Tag Archives: buddhism

Metta Meditation

Sharing a metta (loving-kindness/friendship) meditation with my Hiking Yoga students today, under the sweet sun rays, just at the shore of the lake in Prospect Park, was a true gift.

They were led through a visualization involving someone they love, who they feel comfortable with, who they feel they can be themselves around no matter what. We sat with them in this visualization and imagined our love for them as a white ball of light. We offered the light to this person as a symbol of gratitude, and observed how that felt in our own bodies. We then contemplated how the recipient of that love might react. It was a short 8 minute session, full of gratitude, lightness of heart, and warmth.

One of my oldest friends joined us, and it was her first meditation session ever!

Metta meditation can be helpful for depression and chronic pain and I invited participants to use this meditation on people they feel anger for as well.  It’s a powerful way to assuage negative emotions, even if it feels counter-intuitive at first.

There are hundreds of metta meditations out there; here is a beautiful session from Sharon Salzberg.

The definition of metta, according to Wikipedia:

Mettā (Pali: मेत्ता in Devanagari) or maitrī (Sanskrit: मैत्री) is loving-kindness,[1][2]friendliness,[3][4][5] benevolence,[2][4] amity,[3] friendship,[4] good will,[4] kindness,[3][6]close mental union (on same mental wavelength),[4] and active interest in others.[3] It is one of the ten pāramīs of the Theravāda school of Buddhism, and the first of the four sublime states (Brahmavihāras). This is love without clinging (upādāna).

The cultivation of loving-kindness (mettā bhāvanā) is a popular form of meditation in Buddhism. In the Theravadin Buddhist tradition, this practice begins with the meditator cultivating loving-kindness towards themselves,[7] then one’s loved ones, friends, teachers, strangers, enemies, and finally towards all sentient beings. In the Tibetan Buddhisttradition, this practice is associated with tonglen (cf.), whereby one breathes out (“sends”) happiness and breathes in (“receives”) suffering.[8] Tibetan Buddhists also practice contemplation of the Brahmavihāras, also called the four immeasurables, which is sometimes called ‘compassion meditation’[9]

“Compassion meditation” is a contemporary scientific field that demonstrates the efficacy of metta and related meditative practices.


Yoga and Buddhism

Comparing Buddhism and Yoga could be the study of an entire lifetime.  I had fifteen minutes to filter it all down for a presentation in Mindfulness and Meditation in Psychology.  Thankful for the opportunity to present in public (it had been over ten years, save my time in the classroom and yoga spaces), I spent a good few hours on this bad boy.

The power point below contains most of what was presented: a very brief history of how the two philosophies developed, a comparison between the Yoga Sutras and Buddhism, and a few shared techniques.  Both emerged around the same time and share many distinct similarities.

Fast forward 1300 years and comparisons between Tantra Yoga and Vajrayana Buddhism (especially the Vijnanavada and Yogacara schools, Sahajayana, Kalacakrayana, Cha’an and Zen) would be interesting to explore.  A more in depth analysis would include an illumination of the psychological theories within each practice, and their appearance in Western psychology (Aurobindo, Jung, Wilber, and Kabat-Zinn, although a good portion of our psychology class was already dedicated to the latter).

Buddhism and Yoga Power Point

Integrating aspects of Buddhism into yoga classes for the last several years, this subject was of particular interest to me.  Admittedly, I was also motivated to define yoga for the class after observing several misconceptions of it both in psychology texts and journal articles.  I also recently found out that there is a 500-hour yoga teacher training specifically integrating mindfulness practice in California – and a few new yoga friends just graduated!

It was amazing to participate in public speaking again – even if it did feel like the octave of my voice ran somewhere between Minnie Mouse and Pee Wee Herman . . .

Chao Em, Thich Nhat Hanh

Today I’m grateful for revolutionary peace advocate and Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.  His book on Love broadened and deepened my perspective more than any other writing on the subject.  I’m currently reading Peace is Every Step for my Mindfulness in Psychology class, and it’s an absolute joy – if you ever feel a bit overwhelmed, and need a book that will simplify what matters in life, this is a goodie.

Hanh has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and continues to bring teachings of mindfulness, engaged Buddhism, and (as far as I’m concerned) the logic of living in peace everywhere he goes.  Chao em, to a true living guru.

Ram Dass interviews Thich Nhat Hanh

A Day with the Dalai Lama

Grateful for memories!

On the (exact!) three year anniversary of my original posting on being the presence of the Dalai Lama … today I’ll give thanks for that rare experience, the direct result of simple seva.

Hotbox of Compassion ~ The Dalai Lama in Haridwar

Saturday, April 3rd, 2011.  The sun is stronger than normal today.  As the sweat beads form on my brow, I squint into the distance, just barely making out a large white van driving up the dusty paved road.  A beige colored haze forms just above the car, blurring the tops of buildings, the cows in the distance, lazily hunting for food in plastic bags scattering the ground.

We’re waiting for the white vans to pick us up and take us to the Dalai Lama.  Not straight to his lap, unfortunately, but to Haridwar, where the Kumbh Mela still rocks on strong, where the blessing for the first Encyclopedia of Hinduism goes down, amidst scores of saints, politicians, Tibetan devotees of His Holiness, media cats and lucky mo’ fos like me. We’re all going to the spiritual gangsta’s ball, and I have VIP pass!

No but really, though.  How on earth was I given the chance to go to an event where I’d be within arm’s reach of the Dalai Lama?

Seva.  Sweet and simple.

Speaking with one of the directors of the ashram where I was staying (Parmarth Niketan), I offered to do some seva (service) around the ashram, with only the intention of contributing something to this mad little community.  I cleaned room after room until I was pointed in the direction of a marble-floored residence overlooking the Ganga.  Velvet curtains and ornate furniture were not the only signs this was room was special.  It was spacious, sure.  But there was something more to it.  It had a vibe.

Later I found out I served as the Dalai Lama’s cleaning lady.  

When the director explained to me who usually stays in that room, I had a grin so massive, they invited me to the launch of the Hindu Encyclopedia where the Dalai Lama was set to provide a blessing. This was turning out to be a way cool first trip to India.

We drove for nearly two hours through the sprawling Rajaji national park (during which time I nearly hurled a few times), 10 white vans in a line, toting journalists (including an especially cool German lady who’d been writing about India since the hippy days), alongside ashramites like myself, alongside contributors to the first Hindu Encyclopedia.

The encyclopedia comes in 11 volumes and illuminates over 7000 comprehensive entries, written and cross referenced by over 1000 international scholars of Hinduism. This massive collaboration took nearly 23 years to produce, all overseen by the India Research Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization set up by Parmarth Niketan’s in house swami, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji.

Arrival in Haridwar is typically Indian: slow going, dusty and slightly confusing.  Our van drivers give up on navigating the hordes of people and cows so they stop several meters up the road from the event.  Squeezing past stationary cars, some parked, some stubbornly trying to get through the madness, we come to a massive orange gate and into the event.  It’s t-minus 65 minutes and I’m already sweating balls.

As we walk through the tent to the front rows, I notice all the Tibetan families, lined up diligently as they await the arrival of their spiritual leader.

The second row is almost totally empty – score!  I figured we could sit there until someone tells us it’s not allowed.  Either that, or we pass out from some horrific combination of hunger and heatstroke.

We watch an hour of setting up, all to the backdrop of gorgeous live kirtan, and finally the saints start making their way in.  I’m oddly reminded of the WWF stadium shows I’d seen in Hawaii, where Jake the Snake Roberts and the Ultimate Warrior would walk out from the dark back rooms to screaming crowds and flashing lights.The anticipation, the glaring power of the idol, media folks snaking around, vying for the best shot, and most of all, the heat. These are the holiest of holy men in India.

I recognize some of their faces, though I don’t know any of these saints’ names; the crowd, on the other hand, are more than familiar.  The bushy beardy long haired guy who’s all about Hinduism as the ideal path, the heartstrong saint with the shaven head who sings as though divinity were playing his pipes, and the grumpy looking leader of the saints whose staff and face paintings give him the air of a divine pimp.  Every holy man gets his props.  But when the Dalai Lama walks through, the Hulk Hogan of the spiritual realm, the crowd goes wild.  Immediately my heart starts beating quadruple time and tears literally start stream down my face.  This did not happen at the WWF show.

I hadn’t expected that at all.  I mean, I respect the man, his teachings are profound and everything I’ve read of his strikes a chord with me.  His people have endured disgusting oppression and yet he continues to lead the path of compassion and forgiveness.  But when he walked in front of me, all humility and smiles, literally just a few feet away, I felt nothing but pure joy – my heart nearly leapt out of my chest and into his arms.

Wow. It takes a few minutes to recover from the overwhelming emotions, and I’m wondering if maybe this means my heart chakra is way too open or something. No one else seems to be crying and I have a sneaky suspicion I look like one of those religious freaks who go into uncontrollable convulsions when enraptured by the spirit of the Lord.

75 minutes, two buckets of sweat, and four hundred pages of incomprehensible Hindi later, it’s finally time to hear the Dalai Lama speak.  First in Tibetan, translated to Hindi.  And then, a different speech, in English, for all us liberal minded academic hippy type folk in the West.  While the Tibetan speech, according to a girl I met at the ashram, mainly addressed the necessity to carry on, not to lose hope, and to always stay true to the teachings of Buddhism, the English talk emphasized Buddhism’s respect for atheists, the necessity for universal understanding, and the acceptance of compassion into every person’s heart.

It’s a brilliant 15 minutes (all recorded on video!), and I feel so grateful for being a part of this event.  From the long drive here, the presence of the saints, the blessing by the Dalai Lama, and the chance to just be present … it’s been the most incredible of days.

(Even if we were nearly murdered by a series of seemingly blind drivers on the windy road back to Rishikesh!  Thank Jah for our driver – a true surgeon of the road – who whizzed by more than one near-death collision that evening!  There’s so much more to write on the day, the lead up to it, how the Dalai Lama taught Ram Dev a lesson by yanking on his beard, and then, the denouement – the swanky party at the ashram.  But I’m on the road, a bit behind on these entries, and I suppose I should save some things for the book … ;o) )

Real Happiness

For a class I’m taking at the New School, Mindfulness and Meditation in Psychology, we’re utilizing an array of published psychology studies and meta-analyses, as well as three brilliant books in cultivating mindfulness.  I’m spoiled for inspiration.  One of these light-shedding books is Sharon Salzberg’s, Real Happiness.  It’s accessible, down to earth, and pulls from decades of solid personal practice.  Sharon Salzberg is rocking my world.

She’s currently presenting meditation workshops at the yoga studio a block from my house and I’ll definitely be heading over there soon to meet her in person.

The book breaks down several different kinds of meditations, based in the Buddhist tradition.  There are four meditation practices on the CD that comes with the book – breathing, walking, emotions and loving kindness.  Something for everyone!

If you’ve never meditated before, and you’re looking for a nice gateway practice, check out Real Happiness for practical advice and encouragement along the way.

ཐུགས་རྗེ་ཆེ་། Tujay-chay, Pema Chodron

(Image credit: Lynn Cornish)

A former elementary school teacher, the director of the first Buddhist monastery in the West, and one of the most resounding voices in spirituality today, Pema Chodron rocks my world.  In my last blog on Pema Chodron, I shared a video of hers, where she imparts the wisdom of “building a shoe” to carry us across difficult terrain.  If the shoe represents tools and techniques (deep breathing, meditation), whether Buddhist or not, Pema is a master shoemaker.  And one of Oprah’s 20 Most Powerful Women!

The quote below inspired a yoga class last week that felt particularly expansive for me as a teacher.  After pranayam (and kriyas in intermediate), we experienced postures with hands on our hearts, connecting to our natural rhythm, reminding ourselves of that symbolic center of compassion and loving kindness.  We used the technique described below in building a shoe . . . a shoe to carry us across the deserts of frustration and anger . . . and it felt so good!

The on-the-spot practice of being fully present, feeling your heart, and greeting the next moment with an open mind can be done at any time: when you wake up in the morning, before a difficult conversation, whenever fear or discomfort arises. This practice is a beautiful way to claim your warriorship, your spiritual warriorship. In other words, it is a way to claim your courage, your kindness, your strength. Whenever it occurs to you, you can pause briefly, touch in with how you’re feeling both physically and mentally, and then connect with your heart-even putting your hand on your heart, if you want to. This is a way of extending warmth and acceptance to whatever is going on for you right now. You might have an aching back, an upset stomach, panic, rage, impatience, calmness, joy-whatever it is, you can let it be there just as it is, without labeling it good or bad, without telling yourself you should or shouldn’t be feeling that way. Having connected with what is, with love and acceptance, you can go forward with curiosity and courage. I call this step “taking a leap.”


“I want to go deeper, but the only reason I want to go deeper is to be there for other people.”

In Bill Moyers’ two-part interview with Pema for the PBS special: On Faith and Reason, she goes into detail about her experience of a year of silence (among many other topics).  The broadened perspective and heightened sense of presence she describes reminded me of what I experienced on a much smaller scale after 10 days in silent Vipassana meditation.  Moyers does a brilliant job of eliciting informal and pragmatic descriptions of Buddhist concepts like attachment and response to suffering.  It’s a long one (two 30-min segments), but if you have some time, check it out!


Bodhisattva Prayer for Humanity

On Saturday, November 3rd, at Third Root Community Health Center, yoga, kirtan, acupuncture and massage were offered in a support event for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Participants dedicated the event with the Bodhisattva Prayer for Humanity, words the Dalai Lama meditates on daily.

I’m grateful for being a part of the Third Root community, and touched by the sentiment of the prayer below.

Bodhisattva Prayer for Humanity

May I be a guard for those who need protection
A guide for those on the path
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood
May I be a lamp in the darkness
A resting place for the weary
A healing medicine for all who are sick
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow
And all are awakened.

— Shantideva, Indian Buddhist sage 700 A.D.


Innit that purty?