Category: Meditation

Coffee Meditation

Coffee Meditations, Edward Espe Brown, Sounds True

During the twenty years I lived in a meditation center, I rushed through my morning coffee. After all, if I didn’t drink it fast enough, I’d be late for meditation. It was important to get to meditation on time; otherwise, one had to endure the social stigma of being late (obviously lacking the proper spiritual motivation), as well as the boredom and frustration of having to wait outside the zendo to meditate until latecomers were admitted.

When I moved out of the center, I had to learn to live in the world. I had been institutionalized for nearly twenty years. Now I was out and about. What did it mean? There was no formal meditation hall in my home. I could set my meditation cushion in front of my home altar, or I could sit up in my bed and cover my knees with the blankets. There were no rules.

Soon, I stopped getting up at 3:30 am. Once I did awaken, I found that a hot shower, which had not really fit with the previous circumstances, was quite invigorating. Of course, getting more sleep also helped.

Then I was ready for coffee—hot, freshly brewed, exquisitely delicious coffee. Not coffee in a cold cup from an urn; not coffee made with lukewarm water out of a thermos; not coffee with cold milk, 2 percent milk, or nonfat milk—but coffee with heated half-and-half. Here was my opportunity to satisfy frustrated longings from countless mornings in my past. I would not have just any old coffee, but Peet’s Garuda blend—a mixture of Indonesian beans—brewed with recently boiled water and served in a preheated cup.

Unfortunately, by the time I finished the coffee, I had been sitting around so long that it was time to get started on the day, but I hadn’t done any meditation. With this heavenly beverage in hand, who needed to meditate?

The solution was obvious: bring the ceremoniously prepared coffee in the preheated cup to the meditation cushion. This would never have been allowed at the center or in any formal meditation hall I have visited, but in my own home, it was a no-brainer. Bring the coffee to the cushion—or was it the other way around?

I light the candle and offer incense. “Homage to the Perfection of Wisdom, the Lovely, the Holy,” I say. “May all beings be happy, healthy, and free from suffering.” I sit down on the cushion and place the coffee just past my right knee. I cross my legs and then put the cup right in front of my ankles. I sit without moving so I don’t accidentally spill the coffee. I straighten my posture and sip some coffee.

I feel my weight settling onto the cushion, lengthen the back of my neck, and sip some coffee. Taste, enjoy, soften, release. I bring my awareness to my breath moving in, flowing out. If I lose track of my breath, I am reminded to take another sip of coffee—robust, hearty, grounding. Come back to the coffee. Come back to the breath.

A distraction? A thought? Sip of coffee. Enjoy the coffee. Enjoy the breath. Focus on the present moment. Remembering the words of a Vipassana teacher of mine: “Wisdom in Buddhism is defined as the proper and efficacious use of caffeine.”

I stabilize my intention. “Now as I drink this cup of coffee, I vow with all beings to awaken body, mind, and spirit to the true taste of the dharma. May all beings attain complete awakening at this very moment. As I visualize the whole world awakening, my mind expands into the vastness.


Friends, this is one of the teaching stories that is shared in my new book, The Most Important Point. This offering comes to you with my gratitude for the efforts of Danny S. Parker, who edited over 60 of my Zen talks for inclusion in this volume.

Lastly, I invite you to try the Tea and Ginger Muffins recipe that accompanies this story. Danny must have enjoyed them!

Edward Espe Brown is a Zen Buddhist priest and was the first head cook at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.

Danny S. Parker is a longtime student of Brown’s and is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest.

Pick up a copy of Edward Espe Brown’s newest book, The Most Important Point, today!

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What Are Nocturnal Meditations?

Many people know about meditating during the day, but few are aware of the “nocturnal meditations.” They’ve been around for thousands of years, tucked away under the blanket of darkness. Until recently, the nocturnal practices have been secret, deemed too subtle for the West. But with the mindfulness revolution in full swing and meditation now in the public domain, these “dark” practices are finally coming to light in the modern world. What surprises most people is how deep and vast these nocturnal meditations are—and how applicable to daily life.

The practices start with lucid dreaming, which is when you wake up to the fact that you’re dreaming while still remaining in the dream. Once it was scientifically proven in 1975, lucid dreaming has gained traction in the West. Initially, lucid dreaming isn’t much of a meditation. Most people use it to indulge their fantasies—to fulfill their wildest dreams in the privacy of their own mind. At this entry level, lucid dreaming is the ultimate in home entertainment, where you become the writer, producer, director, and main actor in an Academy Award-winning production of your own mind.

But the higher levels of lucid dreaming have extraordinary psychological and even physical benefits. You can transform nightmares, rehearse things, resolve interpersonal issues, even improve athletic performance. Neuroscience has shown that you can use your mind to change your brain (neuroplasticity), and modern dream research continues to show that you can use your dreaming mind to enhance a host of daily psychological and physical activities. Lucid dreaming at this higher level is like going to night school.

With some proficiency in lucid dreaming you can progress into dream yoga, which is when dreams are used for spiritual transformation. While lucid dreaming is largely about self-fulfillment, dream yoga is all about self-transcendence. It’s been around for thousands of years, and the Buddha (the “awakened one”) was really the ultimate lucid dreamer.

Dream yoga, like lucid dreaming, progresses from beginning to advanced stages. A beginning yogi starts by addressing the question, “What are dreams made of?” They’re made of your mind. So, by working with your dreams at this refined level, you’re working to transform your mind. One early stage of dream yoga involves transforming the objects in your dreams, like changing a dream flower to a dream chair. In so doing, one discovers the malleable nature of mind and the truth of the saying, “Blessed are the flexible, for they are never bent out of shape.” This is the “yoga” or “stretching” part of dream yoga, which develops increased pliability of mind.

One amazing quality of both lucid dreaming and dream yoga is that the benefits of what you do in your dreams don’t stay tucked into the nighttime mind. By changing a flower into a chair in your dreams (not as easy as it sounds!), you realize you can change anger into compassion in your life. In other words, your emotional states are not as solid as you think. They’re essentially as solid as a dream, and therefore as workable.

At higher levels of dream yoga, you use the “example dream” or “double delusion” of the nighttime dream to wake you up from the “real dream” or “primary delusion” of daily life—which is precisely what the Buddha did. You eventually come to the shattering conclusion that this is a dream. When seen properly—when you’re lucid to it—your waking reality is no more concrete than a dream. So a dream yogi lives by the maxim, “This is a dream; I am free; I can change.” It’s a liberating wake-up call, with profound implications for all of life.

For most people, lucid dreaming and dream yoga are enough. But for those wanting to go to “graduate school,” one can advance into sleep yoga (related to yoga nidra in Hinduism). As incredible as it may sound, this is when you learn how to become lucid in deep, dreamless sleep. In Buddhism this is called “luminosity yoga” and adheres to the teaching that fundamentally there is no darkness within—only light unseen. Sleep yoga turns on this nightlight, a luminosity so radiant that it eventually illuminates even the day. Scientists are currently trying to prove this outrageous claim with advanced meditators and dream yogis.

“Lucidity” is a code word for awareness. So, by working with any of these three practices, you’re working to cultivate greater awareness. And what doesn’t benefit with more awareness? All three of these practices engage the principle of bi-directionality, which is all about opening a two-way street between the daytime and nighttime mind. What we do during the day affects how we sleep and dream; and what we do when we sleep and dream affects how we live during the day. By becoming lucid to our dreams and to dreamless sleep, we’re secretly becoming more lucid or aware of our daily lives. So lucid dreaming leads to lucid living.

As fruitful as these three practices are, there is one final step for those wanting to take the deepest dive. With some proficiency in sleep yoga, one can advance into bardo yoga (“gap” yoga), which is when the darkness of sleep is used to prepare for the darkness of death. In Greek mythology, Thanatos (the god of death) and Hypnos (the god of sleep) aren’t just brothers—they’re twins. Death and sleep are intimately related. In Buddhism, death is referred to as “the dream at the end of time.” So bardo yoga, which is a Tibetan contribution, engages the tenet that dreamless means formless, and formless means deathless. Bardo yoga therefore introduces you to your formless/deathless nature—to who you really are. It points out the deepest part of you that doesn’t get old, sick, or die. Bardo yoga is a “dead end” practice that points out eternal life.

We spend a third of our lives in sleep. If you live to be 90, you’ve slept for 30 years. Imagine what you could do if you had even a fraction of that time. We spend 25% of our sleep time in dreams, which adds up to about a month a year. Think of what you could do if you added a month to each year! That’s real “overtime.”

The nocturnal meditations are cutting-edge practices. Neuroscientist Matthew Walker writes, “It is possible that lucid dreamers represent the next iteration in Homo sapiens’ evolution.” How evolutionary does that make lucid sleepers, let alone lucid “die-ers”? Do you want to be the first one on your block to take the lead in evolution? Then open your eyes to the dark, engage the nocturnal meditations, and discover the leading light within.

Andrew Holecek, What are Nocturnal Meditations
Andrew Holecek

Andrew Holecek is the author of Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep. He is also the founder of Night Club, an online platform that explores the nocturnal meditations and the science that supports them. Learn more about Night Club!

A.H. Almaas: Presence: The Elixir of Enlightenment

A.H. Almaas is the pen name of A. Hameed Ali, a veteran spiritual teacher who founded The Ridhwan School in 1976 to spread The Diamond Approach®, his particular path of spiritual inquiry. He has written many books, including The Pearl Beyond Price, The Unfolding Now, and The Alchemy of Freedom. With Sounds True, he will soon be launching Presence—an eight-week online course devoted to exploring the always-available consciousness underlying all of reality. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Almaas about approaching Presence as “the elixir of enlightenment”—the central key to understanding our spiritual nature. Almaas explains the experiential feeling of touching Presence and provides examples of other teachers who have attempted to explain it. Tami and Almaas discuss the possible meaning of enlightenment and why body-based practices are essential to discovering Presence. Finally, they consider why the spiritual path is essentially endless and what it means to be a “complete human being.” (64 minutes)

How to Keep Your Mind from Wandering in a Yoga or Medi...

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PHASE 1

Mind wandering is associated with the DMN (default mode network)—areas of the brain that are active when the mind is in its default state of rest. In this phase, the mind seems cluttered with thoughts and feelings all scrambling to be at the center of attention. The meditator may remain distracted by what seems like an endless barrage for some period of time. The brain remains in this state especially when it is not engaged in a specific task.

PHASE 2

Becoming aware of mind wandering occurs when we mobilize a conscious mind-body practice. This phase involves purposefully placing our attention in order to steer our practice, and this effort reveals itself as activation in the insula. As noted previously, the insula is characteristic of interoceptive awareness and self-awareness. In this way, cognizance of the mind’s habitual wandering is a form of metacognition—thinking about thinking—that sets the stage for neuroplasticity. Just to arrive at this stage of meditation is quite an accomplishment, as most people never cultivate any sustained awareness of how their mind meanders from one topic to the next. Practitioners should recognize the value of this second phase because it can take years to arrive here with any regularity. Without knowing this, beginners often become discouraged.

PHASE 3

Shifting out of wandering is like flexing a muscle or changing gears in a car. This phase involves the executive function of the brain, recruiting regions like the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the posterior parietal cortex. The practitioner arrives at this phase through consciously and consistently bringing their attention out of unfocused wandering. Much like training a muscle, we go through high and low points of practice, and—as in the previous stage—it is easy to feel discouraged. Unfortunately, meditators can judge themselves harshly at this stage, lose interest, or give up entirely if they do not recognize just how important this phase is in training the neural muscles of concentration.

PHASE 4

Focusing means that the practitioner has gained some meditative stability and can remain for some time in a concentrative state. This achievement shows up as sustained activation in the dlPFC. At this phase, progressive layers of our mind reveal themselves—both within a practice session and “off the cushion” over time. When the mind eventually starts to wander again, the cycle begins anew, and the practitioner passes through the phases once more to regain focus. With practice, the amount of effort, time, and repetition it takes to go through the cycles decreases, with less time occupied in the earlier phases and more time spent in a focused state.

Excerpted from Yoga & Psyche: Integrating the Paths of Yoga and Psychology for Healing, Transformation, and Joy by Mariana Caplan.

 

Keep Your Mind from Wandering in a Yoga or Meditation Practice - Yoga and Psyche

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Mariana Caplan, PhD, MFT, E-RTY 500, is a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, and author of eight books in the fields of psychology, spirituality, and yoga. She has been teaching workshops and trainings online, in yoga studios and universities, and at major retreat centers throughout the world since 1997. She is the founder of Yoga & Psyche International, an organization created to integrate the fields of yoga and psychology globally, and lives in Fairfax, California. Learn more at realspirituality.com and yogaandpsyche.com.

 

Buy your copy of Yoga & Psyche at your favorite bookseller!

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Damien Echols: Building the Light Body

Damien Echols was wrongfully convicted of murder in the infamous “West Memphis Three” case and spent more than 18 years on death row before his exoneration and release. Now he teaches Western ceremonial magick—the same practice he credits with saving his life in prison. With Sounds True, Damien has published the book High Magick and a practice-oriented audio companion, A Course in High Magick. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Damien about magick and how it is meant to “constantly ingest more of divinity.” Damien describes two of the central practices of magick—the Middle Pillar and the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram—and details why they are so foundational to the modality. Damien explains how he first discovered magick while in solitary confinement and details the concept of “will” in relationship to the Buddhist concept of dharma. Finally, Damien and Tami talk about what it means to manifest a “light body” and the overall goal of spiritual liberation through magick. (83 minutes)

Tami’s Takeaway:
Damien Echols is a “current-bearer”—someone who is able to pass to others an experience of boundless light. When I met with Damien in November of 2018 at a launch event for his new book, High Magick, I could tell that something had recently happened to him that had dramatically increased the intensity of this current. In this conversation, he describes how the practices of magick, which he calls “a Western path of enlightenment,” brought him to an experience of ego dissolution, which he describes as “experiencing myself as a small handful of sand that someone threw into a tornado.” The takeaway: an invitation to let go of any feeling of separateness, enter the abyss, and discover the interconnected light that awaits us.

Father Thomas Keating: Inviting the Presence of the Di...

Father Thomas Keating was a Trappist monk in the Cistercian Order who served as abbot of Saint Joseph’s Abbey Monastery in Spencer, MA, for more than 20 years. He was the author of 20 books, and was one of the architects of the contemporary Centering Prayer movement. Father Keating passed away on October 25, 2018. In celebration of his life and to honor his death, Sounds True is rebroadcasting this classic Insights at the Edge interview. Here, Tami Simon and Father Keating discuss the monastic path, prayer, doubt, and how he has dealt with both little deaths and big deaths in his own life. They also talk about the afterlife and the transformative process that occurs when one engages regularly with the practice of Centering Prayer. (72 minutes)

Tami’s Takeaway:
This conversation was originally recorded in 2008, 10 years before Father Thomas Keating died on October 25, 2018, at the age of 95. We discussed in detail many little deaths that had occurred in his life, including a fire that occurred at his monastery, his resignation from being an abbot, and other events that Father Thomas called “invitations to greater and greater diminishment.” Surrendering and accepting these little deaths anchored Father Thomas in what he describes as a “boundless confidence with nothing to stand on.” We even discussed what Father Thomas imagined his own physical death would be like. His answer: “A plunge into the immensity of love, irresistibly.” Listening to this conversation afresh reminded me of how Father Thomas Keating is a truly great teacher of death and resurrection.

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