Whatever has happened to you, it has already happened. The important question is, how are you going to handle it? In other words, "Now what?"
Try: Stopping, sitting down, and becoming aware of your breathing once in a while throughout the day. It can be for five minutes, or even five seconds. Let go into full acceptance of the present moment, including how vou are feeling and what you perceive to be happening. For these moments, don t try to change anything at all, just breathe and let go. Breathe and let be. Die to having to have anything be different in this moment; in your mind and in your heart, give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and allow yourself to be exactly as you are. Then, when you're ready, move in the direction your heart tells you to go, mindfully and with resolution.
Try: Reminding yourself from time to time: "This is it." See if there is anything at all that it cannot be applied to. Remind yourself that acceptance of the present moment has nothing to do with resignation in the face of what is happening. It simply means a clear acknowledgment that what is happening is happening. Acceptance doesn't tell you what to do. What happens next, what you choose to do, that has to come out of your understanding of this moment. You might try acting out of a deep knowing of "This is it." Does it influence how you choose to proceed or respond? Is it possible for you to contemplate that in a very real way, this may actually be the best season, the best moment of your life? If that was so, what would it mean for you?
Try: Asking yourself from time to time, "Am I awake now?", "Where is my mind right now?"
Try: Staying with one full inbreath as it comes in, one full outbreath as it goes out, keeping your mind open and free for just this moment, just this breath. Abandon all ideas of getting somewhere or having anything happen. Just keep returning to the breath when the mind wanders, stringing moments of mindfulness together, breath by breath.
Every time you get a strong impulse to talk about meditation and how wonderful it is, or how hard it is, or what it's doing for you these days, or what it's not, or you want to convince someone else how wonderful it would be for them, just look at it as more thinking and go meditate some more. The impulse will pass and everybody will be better off--especially you.
Try: Recognizing the bloom of the present moment in your daily meditation practice if you have one. If you are up early in the morning, try going outside and looking (a sustained, mindful, attentive looking) at the stars, at the moon, at the dawning light when it comes. Feel the air, the cold, the warmth (a sustained, mindful, attentive feeling). Realize that the world around you is sleeping. Remember when you see the stars that you are looking back in time millions of years. The past is present now and here. Then go and sit or meditate lying down. Let this or any time you practice be your time for letting go of all doing, for shifting into the being mode, in which you simply dwell in stillness and mindfulness, attending to the moment-to-moment unfolding of the present, adding nothing, subtracting nothing, affirming that "This is it."
The only way you can do anything of value is to have the effort come out of non-doing and to let go of caring whether it will be of use or not. Otherwise, self-involvement and greediness can sneak in and distort your relationship to the work, or the work itself, so that it is off in some way, biased, impure, and ultimately not completely satisfying, even if it is good. All scientists know this mind state and guard against it because it inhibits the creative process and distorts one's ability to see connections clearly.
Try: During the day, see if you can detect the bloom of the present moment in every moment, the ordinary ones, the "in-between" ones, even the hard ones. Work at allowing more things to unfold in your life without forcing them to happen and without rejecting the ones that don't fit your idea of what "should" be happening. See if you can sense the "spaces" through which you might move with no effort in the spirit of Chuang Tzu's cook. Notice how if you can make some time early in the day for being, with no agenda, it can change the quality of the rest of your day. By affirming first what is primary in your own being, see if you don't get a mindful jump on the whole day and wind up more capable of sensing, appreciating, and responding to the bloom of each moment.
Through it all, we attempt to bring balance to the present moment, understanding that in patience lies wisdom, knowing that what will come next will be determined in large measure by how we are now. This is helpful to keep in mind when we get impatient in our meditation practice, or when we get frustrated, impatient, and angry in our lives.
Try: Looking into impatience and anger when they arise. See if you can adopt a different perspective, one which sees things as unfolding in their own time. This is especially useful when you are feeling under pressure and blocked or stymied in something you want or need to do. Hard as it may seem, try not to push the river in that moment but listen carefully to it instead. What does it tell you? What is it telling you to do? If nothing, then just breathe, let things be as they are, let go into patience, continue listening. If the river tells you something, then do it, but do it mindfully. Then pause, wait patiently, listen again. As you attend the gentle flow of your own breathing during times of formal meditation practice, notice the occasional pull of the mind to get on to something else, to want to fill up your time or change what is happening. Instead of losing yourself at these times, try to sit patiently with the breath and with a keen awareness of what is unfolding in each moment, allowing it to unfold as it will, without imposing anything on it . . . just watching, just breathing . . . embodying stillness, becoming patience.
See if you can be in touch with a core within you which is rich beyond reckoning in all important ways. Let that core start radiating its energy outwardly, through your entire body, and beyond. Experiment with giving away this energy--in little ways at first--directing it toward yourself and toward others with no thought of gain or return. Give more than you think you can, trusting that you are richer than you think. Celebrate this richness. Give as if you had inexhaustible wealth. This is called "kingly giving." I am not talking solely of money or material possessions, although it can be wonderfully growth-enhancing, uplifting, and truly helpful to share material abundance. Rather, what is being suggested here is that you practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your enthusiasm, your vitality, your spirit, your trust, your openness, above all, your presence. Share it with yourself, with your family, with the world. try: Noticing the resistance to the impulse to give, the worries about the future, the feeling that you may be giving too much, or the thought that it won't be appreciated "enough," or that you will be exhausted from the effort, or that you won't get anything out of it, or that you don't have enough yourself. Consider the possibility that none of these are actually true, but that they are just forms of inertia, constriction, and fear-based self-protection. These thoughts and feelings are the rough edges of self-cherishing, which rub up against the world and frequently cause us and others pain and a sense of distance, isolation, and diminishment. Giving sands down such rough edges and helps us become more mindful of our inner wealth. By practicing mindfulness of generosity, by giving, and by observing its effects on ourselves and others, we are transforming ourselves, purifying ourselves, discovering expanded versions of ourselves.
Initiate giving. Don't wait for someone to ask. See what happens--especially to you. You may find that you gain a greater clarity about yourself and about your relationships, as well as more energy rather than less. You may find that, rather than exhausting yourself or your resources, you will replenish them. Such is the power of mindful, selfless generosity. At the deepest level, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient. . . only the universe rearranging itself.
Try: Recognizing the ways in which you meet obstacles with harshness. Experiment with being soft when your impulse is to be hard, generous when your impulse is to be withholding, open when your impulse is to close up or shut down emotionally. When there is grief or sadness, try letting it be here. Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. Notice any labels you attach to crying or feeling vulnerable. Let go of the labels. Just feel what you are feeling, all the while cultivating moment-to-moment awareness, riding the waves of "up" and "down," "good" and "bad," "weak" and "strong," until you see that they are all inadequate to fully describe your experience. Be with the experience itself. Trust in your deepest strength of all: to be present, to be wakeful.
I like to practice voluntary simplicity to counter such impulses and make sure nourishment comes at a deep level. It involves intentionally doing only one thing at a time and making sure I am here for it. Many occasions present themselves: taking a walk, for instance, or spending a few moments with the dog in which I am really with the dog. Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more. It all ties in.
Slowing everything down is a big part of this. Telling my mind and body to stay put with my daughter rather than answering the phone, not reacting to inner impulses to call someone who "needs calling" right in that moment, choosing not to acquire new things on impulse, or even to automatically answer the siren call of magazines or television or movies on the first ring are all ways to simplify one's life a little. Others are maybe just to sit for an evening and do nothing, or to read a book, or go for a walk alone or with a child or with my wife, to restack the woodpile or look at the moon, or feel the air on my face under the trees, or go to sleep early.
A calmness develops with intensive concentration practice that has a remarkably stable quality to it. It is steadfast, profound, hard to disturb, no matter what comes up. It is a great gift to oneself to be able periodically to cultivate samadhi over an extended period of time. This is most readily accomplished on long, silent meditation retreats, when one can withdraw from the world a la Thoreau for this very purpose.
But concentration practice, however strong and satisfying, is incomplete without mindfulness to complement and deepen it. Bv itself, it resembles a state of withdrawal from the world. Its characteristic energy is closed rather than open, absorbed rather than available, trancelike rather than fullv awake. What is missing is the energy of curiosity, inquiry, investigation, openness, availability, engagement with the full range of phenomena experienced by human beings. This is the domain of mindfulness practice, in which onepointedness and the ability to bring calmness and stability of mind to the present moment are put in the service of looking deeply into and understanding the interconnectedness of a wide range of life experiences.
Try: Asking yourself why you meditate or why you want to meditate. Don't believe your first answers. Just write down a list of whatever comes to mind. Continue asking yourself. Also, inquire about your values, about what you honor most in life. Make a list of what is really important to you. Ask yourself: What is my vision, my map for where I am and where I am going? Does this vision reflect my true values and intentions? Am I remembering to embody those values? Do I practice my intentions? How am I doing in my job, in my family, in my relationships, with myself? How do I want to be? How might I live my vision, my values? How do I relate to suffering, both my own and others?
The practice itself has to become the daily embodiment of your vision and contain what you value most deeply. It doesn't mean trying to change or be different from how you are, calm when you're not feeling calm, or kind when you really feel angry. Rather, it is bearing in mind what is most important to you so that it is not lost or betrayed in the heat and reactivity of a particular moment. If mindfulness is deeply important to you, then every moment is an opportunity to practice. For example, suppose angry feelings come up at some point in your day. If you find yourself feeling angry and expressing it, you will also find yourself monitoring that expression and its effects moment by moment. You may be in touch with its validity as a feeling state, with the antecedent causes of your strong feeling, and the way it is coming out in your body gestures and stances, in your tone of voice, in your choice of words and arguments, as well as the impression it is making on others. There is much to be said for the conscious expression of anger, and it is well known medically and psychologically that suppressing anger in the sense of internalizing it is unhealthy, particularly if it becomes habitual. But it is also unhealthy to vent anger uncontrollably as a matter of habit and reaction, however "justifiable." You can feel it cloud the mind. It breeds feelings of aggression and violence--even if the anger is in the service of righting a wrong or getting something important to happen--and thus intrinsically warps what is, whether you are in the right or not. You can feel this even when you can't stop yourself sometimes.
Mindfulness can put you in touch with the toxicity of the anger to yourself and to others. I always come away from it feeling that there is something inadequate about anger, even when I am objectively on high ground. Its innate toxicity taints all it touches. If its energy can be transmuted to forcefulness and wisdom, without the smoke and fire of self-absorption or self-righteousness, then its power multiplies, and so does its capacity to transform both the object of the anger and the source. So, if you practice purposefully expanding the context of the anger (yours or someone else's) right in those very moments that it is arising and peaking, knowing that there must be something larger and more fundamental that you are forgetting in the heat of the emotion, then you can touch an awareness inside yourself which is not attached to or invested in the anger-fire. Awareness sees the anger; it knows the depth of the anger; and it is larger than the anger. It can therefore hold the anger the way a pot contains food. The pot of awareness helps us cradle the anger and see that it may be producing more harmful effects than beneficial ones, even if that is not our aim. In this way, it helps us cook the anger, digest the anger, so that we can use it effectively, and, in changing from an automatic reacting to a conscious responding, perhaps move beyond it altogether. This and other options stem from a careful listening to the dictates of the whole situation.
Try: Seeing vour own life this very day as a journey and as an adventure. Where are you going? What are you seeking? Where are you now? What stage of the journey have you come to? If vour life were a book, what would vou call it today? What would vou entitle the chapter vou are in right now? Are vou stuck here in certain ways? Can vou be fully open to all of the energies at vour disposal at this point? Note that this journey is uniquely yours, no one else's. So the path has to be your own. You cannot imitate somebody else's journey and still be true to yourself. Are you prepared to honor your uniqueness in this way? Can you see a commitment to the meditation practice as an intimate part of this way of being? Can you commit to lighting your path with mindfulness and awareness? Can you see ways in which you could easily get stuck, or have in the past?
Dwelling inwardly for extended periods, we come to know something of the poverty of always looking outside ourselves for happiness, understanding, and wisdom. It's not that God, the environment, and other people cannot help us to be happy or to find satisfaction. It's just that our happiness, satisfaction, and our understanding, even of God, will be no deeper than our capacity to know ourselves inwardly, to encounter the outer world from the deep comfort that comes from being at home in one's own skin, from an intimate familiarity with the ways of one's own mind and body. Dwelling in stillness and looking inward for some part of each day, we touch what is most real and reliable in ourselves and most easily overlooked and undeveloped. When we can be centered in ourselves, even for brief periods of time in the face of the pull of the outer world, not having to look elsewhere for something to fill us up or make us happy, we can be at home wherever we find ourselves, at peace with things as they are, moment by moment.
Try: The next time you feel a sense of dissatisfaction, of something being missing or not quite right, turn inward just as an experiment. See if you can capture the energy of that very moment. Instead of picking up a magazine or going to the movies, calling a friend or looking for something to eat or acting up in one way or another, make a place for yourself. Sit down and enter into your breathing, if only for a few minutes. Don't look for anything--neither flowers nor light nor a beautiful view. Don't extol the virtues of anything or condemn the inadequacy of anything. Don't even think to yourself, "I am going inward now." Just sit. Reside at the center of the world. Let things be as they are.
Try: Setting aside a time even 1 day for just being. Five minutes would be fine, or ten or twenty or thirty if you want to venture that far. Sit down and watch the moments unfold, with no agenda other than to be fully present. Use the breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment. Your thinking mind will drift here and there, depending on the currents and winds moving in the mind until, at some point, the anchorline grows taut and brings vou back. This may happen a lot. Bring your attention back to the breath, in all its vividness, every time it wanders. Keep the posture erect but not stiff. Think of yourself as a mountain.
Try: Sitting with dignity for thirty seconds. Note how you feel. Try it standing with dignity. Where are your shoulders? How is vour spine, your head? What would it mean to walk with dignity?
Many people find the image of a mountain helpful in deepening concentration and mindfulness in the sitting practice. Invoking qualities of elevation, massiveness, majesty, unmovingness, rootedness, helps bring these qualities directly into posture and attitude. It is important to invite these qualities into your meditation all the time. Practicing over and over again embodying dignity, stillness, an unwavering equanimity in the face of any mind state which presents itself, especially when you are not in a grave state of distress or turmoil, can provide a solid, reliable foundation for maintaining mindfulness and equanimity, even in periods of extreme stress and emotional turmoil. But only if you practice, practice, practice. Although it is tempting to do so, you can't just think that you understand how to be mindful, and save using it for only those moments when the big events hit. They contain so much power they will overwhelm you instantly, along with all your romantic ideas about equanimity and knowing how to be mindful. Meditation practice is the slow, disciplined work of digging trenches, of working in the vineyards, of bucketing out a pond. It is the work of moments and the work of a lifetime, all wrapped into one.
The next time you find yourself making fists out of anger, try to bring mindfulness to the inner attitude embodied in a fist. Feel the tension, the hatred, the anger, the aggression, and the fear which it contains. Then, in the midst of your anger, as an experiment, if the person you are angry at is present, try opening your fists and placing the palms together over your heart in the prayer position right in front of him. (Of course, he won't have the slightest idea what you are doing.) Notice what happens to the anger and hurt as you hold this position for even a few moments. I find it virtually impossible to sustain my anger when I do this. It's not that the anger may not be justified. It's just that all sorts of other feelings come into play, which frame the anger energy and tame it--feelings like sympathy and compassion for the other person, and perhaps a greater understanding of the dance we are both in . . . The dance of one thing inevitably leading to another, of the concatenation of consequences impersonally set in motion, the end result of which can (mistakenly) be taken personally and lead to ignorance compounding ignorance, aggression compounding aggression, with no wisdom anywhere.
Try: Being aware of subtle emotional qualities you may be embodying at various times of the day, as well as during your sitting practice. Pay particular attention to your hands. Does their position make a difference? See if you don't become more mindful by becoming more "bodyful." As you practice being more in touch with your hands in sitting meditation, see if this doesn't have an influence on the way you touch. Everything from opening a door to making love involves touch. It is possible to open a door so mindlessly that your hand doesn't know what your body is doing and you hit yourself in the head with it. Imagine the challenge of touching another person without automaticity, with no gaining idea, just presence and caring.
In your meditation practice, especially when you are not using a tape for guidance, see if you can detect the very first impulse to quit, and any others that may follow, growing in strength. As you recognize each impulse, breathe with it for a few moments, and ask yourself, "Who has had enough?" Try looking into what is behind the impulse. Is it fatigue, boredom, pain, impatience; or is it just time to stop? Whatever the case, rather than automatically leaping up or moving on, try lingering with whatever arises out of this inquiry, breathing with it for a few moments or even longer, and allowing the moving out of your meditation posture to be as much an object of moment-to-moment awareness as any other moment in the meditation.
Try: Bringing awareness to how you end your meditations. Whether they are lying down, sitting, standing, or walking, zero in on "who" ends it, how it ends, when it ends, and why. Don't judge it or yourself in any way--just observe, and stay in touch with the transition from one thing to the next.
Try: Sitting for varying lengths of clock time. See how it affects your practice. Does your concentration lapse as you sit longer? Do you get hung up in how much longer you "have" to be present? Does impatience come up at some point? Does the mind get reactive or obsessive? Is there restlessness? Anxiety? Boredom? Time pressure? Sleepiness? Dullness? If you are new to meditation, are you finding yourself saying, "This is stupid," or, "Am I doing it right?", or, "Is this all I am supposed to be feeling?" Do these feelings start right away or do they only come up after a while? Can you see them as mind states? Can you observe them without judging them or yourself for even brief periods? If you put the welcome mat out for them and investigate their qualities and let them be, you may learn a lot about what is strong and unwavering in yourself. And what is strong in you may become even stronger as you nourish inner stability and calmness.
Try: Being aware of all the times in meditation when the thought comes up: "Am I doing this right?" "Is this what I should be feeling?" "Is this what is 'supposed' to happen?" Instead of trying to answer these questions, just look more deeply into the present moment. Expand your awareness in this very moment. Hold the question in awareness along with vour breathing and with the full range of this particular moment's context. Trust that in this moment, "This is it," whatever and wherever "this" is. Looking deeply into whatever the "this" of the present moment is, keep up a continuity of mindfulness, allowing one moment to unfold into the next without analyzing, discoursing, judging, condemning, or doubting; simply observing, embracing, opening, letting be, accepting. Right now. Only this step. Only this moment.
Try: Keeping a mountain image in mind as you sit in formal meditation. Explore its usefulness in deepening your capacity to dwell in stillness; to sit for longer periods of time; to sit in the face of adversity, difficulties, and storms or drabness in the mind. Ask yourself what you are learning from your experiments with this practice. Can you see some subtle transformation occurring in your attitude toward things that change in your life? Can you carry the mountain image with you in daily life? Can you see the mountain in others, and allow them their own shape and form, each mountain uniquely itself?
Try: Using the lake image to support sitting or lying in stillness, not going anywhere, held and cradled in awareness. Note when the mind reflects; when it is embroiled. Note the calm below the surface. Does this image suggest new ways of carrying yourself in times of turmoil?
Try: Bringing awareness to walking, wherever you find yourself. Slow it down a bit. Center yourself in your body and in the present moment. Appreciate the fact that you are able to walk, which many people cannot. Perceive how miraculous it is, and for a moment, don't take for granted that your body works so wonderfully. Know that you are ambulating upright on the face of Mother Earth. Walk with dignity and confidence, and as the Navaho saying goes, walk in beauty, wherever you are. Try walking formally as well. Before or after you sit, try a period of walking meditation. Keep a continuity of mindfulness between the walking and the sitting. Ten minutes is good, or half an hour. Remember once again that it is not clock time we are concerned with here. But you will learn more and understand walking meditation more deeply if you challenge yourself to keep at it past your first or second impulse to stop.
Try: Standing like this wherever you find yourself, in the woods, in the mountains, by a river, in your living room, or just waiting for the bus. When you are alone, you might try opening vour palms to the sky and holding your arms out in various positions, like branches and leaves, accessible, open, receptive. patient.
Try: Tuning in to your breath when you find yourself lying down. Feel it moving in your entire body. Dwell with the breath in various regions of your body, such as the feet, the legs, the pelvis and genitals, the belly, the chest, the back, the shoulders, the arms, the throat and neck, the head, the face, the top of your head. Listen carefully. Allow yourself to feel whatever is present. Watch the sensations in the body flux and change. Watch vour feelings about them flux and change. Try meditating on purpose lying down, not just around bedtime. Do it out of bed, on the floor, at different times of the day. Do it in fields and meadows on occasion, under trees, in the rain, in the snow. Bring particular attention to vour body as you are going to sleep and as you are waking up. Even for a few minutes, stretch yourself out straight, on your back if possible, and just feel the body as a whole breathing. Give special attention to any regions that are problematic for you and work at letting the breath invite them back into a sense of membership and wholeness with the rest of your body. Keep your emotional body in mind. Honor "gut" feelings.
Try: Getting down on the floor once a day and stretching your body mindfully, if only for three or four minutes, staying in touch with your breathing and with what your body is telling you. Remind yourself that this is your body today. Check to see if you are in touch with it.
Try: Noticing the difference in how you feel and how you handle stress in periods when you are into the discipline of daily meditation and yoga practice and in periods of your life when you are not. See if you can become aware of the consequences of your more mindless and automatic behaviors, especially when they are provoked by pressures stemming from work or home life. How do you carry yourself in your body in those periods when you are practicing and when you are not? What happens to your commitment to remember non-doing? How does the lack of regular practice affect your anxiety about time and about achieving certain results? How does it affect your relationships? Where do some of your most mindless patterns come from? What triggers them? Are you ready to hold them in awareness as they grip you by the throat, whether your formal practice is strong this week or not? Can you see that not practicing is an arduous practice?
Try: Drawing back the veil of unawareness to perceive harmony in this moment. Can you see it in clouds, in sky, in people, in the weather, in food, in your body, in this breath? Look, and look again, right here, right now!
Discipline provides a constancy which is independent of what kind of a day you had yesterday and what kind of a day you anticipate today.
By grounding yourself in mindfulness early in the morning, you are reminding yourself that things are always changing, that good and bad things come and go, and that it is possible to embody a perspective of constancy, wisdom, and inner peace as you face any conditions that present themselves. Making the daily choice to wake up early to practice is an embodiment of this perspective.
"I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium though which we look... To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts."
— Thoreau, Walden
Try: Making a commitment to yourself to get up earlier than you otherwise might. Just doing it changes your life. Let that time, whatever length, be a time of being, a time for intentional wakefulness.
Try: Thinking that your life is at least as interesting and miraculous as the moon or the stars. What is it that stands between you and direct contact with your life? What can you do to change that?
The challenge of mindfulness is to work with the very circumstances that vou find yourself in--no matter how unpleasant, how discouraging, how limited, how unending and stuck they may appear to be--and to make sure that vou have done everything in vour power to use their energies to transform yourself before vou decide to cut your losses and move on. It is right here that the real work needs to happen.
Try: To use ordinary, repetitive occasions in your own house as invitations to practice mindfulness. Going to the front door, answering the telephone, seeking out someone else in the house to speak with, going to the bathroom, getting the laundry out of the dryer, going to the refrigerator, can all be occasions to slow down and be more in touch with each present moment. Notice the inner feelings which push you toward the telephone or the doorbell on the first ring. Why does your response time have to be so fast that it pulls you out of the life you were living in the preceding moment? Can these transitions become more graceful? Can you be more where you find yourself, all the time? Also, try being present for things like taking a shower, or eating. When you are in the shower, are you really in the shower? Do you feel the water on your skin, or are you someplace else, lost in thought, missing the shower altogether? Eating is another good occasion for mindfulness practice. Are you tasting your food? Are you aware of how fast, how much, when, where, and what you are eating? Can you make your entire day as it unfolds into an occasion to be present or to bring yourself back to the present, over and over again?
Rarely do we question and then contemplate with determination what our hearts are calling us to do and to be. I like to frame such efforts in question form: "What is my job on the planet with a capital J?", or, "What do I care about so much that I would pay to do it?" If I ask such a question and I don't come up with an answer, other than, "I don't know," then I just keep asking the question. If you start reflecting on such questions when you're in vour twenties, by the time you are thirty-five or forty, or fifty or sixty, the inquiry itself may have led you a few places that you would not have gone had you merely followed mainstream conventions, or your parents' expectations for you, or even worse, your own unexamined self-limiting beliefs and expectations.
Try: Watching your reactions in situations that annoy you or make you angry. Notice how even speaking of something "making" you angry surrenders your power to others. Such occasions are good opportunities to experiment with mindfulness as a pot into which you can put all your feelings and just be with them, letting them slowly cook, reminding yourself that you don't have to do anything with them right away, that they will become more cooked, more easily digested and understood simply by holding them in the pot of mindfulness. Observe the ways in which your feelings are creations of your mind's view of things, and that maybe that view is not complete. Can you allow this state of affairs to be okay and neither make yourself right or wrong? Can you be patient enough and courageous enough to explore putting stronger and stronger emotions into the pot and just holding them and letting them cook, rather than projecting them outward and forcing the world to be as you want it to be now? Can you see how this practice might lead to knowing yourself in new ways, and freeing yourself from old, worn-out, limiting views?
Try: Whenever you find yourself thinking you are getting somewhere or that you're not getting where you are supposed to be, it can be helpful to ask yourself things like: "Where am I supposed to get?"; "Who is supposed to get somewhere?"; "Why are some mind states less valid to observe and accept as being present than others?"; "Am I inviting mindfulness into each moment, or indulging in mindless repetition of the forms of meditation practice, mistaking the form for the essence of it?"; "Am I using meditation as a technique?" These questions can help you cut through those moments when self-involved feeling states, mindless habits, and strong emotions dominate your practice. They can quickly bring you back to the freshness and beauty of each moment as it is. Perhaps you forgot or didn't quite grasp that meditation really is the one human activity in which you are not trying to get anywhere else but simply allowing yourself to be where and as you already are. This is a bitter medicine to swallow when you don't like what is happening or where you find yourself, but it is especially worth swallowing at such times.
The idea of transcendence can be a great escape, a high-octane fuel for delusion. This is why the Buddhist tradition, especially Zen, emphasizes coming full circle, back to the ordinary and the everyday, what they call "being free and easy in the marketplace." This means being grounded anywhere, in any circumstances, neither above nor below, simply present, but fully present. And Zen practitioners have the wholly irreverent and wonderfully provocative saying, "If you meet the Buddha, kill him," which means that any conceptual attachments to Buddha or enlightenment are far from the mark.
Loving kindness practice is done in the following way, but please don't mistake the words for the practice. As usual, they are just signposts pointing the way: Start by centering yourself in your posture and in your breathing. Then, from your heart or from your belly, invite feelings or images of kindness and love to radiate until they fill your whole being. Allow yourself to be cradled by your own awareness as if you were as deserving of loving kindness as any child. Let your awareness embody both benevolent mother energy and benevolent father energy, making available for you in this moment a recognition and an honoring of your being, and a kindness you perhaps did not receive enough of as a child. Let yourself bask in this energy of loving kindness, breathing it in and breathing it out, as if it were a lifeline, long in disrepair but finally passing along a nourishment you were starving for. Invite feelings of peacefulness and acceptance to be present in you. Some people find it valuable to say to themselves from time to time such things as: "May I be free from ignorance. May I be free from greed and hatred. May I not suffer. May I be happy." But the words are just meant to evoke feelings of loving kindness. They are a wishing oneself well--consciously formed intentions to be free now, in this moment at least, from the problems we so often make for ourselves or compound for ourselves through our own fear and forgetfulness. Once you have established yourself as a center of love and kindness radiating throughout your being, which amounts to a cradling of yourself in loving kindness and acceptance, you can dwell here indefinitely, drinking at this fount, bathing in it, renewing yourself, nourishing yourself, enlivening yourself. This can be a profoundly healing practice for body and soul. You can also take the practice further. Having established a radiant center in your being, you can let loving kindness radiate outwardly and direct it wherever you like.
You can direct loving kindness toward anybody, toward people you know and people you don't. It may benefit them, but it will certainly benefit you by refining and extending your emotional being. This extension matures as you purposefully direct loving kindness toward people you have a hard time with, toward those you dislike or are repulsed by, toward those who threaten you or have hurt you.
Try: Touching base with feelings of loving kindness within yourself at some point in your meditation practice. See if you can get behind any objections you may have to this practice, or behind your reasons for being unlovable or unacceptable. Just look at all that as thinking. Experiment with allowing yourself to bathe in the warmth and acceptance of loving kindness as if you were a child held in a loving mother's or father's arms. Then play with directing it toward others and out into the world. There is no limit to this practice, but as with any other practice, it deepens and grows with constant attending, like plants in a lovingly tended garden. Make sure that you are not trying to help anybody else or the planet. Rather, you are simply holding them in awareness, honoring them, wishing them well, opening to their pain with kindness and compassion and acceptance. If, in the process, you find that this practice calls you to act differently in the world, then let those actions too embody loying kindness and mindfulness.