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About the “Meditation Basics” program


As I’m enjoying my day off, I’d like to write a little about the Meditation Basics classes that are starting soon.

As the title suggests, this is a good introduction for people new to the practice of meditation. At the same time, I’m sure that more experienced people would benefit as well. The class combines time spent sitting, with some discussion. If you’ve been interested in meditation and are thinking about trying it out, or have just started on your own, this is a great class for you. If you’re a more seasoned meditator, we’d love to have you here as well. The presence of serious meditators always adds something special to a group.

Group practice is valuable. I think there’s no way to overstate this. Personally, I read a lot, and meditated on my own for a few years before I got curious enough, or brave enough, to try out sitting meditation with a group (Berkeley Shambhala in California). I was so nervous going to a new place, not knowing anyone there. I remember to this day how the person at the door, who’d buzz you in, seemed really unfriendly. Weren’t meditators supposed to be friendly and gentle and caring? She buzzed me in, I walked up to the second floor, and made my way into the meditation hall. I felt like I knew what I was doing, since I’d been meditating by myself for a few years. Somehow, it felt very different though. The room was warm, pleasantly decorated, and not too crowded. But being around other people as I sat felt significantly different. Doing the technique I’d done for so long with others, and in that space, felt different. I felt exposed, put on the spot. I noticed my own thoughts and feelings much more clearly, including the feeling that I already knew what I was doing, and that I was a good meditator already.

I went back to this particular center a few times. Maybe three or four. Not too many. Somehow the difficulty of it, and the intuition that something was up there drew me in. That door guardian, who still brings up a little twinge of annoyance after all these years, somehow her presence, her unyieldingness had done something. The experience of being with a group had also. Later, asking questions of the more senior students did something valuable too. For the most part, I could just tell they had something. They were not ordinary people. They weren’t saints or gods, but they had something, and something I wanted to get for myself.

After leaving those Sunday meditations, I’d walk around Berkeley a little bit, enjoy the sunshine, probably get some coffee. Then I’d drive home to Fairfax, I think, at that point. Fairfax is an odd little town in Marin County, with a definite hippy vibe. There’s a church there that hosts a monthly (I think) rave. Normal church, but just once a month there’s a rave there, with DJ’s, people dancing. The Good Earth, I think, is the big health food store in town, and they make their own kombucha. They have this giant kombucha fungus sitting in a big jar at the back of the store. It’s really a hug kombucha creature, about three by three if I had to guess from memory.

Obviously everyone is on their own journey, with sidetracks, pit stops, crashes, and all the rest. For meditators, studying with others is a valuable part of that journey, and can be very interesting and surprising. Thanks for indulging me as I shared a little about my own trip. Here’s a little information about the Meditation Basics classes. They’ll be starting on the 11th of December.

Overall, there are three classes. I highly recommend that you take them in order, from one to three.

We start with sitting meditation, which focuses on the breath. This technique, sometimes called mindfulness, is the foundation of various sorts of practice. It’s the technique that all the others taught here are built on. In Basics 2, we learn walking meditation, and a kind of body-awareness meditation. Again, the mindfulness technique in Basics 1 is the foundation the things like walking and body awareness are built on. In Basics 3, we learn contemplative meditation, and some other forms too.

Of course, there’s also discussion. This is a time to talk about what’s on your mind, and to ask questions about the techniques we’ve learned. There are also some discussion topics. Basics Two focuses on the teaching known as the “four foundations of mindfulness.” Basics One is a little more general. We cover a lot of different ideas. Here a few:


The meaningful life

Preciousness of life, and gratitude


Letting go

Cause and effect


The mind


Overall, the three courses are a great introduction to meditation. I think they’d also be a great refresher for people who’ve been sitting for a while, and want a reminder. Classes held in Newbury MA, about forty five minutes from Boston.

Excerpt from “108 Reflections”


from the short text, 108 Reflections on Practice:

  1. Practice is a way to connect the highest aspirations, hopes, dreams and so on, with the actual practical realities of reality. It can be easy to not have these two things meet- dreams and reality. Often, it’s easy enough to read about high concepts, but also too easy to allow this to stay in the realm of concept and not shake the foundations of everyday living.
  2. Practice is a way to protect your mind. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, it’s said that shunyata, or “emptiness” is the best protection for the mind. Why even protect your mind? Because if you don’t, it gets chaotic, dirty, unpleasant to live with. You can get what one teacher called “mental halitosis.” Emptiness can refer to wisdom beyond concept, or the fact that reality is never quite concept. Reading this is one thing, experiencing somewhat something else. Practice allows for “tuning in” to this kind, or way of experiencing more directly, away from labels and ideas.
  3. Then again, concepts are powerful and useful, and inescapable. Again, it can be hard to connect the deep philosophy written by people in the past, and moment to moment experience. This doesn’t mean that words or ideas are garbage, though. They have a huge impact on what we do, and how we do it. So practice doesn’t just let you experience and understand emptiness, it lets you work with ideas in different ways, seeing them from different angles. In a way, an idea is like a vivid mandala manifesting in empty space. It’s like a colorful cloud, or rainbow. Your mind is full of these clouds.
  4. Practice lets you see your own limitations and issues. Sometimes it’s easy to know your own limitations, sometimes it’s not. Having a routine of practice involves some discipline. There’s really no way around that. If you can do a practice regularly, every day, then you’re doing it. If you can’t, then the discipline isn’t there. In terms of issues, again, everyone has some idea what is “wrong with them,” but practicing shows you your own mind, from a slightly different perspective. If there’s a problem, you’ll see it there.
  5. We may never become completely fearless, but fear is something you can work with. It can become part of your path. It’s a very basic, profound experience. It would be strange to ignore it, if emotions are part of your process.
  6. Practice accomplishes things. There’s no promise it will make you pretty, or perfectly happy, or wise, but it does process you. People who have practiced are different. This is one highlight of being part of a community of practitioners: you get to see others who’ve “been there before.” They probably won’t be perfect, and many won’t be easy, but they should have some qualities of having grown.
  7. Practice has implications for the entire world. This is as personal as what is accomplished for practitioners. It’s not just about going to a temple, or praying at home, but also about what you do once you’re interacting with the world.text by Jacb Karlins 2012

Pure Gold

There is a term in Vajrayana Buddhism, “kadak.” I think that’s it. It has been translated as “primordially pure,” “pure from the very beginning” or even “alpha pure.” That last one is a little odd, but there you have it. Translating the nondual language of the buddhas is not easy even for experienced translators (not to mention someone like me).


me: “I… don’t know if it’s working. I don’t feel like it’s a precious human life.”

lama: “It doesn’t matter what you feel. Gold is precious. It doesn’t matter what you feel about gold.”

Spontaneity through meditation

Meditation with Arms, a sculpture by Auguste R...

Meditation with Arms, a sculpture by Auguste Rodin. Located at the B. Gerald Cantor Rodin Sculpture Garden at Stanford University. Right side shown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)




Meditation somehow magically makes spontaneity more likely. This happens with perception, and with action. This means that when I practice enough, which is a lot for me, my senses clear up, like my nose clears up when I’m not suffering from allergies, and suddenly my breathing is better and I feel good. Also, what I say, the way I walk, how I open a door even, become less robotic, less clunky and the same as usual. This spontaneity is connected to the idea of dance. This kind of dance is spontaneous, at least a little bit.



Meditation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Habits, relationships

Afrikaans: Geroosterde pitte van die koffiepla...

Afrikaans: Geroosterde pitte van die koffieplant. English: Roasted coffee beans Español: Granos de café tostado (natural). Bahasa Indonesia: Biji kopi alami yang telah disangrai. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People have habitual patterns. These patterns have a pull to them. They’re physical. When I go to make coffee, I have my little way of getting the beans, grinding them in the grinder, tapping out the ground beans to a certain rhythm…

One problem is that these patterns make you unconscious. They’re numbing, even if efficient. People like efficiency, but no one really wants numbness, or a living death.

Another problem is that habitual tendencies make it hard to do something different. Think of a problematic relationship, and if it has some habitual qualities- always rushing to fight about x, always tensing up when y is suggested. It’s not that YOUR way is wrong and you’re crazy; it’s that if you want to “improve a relationship” or get over something, having an addiction as far as what you feel or think or do can make that really difficult.

Today I had a moment of noticing this in a conversation, and holding back.

Generally, I think of holding back as bad, cowardice. If you’re about to go into a habitual argument, with the natural feeling of being justified, the joy of being able to go back into that argument, holding back can be good. I was so glad I did.

A fallen coffee cup with beans pouring out.

A fallen coffee cup with beans pouring out. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The expectation process, and love that circus


Evstafiev-russian-circus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This expectation process seems, for me, like some kind of faking-it thing, acting. I want to seem to know what I’m doing at all times, and expecting various things is like a magical process of trying to make them happen, or give a kind of appearance of them happening. It’s like conjuring up a feeling or presence of things happening.

I think this inkling is positive and true in a way, but gets distorted easily into unrealistic expections for the mind. The mind will not conform to expectations, hopes, and fears. Practice helps remind and establish this as a habit; by seeing the mind doing its loopy thing a million or a trillion times, you start to get the idea. It’s a mind. That’s what it does. It’s like a circus. You don’t expect the circus to be an office and do paperwork. A circus is a circus. Get some popcorn!


"circus" (Photo credit: thaiz_mm)

The mind does lots of ornate and fantastic things, maybe like a circus full of monsters and deformed beasts, and it also labels. The idea that things are not their labels is one “thing” I got right away, or thought I did. Not only do you think and plan and reconstruct all the time, you give names and categories to things. It’s like that moment. There’s that thing that I know. It’s a fan.The TV is making sounds.

Instead of hearing and seeing, you get a slightly shady version of hearing and seeing- labels. Would that you could just rip the labels off, but you can’t. That seems to be part of problem and confusion with psychedelic experiences; they promise to bring you to some direct experience of reality, when they just push certain buttons, tending to give the illusion of direct experience.

List of U.S. state foods

List of U.S. state foods (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Very advanced practice #2

I should be charging you an arm and a leg for these teachings, since they are so advanced and powerful. Maybe I’ll design some kind of correspondence course soon- get totally 1000% enlightened in eight weeks, only 39.95.

It helps to have read the other post about the “most secret practice” involving lying down, and relaxing.

In this version, let yourself get overwhelmed. Enjoy some blaring TV, radio, iPhone, busy rushing around, stress, video games, texting. People say that things are getting more and frenetic, more hectic, more stressful by the day. Enjoy that. Have fun and go crazy with it.

When you find yourself overwhelmed and jangling in response to being very overstimulated, turn the stuff off, lie down (works best in your room, inside) and relax. Think a bit. Let the thoughts play out. Let the overwhelm and stress work themselves out as you just lie there and think.

Oftimes, new Buddhists learn about living a disciplined life, removing distractions, quieting down. I think that is very good, and potentially excellent. At the same time, lots of people are unable to do this. They’re just not there. You could say that they’re having so much fun with their life that they don’t see the benefit of narrowing things down, turning off stimulators and distractors like a blaring TV, or a chattering that won’t stop.

This is just fine. Don’t feel guilty at all if you need that stimulation via computer or TV.

Just let it drive you crazy, and then take a moment or two to relax, and let yourself think.

DISCLAIMER: This is not a promise that you will stop thinking. It’s okay to think. This is not a promise that you will “find peace,” or even a claim that such peace even exists at all.

Aragón Televisión

Aragón Televisión (Photo credit: macfacizar)


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