Category Archives: Practices with Buddhist roots

Exercise 54: Labeling Thoughts

Background:  Once, finding information was hard.  Those of us who remember life before the internet know that once we had to research with card catalogs and microfiche readers.  At that time, the challenge was to locate anything at all on certain topics.

Today, our problem is quite the opposite.  The internet overloads us.  It is hard to imagine a topic which would not turn over results.  The issue, of course, is knowing which information is relevant and reliable.  It is no longer about finding information.  It is about filtering the excess so that we can get to what is useful.

Our brains are a lot like an internet search.  They can provide an overabundance of information.  Some of it is critical.  Other information?  Useless and unreliable.  While our brain shares with us intuitions about this person we just met or  pleasing sensory data which might help us to enjoy the moment it is also reporting our fears about tomorrow, and regrets about yesterday.  It might be replaying a script that no long applies.

This is one of the reason that contemplation is so important.  Many spiritual practices seek to turn down the volume of the brains constant broadcasts so that we can discern where the important information is.  Today’s spiritual practice calls on us to label the thinking that is going on.

It is important to remember that our brain’s job is to think.  It is unlikely we will achieve a goal of thoughtlessness.  This would be a dubious goal anyway.  My goal is to turn down the volume, not to turn it off.  When we day dream, we can return ourselves to this practice gently, with a sense of gratitude that we were able to bring ourselves back.

The Practice

  1.  Release your expectations and sense of obligations with your exhale.
  2. Inhale through the nose.
  3. Exhale through the mouth.
  4. Seek a time of mental quiet.
  5. When a thought arises, simply label it “thinking.”
  6. return to your breath.
  7. Continue this breathing, labeling of thoughts, and returning to the mental quiet for the time you have set aside for your practice this morning.

 

 

 

Exercise 52: Metta (Loving-Kindness Meditation)

Background

This is not the first description of a Loving-Kindness meditation here at The Faith-ing Project.  It was observed that the previous description though omitted a traditional and important element of the practice.

An important aspect of the traditional loving-kindness meditation is challenge to love people who we might have difficulties with.  The description below includes this element.

The English translations of the precise sentences to be used vary somewhat.  There is also some variance on the precise order and groups that those key sentences are applied to.  In particular, different practices will focus on the act of receiving love in different ways and at different times.  One aspect of this is where to wish ourselves those several statements.

It seems that one important element of this timing is precisely how we feel about ourselves.  Since the practice begins with the easy and works up toward the difficult, loving the self ought to be the very first thing some people do, and the final step for others.

Before you begin this practice, it is wise to have given a little bit of thought to who you will bring to mind for each of the following categories:

  • Someone whom you love very much.  They might be alive or dead.  It could be someone you see frequently or see rarely.  Mentors, parents, children, best friends, and significant others fall into this category.
  • Someone whom you feel ambivalent or neutral to.  This could be a casual aquaintance, a coworker, a distant relative, or someone whom you are growing apart from.
  • Someone who actively annoys you, or who you have to work at liking.  As your familiarity with this practice gradually increases, you might gradually attempt people who you more intensely dislike.

After you attempt this practice as written you might wish to change the order, or even research other ways to try this practice.

The Practice

  1.  Sit comfortably.
  2. Take 3 deep breaths: inhalations and exhalations.
  3.  Now bring to mind the person who you love to most.  See them in your mind’s eye wearing an outfit they would be likely to be in.  Hear their voice.  Bring to mind any scents or other sensations you might associate with them.
  4. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be healthy.”  Exhale.
  5. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be happy.”  Exhale.
  6. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be free.”  Exhale.
  7. Inhale.  Exhale.
  8. Bring to mind the person you feel neutral or ambivalent about.  See them as with as many senses as possible.
  9. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be healthy.”  Exhale.
  10. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be happy.”  Exhale.
  11. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be free.”  Exhale.
  12. Inhale.  Exhale.
  13. Now, bring to mind that person you struggle with.  Try and experience them vividly in your mind.  Be an interested observer to any feelings this brings up in you.
  14. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be healthy.”  Exhale.
  15. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be happy.”  Exhale.
  16. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be free.”  Exhale.
  17. Inhale.  Exhale.
  18.  Now, it is time for you.  See yourself in your mind’s eye.  It might be helpful to try and see yourself through the eyes of the person you first focused on.  Or make an attempt at seeing yourself through God’s eyes.
  19. With your next inhale, think or say, “May I be healthy.”  Exhale.
  20. With your next inhale, think or say, “May I be happy.”  Exhale.
  21. With your next inhale, think or say, “May I be free.”  Exhale.
  22. Inhale.  Exhale.

Exercise 35 Loving-Kindness

Background:  There is a Buddhist tradition of a loving-kindness meditation.  The exercises below are two versions recently practiced in The Faith-ing Project’s Thanksgiving Campaign.  The first more closely aligns with the Buddhist tradition.  The second reworks some of the Buddhist Concepts with a Christian, Gallic framework.

Exercise 35A: Buddhist Loving-Kindness Meditation
1.  Create a calm, and quiet space; turn off your phone and do your best to assure yourself of uninterupted time.
2. For the duration of this exercise, give yourself permission to be free of the duties and obligations that you normally submit yourself to.
3.  For a minute or two, simply breathe: in through the nose, and out through the mouth,
4.  Think of a person you feel gratitude for.  (Choose, more or less randomly, a single person to focus on.  Don’t worry, you will have an opportunity to focus on others shortly.)
5. Inhale and  bring their appearance to your mind.  Try and hear their voice, and even smell their unique smell.  Feel, as best you can, their presence.  Exhale.
6.  For the duration of a breath, allow yourself to experience whatever feelings this person stirs within you at this moment.
7. With your next inhale, think to this person ‘May you be free from suffering.’
8. Exhale.
9.  With your next inhale, think to this person ‘May you be healthy.’
10. Exhale.
11.  With your next inhale, think ‘May you be happy.’
12.  Exhale.
13.  With your next inhale, think ‘May you find peace and joy.’
14. Exhale.
15.  For the next breath, rejoice in the thought that your friend would be experiencing all these.
16.  If there is more time you had set aside for your spiritual practice, you might move on to another person you feel grateful for.  If you are having trouble choosing, consider these questions:
Who are you grateful for in your home?  Who are you grateful for in your school or workplace?  Who are you thankful for in your social circles?  Who are you thankful for from your past?  Who are you thankful for in your present?  Are there people who took on a role of parent, sibling, boss, coworker, lover, friend, coach, leader, follower that you are thankful for?  People who shaped you personally, professionally, or spiritually?
Whoever you choose, the phrases to focus on are these:
May you be free from suffering.
May you be healthy.
May you be happy.
May you find peace and joy.
17.  When you are ready to conclude today’s practice, take a single, cleansing breath.
18.  Now, with your inhale, think this for yourself: May I be free from suffering.
19.  Exhale.
20.  With your inhale: May I be healthy.
21.  Exhale.
22.  With your inhale: May I be happy.
23.  Exhale.
24.  Inhale, think: May I find peace and joy.

Exercise 35B: A Gallic-Christian Practice.
1.  Create a calm, and quiet space; turn off your phone and do your best to assure yourself of uninterupted time.
2. For the duration of this exercise, give yourself permission to be free of the duties and obligations that you normally submit yourself to.
3.  For a minute or two, simply breathe: in through the nose, and out through the mouth,
4.  Think of a person you feel gratitude for.  (Choose, more or less randomly, a single person to focus on.  Don’t worry, you will have an opportunity to focus on others shortly.)
5. Inhale and  bring their appearance to your mind.  Try and hear their voice, and even smell their unique smell.  Feel, as best you can, their presence.  Exhale.
6.  For the duration of a breath, allow yourself to experience whatever feelings this person stirs within you at this moment.
7. With your next inhale, think to this person ‘May the road rise up to meat you.’
8. Exhale.
9.  With your next inhale, think to this person ‘May the wind be always at your back.’
10. Exhale.
11.  With your next inhale, think ‘May the sun shine warm on your face.’
12.  Exhale.
13.  With your next inhale, think ‘May the rains fall softly on your fields’
14. Exhale.
15.  With the next inhale, think ‘May God hold you in the palm of his hand.’
15.  For the next breath, rejoice in the thought that your friend would be experiencing all these.
16.  If there is more time you had set aside for your spiritual practice, you might move on to another person you feel grateful for.  If you are having trouble choosing, consider these questions:
Who are you grateful for in your home?  Who are you grateful for in your school or workplace?  Who are you thankful for in your social circles?  Who are you thankful for from your past?  Who are you thankful for in your present?  Are there people who took on a role of parent, sibling, boss, coworker, lover, friend, coach, leader, follower that you are thankful for?  People who shaped you personally, professionally, or spiritually?
Whoever you choose, the phrases to focus on are these:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

17.  When you are ready to conclude today’s practice, take a single, cleansing breath.
18.  Now, with your inhale, think this for yourself: May the roads rise up to meet me..
19.  Exhale.
20.  With your inhale: May the winds always be at my back.
21.  Exhale.
22.  With your inhale: May the sun shine warm upon my face.
23.  Exhale.
24.  Inhale, think: May the rains fall soft upon my fields.
25.  Exhale.
26 Inhale, think, ‘May God hold me in the palm of his hand.’

Exercise 23: The Five Remembrances

Background: It is amazing how much time and energy we give to running away.

Our business, our obsession with smart phones, with constantly filling the air with talking and music.  These seem to be an attempt to free ourselves from the realities of life.

The funny thing is that the realities of life are not so bad.  They just are.  There is not an alternative to them.  If we could actually deny them, it might almost be worth it.  But we never truly escape the things we know.  We just pretend we have escaped knowing them.

The Five Buddhist Remembrances are great reminders for people from any orientation.  The version used in today’s exercise comes via Thich Nhat Hanh.

 

Exercise

  1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.  As best you can, relax.
  2. Think the first remembrance, with your next inhale: I am of the nature to grow old.  There is no way to escape growing old.
  3.  For the exhale, and the whole next breath, embrace this reality.
  4. With your next inhale, think the second remembrance:   I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.
  5. For the exhale and the whole next breath, embrace this reality.
  6. With your next inhale, think the third remembrance: I am of the nature to die.  There is no way to escape death.
  7. For the exhale and the whole next breath, recognize this true.
  8. With your next inhale, embrace the fourth remembrance:  All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
  9. Exhale, and breathe your next breathe.  And accept this reality.
  10. With your next inhale, acknowledge this, the final Buddhist Remembrance:  My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.
  11. Release these words, and sit in the truth that you are facing.  Hopefully you feel freed by this.

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Exercise 20: Tonglen

Background: We spend so much energy running away from negative emotions.

In some ways, they are like a tiny dog chasing an enormous truck.  Meditation is when we wonder, “Just what is that dog ever going to do if it catches that truck?” And we stop running from it.

Today’s exercise: Buddhist Tonglen goes a step beyond merely accepting the inevitability of unpleasantness.  In some sense we master it, as we seek it out in others.

This exercise is going to ask you to think about the suffering of someone else.  If nothing immediately comes to mind, here are a few things to consider:

A) Can you take on the suffering of someone who opposes you, or who you have difficulty liking?

B) Can you take on the suffering of all those who experience a similiar issue to one you struggle with?

The Exercise

1)  Place your feet flat on the floor.  Breathe slowly through your nose and out through your mouth.  Fill you diaphragm with your in-breaths.  It can be helpful to place the hand on the abdomen as you do this, to feel its movement. 

2)  When you are ready to begin this practice in earnest, Breathe in feelings of heaviness, claustrophobia, pain, and hurt.  Do not assign this to any experience yet.

3)  Breathe out positivity, light, and joy.

4)  With your next in-breath, experience the unpleasantness as entering into you through all the pores of your body.  Feel it come along with your breath and travel within.

5)  When you exude positivity, feel this emenating from your pores, as well as you breath.  Envision this goodness going out into the world.

6) Continue this process for a while,.

7) When you are ready, apply your imagination to the experience you have chosen.  Take the pain and hurt from the person or group into yourself.  Take it through the breath and through the body.

8) Exhale whatever relief you feel is best:  Kindness, light and joy.

9) Continue to inhale their pain.  Exhale relief.

10) As your practice draws to a close, widen your compassion.  If you can, take on the pain in a more intense manner, or feel it coming into you from a wider circle.

11) Continue to exhale love to this widened, deepened circle.

12)  When you are ready to release your days practice, spend some time continuing to breathe.  Consider what the experience was like of feeling their pain.

 

Exercise 15: Riverside Meditations I

Background: The novel ‘Illusions: Adventures of the Reluctant Messiah’ has a pretty amazing scene.  The protagonist is told to use the power of his mind to eliminate a group of clouds on the horizon.  He spends the afternoon turning the whole of his will to the task.  And he is thoroughly unsuccessful.

The man’s mentor explains that the main character is entirely to emotionally wrapped up in the task to have ever been able to eliminate him.  He would have done far better to withdraw his energies from the clouds than to invest himself.

This is a useful story.  Sometimes, as we try to overcome our thoughts and feelings we develop such an intensity that we will never be free from them.  Imagining that we are at a riverside, and seeing them all float by is a useful way to release these, to overcome our attachment to these distractions.

Spiritual Exercise

1.  Breathe.  

2.  Imagine that you are sitting by the side of a river.  Picture the temperature and the sounds and the smells.  Smell the air.  Furnish a picture in your mind of what it looks like.

3.  As best you can, clear your mind.  Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

4.  Thoughts, feelings, and memories will arise.  When they do, place them gently on the river.  Allow them to be carried away.

5.  Return to your breath.