Nowhere to Go To, Nowhere to Run

This is really an add-on to yesterday’s post. A kind of PS.

The thing about learning to meditate is that the place we’re trying to go, the thing we’re trying to get – we already have it.

The peaceful clear mind is already there. The ability to see reality clearly, ditto.

And while, we might be able to get away in other pursuits, with working very hard to “get it” or achieve some kind of mastery, in meditation that is a path doomed to keep us stuck, feeling like we’re not making any progress.

There’s an old Zen story about the student who says “Master, if I work very hard, how long will it take me to become enlightened.”

The master says, “Ten years.”

“Ten years! So long? What if I work extra hard?”

“Twenty years.”

“But if I practice very diligently, every day, what then?”

“Thirty years.”

In meditation practice, whether still or dynamic, the harder we try the worse it is for us. We need to practice with the simplest idea possible. That is, when we sit, we just sit. We know the body and the breath and that is all. No fancy concepts. No trying very hard. No chasing after anything. There is no mastery. Because all these are merely words and concepts that ultimately have nothing to do with meditation. Steven Hagen talks about this beautifully in his book Buddhism: It’s Not What You Think.

The Spanish have a saying, “It is one thing to speak of bulls, it’s another to be in the bull ring.” In meditation practice, we can say, it is one thing to speak about sitting, it’s another to sit. There is no thinking we can do to make us “get” meditation. There is only practice. There is no trying very hard. Nothing to chase.

If anything, it’s more a process of letting go – of concepts, of thinking, of notions of being good students who try very hard because we want to do well or please the teacher and so on.

There is only practice. So we need to try, all of us together, to practice regularly, diligently. It is beneficial to build up the amount of time that we practice. The more time we can manage to give, both in terms of frequency and in terms of individual sessions of practice the more time we give to train the mind, teaching it to settle down, giving the process our full attention. This is where training with a teacher and a group of friends can make a big difference. Classes reinforce our practice. We empty the cup of our minds and let the peace and clarity emerge, slowly, naturally, breath by breath.


The Faster I Go, the Behinder I Get

Anyone out there think like this sometimes?

If I work really hard at … x … I’ll get really good at it.

Sound familiar?

I think we all have this idea. In my experience, it’s the kind of thing that was drilled into my brain from a young age. I confess I have to watch what I say sometimes too. We push things on our children. We attack work with a ferocious energy. But what if this is just one of those things we say without being fully mindful of what our words really mean?

Now, I’m not advocating that we give up diligence and determination and such. No way. But here’s the thing. What if, at least in part – what if what we are really doing is creating more stress into the equation with this idea of working very hard? And what if that stress is one of the very things most impeding our progress, keeping us from the very success we seek?

With meditation and taiji my experience shows me that the more I relax, the more I pursue practice with diligence and determination yes but without this idea of “trying very hard,” the better things seem to go. When it comes to any form of meditation, whether sitting or standing or dynamic, the more we just show up and focus without creating any narratives or judgement or ideas about good or bad practice, the more we can just be present fully in each moment. And the more we do that, the more the way seems to open up.

And actually, I find the same thing to be true in doing about anything. At my office job in Chicago, I try to focus on the task without adding extra ideas to what I’m doing. When I go to the gym, and the owner teaches me how to use a new weight machine or new exercise, I see that having any ideas about trying very hard only get between me and the moment.

When I relax and just do, with full focus and nothing left over, life goes more smoothly and peacefully. If I’m speaking with someone and they want to debate something, I try to remember to say what I have to say just once and let it go. When a student calls me about the center and asks about taiji and meditation, I just say what these things are as clearly as possible, describe the benefits as simply as I can and then ask if the person wants to come try it out. I don’t try to hard to persuade them to come in. I offer and try to let go of the outcome.

So, basically, it comes to this: I think that if we allow ourselves to be caught up in trying very hard, it only seems that it takes longer and longer to make any progress. So, as counter intuitive as this may seem, the harder we work, the behinder we get.

Thank you Lewis Carroll!

No Concept: Keeping Taiji and Meditation Practice Simple

Sometimes we make things complicated with too much thinking, speculating about metaphysical questions and complex, imaginative concepts. All of which is a waste of our time. None of that gets us any better at taiji or meditation. In fact, it leads us farther and farther away from real practice with false promises of deepening our understanding. While it might make us feel terribly clever digging through knotty concepts, it will not accomplish anything of real value. There is no replacement for direct experience gained through practice.

There’s an old story about a man who shot by an arrow. Before he would allow the doctor to remove the arrow he had to have several speculative questions answered. Who shot the arrow, who were the parents of the person who shot the arrow, what’s the arrow made of, why did he shoot the arrow … and on and on. What do you think happened? While he chased after these useless questions he died.

Do we want to be like that man wasting our precious time on speculative thinking which leads us nowhere? Or would we rather practice taiji and meditation and cut to the heart of things as directly as possible? Why not spend as much of this time as we can living and practicing to see the truth, easing our difficulties and living with peace, happiness and harmony.

When we practice meditation and taiji keeping to a simple routine is helpful. When we do the form over and over, aiming for 1000 times, 2000 times, 3000, staying present in each moment, mindfully as possible, we bring the mind and body together, the speculation stops, the mind returns to its natural state, quiet, full of joy and boundless generosity.

And that, to steal from Robert Frost, will make all the difference.

The Key to Peace at the Office

Just breathe.

Mindfully attending to the breath can help us understand a single, single yet critical concept. That is the breath like everything else is impermanent. It comes and goes. Arises, exists for a short time, then naturally fades away.

While you sit at your desk, or stand out in the field or where ever you work, pause, once an hour and for a few minutes focus on your breath with full attention.

Notice how it rises and falls. You may notice this in the belly, on  your lip or in your nostrils. Pick one place and don’t go shopping for the spot on which you will focus.Yes, there is a continuum of breathing, one breath following the next but also, do you notice that slight moment between each breath? A tiny suspension as one ends and another begins?

Observe each single breath as you inhale, pause, exhale, pause, inhale … Each breath is different. Some short, some long. Sometimes we breathe quickly, when we’re excited, nervous or exercising.  When we’re relaxed, we tend to breathe more slowly. And note, please, that the breath has no story. We don’t judge it a good or bad breath. We just do it.

Things happen to all of us at work that seem to cause stress for us. And I say seem because, this stress need not be a fact of life at all. Of course, we can not always change those events, people or personalities which challenge us. We can however, change our reactions to them. The first simple way to do this, is to take a lesson from our breath.

As we’ve already observed, each breath is impermanent. So too with work place events.

Try these techniques:

1. When something happens, someone says something, does something, you see someone you don’t much care for coming down the hall, you’re handed a seemingly impossible deadline on a work order …see where you feel it, physically in your body.

2. Observe the physical sensation, the stomach twinge, the clenched jaw, the headache – and immediately put your attention on your breath in that same spot you always use. It’s important to have that spot pre-selected so you don’t waste time feeling stressed.

3. As you observe your breath, you will notice that the stress you felt so intensely only a moment ago is going, going … gone. The breath has no story to tell. It helps us simply arrive more fully into the present moment without judgement or assessment, good or bad. Just with what in fact, IS. In, out, in out – always changing. Going, going, gone. Repeat as needed.

In this way, we begin to be fully present without any narrative to create any stress what so ever. We are simply and peacefully here. And with this, our responses to others around us changes, becomes more relaxed. More peacful. We can begin to respond instead with quiet, clarity, and compassion. We don’t add stress to the situation. And this makes the whole office more calm. We even do better work. And that’s something every company can take to the bank.

Would you like to feel less stress at work? Try the suggestions here. See how it goes.

Need a little help making it work? Contact us at Calm Chicago. We’re here to help.

Have a peaceful day.

What is Enlightenment? Walk Your Dog, Chicago

Does your dog need to go out?


Then walk him.
Off we go then.
So simple! …and who said practice was hard?

One Simple Way to Reduce Stress at Work with Taiji

In a nutshell, it’s this simple … we need to learn to use our energy appropriately.

We wouldn’t throw our money out the window willy nilly, right? That would be wasteful and foolish. It would quickly leave us penniless.

It’s wise to keep track of our money, paying attention to how much we spend on what sorts of things. Over time we see where we can save and have funds for a rainy day.

We can think of our energy as one of our most precious forms of currency. It’s what we need to get through each busy day. In the same way that we wouldn’t toss the money out the window, so too we shouldn’t toss our energy out the proverbial window either.

Taiji embodies this lesson very clearly. Practicing Yang taiji leaves us refreshed and energized not worn out. Playing the form is like putting money in the bank. We practice to use just enough energy to do each part correctly with relaxed, clear, focused attention and energy.

We don’t wave our hands about like mad. We practice to let go of any tension in the muscles, tightness in the spine, relax the face. We try to maintain single pointed focus, uniting the body, breath and mind. To create excess muscle tension is akin to throwing money out the window. To let the mind wander – ditto. We use the right amount for the intended purpose and when we do this well, the form looks beautiful, flowing and fills our energy bank accounts.

At work, this makes sense as well. Though some office cultures may be high pressure it’s important not to succumb to any surrounding frenzy. We need as well to realize that another potential trap is found in falling for looking busy. What a waste of energy.

The best way to get things done well, creatively and on time is to work calmly, mindfully and with focus, keeping the mind clear, relaxed. We try to do each thing the best we can, with full attention, without worry or anxiety about the past, the future, the boss and so on. Then move on to the next appropriate task. Correct as needed.

One easy way to work with this is to use our breath to keep us present. It’s like heeling a puppy. Gently bring the attention back to our breath as many times as needed. When we put the attention on the breath, we can not feel stressed. The pause allows us to refocus. If we lose the calm feeling? What do we do? Merely heel the puppy gently once again. Bring the attention back to the breath.

Can we have instant success with this just be desiring it or reading about it? No. We need to practice. In taiji we bring mind and body together and if we practice each day, the job we do at the office becomes part of our practice and that gets easier too.

3 Reasons Why Meditation Matters

1. Because meditation leads to seeing reality clearly.

2. Seeing reality clearly leads to wisdom in balance with compassion.

3. Wisdom in balance with compassion leads to living so we can be of benefit with each thing we do, say or think.

Want to learn more about this?

I invite you to come visit Calm Chicago: the mind & body center in Chicago (Chinatown). We teach meditation, taiji (or tai chi depending on how you like to spell it!) and qigong all with the idea to bring the mind and body together in order to leave healthy, peaceful lives, to be of benefit in all we do.

Call 312-961-9608 or visit the web site:

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