Sitting through March

We’ve added more dates, continuous now through the end of March 2015, for the “Just Sit!” sessions on Tuesday evenings. (Please check back monthly for future dates.) These guided meditations are open to any and every one. All levels of experience and all faith or no faith backgrounds are welcome. Just Sit! is an opportunity to sit with others in contemplation and meditation, whether you are just learning how to meditate or have been at it for years.

For those of you who haven’t come to sit — or haven’t come in a while — we are currently dividing the hour into three meditations, or, one mediation with three sections. However you slice it:

Part 1 — 15 mins on the breath, developing concentration and allowing our mind to settle by counting our exhalations (to 3 sets of 21 exhalations) and then simply sitting without counting for a little longer, deeply experiencing the breath.

Part 2 — 20 mins on allowing, noticing and meeting our direct experience with an embracing mind of love, coming back again and again and again to the direct experience of each moment, allowing, allowing, allowing…

Part 3 — 20 mins on ‘feeling into’ our basic nature: the awake, alert awareness in which direct experience is arising — that which is always already present. We turn our focus from the experiences, the thoughts, feelings, sensations and pay attention instead in each moment to the space in which the experiences are arising.

 

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Sky dancing

Thanks to my sweetie, Michael, and all the super-talented folks at Skydive Arizona, for making my first skydive a fantastic experience. What a thrill. So dream-like. I wish everyone could have the opportunity to fly like this.

Big, blue desert sky. Neat shot looking back up to the plane — I’m strapped to tandem master Josiah, and you can see Michael leaping out after us. Once we were under the parachute, enjoying the view, Josiah says: ‘Heather, welcome to my office!’ Lucky, lucky guy.

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Sitting at home

Do this! Quick and dirty instructions for starting a daily meditation practice at home — notes from last week’s whiteboard:

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Just Sit! at home:
1. Decide to practice daily
2. Create a space
3. Minimize distractions and interruptions
4. Set a timer for 5-10 minutes
5. Sit
6. Do not get up until the timer goes off

As to the details of #5, what to do when you’re sitting: breathe. Follow the breath with gentle, firm attention. Breathe in, breathe out. (Um, that link’s just a song I like, not further instructions.)

We’re sitting again Tuesday, 7-8pm.

Cute improves concentration

File this under S for SWEET!

In addition to making the heart all warm and fuzzy, have you heard that exposure to cute things has been studied and shown to improve concentration? This means if you’re looking to hone your attention, study for an exam, even engage in some practice that requires manual dexterity, you ought to warm up with exposure to sweetness!

Open to nature, open to gratitude

File this one under B for BLISS!

Nature’s Beauty Inspires Gratitude is a must-see 20 min TEDx talk featuring the stunning filmwork of Louie Schwartzberg. It starts as simply jaw-dropping time lapse nature photography and builds into a compelling vision for why and how to be grateful when we open our eyes each morning.

On the bio page of his website — aptly named “Moving Art” — beside the picture of his peaceful smile and super-clear eyes, it reads:

As the only cinematographer in the world who has been shooting time-lapse 24/7 continuously for well over three decades, Schwartzberg is a visual artist breaking barriers, connecting with audiences, and telling stories that celebrate life and reveal the mysteries and wisdom of nature, people and places.

If you pay attention right around the 5 min 50 sec mark, you might audibly gasp, as I did. But you must watch this one all the way through. Then be grateful you did.

And for fans of non-narrative documentaries, in 1982 he provided additional cinematography for the film Koyaanisqatsi.

Happy frolicking cows!

Yesterday I had a series of conversations with former strangers (by which I mean, once we’d chatted for a while they transformed into new friends). Inexplicably, and not brought up by me, the topic of vegetarian vs. meat eating kept surfacing. It surprised me because I had watched this video yesterday morning and couldn’t stop thinking about it all day long. It’s just delightful. A herd of cows are released into a field instead of being taken to the slaughterhouse. They jump and dance with joy. So sweet.

I’ve been vegetarian on and off in my life, always for reasons of compassion for other living beings. Quite simply, I believe it is terrible what human beings do to themselves and other animals in this world. Even still, these days I choose to eat a lazy version of ‘paleo’ because my body functions better this way. (Grains, in particular, are a terrible storm of inflammation for me.) And also, I eat meat because, when I reason it out, suffering is happening, it’s the very nature of things. Unavoidable. Samsara. That which is born, dies. I kill when I brush my teeth. I can’t drive down a summer road without killing thousands of insects, crushed against the windsheild. It breaks my heart, truly.

I bought chicken breasts again from that super-friendly guy at the market this morning. And I still can’t stop thinking about these lovely, happy frolicking cows. It makes me wonder about all the things I can and can’t control. And leads me to ask, how can I be more compassionate today, with myself and with others?

Endangered pleasure

IMG_5481I love to hold hands. There is a basic deep connection in the holding of hands. It is intimate. A direct path from one heart to another.

I want to hold the hand of a lover under the covers laying in bed, while walking at night in the park, while driving country roads in the car.

I want to hold the hand of a friend as she tells me her secret thoughts or maybe we just sit silently.

I want to hold my grandmother’s hand again, feel her soft worked-in skin, her strong bony fingers.

I want to go to the hospital and hold hands with strangers who need a hand to hold. Need it more than medicine and more than words.

I want to hold hands with my brother, both in our forties now, and trammel all taboos that hold one heart at a distance from another.

 

About this piece: I wrote this recently as a 10-minute exercise in a workshop held by Melinda Burns. Melinda is a local Guelph writer who has been leading writing workshops for three decades. She is an incredible talent and one of the gentlest people I know. If you’re interested in writing with her, there’s a Fiction Workshop starting up next Thursday, March 13th, 2014 and running every two weeks until May 22nd.