Tag Archives: meditation

What’s the most important book you ever read?

What is the most important book you ever read?

off kilter library

I’m not talking about religious books like the Bible, the Quran or the Talmud; we all know those are important, so let’s leave them aside for the sake of this discussion.

What are the most useful books you have ever read? Which book was it that you read and actually put to work in your daily life? How did it influence you?

Was it something like the ‘7 habits of highly successful people’ or was it possibly Internet for Dummies? Did Hints from Heloise change the way you live?   How to win friends and influence people is a classic on the art of communication and has helped thousands in their daily lives.

So what has helped you to live your life? What made you change for the better?

For me these are a few of the most influential books I have ever read. I’m sure that someday I will add more to this list, but these are the ones that really hit me hard and made me think.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare. This play taught me at a very young age that you need to really think before taking drastic action. If Ol’ Mac had asked more questions when he met those three ladies, he may not have put a disaster into motion.

The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris. I went to a Catholic High School and found this in the restricted section of the library one day. A study of humans as biological entities, it made me really think about my place in the world. It had the added benefit of really upsetting my teachers. Hey, I was sixteen at the time.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. This book made physics less mysterious and more accessible for me. I loved it.

The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort. First, I found the pun of his name amusing, and the truly practical and un-embarrassed attitude was just what I needed at the time. I can’t say I’ve been able to put everything into practice, but the clear, rational tone was wonderful.

Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality and the Catholic Church by Uta Ranke-Heineman and Peter Heinegg. Ranke-Heineman was a chair of theology and used Roman Catholic Canon Law as her source material. It made me angry that as a female I was being so devalued on so many levels. Yeah, this was a huge influence on the way I thought about the world.

Chess for beginners by Israel A. Horowitz and Sol Horowitz. Hours of fun!

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. It’s still the basic primer for the art of politics.

The Art of War by Sun-Tzu. The ultimate strategy guide, written by a man who lived it every day.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Yeah, this is a weird one to have in here, but as much as I dislike Scarlet O’Hara, she knew how to survive. She also wasn’t willing to hide her abilities behind a folded fan, even if she had no clue about how to manage her personal life.

These are not the only important books I have ever read, of course. My personal library has several hundred books in it, not counting the ones I have sold or donated when I was done with them. I have read books on everything from cooking to car repair (if only that one had taken root) and philosophy, religion and politics, fashion and art. I like science fiction and crafts, how-to books and fantasy fiction.

In the midst of all the millions of words I have read over the decades of my life, the books that have actually helped or hindered are few. I’d like to know what books you consider the most influential in your life. Take a moment to think about it, and use the comment box to let me know: what was your most important reading experience?

Find your peace, friends.

Rev. Zita.

(Image courtesy of free clip art office.microsoft.com)

An Evening in meditation

A very Interesting evening

Last night I had the great pleasure of attending a Buddhist Meditation exercise held at the Chestnut Street Arts Center in Marshfield. Our teacher was the Venerable Khenpo Kalsang Gyaltsen, a founding member of the Sakya Phuntsok Ling Center in Maryland.

My friend Cat and I really had no idea what to expect, since we had never attended any of these lectures before. I suppose I was expecting something along the lines of ‘this is what Buddhism is, this what we do and why we do it.” More along the lines of a lecture in comparative religious studies or something.

I was surprised when we were given a handout with the text of a Sadhana, or meditation practice ritual to the Medicine Buddha. Venerable Khenpo Kalsang Gyaltsen explained who and what the Menla,(Medicine Buddha) is and the purpose of the meditation ritual.

The Medicine Buddha is an enlightened being whose aspiration is the health, prosperity, longevity, and well-being of all beings, including one’s self. He is depicted as being colored Lapis Lazuli blue; this color is traditionally associated in Buddhist culture as representing healing and all good things, according to the explanation.  The ritual was to invoke the Medicine Buddha’s wisdom, compassion and spiritual power in order to promote the healing of all illnesses and the causes of illness in the world as well to provide for the well being of all beings in the world.

Most of the text was in English, with only the traditional mantras being written in a phonetic transliteration of the ancient Sanskrit.  Frankly I found those a little intimidating, as I have little or no experience with that language.

As a group, we went through the ritual, with a local student of the Llama reading as we followed along as best we could. The mantras were sung by Venerable Khenpo Kalsang Gyaltsen in the Sanskrit and were very moving. The first part was devoted to the refuge and enlightenment thought, followed by the four limitless meditations as an opening and to allow our minds to settle somewhat.

Next came the ’shrine offerings’, where you would either make physical offerings in front of an actual shrine that had been set up or you would create a visualization of both a sacred shrine and of specific offerings of food, flowers, incense, etc. I can see where this would be applicable if one was travelling or did not have the resources to make such an offering. This was followed by the cloud offering mantra, sung by the Llama three times.

An invocation followed, and the Prostration, which is a gesture of respect to the eight Blissful Lords, a series of Buddhas renowned for their aspirations and teachings over the many centuries of this practice. This is not a physical prostration, in that we did not actually bow before the Buddha, but rather a verbalization of respectful greetings in a very formal style.

Prayers followed, as well as the singing of the main mantra to the Medicine Buddha. This was sung twenty-one times. I found myself becoming very relaxed, almost buzzed, by the sounds and rhythms of the words, even though I did not understand them. A dedication to the benefit of all beings concluded the ritual.

I couldn’t help but compare this ritual with my own meditations. Normally my personal practice is done in silence so as not to disturb my roommate. It is a very private thing, and I am not used to attempting to meditate in a group, barring a few teaching sessions we have done earlier this year.

The full ritual was moving, calming, and energizing as demonstrated by Venerable Khenpo Kalsang Gyaltsen, and I look forward to learning a great deal more about this ancient religion, and about the differences and aspirations of the various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. I find the idea of praying not only for one’s own health and prosperity but for all the world to be a concept shared by every religion. The exception is that Venerable Khenpo Kalsang Gyaltsen stressed that all paths, not just those of Buddhism, must be respected and that this is a major tenet of their faith and practice. That was refreshing, I must say.

To learn more, I suggest you go to http://sakyatemple.org in order to learn more about both this intriguing religious and its practices. I truly enjoyed the evening and learned a great deal, and I intend to learn more.

Find your peace, friends.

Rev. Zita.

Practical Relaxation and Meditation

During January and February, we did a practical and spiritual journey through some mediation and relaxation exercises. Relaxation and mediation are great for a person’s body, mind, and soul. Today’s society is all about go, go, go, and what did I accomplish today, and how can I get ahead financially or do better than the Joneses. These techniques can help combat the damage done by the stresses we all face daily and can help us communicate with the Deity we personally believe in (if we believe in one).

The first part of any successful meditation session is to relax. Most of us only relax as we start to fall asleep, so as you learn to relax without sleeping and practice that skill, do not be surprised if you feel relaxed then only remember waking up.

A quick way to relax is to lie down on the floor or in your bed and tighten all the muscles in your body, hold for several seconds, then let go of the tension. This is done muscle group by muscle group, starting with the toes and continuing up through the calves, thighs, glutes, stomach, lower back, chest, upper back, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and finally the face.

Now that you’re relaxed, the goal of mediation is to have a blank mind. This does not necessarily mean that all thoughts are gone, but that you are aware of any thoughts going on and just let them be. Many of the Eastern religions believe that at these moments, when your mind is so still, that God (or one of the Gods) can commune with you, but even if you do not believe in God(s), the relaxation and meditation exercises can be good for you, just by reducing stress.

Training your mind to enter into this flat or empty space, depending on how you see it, can be difficult to do. Our brains are so used to being active that slowing it down is sometimes near impossible. One way to help slow it down is to start by concentrating on a candle. A candle is a stationary object so not much brain power is needed to concentrate on it, but the flame moves a bit, making it easier to start with than a block of wood. As it becomes easier to see only the candle and not lose concentration, graduate yourself to smaller and even less interesting items, until you do not need an item at all.

Learning to relax and meditate is a process and usually a long one, since many of these concepts go against what we were taught as Americans:  doing nothing is bad; we are supposed to be constantly entertained. So, remember to give yourself time and a lot of patience.  Your brain needs time to adjust to its new expectations.