How to Sit

People have asked me recently about the best way that they can begin exploring meditation and receive some instruction on the basics. I understand why they are asking that question. I spent years “learning” and “researching” meditation before finally putting my ass on a pillow. Information online is abundant and searching something like “meditation” pulls up 174,000,000 search results. That’s quite a habit hole to fall into and that information provides a distraction from taking real action. That said, I thought I would share what has helped me in my education. One book, one meditation center, and one app. Good luck!

Book
There are millions of books on meditation but Sharon Salzberg’s, Real Happiness is at the top of my list. The book offers a 28-day course that slowly but surely introduces different meditation practices. Sharon Salzberg is one of the founders of the Insight Meditation Center. She has been practicing and teaching meditation for over 30 years and is a highly acclaimed author, teacher and a sought after public speaker. In this book, she draws from her own imperfect meditation experiences to explain the basic breathing techniques, posture, scheduling, etc… If you're looking for a straightforward guide to beginning a meditation practice, Real Happiness is my pick. 

Meditation Classes
Theravada, Vipassana, Zen, Kundalini, what the hell are all of these words? I know, you just want to meditate and not necessarily learn a new language. I was lucky that I found a Shambhala Meditation Center close to my house. I like to think of these meditation centers as “Buddhist Light”. Shambhala offers an open house every Sunday morning that makes it really easy to drop in and see if it’s the right place for you. When you get there, you’ll be welcomed and then an instructor will briefly show you the basics of both sitting and walking meditation. After you’ll join the rest of the group for a session and some centers have a discussion afterward. 

Shambhala Meditation Centers are all over the world so it shouldn’t be too hard to find a nearby center and if you like it, they offer retreats and such. Also, the group is affiliated with the Buddhist Nun and prolific author, Pema Chodron so there are lots of books your can read that are closely related to this practice.

http://shambhala.org/

Meditation App
Not religious, simple and easy, Headspace is a great app to launch your meditation practice. The app offers you ten, ten-minutes guided meditation sessions to help get your mind right. 

https://www.headspace.com/

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I hope some of these picks will help you as you dip your toe into meditation. Don’t take it all too seriously, just sit your ass down and keep in mind the quote by Henry David Thoreau, “I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”

A Scientists' View of the Election

By William St. John, Democrat and Scientist

While I do not believe that Trump gives a damn about the concerns of the economic underclass; his acknowledging their existence and concerns, won him the election. And if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, he would be President.

One of my many pursuits is Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).

.I. like “the Cloud” means different things to different people.  Each person’s definition tends to be shaped by how they intend to use A.I. to further their objectives. A.I. today is relatively primitive. I am reminded of this fact each time “SIRI” fails to understand my request to “call wife.”
 
One use of A.I. is designing digital communications that elicit an action on the part of a reader. Examples range from simple digital advertising campaigns to more complex interactive chat bots that interact with people helping them to sign up for a service, complete a form or use customer assistance. 
 
A.I. driven by machine learning is my field of interest. The computer studies the historical activities of each person in a group then develops several hypotheses as to the best way to communicate which it tests with select subsets of the group.  Based on test results, the computer impediments communication programs that hopefully are more relevant to readers and thereby elicit the desired response from the reader. 
 
As a scientist, I like the objectively of A.I.  But as a caring person, I love the non-binary approach to human interactions that is made possible with A.I. These systems do not look at people as either good or bad, but as humans with multiple dimensions that influence their behavior.  
 
Binary means there are only two choices. Examples of binary thought abounded in this election. If you listened to political commentators, advisors and Clinton zealous’  there were only two types of voters: “dumb racist mean-spirited Trump supporters” versus “the smart Clinton inclusive supporters”.

Read rest of article: 

http://www.graphcapers.com/opinion.html

Artist of Life

Art is the way to the absolute and to the essence of human life. The aim of art is not the one-sided promotion of spirit, soul and senses, but the opening of all human capacities – thought, feeling, will – to the life rhythm of the world of nature. So will the voiceless voice be heard and the self be brought into harmony with it.
— BRUCE LEE

If I was to pick one person who exemplified the power of both creativity and mindfulness I would pick Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee took Taoist principles and applied them to martial arts with an unmatched ferocity. By doing this, he developed a personal philosophy and discipline. His life became a search for truth and his very being was a testament to human potential.    

If you watch Bruce Lee's "lost interview" from the Pierre Berton show in 1971, you will hear incredible intelligence delivered in the coolest way you've ever heard. I mean, Bruce Lee was beyond cool and Pierre Berton couldn't be more condescending in his questioning if he tried. The way Bruce Lee is able to take in his insulting behavior and counter the conversation is a craft in itself. He is unflappable. Truth. 

Bruce Lee is a testament to developing one's self through mindfulness, creativity and, of course, a shit ton of hard work. He spoke a lot about using what works for one's self and discarding the rest. I take this a bit like the Buddha's teaching experiential knowledge and promoting learning by one's own experience and not just taking someone else's words as gospel. His own form of martial arts was called Jeet Kun Do, it's a hybrid of different techniques that worked for Bruce Lee. He discarded the rest. He said of this style,"I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, or molds. Remember that Jeet Kun Do is merely a name used, a mirror in which to see ourselves... A boat to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one's back."  

Bruce Lee is an idol and I hope in time he will be recognized as much for his pearls of wisdom as he is for kicking people in the face. I could go on and on and keep adding to this post but for now I'll leave you with this.

You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.
— Bruce Lee

Thich Nhat Hanh VS Phil Connors in a battle of Vinefulness

1993’s Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray is the most important, spiritual film ever made. 

Do you want to understand God? Karma? Letting go of control? Compassion for others? Being happy, present and living in the moment?

 Watch Groundhog Day. It’s all there.

Bill Murray's character, TV weatherman, Phil Connors, is stuck in a karmic cycle of suffering. He relives the same day over and over again trying everything he can think of to escape. Finally, he gives up control, finds peace and thinks of others first. Only then does he attain enlightenment and moves forward with his life.

You still don't believe Groundhog Day is anything more than a mindless early 90's comedy? Good, cause I spent way too much time creating this series of Vines to illustrate my point. That's right, TV weatherman Phil Connors is going head to head with Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh to show you what's up. You can judge the winner. 

NOTE: I am fully aware that a lot of these Vines are contrary to the quotes but real understanding is seeing both sides of the coin. And, honestly, they're just funnier. 

 

EVERYDAY MINDFULNESS

Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.
— — ― Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
 
 
 

LIVING EACH DAY TO ITS FULLEST

Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
— ― Thich Nhat Hanh quotes
 
 

COMPASSION

 
Compassion is a verb.
— - Thich Nhat Hanh
 
 
 

WORKING

Don’t do any task in order to get it over with... Enjoy and be one with your work.
— -Thich Nhat Hanh
 
 
 

HOW TO EAT

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.
— ― Thich Nhat Hanh
 
 
 

THE NOW

Only this actual moment is life.
— ― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
 
 

MOSTWEST Reads

Photo by sanwaldeen.com

There are books on creativity and books about mindfulness. I like when they overlap. Here are a few of my faves. Feel free to send me your favorites.  

The key is to view conflict as essential, because that’s how we know the best ideas will be tested and survive.
— ― Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.

Creativity, INC by Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar and Disney is at the top of my list for anyone interested in fostering a creative workplace. From starting a "brain trust" to effectively problem solve to embracing change and cherishing your employees, Catmull easily and effectively communicates the Pixar way. Revealing anecdotes about Steve Jobs and George Lucas are bountiful but it is Catmull's ability to learn from Pixar's failures and adapt that make this book truly beneficial.

Where does "mindfulness" come into play? I had a hunch reading this book that, "this dude meditates", but it wasn't till two-thirds of the way through that he copped to it. Sure enough, Ed Catmull is a daily meditator and speaks and teaches at Spirit Rock in Northern, California. I've noticed recently, when these super successful people credit meditation for their accomplishments they seem to always talk about how it reinvigorated them, reenergized and reawakened them creatively. Cheaper than drugs too!

There’s no need to feel harnessed or limited in any way . . . When the Dude is not in, life just blossoms.
— ― Jeff Bridges, The Dude and the Zen Master

Speaking of drugs, The Dude and the Zen Master chronicles conversations between Jeff Bridges, aka The Dude from the movie, The Big Lebowski, and his Buddhist teacher, the renowned Roshi Bernie Glassman. Chapters are based on famous Lebowski lines such as; Phones Ringin, Dude, You Mean Coitus?, New Shit Has Come to Light, etc... The book is conversational and easy and like the film The Big Lebowski, it contains hidden and subtle brilliance throughout. Bridges examples of using his Zen practice as an actor on film sets are insightful and inspiring for any artist.

Mindfulness can encourage creativity when the focus is on the process and not the product.
— ― Ellen J. Langer, Mindfulnes

So, this Mindfulness stuff is too "out there" for you? You need some science and facts to back this stuff up? I have the book for you. Ellen Langer, who has been described as, "the mother of mindfulness" published Mindfulness in 1990. The book chronicles her numerous scientific experiments with people and overwhelmingly demonstrates the awesome and mostly untapped potential of the human mind. This book isn't about Yoga or meditation. This book is about everyday awareness and the benefits we all receive when we continue to challenge perceived definitions in everything throughout our lives. 

Something about Elizabeth Gilbert bothers me and I should probably just get over it. Why? Because she's brilliant and understands and explains creativity like no one else. Watch her TED Talk for starters. She believes creativity is magic and it is something you can catch and harness. I love that idea and for me to pretend like I have not experienced that magic myself is an insult to the creative process in general. Real creativity comes from being open and saying yes. Staying fearless in the face of obstacles and logic. Gilbert makes the point again and again that we are all creative, we are all artists, it is dependent on you if you want to let it out or not. 

A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life
— ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

David Lynch. What can I say? Get this book on audio and dive in deep. I listen to it once a year just to get a refresher course and see just how far meditation and creativity can take a person.  Yeah, Lynch is sometimes out there and his train of thought can be all over the place but the book is grounded by quotes from the Upanishads and that keeps it grounded. Lynch talks a lot about transcendental meditation but this book is good for any creative person. If you are a fan of David Lynch's films and like stories from behind the scenes it is a must. 

Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure.They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.
— ― David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish