On Meditation with Joseph Mauricio of Shambhala Center

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As an architect and feng shui practitioner, I help my clients create holistic home and work spaces. One of the most important aspects of the feng shui work includes meditation and visualization. I had the honor of taking one of Joseph Mauricio's meditation classes at the Shambhala Center in NYC. His teachings are very approachable and digestable. I believe it is incredibly beneficial to include meditation in everyday life.

AC:  How did you get involved in meditation and with the Shambhala Center -- what's your story?

JM:  I used to run a comedy club years ago in New York, I was a comedian, an actor and that was an exciting lifestyle but it was a little heavy and I was looking for something to help me balance out the pressure. Then I came across meditation. I had always known about Jack Kerouac, the Dharma Bums and Naropa University, founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (also founder of Shambhala Center) along with Allen Ginsberg, Ram Dass and a number of people back in the ‘70s. So it was kind of legendary in my mind, the beat poets. They were an influence in my work as a performing artist. I ended up going in to a Shambhala Center and finding out there was this whole connection. I decided to drop out of the comedy club, moved to a dharma center up in the woods, then ended up at Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center at 8,000 feet in the middle of winter -- which was crazy. I went from being an actor in New York to a cabin with no heat. I met my teacher there, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and I ended up studying with him.

I became intrigued by the mind (my own mind) and the idea that I’d (maybe all of us) create the limitations and disabilities in our own world because of the way we think and the way we perceive the world. So I became really fascinated with that concept. It’s not something that you just pick up and put down, and I gave up my whole life and career to study. I studied in India, Mexico, a number of places for number of years. I was actually studying personally with Sakyong Mipham in 2003 when he suggested I move back to New York and go back to doing performance, which just shocked me. I didn’t expect that at all. I thought I would just be a yogi. I moved back and that’s when I started teaching at the Shambhala Center. I found my calling putting meditation together with performance and comedy. I’m also a life coach, motivating people towards a more healthy balance vision themselves.

So for other people, the way I recommend meditation is not that they drop out of their careers like I did for 17 years, but that they incorporate it in the same way with a good instructor. They study and go to classes and let meditation actually bring stability into their life. I recommend everybody read Sakyong Mipham’s books, particularly The Shambhala Principle. He teaches practical meditation, and it is not particularly religious. I study and teach meditation and training people of all backgrounds. I go in to jails and you can’t even mention Buddhism or any kind of religion. You just teach straight mindfulness training and it helps people. I’m a real believer that meditation can bring a lot of stability and clarity to people, to their lives.

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How would you describe meditation to someone who's not familiar with the concept?  

I would say that it’s a tool whereby you sit in an upright posture, which helps you to wake up and gain confidence. There are tests and studies showing the mind can change brain chemistry in only two minutes when you sit up straight. It starts to lower cortisol and raise testosterone levels. In short, you begin to feel more confident just by sitting in an upright posture. And relaxing down into the earth allows us to open up our heart and begin to feel our feelings and our sense of things. The upright meditation posture is very powerful in re-training the mind into believing that life is possible, that life is workable.

How is meditation helpful in everyday life?

Any given meditation session could be wonderful; maybe they feel very clear or calm. Or maybe their back hurts the whole time. But the real power of meditation comes from consistent practice. I recommend that people practice as little as 10 minutes a day, if that keeps them practicing every day. It’s more powerful than just an hour every few days. But to practice at the same time every day, you develop a consistency that brings stability to life. It becomes like a reference point. Every morning you get up, seat yourself up, recharge your confidence, open your heart and face yourself. It can be very powerful to do that in a few minutes.

Obviously, as time goes on, with longer sessions we can go deeper. I’m a believer in consistent practice even if the practice isn’t very long or arduous. I teach that practice doesn’t have to be perfect, great, or good, and not to be hard on themselves. If they’re on a cushion consistently, slowly and in time lengthen their practice up to 20-30 minutes, and settle in to their practice, they will see a profound difference in their life. But as I said, for beginners, I stress that consistent process.

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Now for my holistic space question:  Where do you like to meditate and what makes it sacred to you?

I have a number of altars. When I was single it was really embarrassing! I have one in my kitchen, and my room is basically a huge shrine. But that’s me and that’s not what I recommend for other people, I’m just obsessive and very devoted. And that’s why I teach it, it’s my living, it’s my life. But for other people, according to my teacher Sakyong Mipham, meditation should support your life, not be a burden to it. So I think if people are creeped out by a shrine, they don’t need a shrine.

I do think meditation in their house is helpful because it actually settles the energy of the space. If you start to feel open and calm in your own house, then that really makes you feel open and calm when you come home. A focal point is also helpful.

Meditation with community is good in a different way. If you just meditate at home, you tend to not have the same level of motivation as when you show up in room full of people. You’re not going to slump as readily. So I do recommend both for people. But I do think some kind of a meditation area in the house really empowers the home. And for some of the hardcore meditators, we have that instead of a television…Often the television is the central part of the home, that’s great and that’s fine, but what kind of energy does that create? So I think to balance that, a meditation area is wonderful, especially in New York apartments, where you can’t have the fireplace or a big beautiful kitchen and stove, the kinds of things that bring more warmth and life in to your house.

I think a little meditation area kind of does that, they can. I do also believe that the meditation changes the energy. If you go into a meditation center, it’s easy to meditate because people have been doing it there for years. That starts to happen in your house and it starts to feel a little more contemplative and meditative because of the practice.

I absolutely agree! Thanks Joe!

Read my other blog post where Joe shares his tips for beginning meditators here.

by Anjie Cho


Joseph Mauricio is a speaker, teacher, workshop presenter, and meditation instructor in academic, business and private sectors. A senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist Tradition, Joseph began teaching twenty years ago at Karma Choling Buddhist Meditation Center in Vermont, and has subsequently taught in meditation centers, schools, businesses and community centers throughout North America, Canada and Europe. He has served as the Director of Public Programs and Outreach at the Shambhala Meditation Center of New York, and has recently become the Executive Director of the Baltimore Shambhala Meditation Center.

Joseph is a close student of Meditation Master, Sakyong Mipham, Rinpoche, the Head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. He has studied with renowned teacher and author, Pema Chodren, and many prominent teachers in the meditation and yogic traditions in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. He has completed dozens of solitary and group retreats, including three month-long meditation retreats, two month-long solitary retreats, an eight week silent group retreat, numerous shorter group retreats and years of advanced study. Joseph is a graduate of the Shambhala School of Buddhist studies and advanced meditation instructor and teacher trainings in the Shambhala Tradition.

www.josephmauricio.com


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


An Invitation to Rituals: Shambhala Calligraphy

This Post Is Part Of The #MYRITUAL2015 Event!

My good friend Amy Won of TreeSpace Studio has invited me to participate in her “Rituals” event. I love rituals, particularly traditional rituals that have depth, meaning and story to them. For Amy’s exploration into ritual, I have decided to share two of the most currently relevant. A few weeks ago I shared a special Lunar New Year Orange peel space clearing ritual. Today, I share with you a daily ritual that you can incorporate into a daily meditation practice.

I practice Shambhala Meditation, which is a path that was created by Chogyam Trungpa. He was very involved in the arts, and taught a calligraphy practice that I include before, during or after my morning meditation. Trungpa called this Dharma art, or Shambhala art, and the symbology is woven into many rich traditions such as Tibetan Buddhism, Ikebana, and feng shui to name a few. I participated in some classes that taught this dharma art style of calligraphy through the Shambhala center with Elizabeth Reid, Shastri Sandra Ladley and Anne Anderson Saitzyk.

My meditation instructor, Joe Mauricio, suggested this addition to my daily practice to assist in creativity, to free my mind. I remember after he told me this, I literally ran to the art store and bought all the supplies. The next morning I was like a blissfully elated child on Christmas day. I could not wait to do the calligraphy! I truly hope that this calligraphy ritual inspires the same excitement and adds some freshness to your rituals!

When:

Anytime! But I practice this when I sit for Shamatha meditation, bright and early in the morning. I make my tea (green or chai!) and then sit at my meditation altar with my calligraphy tools.

What you need:

  • Black Sumi Ink. You can also use tempera paint if you’re on a budget.
  • Large pieces of blank paper. I use a large 18”x24” pad of drawing paper. For me larger was better – so I could really be expansive. But regular white letter size paper will do!
  • Sumi Ink brush. Pick the size that you’re most attracted to. There’s no “wrong” size. :)
  • Optional: Red Sumi Ink. Note, the “red” ink is really more an orange.

Steps:

1. Take a seat and feel your body. It’s about feeling, not thinking.

2. I begin with a Buddhist chant:

GATE GATE, PARA GATE, PARA SAM GATE, BODHI SWAHA 

“Gone, gone, gone completely beyond to the other side. I am enlightened.” This is from the end of the heart sutra, which speaks about form as emptiness and emptiness as form.

If you prefer you can just sit with a moment of silence instead.

3. Look at your blank sheet of paper. The blank sheet is “square one”, an open place of not knowing, an open field of space.

4. Pick up your brush and peer into your ink. Silently dip the brush into the ink. Listen to the brush in the ink. See how the ink glistens on the brush. Observe. Be sure to do this step between each stroke as well.

5. Your first brush stroke on the paper is “Heaven." You can also call it “Space." It is your first gesture, or offering to the paper. Just one movement, your first inspiration. Remember, first thought is best thought.

6. The second brush stroke is “Earth” or “Form." This second stroke responds to “heaven” and grounds it. It can bring it weight, stability. Try not to control the brush but make friends with it. Earth is the offering you have at that moment in relationship to the first stroke. Remember, first thought is best thought.

7. Finally the last brush stroke is the “Human” or “Energy” element. This is where you can use the red ink if you chose to. The “human” element connects the first two strokes. It enhances or completes the relationship. Just like humans connect heaven above (yang energy) with the earth (yin energy) below. Again, remember that first thought is best thought.

8. The calligraphy is complete with Heaven, Earth and Human. Look at your meditation and take it in.

9. After it dries, like with a sand mandala, let it go to the universe. You can throw away (or recycle!) the paper. My teachers suggest the art is also great to wrap gifts with! Or you can give them away. But best not to save them. Then, carefully and thoughtfully clean your brushes with fresh water.

This is a delightfully expansive ritual that I suggest all of you do and share with your friends. I find it is especially beneficial in the morning before your brain has a chance to jump on the daily stresses that hold back our creativity.  

If this interests you, I encourage my readers to take some classes at Shambhala with the Shambhala Art teachers who have been trained to transmit the art. This is just my simple introduction :)

by Anjie Cho



About Anjie Cho:

Best selling author of "108 Ways to Create Holistic Spaces: Feng Shui and Green Design for Healing and Organic Homes" and Architect for clients such as Satya Jewelry, Anjie Cho is a sought-after expert in the fields of feng shui and green living. Anjie Cho is a registered architect and certified feng shui consultant. A graduate in Architecture from the College of Environmental Design at the University of California at Berkeley, she has been creating beautiful and nourishing environments since 1999.

Visit her blog at www.holisticspaces.com

Follower her on Instagram @anjiecho | Twitter @HolisticSpaces

Tips for Beginning Meditators

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Last week, I shared an interview with Joseph Mauricio who is a teacher at the Shambhala Center here in NYC. As a follow up to that blog post, I wanted to share some tips that Joe offered for beginning meditators.

AC: What’s the most common question you get from beginning meditators?

JM: How can I keep my back from hurting? How do I keep from falling asleep? Most of the questions are pretty mundane. There are people on the other hand that have very deep, profound questions.  But I find that until you do the practice meditation, it’s not as helpful to get into the deeper questions.

Because I’m a life coach, I look to meditation as a tool that can really help people wake up and begin to take some authority over their own lives. As we wake up and learn to pay attention, we actually begin to see our choices and start to learn how to make a difference in our lives.

Besides the everyday meditation practice, I encourage people to also meditate throughout the day. Keep coming back to the mind of meditation, especially during the day when their mind gets a little crazy, and before they start to think that something wrong with them or that they need to grab a cup of coffee or drink or yell at somebody or quit their jobs.  The first thing they can do is come back to their own heart, come back to their body and return to themselves. It doesn’t cure all the problems in life but it allows us to restart, recharge and see things with a fresh mind.

And what about the mundane questions?

The simple questions that people ask about how to deal with the back pain and to keep from falling asleep are practical and good.  It means they are actually paying attention to how they can sit up straight and wake up.

For back pain, I recommend gentle stretching before sitting down. Gentle spiritual yoga and stretching alongside meditation is also very helpful.  Opening up the body and being mindful of good body posture during the day is profoundly important in terms of changing the stress level of your day. Keep coming back to an open posture and good alignment.

And for falling asleep, I always encourage people to lift their gaze. Many people meditate with their eyes closed so I recommend that they open their eyes and lift their gaze a bit.  Also make sure to breathe and get plenty of oxygen. If they needed to stop and get a glass of water, it is better than caffeine especially for a short session.  There is no need to crank up on more caffeine. But drink a little bit of water, do a little stretching, then come back to the meditation practice.

When I first started meditating, my legs would always fall asleep!  I started to make the connection between where I was feeling physically and spiritually uncomfortable.

Yes. For some people, the pain is either caused or at least exacerbated by wanting to be good, wanting to do it right. For instance, some people are afraid if they move, they’re doing something wrong. It’s like yoga, if it hurts, stop. Stop and relax. It’s the same with meditation.  It’s okay to readjust oneself especially at the beginning. And at some point, if you’re squirming a lot, it’s not helpful either. You’re may be making the pain worse, so it becomes a balance.

So what I normally tell people is a 3-count process. If something itches or hurts, look at it, relax it, leave it alone but don’t move the first time, don’t move the second time.  But the third time it happens pay attention because there’s really something going on.  So go on and move, stretch, reset. Check in to see if the uncomfortability or squirming is really about the pain or about not wanting to settle down.

That’s why it’s amazing to stretch beforehand.  Sometimes meditators cut off the energy flow at the base of their thighs, sometimes they’re too high or leaned forward too much putting too much weight on their legs.  It’s helpful to have an instructor observe help adjust the posture.

Finally, what books would you recommend to anyone that wants to start meditating?

Turning the Mind Into an Ally or The Shambhala Principle both by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche are really good in terms of teaching meditation itself and how meditation works in life and then your life.  So these books are very practical and simple. 

by Anjie Cho