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Category Archives: Meditation Beyond The Cushion

Testing the Benefits of Meditation… in the Emergency Room

We read a lot about the benefits of meditation. But the true test may come in times of trauma. Here’s how meditation transformed a severe fall and a trip to the emergency room into an experience of mindful awareness.

What’s your idea of the perfect Kindness Community?

Some months ago I wrote about starting a Meditation Community. I still think it’s a great idea. There’s a genuine benefit to sharing our practices (whatever they may be), supporting, and motivating one another.

But what I want to share with you at Luminous Heart is so much more than meditation in the way most people think about it, as sitting meditation practice. So the plan for a Meditation Community didn’t quite describe what I want to create.

My primary focus is what I call “meditation beyond the cushion.” How do we bring mindfulness into the creative chaos of life? How do we see our world as a place of kindness, and express our own loving-kindness every day? How do we expand our capacity for love and compassion?

Lately I’ve been hearing the words Kindness Community. I don’t even know what that might be yet, but the words are making a place in my heart.

What do you think of a Kindness Community?

If you could envision the perfect Kindness Community what would it look like? What would you expect to receive? How could it help you bring more loving-kindness, compassion and happiness into your life? What kind of place would it be that you could come to with your own heart full of gifts?

I would so love to hear your thoughts on this. We are in the very early Dreaming stages, nowhere near any kind of form, so I won’t even set up an advance interest list. But I would love to hear your thoughts on the perfect Kindness Community.

Three Conscious Breaths

Best of 2009 Moments of peace. An hour or a day or a week of solitude. What was the quality of your breath? The state of your mind? How did you get there?

© 2009 Mahala Mazerov

© 2009 Mahala Mazerov

Almost every week I hear someone say they’d love to leave everything behind and live a blissful life in some remote monastery.

My mental response is “Oh sweetie. I’m not sure you understand. Are you ready to give up your job, family, cell phone, car, computer, favorite Thai restaurant, and shopping? I’m not sure leaving all your distractions and drama behind to work with your mind 24/7 is going to feel as relaxing as you think.”

Now, if you know me at all you know my love and incredible admiration for people who have committed themselves to monastic lives (or even month-long meditation retreats.) But most of us have not developed the quality of mind to be able to engage in such practices in a way that would lead to clarity and calm.

Fortunately, and maybe even because our minds are so untamed, we don’t need a monastery.

All we need is three conscious breaths.

Just three breaths, in and out. Nothing special. Just three breaths where we know that we’re breathing.

You can easily put these into your day by choosing a specific time or action when you will take them. Washing dishes, brushing your teeth or just after you finish the meal are three possibilities. Other times might be when you get into a car or when you’re in the grocery checkout line.

These are just ordinary breaths. You can do them in public and no one will know the difference.

I love these breaths. They have a restorative quality.

Quiet mind. A warm, full sense of well-being. Space.

For one tiny moment I imagine how lovely it would be, working continually with my breath in a mountain top monastery.

Then the fantasy bubble bursts. I return to my day, but at least with a greater sense of embodied peace.

A Brief & Beautiful Prayer

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Flower. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Appearing on Fridays.

blush of compassion. © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

blush of compassion. © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

One of the themes you’ll hear me talk about on a regular basis at Luminous Heart is the concept of meditation beyond the cushion. By that I mean more than bringing the fruits of practice into life, and even more than trying to bring mindful awareness into our activities.

For most of us life is moving too fast. Our meditation practices (if we have them) are not established enough to be in the palm of our hands or at the top of our mental response when we most need them.

So when I talk about meditation beyond the cushion I’m referring to ways to continually train your mind in love, compassion and awareness as you move through your day.

One of my favorite practices is a brief and beautiful prayer called The Four Immeasurables. It comes from the Buddhist tradition, but the qualities it exalts are universal. Anyone, of any spiritual practice can recite this prayer:

    May all mother sentient beings boundless as the sky have happiness and the causes of happiness.

    May they be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.

    May they never be separated from the happiness which has no sorrow.

    May they rest in equanimity free from attachment and aversion.

The wish that all beings have happiness is love. The wish that all be free of suffering is compassion. Happiness which has no sorrow is joy. Freedom from bias, attachment and aversion is equanimity.

The Four Immeasurables are traditionally recited three times during meditation sessions, but I love taking them beyond the meditation cushion. I like having something memorized. I recite them when I’m waiting for something or someone, when my mind is chattering or when I’m ungrounded. In truly challenging moments, when I want to reach for some kind of spiritual support, The Four Immeasurables are right there for me.

There’s actually much more meaning than you would imagine condensed in these four lines, but I will leave a detailed exploration for another time.

I believe simply repeating the prayer (silently or out loud) will take you where you want to go, opening your heart and developing the qualities of love, compassion, joy and equanimity for yourself and others.

Recite the prayer for yourself, and let me know how it feels. I’d also like to know the prayers you take beyond the meditation cushion. (Even if you never actually sit and meditate.)

Meditation Beyond the Cushion

Without thinking about it, form a picture in your mind of You. Meditating.

Where are you? What does your meditation look like? Are you sitting on a cushion? Doing walking meditation? Gazing into a cloudless blue sky?

While I don’t know exactly what you’ve envisioned, I think I can safely assume you didn’t picture yourself dragging bags through a crowded airport when all flights have been canceled, sitting with a breaking heart as you watch the evening news, or watching a child (and a parent!) have an emotional meltdown in the grocery store.

I doubt you imagined yourself struggling with exhaustion, having a huge argument with someone you care about, or sitting with a friend who is grieving.

Let me tell you, these are exactly what my meditation practice looks like. These are the moments I need to bring the heart mind “tools” of awareness front and center. They’re the moments when love, compassion and awareness can truly bring benefit.

Can I be on the spot with an open heart?

In these moments I come face to face with the naked truth of practice.

Maybe I will catch a happy glimpse of fruition, “Ah, I handled that a little better than I would have in the past.” Just as often I will see my lack of skillful means, the button that got pushed again. Both provide their own motivation for continuing to meditate.

Meditation is a dynamic process of cultivating heart and mind while actively engaged with the world. Sometimes it will look like sitting on a cushion, but just as often it will be called forth in response to daily life.

I call that meditation beyond the cushion.

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