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5 Reasons to Meditate (September 2013) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2013

5 Reasons to Meditate

Yes, it's a strange thing to do -- just sit there and do basically nothing. Yet the simple act of stopping, says PEMA CHODRON, is the best way to cultivate our good qualities. Here are five ways it makes us better people.

The mind is very wild. The human experience is full of unpredictability and paradox, joys and sorrows, successes and failures. We can’t escape any of these experiences in the vast terrain of our existence. It is part of what makes life grand—and it is also why our minds take us on such a crazy ride. If we can train ourselves through meditation to be more open and more accepting toward the wild arc of our experience, if we can lean into the difficulties of life and the ride of our minds, we can become more settled and relaxed amid whatever life brings us.’


There are numerous ways to work with the mind. One of the most effective is through the tool of sitting meditation. Sitting meditation opens us to each and every moment of our life. Each moment is totally unique and unknown. Our mental world is seemingly predictable and graspable. We believe that thinking through all the events and to-dos of our life will provide us with ground and security. But it’s all a fantasy, and this very moment, free of conceptual overlay, is completely unique. It is absolutely unknown. We’ve never experienced this very moment before, and the next moment will not be the same as the one we are in now. Meditation teaches us how to relate to life directly, so we can truly experience the present moment, free from conceptual overlay.


We do not meditate in order to be comfortable. In other words, we don’t meditate in order to always, all the time, feel good. I imagine shockwaves are passing through you as you read this, because so many people come to meditation to simply “feel better.” However, the purpose of meditation is not to feel bad, you’ll be glad to know. Rather, meditation gives us the opportunity to have an open, compassionate attentiveness to whatever is going on. The meditative space is like the big sky— spacious, vast enough to accommodate anything that arises.


In meditation, our thoughts and emotions can become like clouds that dwell and pass away. Good and comfortable, pleasing and difficult and painful—all of this comes and goes. So the essence of meditation is training in something that is quite radical and definitely not the habitual pattern of the species: and that is to stay with ourselves no matter what is happening, without putting labels of good and bad, right and wrong, pure and impure, on top of our experience.


If meditation was just about feeling good (and I think all of us secretly hope that is what it’s about), we would often feel like we must be doing it wrong. Because at times, meditation can be such a difficult experience. A very common experience of the meditator, in a typical day or on a typical retreat, is the experience of boredom, restlessness, a hurting back, pain in the knees—even the mind might be hurting—so many “not feeling good” experiences. Instead, meditation is about a compassionate openness and the ability to be with oneself and one’s situation through all kinds of experiences. In meditation, you’re open to whatever life presents you with. It’s about touching the earth and coming back to being right here. While some kinds of meditation are more about achieving special states and somehow transcending or rising above the difficulties of life, the kind of meditation that I’ve trained in and that I am talking about here is about awakening fully to our life. It’s about opening the heart and mind to the difficulties and the joys of life—just as it is. And the fruits of this kind of meditation are boundless.


As we meditate, we are nurturing five qualities that begin to come forth over the months and years that we practice. You might find it helpful to reconnect with these qualities whenever you ask yourself, “Why am I meditating?”




The first quality—namely, the first thing that we’re doing when we meditate—is cultivating and nurturing steadfastness with ourselves. I was talking to someone about this once, and she asked, “Is this steadfastness sort of like loyalty? What are we being loyal to?” Through meditation, we are developing a loyalty to ourselves. This steadfastness that we cultivate in meditation translates immediately into loyalty to one’s experience of life.


Steadfastness means that when you sit down to meditate and you allow yourself to experience what’s happening in that moment—which could be your mind going a hundred miles an hour, your body twitching, your head pounding, your heart full of fear, whatever comes up—you stay with the experience. That’s it. Sometimes you can sit there for an hour and it doesn’t get any better. Then you might say, “Bad meditation session. I just had a bad meditation session.” But the willingness to sit there for ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, a half hour, an hour, however long you sat there—this is a compassionate gesture of developing loyalty or steadfastness to yourself.


We have such a tendency to lay a lot of labels, opinions, and judgments on top of what’s happening. Steadfastness—loyalty to yourself—means that you let those judgments go. So, in a way, part of the steadfastness is that when you notice your mind is going a million miles an hour and you’re thinking about all kinds of things, there is this uncontrived moment that just happens without any effort: you stay with your experience. In meditation, you develop this nurturing quality of loyalty and steadfastness and perseverance toward yourself. And as we learn to do this in meditation, we become more able to persevere through all kinds of situations outside of our meditation, or what we call postmeditation.


Clear Seeing


The second quality that we generate in meditation is clear seeing, which is similar to steadfastness. Sometimes this is called clear awareness. Through meditation, we develop the ability to catch ourselves when we are spinning off, or hardening to circumstances and people, or somehow closing down to life. We start to catch the beginnings of a neurotic chain reaction that limits our ability to experience joy or connect with others. You would think that because we are sitting in meditation, so quiet and still, focusing on the breath, that we wouldn’t notice very much. But it is actually quite the opposite. Through this development of steadfastness, this learning to stay in meditation, we begin to form a nonjudgmental, unbiased clarity of just seeing. Thoughts come, emotions come, and we can see them ever so clearly.


In meditation, you are moving closer and closer to yourself, and you begin to understand yourself so much more clearly. You begin to see clearly without a conceptual analysis, because with regular practice, you see what you do over and over and over and over again. You see that you replay the same tapes over and over and over in your mind. The name of the partner might be different, the employer might be different, but the themes are somewhat repetitious. Meditation helps us clearly see ourselves and the habitual patterns that limit our life. You begin to see your opinions clearly. You see your judgments. You see your defense mechanisms. Meditation deepens your understanding of yourself.




The third quality we cultivate in meditation is one that I’ve actually been alluding to when I bring up both steadfastness and clear seeing—and it happens when we allow ourselves to sit in meditation with our emotional distress. I think it’s really important to state this as a separate quality that we develop in practice, because when we experience emotional distress in meditation (and we will), we often feel like “we’re doing it wrong.” So the third quality that seems to organically develop within us is the cultivation of courage, the gradual arising of courage. I think the word “gradual” here is very important, because it can be a slow process. But over time, you will find yourself developing the courage to experience your emotional discomfort and the trials and tribulations of life.


Meditation is a transformative process, rather than a magic makeover in which we doggedly aim to change something about ourselves. The more we practice, the more we open and the more we develop courage in our life. In meditation you never really feel

that you “did it” or that you’ve “arrived.” You feel that you just relaxed enough to experience what’s always been within you. I sometimes call this transformative process “grace.” Because when we’re developing this courage, in which we allow the range of our emotions to occur, we can be struck with moments of insight. These insights could never have come from trying to figure out conceptually what’s wrong with us or what’s wrong with the world. These moments of insight come from the act of sitting in meditation, which takes courage—a courage that grows with time.


Through this developing courage, we are often graced with a change in our worldview, if ever so slight. Meditation allows you to see something fresh that you’ve never seen before or to understand something new that you’ve never understood before. Sometimes we call these boons of meditation “blessings.” In meditation, you learn how to get out of your own way long enough for there to be room for your own wisdom to manifest, and this happens because you’re not repressing this wisdom any longer.


When you develop the courage to experience your emotional distress at its most difficult level, and you’re just sitting there with it in meditation, you realize how much comfort and how much security you get from your mental world. Because at that point, when there’s a lot of emotion, you begin to really get in touch with the feeling, the underlying energy, of your emotions. You begin to let go of the words, the stories, as best you can, and then you’re just sitting there. Then you realize, even if it seems unpleasant, that you feel compelled to keep reliving the memory, the story of your emotions—or that you want to dissociate. You may find that you often drift into fantasy about something pleasant. And the secret is that, actually, we don’t want to do any of this. Part of us wants so earnestly to wake up and open. The human species wants to feel more alive and awake to life. But also, the human species is not comfortable with the transient, shifting quality of the energy of reality. Simply put, a large part of us actually prefers the comfort of our mental fantasies and planning, and that’s actually why this practice is so difficult to do. Experiencing our emotional distress and nurturing all of these qualities—steadfastness, clear seeing, courage— really shakes up our habitual patterns. Meditation loosens up our conditioning; it’s loosening up the way we hold ourselves together, the way we perpetuate our suffering.




The fourth quality we develop in meditation is something I’ve been touching on all along, and that is the ability to become awake to our lives, to each and every moment, just as it is. This is the absolute essence of meditation. We develop attention to this very moment; we learn to just be here. And we have a lot of resistance to just being here! When I first started practicing, I thought I wasn’t good at it. It took me a while to realize that I had a lot of resistance to just being here now. Just being here—attention to this very moment—does not provide us with any kind of certainty or predictability. But when we learn how to relax into the present moment, we learn how to relax with the unknown.


Life is never predictable. You can say, “Oh, I like the unpredictability,” but that’s usually true only up to a certain point, as long as the unpredictability is somewhat fun and adventurous. I have a lot of relatives who are into things like bungee jumping and all kinds of terrifying things—all of my nephews, particularly, and nieces. Sometimes, thinking of their activities, I experience extreme terror. But everybody, even my wild relatives, meets their edge. And sometimes the most adventurous of us meet our edge in the strangest places, like when we can’t get a good cup of coffee. We’re willing to jump off a bridge upside down, but we throw a tantrum when we can’t get a good cup of coffee. Strange that not being able to get a good cup of coffee could be the unknown, but somehow for some, maybe for you, it is that edge of stepping into that uncomfortable, uncertain space.


So this place of meeting our edge, of accepting the present moment and the unknown, is a very powerful place for those who wish to awaken and open their heart and mind. The present moment is the generative fire of our meditation. It is what propels us toward transformation. In other words, the present moment is the fuel for your personal journey. Meditation helps you meet your edge; it’s where you actually come up against it and you start to lose it. Meeting the unknown of the moment allows you to live your life and to enter your relationships and commitments ever more fully. This is living wholeheartedly.


Meditation is revolutionary, because it’s not a final resting place: you can always be more settled. This is why I continue to do this year after year. If I looked back and had no sense that any transformation had happened, if I didn’t recognize that I feel more settled and more flexible, it would be pretty discouraging. But there is that feeling. And there’s always another challenge, and that keeps us humble. Life knocks you off your pedestal. We can always work on meeting the unknown from a more settled and openhearted space. It happens for all of us. I too have moments where I am challenged in meeting the present moment, even after decades of meditation. Years back, I took a trip alone with my granddaughter, who was six years old at the time. It was such an embarrassing experience, because she was being extremely difficult. She was saying “no” about everything, and I kept losing it with this little angel whom I adore. So I said, “Okay, Alexandria, this is between you and Grandma, right? You’re not going to tell anybody about what’s going on? You know, all those pictures you’ve seen of Grandma on the front of books? Anyone you see carrying around one of those books, you do not tell them about this!”


The point is that when your cover is blown, it’s embarrassing. When you practice meditation, getting your cover blown is just as embarrassing as it ever was, but you’re glad to see where you’re still stuck because you would like to die with no more big surprises. On your deathbed, when you thought you were Saint Whoever, you don’t want to find out that the nurse completely pushes you over the wall with frustration and anger. Not only do you die angry at the nurse, but you die disillusioned with your whole being. So if you ask why we meditate, I would say it’s so we can become more flexible and tolerant to the present moment. You could be irritated with the nurse when you’re dying and say, “You know, that’s the way life is.” You let it move through you. You can feel settled with that, and hopefully you even die laughing—it was just your luck to get this nurse! You can say, “This is absurd!” These people who blow our cover like this, we call them “gurus.”


No Big Deal


The fifth and last quality regarding why we meditate is what I call “no big deal.” It’s what I am getting at when I say we become flexible to the present moment. Yes, with meditation you may experience profound insight, or the magnificent feeling of grace or blessing, or the feeling of transformation and newfound courage, but then: no big deal. You’re on your deathbed, and you have this nurse who’s driving you nuts, and it’s funny: no big deal.


This was one of the biggest teachings from my teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: no big deal. I remember one time going to him with what I thought was a very powerful experience from my practice. I was all excited, and as I was telling him about this experience, he had a look. It was a kind of indescribable look, a very open look. You couldn’t call it compassionate or judgmental or anything. And as I was telling him about this, he touched my hand and said, “No . . . big . . . deal.” He wasn’t saying “bad,” and he wasn’t saying “good.” He was saying that these things happen and they can transform your life, but at the same time don’t make too big a deal of them, because that leads to arrogance and pride, or a sense of specialness. On the other hand, making too big a deal about your difficulties takes you in the other direction; it takes you into poverty, self-denigration, and a low opinion of yourself. So meditation helps us cultivate this feeling of no big deal, not as a cynical statement, but as a statement of humor and flexibility. You’ve seen it all, and seeing it all allows you to love it all.

With her powerful teachings, bestselling books, and retreats attended by thousands, Pema Chödrön is today’s most popular American-born teacher of Buddhism. In The Wisdom of No Escape, The Places that Scare You, and other important books, she has helped us discover how difficulty and uncertainty can be opportunities for awakening. Pema Chödrön is a fully ordained Buddhist nun who is dedicated to the establishment of a Buddhist monastic tradition in the West. This teaching is from her new book, How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind, published by Sounds True.

From the September 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

At Home With the Dalai Lama (September 2013) Print

`At Home With the Dalai Lama

VICTOR CHAN had a unique opportunity to spend some private time with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Here's what he learned that special morning.

Dear Lina and Kira,


You are now sixteen and nineteen years old and starting to chart a course for your own lives. Gone are the days when we had seemingly endless time to just sit and talk. I miss hanging out with you on the beach and going for long trips in our Westfalia camper when you were dutifully receptive to what I had to say.


One story I wish I had told you was about the morning I spent with the Dalai Lama. It was a deeply meaningful experience for me. Those few hours I was with him gave me a clear snapshot of how he spends his time in private, away from the limelight. He hardly spoke to me at the time. But what he did that morning spoke volumes and has relevance for all of us.


So I decided to write you this letter.


I was working on the manuscript for The Wisdom of Forgiveness, which I coauthored with His Holiness, when he invited me to spend a morning with him at his home in Dharamsala, India. I had traveled with him to four continents and interviewed him many times, but I had never been in the inner sanctum of his residence. For once, I didn’t mind getting up in what was, for me, the middle of the night.


At 3:45 a.m. I was sitting on a small piece of carpet on the floor of the Dalai Lama’s meditation room. The space was serene and gorgeous, its elegance understated. There was room for a desk, a meditation alcove, and a small sitting and dining area. Display cases made of precious wood held bronzes of different sizes, ritual implements, and stacks of ancient loose-leaf Tibetan scriptures. Heavy drapes were drawn back to expose a floor-to- ceiling window, and in the predawn light I could just make out the silhouette of the Himalayas.


At a time when only the street dogs were up, the Dalai Lama began his prostrations. From a standing position he knelt, then stretched his body full-length down on the floor, only a thin cushion insulating his torso from the parquet. His arms were fully extended beyond his head; his palms, each resting on a square piece of fabric, were cocked at an acute angle with fingers pointing to the ceiling.


Then, with a practiced motion he slid his hands backward toward his thighs for support, folded his body into a kneeling position, and stood up straight again. He placed his palmed hands on the crown of his head, lowered them smoothly to his chest, and went down full-length on the floor again. Then he repeated the sequence.


I lost count after a while, but I figured he must have done about three dozen full prostrations. The Dalai Lama has practiced prostrations nearly every day of his life, and if someone were counting, I’m sure the total would come to well over one million repetitions over his seven decades.


With his prostrations done, he walked to a treadmill tucked away by the window. He hung his prayer beads on the handlebar next to a draped towel and began to pace rapidly on the moving belt. Almost immediately, he closed his eyes as he surrendered to the machine’s rhythm and meditated as he exercised. It was a much faster version of walking meditation.


After showering, the Dalai Lama took me up to the roof of the residence. The surrounding mountains were still dark, their barely discernable outlines untouched by the sun. Tiny tendrils of smoke curled from unseen chimneys and then dissipated in the chilly air. Further down the Kangra Valley, a sprinkling of lights from the Indian towns could be seen in the distance. It was so early the birds had not yet begun their songs.


The Dalai Lama stared into the distance, absorbing the quiet, allowing all of his senses to experience the tranquil majesty of the surroundings. He was very present, undistracted by my being next to him. As I watched him, standing perfectly still, one hand lightly resting on the green metal railing, I was touched by the ineffable grace of the moment.


It was chilly and we didn’t stay long on the roof. After we returned to his room, the Dalai Lama immediately went into meditation. He sat on a cushion behind his desk, a circular, goldpainted mahogany panel at his back. He glasses were off, and the entirety of his visage, the embodiment of a life lived to the fullest, was on display. There were dark pouches beneath his eyes, and deep fissures ran down the sides of his face to his chin. His face effortlessly projected gravitas and wisdom.


As the Dalai Lama meditated, his body swayed slightly from time to time, like a metronome. His eyes were partly closed but I could see occasional fluttering of the eyeballs within their sockets. At times they would roll upward for a couple of beats and I could see the white expanse of his eyes. His hands rested on his lap, fingers clicking his prayer beads rhythmically. I was uncomfortable, sensing my intrusion into something that was extraordinarily private.


I had no doubt the Dalai Lama was in a deep and special place. He would tell me later that his meditating mind was not as quiescent as, say, that of a Zen monk. It was actively shaping his motivation for the day, occupied with how to deepen his compassion. He aspires to be kind to everyone and to help relieve suffering in whatever way he can. Rational analysis at this time allows him to strengthen and ascertain an important insight: that by being compassionate to others, he himself benefits by having peace of mind.


After four hours, it was time to take my leave. He grasped my hand firmly and led me to one of the cabinets, where he picked out a small grey stone carving of an Indian monastery with an ornate central tower atop a two-story podium. Four smaller towers anchored the four directions. “Temple in Bodh Gaya. For you,” the Dalai Lama said.


He was already leading me to the door when a thought struck him. He steered me to another display case full of glorious objects. “Aha!” he exclaimed in delight. He carefully took something out and handed it to me: a small mahogany carving of a wrinkled old man with a waist-length beard. It was a quintessential rendition of a Chinese sage.


At that moment, Paljor la, the Dalai Lama’s personal monk attendant, quietly entered the room. He handed over a small red envelope that the Dalai Lama passed to me.


“A little red packet for you, a lai si, according to Chinese custom. See you soon,” the Dalai Lama said with obvious warmth. Inside the envelope was a wad of American dollar bills. I felt a flush spreading across my face. I was mortified. Unexpectedly, the Dalai Lama had given me presents, perhaps even valuable things with significant provenance. And knowing that I had limited means, he had also given me a gift of money.


As I walked out of the meditation room, I was struck by how pleased the Dalai Lama looked at that moment. His face was radiant. It was as if giving me things brought him a great deal of satisfaction. It manifested noticeably in his face. Some of the deep vertical lines along the sides of his cheeks had filled out; his brow appeared less furrowed, and the pouches under his eyes were a lighter shade. There was a palpable aura of well-being about him.


Lina and Kira, you know a bit about the benefits of giving from personal experience. Our family spent a year in India when you were seven and nine. You might remember how difficult those first couple of weeks were. You had a bad dose of culture shock when you were confronted with abject poverty and overpowering misery. You felt terrible. Then you discovered the street puppies in Dharamsala, and you took pleasure in caring for them.


I vividly remember the two of you crawling into the filthy gutters to bring food and water to the small animals. When they started to die because of a spreading virus, you threw yourselves into fundraising, trying to buy enough vaccine to save them. This act of caring, putting others’ welfare before your own, buoyed your spirits dramatically.


As Shantideva, a ninth-century Indian sage whose teachings influenced the Dalai Lama profoundly, wrote: “All the joy By my calculation, he has devoted well over 100,000 hours of his life to meditation. And without a doubt, he is the happiest person I’ve ever known. the world contains has come through wishing the happiness of others.” As the Dalai Lama has said often, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”


After leaving the Dalai Lama’s residence, I went to a café in the Dharamsala bazaar. Over a surprisingly good cappuccino, I reflected on my experiences over the past few hours. I had seen a routine that was simple, even mundane. The Dalai Lama prostrated, exercised on the treadmill, took in his surroundings on the roof, meditated, and gave me things. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. Yet I could still feel the glow of goodwill he had emanated.


I’d seen a man who takes good care of himself, physically and spiritually. I knew that his morning routine does not vary year in and year out. It takes discipline, perseverance, and self-control to get up every morning at 3:30, to work on spiritual development for a few hours before beginning his onerous official duties. The Dalai Lama has been doing that for decades, even when he is several time zones away from his home.


The Dalai Lama has told me repeatedly that he is not fond of exercise. But as someone with a scientific bent of mind who keeps up with the latest advances in health, he knows it is important. He is acutely aware of the passage of time, and of the imperative of not squandering it. His ability to fulfill as much as possible his mission to help one and all depends on how well his body is tended. I also know that he wasn’t a particularly good student when he was young. He had a mercurial temper and was impulsive. Monastic disciplines like meditation and scriptural study did not come naturally to him.


“Around seven or eight,” the Dalai Lama told me in an earlier meeting, a mischievous gleam in his eyes, “I had no interest in study. Only play. But one thing: my mind since young, quite sharp, can learn easily. This brings laziness. So my tutor always keep one whip, a yellow whip, by his side. When I saw the yellow whip, the holy whip for holy student the Dalai Lama, I studied. Out of fear. Even at that age I know, if I study, no holy pain.”


Despite his reluctance to study when he was a child, the Dalai Lama applied himself every morning. With perseverance and self-control, he learned to sit still for long periods. Gradually he was better able to control his errant impulses. Meditation and study came before play; delayed gratification became a matter of course.


For a long time, psychologists focused on raw intelligence as the most important predictor of success in life. Nowadays most would agree that IQ is largely at the mercy of self-control. The brightest kids cannot always get by purely on their brainpower. Long-term success depends on the ability to self-regulate, to mitigate harmful impulses and enhance life-affirming ones.


Kira, I think you can relate to this. All through school, you used to dive into your homework, not leaving it until the last minute. This speaks well for your ability to delay gratification. I think you relish the feeling of accomplishment that comes with discharging your responsibilities in a timely manner. It lifts a burden from your shoulders and frees you to do other, perhaps more fun, things. I’m very glad you have internalized this useful habit, one that could prove important in your life.


The Dalai Lama has lectured often on the importance of self-control. He believes it is a necessary element of spirituality. It gives us the means to cultivate and hone our life-affirming qualities. It allows us to question our behavior and open up the possibility of remedies. He likens our undisciplined mind to an untamed, rampaging elephant. If we are able to instill a good dose of inner discipline, we are more likely to foster the development of compassion, the foundation of genuine happiness.


It is obvious that meditation is important to the Dalai Lama. He spends a big part of his day doing it, and I have seen him invigorated after his morning session. The Dalai Lama was quoted recently as saying, “If every eight-year-old is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”


More and more people are meditating these days. But I suspect that despite good intentions, not many are able to keep it up in a sustained way. Sooner or later, pressing concerns interrupt the routine for many.


For the Dalai Lama, meditation is like brushing his teeth. It is a daily habit. He does it every morning and every evening. By my calculation, he has devoted well over 100,000 hours of his life to meditation. And without a doubt, he is the happiest person I’ve ever known. His sense of humor, his ability to laugh and to enjoy life, is legendary. The Dalai Lama has given me some simple tips for integrating meditation into a daily routine. Don’t try to be too ambitious; temper your impatience. Don’t practice for too long in the beginning, not more than ten or fifteen minutes per session. But do it fairly often—a few times a day—and make it a regular habit.


Creating a sustained rhythm, making meditation a daily habit, is the Dalai Lama’s secret to increasing his reservoir of well-being. And in recent years, science has confirmed the close correlation between meditation and genuine happiness.


“But progress takes time,” the Dalai Lama told me. “It’s not like switching on a light. More like kindling a fire: start from small spark, then becomes bigger and bigger, more light, more light. Like that.”


Here are some things I learned that morning. Exercise. It is good for body and soul. Meditation is good too. No surprises there. I’m not telling you anything new. But I was also struck by a few old-fashioned insights embedded in the Dalai Lama’s morning routine. Nothing earth-shattering, but it was good to see them as lived experiences.


The first is self-control and all that it implies: delayed gratification, discipline, perseverance. The second is habit. Forming an unvarying routine helps create sustainability and success in everything we want to do. The third is the gratification that comes from giving, from being helpful to others. These are all practical, proven strategies we can use to make our lives more successful, more flourishing.


The deepest insight presented itself fleetingly when I was on the roof with His Holiness. Even now I glimpse only its sketchiest contours. I don’t expect that the two of you can relate to it easily at this time, but it is worth keeping at the back of your mind. It was on that roof that I got a brief sense of interdependence and its significance. The Dalai Lama was in a reflective state of mind, and he hardly spoke to me. But those few minutes in the chilly predawn touched me with unexpected intensity.


I intuited his powerful and very real connection to everything around him, a connection that transcends thought.


I was reminded of an earlier interview I had with him. He had told me about something he’d experienced when he was in his late twenties. Whenever he looked at something—a table, a chair, another person—it was as if it had no substance, no physical essence. There was an “absence of solid reality,” the Dalai Lama told me.


Seeing that I was nonplussed, he elaborated. “Those moments like picture show, like watching TV or movie. It is especially like watching a movie. Feeling something real going on, but at the same time, while your eyes looking there, your mind knows it is mere picture. Only acting, not real.”


This way of seeing, this subtle perception of reality, is the bedrock of the Dalai Lama’s spirituality. He knows, cognitively as well as experientially, that everything is subject to the law of impermanence and that our existence depends on a complex web of relations. It is as if his personal boundaries have dissolved. As a result, he feels a profound kinship with everything and everyone.


Lina and Kira, this sums up what went through my mind about that morning. I will always remember those few hours I spent with the Dalai Lama. He didn’t give me any wisdom teachings, not in the usual sense. He ignored me most of the time. But as you can tell, I learned a few things of some importance— things that are not easy to express in words.


With much affection, your daddy.

From the September 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Meditation: Touching In with the Present Moment (September 2013) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2013

Meditation: Touching In with the Present Moment


At the beginning of a meditation session, it can be helpful to check in with your mind before you begin. See where you’re at right now. To find yourself in the present moment, it can help if you run through a series of questions to help you contact your mind, to help you become aware of what’s happening in this very moment.


So the first question is: What are you feeling? Can you contact what you’re feeling? It could be your mood or your physical body, a quality of drowsiness or peacefulness, agitation or physical pain—anything. Can you contact that nonverbally and just get a sense of what you’re feeling? To refine this question a little bit: Are there any emotions? Can you be present to them? Can you contact them?


We’re not talking about having to name anything or remembering the history of the emotion, or anything like that. Just be present to what you’re feeling right now.


Are you experiencing any physical sensations right now? Pain, tightness, relaxation?


What about your thoughts? What’s the quality of your thoughts right now? Is your mind very busy? Is it quite drowsy? Is it surprisingly still? Are your thoughts raging or peaceful or dull? Obsessive or calm?


If I were to ask you personally, right now, “What is the quality of your mind at this moment?” Whether it’s still or wild or dull, whatever it might be, what would you say?


Hopefully these questions will help you touch in and make deep contact with yourself. I suggest that you begin your meditation practice with these questions. With practice, you’ll find that you don’t need to run through a list of questions to bring yourself into the present moment on your cushion. It will become more automatic. Your intention is to simply locate your mind and stabilize the mind as you launch into your practice.


From How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind, by Pema Chödrön.

From the September 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Inside the July 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine Print

Look inside the July 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine

This issue is all about your body — from pleasure and pain, to performance and path: Norman Fischer contemplates the deeper reality of the body, Karen Connelly feels the heat in "Flesh Sex Desire," Thich Nhat Hanh offers three exercises from well-being, and four individuals talk sports and mindfulness.

Plus: Andrea Miller speaks with Jane Goodall, Sumi Loundon Kim tells why (and how) how she quit Facebook, Ruth Ozeki's new novel is reviewed, and more.

this issue's editorial:

Pain Pleasure Performance Path

As Shambhala Sun Deputy Editor Andrea Miller relates, our bodies can be vehicles that spur us to awakening. Learn more about how the new Shambhala Sun investigates the power of joining body and mind.


What Is Your Body?

It’s less than we think. It’s far more than we know. Contemplate the deeper reality of the body with Buddhist teacher Norman Fischer.

Body and Me

Body was 375 pounds. Ira Sukrungruang bares his soul about their complicated relationship.


Now the Bad News

The bad news is that everyone who is born will age, get sick, and die. The good news is that this suffering can be the impetus for awakening. With Rachel Neumann on birth, Lewis Richmond on old age, Stan Goldberg on illness, and Brenda Feuerstein on death.

Flesh Sex Desire

Desire is a large, hot fact of life, says Karen Connelly. Its Latin root explains why it is so compelling and magical—de sideris means "of the stars."

In the Zone

Four sports enthusiasts put their practice into play. Featuring Melvin McLeod on skiing, Liz Martin on golfing, Jaimal Yogis on surfing, and Laura Munson on riding.

Mindful Movements

Thich Nhat Hanh offers three exercises for well-being.


Thich Nhat Hanh

• Try a Little Tenderness

Feeling loved is what makes us emotionally secure, but what if we didn't feel cared for as children? Tara Bennett-Goleman on how we can develop a secure emotional base.

Also inside: "Through the Gateway of the Senses," by Francesca Fremantle.

other voices

The Great Reversal

Putting others first—it's the great switch that changes everything. It cuts samsara at the root and plants the seed of enlightenment. Sakyong Mipham on how to be a bodhisattva.


Sakyong Mipham: His best from the Shambhala Sun

Metta for Broken Men

After the loss of her brother, Ellen Watters Sullivan encountered a family legacy of shame as old as the American South itself. Could she cultivate compassion for her slaveholder ancestors, their victims, and herself?

Why I Quit Facebook

What if our online life gets in the way of our flesh and blood connections? Sumi Loundon Kim on how she cut the wireless tether. (It wasn't easy.)

For Love of Nature: Q&A with Jane Goodall

The biologist and ethologist talks with Andrea Miller about the compassion of animals, the power of trees, what we can all do to effect positive change in the world.


Books in Brief

Andrea Miller reviews new titles from Shozan Jack Haubner, Robert Rosenbaum, Michael Sowder, Sister Chan Khong, and more.

About a Poem: Geoffrey Shugen Arnold on Yumus Emre's "Those Who Learned to Be Truly Human"

Plus: Brian Brett reviews Ruth Ozeki's new novel, A Tale for the Time Being.

Shambhala Sun
, July 2013, Volume Twenty One, Number 6.

On the cover: Dead Sea 6, 2011, by Spencer Tunick.

To order a trial subscription to the Shambhala Sun, click here.

Inside the September 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine Print

Look inside the September 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine

FEATURING Sylvia Boorstein, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, John Tarrant, Mary Pipher, Karen Maezen Miller and more on the Buddhist approach to becoming a better person.

Plus: Victor Chan's "At Home with the Dalai Lama", Pema Chödrön on why we meditate, a Q&A with comedian and actor Margaret Cho, and much more. Click titles below to read excerpts and select complete articles.

this issue's editorial:

Our Original Goodness

"We are a mix of good and bad," writes MELVIN MCLEOD. "This we know. The important question is which we really are, which is the deeper reality of human nature? How we we answer that question will define our path to becoming better people."

special feature section: "you are the sun not the clouds"

Buddhist writers and teachers on the Buddhist approach to becoming a better person.

A Beautiful Wish

Our deepest and most beautiful wish is to become a better person. Just follow the wanting itself, says Zen teacher JOHN TARRANT. That is the gate.

You Are the Sun Not the Clouds

Buddhist teachers and writers including SYLVIA BOORSTEIN, DZIGAR KONGTRUL RINPOCHE, KAREN MAEZEN MILLER, and MARY PIPHER offer concrete practices for being better people -- happier, calmer, and kinder to ourselves and others.

more features

At Home With the Dalai Lama

VICTOR CHAN had a unique opportunity to spend some private time with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He passes what he learned that special morning on, to his daughters, and to us.

5 Reasons to Meditate

Yes, it's a strange thing to do—just sit there and do basically nothing. Yet the simple act of stopping, says PEMA CHÖDRÖN, is the best way to cultivate our good qualities. Here are five ways it makes us better people.

Meditation: Touching In with the Present Moment

PEMA CHÖDRÖN asks some questions that will help you in your practice.

Also inside: "Steel, Roses & Slave Ships"—ANDREA MILLER talks with artists Miya Ando, Sanford Biggers, and Chrysanne Stathacos about the Buddhist inspiration behind their work; and "In a Room Beside the Sea"—Outside there's a radiant Greek sun, but inside there's work to do. What happens when BONNIE FRIEDMAN opens the shutters?


How to Meditate Pema Chödrön: her best from the Shambhala Sun

other voices

Margaret Cho: The Funniest Thing Is a Deep Truth

The comedian and actor in conversation with ANDREA MILLER.

The Great Vow

Our motivation determines our success on the spiritual path, says SAKYONG MIPHAM RINPOCHE. And the greatest of all is the vow to save all sentient beings.

No Time to Meditate?

We think we don't have time, but we do. TINA WELLING on the real reason we don't meditate.

Why Is America So Angry?

Someday somebody will explain why we're all so mad these days. But for now, says SETH GREENLAND, let's consider what to do about it.


Sakyong Mipham: His best from the Shambhala Sun


Review: Susan J. Stabile on Brad Warner's There Is No God and He Is Always with You

Books in Brief

Reviews of new books by Ram Dass, Toni Bernhard, Michaela Haas, and more.

About a Poem: Naomi Shihab Nye on Rosemary Catacalos' "Homesteaders"

Shambhala Sun
, September 2013, Volume Twenty Two, Number 1.

To order a trial subscription to the Shambhala Sun, click here.

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