Sitting Meditation


Last spring I did a self-propelled 21-day sitting meditation challenge.  As the title suggests I sat everyday for 21-days in a row in hopes of establishing a pattern of sitting daily.  And it worked!  Its been over a year since then and I still continue to practice sitting meditation everyday, minus a day here and there.

Now, I would be remiss if I thought it was only the act of sitting for 21-days in a row that allowed me to finally start sitting everyday on my own.  Although for some folks that may indeed be enough.  Nothing exists by itself alone and I see clearly that all of my actions, practice, and intentions leading up to starting that challenge also factored in to a successful outcome.

I wanted to share a little meditation secret that I have a sense is not commonly known.  OK, are you ready?  Here it is: There will always be something else you could be doing besides sitting meditation (bills, phone calls, laundry, watching youtube, picking your nose…) so if you are wanting to start a daily practice you will have to do it even when you “know” you don’t have the time for it.  Because the thing is, if you think you’re too busy to sit you’ll probably always be too busy to sit.  The mind is very tricky that way.  Life is life and will continue to be so.  It isn’t life getting in the way of our practice, it’s us.

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Daily Practice – Day 21



Day 21 – This is the final day of my daily sitting meditation practice intention that I set up for myself 21 days ago.  I remember when I started out I was nervous about broadcasting my intention to sit everyday out of fear that I wouldn’t follow through.  And now that I’ve come to the last day I would say that using my blog and posting everyday for the last 21-days to help support my intention was the best thing I could’ve done for myself.  It was extremely beneficial to hold myself accountable to my own personal intention to practice a few minutes of sitting meditation everyday.  And I would encourage anyone to do the same if you’re thinking about trying to start a new routine or practice.  The support of others reading my posts and following along with me through this journey is something I am deeply grateful for.  Thank you so much my friends!  (I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how my daily sitting practice continues onwards from here).

Daily Practice – Day 20

Day 20 – I did my 10 minutes of sitting meditation before leaving the house this morning.  I’ve been finding this online meditation timer really helpful:  Since I’m on my laptop a lot when I’m at home the online timer gives me the flexibility to sit anywhere in the house and not just in the bedroom where my meditation clock/timer is.

I stumbled upon the quote above a couple of weeks ago and really resonate with its message.  This saying is interwoven with what I often talk about in regards to having a small comfort zone and not being able to step outside of it.  When we cultivate a security bubble, never challenging ourselves in different situations, places or around other people we generate a small comfort zone and then have difficulty engaging in anything outside of what we’re familiar with.  In our attempt to avoid discomfort and suffering we often will create more discomfort and suffering simply by trying to control the parts of life that are out of our control.

In my experience when we are able to make friends with the things, places, people, and situations that create fear, stress, anxiety, sorrow, frustration, discomfort or difficulty we are then able to let go of the tension we create by trying to control and avoid those things.

This is one example I’ve heard a lot over the years from people in our meditation sharing circles – let’s say I’m afraid of spiders (we have a lot of them around the mindfulness center :).  If whenever a spider appears I react by shrieking, shirking away, turning my head so I can’t see it, tensing up my whole body, and eventually fleeing the area I will never be able to make friends with the spider.  In that moment I would be making friends with my fear and imagination instead.  We have very active imaginations (and many of us have watched WAY too much tv/movies).  We allow our minds to carry us far away from reality and what is happening in the present moment.  When we are able to stop and come back to our breathing our breath will be our anchor to the here and now.

Of course with all things there is a balance and it will be different for each of us.  I’m not saying we need to immerse ourselves in a tank of spiders or that we have to pick one up everyday and say, “Hello little friend, how are you today.”   But I know for myself that when I am able to take small steps in the direction of making friends with whatever it is I am uncomfortable with I move in the direction of ease and joy and I then become more skillful when it comes to the next situation.  And there is always a next situation to be encountered.

Daily Practice – Day 19


Day 19 – Before I did my sitting today I sang the morning chant which I really enjoy and don’t often do.  I find that the morning and evening chants are nice ways to start off my sitting meditation.

This week I’ve had very fully days.  Often going from morning to night with meetings and projects and to-do lists.  I appreciate the momentum that has been building up over the last 19 days in regards to my daily sitting meditation practice.  In the past it was so easy for me to make excuses of reasons why it didn’t work to sit from one day to the next.  I think it’s easy to tell ourselves that we don’t have time, that our lives are too busy for this or that.  And often what we don’t have time for is something that’s beneficial, healthy or supportive to our overall well being, such as: more rest, better eating habits, more exercise, more time with friends and so on.  We tell ourselves, and anyone who will listen, how busy our lives are as if our daily schedule was created by someone else and handed to us at the last minute.

Sometimes we forget that how our day unfolds is directly due to decisions that we ourselves make.  We are the only ones that can prioritize the things and people in our lives.  If we find that we have no time for cultivating friendships and spending time with family it’s because we’ve set our lives up that way.  If we have no time to meditate then it’s because we’ve made something else more important.  With every decision we make, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, we set up our own lives.  We are the only ones who can.

Daily Practice – Day 18

2011-02-04-mountaintopDay 18 – This week has been quite full and I have often found myself with very little time in the day to simply sit and rest for a few minutes.  But I’ve been continuing to do my sitting meditation for a few minutes everyday and its been working well to do my practice before I leave the house for the day.  So, not first thing in the morning but after I’ve gotten up, dressed and ready to go I take my 10 minutes and do my sitting meditation before setting out for the day.

Today was a bit stressful time wise in getting certain things done and as I sped around town griping at drivers who were going 5-10 miles under the speed limit, as is often the case around here, I caught myself in a hurried fit many times laughing at myself.  It really is a comical scenario to be carried away by something in which I have no control over, such as other cars.  I also find it helpful in these cases to talk to myself by saying things like, “There’s nothing you can do so you might as well calm down, you’ll get there when you get there,” or, “OK, take a breath right now.”

How much time is wasted in a day by living in a moment that isn’t happening?

Daily Practice – Day 17


Day 17 – I had to go to the mindfulness center this morning to meet with the co-director of our upcoming retreat and after we sorted though retreat boxes and prepared things I had the center to myself and was able to do my 10 minutes of sitting meditation.  I am finding a lot of value and benefit in having set up this 21-day sitting meditation intention.  It is now a very natural part of my day to sit for a few minutes whereas before it was something that seemed to need a lot of effort.

Daily Practice – Day 16

Flathead Lake picture taken today from the West Shore State Park

Flathead Lake picture taken today from the West Shore State Park

Day 16 – I did my sitting this morning before I took off up north to the Flathead Lake area with my friend and co-director of our upcoming local mindfulness retreat in early May.  This will be third retreat that I’ve co-directed with her.  Today we went to visit with the staff at the facility we’ll be using for our retreat.  It is a beautiful location, the Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp, and sits right on the western shore of the Flathead Lake.  This will be our second spring using the facility.

Our collective Open Way Montana Sangha (of which we have four practicing groups, in the same Plum Village tradition with teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, in three towns in western Montana) puts together two annual retreats a year – one in the spring and one in the fall.  For one retreat a year we keep one consistent dharma teacher and for the other retreat we rotate through various dharma teachers.  (If ever you’re in the Montana area in the spring or fall and want to join us for a retreat check out for retreat info :)

Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp main hall (picture taken today)

Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp main hall (picture taken today)

Tonight was our regular practice night for our Be Here Now Sangha that meets at the Open Way Mindfulness Center in Missoula, Montana.  Our format includes sitting and walking meditation, a reading, sharing circle and then closes with a gratitude and healing circle.  Although tonight we had a little bit different of a format and instead of the walking and reading someone gave a talk on the Fourth Mindfulness Training: Loving Speech and Deep Listening (see below).  For the last 3 years now we’ve been having a mindfulness training talk series where once a month, from January through May, a different practitioner gives a short talk on one of the trainings (of which there are five) and about how they are working with it in their daily lives.  The talks are a nice opportunity to get more insight and understanding about different ways to work more deeply with the trainings as an ongoing practice.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Loving Speech and Deep Listening
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.


Flathead Lake picture taken today from the West Shore State Park

Originally the Five Precepts (now called: Mindfulness Trainings) were very short, one line sentences that the buddha offered as his only official teaching that he offered to lay people (people that were not monks & nuns).  They were as follows (as taken from the literal translation from the Pali language):

1. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life.
2. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.
3. I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech.
5. I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.

The fourth mindfulness training, as included above, entitled: Loving Speech and Deep Listening is part of an expanded version of the original five trainings as offered by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Order of Interbeing.  As you can see, the fourth training, just like the others, has been brought into the 21st century and modernized to include more support and detail for those of us looking to lead a fuller, more mindful and deeper connected life.  The trainings represent a vision for a more engaged spirituality and ethical values.  They can help us wake up to ourselves, our surroundings, and to our relationship with the present moment.

I deeply appreciate working with these trainings and having them available as ongoing teachings.  They are not designed as have to’s or supposed to’s and I also appreciate that about them as well.  They are set up as a guiding light on the path of understanding and love.  In the west especially I think it’s easy to read the new expanded version and think, “I have to do these perfectly!” and then use them to beat ourselves up with.  So it is important to note that perfection is a dangerous illusion, a trap that we can get stuck in all too often.  If you use the trainings as a practice in your daily life please embrace them with openness, lightness, diligence, and ease.

Daily Practice – Day 15


Day 15 – Today I sat for 10 minutes.  It felt like a natural progression to increase my sitting time by a few minutes.

The picture above I took just minutes ago.  I find it illustrates beautifully the great challenge of life.  What is the great challenge you ask?  From what I can tell, the great challenge is grasping.  Interwoven with grasping is attachment and interwoven with attachment is delusion.  Every difficulty we encounter or create in our daily lives can be linked to grasping, attachment, and delusion.

The daffodil above is a vision of loveliness.  Its golden petals are in delicate balance.  It is beautifully unfolding and its vibrance is set up magnificently against the cobalt blue of the bottle.  Yet soon it will wither and die.  The flower will not last long in its current brilliant state of being.  If we are caught in grasping its form, as it exists today, we will be saddened and disappointed when it starts to wither.  Looking deeply we can see that when we are caught up in grasping we are also attached to something.  In this case we would be grasping its beauty and attached to how it existed in the past.  The delusion is that the flower is of a permanent, unchanging nature.

This is a simple example that may be easy to understand.  However, this is also how we interact with many things and experiences in our daily life.  We often grasp at thoughts, views, emotions, events, people, places, and things.  We often get attached to how things used to be or are supposed to be.  And we often get stuck in our delusion that life is permanent, unchanging, and separated into realms of right and wrong.

It is not the unfolding of life that causes upset and difficulty to arise, it is how we relate to it and move forward.

Daily Practice – Day 14


Day 14 – Today was a day of rest for me.  After a long, active week I took today to rest and stay in bed.  And while it would’ve been easy to pass up on my meditation time, I didn’t consider that as an option for even a moment.

Today I read the Discourse on Taking Refuge in Oneself.  Here’s a passage taken from it (the words spoken are that of the buddha):

“All phenomena that are born, exist, and are subject to the influence of other phenomena, in other words, all phenomena that are composite, must abide by the law of impermanence and eventually cease to exist.  They cannot exist eternally, without some day being destroyed.  Everything we cherish and hold dear today, we will have to let go of and be separated from in the future.  In not too long a time, I will also pass away.  Therefore, I urge you to practice being an island unto yourself, knowing how to take refuge in yourself, and not taking refuge in anyone or anything else.

“Practice taking refuge in the island of the Dharma.  Know how to take refuge in the Dharma, and do not take refuge in any other island or person.  Meditate on the body in the body, nourishing Right Understanding and mindfulness to master and transform your cravings and anxieties.  Observe the elements outside the body in the elements outside the body, nourishing Right Understanding and mindfulness to master and transform your cravings and anxieties.  That is the way to take refuge in the island of self, to return to yourself in order to take refuge in the Dharma, and not to take refuge in any other island or thing.”


It is easy to take refuge in something or someone outside of ourselves.  To hang out happiness onto someone’s behavior or certain conditions or the weather.  One of the largest teachings I’ve been given through this practice is learning that the state of my relationship to my own health and well being is a choice I make (whether consciously or unconsciously).  And it’s something I continue to work on everyday.  Some days are easier than others.  There is a great responsibility and a great freedom that come along with knowing that my life is up to me and no one else.

Daily Practice – Day 13


Day 13 – I did my sitting this morning before heading out the door for the day and then just tonight read the Discourse on the Dharma Seal from my Plum Village Chanting Book.  In reading some of the buddha’s teachings in the discourses I’ve been finding that a majority of it is confusing to me but there are a few words or a few sentences that I absorb.  In the beginning of my practice when listening to a dharma talk or reading a book I would put pressure on myself to understand it all right away but now I see the benefit of simply taking in a teaching and allowing the rain of the dharma to fall over me.  And sometimes I take something tangible away and sometimes I don’t.  And sometimes understanding unfolds over time.

Here’s a passage from the discourse I read tonight:

“Bhikshus (fully ordained monk), find a quiet place to meditate, such as a forest under a tree.  There you can see that form is painful, empty, and impermanent, and as a result, you will not be attached to form.”  (First Door of Liberation)

“Bhikshus, dwelling in concentration, see the dissolution of form, and be free from the illusory nature of perception vis-a-vis form.”  (Second Door of Liberation)

“Bhikshus, once you are free from the view ‘I am,’ you no longer consider what you see, hear, feel, and perceive as realities independent of your own consciousness.  Why?  Because you know that consciousness also arises from conditions and is impermanent.  Because of its impermanent nature, it cannot be grasped either.”  (Third Door of Liberation)