Spiritual Tools #1


The past two weeks have been difficult with regard to my spiritual practice.
I’ve not gotten my daily meditations in with the consistency I had been.
— Insert All the normal excuses here —

It’s interesting/enlightening/terrifying how much difference I notice in my patience level now that the practice has been slipping. Luckily I’m still able to EVENTUALLY catch myself when I’m reacting in an unskilful way, but it’s occurring more often, and I’m catching it later.

I’ve got some ideas on putting some rigor around my “study” – more on that later.
I’m confident I’ll get things turned back around, I’ve got some cool tools that are already calling me back.
Today I thought I’d share some of those tools.

#1) Podcasts.
Having some “like minded” talk to listen to during the commute (instead of tuning into the “who killed who” that substitutes for news these days) has been very helpful.

There are many out there but here are a few:

Hardcore Zen.
Brad Warner is an interesting cat. I put him in the same general arena as Noah Levine, both were (to some degree) on the outskirts of society before mediation found them. Both approach things from a very down to earth place. Both have written several books. Brad’s “Dharma talks” are given in the language of normal humans, and are a pleasant way to spend the drive.

Secular Buddhist Podcast.
This is a good podcast that could be great. But so far for me isn’t.
The early episodes are – they outline the separation that can and does exist between Buddhist teachings and religion/belief, and they do a great job of it.
Where it starts to lose points with me though when the host crosses the line of impartiality. He sadly often goes beyond simply secular into overtly bashing religion/belief. He uses words like “ridiculous” when doing so. At such points the content seems to no longer have a secular agenda, though it seems to have AN agenda. It no longer applies impartial agnosticism. At such points the podcast feels like it would be more appropriately named the “The Atheist Buddhist”.
(“The Atheist Buddhist” may be a great podcast, but it’s mission statement would be different than the “The Secular Buddhist” and that’s what bugs me.)
Having said all that – it’s a thought provoking show worth being added to the queue

#2) Insight Meditation Timer.
This APP is a meditation timer, but has some cool community features, and also applies some gamification to the practice.
The cosmetic design won’t win any awards, but this is a great app with tons of well thought out features.
See hundreds of others around the world that are meditating when you are!
Earn milestone badges, and watch your streak of mediation days.

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/insight-timer-meditation-timer/id337472899?mt=8
Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.spotlightsix.zentimerlite2

3) Community
I’m searching for a local community that I gel with, and have visited a few.
While I’m not sure I’ve found my final group, the process has re-enforced with me the value of community.
Find a few people on similar paths and fins a way to hang out.
If it’s a weekly meditation/talk… awesome.
If it’s a weekly coffee/talk… also awesome, but I have found that group meditation was more engaging than I had expected.

4) Books.
It’s hard to find time to sit down and read, but if you can here are some good choices.

Buddhism: A Concise Introduction (Huston Smith and Philip Novak)

Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening (Stephen Batchelor)

The Heart of the Revolution (Noah Levine)

I’ll post more tools (if I deem them valuable)  as I find them.



Spiritual vs. Religious.


I’m spending a lot of time lately working on and thinking about my own spiritual path.
I’m a noob at this, and have lots to learn. Don’t expect soul shattering Oprah moments from me.
But I am enjoying the journey and it’s been top of mind for me for a while.
Thus, It’s likely going to result in more than a few blog posts; So let me get the back story out of the way.

Big disclaimer:
I am but one contributor to this site.
I speak for no one but myself.

For a very long time I’ve been dissatisfied with the most obvious spirituality choices presented to me as a westerner:

  • Pick an organized flavor of the Christian religion
  • Be a new age metaphysical type
  • Give up on any notion of a spiritual practice

Organized religion in general seems, to me, to be more about mankind than any higher power. The dogma, rituals, the very beliefs that one is expected to adopt, have been created by man; Fallible, confused, fearful, and power-hungry man.
Humankind which has no capability of actually conceiving the nature of a higher power, has crafted the vast majority of content we are expected to simply accept. How does that make sense?

New age metaphysical types are, in many ways, at the opposite end of the same spectrum. They have a few nuggets of wisdom to share, but for the most part they’ve co-opted those nuggets from eastern schools of thought and packaged them up in bite sized chunks that feel new to us westerners. Beyond that… I’m not convinced they are any better off than organized religion. They’re simply less organized.

The true and valuable message of spiritual progress has been lost thanks to centuries of politics, fear, and at times simple guess work.

None of the resulting text, ritual, or dogma has seemed to actually do much for me. It perhaps gave me something to read, something to be judged on, something to be guilty of when I fall short, and something to fear if I could somehow mange to offend an infinitely more powerful and eternal higher power.

How does any of THAT help me become a better person? A better husband? A better father?
How does it help me deal with the stresses of life in a more compassionate way?
In my experience – it doesn’t.

Some would say that religion gives plenty of ways to be a better person/husband/father/etc.
I respectfully disagree. It may outline the attributes of a better person/husband/father but it doesn’t really help me become one. It usually boils down to outlining end points, not mapping the journey.
Do/don’t do this – or else.
Believe this – or else.
Everyone else in the world is wrong, and perhaps evil.

So… for a long time I’ve been looking for something more focused on the how-to of spiritual betterment.
And my current work with the Buddhist teachings have me very optimistic. It is this path I’ll be talking about for a while.

I hear you saying “Buddhist?? How is that less problematic than anything else in your anti-religion rant above?”
(Seriously I can actually HEAR some of you saying this. – how do you do that?!)

On the face of it… your point would be well made.
Over the thousands of years since the Buddha was alive his teachings have been morphed and co-opted into religions with as much human based dogma and guess work as any.

There’s a reason I used the words “Buddhist teachings” vs. “Buddhism”.
Taking the core teachings OUT of any religious context has been a powerful experience for me. It is this separation of Spirituality and Religion that has finally started to fill the gap for me.

Indeed the original teachings of the Buddha were entirely non-theistic. The Buddha was just a man. He taught TECHNIQUES (actual practicable techniques) that help one become more compassionate. They help one become more selfless, help one deal more elegantly with the stresses of everyday life.

The practice of these “Buddhist teachings” are completely compatible with any belief system – or the lack of one. It’s simply not concerned with God. It’s concerned with dealing with life in the here and now. It’s not designed to explain the universe, or outline a belief system. It neither requires nor shuns any particular faith.

It is showing great promise for me as the how-to guide I’ve been looking for.

So as I explore this, it’s a near certainty that I’m gonna blog about it.
Here’s the deal: We need not agree on all things.
Further; I admit I may not always have all the info – I’m learning after all.
Having said that… I welcome and look forward to any thoughtful comments.