How to read the posts

The posts are arranged here with the most recent appearing at the top of the page. If you are new to the blog, you might find it useful to start with the first posts. Go to the blog archive on the lower right to access the posts in the order in which they were written.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Opening to insight: the mundane and beyond

The word mundane has two meanings.  According to one, mundane has to do with the secular, the wordly as opposed to the spiritual or otherworldly, the supramundane.  Another meaning of mundane has to do with the ordinary, the everyday, and therefore, presumably, lacking interest or being boring.  In respect to the practice of meditation, both meanings are relevant and the interplay of those meanings is worth exploring.

Meditation is associated with spiritual goals such as enlightenment, awakening, liberation, altered states of consciousness, supreme happiness, seeing reality as it really is, uniting with the divine within, or being in the "eternal now moment."  These goals take us beyond the mundane.  Yet, in the practice of mindfulness meditation, it seems like we are invited to become immersed in the mundane.

The usual path in learning mindfulness meditation is to begin most humbly with a focus on the breath and then opening to whatever may show up.  We might begin the practice with a daily routine of sitting meditation, perhaps as short as a few minutes, and then increase the time slowly to something approaching 30 minutes to an hour, once, twice, or more times a day.  We learn different postures of meditation.  In addition to sitting, we learn walking, standing, and lying meditation.  And we generalize the mindfulness we develop to everyday activities such as eating and going about our activities of daily living.  For this type of everyday meditation, the more mundane the task the better as we discover that these very mundane tasks are especially effective for being mindful and present focused.  If we go on retreats that allow us to practice continuously, we have an opportunity to develop a momentum in our mindfulness.

When we first start meditating, we may alternate between being bored and being excited.  We might initially think that just sitting observing our breath would be very boring.  What is so interesting about the breath anyway?  But most people find that their first deep look at the mind and how it operates is quite interesting.  We see that the mind is constantly active, going here and there, not subject to our control, very busy and anarchic.  We wander and drift in and out of awareness of that wandering.  We might find ourselves momentarily immersed in something that occurred to us years ago or just hours before. We might get caught up in the stories our minds tell us.  We might see lights and beautiful moving shapes.  Sometimes, we might find ourselves close to panic as strange sensations arise.  Emotions that we have long suppressed may come to the surface and, inexperienced as we are, we might find them hard to handle and most distressing.  But at other times the mind seems still and empty and we may lapse into blissful drowsiness or even sleep.

As time goes on, a lot of this excitement dies down.  We learn how to let things go and not get caught up in the parade of mind moments.  We easily release occurrences that we have repeatedly reviewed in the past and know so well.  It takes a lot to perturb us now.  This is a kind of equanimity and for many it provides a welcome relief from the drama of their inner lives.  But it smacks of complacency and indifference and is not the spiritual equanimity that we may have sought.  We are in the meditation doldrums.

In the secular, clinical form of mindfulness that has become so prevalent, the spiritual side of the practice is neglected, hence the doldurms.  To get out of the doldrums, there must be an understanding of the spiritual path.  Refocusing on the traditional purposes of meditation and dedication to going beyond the mundane hold the promise of renewed energy for our practice and deepening wisdom.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Winter 2014 workshop: Mindfulness in action

Mindfulness in action

Mindfulness meditation is increasingly seen by science and by the popular media as beneficial for
health and well-being. Developing mindfulness, not only in meditation, but throughout the day,
will be the focus of this workshop led by Dr. Alan McAllister. The workshop is sponsored by the
Bancroft Family Health Team and is open to residents of North Hastings without charge.
The workshop is to be held at 19 Oak Street each Wednesday morning from 10:00 to 11:30,
beginning January 29, 2014 and will run for eight weeks. If you have any questions about the
workshop, please call 613-334-0109.