One Brick at a Time

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The beginning of a new year has become the traditional time to evaluate our lives. So let’s do it! And let’s use a brick as our multi-purpose metaphor.

As a starting point, we’ll take this well-known quote by actor Will Smith: “You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.”  There’s a lot of wisdom in these words, but let’s examine brick laying more closely as it applies to our meditative and spiritual perspectives.

First of all, who are we?

When we reflect on who or what we are, we might imagine that we are a person carrying 5 piles of bricks on our shoulders. These bricks might represent the five aggregates in buddhist psychology —  form, feeling, perception, fabrication, and consciousness. We hold tight to these constantly changing piles of bricks trying to keep these activities from changing.

We can let these aggregates/bricks weigh us down. So why not instead of carrying piles of bricks on our shoulders, we take them off and lay them along the ground and simply observe and adjust them.

Why am I where I am today?

Let’s go back to the brick wall. Some of us may need to dismantle our wall and start a radical new wall. Others might just have one brick to start with. Others of us may have already built a beautiful brick wall, basking in our glory, only to see ourselves like Humpty Dumpty, falling, out of our carelessness or mistakes. Or, we might be building around others who are effecting us with their rubble, their taller walls, or poorly made walls. Then it’s vital to practice non-judgement and patience as we build our own.

Or, we may have fallen from no apparent reason at all to us! That’s just how it appears sometimes. Humpty Dumpty couldn’t be put together again when he fell off his brick wall. However, we can find that there always is a way to start over — again and again and again — but  under different conditions and possibly with different aims in building our new “biggest, baddest, greatest wall”.

Then what direction should we take?

Now that we’ve laid our aggregate bricks on the ground, we can use these bricks rather than have them use us, to construct a beautiful pathway. For example, we might see the pathway we construct as the buddhist eightfold path: upright view, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. When we apply our concentration and mindfulness through the practice of meditation, it can have good effect on the other bricks on the path.

Is this a perfect “yellow brick road”? Not quite, there will be bumps and road blocks along the way, but the sense of well-being and inner happiness that continue to develop will be worth the practice of these meditative life skills. Once you have a committed practice you can broaden your road and even jump on and off the pavement to move skillfully through many modes of life situations.

How can we merge spirituality with success?

There is nothing wrong with wanting to go first or be the best, provided that our intention is to help pave the way for others along the way! We can help make others’ paths more easy — we can give them a little mortar or offer a brick.

There’s a quote attributed to the Sufi sage Rumi: “Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.” But then, why do some of us not get what we work hard for and want? We can’t all be great hip-hop artists or brain surgeons, but our passion for music might manifest in a different way in our work or at home. Our ability to be deft with our hands and make quick decisions might not manifest as becoming a surgeon, but instead as a wonderful conscientious activist homemaker.

So what about inner happiness?

Let’s start building with the brick of breath. Breath is form. We take one breath at a time, aware of the moment, aware also of our body, which is also form — with perhaps a little smile on our face — and be happy, that’s all. Be happy with ourselves as we are.  Oprah Winfrey is quoted as saying, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”

Perhaps we can each become a BRICK HOUSE of Inner Happiness! Happy new year! Peace.

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It’s Time to Play…“Where’s. My. Mind?!”

A Free Game for Kids to Adults

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Start Tonight or When Your Mind is Ready!
During the holiday busy-ness, our minds scatter, our minds digress, our minds stress! But also, our minds can go overboard with joy and giddiness that result in post-holiday mind crashes. So let’s play (drum roll) Where’s. My. Mind? — a 24-hour “game” that you can play by yourself or with family or friends for one day a week or 24/7. It brings you back to the present and can make you laugh, be bemused, slightly embarrassed, self-respecting, or yes, even insightful at what thought was interrupted by your mindfulness bell. It’s a great learning tool to bring you back into the present and keep you there longer. Here’s how it works:

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Set your reminder/alarm for on-the-hour including your wake-up time, but excluding hours within your sleeping period. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the :08, :30, or :49 or whatever chosen minute, just make it consistent. For example, if you play one day a week you might start with Wednesday at 7pm*, end at 10pm when you go to sleep, and start back up with your wake up time on Thursday and every on-the-hour through 10pm to end the game. When the alarm goes off, set your timer for a minute or so or continue without a timer. Note what you are doing, then quickly go to the mind and observe where it is and sit with it for a minute or two. Then, reel your mind back in if it’s gone elsewhere, back to the breath, and what’s at hand.

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Advanced Players who are good at body-mind scans might like to try out observing your chi (energy) cycle, that according to Chinese traditional medicine system, occurs every two hours and is related to different organs, mental qualities, and mind states. Check out the chart below. To start to get into your natural beat again you can go to Understanding the 24-Hour Chi Cycle —or— Meet the Chinese Body Clock: Is This Why You’re Waking Up at Night?.

Where’s. My. Mind? is a great game — fun and enlightening for the whole family! Have your kids or friends text you after their reminders go off to find out where their mind is and tell them where yours was (well, er, perhaps sometimes not!). It could be a precious gift to you all!

*You can join the group NCMC Sit Home Soul Group on www.insighttimer.com or use your own App and get into the game on Wednesday nights from your home.

Chinese Body Clock image credit: http://www.fiveseasonsmedicine.com

Dropping Mechanics for Dynamics and Healing on the Way

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Many of us know Tai Chi (supreme ultimate) is a healing form of exercise often done by seniors. Others might know it as a precursor to the more extreme martial arts. It can be practiced in both these ways. But with Tai Chi and Qi Gong (life energy cultivation) we can also practice in the spirit — not being asleep on our feet. Tai Chi works through the body along with the breath, the aspiration that connects us to ourselves, others, and all nature. So many of us neglect our bodies and in turn this effects our mind and spirit.

With Tai Chi we can turn off the mechanics and get into dynamic moments connecting to the rhythm and flow of life. When we begin to awaken qi, with practice, it allows our natural life force to become unblocked and clear, thus promoting physical and mental well-being.

Tai Chi can also be a Way (Dao) to higher levels of consciousness and awareness — of being in the present moment. It can bring playfulness and childlike perception back into our hearts. In this more open state of the mind and body, we can become more receptive to personal growth and change without being on the defensive.

“Supple, breathing gently, you become reborn.
Clearing your vision, you become clear.”
— Lao Tzu


Why Meditate Together?

Though meditation is essentially an individual practice, the effect of doing it with a like-minded group of friends can make the meditation more profound personally and socially. Too, in discussing meditation practice with new meditators, we have found that many people attempting meditation at home alone without any guidance or limited online guidance, often conform their meditation to their own predispositions and ambitions.

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People often tell us they try to meditate at home but get too distracted by thoughts — desires, worries and regrets. We say, working with distraction is the practice! Some say that they tend to fall asleep, feeling dull or drowsy. We say, no excuse, there’s wake up solutions for this. Others doubt their ability or the practice itself. This often is due to isolation — being in a supportive community and learning useful techniques can help with this too. Others might fear the anger they see rising up. We say, observe it, let it come, and let it go! And even learn to reposit that unhealthy anger to healthy moral indignation and action.

There are methods to skillfully work with all these seeming roadblocks to more inner peace and happiness. Like any other discipline it takes a regular practice, patience, commitment, and guidance by good teachers, instructors, and peers who can help keep us on track and inspire us.

Any group participation, however, will only be effective if the people who join it feel that they gain something either more or different than they experience at home. We have often heard from members of our group that sitting with us has advanced their individual practice, helping them in their home life and at work. Some of our meditation friends who are not often able to join us, report that they feel good just knowing that we gather together weekly. This all keeps us inspired.  *


Mindfulness and Staying Woke

To meditate we need to practice mindfulness. And mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake — to stay woke — to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in each moment of our daily life. To be mindful is to be really alive, present and at one with yourself, those around you, and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we do the mundane such as wash the dishes, drive the car, or take a shower. More difficult is to stay in harmony when communicating and having dialog with other individuals or other communities.

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How can we merge meditative mindfulness with the meaning of staying woke in the African American community? By practicing deeper mindfulness we can stay woke and aware of the continuing concerns of social and racial justice, using mindfulness as a radical means to vigilance and heightened sensitivity in order to act honestly and appropriately.

The term “awake” in the meditation community has been used since ancient times and is usually reserved to mean a level of enlightenment that constitutes being truly awake, for example in Buddhist terms the Pali word “bodhi”. This takes continual practice in mind development but we can certainly develop and experience varying levels of being woke.

Mindfulness takes effort, but it is worth it. The more mindful we are, the more we can truly stay woke and alive — and the more positive changes we can make in ourselves and in others through our deepening understanding of our interconnections and their ramifications. *