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Category Archives: Meditation Practices

When Stories Hurt

1 topic : 4 voices. This post was inspired by something Susan Piver wrote on twitter. “There is a way to write that solidifies your story and a way to write that liberates you from it.” The ensuing conversation was too wonderfully juicy to leave to 140 characters. Tweeting then and writing now are Susan Piver, Hiro Boga, Jennifer Louden and myself. I’m honored to be in their company. Please follow the links, read their blogs, and enjoy their expanding wisdom on the subject.

update: 5 voices. Dave Navarro wrote an incredible post you really should see called How to Stop Telling Your Sad, Sad Story.

shimmering sunflower

sunflower shimmer © 2010 Mahala Mazerov

I’m a believer in the power of stories. They teach, inspire, and heal. Stories can express the depth of sorrow for what we’ve lost. They remind us of challenges faced and overcome. We reclaim our wholeness through stories.

But sometimes stories hurt. They’re like shards of glass wedged in our psyche. They may be nearly invisible, half-forgotten. Then we brush up against them and are stunned by their fresh pain.

We all have stories like this. They drag us to the past even us as we move forward in time. A new event unfolds and triggers the old hurt, making it a little more true in our minds.

We believe we are our stories. They describe our fears, reasons for anger, feelings of being unloved, and our perceived limitations.

Our mind cycles through them, trying to make sense, trying to resolve the pain into a neat package that doesn’t hurt any more. But every time we revisit them instead of finding resolution we seem to drive the shards a little deeper into our hearts.

Here are two truths: We are not our stories. Some things are not resolvable.

Freedom then depends on something besides resolution. Something different than making peace with the past so as to be untouched by it.

One way to work with painful stories is to move beyond the story all together. Move beyond the narrative that only serves to hook us further. We’re talking about this right now in the shenpa course I’m teaching. We’re learning to stay, which means learning to stay present with the pure vibration, sensation and emotion without going into words. (You’ll find some guidelines in this compassionate abiding post.)

Another way to work with stories that hurt is to hold awareness of the story, but make a radical turn outward. Instead of holding the hurt close as your own private provenance, extend your gaze. When you do you’ll discover your personal story is mirrored in the lives of others as far as you can see. Shimmering in Indra’s net.

Staying present to the pain of your experience and looking outward, compassion arises spontaneously.

Now the words of maitri meditation (metta, loving-kindness) swell with meaning.

May I live in safety. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.

Knowing how my personal pain shackles me, knowing what it feels like to cry, to rage, to doubt myself…

Knowing you want happiness and freedom just as I do, I say with all my heart…

May you live in safety. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.

Your story becomes spacious with humanity. Not resolved. Transformed.

Your thoughts invited: What wounding, personal story can you see as a story of humanity?

Develop Self Compassion: Meditation instructions for working with the breath

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

compassion for the layers © 2009 - 2010 Mahala Mazerov

Sometimes it’s easier to have more compassion for others than we have for ourselves.

We have feelings we think we shouldn’t have. We have prejudices we wish we didn’t have. We act in ways that disappoint or embarrass us.

Instead of pushing these down, denying them, or venting against others, we have another choice. We can work with the breath and bring our attention to these unwanted feelings.

We can practice compassionate abiding.

Here are simple meditation instructions:

When something difficult comes up, in the very moment of experience, let yourself feel whatever you are feeling. Make contact with those unwanted guests. Be completely open to them without trying to change them in any way.

At the same time, breathe in. There’s no need to force it to be a certain way. Just let your breath be as it is.

Relax any judgment you may have about what you’re feeling. Just as you’re letting your breath be what it is, let your experience be what it is, too.

When you breathe out, see if you can give your feelings more space to exist. Like throwing the windows wide open to air out a stuffy room, the simple act of breathing creates space so your feelings can move.

Breath with tenderness. With curiosity. You may even chose to notice how these feelings exist and move through your body.

Abide with compassion for yourself. Breathing in, experience what’s happening. Breathing out, experience what’s happening.

Keep practicing for as long as you like, staying present with the feeling tones and allowing them to change as they will.

Working with the breath in this way, you can learn to address all the facets of yourself with love and acceptance. You embrace yourself with compassion in spite of those things you’d like to change.

You can use this practice when you feel overcome by difficult emotions or in those first moments when shenpa arises. You can also wait, find yourself a safe space, and work with your breath as you bring the raw emotions to mind again.

The key is to remain free from the rigidity of aggression or denial. Abide in unconditional compassion. Let your mind be pliant. Recognize the magnificent, fluid being you truly are.

Buddhist Women Who Blog

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Photo. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Appearing on Fridays. This week’s image is an abstract macro photograph of a water offering bowl on a Buddhist shrine.

water bowl offering

water offering #1 © 2010 Mahala Mazerov

Back in December, I had the sweet honor of being included in Marguerite Manteau-Rao’s list of 15 Great Women Buddhist Blogs. She’s @minddeep on twitter, and writes poetically of her practice on her Mind Deep blog.

Belated thanks to you, Marguerite, for including me and introducing me to so many inspiring women.

I’ve copied Marguerite’s post and links below. I’m sure you’ll find kindred hearts among these women as much as I have.

After two days of Googling the hell out of the Internet, and back and forth tweets on Twitter, here it is, finally, the promised list of 15 Great Women Buddhist Blogs – in no particular order:

108 Zen Books

Smilin Buddha Kabaret

Zen Dot Studio

Momma Zen

Jizo Chronicles

Becca Faith Yoga

Mama Dharma

Buddhist at Heart

The Asian Welder

Mama Om

Susan Piver

Mindful Purpose

Budding Buddhist

Dalai Grandma

Luminous Heart

Mind Deep (I added Marguerite’s lovely blog here, because of course she didn’t include herself in the list.)

How did I come up with the list? I looked for Buddhist sisters whose blogs reflected a deep commitment to their practice, and also to blogging. Women from all walks of life. Moms, activists, teachers, writers, artists . . . A few, I knew already. Most of them, I just discovered. I hope you will enjoy ‘visiting’ them as much as I have!

If I have forgotten anyone, please add their names in the comments below.
Last, I need to thank Jack at Zen Dirt Zen Dust for his generous help.

Genju then was kind enough to collect additions from the comments on Marguerite’s blog. Here they are:

Buddhist in Nebraska
Meditate and Destroy
Wandering Dhamma
Giving Notice Now
Full Contact Enlightenment
Donna Quixote

If you know anyone who should be added to this list, please include them in the comments below.

Prayer Dance

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

a new day © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

I’m finishing this first day of the new year as I finished the last day of the old.

Prayer Dance is what it sounds like, spontaneously arising dance for the purpose of healing and blessing. It’s not something I was ever taught, yet I suspect it’s pretty universal in practice.

Sometimes I move in silence. Other times I blast music as loud as I can. I don’t know why it works, but intense sound creates a cocoon rather than overwhelming my circuits.

Much of the music I’ve been playing these two days comes from Yungchen Lhamo, a courageous Tibetan woman with a voice that is beyond imagining. If you ever have an opportunity to hear her in person, you must go. Aside from her astonishing voice, I am absolutely certain she is a Bodhisattva walking among us.

Here is her song, Tara, from her album Ama. About this song she says:

Thematically , it is about Tara, the female Tibetan deity exemplifying feminine dignity, unselfishness, strength and compassion. Redemptress. When I was very young, I thought I wanted to be a man so that I could help more people. But my grandmother and my mother said you don’t have to be a man to help people.

They used to say “You pray to Tara.”

Now I understand what they meant by that.

Turn your speakers up!

Prayer Dance is beyond words. When I sat down to write afterward, here is some of what was in my heart.

to love and feel loved
to belong
to know our inseparable connection to all beings
for suffering to lead to compassion until the world is free of suffering
to have blessing in our lives and be the source of blessings for others
to be free of doubts, fear, and ignorance
to trust
to value diversity
to honor our interdependence
to have all that we need
to practice generosity
to know our inner strength
for our love to be received
for the best parts of us to come forward
for happiness, laughter, and time to play
for freedom
for kindness wherever we turn
for stillness
to have enough and to be enough
to have equanimity, free of bias
for discernment
for beauty, meaning, and purpose
for comfort
for magic and dreaming
for healing
for understanding
for grace
for dedication and devotion
to heal the war inside us
for peace to prevail
for Bodhichitta to arise where it has not been born
for Enlightenment

What would you add to this list?

May 2010 be a year of abundant happiness for you, your loved ones, and for all beings. I’m grateful to have you in my life.

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.

Shenpa: Why Holidays Hurt & What We Can Do About It

There’s a Buddhist practice I’ve been working with a lot lately. The Tibetan word for it is shenpa.

Most of the time shenpa is translated as “attachment.” Pema Chodron translates it as hooked, or how we get hooked. She compares it to an itch we can’t help but scratch.

Here’s a basic example of shenpa: Somebody makes a comment that rubs you the wrong way and something inside you tenses. That’s shenpa, you just got hooked.

But it doesn’t stop there. It works like a chain reaction. You get hooked and then you start running a little story in your mind. Maybe you put yourself down. Then you blame the other person. You ask yourself why you even care what they say. You wonder why you haven’t learned, why set yourself up for this all the time. Then you think more bad thoughts about the other person. The narrative just hums along and the next thing you know you’re eating a pint of ice cream without even tasting it. Or shouting or withdrawing or whatever your automatic fallback response is when you’re heading for your comfort zone.

Unless you’re familiar with shenpa, it can be pretty subtle most of the time. You get hooked, you run your usual habitual responses without even noticing, and you carry on with you day

That is, until Shenpa hits a powerfully sore spot and you experience hook after piercing hook.

This is why holidays hurt. They’re practically shenpa symposiums. During holidays and special occasions there’s zero subtlety. Expectations are hyped and energy is overextended. Old family patterns are in full swing. Insecurities are running wild, with the people who push your buttons in hot pursuit.

Suddenly Shenpa is like getting stung by a scorpion. You know exactly why you’re having another drink. You know exactly why you feel like crying. You know exactly why you’re sneaking off to spend time on the computer. The narrative in your head is non-stop and you are likely to be running it for the next 24 hours if not the next 2 weeks.

This is hard. It’s miserable. It’s something too many of us experience when every (shenpa) advertisement, expectation and made-for-tv movie tells us we’re supposed to be feeling comfort and joy. Lots of joy.

Let’s try something different this holiday season. Let’s see if we can learn to spot it as it’s first arising, and stop the shenpa chain reaction before it starts, before things blow up and people get hurt.

Join me for a special program, Surviving Celebrations: Getting through the holidays with your (mental) health and happiness.

I’ll have full details for you next week. For now let me say it’s going to be a combination of recorded and live calls, and maybe a bonus or two.

I’m completely enamored with the idea of sharing some tools and practices to help you make it through to 2010 with your happiness intact.

[Registration is closed. Program is expected to open next year in early November. While you're waiting, you may want to read this post Develop Self Compassion: Meditation instructions for working with the breath. It will help you work with shenpa when it arises.]

The Bowl of Stars – A Guided Meditation

I am a shaman. I was recognized by indigenous shaman from Peru and Brazil. By the time they told me I already knew. Their confirmation was meaningful, but it came with a weight of responsibility for healing the world.

To me, being a shaman means having access to places beyond what most people call reality. And not just having access, but being able to choose to enter those worlds to create change. This change is never for the sake of power. A shaman enters alternate reality to benefit others — from individuals to communities to Mother Earth — and recognizes the interdependence of all life.

I want to share a place with you that comes from the shamanic worlds I travel. It is called The Bowl of Stars, an alternate reality that first opened itself to me in the summer 2001. I continued to journey there every day for a year following the 9/11 attacks, to hold the fabric of reality with love.

If we’re to manifest big visions of what is possible, work through our personal losses and confusions, and transform the inconceivable attacks on humanity and this planet that continue to this day, we need a better view.

One such vantage point is The Bowl of Stars. It is still a place I go to infuse the world with healing and loving-kindness. I hope that you will take a little time to enter this world through the practice of shamanic journeying or guided meditation. (If you are familiar with Tibetan Buddhist practices, you will recognize some resonances here, too.)

<><><><><> Shamanic Journey, Guided Meditation<><><><><>

To enter The Bowl of Stars is to enter sacred time and sacred space. To BE in that place where you are one with divine consciousness.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. You may begin with one expectation, only to be taken on an entirely different course. Trust that your experience is perfect for you in this moment.

To make this journey, travel beyond the far reaches of time and space. Expand your consciousness. Expand the energy field of your body. Keep moving and expanding outward until you encompass all the universes, galaxies, planets and stars.

You are like a bowl holding All That Is. You contain all beings, all time, all space and all knowledge. You hold divine light and you are divine light. There is nothing separate from you. There is no You separate from others. Everything is Oneness.

Stay in this state for as long as you can.

Try and experience it with all of your senses.

Imagine you can effect this body-cosmos with your very thoughts. You can ease pain. You can heal all the hurts. You can end suffering. You can flood The Bowl of Stars with unimaginable love.

What gifts will you offer to All That Is? Take some time to give these now.

Keeping your mind firmly established in this profound state of wholeness and love, zoom in think about your daily life. Think about your opinions and attitudes. Your pain. Your desires.

How do these change?

How would you change if you came from this place of unity, all the time?

Know this is your true Home.

To bring this knowing back into your everyday life, reconnect to the sense of your own physical body. Re-member everything you have just seen and experienced. Then, imagine everything dissolves into pure light. 

Let that light stream into you through the crown of your head.

Let the light keep filling your entire being until it overflows. Feel it flowing through you. Radiating gently, naturally and effortlessly beyond your body and energy field.

This is who you are.

You are a walking hologram, containing All That Is, filled with Light.

Take a moment to dedicate the benefit of this meditation to all beings. You may dedicate it to peace or to whatever higher purpose feels right to you.

[This guided meditation has been published before and circulated as a peace meditation. If you have any resonance with this journey, please feel free to share it with or without attribution. From my heart to yours ~ Mahala]

Your Turn To Ask, A Meditation Survey

First, let me offer profuse thanks to everyone who responded to my Help Wanted prayer request.

It was a huge leap for me to publish it out loud, all the more because I thought I was just tapping the universe on the shoulder. I never in a million years expected anyone to step up and say “I will help you with this.”

Whether you offered specifics or just cheered me on via email or here on the blog, I want you to know how much your responses made my heart soar.

Having said that, let this be your turn to ask. PLEASE tell me what you want or need to learn about meditation. Let me know how I and can serve your heart’s desire for a life of loving-kindness, compassion and clarity.

I’ve set up a simple survey, 4 questions, all of them optional, plus space to add your own thoughts.

Click Here to take the meditation survey. It’s short and sweet, and I promise to listen.

FYI, your name will not be added to any mailing list if you take this survey. You’ll have the option to join my list at the end, but it’s completely voluntary. I just want to hear from readers and people interested in meditation how I can best serve you.

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