Saturday, November 23, 2013

How to Select a Meditation Cushion - Revisited

Inflatable Meditation Cushion
Inflatable Meditation Cushion
In my previous post on how to select meditation cushions I only briefly mentioned inflatable cushions.  I would like to come back and revisit this topic.

For reasons I can't really explain, I decided to give inflatable cushions another try.  I'm really glad I did. They have become my favorite type of zafu. Here's why.

In my first round with an inflatable cushion I never felt very stable.  It was sort of like balancing on a beachball (and many versions of these are literally beachballs in a cloth cover.)  What I discovered in my second run at inflatable cushions was that I did it wrong the first time.

My original approach was to sit on it like I would any zafu.  This time I found that the trick to inflatable zafus is that you need to mount them slightly differently.  Start by sitting on it like you would on any meditation cushion.  I sit cross legged usually with my right leg on top.  Then put both of your arms straight down on the ground lifting your weight and roll slightly backward with your legs still in the crossed position or lotus position and release the weight on your arms.  This "locks" you in place on the zafu.  You should feel very steady and balanced.  Your weight should be evenly distributed between your bum and knees.

One word of caution.  If you "over-lock" by rolling back too far the zafu can put a lot of pressure on your ankles. You might not notice it until you get up.  I had a day of recovery from over-locking.  The zafu should probably be touching you heels but make sure it's not putting much downward force on them.

One other caution.  When your first sit on the inflatable zafu, before you lock in, it can be wobbly.  If you have existing back pain I would wait until it clears up before giving this a try.  With a healthy back it's no problem but it could exacerbate an existing problem.

The reason the inflatable zafu has become my favorite meditation cushion is because once I lock into position it does the best job of helping me sit erect with a natural, slight forward curve to my spine.  This helps relieve pressure in my lower back much better than either kapok or buckwheat hulls.

With my nirvana on inflatable zafus, I have a new set of preferences.  The inflatable zafu and the seiza or meditation bench are now equally comfortable for my sitting.  I use each on alternate days to move the body stresses around (I'm in this for the long haul.)

The Pros for the inflatable meditation cushion are: lightweight, easy to deflate and pack for trips, great support for good sitting posture.

The Cons for the inflatable meditation cushion are: can be punctured, tricky to learn how to sit on it initially.

I bought a specific model called the ZenAir Meditation Cushion.  The reason I bought this model is because it has a heavy gauge air bladder designed to be used as a meditation cushion.  Many (all others I found on the internet) used a beachball for a bladder.  I didn't test any of these so they might be equally good.  If you are interested in the model I use you can find them by clicking here (I don't get any benefit if you do - just trying to be helpful.)

Normally I would have bought a beautiful Zen black version.  However, I purchased a maroon version this time because I travel.  My experience is that black items sneak under hotel beds, or hide in dark corners of a closet, never to be seen again. My hope (currently untested) is that the maroon will be easier to spot when I'm packing up.

Namaste and Friendly Bows _/|\_

Quick Update:  The bladder in a new ZenAir is a little stiffer when it's new and gets even more comfortable the more you use it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Metta Month on the Insight Timer App

August was declared "Metta Month" by Noelle on the Insight Timer App.  Karl from Hobart Tasmania shared his Metta practice which became the starting point for me.  Over the month I made subtle changes to tune the practice to my circumstance.  The following is my current Metta practice.

If you aren't familiar with Metta practice it is expressing loving-compassion to yourself and others.  Typically you start with yourself and then replace the "I" with a family member, loved one, friend, those in need, those of neutral emotional connection and those with negative emotional connection.  The fundamental component of the practice is the recognition that separation (including from yourself) creates suffering.  Metta brings awareness to close the separation.

May I love my fear,
May I love my frustration,
May I love my obsessive thinking,
May I love my self doubt,
May I love my confusion,
May I love my awkwardness,
May I continually discover the inner peace that allows me to be completely present in the moment,
May I love myself exactly, exactly as I am.

Namaste and Friendly Bows _/|\_

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Back Support Help During Seated Meditation on a Cushion or Zafu

This is a companion post to "Back Support with a Meditation Bench (Seiza)"  I alternate between a bench and a zafu to move around the stresses on my body.  Other than the impact on my back I find that sitting on a cushion tends to put more stress on my ankles and sitting on a bench puts more stress on my I mix it up.

Back Support on Meditation  Cushion in the Normal Position
Back Support on Meditation
Cushion in the Normal Position
Similar to the bench, I use the back support cushion in 2 positions.  When fastened in the front the Normal
support position provides a cushion for arm support at the wrist.  The length of most people's upper arm is shorter than their torso.  During extended sitting "dangling" arms put stress on the back, especially if you have a weak or injured back.

The other meditation position I call the Aggressive back support position.  The straps are designed to also create arm loops that allow the cushion to rest firmly against your back.  I put a gazillion button holes in the straps to make it very adjustable. (Velcro would have been great except that unstrapping velcro in the zendo after zazen is not very sangha-friendly.)

Back Support on Meditation Cushion in the Aggressive Position
Back Support on Meditation
Cushion in the
Aggressive Position
You can adjust how much pressure you want by how close you make the arm loops.  I have found that short periods in the Aggressive position allow me to go back the Normal position and be comfortable for quite an extended time.

So far, the benefits of the back support seem to be identical whether I'm using it on the bench or on the cushion.  I find that I use the back support in the Normal position about 3 out of 4 zazen sessions.

Namaste and Friendly Bows _/|\_

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"Must-Have" books on Buddhist Meditation Practice

Buddhist Library
Plu Rambles
Buddhist Library
Just like the Zen Movie post this post captures books that were recommended as "must-have" buddhist books.  Jen in Modoc started the Insight Timer app discussion thread with:

"I want to create a short list of must-have books on Buddhist meditation practice."

Namaste and Friendly Bows _/|\_

The following "short list" was then generated by the Insight Timer Community group:

  • How to Meditate by Kathleen McDonald
  • Transformation and, Healing: Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • How to Practice, The Way to a Meaningful Life by the Dalai Lama
  • Old Path White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Mindfulness in Plain English by Henepola Guneratana (available free - click here)
  • Wake Up to Your Life by Ken McLeod
  • Wisdom Wide and Deep by Shaila Catherine
  • Training in Compassion by Norman Fisher
  • The Power of the Open Question by Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel
  • Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron
  • Joyful Path of Good Fortune by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
  • Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment - and Your Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace) by Chade-Meng Tan
  • Still the Mind: An Introduction to Meditation by Alan Watts
  • The Experience of Insight: A Simple and Direct Guide to Buddhist Meditation by Joseph Goldstein
  • Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time by Rick Hanson
  • Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English: An Introductory guide to Deeper States of Meditation by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
  • Journey of Awaking: A Meditator's Guidebook by Ram Dass
  • Five Ways to Know Yourself: An Introduction to Basic Mindfulness by Shinzen Young (available free - click here)
  • What is Mindfulness? by Shinzen Young (available free - click here)
  • The Teachings of Kirpal Singh by Satguru Sant Kirpal Singh
  • The Wheel of Life/Mystery of Death by Satguru Sant Kirpal Singh
  • Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck
  • Nothing Special by Charlotte Joko Beck
  • Zen Heart by Ezra Bayda
  • Zen Training by Katsuki Sekida
  • Opening the Hand of Thought, Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice by Kosho Uchiyama
  • Breath by Breath by Larry Rosenberg
  • Secrets of Meditation: A Practical Guide to Inner Peace and Personal Transformation by Davidji
  • The Three Pillars of Zen by Phillip Kapleau
  • Each and Every Breath by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (available free - click here)
  • Change Your Mind by Paramananada
  • The New Meditation Handbook by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
  • Dancing with Life by Phillip Moffitt
  • The Mindful Way Through Depression by Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • The Empty Mirror by Janwillem van de Wetering
  • Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner
  • Satthipatana by Bhikku Analayo
  • The Heart of Buddhist Meditation by Nyanaponika
  • How To Get From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be by Cheri Huber
  • The Compass of Zen by Master Seung Sahn
  • Illuminating Silence by Master Sheng Yen
  • The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher Germer
  • Zen Meditation in Plain English by John Daishin Buksbazen
  • Taking the Path of Zen by Robert Aiken
  • Food for the Heart: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah by Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Amaro, and Jack Kornfield
  • A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield
  • The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield
  • Living With The Devil by Stephen Batchelor
  • In this Very Life by U Pandita
  • Breath By Breath by Larry Rosenberg
  • Living in the Light of Death by Larry Rosenberg
  • When the Iron Eagle Flies by Ayya Khemma
  • Insight Meditation: the Practice of Freedom by Joseph Goldstein
  • Bearing Witness by Bernie Glassman
  • Instructions to the Cook by Bernie Glassman and Rich Fields
  • Seeking the Heart of Wisdom by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield
  • After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield
  • A Still Forest Pool: The Insight Meditation of Achaan Chah by Achaan Chah, Paul Breiter, Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield
  • Be Here Now by Ram Dass
  • Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
  • The Meditative Gardener by Cheryl Wilfong
  • Maha Satipatthana Sutta
  • On Love by Ajahn Jayasaro (available free - click here)
  • With Each & Every Breath: A Guide to Meditation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (available free - click here)
  • Turning the Mind Into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham and Pema Chodron

Zen Movies

Or maybe...Zentastic Movies...

Insight Timer App
Insight Timer App
As part of my daily meditation practice I use an app on my iPad called "Insight Timer".  One of the great features about the app is a groups feature where a lot of discussion occurs between individuals practicing meditation.

One of the discussion threads that was started by "Marcus in Scotland" was:

What one movie has made you reflect most on the meaning of enlightenment? (Only 1 - no cheating)

One of the limits of the app is that the discussion threads age and can be hard to retrace.  There were many suggested movies that I had never seen so I decided to capture them here so they don't disappear.  I'll try to keep the list current as long as people keep adding to it.  I've tried to note which movies are available on Netflix Instant play - but that is a moving target so no guarantee on the accuracy.

Namaste and Friendly Bows _/|\_

The List:

  • Powder
    • After an isolated childhood, a 16-year-old albino boy -- nicknamed "Powder" -- is introduced into a small town, where a pair of teachers learn that he can control electricity and has an IQ that's off the charts.
  • Babette's Feast
    • Philippa and Martina turn down a chance to leave their town, instead staying to care for their father. Decades later, Philippa and Martina take in a French woman who prepares a grand feast in gratitude -- a lavish meal eclipsed only by her secret.
  • A Passage to India
    • Adventurous young Englishwoman Adela Quested journeys to colonial India with open-minded Mrs. Moore. When the women accompany a "native" named Dr. Aziz on a tour of the Marabar Caves, the excursion turns ugly as Adela ends up accusing Aziz of rape.
  • Gandhi
    • This awe-inspiring biopic about Mahatma Gandhi -- the diminutive lawyer who stood up against British rule in India and became an international symbol of nonviolence and understanding -- brilliantly underscores the difference one person can make.
  • Harold and Maude
    • Hounded by his mother to get out and date, death-obsessed teen Harold would rather attend funerals. But when he meets the feisty Maude, a geriatric widow who's high on life, they form a bond that turns into an unconventional romance.
  • Gates of Heaven
    • Indie documentarian Errol Morris trains his lens on obsessive pet owners and the zeitgeist that supports them, including pet cemetery owners and embalmers. Pet owners talk candidly about the challenges they face dealing with feelings of bereavement.
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
    • The original version or - The 1977, 1980 and 1998 versions of Steven Spielberg's seminal sci-fi hit are collected in this exhaustive 30th anniversary edition, which also includes a 20-minute interview with the director as well as a feature documentary on the film. Richard Dreyfuss still shines as Roy Neary, a cable worker who investigates a power outage and encounters a mysterious light from above. Teri Garr and beloved French auteur Francois Truffaut co-star.
  • The Dhamma Brothers - Netflix Instant Play
    • Donaldson Correctional Facility -- an overcrowded, violent maximum-security prison, the end of the line in Alabama's prison system -- is dramatically changed by the introduction and influence of an ancient meditation program.
  • Star Wars (1) I'm not sure if this is the original movie or episode 1
    • Description is for the original movie (Episode IV: A New Hope). Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) guides intrepid Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a valiant bid to save the captured Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones). With his trusty droids and smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Skywalker must also destroy the Galactic Empire's all-powerful weapon: the Death Star. George Lucas cemented his status as a pop-culture legend with this classic battle between good and evil.
  • The Razor's Edge
    • Based on W. Somerset Maugham's classic novel. Larry Darrell returns from the battlefields of World War I a changed man. His fiancee, Isabel resigns herself to a delayed wedding when Larry heads to Paris to find meaning in his life. He's then inspired to travel to Nepal, where he receives guidance from a lama. But while he's off globetrotting, the life he leaves behind changes dramatically.  There is also a 1946 version with Tyrone Power.
  • Pay It Forward
    • In this gentle drama from director Mimi Leder, young Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) responds to a school assignment with a plan to help three people who will, in turn, help three more, and so on, in an ever-widening circle. But Trevor touches more people than he expected, including his abused mother (Helen Hunt), his physically and emotionally scarred teacher (Kevin Spacey) and a journalist (Jay Mohr) who's investigating the plan.
  • Unmistaken Child
    • Filmmaker Nati Baratz follows the spellbinding journey of Tibetan Buddhist monk Tenzin Zopa as he travels far and wide to identify the child who is the reincarnation of his deceased master, Lama Konchog. Acting on instructions from the Dalai Lama, the shy Zopa relies on astrology, dreams and other signs to locate the child, knowing that if he succeeds, he must also convince the boy's parents to release their child into his care.
  • The Last Samurai
    • Nathan is an American hired to instruct the Japanese army in the ways of modern warfare. Pressed to destroy the samurai's way of life in the name of modernization, Algren soon learns to respect the samurai and the honorable principles that rule them.
  • What the Bleep Do We Know!? - Netflix Instant Play
    • When she's thrust from her mundane life into an unfamiliar world, Amanda must develop an all-new perception of her surroundings and the people she interacts with in this quirky film that explores neurological processes and quantum uncertainty.
  • I Am - Netflix Instant Play
    • In this contemplative documentary, filmmaker Tom Shadyac conducts in-depth interviews with prominent philosophers and spiritual leaders -- including Archbishop Desmond Tutu -- about what ails the world and how to improve it.
  • Into Great Silence - Netflix Instant Play
    • Director Philip Gröning's study of the Grande Chartreuse monastery introduces a world of austere beauty as it follows the daily activities of the resident monks, whose silence is broken only by prayer and song. With no sound save the natural rhythms of age-old routines, the documentary -- a Special Jury Prize winner at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival -- captures the simplicity and profundity of lives lived with absolute purpose and presence.
  • The Matrix
    • A computer hacker searches for the truth behind the mysterious force known as the Matrix. He discovers that what most people perceive as reality is actually a simulation created by machines and joins a rebellion to break free.
  • Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring
    • Under the vigilant eyes of Old Monk (Yeong-su Oh), Child Monk (Jong-ho Kim) learns a hard lesson about the nature of sorrow when his childish games turn cruel in a story that's divided into five segments, with each season representing a stage in a man's life. This exquisitely filmed drama directed by Ki-duk Kim is entirely set on and around a tree-lined lake, where a tiny Buddhist monastery floats on a raft amidst a breathtaking landscape.
  • Waking Life
    • Director Richard Linklater's animated film follows a young man as he floats in and out of philosophical discussions with a succession of eccentrics and passionate thinkers, all the while uncertain whether he's conscious or dreaming.
  • Groundhog Day
    • Sent to cover the annual appearance of world-famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, a self-centered TV weatherman unleashes his bitterness -- and soon realizes he's doomed to repeat Groundhog Day until he learns that his actions can affect the outcome.
  • Big
    • Penny Marshall directs this whimsical comedy in which 12-year-old Josh yearns to be a grown-up, and when he makes that wish at a Coney Island fortunetelling machine, he awakens the next morning as a 30-year-old man (Tom Hanks). Josh lands a job at a Manhattan toy company, where his child's-eye view helps him climb the ranks -- but he finds himself pining for all he left behind, despite the attention of a beautiful co-worker (Elizabeth Perkins).
  • The Verdict
    • A washed-up, ambulance-chasing attorney gets a chance at redemption when his friend tosses him an open-and-shut medical malpractice case. But instead of accepting an easy cash settlement, he takes the powerful defendant to court.
  • Baraka
    • Accompanied by diverse world music -- without any dialogue -- this mesmerizing visual study conveys the relationship between humans and the environment, with images ranging from the daily devotions of Tibetan monks to views of the Hong Kong skyline.
  • The Straight Story
    • When his brother, Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton), falls ill, Iowa farmer Alvin Straight (Oscar nominee Richard Farnsworth) pledges to go to Lyle's side -- despite being unable to drive -- armed with a riding lawnmower for transportation, a tent and unshakable determination. Leaving his mentally challenged daughter (Sissy Spacek) at home, Alvin sets out to cover the 300 miles to his brother's house in a weeks-long journey of healing and remembrance.
  • Rectify
    • 2 Disc TV Series - Convicted of rape and murder at age 18, Daniel Holden spends nearly 20 years on death row until DNA evidence finally brings the verdict into question. Now, Daniel must learn to live as a free man in a town where people still think he's guilty.
  • Etre et Avoir (To Be and To Have)
    • The once-acclaimed French school system is under siege, with overcrowding making it impossible for children to receive the education they deserve. But there's one place that's trying to buck the tide. This documentary by Nicolas Philibert visits a one-room schoolhouse in rural Saint-Étienne-sur-Usson, where Georges Lopez teaches his 13 students, ranging in age between 3 and 10, the old-fashioned way ... with effort, attention and encouragement.
  • Tony Takitani
    • Based on a story by celebrated Japanese author Haruki Murakami, this visually poetic fable tells the story of Tony Takitani (Issei Ogata), a solitary technical illustrator. Raised as an only child and partially estranged from his father, Takitani is unaware of his own loneliness until he falls in love with Eiko (Rie Miyazawa). He soon marries her and comes alive for the first time. But Eiko's obsessive passion for couture leads to tragedy.
  • Little Buddha - Netflix Instant Play
    • Keanu Reeves and Bridget Fonda star in this moving drama from Academy Award-winning director Bernardo Bertolucci. In a big American city, a boy and his family discover the story of a prince in a land of miracles. But the miracle becomes real when Tibetan monks appear, searching for their leader's reincarnation ... who they believe to be the boy. Suddenly, their worlds meet, leading the Americans on an extraordinary adventure.
  • Kumare - Netflix Instant Play
    • Filmmaker Vikram Gandhi presents himself as an enlightened guru from the East and builds a following of disciples in the West. "Kumare" acts as the centerpiece of a social experiment to explore and test one of the world's most sacred taboos.
  • Life of Pi
    • Based on Yann Martel's best-selling novel, this coming-of-age tale recounts the adventures of Pi, an Indian boy who is the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with only some zoo animals for company.
  • Forks Over Knives - Netflix Instant Play
    • Focusing on research by two food scientists, this documentary reveals that despite broad advances in medical technology, the popularity of animal-based and modern processed foods have led to epidemic rates of obesity, diabetes and other diseases.
  • Amongst White Clouds
    • In this fascinating documentary, filmmaker Edward A. Burger takes viewers deep into the unseen world of the Buddhist hermit monks who live and teach in sanctuaries spread across China's Zhongnan Mountains. The masters and students maintain a tradition of seclusion reputed to date back five millennia. Burger -- who spent years living among the monks -- offers intriguing insight into their mysterious way of life and spiritual practices.
  • Sunset Limited
    • After stopping a desperate man from jumping in front of the speeding Sunset Limited subway train, a Good Samaritan discusses the meaning of life and death with the person he rescued. This HBO drama is based on Cormac McCarthy's stage play.
  • Ikiru
    • When a stoic government official (Takashi Shimura) in post-war Japan learns he has terminal cancer, he suddenly realizes he's squandered his life on meaningless red tape and has no close family or friendships to lean on, in this drama from director Akira Kurosawa. Resolving to use his remaining time wisely, he sets out to steer a children's playground project through the bureaucracy he knows so well. (also recommended most of Kurosawa's films.)
  • Ram Dass: Fierce Grace - Netflix Instant Play
    • Spiritual guru Ram Dass attempts to recover from a stroke, which he dubs "fierce grace," in this documentary produced and directed by Mickey Lemle, a close friend of Dass for decades. Dass, author of the lauded Be Here Now, was felled so severely by the illness that he became paralyzed -- but in true Ram Dass fashion, he saw it as a reason to look death in the face.
  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead
    • You'll feel instantly at peace with this chronicle of one of the most unique books of Buddhist spirituality, narrated by singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. Sit back and explore the rites prescribed by the text and see how they're applied by people around the world. Two parts -- "A Way of Life" and "The Great Liberation" -- are included.
  • Eat Pray Love
    • Recent divorcée Liz decides to reshape her life, traveling the world in search of direction. She heads to Italy, India and Bali, indulging in delicious cuisine while seeking the true meaning of self-love, family, friendship and forgiveness.
  • Ghost - Netflix Instant Play
    • After wealthy CEO Nanami Hoshino is killed in an accident, she takes the form of a ghost. Soon, she realizes that her grief-stricken husband is in grave danger in this remake of the American film Ghost.
  • Samsara - Netflix Instant Play
    • 2011 version. Unconstrained by dialogue or narration, this contemplative documentary reveals the ties between the dueling rhythms of nature and humanity as found in diverse locations across the globe, from sacred sites and natural wonders to industrial zones.
  • Samsara
    • 1988 version. After Shi Ba (Han Lei) -- a privileged youth turned con artist -- meets a fetching dancer named Yu Jing (Xiaoyan Tan), he decides to go straight and leave his life of crime behind him. But will his checkered past come back to haunt Shi Ba when a blackmailer comes calling? Di Liu, Jingmin Luo and Lijun Liu also star in director Jianxin Huang's downbeat Chinese drama adapted from a novel by Shuo Wang.
  • It's a Wonderful Life
    • It's a wonderful film. Frank Capra's inverted take on A Christmas Carol stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a good man who's spent a lifetime giving up on his dreams in order to keep life in his small town humming. When a guardian angel named Clarence finds a despondent George poised to jump off a bridge, he shows George what life would've been like had he never been born.
  • Resurrection - couldn't find on Netflix - available through iMDb/Amazon
    • Ellen Burstyn experiences the afterlife for a brief time after a car accident that kills her husband. As she begins her long process of physical healing, she discovers that she has the ability to heal physical infirmities. While most people simply accept her gift, her lover (Sam Shepard) becomes mentally unbalanced and dangerous because she does not place the healings within a religious context.
  • The Chosen
    • Chaim Potok's acclaimed novel is translated to the screen in this lyrical adaptation. It's World War II, and as battles rage in Europe and Asia, two young men -- one a member of the Hasidim, the other the son of a reformed Jew -- become friends in spite of their differences. Stars Maximilian Schell, Rod Steiger and Robby Benson.
  • The World's Fastest Indian - Netflix Instant Play
    • This fact-based drama stars Anthony Hopkins as quirky New Zealander Burt Munro, a 67-year-old grandfather who flies across Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats and attempts to break into the record books on his customized Indian Scout motorcycle.
  • The Way - Netflix Instant Play
    • When his son dies while hiking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in the Pyrenees, a grieving father flies to France to claim the remains. Looking for insights into his estranged child's life, he decides to complete the 500-mile trek to Spain.
  • Stranger than Fiction - there are 2 movies with this name and totally different plots
    • Will Ferrell movie:  As best-selling novelist Kay Eiffel struggles with how to kill off her main character, IRS auditor Harold Crick begins hearing her voice in his head and slowly realizes that he must stop his own death.
  • Up
    • After a lifetime of dreaming about traveling the world, 78-year-old homebody Carl flies away on an unbelievable adventure with Russell, an 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer, unexpectedly in tow.
  • Spirited Away
    • During her family's move to the suburbs, Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase) wanders into a magical world where a witch rules -- and those who disobey her are turned into animals. When Chihiro's parents become pigs, she must find a way to help them return to their human form. Adapted from the Japanese original, director Hayao Miyazaki's adventure tale won the Best Animated Feature Oscar for its enchanting story.
  • Holy Smoke - Netflix Instant Play
    • While on a journey of discovery in exotic India, beautiful young Ruth Barron falls under the influence of a charismatic religious guru. Her desperate parents then hire PJ Waters, a macho cult de-programmer who confronts Ruth in a remote desert hideaway. But PJ quickly learns that he's met his match in the sexy, intelligent and iron-willed Ruth!
  • A Christmas Carol (1951 version with Alastair Sim)
    • Considered by many to be the classic adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel, this 1951 version stars Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, the callous miser visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. Michael Hordern plays the spirit who successfully haunts the old man. Co-starring in this seamless sketch of Dickens' England are Hermione Baddeley, Jack Warner, Kathleen Harrison and a young Patrick Macnee.
  • Stalker
    • Based on the Russian sci-fi novel Roadside Picnic, this science fiction milestone from director Andrei Tarkovsky takes you into the Zone, a mysterious, guarded realm containing a mystical room in which occupants' secret dreams come true. Stalker, a man able to lead others to this holy grail, escorts a writer and a scientist through this foreboding territory and confronts several unexpected challenges along the way.
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull
    • Inspired by Richard Bach's best-selling novella and featuring a Grammy-winning score by Neil Diamond, this live-action family drama follows the quest of a young seagull to transcend the boundaries of his flock.
  • The Celestine Prophecy
    • When disillusioned history teacher John Woodsen (Matthew Settle) gets laid off from his job, he finds himself bored and rudderless until, on impulse, he hops on a plane to Peru to meet an old friend who's searching for some ancient scrolls. To his surprise, Woodsen finds a lot more than sacred texts on this journey of spiritual awakening based on James Redfield's best-selling book. Hector Elizondo and Annabeth Gish co-star.
  • Something Unknown Is Doing We Don't Know What - can purchase from Amazon
    • Something Unknown offers us a front row seat at the frontiers of reality. Grounded in a century's worth of data from psychical research and situated in the entangled realms of quantum theory, this movie will expand your horizons and broaden your worldview. Sit back, secure your seat belt, open your mind, and enjoy a new lens of perception. You won't want to miss it! --Marilyn Mandala Schlitz, Ph.D., President/CEO of the Institute of Noetic Sciences
  • Flight
    • After his amazing safe landing of a damaged passenger plane, an airline pilot is praised for the feat, but has private questions about what happened. Further, the government's inquiry into the causes soon puts the new hero's reputation at risk.
  • Fly Away Home
    • When 13-year-old Amy adopts a flock of orphaned Canada geese, she sets out to teach them survival skills. Before long, Amy and her inventor dad take to the skies in a homemade aircraft to help the gaggle migrate 500 miles.
  • Cloud Atlas
    • In this star-studded drama, six seemingly disparate stories take viewers from a South Pacific Island in the 19th century to 1970s America to a dystopian future, exploring the complicated links that humans share through the generations.
  • Wake Up - Netflix Instant Play
    • Jonas Elrod woke up one day with the ability to see and hear angels, demons and ghosts. Filmed over the course of three years, this documentary follows Jonas and his girlfriend as they try to understand the phenomenon.
  • American Beauty
    • While struggling to endure his perfection-obsessed wife (Annette Bening), an unfulfilling job and a sullen teenage daughter (Thora Birch), suburbanite Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) falls deep into a midlife crisis and becomes infatuated with one of his daughter's friends (Mena Suvari). Director Sam Mendes dazzles with this arresting blend of social satire and domestic tragedy that scooped up five Oscars, including acting honors for Spacey.
  • Magnolia
    • Through chance, human action, past history and divine intervention, an eclectic cast of characters weaves and warps through each other's lives on a random California day, building to an unforgettable climax.
  • Life is Beautiful - Netflix Instant Play
    • A Jewish Italian waiter named Guido is sent to a Nazi concentration camp, along with his wife and their young son. Refusing to give up hope, Guido tries to protect his son's innocence by pretending that their imprisonment is an elaborate game.
  • Stigmata
    • After an atheist woman's hands and feet begin to mysteriously bleed, the Vatican sends a myth-busting priest to investigate the phenomenon. Soon, the woman's symptoms become more frightening, and the two are thrust headlong into supernatural terror.
  • The Thin Red Line
    • In director Terrence Malick's lyrical and beautiful retelling of James Jones's novel about the 1942 battle for Guadalcanal, the men of C-Company become a tight-knit group as they each individually struggle with the horrors of war.
  • Goddess Remembered - available used from Amazon VHS format
    • This stunning and poetic documentary examines pre-Christian goddess-worshipping religions and explores the modern women's spirituality movement inspired by them. This film is part one of the Women and Spirituality trilogy which also includes The Burning Times and Full Circle.
  • I Heart Huckabees
    • When a mystery needs to be solved, and it's not a whodunit but rather a maze involving complex emotions, it requires the expertise of intellectual -- and perhaps slightly kooky -- detectives Vivian (Lily Tomlin) and Bernard (Dustin Hoffman). Jude Law and Naomi Watts co-star in David O. Russell's quirky comedy that finds the existential husband-and-wife team helping a do-gooding client (Jason Schwartzman) who's plagued by twists of fate.
  • Zorba the Greek
    • Basil (Alan Bates), a young English writer, meets a free-spirited Greek peasant named Zorba (Anthony Quinn) on the island of Crete. While Zorba pursues a relationship with aging French courtesan Madame Hortense (Lila Kedrova, who won an Oscar for her role), Basil attempts to court a young widow. Along the way, he learns valuable life lessons from the earthy Zorba, who has an unquenchable joie de vivre. Nominated for seven Academy Awards.
  • Run Lola Run
    • In this thrilling roller-coaster ride, Lola receives a frantic phone call from her boyfriend, Manni, who's lost a small fortune belonging to his mobster boss. If Lola doesn't replace the money within 20 minutes, Manni will suffer the consequences.
  • Dune
    • In the year 10,191, two factions vie for control of planet Arrakis aka Dune -- home to the most valuable substance in the known universe, Spice. But when one leader gives up control, it's only so he can stage a coup with unsavory characters.
  • Il Postino
    • Mario Ruoppolo (Massimo Troisi), the mailman on an Italian island, pines from afar for a beautiful waitress. But when exiled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret) comes to live on the island, Ruoppolo delivers Neruda's mail and picks up lessons on love, life and poetry. Noteworthy extras in this edition include director Michael Radford's commentary and a featurette about the real-life Neruda.
  • Hachi: A Dog's Tale - Netflix Instant Play
    • When his master dies, a loyal pooch named Hachiko keeps a regular vigil -- for more than a decade -- at the train station where he once greeted his owner every day in this touching drama based on a true story.
  • The Big Lebowski
    • Slacker Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski gets involved in a gargantuan mess of events when he's mistaken for another man named Lebowski, whose wife has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. All the while, the Dude's friend, Walter, stirs the pot.
  • Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance
    • Koyaanisqatsi, which marks Godfrey Reggio's debut as a film director and producer, is the first installment of the Qatsi trilogy. The title is a Hopi Indian word meaning "life out of balance." Created between 1975 and 1982, the film is an apocalyptic vision of the collision of two different worlds -- urban life and technology versus the environment. Philip Glass composed the film's musical score.  The other 2 movies in the trilogy are: Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation, and Naqoyqatsi (available on Netflix Instant Play)
  • Peaceful Warrior - Netflix Instant Play
    • College gymnast Dan Millman had everything he could ever want, until an injury changed his life forever. During his recovery, fate presents Dan with a wife and a stranger named Socrates, who unlocks a world of wisdom and spiritual understanding.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cutting Through the Layers of Back Pain while Meditating

I've been using my sitting support for about 6 weeks now and it has made a huge difference in my meditation practice. With the support I was able to relieve the acute pain and I discovered the next level of pain that sat right below the acute level. What became clear was this next level of pain came from my good friend - my body - trying to do its thing and adjust to the circumstances it was dealt.

I finally realize the extent to which the right side of my body has been tortured:  my neck has had 4 surgeries on the right side; my right collarbone was broken and never aligned so it "set itself" at an angle that left my right shoulder about 2 inches lower than my left; I had rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder for a racquetball injury; and, I have a broken wingtip on the right side of a vertebra in my mid back.

These had seemed like mostly disconnected events until now.  With the acute pain gone I could feel them each speaking with their own voice.  The more I listened to what they were trying to say the more I realized that my "neutral position" needed to adjust.  I discovered that by rotating my shoulders a few degrees in favor of my right side almost all of the pain dropped away.

The shift is quite subtle. I'm not sure it would be obvious to anyone else; but from inside me it feels like I've rotated a lot.

The funny thing is now that I can get comfortable during zazen I find it easy to fall into a more blissful state when sitting.  My new practice is to focus on concentration.

If you struggle with pain during mediation I strongly encourage you investigate the source.  Finding your neutral position can make dramatic change in the quality of your practice.  Of course, sitting in one position for an extended time will inevitably create its own stress on your body.  You just don't have to add additional pressure from injuries, or the other issues that make your body unique.

Namaste and Friendly Bows _/|\_

Monday, July 15, 2013

Back Support with a Meditation Bench (Seiza)

This is the first of several posts that demonstrate a back support device I designed for sitting meditation.  Today I will focus on how it works with a meditation bench.

Meditation Bench Back Support - Front View - Normal Position
Meditation Bench Back Support
Normal Position
Front View
The objective was to design a single back support device that would work with a meditation bench or a meditation cushion (zafu.) I alternate between a bench and a cushion to shift the stresses around my body to support a lifetime of meditation practice.

The principle design needed to accommodate a "Normal" support position and an "Aggressive" support position to help with back injuries I've sustained (see earlier posts 1st injury and 2nd injury.)

The Normal support position provides a cushion for arm support at the wrist.  The length of most people's upper arm is shorter than their torso.  During extended sitting "dangling" arms put stress on the back, especially if you have a weak or injured back.

Meditation Bench Back Support - Side View - Normal Position
Meditation Bench Back Support
Normal Position
Side View
The thing that is unique about this back support is that the cushion has long straps that wrap around your back and fasten in front.  The straps perform 2 purposes.  They hold the pillow in a fixed location.  (I found that without the straps pillows gradually shift forward over a sit and stress my back.)  The straps also put a very light pressure against the lower back.  This pressure helps support the back (which feels great) and is also an early indicator if you start to lose your posture.  (I find that sometimes I start to lean back and the straps make it obvious.)

Meditation Bench Back Support - Aggressive Position - Side View
Meditation Bench Back Support
Aggressive Position
Side View
If I am doing lengthy sitting sometimes I need a short period (15-30 minutes) of even more support.  The straps are designed to also create arm loops that allow the cushion to rest firmly against your back.  I put a gazillion button holes in the straps to make it very adjustable. (Velcro would have been great except that unstrapping velcro in the zendo after zazen is not very sangha-friendly.)  You can adjust how much pressure you want by how close you make the arm loops.  I have found that short periods in the Aggressive position allow me to go back the Normal position and be comfortable for quite an extended time.
Meditation Bench Back Support - Aggressive Position - Back View
Meditation Bench Back Support
Aggressive Position
Back View

It took a lot of experimenting to get this to work correctly but in the end it has exceeded my expectations. I find that I can sit for extended hours comfortably.  If you suffer from back pain during zazen (sitting meditation) I'd really appreciate any feedback  about whether this looks like it might help you?

Namaste & Friendly Bows _/|\_

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Zen is Timeless (but posting isn't)

Coming back from an interlude of activity.  I didn't want to post any more until I finished designing, creating, and testing the "meditation back support device" I've been working on. Wow, that's a mouthful.

Good news.  I finally finished the device and I've been testing it the past few weeks.  It's AMAZING!!!  After I sewed it together and did the first sit I knew I was very close.  I had to tweak a couple of design  features to dial it it totally exceeds my expectations.
Meditation Back Support Device
Meditation Back Support Device

The thumbnail shows what it looks like.  I'm currently by myself in the mountains so I can't take a picture of it in use. When I get home I'll post an update with "action" shots of me sitting with the "meditation back support device."

I think that this could be a huge help to anyone who practices zazen and has back problems.  I'm considering having them made and selling them with the proceeds going to my local sangha.  We'll see.  If I do then I think we should have a naming contest and the winner gets a free "meditation back support device"...zenza?

This week I will post a couple of additions to the book review section. So if you are looking for a good Zen read you might check that out.

Friendly Bows _/|\_

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Zabuton

Sitting on Zabuton
Sitting on Zabuton

black, rectangular mat,

four inches of padding
separating my knees from hard floor.
batting and foam…
my comfort, my pleasure.
is it too much indulgence?
yes too much…
more than a tenth of an inch.
good and bad
koan through my thoughts.
just sitting.
Friendly Bows _/|\_,
This poem can also be found at 30 Poems in 30 Days.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Day

Buddha Buddy
Buddha Buddy

I wake up to coffee, Dharma reading, zazen.

Then I begin my day with a goal of mindfulness.

Something happens and emotions arise.

A mental flag waves and I am mindful for some moments.

I remind myself of my goal of mindfulness,

And before I finish reminding I’m on to something else.

Afternoon and evening approach.

Stretches between mindfulness get longer.

Small mind speaks in tired thoughts and TV diversions.

I sit and watch some shows with my wife before bed.

I wake up to coffee, Dharma reading, zazen…
Friendly Bows _/|\_
This poem is also on 30 Poems in 30 Days.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Buttonholes, Shower Benches and a Poem

My new sitting device is being patient while I learn to sew buttonholes.

The manual to my daughter's sewing machine disappeared and it's been a case of trial and error (with lots of error) to figure out how to make a buttonhole.  I can manage it once and then when I try to repeat it the sewing machine seems to turn into a pasta mill...hmmm.  Hopefully soon.

Shower Bench for Zazen
Shower Bench for Zazen
As part of my morning zazen practice I use an app called Insight Timer (click here to read the review.)  In one of the discussions someone mentioned that they used a shower bench for meditation.  It allowed them to adjust the height and also create an angle in the bench seat by using two different height settings.  This might be an interesting alternative for folks with knee or back problems.  If anyone gives this a try can you please leave a comment to this post to let others know how well it works?

Below is the poem I submitted yesterday to "30 Poems in 30 Days".

Friendly Bows _/|\_

Poem - The Self Illusion

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Poem 2 - The Trap

The tragedies
Of strategies
Of control.
Small mind's goal.
Perpetuating pain,
Nothing to gain,
A trap for the soul.

Friendly Bows _/|\_

Monday, April 1, 2013

Poem 1 - The Present

The Present

Blank faces pass each other at 35 miles per hour,
Partially arriving at our destination,
Before passing more blank faces,
Partially arriving home.

...the present...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Working on Sitting Posture and Back Support Device

Tacky Orange Test Pillow
Tacky Orange Test Pillow

For a couple of months I've been testing new methods to help improve my posture and support my back when sitting zazen (meditation.)

I have my incredibly tacky orange pillow that is my primary test device.  I cut strips from sheets and test various ways to place the pillow for support and hold it in place with the sheet strips.

There are a number of criteria I'm trying to accomplish in the design.  Obviously, posture and back support are required.  However, I alternate using a bench and a meditation cushion every other day to shift the stresses on the body.  I want the design to accommodate both the seiza bench and the zafu cushion.  Each requires very different attachment methods.  I think I finally have a design that meets these criteria.

There are a lot of secondary considerations I've been working on too.  One is the choice of fabric.  Since my practice is Zen I chose a beautiful "Zen Black".  Another consideration is friction.  Ideally it has a high enough coefficient of friction so that you don't slide out of position during sitting but low enough to still allow for comfort and ease of attachment.  To meet the friction criteria I chose a suede material.

Additionally, I decided that microfiber would be good to use because it is easy to clean externally and it has good durability.

For stuffing I'm testing a special batting that is a bamboo/polyester blend.  I have no idea how well this will work.  I was looking for something that could pack tightly and not flatten that also had a long life and was light weight. It appeared to meet these criteria; we'll see.

The design I came up with is symmetric so I have added a couple of design elements to distinguish orientation.  The primary purpose is to allow the use and storage to alternate to prevent premature "wear-in" from continually using in the same orientation.

Finally, I've designed the attachments to be adjustable but the design elements for this consideration allow you to visually re-attach to the same position quickly once you know the correct attachment location.

I had hoped to complete the original prototype and be testing this week.  Unfortunately, I was unable to finish prior to joining my family for Spring Break.  I am very close!  I will be able to finish the prototype the first week of April.

Now most of you are probably going - wayyyyy too much detail! A Bow to you.

As I mentioned in my last post our sangha is starting a fund raising drive to build a Dharma Hall.  One of the things I'm considering is offering to build these devices for sale and donate the proceeds to the fund drive.  I think the materials cost about $25 not counting the assembly time.  If people are interested, I'm thinking of trying to sell them for about $75 so that the building fund can net $50.  Would this be interesting to anyone?  Comments would be greatly appreciated.

Friendly Bows _/|\_

Monday, March 18, 2013

30 Poems in 30 Days and a Dharma Hall

I'm still working on my next sitting tool which is a custom support that I've been designing to help many people find their neutral sitting position.

I hope to have it assembled later this week so I can start to use it and describe it in next week's blog. In the mean time, I have been using a mock-up created by attaching different strips of fabric to my tacky (but friendly) orange pillow shown in earlier posts.

Path to a Dharma Hall
Path to a Dharma Hall
 My work on this meditation tool has been delayed because I recently volunteered to help my sangha as it takes on the project of funding and building a Dharma Hall. This opportunity seemed like a new path to explore as part of my practice.  In preparing to bring this into my practice I read a great book that is called "Zen Architecture: The Building Process as Practice" which I reviewed on the Zen Book Reviews page of the blog.

 I'm also going to participate in the 30 Poems in 30 Days program associated with a sister Zen group in Portland, Oregon so some of my April posts are likely to be poems.

Friendly Bows _/|\_

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Review of the Best Meditation App

I have tried a number of meditation apps but one has become a regular part of my meditation practice.

Quick Summary:  A meditation app called Insight Timer from Spotlight Six Software is a fantastic addition to any home meditation practice.  Key features are high quality bells, lots of control to personalize to your meditation style and the ability to connect with a world-wide group of meditation practitioners.  This app is available for the iPhone, iPad and Android platforms and comes highly recommended.

The Review

Insight Timer Main Screen
Insight Timer Main Screen
I have been using this app for a number of years.  When I first started using it I was attracted by the quality of the bells/chimes.  When practicing by yourself it can be quite distracting to worry about the time.  I wanted to be able to set a timer and have a traditional (for zazen) set of chimes to signal the beginning, intervals and end of a meditation sitting period.

Insight Timer gives you all the knobs to control chimes and a number of different bells to associate with different parts of a sitting period.  In my case I set the timer to do the initial chime using a Basu bell after a 10 second delay and then every half hour a chime using the same Basu bell until the end of the sit.  At the end I set the timer to ring a Kangse bell 3 times but there are loads of options to fit your style.

The next thing I started playing with was the ability to keep a journal at the end of the sit.  One of the things I like about this feature is that your journal stays local to your device.  You can also email yourself a copy of the journal as an easy backup.

Insight Connect Main Screen
Insight Connect Main Screen
Insight Timer has  "Friends" feature similar to Facebook.  You can invite other meditators to be friends.  What's really cool about this feature is the ability to establish a world-wide digital sangha.  Now I have meditation friends across the US, Germany, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, and lots of other countries.

The main screen has tabs which allow you to see who recently Completed meditating, Live meditators, meditation Friends, and Nearby meditators.  If you're curious about the number or length of your meditation sessions you can go to the statistics section.
Main Stats Screen
Main Stats Screen

Recently a "Groups" feature was introduced.  It's been fascinating to watch it evolve.  Some groups are targeted at local geographies some are topically based and world-wide.  It is a great way to share and support each other's meditation practice.

Main Groups Screen
Main Groups Screen
Even though the app is rich with features, its well designed interface makes it easy to use and navigate.  This app is an amazing tool to support any meditation practice.

Friendly Bows (and thanks to Brad the developer) _/|\_

Friday, March 1, 2013

My Physical Therapy for Zazen (sitting meditation)

I'm fascinated by the way our bodies adapt to their circumstance.

Back view of sitting with the BodyBlade
Back view of sitting
with the BodyBlade
As I described previously I have had 2 injuries that effected my posture (click here to read the 1st injury and click here if you want to read about the second injury.)

Judging by my father's build I probably would naturally tend toward my shoulders rolling forward.  My injuries have exaggerated the effect as part of my body's response to minimize injury pain.  The weird thing is that by minimizing injury pain my body created long-term physical stress and chronic back pain issues.

When I started doing zazen I could no longer ignore dealing with the back pain but I wasn't sure what to do. I love to experiment and so I have been trying a number of solutions, most of them didn't work.  However, this rather bizarre solution has been surprisingly effective for me during zazen and I continue to realize the physical benefits throughout the day.

I stumbled into this solution at the gym.  As I was stretching I noticed a strange looking device over in the corner.  It caught my eye because it was about the size and shape of something I had been designing for my next back pain sitting experiment.  The device is called the BodyBlade.  Its design purpose is as a momentum based exercise device.
BodyBlade Lite (32" model)
BodyBlade Lite (32" model)
I was planning to build a thin flexible bamboo strip of roughly the same dimensions to sandwich between my lower back and my arms just above the bend in the elbow.  The concept was to position my arms and shoulders correctly during sitting meditation and to provide a slight pressure against my back in the process.  The pictures will help you visualize what I had in mind.

So I grabbed the BodyBlade and tried it sitting on the mat at the gym.  It was fantastic.  The highly flexible blades and the rubber center grip were perfect for the support I was trying to create.  It was so comfortable that I kept testing it on the mat...5...10...20...30...minutes.  I kept waiting for it to get uncomfortable or for my typical back pain to kick in.  The only thing that happened were a number of strange stares.
Profile view of sitting with the BodyBlade
Profile view of sitting
with the BodyBlade

I don't use the BodyBlade every day; partially because I am trying other experiments; partially because it is really like physical therapy and you need to give your body a break.  Now I use it about every 2nd or 3rd day.  I can tell you that on those days my back feels fantastic; much better than on the in-between days.

There are several different BodyBlade models.  The materials are basically the same.  As far as I can tell the major difference is the length of the blade and probably the weighting of the tips.  I bought the "Lite" model because the length was perfect for me (32" long tip to tip.)  The model at the gym was the next size up and the additional length might get challenging at a sangha sit.  With zabutons placed side by side you could easily slap some "instant awareness" into your neighbor with the longer model.

The BodyBlade is sold in lots of places.  I bought mine from Pro Therapy Supplies.  They had a good price and free shipping.

In the next week or two I should complete my next experiment and I'll share the results which look promising so far.

Friendly Bows _/|\_

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Mindful Parakeet

The Mindful Parakeet
The Mindful Parakeet

Physical therapy for zazen will be Friday's post.

As I described previously I have had 2 injuries that effected my posture (click here to read the 1st injury and click here if you want to read about the second injury.)

On Friday I will share how I use a Bodyblade to help correct some of the effects of those injuries while doing sitting meditation.

In the meantime stay mindful as a parakeet!

Friendly Bows _/|\_

Friday, February 22, 2013

Review of The Mountain Zabuton - Zen Meditation Mat


 It is designed and produced by Dharma Communications which is the non-profit store of the Zen Mountain Monastery and the Mountains and Rivers Order in New York.

Quick Summary:  I love this meditation mat and use it daily with my zafu (meditation cushion) and my seiza (meditation bench.)  It is the most comfortable zabuton I have ever used.

The Review

The Mountain Zabuton Meditation Mat
The Mountain Zabuton
Meditation Mat
When practicing zazen I work to achieve a physical starting point that I think of as "finding neutral".  Neutral is the physical posture that develops a strong 3 point base (your knees/legs and your bum) and balances your frame evenly on the base.

If you lean too far forward then extra weight is applied to the legs and knees.  This leads to what feels like "the exploding kneecap syndrome" or "my ankles are killing me syndrome."  Either way, all you can think about is - "when the heck is the bell going to ring?"

If you lean too far back then typically you strain your back muscles.  This can also become quite painful and you're back to - "when the heck is the bell going to ring?"

Neutral is that awesome spot in-between.  I can sit comfortably in neutral for hours and only need to swap leg positions about every 30 minutes.  This is where the zabuton comes to play.

Once you are well balanced the zabuton cushions 2 points of the 3 point base.  If the zabuton is too worn or thin then your knees or ankles start screaming.  At my sangha's Dharma Hall the zabutons are all pretty well used (which is a good thing.)  They are fine for 2 half-hour sits with walking meditation in between but that is the outer limit.  Occasionally I will stack 2 on top of each other if one was particularly thin.

I had always assumed that was just the way zabutons were...enter The Mountain Zabuton.  The materials and craftsmenship of this meditation mat are fantastic.  Instead of being square this zabuton is  rectangular, approximately 34"x29".  However the important measurement is the thickness - which is approximately 4 inches.
Construction of The Mountain Zabuton Meditation Mat
Construction of The Mountain Zabuton
Meditation Mat

The core of this zabuton is viscoelastic foam which is sandwiched between cotton batting and a black cotton/poly outer shell.  The result is a very, very comfortable meditation mat.  The foam makes a huge difference.  I have never sat on another zabuton that comes close to The Mountain Zabuton for comfort.  If you are in the market for a meditation mat this is the one to get and find your neutral.

Here is one maintenance note that I'm finding helpful.  I stand the zabuton up on the long edge between sits and alternate which long edge is up.  It just leans against my file cabinet; this also has the benefit of taking up less space.  Orientation is ease because of the sewn on tag.  This tends to keep the meditation mat nice and fluffy for the next sit.

Friendly Bows _/|\_

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A few Poems before the Zabuton Review

Happy baby - Try not to smile!
Please check out the new poems.  I'll be reviewing the Zen Mountain Monastery zabuton (meditation mat) later this week.

Friendly Bows _/|\_