Every Christmas Eve, after our family dinner (traditionally cheese and chocolate fondue) and before the children go to bed, my father reads aloud the classic poem A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore. He’s done this nearly every year since I was born – which means he’s read this poem on nearly 40 successive Christmas Eves! Now that I’m grown, I marvel at the way that Dad approaches the poem. He reads the words thoughtfully, with a sound of wonder in his voice that suggests he’s encountering each line for the first time. Sometimes he even pauses after reading the following couplet, a delighted smile on his face:
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly, When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
It is a particularly poetic line.
Listening as my father read the poem this Christmas Eve just past, it occurred to me that the sense of wonder and delight with which he approaches his annual recitation is exactly the way in which I should approach the bodhisattva of compassion sadhana that I recite each morning. I tried this out recently and what a difference! Suddenly, I’m saying the familiar words with curiosity and appreciation, rather than rote tedium. It’s an amazing psychological change. My mind naturally focuses as soon as I send myself the internal message that “this is interesting”. The words come alive. I look forward more each morning to the recitation. Continue reading →
Earlier this week I crossed the halfway point of my 100-day daily practice challenge. I’m happy to say that I’ve maintained my morning practice every day for 54 days now, even including the days that I was in Denver for the Phowa retreat.
That said, I have modified my daily practice somewhat from my original plan due to physical difficulties and new commitments. In regards to the former, I’ve been having a lot of back and neck pain for some time. I’ve had difficulty with sitting meditation for a while, though I had hoped that my body would adjust in the face of consistent daily practice. This has not occurred. The problems worsened at the Phowa retreat where I was sitting for hours at a time on a cushion, often in great discomfort. Our daily session began each morning with a half hour of yoga, which definitely helped, but the pain would return later and pain medication was no longer helping. I realized I needed a new approach. Continue reading →
I regret that it’s taken me so long to be able to write that sentence. For decades I was a Buddhist without a regular sitting meditation practice, which I long carried as a source of guilt. Forget guilt – who knew that I was missing out on such a source of joy! I needed years of repetition before I could finally internalize what so many Buddhist teachers have said and written: sitting meditation shouldn’t be painful, shouldn’t be dour, shouldn’t be a chore. As Thich Nhat Hahn says, “Sitting is an enjoyment, not hard labor for enlightenment.” Meditation should be – it is – a source of peace, strength, and joy. I have to smile when I think that for so long I clung to each precious second of sleep in the morning and now I find myself rising before the alarm in anticipation of my sitting meditation. I bow in gratitude to the precious people in my life who have supported me in establishing a regular practice.
There are many excellent resources for meditation. The loving support of Sangha (a community that practices together) and an in-person teacher to provide guidance on the practice is incomparable. I also highly recommend the support of one other person in your life who also commits to sitting on a daily basis. Thank you, Mom! Regardless of whether you sit together, knowing that the other person is also making meditation a priority is a tremendous support. Delighting in the other person’s meditation is an excellent practice of sympathetic joy. I find it helpful to remember that my meditation benefits both myself and others; this is practice in generating bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment to benefit all sentient beings. As Thầy says in Awakening of the Heart: Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries, “Meditation is not an escape. It is the courage to look at reality with mindfulness and concentration. Our world needs wisdom and insight.” Continue reading →