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It’s June, and time for weddings.
This past Sunday, I attended the wedding of a relative of my wife’s. The venue was nice. The bride was beautiful and the ceremony was pleasantly secular. No issues there. I even practiced a bit of loving-kindness meditation during the reception to produce a general feeling of good-will toward all these people I’d never met before who how shared the room with me.
But as relatively distant relatives, we were seated at the “cousin’s table” with a number of people we did not know. I tried to engage in conversation with the women next to me, who, I believe, was my wife’s cousin’s wife’s cousin’s wife. At first, we tried talking about where we were from. That topic lasted for a couple of minutes but was quickly exhausted. After some uncomfortable silence, I turned to conserve with my wife and she with her husband.
All the while, I was engaged in some self-criticism about how I was not that outgoing and that other people could easily strike up a conversation with anyone. Then I caught myself in this critical self-talk and decided to offer myself self-compassion, along the lines of that taught by the psychologist Kristin Neff. Just because I wasn’t great at conversation didn’t mean I should beat myself up and have a lousy time at the wedding. That brought me back to equanimity.
A bit later, my neighbor tried to open a new topic of conversation by asking what I did for work. I’d actually avoided this obvious question, because sometimes people don’t really want to talk about their work on a social occasion. However, it turned out well. I mentioned that I was a writer coming out with my first book, which is called Secular Meditation. It turned out that she was very much into mindfulness and we had quite a bit to talk about for the rest of the evening!
When you first meet someone, it can be difficult to identify a common interest. But a willingness to put up with initial awkwardness, with compassion for yourself and the person you are talking to, can perhaps make it easier to eventually find a way to make a connection.
I just read Russell Simmons meditation book. It’s subtitle is “Meditation Made Simple” and it is a nice introduction aimed at people who do not meditate and wonder whether they should give it a try.
It presents useful suggestions on how to carve out time for meditation and even how to find a place to meditate when you have little private space(e.g. the bathroom, a stairwell, your car!)
One of its strengths is Simmons’s accessible, conversational style and his ability to explain how meditation can help people like his younger self who have been involved with drugs or brushes with the law. He explains that drugs often serve as a form of self-medication and meditation can help people deal with their suffering in a much healthier way.
Although the book has “success” in its title and Simmons talks about how a meditative focus can help in business, it’s clear that his vision of success is broader than financial. He talks a lot about how meditation can help people excel in the creative arts.
Another thing that is refreshing is that it takes eclectic view, not entirely secular but not tied to religious dogmas either. Simmons also does a good job presenting a selection of the scientific research showing benefits to meditation. I like his thoughts about nonjudgmental compassion and trying to connect with everyone, even right-wing talk show hosts whose politics he disagrees with.
The book includes instructions on mantra meditation, adapted from Transcendental Meditation. The mantra he presents is “rum,” extending the vowel in length so it might sounds like “ruuuuuum.”
We do mantra meditation from time to time at the Humanist Community at Harvard. The mantra I use is “just love,” with “juuuust” on the in-breath and “looooooove” on the out-breath.
I attended the Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship biannual conference a couple of weeks ago at the Garrison Institute in upstate New York. The Garrison Institute is located on a bluff above the Hudson River directly across the river from West Point.
The UUBF is a sort of special interest groups for people with a Buddhist meditation practice within the UU Church. For those who don’t know, Unitarian Universalism evolved out of the congregational churches of New England, many of them originally set up by the original Puritan settlers. But UU has evolved a considerable distance, and now is entirely non-credal. You can be a Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, atheist, etc. What is the glue that keeps UUs together is a longer story that I’m not well versed enough to explain.
Some of the attendees were UUs, but many were simply there to learn from the featured guest, Stephen Batchelor. Stephen is the author of a number of books, including Buddhist Without Beliefs, and a pioneer in what has been termed “secular Buddhism.” At the conference, I also met, among others, The Naked Monk, Stephen Schettini, who wrote a blog post about the event.
Both Stephens are quite secular. Both find value in the teaching of “not-self” which I’m still trying to understand. The idea seems to be to think of the self not as a object but as a “process,” not as a noun so much as a verb.
Above are ice floes in the Hudson near the Garrison Institute.