Let Us Welcome the Winter Solstice

It’s officially winter! Happy (late) Winter Solstice!

Many months after we celebrate the Summer Solstice, our longest day of the year, the Northern Hemisphere observes the Winter Solstice, our shortest day of the year. These celebrations are actually opposite in the Southern Hemisphere, where Winter Solstice brings the longest day of the year.

Our earth is tilted on its axis as it revolves around the sun, which means that the different hemispheres experience seasons and solstices (Latin for “sun stands still”) differently. During the Winter Solstice, the Northern part of our planet reaches the furthest point from the sun we will experience during the year.

Feng shui-wise, the winter is considered a yin season, where we start to move inward physically as well as emotionally. The yin concept is also about slowing down, and emptiness. Winter in feng shui is also associated with the water element. In winter it looks like everything is dead outside on the outside, but below the snow there is life (even if it’s dormant). The water element and winter are similar. Imagine the middle of a vast ocean, where it’s very still but there’s so much activity happening if you look beneath the surface.

My meditation instructor, Joe Mauricio, called me out earlier this month on my “speediness”. I spent all year running around, never stopping to be mindful. I can’t just blame it on the year of the Horse (Chinese astrology)! Meditation can help you find that space that many of us fear. During this winter season, I encourage each of you to accept the slower pace and pause to find emptiness and space. Even five minutes a day is enough! Let yourself slow down and feel…. Bored? Empty? Quiet? Rest. Peace. And love for yourself.

Fun facts about the Winter Solstice:

Usually occurring between December 21st and 23rd, longstanding Winter Solstice activities have been combined with the popular Christmas holidays, but many of our traditions began as ancient celebrations for surviving another year! In earlier times, winter was a welcome break from hard work during the rest of the year, and almost every culture celebrates the Winter Solstice in some way.

Some of our most mysterious world wonders, including the Irish Newgrange tomb and Stonehenge, were constructed in a way that perfectly captures the sun’s light at the moment of Winter Solstice.  The Yule log also originated as a celebratory festival for the Winter Solstice. Romans even celebrated the solstice for an entire week!

by Anjie Cho

Create a Meditation Space with Feng Shui

Feng shui is a philosophy developed in ancient China that outlines positive ways in which to organize yourself in your environment. Meditation is a practice in which you can learn to become familiar with your inner landscape. Both feng shui and meditation are used to generate harmony and peace within your life.

Why not use feng shui to create a sacred space in which to meditate that can support and improve your meditation practice?

Define a Space

Select a dedicated space that you can routinely go back to for your meditation practice. It can be the corner of your bed, a room in your home, or a place outside in your backyard. My meditation space is a quiet section of my living room that faces a river view. Since it's not in the commanding position, I've set up a mirror so I can see behind me to put me in a relaxing and calm mental space. It is okay if you cannot find a perfectly quiet spot. Life is full of distraction, and part of meditation is to learn to accept the interruptions.

You can further differentiate your space by sitting on a special pillow, cushion or blanket to define your place. I have a couple of buckwheat zafu cushions specifically designed for meditation. This can help you to dedicate and define your special “spot.”

Dedicate and Clear the Space

After you have selected your meditation space and defined it physically, it is of utter importance to clear and dedicate the area energetically. Space clearing dedicates the invisible energy of space so you can start fresh and set your intention for the space, the particular moment and for your life.

In feng shui, oranges and orange peels represent vibrant, life-affirming energy. Orange essence is refreshing, happy and contributes positive, fresh, and brightening energy to our inner and outer environments. You can use 9 drops of orange essential oil in an aromatherapy diffuser to transform your area into a space with vibrant, life-giving, positive energy. Remember, when you clear the space of the existing energy, be sure to replace it with positive intention.

Add a Crystal for Clarity

Feng shui crystals are used to adjust the flow of energy in a space. They are particularly effective for bringing light, brilliance and clarity to your meditation practice. Feng shui crystal balls are made of faceted, leaded glass. For this application, purchase a crystal that is a minimum of 40mm and place in the center of your meditation space, above your head where you’re sitting or just in front of you so you can see it. The ball should be hung with a red string in a length that is a multiple of 9, for example 18”, 27”, 36”, etc. You can find crystals and red strings at the Holistic Spaces store here.

Use these three simple feng shui tips to create your own sacred meditation place to create harmony and peace in your inner and outer spaces.

by Anjie Cho

The Tortoise and the Yoke with Lodro Rinzler

Last week I shared part of my interview with writer, teacher and Buddhist practitioner, Lodro Rinzler. And here’s the rest!

AC:  How do you create holistic spaces in your life?

LR: I’m reminded of my teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, when he said, “the environment is a support or deterrent for everything we do." It’s really that straightforward. When you wake up in the morning and you have clothes everywhere, on the floor, on your chairs. You go to use the bathroom but you end up tripping over your computer. Then you’re cursing…and all of a sudden, your mental state entering that day isn’t going to be one of joy or mindfulness. It’s going to be one of aggression. In that way, I’ve always taken care to create a clean environment free from clutter so that when I wake up, I feel uplifted by entering into it.

What that means for different people is obviously personal to them. For me, it means having art that I personally find uplifting; it means that everything has a proper place. There are basic Buddhist principles for arranging objects in one’s home where you hold certain objects up high and others down low. You could say it’s respecting the natural hierarchy of objects. Generally, in my environment I like to keep it clean and maintain things in the spaces, if that makes sense. 

In my work environment I have reminders of the Buddhist principles I want to cultivate. Right above my computer is an image. It’s a very traditional image reminding me how precious this human life actually is. Whenever I’m distracted or annoyed or whatever, I can look up and see a gentle reminder that I really should be so appreciative for this life that I do have. I think it’s nice to actually have inspiring art images and writing within your environment as constant reminders to wake up to what’s actually going on as opposed to being lost in your head.

What is the image mentioned that you have over your desk?

It’s an image of a tortoise with a yoke around its neck. Within Buddhist canon, this is used as an analogy for the rarity of a precious human life. The image is of a blind tortoise who lives in the ocean. This ocean is as wide as the world. He only comes up once every century, even though he lives many, many thousands of years. It is said that on the surface of this “world ocean,” there is a yoke. A yoke is what one would traditionally place around your ox or yak’s back. That yoke, with its little head-sized hole floats, on the top of this ocean. The odds of this blind tortoise who comes up once every hundred years, poking its head through that yoke… it is said that it is even MORE rare and MORE precious to have a human birth. Our lives are an incredible opportunity that we have. It reminds me that we should make the most of it.

What are some day-to-day meditation tips for my readers, especially for those new to meditation?

I think the most important thing in starting a meditation practice is to be consistent about it. I teach at Shambhala Centers, one could visit www.shambhala.org, to find a meditation center near them. Or just type your city and “Buddhist meditation” into your search engine and see what comes up. Most meditation centers have an open house night where you could learn the basic meditation practice for free or by donation. 

Once you receive the practice, try to do it consistently on your own at home. And there are many places that have regular open sittings where you can go and sit with a group and gain that level of support. As you engage your practice, starting to do it regularly, you don’t have to meditate for long periods of time. But you could pick it up in the same way that you would pick up a new musical instrument. 

If we pick it up once a month and play around with it, often we spend that time figuring out what we learned last time. But if we picked it up 10 minutes a day, it starts to become easier and easier to remember what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, how it goes and we actually get better at it. 

Just 10 minutes a day for 11 days, breeds a sense of consistency into our being. It becomes more habit-like instead of just something that we’re trying out. It’s said that after 11 days of doing anything, it could be stopping smoking, it could be writing, it starts to become a regular habit. Our brain fires differently to actually incorporate it and it feels weird when we don’t do it. 

So, if someone really wanted to launch a meditation practice, I recommend that 10 minutes a day, 11 days in a row. Scientifically they say that after 11 times is when a practice starts to become a habit in our mind. After 21 days, it’s the fully formed habit. But you must be consistent and practice regularly every day.

by Anjie Cho

Lodro Rinzler is a teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and the author of the best-selling "The Buddha Walks into a Bar...", the award-winning "Walk Like a Buddha" and the brand new "The Buddha Walks into the Office." Over the last decade he has taught numerous workshops at meditation centers and college campuses throughout North America. Lodro’s columns appear regularly on the Huffington Post and Marie Claire online and he is frequently featured in Reality Sandwich, the Interdependence Project, Shambhala Sun, Buddhadharma, and Good Men Project. He is the founder of the Institute for Compassionate Leadership, an authentic leadership training and job placement organization, and lives in Brooklyn with his dog Tillie and his cat Justin Bieber.

For more teachings and articles by Lodro visit www.lodrorinzler.com
Follow Lodro on twitter: @lodrorinzler

Shamatha Meditation with Lodro Rinzler

Shamatha Meditation with Lodro

I met Lodro Rinzler when he was teaching “Meditation in Everyday Life” at the Shambhala Center of New York City. He’s written several books, and his teaching writing is accessible as well as enlightening! I highly recommend his books, especially The Buddha Walks into a Bar.

AC: How would you define meditation and what are some benefits?

LR: The type of meditation that I traditionally practice and teach is known as “shamatha” or calm abiding meditation. There are many different types of meditation out there, but this is one that helps us become more present with what’s going on in our day-to-day life and with what’s going on in our mind. It helps us be more awake and show up for all of our daily activity. By training and being with something as simple as our breathing, we’re learning to be present with all the painful and the pleasurable aspects of our world.

Is shamatha meditation something that you recommend people do on a daily basis?

Yes. Ten minutes of meditation a day can actually be very helpful for people in terms of tuning in to what’s going on with them personally and then allowing them to actually be more present with what’s going on in the rest of their day. It doesn’t take a lot in terms of time investment to actually have meditation start to seep in to your bones and affect your day-to-day life so that you’re actually more present and kind and compassionate with others.

What kind of things does meditation allow you to become more present with?

Well, I think most people start to notice that after meditating for a couple of weeks or couple of months, they are more present with the people that they care about: their family, their friends, their partners as well as their work or wherever they spend a lot of their time. It is a very subtle sort of shift that happens for people where they start to say, “Oh, maybe I’m trying to show up to my life in a way that’s different than I have in the past. It feels like I’m more present for my work meeting. It seems like I’m actually more available when people call on me.” It’s a subtle shift and one that really is quite powerful for people.

Feng Shui also creates subtle shifts. In your new book, "The Buddha Walks into the Office," you talk about meditation and your work. Can you tell us more about that?

Meditation helps us on two fronts. One, how we can be more aware of who we are so that we are more discerning in the livelihood that we create. Two, how we actually start to show up for that livelihood on a day-to-day basis in a way that’s authentic and genuine and in line with the quality that we actually want to cultivate in our experience.

Do you have a special meditation area in your home? Do you recommend that readers create a special meditation area in their homes?

Yes, I have a little corner in my home! I live in New York City, so it’s not like I have a spare bedroom or anything to devote, but I have a corner of my living room. It has a little shrine with an image of my Buddhist teacher, a statue that is an embodiment of wisdom, and Buddhist text that I admire. Many other little reminders also create a special environment and invite me, magnetize me to actually practice regularly. That’s something that I recommend for others.

In the same way that when you get home from work tired and want to go to sleep, you wouldn’t want to create your sleep space each day. Instead, you would want that sleep space already there waiting for you so you can climb into bed and relax. The same can be said for meditation. Most people think, “Oh I’ll take a cushion from my couch or my bed and I’ll throw them down the ground and that will be enough.” But if you have to create your space for meditation every time you’re going to sit down to meditate, it’s a little bit of an obstacle. To have a dedicated meditation space is very important in terms of starting a meditation practice.

Can you elaborate on the objects you have on your shrine in your meditation area?

I recommend that people create an environment that’s inviting to them personally. There are very traditional items that one would put on a shrine if they want to have a Buddhist shrine, for example, offerings of generosity and other virtues that one wants to cultivate. But in its most simplistic sense, you could just put up a candle or two, an incense burner, a statue or an image that will magnetize you to the space. It really should be personal for you.

I would say in a very traditional shrine, you would have an image or two of teachers that you admire. For me, I have a picture of my teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. I also have a picture of President Obama in a particularly vulnerable moment that I think is very moving. It speaks to those qualities of leadership that I want to develop. The shrine should be not only magnetizing and inviting to you, but also remind you of what you’re actually practicing for. In this case, with the Sakyong are qualities of kindness and presence. With the President Obama’s photo, it’s more vulnerability and strength. It should be personal. Build out a shrine that has meaning that you could then articulate to others, it shouldn’t just be a shrine because it looks pretty or because it might be helpful to have.

Check in next Sunday for the rest of the interview where Lodro talks about his holistic space and the sacredness of human life from the Buddhist perspective!

by Anjie Cho

Lodro Rinzler is a teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and the author of the best-selling "The Buddha Walks into a Bar...", the award-winning "Walk Like a Buddha" and the brand new "The Buddha Walks into the Office." Over the last decade he has taught numerous workshops at meditation centers and college campuses throughout North America. Lodro’s columns appear regularly on the Huffington Post and Marie Claire online and he is frequently featured in Reality Sandwich, the Interdependence Project, Shambhala Sun, Buddhadharma, and Good Men Project. He is the founder of the Institute for Compassionate Leadership, an authentic leadership training and job placement organization, and lives in Brooklyn with his dog Tillie and his cat Justin Bieber.

For more teachings and articles by Lodro visit www.lodrorinzler.com
Follow Lodro on twitter: @lodrorinzler