Emptiness: the Full Story

How do you know when you have too much on your mind and have to empty it out? This is not quite the right question. Meditation isn’t about emptying the mind—that’s about as impossible to do as emptying out the ocean with a thimble. Rather, make willing allies with the mind and its myriad thoughts. Delete some, clear out the inbox, or redirect sticky thoughts down a more productive path. Ask the most tricky, sticky, icky thoughts if they’d like to sit on a shelf for a while (maybe forever). Sing them into a song or tape, or cook with them as company.

If you want to lead a full life, a life of fulfillment, fill the mind with the good calories of positive thoughts. Start to do this in meditation. Then, throughout the day, notice when negative thoughts come up, and how you can more easily handle them. Put another way, what better way to catch thoughts “coming up,” then in the quiet, non-distracting place of meditation? And if your mind (in or out of meditation) is clear of unwelcome thoughts, then skip to the end of this post.

Thoughts can be deeply entrenched and hard to uproot, but in the practice of meditation, we get to choose which thoughts we “want,” and which we want to let go of (or redirect). A mantra, or sacred sound vibration, is an example of a “wanted thought.” So are prayers and blessings. Make yourself a deal. For every negative thought, mentally repeat two positives. For every complaint, two complements. You may not be emptying your mind of thoughts, but you will be cultivating fulfillment and filling your mind with greatness.

What great thought can I fill my mind with right now?

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Once in a Blue Moon

Once in a Blue Moon.

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Once in a Blue Moon

There really is a “blue moon,” every year around this time. In India, the appearance of the fullest moon in the fullness of summer, is celebrated on the holiday Guru Purnima, which is today. I started my day teaching meditation, then attended a sublimely musical and meditative program at the first place I learned to meditate (Siddha Yoga Center), had lunch with dear friends, and then got on line to work. I took some time out (procrastinatorily, but enjoyably) to catch up on blogs and emails.

I recommend you bring color and imagination into your day by visiting the blog of conceptual artist/painter/writer AJ Atwater http://www.AJAtwater.com. This one is worth it. I met Minnesotan AJ at JCC’s morning meditation; she started coming to New York twice a year to paint and imbibe the city’s creative juices. The blue moon of creativity shines through AJ’s art. I wish you all an expanded day. Here’s a “Blue Moon” meditation you can try:

1.If you have clear skies (sorry, urban dwellers in dense spaces), wait until dark. Gaze at the moon. See its luminous light, brilliant against a dark sky. This can work in your mind’s eye, too.

2.Make a wish upon the moon. Ask for brightness to illuminate a dark or gray area in your life. On Guru Purnima, there is extra celestial power. Or, just enjoy the energies and feel what they bring into your being.

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Enough, Already

Enough, Already.

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Enough, Already

“At some point, the world’s beauty becomes enough,” (Toni Morrison).

I was walking around the quadrangle behind my mom’s building at the Senior Living Center. Marked by posts with how many steps walked and upbeat nature quotes, Morrison’s quote lifted my depressive morning mind from its usual abyss of careless worries. The word “enough” is fullness without complaint. When we push our plates away, and say “Enough,” we have chose fulfillment over excess.

As the agreeability of this planned nature walk shifts my restless thoughts from the waffling “what ifs” of youth to the wise acceptances of “mature” age, I think of my mom’s own mental transformation. She has no tolerance for complainers, as “life is too short.” She has learned to look on the brighter side of things. Her cronies at the picturesque senior complex on Long Island’s North Shore, are similarly upbeat. A self-selected group, they do not readily invite newcomers into their dining circle, as there are “enough of us already,” meaning people who are “positive, like us.”

If we look at our values as individuals, we each have to find that enough place inside, and set aside the pulls of family or a materially ambitious culture. When financial gain above or exclusive of all else is the driving value, enough-ness will elude us. A contemplative process such as the one below may help us feel at ease and satisfied with “enough, already.” With pen and paper at your side, try this:

1.Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths, inhaling from the belly and letting it puff out. Pause before exhaling all air and drawing the belly in towards the back. Repeat a few times until you feel a shift, an interior spaciousness or stillness.

2.For a few minutes, scan your day or week for times you felt grateful, rewarded, or appreciative. Focus on one or two of those experiences and how it feels. Sit with positive or neutral feelings, even if they seem forced or trivial. Notice if it is hard to stay there. What resists “enough?” What welcomes it? Breathe fully as you let these feelings come and go.

3.Gently shift towards acceptance of what is without complaint or story. Be open to having a sense of “enough” as a base or foundation, even if that enough’s only a faint sliver or glimmer of awareness. Open your eyes and journal or take notes.

What simple action or shift in attitude can I take to feel that I have enough right now in my life? Or, as Catherine Ponder writes, “I am rich in mind and manifestation now.”


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Memory in Place

Nostalgia’s vague presence settles over me as I recall visiting my Dad at work in the Cooper Square offices of the New Hermes Engraving Machine Company decades ago. This weekend marks his yahrzeit; he died four years ago after the Jewish fast day Tisha B’av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple. The children of Israel sank to an all time spiritual low, but a glimmer of hope redeems them at the end. Moses (Moshe) also speaks from his near deathbed as we start reading the fifth book of the Torah. My Dad, Morris Kaufman, was also a Moshe. His words come to me in images of his beloved Village (East and Greenwich, that is). This one’s for him: In the chill heat, July blankets the city like a warm snow. Passengers underground spread their gloomy cheer in shrill conversations with their devices. The subway is no cocoon. Stepping outside, the mind creates a cloudy mirror, a mirage of possibility, turning the day in its favor. I select its delights, ignoring the tiny giant cracks in the baked sidewalks along Eighth Street. Ramen shops have replaced the tattoo parlors and earring emporiums of my youth. The Bohemian hipsters look too affluent to be authentic. Iced tea is $4, Lattes $5. Oatmeal with chia seeds, $9. Morris, a salesman and artist, took us for $5 blintz lunches at the Ukrainian Restaurant and to sidewalk art shows. Today’s gentrified Village might jar him but also appeal to his urban sensibility and artistic scrutiny. Where have all the starving artists gone? What’s that monstrosity on the Bowery? What idiot spends $5 on coffee? Who do you remember? What is there legacy to you in all its complexities?

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Pain Meditation: Deify or Defy?

If you have ever had pain (who hasn’t), you may have tried two techniques to “get rid of it” with some degree of failure. Either you deify the pain, that is, really get into it, inviting others to join in your pity party, or you defy it, ignoring or distracting yourself from it, soldiering on. This is true of all kinds of pain, but it’s more obvious to see with physical pain.

As someone who has endured pain from klutzy accidents not entirely “my fault,” I’ve found that no singular approach works. A combination of time release “pain meditations” helps. If you have fallen, say, and fractured your fifth metatarsal as I did six months ago, defying pain is not so good. Conscious, grounded awareness on how to move and what makes the pain better or worse, is what’s called for. On the plus side, such an accident allows us to tune in with greater sensitivity. Bossing people around or complaining as a pain deifer is not so good either as we risk magnetizing pain’s grip on us, and feeling more pain instead of less.

Here’s a pain meditation that can strike the right balance. Try a gentle dose:

Assume a relaxed and comfortable posture that allows for ease of breathing. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, breathing in “space” and breathing out “tension.” Notice and feel the area of pain, but without dwelling on it too much. Give it some space. Do this mentally and visually, nudging it to shift its shape just a bit.

Ask the pain what it needs, and be open to any answers or a well of silence. Perhaps the painful area needs a little massage, a certain vitamin or cream, or to be surrounded by golden light or the soothing sound of music. When ready, open your eyes and follow through on your promise to pain, without defying or deifying it. Be sensible in giving it what it wants. So, how do you deal with pain?

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