begin with, the authors make an interesting … Continue reading New neuroscience research on the lasting benefits of meditation
The Noble Eightfold Path is the Buddha’s prescription for completely curing ourselves of unhappiness. And like any good medicine, it doesn’t only work in one way. It’s a very holistic treatment that works on several different aspects of our lives at once – in fact, every aspect of our lives is included here, if we’re practising fully.
The way the path is laid out invites us to pay attention to three particular areas of development, traditionally known as sīla, samādhi and pañña, or ethics, meditation and wisdom. These three aspects support each other like the three legs of a tripod, and all of three of them need to be equally well developed, if our practice is to keep deepening. Continue reading “December 2016 full moon – Wise Action, Wise Non-Action”
I’ve recently enjoyed leading a couple of longer residential retreats in New Zealand and Australia, exploring the teachings from the Satipatthana Sutta on the Seven Factors of Awakening: mindfulness, investigation, energy, joy or rapture, tranquillity, concentration or stability of mind, and equanimity.
When cultivated together and brought into balance with each other, these seven factors provide the optimum conditions for the deepest insights to arise, so they play a very important role in the development of wisdom. In fact Bhikkhu Anaalayo, in a recent study retreat exploring the Satipatthana Sutta, said that all the various techniques and methods found in that sutta are designed to develop these Seven Factors of Awakening. Continue reading “August 2016 full moon – Seven Factors of Awakening and Equanimity (again)”
Rainstorm near Te Moata Retreat Centre, Coromandel, New Zealand Exactly two years ago in July 2014, I wrote a post based on some well-known lines from the Dhammapada: Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is an ancient and eternal law. 1 Lately, that same post has been getting some views again, perhaps because there seem to have been just … Continue reading July 2016 full moon – Hatred STILL never ceases by hatred …
I’ve had a few conversations recently with people who are planning to go on retreat soon, and at some stage in the discussion, there’s often an embarrassed acknowledgement of feeling some anxiety about it. Even for people who have been on retreat before and have some familiarity with the set-up, each retreat is unique, so we never really know what to expect. In some ways, that’s the point of it: to open ourselves to the unknown, to explore new territory, and to experience aspects of ourselves that we may not have come into contact with before. Continue reading “March 2016 full moon – Retreat and pre-retreat practice”
Earlier this evening, I gave my first dharma talk via video-link, from the YHA in Sydney to Auckland Insight in New Zealand. Nothing too remarkable about that these days; but still, it was a delight to be able to connect with the group in this way, and I felt a new sense of appreciation for the benefits of computer technology. We now have access to a wide range of dharma teachings from many different traditions, in many different forms. And with almost no effort, we can instantly download or stream talks and videos, or sign up for online study courses.
In my own experience though – as both a teacher and a student – there can also be a downside to this instant abundance. Without awareness, it can unconsciously reinforce a passive, materialistic, and at times even disrespectful relationship to the teachings.
So as technology helps meditation becomes more and more mainstream, it’s becoming increasingly normal to approach it with a consumerist mind-set. In some ways, this makes sense. When everything else around us is presented in that way, why wouldn’t we think about the practice in terms of what we can get from it? And why wouldn’t we assume that it should be available on my terms: in the way I want it, when I want it, for the price I want it? We can even mistake this kind of freedom (to consume) for the deeper freedom that the Buddha’s teachings point to. Continue reading “February 2016 full moon – Motivation, Respect, Resolve”
Everything has its natural rhythm, including the human heart. I’m not sure why it took me so long to understand this, but a childhood memory – of exploring rock-pools with my father while on holiday in Scotland – helped. On family visits to chilly windswept beaches, he and I would wander at low tide among the exposed rock basins in search of marine life: crabs and starfish and sea anemones and jellyfish and small see-through shrimpy things. Continue reading “February 2016 new moon – sea anemone heart”
This year, the full moon coincided with Christmas Day for the first time in 38 years. I’m in New Zealand visiting family for the holidays and even though it’s the middle of summer, there are evergreen Christmas trees decorated with icicles and snowflakes everywhere. The symbols of Christmas have always been messed up – the pagan-influenced Christmas tree, the Coke-ad inspired Santa, the Christian Nativity scene – but even more so in the Southern Hemisphere. In Australia, women in Santa hats and bikinis body-surf on Bondi Beach, while groups of men work on their tans, standing around beer-filled coolers topped with battery-operated sparkling artificial Christmas trees. Continue reading “December 2015 full moon – In praise of trees”
“These two people are hard to find in the world. Which two? The one who is first to do a kindness, and the one who is grateful and thankful for a kindness done.” AN 2.118
As the three-month retreat at IMS comes to a close, there’s a definite shift in the overall mood of the meditators. Each day, the ones I meet with are expressing more and more gratitude for the opportunity they’ve had to be here, practising intensively for six weeks or three months.
It’s definitely not easy to do this, and yet perhaps because of the challenges, there’s a corresponding depth to the gratitude. I’ve noticed this in other situations, too – that there can be an unexpected ability to connect with gratitude even in the midst of difficulty.