Going Deeper With Meditation

In developing a daily meditation practice for the first time, or re-evaluating one that feels stagnant, the question of time and frequency comes up. How long and how often to meditate? I find it most helpful to recognize that this is a personal choice and depends a great deal on your current life schedule and priorities. But it also relates a great deal to why you are meditating in the first place and just how deeply you want to explore and experience the spiritual depths to which it can take you.

I most commonly hear people speaking of a twenty-minute period of meditation, once a day. This has been shown, over the long haul, to bring about health benefits, reduction of stress, and more clarity of mind. But, while regular periods of short meditation can be quite helpful, at some point in your meditation practice you may consider that you would benefit from meditating longer. You may realize that your thinking mind is a tougher adversary than you thought. A funny way to say it is,your mind has a mind of its own. Your mind doesn’t listen to your commands to be quiet or go away, and when you try to ignore it, it gets louder and butts into your space. You may realize that the satisfaction you take in the brief moments of peace during your meditation are just hints of the shadow of an echo of a whisper of what you are truly seeking. Finally, you may recognize that the deepest truth of meditation is realized through a very long process and you need to devote lots of time to it. Your life (the quality of your life) depends on it.

 

It’s not really as grave as that might sound. Longer and deeper periods of meditation are a gift to yourself. They can provide an entry into the deeper realms of being that bring you in touch with the essence of your nature. Inside yourself, in this very moment, is the experience of beauty, love and compassion for all life. Whatever else is going on in your life or in the world, the essence of who you are, right now, is so good, so beautiful, so awesome, that the notion that you can only allow yourself a short period of this process seems ridiculous. It’s like starving yourself when there is a banquet of delicious food in front of you.

 

Moments of recognizing this, or even getting a hint of it, provide the motivation for longer periods of meditation. Let’s face it, it takes great commitment to sit and do nothing towards accomplishing the things on your “to do” list. Instead, you will pass through periods of fidgety discomfort, the clattering of mental chatter, accepting and releasing your emotional baggage, and recognizing your existential resistance to letting go of the attachment to your egoic self. What’s more, these things will seem endless as you continue to recognize them again and again, and continue to return to your breath and the focus of your practice. Yet, gradually, (hopefully with the help of others on the path) the fruits of your inner work will be most apparent in the quality of your life experience in and out of the state of meditation; you will be in touch with and expressing your eternal and infinite, true nature.

Spirituality and the Political World

If one seeks inner peace, tranquility, and serenity, all relationships are a challenge. When we look at how even a personal relationship founded in love can be at times so difficult, it is easy to see why our community, national and international relationships (which are essentially what politics is about) border on insanity. Yet, we are inevitably involved in these relationships.

I’ve been told many times by people on a spiritual path that they will no longer pay attention to politics; “There’s too much fear and anger; it’s too disturbing and unproductive.” Yet, before long I always hear those same people complain or express their anger at what is going on. It’s only natural to feel the distress at injustice, the oppression of one people by another, the destruction of the natural balance with Mother Earth. These people are, after all, our brothers and sisters; Mother Earth is our Mother. As Bernie Sanders says, “We hurt when they hurt.” There is no escaping it, least of all through spiritual awareness which makes us even more sensitive to our interconnectedness.

That pain is the calling of attention to problems that won’t go away by ignoring them, nor by wringing our hands. That pain is calling us to heal and to act. To act wisely, yes. To act with compassion, yes. To act with awareness of the ultimate peace that abides at all times throughout all this, yes. Truly, it is from that peace that right action flows.

Being honest here, the recent events in Baton Rouge, in Minnesota and in Dallas had me floored, disheartened and feeling hopeless. I still feel a deep heaviness in my heart, even more so by the divisive reactions to the events that seem to be escalating. For myself, I have found that meditation and related spiritual practices allow me to return to the deeper truths, to regenerate my body and mind, and to reconnect with that eternal optimistic Spirit that creates and affirms life.

I really don’t have the answers to our collective problems. But I do know that for me, as a White male, I need to stand in solidarity with those whose peace of mind, in fact their lives, are threatened every day because of the color of their skin. I need to do my part to help end the fear and racism with which we all have been infected. I need to, as Clarissa Pinkola Estes says so movingly, wisely and eloquently, mend the part of the world that is within my reach.

Please read Ms. Estes’ inspiring and wise words below or at: http://www.grahameb.com/pinkola_estes.htm

Thank you for doing your part in and for peace.

P.S. I am open to and appreciate your thoughts and feelings. If you would like more information on groups or books that offer perspective on integrating spirituality and the political world, I would be happy to share that with you.

 

We Were Made For These Times

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

 

 

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

 

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

 

I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.

 

Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.

 

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

 

We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?

 

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

 

What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

 

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

 

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.

 

The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

 

By Clarissa Pinkola Estes

American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves.

 

Not Fearless, But Fear Less

“Our deepest fear is not that we are weak. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world … As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

       There is a space within each of us where there is no fear at all. What some call our essential nature or soul is that which is free of all attachments; no holding on, no gripping, no clinging, no fear. When we know and feel completely that we are that, we are fearless; we are in a state of grace. But the truth is also that we live in the consciousness of our body/mind and have instincts and conditioning that often flood us with worry, anxiety and fear.  Continue reading Not Fearless, But Fear Less

Frustration, Annoyance, Anger and Meditation

(This is one in a series of essays about meditation. I hope you enjoy and benefit from these ideas and I invite you to share this with friends. I also want to invite you to attend the next full-day Tree of Life Meditations retreat focused on Agni Yoga. Agni Yoga is a unique form of meditation practice with which you can  transform negative psychological and physical patterns.)

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One thing is for sure, Meditation will not stop you from feeling anger. I say this with some certainty, not only because I’ve been meditating daily for over 45 years and still get angry… Continue reading Frustration, Annoyance, Anger and Meditation

Agni Yoga as Full-Time Yoga

Next Tree of Life Meditations Retreat – June 11th

 

There are many understandings about yoga, what one seeks through it, and what practices are involved. My orientation is that yoga is a path towards experiencing my physical body and my mind as aligned with and in union with the spiritual essence of who I am. This then leads to an experience of inner peace and access to healing, creative, and other potentials that lie within. This is a full-time process, not simply something one does in a class or for a short period on occasion.

In 1969, I attended a retreat that changed the direction of my life. I was introduced to Agni Yoga and spent the next ten years in a school dedicated to spreading the teachings and healing practices of this little known form of yoga. It was the first disciplined spiritual practice that I learned and there has not been a day since that time that I haven’t made use of its teachings. It has been my profound honor and privilege to share these teachings with students from a wide range of backgrounds and present circumstances. I’ve experienced that this form of practice makes it easier to bring yoga into awareness not just during the intensive practice sessions, but throughout ones daily existence.

The Tree of Life Meditations process that I teach has Agni Yoga as one of its three core lineages, along with shamanism and mindfulness meditation. All three weave together beautifully to enable one to have a complete spiritual practice: for healing self and others; bringing kindness and love into personal relationships; awakening to inner direction from one’s soul; and finding a meaningful and fulfilling way to relate to the issues of the world.

Previous Tree of Life Meditations retreats focused on mindfulness meditation practices and shamanism, while this next one will be focused primarily on Agni Yoga. Please see here for more information on Agni Yoga.

Tree of Life Meditations Retreat

June 11th, 10 AM – 5 PM

Tomkins Cove – $100

Crossing the Boundary gets Reviewed

I’m happy to say that Crossing the Boundary has received a very positive review in the independent book review journal Forward Reviews. You can read the copy below.

I continue to receive messages from folks reading the book about how much they enjoyed it and also how thought-provoking it is for them on their own spiritual journey. I recently had a wonderful time discussing the book with Alex and Allyson Grey at their Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM) center in Wappinger Falls, NY.  Allyson is featured in the book, and Buddhist teacher, Marty Lowenthal, who also has a chapter, was there for a very illuminating discussion.

My next talk and book signing will be at the Katonah Village Library in Westchester County, NY, for any of you who are in the area. Please see their listing here: http://www.katonahlibrary.org/author-alan-levin-presents-crossing-boundary/.

ForwardReviews of CB

 

AlanLevin_CrossingBorder

Focus on Shamanism – April 2nd Tree of Life Meditations Retreat

You carry Mother Earth within you.
She is not outside you.
Mother Earth is not just your environment.
In that insight of inter-being,
it is possible to have real communication with the Earth,
which is the highest form of prayer.
–Thich Nhat Hanh
 

What’s really important about shamanism
is that there is another reality that you can personally discover….
we are not alone.
–Michael Harner

tree_of_life_moon_sun_ April 2 2016 flyer

A lot has been happening. I just helped organize an event where Starhawk, one of the spiritual teachers I interviewed for my book, Crossing the Boundary,  gave a wonderful talk at the Stony Point Center to a very receptive and inspired group.The next Tree of Life Meditations retreat, which will focus on integrating meditation with shamanism, is coming up on April 2nd. One of the most prominent teachers bringing shamanism to the attention of Europeans and North Americans is Michael Harner. His words are above along with Thich Nhat Hanh’s who brings the insights of meditation to our relationship with Mother Earth.

The shamanic worldview honors the intelligence that is present in all life and supports us in living in harmony with our fellow creatures of the plant and animal realm and Mother Earth. The core element of shamanism is the journey to connect and align with inner allies for strength, healing, and direction (or vision). Those who participate will learn methods and gain specific tools for exploring how these inner connections deepen your human relationships and your relationship with the web of life.

Please let me know if you are interested in attending and I will send some more information about what to bring and how to prepare.

in peace,

Alan

P.S. I’ll be giving a talk on Crossing the Boundary, along with Alex and Allyson Grey at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, CoSM, on March 25th. See:

CoSM event page:
http://cosm.org/events/friday-nights-crossing-boundaries/

Facebook event page:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1029748750405085/

April 2 2016 flyer

Ecopsychology

Bridging the psyche and the world

A workshop for therapists and healers

Ecopsychology integrates ecology with psychology, so that the human mind and body are viewed in their relationship to nature and the whole web of life. This emerging field of study offers a philosophical ground for a deeper understanding of the human problems that are related to in psychotherapy and all healing work. It likewise offers practical approaches for healing and transformation. Through the lens of ecopsychology, we can look at the causes and treatment of some of the major difficulties faced in therapy such as depression, alienation, addiction, lack of intimacy and existential anxiety.

This workshop will be an exploration of some of the core ideas that have been articulated by theorists and practitioners of ecopsychology. It will include experiential practices that derive from this perspective, and offer direction for future study and experience.

Included will be discussion and exploration of:

* ecopsychology, biophilia and Gaia
* indigenous and shamanic practices of healing
* experiences of relating with nature as healer and therapist
* the role of rites of passage and other nature-based rituals in marking life transitions
* redefining sanity in the context of a culture that is destroying its own life support system
* the human body and mind as part of the web of life

Free lecture:
Friday evening (or Sat.) New Age Center, Nyack

Day long experiential workshop in nature setting:
Sat: 10 – 4 (or Sun) Point of Infinity

Workshop leader: Alan Levin, M.A., L.M.F.T., has studied and taught deep meditation practices and shamanic exploration for the past 35 years. He is a licensed psychotherapist in California, where he also led wilderness quests with an ecopsychological perspective. He founded Holos Institute in 1990, in which he trained and supervised intern therapists integrating spirituality and ecopsychology in their work toward licensure as psychotherapists. He has just moved to Nyack and is beginning a practice of working with individuals and groups with what he calls, “therapy for the mind, heart and soul living in a body.”

Additional reflections on ecopsychology:

“Ecopsychologists are drawing upon the ecological sciences to reexamine the human psyche as an integral part of the web of nature.”
-Lester Brown
President, WorldWatch Inst.
co-author, State of the World

“…an individual’s harmony with his or her ‘own deep self’ requires not merely a journey to the interior but a harmonizing with the environmental world.”
-James Hillman
Jungian analyst, author

“Once upon a time all psychology was ‘ecopsychology’. No special word was needed. The oldest healers in the world, the people our society once called ‘witch doctors’, knew no other way to heal than to work within the context of environmental reciprocity.”
-Theodore Roszak
author, The Voice of the Earth

Meditation With the World in Mind

Healing Ourselves as We Heal the Planet

          There is the world.  The financial meltdown we are experiencing brings to light only a small aspect of the unsustainable ways in which we human beings have been organizing and relating with one another and all life on Earth.   It is only natural to be deeply concerned and motivated to want to do something about this for ourselves, our communities, and future generations.  We want to support organizations working for positive change, to pass on e-mails and write letters and sign petitions and participate actively.  We make our choices about where to devote time, money, attention, energy.

There is us; you and me.  We want to be comfortable in our body, quiet our restless mind, be at peace with our Soul.  We want to do yoga, have bodywork, learn about spirituality and practice meditation or other spiritual disciplines.  We seek to free our minds of conditioning and open more fully to the present moment and the joy of life.  We make our choices about where to devote time, money, attention, energy.

It often feels as if there is a competition between our personal pursuit of happiness and spiritual growth, and the work to restore the health of the planet and bring more peace and justice to our world.   The call to take action and the longing for inner peace seem to pull in opposite directions.  Yet awareness of this tension can be a doorway to deepening one’s spiritual journey and at the same time discovering a stronger connection to one’s way of relating to community and global healing.

          This workshop has the aim of providing teachings and practices for the dance that weaves the spiritual and the political.  It will be a space in which you know that you are not alone; a place to focus with others who hold similar intentions.  Our focus will include the perhaps impossible task of keeping an open heart while facing those forces, people and systems that so completely disagree with our ideas and values, whatever they may be.

Experiential aspects of this workshop will include:

Entering a mindful perspective.  Entering a space of non-judgment of self and others is easier said than done.  The practice of being in such consciousness involves letting go of our attachment to even our most cherished beliefs about personal or political reality.  This practice helps us to go deep within ourselves and opens us to better understand the forces at work that create suffering in the world; the patterns of greed, hatred or fear that effect all of humanity.

Experiencing mutuality.  Our breath, energy and even our thoughts connect us with the life “out there” of people, animals, forests and oceans.  We will take time to open to our natural empathic connection with all living beings, of which some of the most challenging may be our own neighbors.  We will journey to open to spiritual allies who help reduce the fears that separate us from “the other” and support us in embracing our place in the web of life.

Cultivating courage.  We learn to stand firm in that which is revealed to be our task.  We open to the strength of the inner Warrior, our Soul, our ancestors and the great teachers and guides who have helped and continue to help all of humanity evolve into a greater harmony.   We seek to be able to face those caught in the trance of fear or hatred and the abstractions that rationalize and justify those tendencies and not lose touch with our heart’s intention.

Taking action.   We commit to walk the path of our vision, to take the next step in doing our part to help make ourselves and our world better.

The facilitator, Alan Levin, does not claim to have full mastery of these challenging goals.  He approaches the questions and intentions with humility and with empathy for himself and other seekers. He guides the exploration with lessons learned from many years of paying attention.

SPIRITUALITY & POLITICS

Changing the World
While Accepting All That Is

An Experiential Workshop

Sun. 11/22/14,  1-5 PM

Deep meditation practice opens us to experience a radical acceptance of both light and dark, moving us beyond a judgmental mindset and towards inner peace in the face of whatever arises in life.

Political action involves an urge and commitment to change the world, to heal or repair social systems that cause suffering and pain for humans and other life on earth.

This workshop will offer specific teachings and practices for a way of integrating the spiritual and political.

Alan Levin has been a teacher of transformative meditation for over 35 years and has practiced forms of shamanic ritual and divination for much of that time. He was active in the 60’s radical movement before his involvement in spiritual disciplines and has devoted his attention for decades to the integration of the spiritual and the political. He is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in Nyack.

Cost: $40
alevin@SacredRiverHealing.org

For a more detailed description of this workshop, see“Meditation with the World in Mind”.

 

Some food for thought:

In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.
-from the Dhammapada sayings of the Buddha

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty
as cooperation with the good.
-Ghandi

Compassion is what makes our lives meaningful.
It is the source of all lasting happiness and joy.
And it is the foundation of a good heart,
the heart of one who acts out of a desire to help others.
-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

To attain peace among the nations in any dynamic or enduring form requires not simply political negotiation but a new mode of consciousness
-Thomas Berry

Life is available only in the present moment.
-Thich Nhat Hanh

The future is an infinite succession of presents,
and to live now as we think human beings should live,
in defiance of all that is bad around us,
is itself a marvelous victory.”
– Howard Zinn

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living things.”
-Thomas Merton