Chödrön’s Start Where You Are


Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

Pema Chodron
An accessible and clear introduction to foundational principles of Buddhism told through a series of Tibetan Buddhist maxims. Chödrön writes with compassion and clarity, and the structure of the book is elegant in its simplicity, taking one maxim at a time and reflecting on it.

I should have nothing but praise for this, especially as its considered one of the great introductory books out there. But it didn’t resonate with me. I prefer my Buddhism served up with the irony and anxiety of a Dan Harris, or the science of a Robert Wright. But that’s just me. If Tibetan Buddhism interests you, especially its aspects which focus on love and compassion, then this is a fine introduction. Perhaps I’ll return to it if someday meditation turns me into slightly less of an asshole.

How I Meditate

Life has been a chaotic mess of work, family obligations, failed fitness routines, and unfinished books. Time to refocus the mind and body on the things that matter the most to me, time to begin again a meditation practice. The practice is simple. Routinizing it, prioritizing it, those are the hard things.

This is how I do it.

I set a timer, or a meditation app, for the desired amount of time. Right now, its ten minutes, soon fifteen, then twenty, then perhaps longer. If I don’t have time for ten minutes, I’ll do five. Something is always better than nothing at all.

I sit comfortably, in a chair, on a cushion, or on the floor. With my eyes open I take three or four deep breaths, in through the mouth, out through the nose. I set my attention to be present, to be here now.

I close my eyes and begin breathing normally again, in and out, in and out.

I attempt to notice the sounds around me without judgement or concern. There, a siren, there, a car. They’re just there. Neither helping or impeding my practice. Just there.

I perform a “body scan” wherein I start from my head and move down my body noticing its state. Does my shoulder hurt (it usually does) Is my back tight? My feet tired? I notice this aspects of my body. They’re just there. Neither helping or impeding my practice. Just there.

Then I try to focus on my breath. In and out, in and out. I count my breaths one on the in, two on the out, three on the in, four on the out, five on the in, six on the out, seven on the in, eight on the out, nine on the in, ten on the out.

Then again.

My mind wanders, it always does. I get hung up on the car, or the ache in my shoulder. I don’t make it to ten breaths. I don’t make it to four.

As soon as I notice my mind wandering, I start again.

I do this, over and over until the timer goes off.

Almost always, I feel better afterward. I try to remember that feeling the next time I am making an excuse for not meditating. The process isn’t hard, remembering how important it can be is. Be Here Now

Review: Armstrong’s Buddha


Buddha
Karen Armstrong

A simple, stupid, introduction to Buddhism perfect for someone like me who knows less than nothing about one of the world’s most important philosophical systems / religions. What it has: a concise overview of the life of the Buddha and the central tenets of the system as it was understood at the time of his death. What it doesn’t have: an in-depth look at the ways Buddhism would come to change as it was reinterpreted throughout the world. You want the basics of the life of the buddga and how he came to his concept of he universe. This book has got it. Want to understand the difference between Zen and Tibetan Buddhism? Go elsewhere.

Buddhism is far, far too complex for a single book to cover it all, but if you’re starting from scratch, this is as good a place as any to dive in.

Recommended.

Review: Carney’s Death on Diamond Mountain


Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness and the Path to Enlightenment
Scott Carney

An investigation into the life and death of Ian Thorson, a devotee of controversial Buddhist teacher Michael Roche. An examination of the interplay between mental illness and spiritual practice. A journalistic retelling of the way Buddhism (especially Tibetan Buddhism) has been translated in the west with an emphasis on the Roche’s extremely unorthodox teaching.

A compelling read from start to finish. In the hands of a lesser journalist, this could have been trashy, but Carney knows what he’s doing, and he treats Thorson’s life story, from New York City kid to thirty something Buddhist dying in the wilds of Arizona with compassion and journalistic rigor.

Like real life, there’s no real heroes here – everyone is deeply flawed and at least a little broken. If anyone is a villain, it’s Roche, who created a cult-like atmosphere around him which, arguably, lead to the extreme behavior of some of his followers, and Thorson’s death. But, of course, like real life, even this is complicated.

If Buddhism in America, cults, or new religious movements are you thing, this is worth a read.

Recommended for the Enthusiast.