The Battle To Win Ourselves

THEME: Freedom
MEDITATION: The Battle To Win Ourselves
INTERACTIVE: Enforced Harry Belafonte dancing chain that you will never escape from

I love pop music. My friends play me some hip electro banger I’m like ‘ya ok,’ but when I hear Carlye Rae Jepsen Cut to the Feeling my inner teenage girl goes mental (never mind when Selena Gomez samples the Talking-Heads – sick!) I love these songs because they make me feel free. They make me realize that at anytime I can actually kick off my leg warmers and do cartwheels down the sidewalk. That in a million different ways I imagine I’m limited and constrained and that I must act or be a certain way but really, really, at anytime I can just … step off. Step off the ride. And the world will hold me. I won’t fall off into outer space, or lose my work, or my friends, although I may slightly damage my credibility when I do Freddy Mercury impressions. So: what is this freedom exactly, and what does it means to step off the ride when we have not  history and responsibilities and all the rest of it? I’m not actually sure – maybe you know. Show me this Monday, first in stillness, and then in deranged community movement.

Three Views of Reality

MEDITATION:  Welcome to the Party
INTERACTIVE:  Three Views of Reality

For this weekly instalment of November’s devotion month, we’re going to explore what it means to be goo goo ga ga in love with the hottest sexiest meanest and most ass-kicking entity in all of reality – that is, Reality itself, aka the existential wrapper thing that you, me, and everyone seems to find themselves inside, now and always, for reality just keeps on being real. What could it mean not just to love this beastie, but also to treat “it” as both intelligent and in constant meaningful communication with us? Can one have such a view without being committed to an asylum, or being roundly mocked by your boring social scientist friends?

We start with a simple welcoming meditation to set the mood. And then for part two we’ll imagine ourselves into three contrasting conditions or views of reality: a magical or New Age condition of experiencing the world as inherently animist and participatory, where everything we do and think is meaningfully connected to everything else; a rational-humanist condition where we experience the world as a largely indifferent clockwork, where it is up to each of us find and create our own meaning (an equally beautiful view), and finally an agnostic condition of not having any idea how the world really is, but living dignified inside our not-knowing anyway.  Forget what you really believe. In this practice, you get to try on all three, one after the other, exploring the unique gifts – and challenges – that each view holds for you at this time. Finally, for our dance party closer, we get free (with a little help from GM).

The Power of Habit

TALK: What habits of mind are you building?

You hear teachers say it again and again, in every tradition: explore for a bit, and then choose one practice and commit. They’re right – sort of. It is absolutely true that if you want to build up a new habit, you have to repeat the same mental action again and again. That’s how to create healthy conditioning – there is no way around it, and for many teachers, that means sticking to one practice. But the higher-level truth here is that as long as you know what qualities of mind you are training, then you can repeat those same habits of mind in any technique or practice. This is practice as the quality of attention (ie, concentrated, equanimous etc), we bring to an object, vs the object itself (ie, sounds, emotions, mantra, breath). These qualities of attention are where we build our continuity: they are our habits of mind. So what habits of mind are we building? This Monday, we explore.

GUIDED MEDITATION: Habits of mind

 

Emotional Trigger Practice

THEME: Emotional Dysregualtion
GUIDED MEDITATION: US Election Trigger Practice
INTERACTIVE: Coherent Breathing

Well, it’s one day before the US election and the moment the Western world is thrown into our next Dark Age. Are you worried? I am. It’s hard to be an informed person and not feel some concern for the intense divisiveness and acrimony radiating up from our southern neighbours. Fortunately, when it comes to meditation, that’s just fine: we WANT reactions. We need something to work with here. This Monday evening, we get extremely practical, and explore mindfulness’ bare-bones approach to emotional reactivity. And then for part two we’ll explore some of the fascinating new science of breathing – how the simple technique of “coherent” rhythmic breathing can be a powerful way to regulate the whole metabolism.

Identity and Freedom

GUIDED MEDITATION: Neti-Neti
INTERACTIVE: Crossing the Line

There’s no getting around this paradox if you want to grok spiritual practice. On the one hand, you are definitely a unique little weirdo. On the other hand, you’re also the irreducible sum of all unique weirdos, and / or none of them. It depends on your perspective. Whether you call it noself or True Self, many meditators report experiences – usually temporary, but often increasing in frequency and duration – of feeling ever-more free from their previous identities. On this Monday night in September, we’ll explore both sides. We’ll kick things off with a venerable Hindu practice called “not this, not that” (neti-neti in Sanskrit), where you basically investigate every little bit of your experience, and progressively dismiss each bit as being “not you,” since the real you (ie, not-you) is apparently over on this side doing all the noticing. It’s a pretty thrilling – and disorienting, and sometimes frustrating – meditation if you’ve never done it before. Then, for part two’s Interactive practice, we’ll explore the opposite: our very real identities, the ones that get yanked around everyday in various intersectional directions. Can we hold both of these perspectives without our heads exploding? Only one way to find out.

Healthy Boundaries

MEDITATION: Psychic Shrink-Wrap
INTERACTIVE: The Right Practice for the Right Time

Our theme this month is different strokes for different folks. This seems to be every bit as true for meditation and spiritual practice as it is for everything else. When I first started practicing mindfulness, I was all about deconstructing myself. A lot of people need this – we’re so tightly wound, all calloused and hunkered down. There was a lot about myself that I couldn’t see, so the inquiry was very fruitful. Over time, I realized this was no longer my primary challenge. It was the ADD; I didn’t need deconstruction, I needed containment. This is all part of the meditative learning process: figuring out what you really need at different times, which may be different than whatever ideals are being bandied about by the teacher / culture / whatever. So … for this meditation, we’ll explore the practice of containment, shrink-wrapping our outer edges (where the bleed-out happens), and exploring how boundaries feel for each of us.

Then for part two, we’ll take up our monthly Spiritual Challenges discussion, this time on the theme of finding the right practice. Caveat emptor: there is really no tradition or official body of teachers / meditation researchers who can speak authoritatively about this question. It is something we ultimately have to take responsibility for on our own, although we can get insights and tips and support from our community.

The Practice of Perspective

TEACHERJeff Warren
THEME: The Practice of Perspective
MEDITATION: Layers of Our Discontent
INTERACTIVE: The Art of Moving Out

This week, we explore perspective from two directions: in sitting practice, where we’ll tease out some of the understated and not-so understated ways we find our moments lacking (and in the seeing, a subtle freeing), and, for part two, a wonderful art practice designed to take us out of ourselves into some of the insightful and often healing perspectives that surround us.

Inhibition

TEACHER: Jeff Warren and Christine Pountney
THEME: Inhibition
MEDITATION: Saying Yes
INTERACTIVE: “All Pathology Starts with Inhibition”

“All pathology starts with inhibition.” Dr. Henri Laborit said that. I don’t know who he is either, although Wikipedia tells me he’s a dead French guy who experimented on rats. But let’s run with his idea. My friend Christine believes that whenever we willingly block the natural free flow of ourselves, we’ve passed judgment on ourselves. She asks: “What would it be like to live without judgment, to breathe and move without judgment? What would we learn from all those impulses, expressions, thoughts and feelings, if we had them before we judged them? Are we even aware of what we allow to live and what we prohibit in ourselves? How much more do we have to censor once we begin?” This Monday, we explore the pros and cons of inhibition, imagining a different world, and the freedom to be drunk on ourselves.

Not Knowing

TEACHER: Jeff Warren
THEME: Not Knowing
MEDITATION: The Beautiful Bogglement of the Beginner
INTERACTIVE: Embracing the Alien

Meditation is an interplay between knowing and not knowing. Sometimes we know exactly what’s going on: inhale, distraction, butt-itch, eureka! But sometimes – just as importantly – we have no idea. We are genuinely out in the open, without even the simplest thing figured out. And oh man is this a productive place to be – the mind of the beginner, not racing for answers but allowed to float in the rich bogglement of what Zen folks call “don’t know mind.” This is not about confusion; it’s about trusting we can survive in a space where we’re no longer limited by all the crap we have crammed into our noggins.
We’ll cultivate exactly this mental space in Part One’s meditation, and then for Part Two we’ll intensify the experience with partner work, using human presence to slingshot us into our inner alien, ultimately unlearning all the good work of civilization, so you leave the zendo walking backwards on your hands and knees, bat-shit crazy and spoiled for all future employment.

God: The Abrahamic Ideal

TEACHER: Jeff Warren and Avi Craimer
THEME: God: The Abrahamic Ideal
MEDITATION: I and Thou
INTERACTIVE: God Party

You filthy sinners! You don’t deserve to come to our God Party, particularly after last week’s shocking expose of your deranged spiritual selves. Of course now I am perpetuating the misconception that somehow the whole God thing is about sin and judgement. It is not; apparently I am guilty of the same mindlessly reactive anti-God sentiments that plague secular culture in general. In this week, my beautiful devotional compadre Avi and I team up to take the lid off God. And not just the ‘love everybody’ stuff – no, the radical heart of the Abrahamic stance, which is engaging with reality as something that is alive and intelligent and dancing with you right now, behind your back, while you read this screen and secretly pick your nose. God sees all my friend.