December 15, 2012 § 2 Comments


Copyright Miyo Wratten 2011

Every once in a while, something happens in the world that makes you want to take you and your loved ones to a remote island, and pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t exit. Today, such a tragedy occurred.

My children are of the age of the many who were murdered in Connecticut today. I was unaware of what was happening while I was at work, thank goodness, and while my children were at their school. As soon as I realized what had happened (blessing and curse of having a Smart Phone), I felt what every parent, grand-parent, aunt and uncle, brother and sister, felt: Nausea, fear, grief, anger, and loss.

As I wrestled with these feelings, tears welled in my eyes, and all I could think, was “This could happen anywhere.” My children sang happily in the back seat of my car as I tried my best to act as I always do, but I really felt a deep sadness, and dread, and fear.

“Those could have been my kids.”

“If that ever happened to us …”

We all have our own things we turn to at these times to help us make sense of what happened. Some turn to prayer. I turned to my practice.

Copyright Miyo Wratten 2011

Copyright Miyo Wratten 2011

As my anger toward the individual who robbed us all of our sense of security rose; as my grief for the loss of all those young lives rose; as my terror of the world around us rose; I looked at what was going on in my head. “Stories,” I mumbled to myself as I swept away images of myself waiting nervously to hear if my child was alive or not; “Future, fantasy,” I muttered again as I pictured my daughter’s terrified face at hearing the sounds of bullets ringing through her classroom.

Those are the images that bring us nightmares, fear and anxiety; those are the thoughts that bring us despair for the world around us. They are natural thoughts, but unreliable as they are not grounded in fact — they are our imagination, and best set aside, not given the legs to run around.

Letting those images take us over to cause those feelings of terror is what gives that act of violence power. More power than it deserves to have, power perhaps beyond its original intent. We have the ability to take that power away by casting those thoughts aside.

Letting those images go gives US power to fully indulge in the embrace we give our children when we are done with the commute home. It lets us hear the words of the happy song that they were singing while we were terrifying ourselves … while we let that gunman into our minds.

It lets us understand that we need to love each other now, hold each other now, enjoy everything that is right now. Because now is the only thing that is certain. And while on the one hand that may sound scary, what could be more secure than that which you can feel and see and hear?

“Sherrrrrrrrry, Sherry baby …” followed by giggles. When perceived with a mind and ears not clouded by thoughts of what might (or might not) be, nothing is more reassuring.

Copyright Miyo Wratten 2011

Copyright Miyo Wratten 2011


Meditating While Exhausted ….

July 12, 2011 Comments Off on Meditating While Exhausted ….

There aren’t very many things in Secular or Skeptical Buddhism that I’ve found are really ‘required’ for anyone to do. In fact, from the time I began studying, the format has always been pretty free-form, which I truly appreciate. Being of the Type-A category of personality, I’m very driven by lists, going in the ‘correct order,’ and having things ‘in their place.’ Without these, I feel lost, confused and very out of

In Skeptical/Secular Buddhism, meditation is firmly grounded in the idea that it is for building up the ability to go through our daily lives in a more minful way. Nothing mystical about it!


So, it took me some getting used to this less structured, more free-form approach to something. At first, it was disconcerting. I kept looking for rules, structure, scaffolding, a ladder, ANYTHING. Thanks to the guidance of those I practice with, however, I’ve been able to let go of my attachment to such structures, and allow the entrance of a more organic approach to walking that path. The result has been that, rather than being restricted by a structure, a strict order to do things in, I’ve been able to fit parts of the Buddhism into my life as time and circumstance has allowed. As a busy mom, this has been a real helping point!

That being said, there is ONE thing that all of my sangha-mates have insisted is something that one cannot forgo in Buddhism, and that is meditation. What has also been made clear to me over the months, is that getting meditation instruction is also instrumental in developing GOOD meditation habits. Things like retreats were also mentioned, where in-person instruction and guidance are given on techniques in meditation.

Being a parent to two not-that-little any more kids (5 and 7) and a teacher (read: my vacation dates are decided for me by the school district), I’m not so much at liberty to pick up and go on a three-month, let alone weekend, retreat to learn how to meditate. Living in a VERY isolated region of the country, I would also need to travel at least, AT LEAST, an hour one way just to find a group of people who DO meditate (without crystals and chanting — big no-no for me).  Because I’m the primary parent for transporting kids to their sporting events, dentist and doctor’s appointments etc., I just CAN’T devote that kind of time to chasing down instruction. So, my options were few.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t pursued meditation! At first, I tried it on my own, and was really wary. I’d looked into meditation in my college days. The book I’d found back then had clearly been written by some hippie somewhere who was all about psychotropic drugs — the book talked about closing my eyes and letting go, observing the ‘colors of my mind,’ letting things like my ‘aura’ and ‘spirit find their way to the light.’ Those aren’t direct quotes, but it was that type of thing. I don’t recall the title or the author, but it was a lot of hoo-hah which I didn’t really trust back then, and that I openly scoff at now as an adult. After chasing these false goals, I gave up and had a hard time ever since taking the idea of meditation very seriously.

After I met my current sangha-mates, it was made clear to me that there is a much more practical, down-to-earth approach to meditation. So, I tried again. The first time, I was really disturbed by how many thoughts there were zinging around in my head! I couldn’t stop them. I knew that part of what I was attempting was a ‘quieting of the mind,’ but I had no idea how. I grew angry and frustrated, and after 5 short minutes I stopped. I could NOT understand how this was supposed to help. GOOGLE TO THE RESCUE! I found a couple of guided meditations online, some of which came from Insight Meditation Center, based in California. I really liked those last ones. The instructors all had very calm voices, there was nothing about ‘waves’ and ‘aura’ and ‘spirit’ in there. Just ‘breath’ and ‘thoughts’ and ‘concentrating.’

So, I stuck to the stuff from Insight, and gradually, got the idea. I started with just two or three sessions a week — honestly, it is always hard for me to get in very many sessions in a week. Mornings simply aren’t available — it’s when I wake up, work out, jump in the shower and then start fetching breakfasts and start the house work. Then the day gets going. By the time my day winds down, my kids are in bed, and I’m not too far behind. I’m exhausted. Every moment, every minute of my day is PACKED with obligations, appointments, things that need to be taken care of. No different than anyone else out there, right?

Right. Well, thanks to a dharma friend, I was alerted to an online course on Mindfulness Meditation that the Insight Meditation Center was offering. It was just what I was looking for — all instructions online, anything audio posted on their web site, questions and answers for ‘homework’ could be done through e-mail. This was something I could easily fit into my daily routine.

Without going through all the nitty gritty details of how things went, suffice it to say that it is clear that taking a course IS necessary. While I recognize that in-person instruction also has its advantages, this course was a great alternative for me. I’ve been able to refine my practice of meditation, and it’s been an invaluable experience. Who knew there were so many layers to the mind, to one’s thinking? You know that scene in ‘Shrek,’ when Donkey asks if ogres are like onions, or parfaits, with lots of layers? That’s the mind, lots of layers — which I suppose some of us are aware of (we speak of them in terms of ‘conscious’ and ‘subconscious,’), but I don’t think we ever believe we have control over some of those layers. We do. More than we think! I can’t tell you how that has shaped my every day life, you just have to experience it.

Also, the importance of making the time to sit “even for two minutes at the end of the day, to form the habit,” as my instructor e-mailed me, was made clear. Somehow, making the conscious effort to sit, even for two minutes before I go to bed, has allowed me to up my number of sessions from two or three, to probably about five or six. Sometimes it’s closer to four or five, but it’s an improvement! I don’t sit for hours, I don’t even sit for more than about 25 minutes at a time, really — it’s just not happening (any longer than that and I’m just passing out, really). That habit, that observation of the mind, has done more than I could say. And I’ve only just scratched the surface. I know I still know just the fundamentals, and there’s much more to what I need to practice to really be an experienced meditator.

In any event, I suppose the main purpose of this post is to show that we can all have a meditation practice — even we Jane Schmoes with kids who play T-ball and Bush League, full time jobs, meals to plan and a house to run. That’s not to say that we don’t nod off a bit while we try to meditate at the end of the day. It’s not to say that some days, we  don’t occasionally throw in the dish towel and crawl into bed with a few choice words to launch at the idea of meditating; but it’s possible to do. You CAN fit a regular practice in there, and doing it right, matters.

Take a course, and see!


NOTE: The Skeptical Readers of SL, in conjunction with the Skeptical Buddhists, are going to be meeting beginning on July 23rd at 8:30 a.m. PST to follow Insight Meditation Center’s six-week course, “Mindfulness Meditation.” While it is not a ‘live’ course officially administered by the instructors at IMC, all the materials they offer are posted on their web site, and as a group, we will be following the materials together. Our weekly meetings will be used to check in with each other, and share notes on the ‘homework’ that is assigned through the course, and address any questions/issues/problems we may be experiencing.

The course is meant for individuals who are just beginning their meditation practice, or for those who wish to renew the basics of Insight meditation.

If you are so inclined, please do join us. We will be meeting at the Skeptical Buddhist’s Sangha.

The Invasion of Terrible Thoughts

November 18, 2010 § 2 Comments

I’m going to deviate a bit from my plans to write about one part of the Eightfold Path a week, although what I do want to talk about today is in fact a part of it. I will, though, return to that plan in the next couple of days or so.

What I do want to write about here is something that happened to me while I meditated a couple of days ago. What I TRY to do here and there is to grab anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes every other day or so during the week, right before bed, to meditate.

I don’t do anything fancy really, I just set my Zen Timer iPhone app, let it gong, and try to focus on my breathing. Once the ending bell rings, I’ll use the journaling function on the app to vent out my frustrations with wandering thoughts, nodding off (yikes, I just fessed up to that!), or rave about how well it went.

I’ve been out of practice lately. I’ve been finding it really difficult to find the time to sit lately — there was the passing of hubby’s grandmother, then last week was just … well … last week. I was exhausted through most of it (it’s just that time of year for us teachers — burnout time approaches) and I knew that if I tried to sit at the end of the day, that I’d just nod off and get mad at myself for it.

So, for the first time in almost a week, I sat. My mind was oddly well … not sure what it was or how to describe it. Not still, but not really racing either, just … busy. I could focus on my breathing, but there was definitely something in the background, and I felt like I was unconciously fighting it off. Eventually, I realized that my mind was filling with horrible, violent images and thoughts. I really don’t feel the need to describe them, but needless to say, I was very disturbed by them.

I kept trying to push them away, but it seemed the more I tried to, the more they’d come back, and be worse for it. Like it was trying to get me to notice — a child that wants attention, when pushed away, screams louder. That’s what this was doing. I was convinced for a bit that my job was to push these thoughts away — then, I seemed to remember in one of the podcasts I listened to a couple of weeks ago (I think it was an interview on Buddhist Geeks, or maybe Secular Buddhists? If anyone recognizes this, I’d love to be reminded of the podcast and episode so I can correctly refer to it here). The gist of what the interviewee said was that there are some forms of meditation in which we are not encouraged to push thoughts aside, but to “sit with them, as with a friend.” He also talked about examining the persistent thought, and try to find its source so that we may understand why it keeps coming up.

So, well, I thought, I’ll try. I’d never done anything like that before, all I’d ever done was concentrate on my breath. But, this darned though, DID NOT WANT TO GO! So, I let it win, and it sat with me.

Once I stopped fighting it, I realized what it was — remnants of news I’d heard that morning, about the doctor in Connecticut who lost his family after two men broke into his home, assaulted him and his family (and this is putting it mildly, they did some disgusting, horrible things), and burned the house. Unfortunately, I’d listened to every detail that CNN had to give. Frankly, mothers shouldn’t be subjected to listening to these things — because the irrational fear and paranoia that news had instilled in me that morning, had gone unexamined by myself, simply pushed aside as I went about my morning routine to get us all out of the house and to school. And it sat there. And festered.

When I finally sat, it popped up. It didn’t go away because I pushed it aside and busied myself with my routine. Without my realizing it, it had simply slunk off to a corner of my brain, and waited for that quiet moment to manifest itself.

So what did I do with it as I sat with it, as with a friend? There were a few things that came to my mind as I realized all of this had happened — I remembered a talk we’d had, where we discussed the futility of worrying over the unkown, the need to let go of ‘anticipation’ of things — whether good or terrible. We can drive ourselves completely mad worrying about all the things that could go wrong, and we do! We need to — I needed to — let go of that expectation, that fear, because it was and is, irrational. There is no way to know whether terrible things will or will not happen to my kids. I can only know that right now, they are tucked in bed, that they feel safe, and that I love them. I need to be present in that knowledge, and thankfully, I was able to get myself there.

Now that I’ve written this, I seem to remember Dana Nourie putting up in the Secular Community radio in Second Life, a talk on Distracting Talks, that did address the issue of the intrusion of thoughts … Dang. Now I have to go and find all that info! LOL.

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