Cultivating 6 Essential Virtues/Qualities in these Challenging Times

January 1

Morning Meditation Practice:

Cultivating 6 Essential Virtues/Qualities in these Challenging Times


In the previous newsletter, I introduced a new practice for 2018 in which we will focus on 6 virtues or qualities that are essential for developing our humanity. For the morning meditation, my commitment and invitation is to practice for 6 uninterrupted hours of sitting and walking meditation, from 6:00 am to 12:00pm. As always, you are encouraged to set your own limits. Each hour will begin with a short reading on a particular virtue. The hope is to inspire our inner development through many people focusing on these qualities together.

 

 

{As in the past, each hour is 50 minutes of sitting meditation and 10 minutes of walking meditation. A soft bell rings after 25 minutes for people to stretch and/or stand, if desired. You are welcome to join for as little or as much as you choose, coming and going at any time is fine}


Large View

I have a simple view of our journey in this lifetime – we are here to learn how to Love. By Love, I am meaning a warm-hearted caring for all life, beyond our self and group identity. In our genetic, cultural and evolutionary history, we carry tendencies toward unbridled self-interest – narcissism. This orientation can include family, tribe, gender, religious orientation, in addition to self, thus creating an “us and them” worldview. These narrow self-identities become the root of violence in the world.

 

 

Evolving humanity is charged with two seemingly paradoxical directions – growing our true “I”, the individuality that is unique to each of us, while simultaneously devoting this “I” in service to All. Honoring and taking care of both “I” and “Us” is incredibly challenging.

 

 

Throughout history, various philosophical, religious and spiritual traditions have attempted to offer a framework of qualities or virtues that are intended to cultivate the “good” in human beings. These have diverse names and emphasis. Each states their intention differently. For me the question is, what are the combination of qualities, attitudes, guiding principles, in a word, virtues, that can encourage the unfolding of authentic Love as a natural expression? These all need to be practical, meaning practice-able, not simply abstract ideals. Virtues are not feelings or emotions, they are actions and attitudes that we can practice, embody and enact. We are exploring the energetic, “felt-sense” of each quality.

 

 

My choice of 6 virtues is somewhat random; we could just as easily choose another number. The 8 fold path of Buddhism, the 10 commandments in Christianity, the virtues attributed to the 12 Zodiacal signs, along with others, offer something similar. I choose 6 to align with the number of periods of meditation. When taken together, these collectively form an integrated picture for human development. As always, you are encouraged to uncover your own ways of approaching essential virtues, if they differ from mine. I suspect that our choices will significantly overlap.

 

 

Each virtue, when fully realized, contains all the others. We can say that they are nested in each other. Still, the ones I have chosen function energetically as balancers, we can say they need each other, to bring us toward wholeness. There are numerous other qualities that could be included if the list was longer, still, I believe most essential energies can be uncovered within these six.

 

 

One of the many lessons I learned from Gene Gendlin was the importance of using non-ordinary language when inviting new meanings and to encourage an alert presence in a reader/listener. He would suggest pairing unusual modifiers – adjectives and adverbs – to promote freshness. Some of my phrasing below expresses this impulse.

 

6 Essential Virtues/Qualities for Developing Our Humanity


6:00am – 7:00am – Ever-Present Gratitude begins our day. Through practice, we can begin to perceive the gifts that are alive in any moment. When these perceptual patterns are cultivated, gratitude becomes available at almost any moment. This is heart opening. Although we all have specific people, places, capacities and even things for which we are grateful, if we step back further, we can sense gratitude for just being alive. To be gifted with the miracle of human consciousness means that we are not only alive but that we can know that we are alive! This consciousness is the basis for all that we know and feel as well as for any sense of meaningfulness. Gratitude invites our indebtedness to others and to life itself, thus it is a doorway to humility. Through gratitude, we also sense our interconnectivity and interdependence; we are not alone and cannot survive on our own. An open heart is a grateful heart.

 

In our meditation, we can begin and end with gratitude for our capacity to sit with our thoughts, feelings and sensations – learning simply “to be”. In addition, we are grateful for having a reliable method for practicing openhearted acceptance of the moment.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, it is the mother of all others”. (Cicero)


7:00 – 8:00 – Reflective Forgiveness asks us to deeply observe the consequences of our actions and to notice the effects of holding on to resentment toward others. Forgiveness for others and for ourselves is a fundamentally liberating, life-giving force. To ask for forgiveness for our misdeeds, requires acknowledgment of error, remorse and a deep surrendering. Pain is part of the process. To forgive others means to put down our genetic urge toward revenge and open our hearts. It is an act of wisdom in that IF we could see all the causes of a given moment, we would see that, for unknown reasons, it was necessary. Desmond Tutu reminds us that “forgiveness holds the world together and there is no future without forgiveness”.

 

In our meditation, we invite an attitude of forgiving our minds for the patterns of disturbing thoughts and we forgive our bodies for painful sensations. We forgive ourselves for our beginning-less and endless confusion and habits of self-judgment. Practicing forgiveness in our meditation is the basis for letting go of resentment and opening our hearts to life.

Forgiveness is not only the hardest of all virtues, it is the father of all others” (Anonymous)


8:00 – 9:00 - PotentKindness is an attitude that is essential for growing a caring relationship to all of life. It is the essence of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31). Kindness is often perceived as a gentle, soft quality when in actuality in often requires great commitment and courage, hence we need potent forgiveness!

 

In our meditation, we emphasize a sense of friendliness toward the moment rather than trying to create a specific state. We let go of results and expectations, repeatedly returning to the present moment with care and ideally with a small smile. To generate kindness toward unpleasant moments is a powerful learning. This is kindness in practice. When we are free from fear and pain, kindness is natural . When kindness is not possible, we can ask, “what is the cause of my suffering.” We begin to see the thoughts and beliefs that lead to our heart’s closing. When we can be kind to even these challenging thoughts, we are well on our way toward “loving what is” as our ground state. Embodied meditation is a practice of kindness toward whatever appears and, when that is not possible, we uncover kindness toward “not possible”.

 

My religion is very simple, Kindness is my religion” (Dalai Lama)


9:00 – 10:00 – Courageous Perseverance is needed to mobilize the energy for the incredibly hard work of awakening our humanity. Facing our inevitable challenges, some repetitively many times, is inherently demanding. We will all be pushed to an edge that requires deep, lion-like courage – the heart of a lion! Generating our commitment for consistently returning to presence requires the effortful energy of perseverance. It is helpful to contextualize this as a practice of returning to presence rather than staying in presence. This is practice for the perseverance needed when encountering our dark, shadowy states. Perseverance is the devoted commitment to getting up after falling down.

 

 

Our meditation practice both demands and grows the virtue of courageous perseverance. Sitting without external distractions, without even mantras, gurus, images or candles to entertain us, is the transformative brilliance of this practice. “Just sitting” requires patience, fortitude, dignity and commitment. By meeting challenging moments in our sitting practice with courageous perseverance, we learn to face the difficult moments that arise in our life situations.

It takes courage to show up and BE who you really are” (e.e. cummings)

Courage and Perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air” (John Quincy Adams)

 

10:00 – 11:00 - DignifiedHumility is the vehicle that carries us through the waters of our habitual self-obsession. To humble ones self, without losing authentic dignity, requires great courage and usually forgiveness. It is essential to differentiate humbling from humiliating, as these are often confused. It takes great strength of character, to lower ones self – to bow - in a healthy manner. Without humility, we will constantly defend our self-image, which is the greatest obstacle to unfolding. It is said that when pride and memory are in a battle, without humility, pride will always win! Humility is a loosening of our misidentification with this fabricated self. Humility is chest softening and an antidote to arrogance. As the armoring of our hearts and chests lessens through humility, we can find a natural sense of ease and flow. A great exhale follows as we become freer of the need to be somebody special. The vulnerability of humility leads to the authentic strength.

 

In our meditation, we keep letting go of our ego images and our judgments as we gently bow our heads to “what is”. Without trying to be other than we are, we can accept our perceived inadequacies with equanimity.

 

To Forget the Self is to be enlightened by all things” (Zen master Dogen)

Humility like the darkness, reveals the heavenly lights” (Henry David Thoreau)

 

11:00 – 12:00 – Magnanimous Equanimity – Perhaps I am cheating a bit here by combining two powerful qualities – magnanimity and equanimity. For me, they are intimately connected. Magnanimity is an expression of noble altruism and generosity of spirit. It brings to the fore our natural longing to share our gifts with others. Sharing our gifts with the world can easily devolve into an ego-centered flamboyance if not grounded in equanimity. In equanimity our habitual reactivity is quieted, though clear responsiveness is active. Reactivity is connected to self-defensiveness based on old wounds whereas responsiveness comes from presence. True freedom requires freedom from reactive patterns and equanimity is the key. Equanimity is not a bland and neutral calm rather it is grounded and centered, capable of responding to the moment “as it is”. Magnanimity points outward, an emanating of our equanimity and generosity into the world while equanimity points inward, a generosity to self and that eventually will become magnanimity toward others.

 

In our meditation, we do not focus exclusively on our inner world. We include the space around as a vibrant field in which we are interacting. The world is alive and we are alive in it. We are sitting in the entirety of the moment, which always includes the immediate environment as well as the whole universe. We intentionally dedicate the gifts of sitting to the world. When we sense a reactive state of mind, we turn our magnanimous equanimity toward the voices that are activated. Thus, these states both compliment each other and form an integrated whole.

 

 

A mind filled with equanimity is abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility or ill-will and truly free”. (Gautama Buddha)