Miami Meditation Center

Miami Meditation Center

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Learning Meditation in Miami 

Learning Meditation in Miami 

Meditation apps are in vogue and new students Learning Meditation in Miami often ask about their usefulness for home practice. The number of apps currently available from the App Store is in excess of 1,300. According to Forbes, industry leader, Headspace, has over 11 million downloads and 400,00 subscribers with an annual revenue approaching $50 million. Those performance numbers are impressive for a company that was founded only eight years ago by an aspiring Buddhist monk and a disillusioned marketing company executive.

Their success demonstrates that many people are interested in learning about meditation, and that a large number feel some benefit from using an app to measure or direct their meditations. But are these apps helpful aids or just another distraction?

Apps typically offer several functions. The primary one being a timer, which is used to measure the length of a meditation session and to signal its start and finish.  For longer sessions, several periods can be programmed together with shorter rest intervals between the meditations. The timer function on most apps includes a wide selection of bells, chimes and gongs. It’s a nice detail that so many sound options are available.

Another key feature is the wide variety of recorded guided meditations that apps offer. These are usually divided into categories like: ambient sound, going to sleep, guided imagery and cosmic. The user makes a selection according to their ability, mood, or time of day. These guided sessions may benefit the novice meditator whose untrained mind could interpret the experience of silence as an emergency, “Why is there no TV. No music. No conversation. Help!” A guided session can soothe these initial sensations. In the long term, app use could develop into another tool to escape from present experience, like selecting a film from Netflix.

Even in this age of tech, some of the features are amazing. On Wednesday afternoon when I went to Headspace’s page, it listed the number of people meditating around the world, at that exact moment, (3,583) and included a world map with dots indicating each person’s location. A horizontal “crawler” across the bottom of the screen showed profile photos of various users. Fantastic, I can feel being part of a worldwide group. Or can I? I am not able to have any meaningful interaction with the other meditators. I cannot share my experience or personal story with them. I am unable to offer/receive emotional support. All these shortcomings are important benefits of being a member of a local mediation group.

Having 3,155 of the “World’s Best Mediation teachers” and 15,218 guided meditations a click away seems like a bargain. But how does one choose? And how is their recorded mix of waterfall sounds, soothing music, and guided story lines going to help you connect with your mind, your present experience and foster a connection with your inner peace?

Apps offer stories or sounds that have been expertly crafted to cover over the silence. But for me the main benefit of meditation is in experiencing the silence. Thomas Keating said, “Once you sit down in silence, the Divine has already got you.”

One of the joys of a mediation practice is being part of a lineage. There is an acknowledgement that the practice has worked for others and will no doubt work for me and you if we follow the instructions and put forth the effort. There is a sense of sacredness and devotion. This is a key element to accepting and Learning Meditation in Miami. With the app, if one guided meditation doesn’t get you to Nirvana, just pick another from the library of 15,217.

Using an app to meditate is like using a flotation jacket while learning to swim. Sure, it seems safer and less threatening, but can you really learn to swim using one? Wouldn’t it be better to feel the buoyancy of the water and learn to float?

See our schedule here.

Written by: Bill Durham

Miami Zen Awakening

Miami Zen Awakening

The text message arrives at 7:10 PM. “Are you ready for your helicopter ride tomorrow? We will pick you up at 9:30 AM”. It was from friends Jeff and Natacha. I find the courage to reply “Yes”. So begins a Miami Zen Awakening.

The flight crew arrives the next morning for the 45 minute drive to North Perry Airport, where 350 light aircraft and a dozen helicopters are based.

The car park is nearly full but after circling we find a space and walk to the small airport office.  Jeff and Natacha are on a first name basis with the staff and we walk out thru the maintenance shop, onto the airport apron. It is a short distance to the helipad.

The helicopter is bright orange. It is a Robinson R-44 with 4 seats and no doors. I am thinking there must be an FAA regulation requiring doors on helicopters, and want to ask Jeff but he is already unbuckling the protective canopy cover and I move forward to assist. A fuel truck arrives to top off the tank.

It is time to board the helicopter. Jeff is the pilot and sits in the front-right seat. Natacha is going to take photos and sits in the second row. My seat is front-left. We buckle our seat belts.  I notice a T-shapped lever extending thru the floor up to shoulder height. “Do not touch that lever” Jeff commands. I nod affirmatively. “And do not touch the two levers on either side of your seat.” I see the levers down by my knees. I nod again. For added safety I decide to sit on my hands.

Jeff hands me a headset with an attached microphone. “Put this on and adjust the volume knob. There will be some engine noise and wind. These will allow us to communicate easily.”

After starting the engine Jeff goes thru a pre-flight checklist to insure all the controls and gauges are working correctly. He calls the control tower on the two-way radio and after a brief conversation we are cleared for takeoff.

There is a sensation like being under a giant ceiling fan turned to the highest setting. The helicopter gently lifts off the runway, rises to an altitude of 80 feet, hovers for a moment, then tilts forward slightly and we are off.

We head east toward the beach flying at nearly 100 mph, though it don’t seem that fast.  We approach two super tall high-rise buildings and then fly between them. I glance over at my fellow crew members but it seems flying between buildings is no big deal.  We come out over the ocean and turn south along the beach. Its a beautiful sunny day and the ocean below is sparkling turquoise and crystal clear.

Suddenly I hear Natacha’s voice on the headset. “Hey, I just saw a big fish or maybe a shark at 9 o’clock”. Jeff swings into a sharp left turn and the helicopter leans over at 45 degrees. I am intensely wishing there was a door on the left side.

We see that shark and approximately 99 others, many manta rays and one manatee. We fly above Bal Harbour, Miami Beach and Fischer Island. Heading south over Key Biscayne Jeff changes course slightly and flies over my house. When we reach the Cape Florida Lighthouse we circle it and then fly north.

Viewing the city from 200 feet, the streets below seem calm and serene. There is no sense of traffic or drama. People all look the same. I can clearly see how my street fits into the neighborhood and the neighborhood fits into the village and how all of that is part of the larger metropolis. There are no boundary lines. Everything seems to be connected and joined together as part of the whole…

WOW.  I sense enlightenment is dawning as I feel one with everything.

Then, over the headset, I hear a voice: “Hey, I see a big bird at 3 o’clock.”  The helicopter tilts on its side as we swoop down for a closer look, and I awaken from another dream.

See our schedule here.

Written by: Bill Durham

Tips to Foster Calm

Tips to Foster Calm

It may seem useful to dream up some sort of Best Tips list to foster calm. We could include exercises such as: reducing time spent on social media, reading fewer newspaper stories, watching less political commentary on TV. and avoiding opinionated people with whom we disagree.

But will these changes help? Is the world mixed up, or is it our perception that has become unbalanced? Can our judgmental thinking lead us to where we think the world is a terrible place?  What then? How can we activate our nonjudgmental thinking?

Yesterday,  with teacher Sandy Stewart, we discussed these questions and he suggested that only One Tip is needed: being aware of the activity of our mind.

Is one mosquito spoiling our entire perception of the world? Can we activate our nonjudgemental mind?

Sure, we may receive the message from the news media that the world is dangerous but can we refrain from obsessing on that? Can we hold that truth without being dismayed? It may be that it isnot the danger but the obsessing over it that can lead one to feel paralyzed.

TIP: Balance the awareness of danger and still move freely in the beauty of the world.

Take a look at  our schedule here.

Written by: Bill Durham

Attaining Miami Zen Calmness

Attaining Miami Zen Calmness

During this mornings mediation session I experienced a case of hiccups. It was a distraction for me and a hindrance for the new student seated nearby. After the session the new student mentioned that she had considered calling 911. I can relate to her frustration. This leads me to think of how important Attaining Miami Zen Calmness can be!

When facing a distraction the mind story goes something like: “If only the sound of the hiccups would go away everything would be better.” But this is a steep slope that only leads to more dis-satisfaction.

How does one meditate while experiencing a major distraction? Is there anything I can do to stop or ease these hiccups? I spend a few futile minutes trying strategies to change the situation; starting with holding my breath as long as possible, a remedy first prescribed in my childhood. But it  does nothing to ease the hiccups. Next, I try long-slow-controlled breaths. Nope. Breathing with mouth open. Nope. Timing the hiccup to the point of maximum inhalation. Nope. Finally, after trying all known remedies, the only option is to sit with the distraction and embrace it. Accepting and fully experiencing them without trying to change anything.

Once acknowledged, and without wishing for a different outcome,  the experience may become much easier to accept. Also, acceptance may allow an opening  to an even deeper experience because the distraction becomes motivation to focus with even more intensity.

The same could be true for dealing with physical or emotional pain.

On Thursday mornings a car often pulls up outside the center with seemingly the loudest radio in Miami. It blasts Merengue music complete with accordion, piano, trumpets, saxophone, tuba, conga drums and happy singing. The sound is overpowering and even the flower vase on the altar vibrates with the rhythm. It is next to impossible to keep from being carried away by physical sensations or fabricated mental stories around the music. But after several experiences, I  know the distraction will be of a short duration  and then gradually trail off into the distance. Like everything else this musical distraction arises and disappears. It is worth noting that now if the music car does not come I feel the session was missing something. Yet another challenge to Attaining Miami Zen Calmness.

“HELLO, 911 0perator? I want to report a car with loud merengue music… Yes, it is an emergency. I am trying to meditate!”.

Take a look at  our schedule here.

Written by: Bill Durham

Clint, Elvis and Me

Clint, Elvis and Me

Once upon a time I thought my face somehow looked better with a sad expression.
I understooda the meaning of the term “sad”. (Now I have forgotten.) Being a product of the mass culture I even adopted a starring role in my own adaptation of “Being Sad”.
I learned from my early Hollywood heros: Clint Eastwood was my favorite actor.
I must have seen him in a dozen starring roles and never saw him smile once.
When I was 7 or 8 my grandparents took me to see Elvis Presley in “King Creole”. Today, I have a high regard for Elvis but in this movie he played a renegade teen loser. My young impressionable mind absorbed those images not fully understanding what being a loser implied. To me, at that point, it was just a new way of reacting to the world.  And he looked “cool”.  I wanted to be cool too. I immediately adopted his body language and mannerisms from that one viewing of the film.
Soon thereafter, back at elementary school, each student was asked to give a short presentation in front of the class. I was the only kid who had memorized his speech. I don’t remember the topic but I do remember what the teacher said afterwards. “William, your speech was excellent, once you got to the podium, but watching you walk to the front of the class I had some serious doubts.”
She didn’t realize that it wasn’t me who was walking with that bad attitude. It was Elvis’ character from the film King Creole. I had only mimicked his mannerisms.
I guess she hadn’t seen the movie or was unimpressed that the character had dropped out of high school. At the time I was in third grade.  Nobody drops out of third grade.
Years later while at the Univ. of Miami, my favorite philosophy professor, Dr Jack Painter, once asked:  “Why aren’t we ALWAYS happy?” At the time I thought it was a stupid question. It was only just recently I came to understand all of this.
Being an Elvis fan I had ordered a few of his old films from Netflix. Viva Las Vegas, Blue Hawaii, and King Creole. He seemed to have it all. When he needed a break from the action he would grab a guitar and launch into a song. In the first 2 of my films Elvis portrayed happy fun loving young men and decent role models. Ann-Margaret was his co-star in Viva Las Vegas.
Then I loaded the King Creole disc, the instant the images appeared I flashed back to being 7 or 8 in that little theater in Atlanta, Ga. Thus prompted, I had a big understanding….What if instead my grandparents hadn’t taking me to see Viva Las Vegas? I may have adopted a different vision of the world. John Travolta?
It would be a long time before I came to meet some people whom I felt lived authentically in this world and trust was not immediate. I think I signed up for my first retreat using an assumed name.Did I forget to include that my mental malajustments at that time also included anxiety?
But soon I came to believe that my new buddhist friends were genuine and could possibly show me a better way.
First, the deeply ingrained belief in the reality of the egocentric worldview and its associated feelings of separation had to be let go of. This took some time.  Like a young bird hatching from it an egg, eventually, the harder than steel, ego “shell” was cracked open. Once outside the shell I mimicked every mannerism of my teacher, Soan.  If he drank tea I drank tea.  During kinhin if he stepped with his left foot, I stepped with my left foot and  it was not enough to have our steps in unison. I also made a great effort to place my foot on the exact spot where his had been. I bow to his patience.
Long ago, I let go of feeling sad.  I have deep compassion for Clint.
Some of his later films have a certain warmth but I still wonder if he knows how to smile. Several years ago there was a class on Key Biscayne called Laughing Yoga.
We got together and laughed for an hour. There were no jokes or anything we just laughed. We would start with a “forced”  laughter but after a time it just became so genuinely funny we could not stop.  It was wonderful!!!
It was great therapy. In this stress filled society we do not have the opportunity to laugh enough. So PLEASE lets try to laugh MORE.  “Clint is my hero.”  This will be our cue.  Deal?
“Clint is my hero!!!”
Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha, Ho Ho Ho, Hee Hee………
Thanks to the third grade teacher.
Review our schedule  here.
Written by: Bill Durham


The zen path

The Zen Path

We all encounter adversity from time to time.  Friends don’t meet our expectations. Working on a tight deadline a computer shuts down or printer fails.  Rushing to an appointment we get stuck in a traffic jam.  Tonight leaving the grocery store I dropped a bag of groceries. It was the bag with the blueberries and they rolled everywhere. We make an effort to be careful and alert but things happen. Enter the Zen  path.

The big question is: How do we react the moment adversity is encountered?  Do we blame others?  Do we get angry? Do we make excuses?  Or do we just just sweep the blueberries off the sidewalk and keep moving forward.

Recently I read that the Dali Lama canceled a trip to South Africa (September 2014).  He had been planning to attend the 80th birthday celebration of  Reverend Desmond Tutu and preparations had been in the works for months. Visa applications were initially made to a South African governmental agency located in New Dehli, India.  When that failed to produce results the visa applications and copies of passports were sent directly to the government of South Africa.  Weeks went by with no response.  His Holiness the Dali Lama had encountered adversity.  His carefully made plans fell by the wayside in the face of governmental intransigence.  What did the Dali Lama, world leader and past winner of the Nobel Prize do after encountering this bureaucratic snub?  He quietly announced that he was canceling his trip to South Africa.  That is all.  No theatrics, no blaming, no complaints.

I googled “Dali Lama cancels South Africa visit” and 1750 stories popped.  I read several: New York Times, Wall Street Journal Asia edition, and The Guardian.  I could not find a single accusation or angry comment from the Dali Lama directed towards the government of South Africa.  It’s as if he just calmly decided to go somewhere else instead.  The weather in Miami is nice at this time of year. How about Berlin or Barcelona?  Why get angry?

The Zen path is not a magic carpet ride around obstacles. It is a way to face them.

Easy enough for a master. But for the rest of us facing an obstacle can be a challenge. When the ego blows its bugle how do we respond?

Please see our schedule here.

Written by: Bill Durham

A Zen Person

A Zen Person

A zen person must be able to do ANYTHING!

It was my first visit to Japan and I was on a 2 week tour of Japan’s Temples and Traditions. The tour, with 18 participants, was led by Bernie Glassman.

Bernie is well known in zen circles as an early student and heir of Taizan Maezumi. He grew up in Brooklyn, NY.  He later moved to California to attend UCLA,  where he earned a Ph.D in applied mathematics in 1970. He worked for McDonnell-Douglas as an aeronautical engineer.

Picture Bodhi-Dharma with a Brooklyn accent, a big cigar, suspenders and a big cigar..

In the late 1970’s, under Maezumi’s guidance, the world of mathematics and engineering gradually fell away as Bernie became a fervent zen practitioner. He became interested in “socially-engaged” causes, founded a zen community in New York, and traveled extensively throughout Japan learning the history of zen and getting to know the people and current flavor.

When our tour group visited Eihei-ji (the primary training temple for Soto zen) Bernie was greeted as a long-lost son. He seemed to know everyone. We traveled all around Japan, by bus and shikansen (highspeed train) with Bernie providing colorful commentary, anecdotes of his adventures, zen history and teachings along the way. Quite unexpectedly my idealized version of Japanese zen was crushed.

The final night of the tour we are invited to a modern zen center in Tokyo for a celebration. The total party numbers about 50 people including 18 from our tour group, 24 Japanese members of the temple, several musicians and 3 honored guests.

After a formal service in the zendo, we go downstairs to the “community room” of the temple. We sit on the floor at 2 long narrow tables. It is a festive occasion with many bottles of sake, beer and many dishes of food, of unknown origin or name, but extremely delicious.

As the evening progresses the entertainment begins. Two incredibly delicate and lovely Geisha’s perform a traditional dance and then some traditional music. Then the entertainment shifts from classical Japanese to “contemporary”  American pop music which is performed by a trio of cabaret musicians with violin, piano and vocalist.

Late in the evening, one of the visiting VIP’s grabs the microphone and instructs the musicians to play “My Way”. The well known Frank Sinatra standard.

The VIP roshi is wearing full robes with rokusu and appears to be totally intoxicated.

He launches into the song:

…….Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
And through it all when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way….

This happens to be one of my least favorite songs. Also, it is currently being performed in a “sacred” space by an intoxicated Roshi. Feeling uncomfortable, I make a feeble attempt to complain to Bernie but he is having too much fun to notice.

The drunken performance is beyond my comfort zone. Sober, I am certain my face is registering a look of total distaste.

At this moment, the singer leans over, his eyebrows almost touching mine, and screams: “A zen man must be able to do ANYTHING!” The raw power behind these words almost knocks me over.

I think the next song was the Irish classic “Danny Boy, the pipes are blowing”.

Its getting late but no one seems to mind. The VIP singer is just getting warmed up and his performance pure dharma.

Please take a look at our schedule here.

Written by: Bill Durham

Zen Meets Catholicism

Zen Meets Catholicism

I was raised a Catholic and schooled by Sacred Heart sisters and Jesuit fathers and brothers. As a teen, I became disillusioned with the church: there seemed to be little of Jesus’ message in the orthodoxy. I felt it unconscionable for the church to be so rich while there were innumerable poor and sick persons in the world. However, I was to learn a lesson about a place where Zen meets Catholicism.

About 10 years after abandoning the church, I found Zen Master Joshu Sasaki Roshi and was relieved to discover that his center was located in a vacated dentist’s office. Nothing fancy at all. For that and other reasons, I judged Zen to be much superior to Catholicism.

In my early years of practicing with him, we often drove around looking at hot springs properties for a new Zen center.

One day, as we passed an old Catholic mission, he asked to stop. He wanted to see what it was like. We entered the old church. On the wall, to the right of the door, there was a seashell shaped dish filled with water. He asked, “What’s that?”
“Holy water.”
“What do you do with it?”
I dipped my right fingers in and made the sign of the cross on my body. He did the same and asked, “Then what do you do?”
He followed me down the aisle. I stopped at a pew, genuflected, and knelt on the pull-down knee rest. He did the same.
“Now what do you do?”
Feeling a little uneasy, I suggested, “We could pray.”
For a couple of minutes, we prayed. I suspect I focused on my koan, “How do I manifest my Buddha nature when I am driving a car?”
After a few of minutes we arose, genuflected and exited the church, crossing ourselves with the holy water on the way out.

He never said a word about that visit. My conclusion: you can practice Zen anywhere, including by performing Catholic rituals. It is a great relief to know that there need be no conflict among the great variety of religious/spiritual practices! We all go to paradise together.

Please view our schedule here.

Written by: Sandy Stewart

find peace anywhere

Find Peace Anywhere

On deadline for a project without much progress due to a power outage, I decide to cycle over to a nearby gourmet market and pick up lunch. We can find peace anywhere.

The sky has been grey for several days and now its sprinkling lightly. Even so, I prefer to travel by bicycle. The slower pace allows more space for noticing natures artistry: the surrounding plants, trees and clouds.

It’s noon and entering the market, I immediately sense the energy and activity. This is one of the most popular local food spots and it radiates a distinct egalitarian vibe. Its not uncommon to see highflying developers, office workers, a smiling worker from the local car wash and occasionally the police chief; all eyeing the selections at the huge prepared food bar.

Just inside the door, I am confronted by a former meditation student who appears anxious. “I really need to start coming again. When are the sessions?” I remember her clearly, having participated a few times but busy with the familiar, pressing and real obligations of young children, husband and career. “What is better for you, mornings or evenings?” I enquire. “I can not make either one. I am just so busy,” is her reply.

“How about right now?”
“Here right now?”
“Just take a couple of slow breaths right now.”

We pause and slowly inhale together in our quiet zone in this noisy space which is bustling with activity. We take several breaths together. “Just notice the sensations, Don’t worry about the people or the sounds. Just relax and breathe.” The whole process takes maybe 90 seconds.

“Thank you so much. I do not know why I am rushing everywhere. I feel so stupid with not regularly making time for meditation. But I will definitely come to the meditation center. And soon!”

“I hope so, and once you learn you will be able to find peace anywhere.”  We hug and part ways.

In the prepared food section I check the days offerings and select the split pea soup and a side of green beans. At the coffee bar I order a latte and an oatmeal cookie all the while soaking in the ambient conversations, the feel of the space and the aroma of prepared food.

Outside, I see my friend on the sidewalk. Rushing to her car she doesn’t notice as we pass. How about now?

If you wish, see our schedule here.

Written by: Bill Durham

Dealing with Life’s Distractions

Dealing with Life’s Distractions

It is a spectacular Florida winter morning. I am at the beach with a friend sitting on a wooden bench under the shade of a palm. We are quietly enjoying the natural panorama of sand, sea and sky. The temperature is perfect. The cloudless blue sky is perfect. The sun is sparkling on the ocean making it appear to be coated with diamonds. We sit filled with joy, just feeling the cool breeze and listening to the soft sound of the surf. A Tri-Colored Heron completes our waterfront sangha. But, we will soon be dealing with life’s distractions.

We are soaking up sunshine and warmth like sponges, aware that in some places winter days tend to be gray and cold. But here, this shining morning, the whole scene is perfect. Well, almost perfect.

Suddenly, I become aware of a nearby mechanical sound. It is a park ranger working with a leaf blower. He is clearing the pathway leading to the lighthouse, of leaves that have fallen during the past 24 hours. It is an important job and surely the pathway needs to be tidy. But why now? Why spoil the perfect morning?

I approach the ranger with a smile and inquire why he is not using a rake instead of a noisy af blower? “Well, I have a large amount of work and the blower is faster.” He explains, clearly understanding the issue behind my question. A large seagrape leaf swirls to the ground and I immediately sympathize with the impossibility of his chore. “It must be a never ending job.”
“I don’t mind.” He replies with a good-natured-shrug.

But is it the noise that is spoiling my enjoyment? Or is the real problem my resistance to the noise?

Loud noises attract our attention. That is just the way our brain and nervous system operates. But immediately following the nose likes/dislikes can arise. Its when we attach the label “dislike” that resistance appears which leads to a feeling that there is a problem. It is our resistance that’s the source of dissatisfaction.

Thru meditation practice we learn to focus our attention. We often use breath awareness but the focus can be on any sensation arising from present experience.

If we are not alert with our likes/dislikes and we attach a single dislike then even 99% perfect can end up feeling like a big dissatisfaction.

If I can listen to the sound of the leaf blower blower without judgment, without resistance then I am free to enjoy the moment. I still hear the blower along with all the other sounds but there is no contamination. The leaf blower sound is still there. I do not make an effort to block it out or push it away.  I still enjoy the spectacular morning and it is still 100% perfect. Including the leaf blower. Thanks for reading and don’t let dealing with life’s distractions get in the way of your joy.

Please see our schedule here.

Written by: Bill Durham