Archive for the ‘recovery’ Tag

The Basics of Seated Meditation

In seated meditation, we set aside the many things that have occupied us in the day past, or are on our mind about the day ahead. This is more than just making time for something we like to do. This is saced time, time we spend even though the work can sometimes be difficult. Sometimes the reward seems far away, and sometimes we are quite excited about having validated the teaching by our own experience. Regular seated meditation makes this possible.


Choose a place where you will not be disturbed for 20 to 30 minutes. Sit in a chair that has a reasonably straight back and is firm enough to support and not so comfortable that you will fall asleep in it. Set a time to ring 20 or 30 minutes from the time you start it. Digital watches and handheld devices have them. Try not to use a mechanical timer, as these can be noisy and less accurate. Be prepared to meditate for the entire period you are timing.


There is no right time of day to sit. Different times have their advantages – early in the morning, on a break during the work day, arriving home, before bed. The important thing is that the task gets done.


Sit without slouching and naturally straight. Don’t strain to sit up as straight as you can. Doing so may leave you spending you meditation period fighting with your posture. There is no need to sit on the floor, with or without a cushion. In the Buddha’s day and in his part of the world, sitting on the ground was a cultural norm. In the West in the 21st century, we use chairs.


Our meditation object while doing seated practice is the feeling of the rise and fall of the abdomen, which comes from breathing. To keep track of it, note it in your mind when the abdomen rises and falls. When your abdomen rises from filling with air, note “rise” silently. When your abdomen finishes falling due to your exhale, note “fall” silently. Do not breathe stronger or lighter than normal, and don’t say “rise” or “fall” out loud.


So what happens when you start to do this? Most new meditators discover that they can’t keep their mind on the rise and fall for very long – sometimes for just a breath or two. What’s important is not that you keep the mind on the breath; rather, it’s that you learn to bring the mind back when it wanders – and wander it will.


So, as they say in AA, “Keep Coming Back.” The mind wanders, you bring it back. It wanders again, you bring it back again. If you can determine what took you away from the breath, or where you’ve wound up, you can note it with a silent label before going back to rise and fall – “thinking,” “hearing,” “worrying,” “itching” for example.


It’s like teaching a puppy how to sit. You set the puppy down and say “sit” and the puppy walks away. You pick the puppy up and set him back down in the same spot and say “sit” and the puppy walks away again. How many times will you have to do that? Probably dozens at least. Finally the puppy will sit on command. You don’t beat the puppy with a newspaper, or hold him down.


Training the mind is like training a puppy. The puppy shows he has a mind of his own, as your mind shows just how much more unwieldy it is than you previous thought. Inventing little tricks to get the mind to stay settled in the short term won’t work. Just like with teaching the puppy to sit, you have to be patient, and focus on bringing your mind back to the rise and fall gently when wandering. Beating yourself up over having a wandering mind is not productive.


You are not sitting to get and keep a perfectly tranquil mind. You are focusing on doing what needs to be done to bring about an end to suffering within yourself. When you see things more clearly as they are, you see for yourself that nothing lasts and that craving is pointless. You only need to have enough tranquility as is needed for observation. You do not need to be a perfect meditator to become enlightened!


You don’t have to observe, and identify everything that comes through your sense bases. You will encounter “intercuts” that simply come and go while you are focused on the rise and fall. You don’t have to stop and label these normally. However, if you find yourself bothered by repeated appearance by them you might want to mentally note them.


Try to keep movement to a minimum when sitting. Don’t scratch, or react to your body’s sensations. Learn to see that they will go away on their own. Don’t open your eyes to check your timer to see how much time remains. Your sitting period will be over when the time is right


Don’t rush away when your alarm goes. It’s a good idea to write down a few lines in a journal about how your practice went. Such a record can be useful to discuss with your teacher at your next interview. Sometimes we bias our report towards the results of one or two sessions. A fuller picture helps your teacher to suggest changes that will be of most benefit. With that completed, gently rise, make a few easy stretches and move gradually into what is next in your plan for the day.

Jason Smith is a Customer Analyst at Economical Insurance doing process analysis, business analysis and business consulting. He is also an insight meditation teacher and author currently taking on new students. Anyone who wants to learn about and practice the Buddha’s way to enlightenment can reach him at Jason lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and is willing to consider working with students from outside this area by phone or Internet.


Everyday Right View

Throughout the course of history, people have searched for the right set of principles by which to live their lives.  Some have done so out of fear of death and the need of assurance that a positive life awaits them in the hereafter.  Others have done so to minimize the harms done to others of all kinds.

The Buddha taught that there were different ways to see reality.  He called our everyday understanding of people, places, and things mundane view.  He called our understanding of all things as transient, suffering, and non-self supermundane view.  He also had numerous names for the understanding that comes when enlightenment is reached.

The Buddha presented five principles of right view and we can practice and live by in our everday lives.  They smooth our relationships with others, just like the Five Precepts do.  Here they are:

1.  There is result of action

Most of the world’s psychological and spiritual teaching include the idea that one reaps what one sews.  We enjoy the benefits of efficient, positive choices, and struggle with problems arising from inefficient, negative choices.  Sometimes the results of our choices come about immediately.  Sometimes they come far into the future.  But they do come.  So, it’s best to be careful.

2.  There is result of giving

Generosity is a powerful force, and the Buddha chose to highlight it as such.  It is said that if we fully understood the consequences of generosity, we would never serve a meal without finding someone with whom to share it.

As Westerners, we sometimes balk at the idea of accepting the generosity of someone.  We don’t want to appear needy even if we aren’t.  It’s a cultural thing that tends to disappear when you realize that not accepting generosity is an inefficient action in and of itself.

3.  There is mother and father

The Buddha further zeroed in on particularly powerful forces by highlighting generosity to one’s parents.  Our parents gave us the start of life in the human realm.

However, that said, it’s fair to recognize that many parents harm their children, and there are often good reasons for such children to be separated from such parents.  I believe that if the Buddha was alive and teaching today, he would encourage us to remember our parents, but not continue to be victimized by them.

4.  There are apparitional realms of rebirth

Life after death, and heaven and hell are issues of concern to a lot of people – whether it’s their salvation or the salvation of others.  The Buddha made it clear that realms of existence better than or worse than human do exist, and one doesn’t go through a birth process to appear there.  He also made it clear that the focus of his teaching was helping others come to the end of suffering and rebirth in this lifetime.

5.  There are teachers who can show the way to realms of apparitional rebirth

Finally, the Buddha left the door open to those concerned about their next life by saying it is possible to receive teaching that will lead someone to a better next life.  Our world has many such teachers – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and even Buddhists – who teach what needs to be done or what needs to be believed to enter a better next life.  Again, though, the Buddha’s focus was doing what needs doing in this life.

Jason S.

Jason Smith is a Customer Analyst at Economical Insurance doing process analysis, business analysis and business consulting. He is also an insight meditation teacher and author currently taking on new students. Anyone who wants to learn about and practice the Buddha’s way to enlightenment can reach him at Jason lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and is willing to consider working with students from outside this area by phone or Internet.

This site is a 2010 award winner.

The Five Hindrances

Imagine you’ve just taken off in a jet airplane. You felt the lift-off, noticed how the aircraft was nosed upward, and were obeying the crew by not attempting to get out of your seat. Once the plane reached its cruising altitude, the seatbelt sign was turned off, and you were told you could move about the cabin.

Since you were sitting in a window seat, you took interest in the scenery below the aircraft – cities, farmland, rivers, lakes, mountains. It looked like a giant patch work quilt. Unfortunately, the experience didn’t last for long. The pilot was given new orders, including a change of direction and an increase in altitude. The result was that your aircraft was suddenly flying through clouds and you could no longer see anything below. Instead of peacefully watching the scenery, you were now straining to catch glimpses through the clouds.

This story describes what the experience of a hindrance is like. Hindrances disturb our peace and tranquility when meditating or carrying out any task mindfully. They seem to appear out of nowhere, and dominate our experience of reality – just as the clouds obstructed our view. The Buddha identified five hindrances, and it’s important to know a few things about all of them before looking at each in more detail.

The first thing to note is that hindrances are things we do. Just as the pilot followed an established habit of obeying an air traffic controller and raising the altitude, our hindrances are well-worn habits of mind that we choose when the right circumstances present themselves. The clouds don’t suddenly lower to the path of our aircraft. We fly right into them.

The second thing is that we shouldn’t judge ourselves for the arrival of a hindrance. Such judgement can lead to a compound effect of doing a because of a hindrance – ill-will about worry for example. There are specific things we can do to address each of the hindrances, and judgement doesn’t apply to any of them. It only makes things worse.

The third thing should come as some hope: by developing enough wisdom to see what we’re doing to create hindrance, it is possible to stop doing them – permanently. In the Third Noble Truth we are taught that there is a way that leads to the overcoming of suffering. That includes the hindrances.

So what are these hindrances, and what should we do about them? The first is sensual desire — desiring the experience of something other than what you are doing. Perhaps you are on a week-long meditation retreat and it’s terribly hot. You turn your thinking to the swimming pool at home, and how wonderful it would be to go in for a dip. Perhaps you are working late one night at the office on a report your boss needs, and you turn to thoughts of seeing a movie with your partner, or watching some television at home with a hot drink. Mentally, you’ve turned away from the task at hand and you suffer as a result.

Sometimes, a hindrance like sensual desire will pass on by simply noting it and letting it go. However there are times when a more direct approach is needed. With sensual desire, focus on the undesirable characteristics of what you desire. Watching a movie would provide some entertainment, but it can be costly for tickets and snacks. Watching TV at home might be relaxing but solitary – your partner may not like TV — and you might be hard-pressed to find an enjoyable show. Looking at the downsides of our desires gives us a more balanced perspective.

The second hindrance is ill-will. It’s known by many names in the West – frustration, anger, irritation, rage, and resentment to name a few. Perhaps your boss took the report you wrote for him and gave you no feedback or thanks at all. You choose to sit in your office and brood about his lack of gratitude. Or maybe you go on a vacation with your partner and spend your time complaining about the poor service you are getting at the resort. In both these cases, your own ill-will is spoiling your experience of the day.

As with sensual desire, ill-will can stop, at least for a time, by letting it go. If that doesn’t seem to be working well, you can take a few minutes and contemplate on exactly how ill-will is disadvantageous to you. Ask yourself what ill-will is costing you right now. You might also consider how ill-will is affecting those around you and how that affects you as well.

Sloth and torpor is the third hindrance. When you put too much effort into your practice, you pull your mind onto it. In response, the mind becomes thick, heavy, and unmovable. Pushed further, and chances are you’ll fall asleep. To address this hindrance, you need to get up and move around – take a walk, smell the flowers, and gain a little distance from that feeling of fatigue and laziness.

The fourth hindrance is worry. In doing this hindrance, you look back at past actions and chew them over in your mind. In the middle of a retreat you might worry about what your colleagues might think of you for spending your vacation this way. You might worry about whether or not your neighbour will take in your mail and feed your cat as promised. Sometimes it’s hard to separate worry from legitimate concern. Worry, like other hindrances, can often just stop upon recognition of it but sometimes we ruminate about things.

My teacher said that the solution to worry is happiness. Be around people who know more about the dhamma and can help you with your thinking. See your teacher and talk about what worries you. Read uplifting books that encourage you in your practice and give you some distance from your worries. A very successful businessman once told me that two of the most powerful levers for personal change are the books we read and the company we keep.

The final hindrance is doubt. It can have many forms: doubt about your ability to do something, like progress in the meditation; doubt in others, like one’s spouse or teacher; and doubt in things, like the teaching itself, to name just three. You might find yourself at an evening lecture by your teacher thinking that you’ll never understand all the terms and instructions you’ve heard. You might look at some other meditators you know and doubt that you can ever get the grasp they have.

Worry does come and go, but when it’s troubling, the solution is the same as it is for worry. Spend time with people who can help you. Make a time to see your teacher. Try to apply the suggestions you are given. If you are teachable, then there is every reason to believe that you can make real meditative progress in this lifetime. That’s what the Buddha’s teaching is for – enlightenment in this lifetime.

Eventually, your flight will leave the clouds for good, and your pilot will follow instructions that lead to your destination – nibbana, the end of all suffering, no longer any desire for things to be different than it is, the highest happiness, the place that travellers seek.

Jason S.

Jason Smith is a Customer Analyst at Economical Insurance doing process analysis, business analysis and business consulting. He is also an insight meditation teacher and author currently taking on new students. Anyone who wants to learn about and practice the Buddha’s way to enlightenment can reach him at Jason lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and is willing to consider working with students from outside this area by phone or Internet.

This site is a 2010 award winner.

HOW to Be a Successful Meditator

My first year of recovery was filled with new learning – about the nature of alcoholism, about the living problems I had, about the twelve-step program, and about applying those steps in my life. I also learned about the components of recovery – meetings, sponsorship, service to others, and slogans.

One slogan, an acronym called HOW stood out for me. It’s short for Honesty, Open-mindedness and Willingness. I was told that each of these terms is connected to different steps and that, together, they are necessary conditions for recovery.

Honesty is needed to admit powerlessness over alcohol, complete a moral inventory, ask for help with character defects and continue to take an inventory of character assets and liabilities on an on-going basis. Open-mindedness is needed to take beginning steps with a power greater than oneself, review one’s moral inventory with someone else, making a list of people harmed, and beginning a life of meditation and prayer. Willingness is needed to put one’s life in the hands of the higher power one chooses, to become ready to have that higher power remove the defects of character identified in the moral inventory, to make direct amends to the people harmed, and to carry the message of recovery to others willing to receive it.

That’s a tall order. Fortunately, the steps are put into an order for good reasons, and one doesn’t have to do them all at once or rush through them with great speed.

HOW also provides some keys to being a successful meditator. One needs to be honest about what one is experiencing during meditation periods and between them. A teacher can’t help a student that isn’t disclosing how his or her practice is actually going. One needs to be open-minded about new concepts and not dismiss them out of hand. Sometimes it is necessary for a teacher to present concepts like transience to students and have them begin to try to see them in their meditation. Being closed-minded about these concepts can severely impact one’s meditative progress. Finally, one needs to be willing to do what his or her teacher says to do – within reason, of course. Specific guidance from a teacher needs to be tried out and only disregarded after being given a good try.

How to be a successful meditator? HOW is how!



Jason Smith is a Customer Analyst at Economical Insurance doing process analysis, business analysis and business consulting. He is also an insight meditation teacher and author currently taking on new students. Anyone who wants to learn about and practice the Buddha’s way to enlightenment can reach him at Jason lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and is willing to consider working with students from outside this area by phone or Internet.

The Circus Fun House

I remember, years ago, going to a very large exhibition in Toronto. It had many of the usual things one might see at a carnival – games of chance and skill, exhibits by members of the Canadian Armed Forces, roller coasters and other rides, food vendors, a home show, and so on. There was also an air show, with combat and civilian aircraft flying overhead.

One of the attractions in the midway was a fun house. Inside it was a room of mirrors. The mirrors were designed to distort whatever was in front of them. One such mirror made one look short and grotesquely fat. Another did the reverse, making one look very tall and thin. Turning the body at different angles to the mirrors produced some interesting images. People found this funny and not at all disturbing because, after all, they were just looking at mirrors designed to produce distorted images. No one, except perhaps small children, took the images produced by the mirrors seriously.

But what if someone had? What if someone had looked into a mirror that makes the viewer look terribly overweight and believed in what he or she saw? What if he or she mentally held onto this belief of their being overweight despite all other evidence to the contrary? Further, what if he or she decided that it was necessary to go on an extreme diet in response to that view from the fun house? It seems like a logical course of action if you believe strongly in the distorted image you saw there.

People with untreated eating disorders often act like people who have been in the fun house. Despite how they actually look, how much they actually weigh, and the input from the people around them, they hang onto a distorted image of their own body and engage in extreme behaviours that can lead to death. Ironically, they may see themselves in a distorted way, while not having the same distorted view of others.

People in a manic phase of bipolar disorder often behave in extreme ways because of distorted views. Some have been seriously injured or killed because they mistakenly believed in a view of their own invincibility. Others spend hours and hours surfing the Internet or writing, convinced they have discovered a new conspiracy theory or received a new divine revelation.

But are all such distortions of view so extreme? No. Do more people than psychiatric patients need to correct their beliefs to reduce or eliminate the suffering in their lives? Yes.

The Buddha taught that all things in reality have three characteristics: they are transient, they are disatisfactory, and they are not our self. We crave, hate, and ignore because we haven’t seen the truth of these characteristics for ourselves. We keep ourselves from true seeing by the actions we take.

A materialist continues to accumulate wealth and possessions far beyond his or her need. That’s not to say that having such things is wrong. The problem occurs with the belief that things bring happiness. If that were true, each of us would be very happy with a few simple possessions that helped us with our needs. Unfortunately the world, driven by ignorance, doesn’t work that way. Some people do simplify their lives and discover they are happier for it. Still others are driven to acquire.

Many workaholics work extreme hours with the mistaken view that if only they get their current projects finished, things will be better around the office. They don’t consider that more work is almost always coming down the pipe, and that managers learn to give that work to people who have proven that they are capable of getting the job done. So, any lull in the workload of a workaholic is often short-lived.

Those who take on additional work and long hours often do so for a chance at promotion and what that brings in terms of salary and benefits. Some even justify their work efforts by telling themselves they are doing it to make a better life for their families. They may get that promotion, only to find that the new position isn’t as enjoyable as they hoped, and they are spending even less time with their families – when time with the workaholic is what the families really want.

Alcoholics and addicts often take a drink or a drug when in a difficult situation. They conveniently ignore their own drinking or using histories to do so. The drink or drug provides no help with the situation, and may make it worse. The short-lived benefits of feeling good often result in their choosing this way of dealing with the next situation.

We could go on and on looking at the behaviours and views of different people – gamblers, adulterers, people with anger and control issues, and so on. We would find that their views are distorted by a misunderstanding of one or more of the three characteristics. They struggle and suffer, on and on.

Fortunately, the Buddha left us with a spiritual path that addresses our suffering. If we learn to keep our morality in check, as presented in The Five Precepts, and undertake effective meditation practices, we will begin to see the characteristics clearly for ourselves. With consistent application, we will see what we do to create our suffering and how our distortions play a role. Eventually, we will let go of all of our desires for things to be different then they are. What’s left is enlightenment, the highest happiness — right in front of us where it has always been if only we looked.



Jason Smith is a Customer Analyst at Economical Insurance doing process analysis, business analysis and business consulting. He is also an insight meditation teacher and author currently taking on new students. Anyone who wants to learn about and practice the Buddha’s way to enlightenment can reach him at Jason lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and is willing to consider working with students from outside this area by phone or Internet.

The Five Precepts

Many people have poor opinions of spiritual paths because of their rules. Parents may have applied those rules in a heavy-handed way. Some rules may have served a purpose at one time, but don’t any longer. Others seem to do little more than curb the enjoyment of life, and still others support the continuation of social practices that are immoral, such as discrimination.

People following the Buddha’s path to enlightenment are presented with rules of training that are known as precepts. They aren’t punitive, and serve the purpose of helping a meditator live with the kind of tranquility of life that is conducive to successful practice. Taking them on means you won’t have to be living with the anxiety of being caught having done something inappropriate – like stealing from an employer or passing along gossip. That kind of anxiety can preoccupy a meditator when they should be watching the rise and fall. Taking them on also means we live in relative harmony with those around us, and that helps create a more peaceful life as well.

For householders, there are five precepts. The first is to refrain from killing or harming. Most, if not all, societies treat these offences very seriously, and someone committing them often has to live on the run. It would be hard to imagine a killer fleeing from the police having the kind of mental life needed to make meditative progress.

The second is to refrain from stealing or, to set a higher standard, taking that which is not specifically given. People often ignore this in the workplace: taking photocopies for personal use, stealing food belonging to others in the fridge, and conducting personal business on company time. I once worked at a staffing agency that had an outside sales representative who wasn’t bringing in much business. The branch manager discovered that the rep was actually in the process of visiting prospective clients for his new import-export business when he was on agency time – drawing his salary, and having his expenses covered. The whole agency became quite angry when he was finally found out.

The third precept is to refrain from inappropriate sexual conduct. Clearly, adultery would fall into this category. Adulterers often have to go to great lengths to conceal their activities and live in fear of being caught. Such affairs do great harm, and many marriages do not survive them.

The fourth precept is to refrain from improper speech – lying, spreading rumours, slandering, gossip, and the like. While the child’s rhyme ends “but names will never hurt me,” words do have the ability to harm reputations and damage relationships. Further, people who don’t guard their speech are often burdened with the anxiety that they will be found out for what they’ve done. Exercising discretion in the first place makes one’s daily living much easier.

Finally, the fifth precept is to avoid intoxication. Alcoholics and addicts know the grip drugs and alcohol can have on a life. They impair the ability to meditate when in use, and the obsession for them can take over the mind even when they aren’t being consumed. As well, some people “black out” when they drink or use – continuing to function but with no ability to recall what happened to them later. They can experience a lot of fear when they “come to” realize they have no idea what has taken place, or even where they are.

When on retreat, meditators often undertake eight precepts. The eight include some modifications of the five mentioned above plus three additions. Again, the purpose is to contribute to the tranquility of the mind, and maintain harmony in the retreat setting.

Put into consistent practice, The Five Precepts lead to a life free of blame and shame. In addition to supporting meditative work, this freedom is a reward on its own, and is well worth pursuing.



Jason Smith is a Customer Analyst at Economical Insurance doing process analysis, business analysis and business consulting. He is also an insight meditation teacher and author currently taking on new students. Anyone who wants to learn about and practice the Buddha’s way to enlightenment can reach him at Jason lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and is willing to consider working with students from outside this area by phone or Internet.

Keep Coming Back

People new in recovery via 12-Step programs are exposed to a lot of new material: the steps and traditions of their fellowships, books, pamphlets, prayers and so on. They also are exposed to slogans: usually short statements that focus on an important point of sober living. Some of these have found their way into folk wisdom and some have been borrowed: “One Day at a Time,” “Easy Does It,” “Live and Let Live,” and “This Too Shall Pass.”

One of the earliest slogans a 12-Stepper hears – and hopefully follows – is “Keep Coming Back.” It’s intended to encourage recovering people to continue to attend meetings. At meetings is where they meet others whose experience can be help, where they learn more about their addiction and better choices they can make, where they find a sponsor and friends who will rally around them when things get rough, and learn how steps can be practiced in all their affairs. Attempts at recovery without “Coming Back” to meetings are likely to be failures, so “Keep Coming Back” is a very important slogan.

As they progress in their recoveries, 12-Steppers are encouraged to develop the disciplines of prayer and meditation. Meditation, it turns out, is another place to apply “Keep Coming Back;” however, in this case, the slogan is focused on how to meditate, not turn up at meetings.

In insight meditation, the goal is to grow in wisdom by understanding how the world really is. We do this by being mindful, or aware, of what goes on in and around us. We do this by formal practices, such as sitting and paying attention to the rise and fall of the feeling of the abdomen. We also do this by less formal practices such as being mindful of washing dishes, taking a shower, doing our work and walking. In all practices, we are interested in observing that all things are transient, unsatisfactory, and non-self.

However, and this is particularly true for new meditators, our mind has other ideas when we want to be mindful. It wants to daydream, worry, resent, replay a song heard earlier on the radio, and a lot of other things that don’t qualify as mindfulness of what we are doing. How can we address this?

What we do is apply that slogan “Keep Coming Back” as a meditation tool. When the mind wanders off, and we notice it, we gently turn the attention back to what it was we were supposed to be doing and carry on. When it wanders off again, and this can happen many times, we turn it back again. The important thing is not that the mind stays where we put it. What’s important is that we turn it back to where it belongs when it wanders.

The idea that one has to have still and tranquil meditation sessions to make progress simply isn’t true. The practice of “Keep Coming Back” in one’s meditation does set the stage for more calm. However, it also helps us to see early on in our practice that transience can apply to many things in mind and body – including concentration and mindfulness themselves.

Looking for Meditation Students

There are so many books, tapes, teachers and approaches to meditation that it’s hard to know where to begin.  Insight meditation was developed by the Buddha over 2500 years ago with the goal of helping people find increasing happiness by overcoming the things they do to create their suffering.  It can be practised formally while sitting, or less formally while doing many of the tasks of daily living.  Practised with consistency, it can help people live calmer lives and grow in wisdom and compassion.  For people in recovery, insight meditation can assist with the reduction of the effects of character defects and with the making of choices that move them towards contented emotional sobriety.

 I’ve been a practicing insight meditator for over 20 years and am now taking on students who are interested in the consistent application of meditation to their lives.  Initially, I will be meeting with people on a one-to-one basis until there are enough of us to set up regular meetings.  My teaching will typically include comments on application to recovery from alcoholism or addiction.  However, I am not limiting my work to people who are recovering. 

 I will not be affiliating this work with any particular organization or fellowship.  There will be no fixed fees for the teaching; however, financial contributions are welcome.  I reside in Waterloo, Ontario.  My inclination is to take on students from the area.  However, I am open to working with people farther away by telephone or Internet.

If you are interested in learning more about insight meditation and the possibility of your taking on the practice yourself, please contact me at  I will work with you to arrange a meeting to help you see if what I am offering is a good fit to where you are today.

Please pass this notice along to others you feel might have an interest in it.



Building Calm

New meditators, whether in recovery or not, are often surprised to discover just how much mental clutter they have been living with.  It can be a real revelation.  Some stay away from meditating because of a fairly steady stream of thoughts, sensations, and so on, which prevent them from paying attention to the rise and fall.

To grow in wisdom, we need insight.  That insight is not just theoretical.  It is born of our own experience which is used to validate the teaching we receive.  If we don’t have some measure of calm, we can’t do this important work of validation.

There are, of course, other reasons one might have for building calm in one’s life.  In addition to seeing more clearly in meditation, the work becomes easier to do.  Plus, a peaceful life has its own more subtle benefits.  One doesn’t have to race out to find and purchase the latest gadget.  Instead there is contentment with less.

It is important to remember, however, that a calm mental state is a transient thing.  Eventually, as the supporting conditions and circumstances align, the calm can disappear.  Meditators seeking calm as the outcome of their practice stay vigilant to preserve and recreate the calm as best they can; those seeking wisdom using the disappearing calm to see yet again that all things are transient, without satisfaction, and non-self.  Eventually, they are freed from the bonds of craving, hatred, and ignorance.

Here are some “how-tos” for building calm:

  • Choose calm and wise friends.  Speak with them about your spiritual practice.  They may have helpful suggestions.
  • Visit your teacher regularly and put into practice what he or she suggests.
  • Read books that are uplifting to your practice.
  • Be vigilant about your personal ethics.  If you do nothing wrong, you have no need to worry about being caught.
  • Take care of your personal appearance, the place where you live, and your possessions.  Messes can be stress-producing.
  • Don’t take on too many activities in your life.  Set boundaries and stick to them.  This applies to work, school, community service, household renovations and the like.
  • Pace yourself.  Use the AA slogan “Easy Does It (But Do It).
  • Do “First Things First”.  You can’t do everything you’d like, so do what’s most important first.  By all means keep a large task list so you don’t forget things.  Just don’t be overwhelmed by it.

Above all, continue to do your meditation.  It helps with settling the mind and seeing places in your life that could use some change.  Don’t be alarmed by the clutter in your mind.  You’ll get more skilful at handling it as you walk the path.


When You’re Not Sure What to Do

I remember the week I first met my meditation teacher.  He came to Canada to lead us in a retreat and enjoy Ontario cottage country.  He had been teaching for many years in England and we had a small group of meditators in Toronto under the care of one of his senior students.  He led some of our meditations, and met with us to discuss our progress.  It was very generous of him to come so far to help us make progress in our meditation.

Central to his teaching is mindfulness.  Mindfulness, or “bare awareness” as he has called it, has many uses.  It has attracted the interest of the medical and psychological communities as a tool for healing.  It certainly can be that.  It can also be a developed skill that helps to detect the arising of mental states like depression, giving people an early warning to apply useful coping skills.

But what about its uses beyond this?  The Buddha taught that it is possible to overcome all forms of mental dis-ease or suffering.  This is done by rooting out the wrong views we have of reality and mindfulness is the tool for the job.

My teacher told me that whenever I’m not sure about what I should be doing in my mindfulness practice, I should watch transience — the arising and passing away of things, particularly in my mind and body.  The more I’ve done this, the more I’ve realized that those things don’t last for very long, and I needn’t get too involved with them.  It’s become easier to accept more things as they are, and I suffer less. 

For many years I’ve applied my teacher’s advice, and have carried it into my recovery.  In AA, we say “This Too Shall Pass” and “Keep Coming Back.”  I’ve learned that many more things in life make a brief appearance and are gone.  I’ve also learned that his advice is like a signal beacon in a storm, showing me the way forward when I might other words continue to be tossed and adrift.  I simply have to steer in the direction he pointed me many years ago.