May 14 Guided Meditation (soft belly, dual awareness, loving-kindness)

Here is the guided meditation from tonight’s “Intro to Zen” class. It has four parts. After some minutes of (1) settling in and basic breath following to focus the mind, it moves into (2) soft belly practice (bringing awareness to the belly region, softening around the sensations there), then transitions to (3) dual awareness practice (focusing on the breath and sounds in the environment), and ends with a few minutes of (4) loving-kindness practice.

Guided Meditation from May 14

Wellness at Williams: Summer Mindfulness Classes (6/18 – 7/23)

For Williams College staff and faculty: I’ll be offering a six-week series of mindfulness classes this summer through the College’s Wellness at Williams program: Tuesdays at noon, June 18 through July 23. See the series description below (or on the Wellness at Williams webpage, here). I volunteered to do this noontime series to make meditation/mindfulness more accessible to College staff and faculty who might not be able to make it to our Tuesday evening gatherings. If you have any friends/colleagues who work at Williams who might find this of interest, please let them know!

Mindfulness Meditation (drop-in/no fee) with Bernie Rhie — Tuesdays at noon, June 18 – July 23. Location: Meditation Room, lower level of Thompson Chapel.

This six week series will offer an introduction to the basics of mindfulness practice, which can help settle the mind and relax the body (it can also help one cope with difficult emotions and chronic pain). Each week’s session will begin with some brief remarks about mindfulness practice, followed by a guided meditation (we’ll try out different kinds of meditation every week). No prior experience with meditation or mindfulness is expected. Total beginners are especially welcome! Feel free to come to all six weeks or just drop in for some of the weeks, when you have the time. We’ll meet in the meditation room located in the lower level of Thompson Memorial Chapel, beginning at noon and ending by 12:50.

Meditation Instructions: Dual Awareness Practice

For those of you who’d like to learn about (or just get a refresher on) “dual awareness” meditation practice (in which we bring our awareness, during sitting, to both the sensations of our breath and the sounds in the environment), here are the instructions for the technique published in Ezra Bayda’s book At Home in the Muddy Water: A Guide to Finding Peace Within Everyday Chaos. I’ve pasted in the beginning of the instructions below. To read the full instructions (which are not long), click here.

The essential aspect of the practice life is to bring our attention to just this moment.

We always have the choice to either spin off into thinking or to just be here, with whatever the moment brings. This choice point is the basis of our sitting practice, in which we notice our particular patterns of inattention to the present moment. Do you know your own patterns? Do you habitually spin off into planning, fantasizing, self-judging? Or do you tend to dwell in internal conversations—reliving the past or in imagining the future? In noticing our patterns and returning to the moment, we make the choice moment after moment to just be here. In this way we develop the awareness that allows the energy of thoughts and emotions to simply pass through without our getting hooked.

One technique that many have found helpful in developing this wider container of awareness is called dual awareness practice. In dual awareness you maintain your attention simultaneously on the specific sensations of the breath and the specific perceptions of sound, bringing roughly a third of your attention to breathing and listening. The rest of your awareness is open to experiencing any other sensations or perceptions that arise within the wider container of breath and sounds.

To read the rest of the instructions, click here.

Talk on Zen and Contemplative Education (Sunday May 12, 11:20am)

Wanted to let everyone know that I’ll be giving a presentation this Sunday morning at the First Congregational Church in Williamstown on “Zen and Contemplative Education.” The first half of my talk will provide a quick introduction to the basics of Zen practice (including a brief guided meditation, to give folks who’ve never meditated before a taste of the experience), and the second half of my presentation will explore some of the ways we might use contemplative practices (like meditation) in schools in order to transform and deepen both teaching and learning. This presentation is part of the First Congregational Church’s Second Hour Series. All are welcome. Facebook event page for this talk is here.

Stephen Levine: Loving-Kindness Meditation (audio)

Here is an audio recording I made of the loving-kindness meditation that can be found in Stephen Levine’s book, Guided Meditations, Explorations and Healings. The recording is about 21 minutes long. Sound quality isn’t great, but I hope some of you may find it useful. (I think I may need a better mic!)

Levine was a pioneer in using meditative practices to help those who are dying, chronically ill, and experiencing grief. My friend and teacher, Ezra Bayda, first came across Levine’s teachings when he was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disorder, and Levine’s emphasis on heart practices (especially loving-kindness) had a profound impact on Ezra’s whole approach to Zen (he’s only gone one day since then without doing the loving-kindness meditation, and he considers it one of the most important practices he does).

Stephen Levine: Exploration of Grief

This chapter-long “exploration of grief” by Stephen Levine is connected to (and in his book, immediately follows) the guided meditation on grief that I posted yesterday. This “exploration of grief” is profound, and I recommend it to everyone, whether you are presently grieving a major loss or not. It may feel particularly relevant and urgent to anyone who has recently suffered the loss of someone very important in their life, but who among us doesn’t carry grief in our hearts and bodies, who among us doesn’t have grief to explore? As Levine writes:

All of us have grief to explore, the grief of incompletion, of not having what we wish, the loss of face or actually the loss of facade, the despair of no control in the shifting sands of impermanence, in the ever-varying winds of an unknown universe. It is the death of friends. It is the loss of one’s pet as a child. It is good friends moving away and old pains returning. It is all the moments of being unloved… It is the ordinary grief, our unfinished business, our daily dying out of life. (247-8)

As these lines suggest, though this chapter by Levine is ostensibly about “grief” in particular, his exploration actually encompasses the whole of life, and what he says in this chapter about working with grief is deeply relevant to the whole of one’s practice life.