March 2017


Monday Night Explorations for March 2017

Start time 7:25pm; address is 967 College, just past Dovercourt at Octopus Garden Yoga.

CEC_MeditateDATE: March 6
TEACHER: James Maskalyk
THEME: Ahhh….taste the difference samadhi can make.
MEDITATION:  Hold the direction.
INTERACTIVE: Pay it forward
James:  We are going to build our concentration, starting from the ground up.  Well, the breath up,  then down.  That’s one.  Up.  Down.  Two.  Up. Down. Three.  Up….my leg’s sore…I should just move it…if I do it quietly it’ll be okay, or maybe I’ll just let it go numb like that…wait… breath….up…..was it three? Damn.  Down.  Sigh. One.  Up.  Down.  Two.  We’ll keep on practicing like that and maybe the delicious taste of concentration will creep in, show us its own reward.  In the interactive practice, we’ll escalate the challenge, eyes open, moving, maybe even…..gasp…..with other people?


CEC_MeditateDATE: March 13, 2017
TEACHER: Avi Craimer
THEME: Attention
MEDITATION: Distractions


Avi: In the meditation, we’ll pick a focus and then try to noticeall the spectacular and diabolical ways that our busy mind draws us away. Can  clarity about our distractions help keep them at bay and let us stay longer with our focus? In the second half, we’ll roam around the room together trying to maintain continuous unbroken focused attention in the face of some playful attempts to derail our concentration.


CEC_MeditateDATE: March 20
TEACHER: James Maskalyk
THEME: Subtle is significant.
MEDITATION:  Relaxed awareness


James:  Meditation is not something best saved for the cushion.   It finds its most unique expressions as it enters our daily lives.  I asked Shinzen once how often he meditated, and he said, “all the time”.  At first I thought he meant he as always using a technique, but I believe now he meant there was an aspect of awareness of the present moment, its rising and passing, available throughout his experience.  We are going to work with that in this week’s sit, the subtle awareness, not single-pointed concentration like breath-counting, but a flimsier, lighter version that can be painted gently on our experience.  Then, in the interactive session, we are going to lie down, tune in, drop out, and get played by music.


CEC_MeditateDATE: March 27, 2017
TEACHER: Kevin Lacroix
THEME: Returning to the body
MEDITATION: Focusing on body sensation
INTERACTIVE: External sights and sounds


Kevin:  A teacher of mine recently advised: to make a meal, go into the kitchen; to attain samadhi (deep concentration/meditative absorption), go into the body. And so, for the final sit of the CEC’s month of Concentration practice, we bring our focus to body sensations. For the interactive second-half, we will explore our ability to focus on body sensations, external sounds, and sights amidst distractions.


A Field Guide to Paying Attention

“The power to concentrate was the most important thing. Living without this power would be like opening one’s eyes without seeing anything.”

― Haruki Murakami


Evidence suggests our minds wander from the scene in front of us, into waking dreams about half the time.  It’s impossible to say, categorically, whether one is better than the other, but it seems, when asked, people reported that rather than such flights giving pleasure, they left them wanting more. Turns out we might never be so contented as when we’re alive to what’s unfolding before us, when the stuff of our self touches fully the present, and the real possibilities no dream can ever quite hold.  

It’s a nearly inevitable drift, being called away from our chosen focus.  As William James described, even with a simple form of attention, concentrating on a dot on the wall for instance, one of two things eventually happens: 1) the dot grows indistinct or 2) our mind gets called elsewhere.  Ask yourself successive questions about it, though, how big, what colour, how far, and you can hold your attention for a comparatively long time.  This is what genius does, he says.  

I’m not sure how it feels to be a genius, but I am getting used to what it feels like to be me, and even when a medical student is relaying to me important details about a patient he has just seen, if I don’t choose to concentrate, I can nod at appropriate times, and accomplish an admirable list of mental tasks without listening to a single word.  Paying attention requires not just a decision, but a particular effort.  In this March month, we are going to explore these facets, the intention, the effort, and the successive questions that follow.  What does it feel like?  Where is it pointing?  What riches does it bear?  

The historical buddha, when he was just a boy called Siddhartha, around 9 years of age, felt the pull of concentration one day, underneath a crab apple tree.  While watching the spring scene before him, ministrations of the laity, a farmer toiling with an ox in the field, he was, for a moment, completely absorbed into the scene.  It passed, and he was once again alone on the hill.  Freedom, he thought, lies in that direction. He stood, dusted his legs, and stepped into the sun.

While such full arrival may happen spontaneously, it is also something that can be encouraged by practice.  If we call our minds towards the present, they land there more often, maybe even stay long enough to explore the textures of this infinitely evolving moment and the increasingly subtle world from which possibility blooms.

Join me and our doughty explorers this month as we lay out a field guide to paying attention.  We’ve polished and sharpened cartographic tools, calibrated sextants, and each March Monday, 730 pm sharp, set out towards that unchartable, impossibly slippery, X-marks-the-now through which everything rushes. Avi’s bringing extra life vests.  I think Kevin made some snacks. Well….that got your attention.  

See you on the cushion.  

Dr James