Loving Kindness Meditation | Week Two at Stanford’s CCARE

I turned left onto a main road and merged into the flow of traffic. Quickly, I realized that I would need to be making a right turn in the not-so-distant future. I signaled to change lanes and, instead of slowing to let me merge, or speeding forward to make space, the man beside me honked his horn and flipped me off. I reflexively called him an asshole.

This all happened during the commute to my second week of Compassion Cultivation Training at Stanford, which was focused on loving kindness meditation. It turns out that I, and other drivers, would greatly benefit from engaging in this meditative practice more often.

We are not Pavlov's dogs | Pt. VII

In many ways, we are all like Pavlov’s dog. And, in many ways, we are not.

If you’re unfamiliar with Pavlov and his dog(s), he was a Russian psychologist from the last century who worked in an area called Classical Conditioning. His test subjects were dogs repetitiously trained to associate the sound of a bell ringing with the availability of food to consume. Eventually, he conditioned the dogs to so thoroughly relate the bell’s sounding with food that they began to salivate at the mere sound of a bell, even when food was taken out of the equation.

This morning, my alarm went off at 7am. I had a meeting with someone on Central Time and was aware that my morning fatigue might be met by a person on the other line who’d already be invigorated by one or two more cups of coffee than me. My alarm signaled that it was time to become conscious. In fact, it was time to be awake, which brings with it all kinds of responsibilities and expectations.

Cultivating Compassion | Week One at Stanford's CCARE

Before leaving bed this morning, I set a timer for 15 minutes and began to listen to myself breathe. As the air came in through my nostrils, I noticed where the oxygen traveled throughout my body, I could feel my stomach expand and the muscles along my neck and back loosen. As the air left my nostrils, I could feel a tingly sensation spread over my scalp. When thoughts arrived, such as those that visit most every morning when my mind becomes conscious, I mostly ignored them and returned to the whereabouts of my breath, as if it was the most worthy recipient of my attention.

This little practice, I’ve been told, is meditation.

We are entering an era of consciousness (but we’re not sure what that means)

Consciousness is about as ubiquitous a buzz word in the Bay Area as are smartphones in the hands of those who are talking about it. But what remains incomplete when using the word is understanding what people mean by it. Never one to use a word I can’t define (most of the time, except ubiquitous, I have no clue what that means), I’ve been wanting to know what everyone around me claims to be hacking on.

What's a question you can't answer? | Pt. VI

Dear Reader, 

What are your unanswerable questions? The ones that play on repeat, inaudibly, throughout every day of your life?

For many of us, they’ve become so embedded within our inner dialogue that we hardly recognize them anymore, as they quietly cause us to wonder: Am I enough? Am I too much? Why do I want to hide? What’s the point? How can I be happy? What does happiness even mean? When will my real life start? (Or, insert any number of your own unanswerable questions. We’ve all got one perfectly tailored to ourselves.)

A series of questions, Pt. III: What good is a monk?

Dear reader,

In my short life, I’ve recognized personal growth as having taken place when nagging questions from my past no longer possess the same weighty relevance in my present. One of these recognitions occurred in 2014 during a conversation with Father Silouan about the worthiness of a life dedicated to monasticism.

My original question could have been harshly simplified as: “What good is a monk?” I mean, consider how they leave the world, civilization, and separate themselves from humankind in order to dedicate themselves to prayer and fasting and isolation. Isn’t this selfish? Isn’t this a life wasted?

A series of questions, Pt. II: What is truth?

Dear Reader, 

I’m sitting in front of my computer screen now, cursor blinking, and I’m literally scratching my head over how to talk about truth. I keep thinking that there must be a story to share that will allow me to transfer my mental process to you. But, maybe that’s forcing it. I do know that truth can’t be forced.

I watch a dog being walked down the street – sniffing, peeing, barking, wagging – as its owner is on his cell phone – texting, flipping, reading, seeing. They are both engaged in the same general activity – going for a walk – but they are not having the same experience. What’s true for dog is not true for man, even though they are experiencing the same time and space. They experience time and space differently.

Don't be so sensitive | Pt. V

Dear Reader, 

The sound of weeping and wailing was rising and falling like waves from the main meeting room, but the volume decreased with each step I took farther away from the group’s emotional activity.

We’d begun 30 minutes earlier with a shortened version of group meditation that involved three 20-minute segments entirely dedicated to laughter, tears, and silence. I was all game for the laughter portion where, ironically, I laughed so hard I cried. But, when it came time to allow myself to give into tears induced by sadness, not even one would fall from my eyes.

A series of questions, Pt. I: How do we know God exists?

Dear Reader,
There wasn’t an immediately obvious place to clip on the mic, so we managed to secure it to his beard. Putting it there happened to deaden the open air sound of the tile-floored room where we were prepared to conduct our interview. This was an unintended bonus.

Jon, my videographer friend, had flown down to meet me in New Mexico with a large crate filled with camera equipment to help capture sights and sounds from the monastery where I’d been living for nearly three months. Unfortunately, it turned out that the monks refused to be filmed, so we resorted to recording some audio of them instead.

Love & Shame | Pt. IV

Dear Reader,

The instructions were simple enough:

“Find someone who you’ve wanted to connect with, but who you’ve felt some kind of resistance toward.”

Once we located our person out of the 160 or so to choose from, we were tasked with sitting with them for about 20 minutes – each person getting 10 minutes of client time — and tell each other what makes us want to avoid them.

Exploring the healing power of aggression | Pt. III

Dear reader,

I pinned her up against the wall and yelled with all my aggression directly into her face. She told me I wasn’t enough, and that I would never get what I wanted.

“You can’t have it,” she mocked. “You never will.”

I pushed harder, my feet sliding out from underneath me, as I could feel her delicate shoulder bones start to give way under my palms.

OK, she said, losing all the intensity we’d developed in the last few moments. Now I want you to push up against the wall behind me, so that you can give it all of your aggression without hurting me.

How...who...what...are You? | Pt. II

“Today, we are going to be concerning ourselves with the nature of reality and how very little we know about it.”

It was Monday – as perfect a day as any to deconstruct existence as we knew it – and our class of 60 counseling students of all ages, vocations, shapes, sexual orientations, and colors were prepared to dive deep, led by our instructor Steve Bearman.

But first, we needed to come to terms with all that we didn’t know. 

Why I'm holding guys' hands now | Pt. I

Dear Reader,

I look intently into his eyes and sense he’s hiding something. He’s blinking more often than what seems reasonable. I stand more firm in front of him, looking up, trying to calm his nerves by offering a stable presence, even though I feel quite small.

He’s nearly a foot taller than me and probably weighs twice as much as I do, but his eyes don’t convey the confidence his body commands. And so, in spite of my smaller stature, I feel like I must be strong for him.

His hands are sweaty; I know this because we are holding each other’s as if we’re about to exchange vows.