The one thing I learned through mindfulness is that I’m not going to stop thinking. The mind thinking is as natural as my body breathing. I guess trying to stop thinking is like trying to stop breathing…. not smart lol My teacher would say if you can stop thinking you are either dead or enlightened.
It becomes a bit problematic when I get hooked into the inner narrative/ story I tell myself. So I come back to the body sensation of breaths because it’s always there whether I like it or not, which really means that breathing is happening in the present moment. For the thinking mind, maybe I don’t have to push it away but just watch it as I can observe breathing…… sometimes.
I practiced at home alone for more than a year before I started to go to group sittings. Good two years until I found this wonderful home MNDFL where I got certified as a meditation teacher.
Putting that aside, it is a wonderful place to practice with other people who has similar interests without any dogmatic religious teachings. I still practice at home alone daily, but going to MNDFL is very important part of my practice. Having teachers in person who came from different traditions and can answer questions on the spot is amazing. Also with hearing other people’s experience through meditation makes me feel I’m not alone.
Don’t get me wrong. There are tons of amazing groups/places in the city for meditation. But MNDFL offers so many teachers from different lineages in one place through out the day and week. What a great gate way to start the journey. I’d say you may wanna find out yourself why you would take a meditation class!
I don’t want to make this blog all about Buddhism and religious stuff, but I must say it’s hard to separate:
1. I grew up watching monks visiting home and going to temples in Japan so I don’t mind the religious aspects of it.
2. Mindfulness came from Buddhist tradition although what’s taught here is usually secular version of it.
3. A little mystic, magical, rainbow, unicorn, woo-woo in life wouldn’t hurt anyone.
So the three schools of Buddhism are Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. I talked about Zen(Mahayana) and Tibetan(Vajrayana) because that was a part of my earlier journey meditating in NYC. Theravada Buddhism is called the oldest one. Again and again, with my micro knowledge, they go back to original teaching of Buddha in the Pāli Cannon (scripture). In the US it is also known as Insight or Vipassanā. Those who brought the big part of mindfulness practice back to the west are in this tradition, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield… so yeah.
Actually I practice and research a lot on this tradition now, because those people have written great books on mindfulness and loving-kindness. It gives me a nice guideline to practice and teach mindfulness. Also I listen to the podcast created by Dharma Punx. It’s mixture of Buddhism and neuron science, making the teaching very relatable to daily life.
I will write about different wisdom traditions too but the bottom line is….. it’s all the same shit in a very positive and wonderful way. There are so many similarities with different emphasizes. One may suit someone better in some ways, but really it’s all very good is what I want to say.
When I was practicing with Andy P.(on the app lol), he would sometimes ask to set an intention. I watched so many anime growing up, usually things come up to me in cartoon ways. Every time for me then it was Princess Mononoke…
“To see with eyes unclouded by hate”
They translation gets very particular about the hate but basically seeing clearly with unclouded eyes. So that was my intention for a long time, still is. It is very helpful for me to have any simple humane intentions for meditation practice. Usually after settling in the posture, I briefly ask myself or remind myself why I practice. Especially when I do that in the morning, the intention of the practice seep into the day and carries on.
Mindfulness practice is not done only on the cushion. In fact, there are mindful listening, mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful washing dishes… I was doing mindful walking when I realized or felt overwhelmed, but we walk ALL THE TIME. I just felt overwhelmed by the thought of being mindful all the time when I was walking.
So I thought of check points in a day to be mindful. What could it be!? DOORS!!!! Whenever I go through doors or gates, I brought attention to my body sensation, usually feet, breath, or the weight of my backpack or phone….. To my surprise, there are SO MANY DOORS!!!! For a month everyday, I would try and fail, and notice later on that I already had passed 3 or 4 doors… if I was lucky, if not more.
In the end, on the contrary, I found that the mindful door exercise was successful. Why? Because I WAS more mindful of how un-mindful I was in daily life. I WAS noticing that my mind was wondering. And from that point, I just went back to walking meditation as much as possible, and not get so frustrated when I’m not. I felt ok by just catching the mind wondering.
I had started the exploration of meditating outside of HeadSpace. After many google searches and some visits to Zen center, I found one of the Tibetan temples in the city, KDK (I still don’t know how to say it lol). This one in particular because it was close to Lincoln Center Theater where I worked and I’m putting the link because I appreciate their online/home study course.
KDK is one of many lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, Kagyu. (The other main ones are Nyngma, Sakya, and Gelug). Tibetan Buddhism is school of Vajrayana Buddhism, sometimes called indestructible vehicle. Again my tiny understanding of this vast topic is that it’s to help you being awake in this life time. That’s because they emphasizes on the fact that we are all innately good inside. It has bases on other schools of Buddhism such as Mahayana and Theravada too, so it’s not their own thing to some extent. They do have unique practices of different mudras and mandalas and…. things that I don’t know but seems cool! But those unique practices are taught through real teacher-student relationship.
Anyhow, I went and it was in the basement of a building. It’s beautiful inside, lots of colors and pictures. It’s renovated well too since it’s used as a culture event center in other time. They do 5 to 10 minuets meditation called shamatha (calm abiding) twice or three times for 30 minuets, very short breaks in between. It’s semi-guided and you can ask questions in between. There is usually a monastic person from upstate leading. After that they do Dharma talk for 90 minuets or so. The teaching is very relevant to our daily life. But I usually had to go back to the theater for the evening show after the meditation.
I started their online/home study program, the Dharma Path Program as I started the teacher training at MNDFL, but that’s for another time.
I solely meditated at home by myself for the good first year or so with HeadSpace. The duration was extending, I started doing walking meditation here and there, and at the theater before the show starts for a few minuets. Then something shifted. I had a hunch that there was more to this meditation thing. So I googled “meditation NYC”, got overwhelmed by the numbers of places, and just randomly picked one of the Zen centers because…..? I’m Japanese OF COURSE.
Zen (or Chán in Chinese) is school of Mahayana Buddhism. My tiny understanding is that it emphasizes in being in service to others with open and gentle heart. And they have lots of rules and forms to follow concerning the practice itself. Usually Zen centers in NYC are open to public and have the first timer instruction lessons on certain days. Basically they tell you how to enter the room and bow with everyone together somewhat like how martial arts classes you bow and all that. Some places lend you a robe to wear. And it’s usually not guided meditation (zazen). They may have a short chanting which I don’t mind just following along. (They usually have booklet for you to look) The places I went to did 30 minuets sitting – 5 to 10 minuets walking inside- 20 to 30 minuets sitting. Or 45 minuets just sitting. You get the idea.
So I went and it was a stretch for me to sit that long. I was somehow sweating like crazy! For good or bad, I felt accountable or supported sitting next to someone (strangers) otherwise I would have given up. I felt pretty goof afterwords too with pins and needles on my feet. Haha. There is something about gathering with others to sit silently together. It makes me giggle a little but I like it still. Usually the place is very simple, minimum decoration, and beautiful in that sense. I went back for a few weeks then explored more to the different places. But there is something that felt very comfortable reminding me of home. I actually went to a week long retreat in a Zen place in Catskill but that’s for another post.