Friday, September 23, 2016
Monday, September 12, 2016
Sunday, May 22, 2016
In my lucid dreaming time this morning it came to me sharp and clear that enlightenment is not something we have to do alone. It is not a competition. It is not a goal to be achieved to add to one's imagined self worth. It's something we can do together. Sure there are solitary practitioners out there who might get there on their own through extreme focus and discipline. But for the rest of us it's a damned site easier if we connect, at least on a psychic or imagined level to all those out there seeking awakening from the limits of their self. This connection can be across space time to all those teachers, wise people and their students, is anywhere in the universe, anywhere now, past or future and with any sentient species. We're all encouraging and helping each other. We're waking up together. Because we are together, one and connected.
It was a full moon last night. A huge one. In May. I looked that up on Google this morning and noticed it is wesak. The Buddha's full moon. Other great teachers seem to have been allotted a full moon, eg Christ. Anyway, I suspect I was really feeling the moon's energies in the early hours this morning.
Friday, January 29, 2016
Every time we practice something for real OR by doing it in our mind our brain assigns more neural connections to help us with that activity. It's like walking a path. Every time you walk that path it gets a little more permanent and a little wider. Driving, swimming, playing an instrument, speaking a foreign language etc all become better and easier with consistent regular practice. The brain says "aha! this person is serious about this thing. It's not just some one time event. I'll do some rewiring behind the scenes to make it easier."
We once believed that the brain only assisted babies and children this way but these days we know about neuroplasticity. Even adults can nudge their brains into rewiring. This has been especially good news for stroke sufferers, giving hope where there was little before.
So aside from doing things like playing a musical instrument what else could we get the brain to help us with:
- quelling the constant chatter in our mind as it chews over past events and consider for the future. This is useful when it helps us learn from the past or plan for the future. It's not so good when it bogs us in a quagmire of regret and fears.
- enhancing our skills to understand others, to put ourselves in their shoes, to empathize with their struggles and their pain as well as their achievements and their joy. Building our emotional intelligence may increase compassion and reduce jealousy. Making the world a better place for not just us but also those who might otherwise suffer or incur our discontent.
- distancing ourselves from our inclinations to rage when that rage cannot improve our circumstances.
- mindfully participating in life with full awareness, being in the moment without judging our circumstances. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, give a richer experience of life, provide emotional perspective etc but more than anything it cures of that great plague that's afflicting post-modern humanity, multitasking. Burnt your lunch lately? I just did. Try to split yourself between two tasks such as writing and cooking and it is likely only one will be done well, the one you are focusing on.
- understanding the nature of our very mind, the illusion of the constructed self (our habits and the labels we have given ourselves), even enlightenment.
- Calm meditation, being with the breath. This is thought to calm the default mode network of the brain which is involved in mental chatter.
- Concentration meditation. Focusing one's attention on an object, real or imagined.
- Reflection on the flimsy nature of what we call self (our collection of beliefs, habits and self labels), our branding.
- Devotion, such as to a teacher or someone who inspires us
- Compassion (Tonglen)
- Mindfulness, being in the moment
- Resting in stillness, silence and spaciousness aka Dzogchen (variously pronounced dzochen or tsochen)
- Get yourself in a comfortable position. Seated usually helps with staying awake as do things like keeping your eyes very slightly open.
- Take a few deep breaths to oxygenate the body. If you know any pranayama or the Tibetan nine breaths do that.
- Take a moment to mentally catalog the sensations in your body. Any tension, tingling, agitation or relaxation. Don't do anything with it. Just observe it. Imagine you are your own scientist. You are going to observe and note any changes your meditation practice causes in you. You may wish to keep a journal. This first body scan is your benchmark. No you haven't got a control group but lets not get carried away.
- Think of someone, something or somewhere that you enjoy. Smile. Voice your like, saying something like "I like xxx", whatever xxx is. You've just lit up areas in the left front portion of your brain. (yes I am being simplistic here. In truth anything we do uses a number of areas of our brain but predominantly the activity is here.). Buddhists might complain that by focusing on a conditioned like we are only strengthening an arbitrary attachment. It is not the aim of this step to untangle you from your attachments and aversions, only to shift you into left front of brain thinking. Facial expressions, vocalizations (including chants and affirmations) or considering the meaning of something will all get you to the left, touching your logical and often more positive side. You need the right side too but many people get trapped there and we are laying down a neural pathway to help us to switch.
- Scan your body for any changes.
- Now imagine someone you know and like reasonably well but someone who is also doing it tough (you can try this step with strangers and people you don't like later but lets take baby steps first). Take a moment to consider this person; their habits of response to life, their struggles, their frustrations, their pain and suffering. Imagine yourself as this person, living their life. What does it feel like. How do you feel about them now? Imagine you are sending that person all the care and attention you are feeling right now? How do you feel in your mind, your chest, your belly?
- Do a quick body scan. Note any changes.
- If this last step has left you feeling sad repeat the smile step we started with.
- Now think of someone you greatly admire. Someone who has helped you in your life. Imagine them in as much detail as you can and imagine you are sending them gratitude for how they helped you. Even if they are no longer living. If you wish to take this further you can imagine being them, thinking like them, having their wisdom and skills. What does that feel like?
- Do a quick body scan. Note any changes.
- Become aware of your breath. If you are feeling dull and sleepy give slightly more focus to your in breath. If you are feeling agitated give slightly more focus to your out breath. Just be with your breathing. If the mind drifts into thinking about other things that's fine, just gently bring it back to the breath. Do this for a couple of minutes. Don't berate yourself if your mind has drifted often. It will but it will get easier. When you become proficient at this step you can watch the mind itself, watching the thoughts, like clouds, drifting through a blue sky.
- Bring your awareness back to your body and scan it.
- To finish off we will use a visualization that connects us with the four elements as a way of naturally moving into Dzogchen (still, silent and spacious state of mind). For this one close your eyes fully. Imagine yourself on a high mountain plateau. There's a stiff but refreshing breeze blowing. It's blowing away all the obstacles and impediments in your life. Feel the wind. Be the wind. Be free. Give thanks for that. Come back to your self and go to the lake that's in front of you. Take a plunge in its cleansing waters. Feel all your old habits and pains washing away. Feel how the water surrounds you and nourishes you. Each cell of your being is filled with water. Be glad of that. Feel the water. Be the water. Feel loved and nurtured. Return your awareness to yourself. You've built a small fire to dry off in front of. Feel its warmth penetrating your body, into your very bones. Watch its magical flames. Give thanks for its light. Feel the fire. Be the fire. Be warmed and inspired. Awaken to a spark of joy within your solar plexus. Return your awareness to the body. Become aware of the ground you are sitting on. A mountain that has its roots all the way into the earth. Immovable, solid, stable, supporting you, grounding you. Feel the earth. Be the earth. Feel its still bulwark of strength. Give thanks for that. Return your awareness to your body. Remembering the immovable still strength of the mountain visualize that same stillness within you. Or maybe you focus on your spine, straight and strong like some ancient oak tree. Feel that stillness. Be that stillness. Experience that. Keeping that awareness of stillness focus on your throat. The space in your throat. It's like a vast cavern, deep in the ground of your being. Still, quiet. There's a warm red glow. Experience the silence there. Be the silence. Staying connected with the preceding stillness and silence move your focus to an imaginary space in your heart. Not your physical heart but the sacred heart which you can visualize in the area of your sternum. That bone that divides your ribs. Maybe about four finger widths, more or less, from the top of the sternum will be about the right place. Imagine a cavity under that. For Tibetans that is where your mind resides. Imagine it as a vast clear blue desert sky. Open. Spacious. Empty. Observe that space as if you were looking at a clear blue sky. Connect with that. Be that. As you watch it ask yourself where the mind is that is looking at it. The more you look for that mind all you find is more spaciousness. More emptiness. Spaciousness observing spaciousness. Awareness of awareness. Primordial mind. Experienced dzogchen practitioners will go beyond this to touch the limitless light and love, joy and unconditional acceptance that resides within that space but for now that is enough. For more about this read Tenzin Wangyal's Awakening the luminous mind
- To finish off you may like to strengthen the neural pathways that are associated with compassion and love by making a wish. For example wishing for the happiness of all sentient beings (humans, dolphins, whales etc and yourself included).
- Return your awareness to your body and do a scan of your feelings and sensations. Has the mind gym changed anything for you. Make some notes. If you've found it beneficial you might wish to put together your own mind gym and run your mind through it once or twice a day. If you truly want to rewire your brain remember your gym practice needs to be consistent and often.
Sunday, July 26, 2015
The early parts were about getting to know the elements and how they relate to us and the world around us. I'd found that connecting with the elements within the spaciousness, silence and stillness that the practice teaches to be very powerful. One thing I had particularly noticed was an enhanced sense of smell. I looked on the web to see if the senses had any elemental correspondences. Going by http://www.thewhitegoddess.co.uk/the_elements/tables_of_correspondences/the_elements_and_their_correspondences.asp the sense of smell seems to be connected with the element of water. In the tibetan tradition taught by the Ligmincha Institute the element of water is equated with home and comfort. A place to rest and feel safe. Since I have always sought out water, either for a swim or a bath, when stressed this came as no surprise.
This month, July, the course is dealing with relationship - to self and others and expanding the practice to include an awareness of the suffering and striving of those we have particularly challenging relationships with. That awareness grows compassion and becomes a powerful way to heal. I had been feeling particularly at odds with myself due to the ill health of a significant other. Yes I know I shouldn't but I had been blaming myself. Surely I could have done more to prevent it, cared more, loved more, prevented more. I guess I'd been peeved at my own helplessness in the situation and that had made me angry with myself. Doing the practice that went with this month's teaching I chose to focus on my relationship with myself as my first relationship to repair. I first used the prescribed breathing and visualization to center myself. Becoming clearer and more open. From there I went into the awareness of stillness, silence and spaciousness and rested in it. I let myself become aware of all I'd been feeling (my relationship with my self), without judging or engaging with it. A warmth washed through me, a releasing of sorts that left me at peace with myself. I had done my best, as we all do our best, within the day to day conditions and context we live in. If I want to support greater healing in those I love then I need a whole and healthy relationship with myself AND them. Knowing we are all doing the best that we can. Letting that understanding and the compassion that flows from it send healing energy towards them and the world that is the context for their own dis-ease.
Monday, May 25, 2015
I had one last attempt to learn music in my early twenties, taking singing lessons and buying myself a keyboard but really I had no clue if I was on key or not. In never learned anything more than the right hand melodies. I certainly didn't seem to have a feel for rhythm or timing or any of the other skills a musician is supposed to have. So I sold the keyboard and put the tin whistle into my glory box.
Then apps happened. Having finally learned enough Spanish using Duolingo that I can actively use the language I wondered what else apps might help me do. Could I learn to hear when a note was in tune? If I could do that then maybe I could look at getting a musical instrument and trying again to learn some music, at least for my own pleasure. After a bit of a look at potential apps I settled on the Functional Ear Trainer. It promised that ear training could be taught. I doubted that very much but thought that it might be a good brain game. So ten minutes a day I started with it. I was appalling at first I must say but surprisingly I quickly started making some progress. Okay this was good. It was obviously possible to learn to hear relative pitch at least. Maybe I wasn't a total lost cause.
While working with the ear training I started looking for apps and resources that would teach me some actual music theory. Here are my favorites:
- Lypur's Youtube music theory videos - clear straight forward small chunks of learning. Mostly related to learning the piano but the theory can be applied more broadly.
- Music theory helper app which has some exercises that help with discerning intervals
- Piano scales and chords free - necessary practice if you ever want to play left hand accompaniments, transpose music or do all that other fun stuff real musos do.
- Perfect Ear 2 - a great swag of learning tools
- Voice Training Learn to Sing - for learning to sing in key
- Rhythm Sheep - for learning to hear beats and timing
A visit to my local library got me a copy of "Idiots Guide to Music Theory" which pulled all the bits together for me.
Feeling empowered I installed a piano app (there are many to choose from) on my tablet so I could start practicing reading some sheet music and playing some actual music. I also unearthed my tin whistle and started considering what music instruments were out there and what might suit me best.
Keyboards are pretty much the go for music beginners but seemed pricey until I found out about the Casio LK120 which, on special, sells for under $100 Australian dollars. The keyboard is specially designed for beginners as it has a memory bank of 100 tunes, has a three step learning process and allows you to practise the left and right hand separately. In the first step you hear the tune at the pace it is meant to be played, keys light up showing you which keys to press but if you make a mistake it still plays the correct one. In the second stage you play the notes as best you can at your own pace but you will hear mistakes. In the third step you perform the piece at the pace it is meant to be played. Correct fingering is also taught through and on screen display and a voice guide which is annoying so I switched it off right away.
But keyboards, while good in the home, aren't something you can readily carry around with you. That led me back to considering a second instrument I have with me most of the time. Actually I settled on two: the tablet keyboard and the tin whistle.
Pianist HD learn Piano, like the Casio keyboard has a memory bank of a hundred songs (the usual copyright free kids tunes, carols and classical pieces) and access to others you can download. It is actually a very similar teaching approach but getting the timing right is more intuitive as the length you need to hold each note is shown visually. I think it is a good way to learn note measures. As I'm not into carols and the kids tunes quickly became boring I drifted into playing with the classical pieces and found I loved it. I didn't realize I was already familiar with so many. We must hear them all the time in advertisements and tv shows. A lot of classical doesn't do it for me, frankly I never got the whole scene, but I do enjoy these popular pieces. The thing is now I am learning their names, their composers and the magic in how they are pieced together and played. Another app called Piano sheet music has quite a few more classical pieces and shows how the notes relate to the sheet music but unfortunately it gives no way to play along.
Back to the tin whistle. I quickly discovered my Bflat tin whistle wasn't in the standard key for tin whistle music. Fortunately that doesn't really matter as you can play standard tin whistle fingering in any key, just cover the holes as indicated. Much of the music around for it is they copyright free stuff which initially limits you to the ubiquitous nursery rhymes and carols but fortunately also a large amount of traditional Irish and Scottish music. Not knowing most of these tunes it pays to look them up on Youtube and listen to a performance first before trying to learn them. I've since bought a Feadog Pro D tin whistle in the key of D. It is higher pitched and therefore more of a challenge to hit the high notes without causing what my partner nicely calls a cat squeal but otherwise it does have a nice tone. Since most tin whistle pieces are written for the key of D. It is possible with some practice to create semitones which allow you to play a greater range of sheet music. Your main limitation is the lowest note in whatever piece you are playing can't be lower than the lowest note on the whistle so if you want to adapt a piece of sheet music to the whistle you must transpose it to the key of your whistle. Fortunately their are apps to help you do this too. The other limitation is that a musical piece must cover no more than two octaves. Those restraints aside the whistle is something you can carry with you anywhere and I believe there are also two piece ones that fit in your handbag for transport.
My next job is to learn some of the tin whistle ornamentation such as tonguing, tapping and rolls. Tonguing allows you to cut the air flow when you want a clear transition between two wide apart notes. Tapping is as it sounds, a quite double tap on the desired note which is useful for giving a held note a beat whereas otherwise you would just get a long drawn out note. Rolls are short musical pieces, a series of quickly played notes that, well to be honest I'm not sure where you'd use them yet but I'm guessing they are useful for adding interest to an otherwise boring patch of music. If you do opt for a tin whistle check out the collections of tin whistle music on Pininterest. like my favorite pieces such as "Country Road" and "Ode to Joy." And for the more traditional Irish stuff check out http://www.irish-folk-songs.com/sheet-music-and-tin-whistle-notes.html. The book of sheet music he has is a good collection for beginners but you will find many more on his website including modern popular pieces http://www.irish-folk-songs.com/pop-songs-for-tin-whistle.html
One day I'd like to try a Dobro or slide guitar. Being sometimes a massage therapist I don't fancy what the average guitar does to your finger tips but the slide guitar and its variations look possible. Something for later on though. At the moment cost is a deterrent. If a second hand flute turned up cheap at a garage sale I might try that too but I hear they need specially shaped mouth for you to play them well and I have no idea if I qualify. Refer Embouchure: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embouchure This is not an issue with the tin whistle or oriental and native American Indian end blown flutes.
You may ask why I haven't gone to someone to learn music. Well the fact is I live in a remote wilderness area with a dearth of music teachers. That aside I've never enjoyed the whole being taught experience. I prefer the direct nonjudgmental feedback of apps and my own ears. My approach wouldn't work for everyone but as a brain game and a personally pleasurable experience its enough. In the meantime I'm having lots of fun.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
The essence of the meditation is still that same freeing connection with inner space, stillness and silence that you will find in his other works. I would recommend them all as they overlap in their wisdom.
Given the prohibitive postal charges between the US and Australia I obtained my copy as a digital download direct from the Hemi-Sync online shop. http://shop.hemi-sync.com/products/1424-Sacred-Space-The-Practice-of-Inner-Stillness-Album/#.VP_Ppo5L7EY