Tag Archives: Meditation practice

March wild cards


Hi Beth!  We are excited to be part of this month’s Living Chapter focusing on spirituality/existential. As you comb through sacred texts and reflect on your religious self, we want to add to the meditative component of this month’s chapter. During Alexis’ yoga teacher training a couple years, she learned about chanting as a way to lead-in to meditation. Chanting is recognized as a spiritual practice in many religions, and we hope it will add to your reflective experience for the rest of the month. So the Wild Card is quite simple: for at least one of your twice-daily meditations, start with chanting for a couple minutes. You can  increase your chanting time as you like. Chants can take many forms and you can use any phrase or mantra you like. Perhaps a line from one the texts you’ve read, or a meaningful song lyric, or even just a single calming word. For your reference, we’ve recorded some examples of chants that we like. These have even come in handy for calming our baby! We hope they have the same effect for you. As you build chanting into your meditative practice, try to focus on your breathing and allow the chant to serve as an aural broom, sweeping away any thoughts and worries. We think that sound can serve a unique role in spiritual reflection and we hope it brings additional clarification and calming to your day.

Loka Samasta:

Om Mani Padme:

Om Shanti Om:


Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

chapter 9



Preface:  My Bias

I’m an atheist.  I’ve been an atheist since my early teens.  My arrival at this position was a combination of growing up in the Catholic Church and finding logical flaws in many of the arguments purported in Sunday Mass; spending a year reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelations as well as biblical scholarship; developing an interest in science, history, and philosophy; and my growing uneasiness with the idea of a personal, loving God existing concurrently with the reality of evil in the world.  Over the years, my position has matured but the basic core of my beliefs has remained constant:  there is a serious lack of evidence to support the existence of God.  Or as Bertrand Russell stated, when asked what he would say to God if confronted with him:  “God, why did you make the evidence for your existence so insufficient?”

That being said, why would I volunteer to participate in the chapter on spirituality?  Despite my lack of belief in all things supernatural, religion and other manifestations of spirituality have always been a topic of interest for me.  One aspect of religion that I consider important to the development of a person (though it is not the exclusive dominion of religion) is quiet meditative introspection (i.e. prayer).  That is not to say that community is not as important, but whereas prior chapters (September excluded) have been more outwardly expressive, I wanted this chapter on spirituality to be more internally reflective and self-examining.

The Task:  The Trinity

  1. Reflection through study:  I’ve provided a selection of religious texts for you to read to provide you with a diverse though extremely limited introduction to religion and how people of a spiritual worldview translate their feelings into words.  Even though this is not a comprehensive survey of world religious texts, I’ve tried to represent both Western and Eastern religious traditions and I think these are all important texts to read.  (I encourage you to read further.)  Write and reflect on what you are reading.

  • Week 1:  Old Testament – Genesis (read Chapters 1-11)
  • Week 2:  New Testament – The Revelation of John
  • Week 3:  Taoism – Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
  • Week 4:  Buddhism – Silence by John Cage (read Lecture on Nothing & Lecture on Something)

*A note on my selection of texts:  In regards to the biblical readings, excluding the Christ story, Genesis and Revelations are, in my opinion, the two most influential Books of the Bible.  The Tao Te Ching is the most important text of Taoism and espouses an interesting theme of action through inaction.  I chose John Cage to represent Buddhism, not because I couldn’t find a sufficient Buddhist text, but because I thought you might find it interesting to reflect on how an artist (musician) whose life and music was thoroughly influenced by Buddhism translated his spirituality into thoughts and words.  I also encourage you to listen to his works to capture the full experience.

  1. Reflection through mediation:  All religions involve some type of introspective practice.  Whether it is reciting scripted prayers or quiet mediation, reflection on God, the community, and the Self are essential to spirituality.  So your task is to set aside 5-20 minutes twice a day (morning & evening) for prayer/mediation.  The form and location of this mediation can be of your choosing and it can change from morning to evening and/or day-to-day.  It can be silent mediation in the traditional Zen fashion (as you did earlier in this project) or a recitation of the Rosary.  Regardless of the form, this should be a twice-daily ritual.  As John Cage wrote, “In Zen they say:  If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four.  If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on.  Eventually one discovers that it’s not boring at all but very interesting.”

  1. Reflection through participation:  And so as not to make this chapter a completely introspective task, here is the community element.  Community building and cohesiveness is an important aspect of religion, so your task is to attend one religious service this month.  It can be a Catholic Mass or a Wiccan ceremony, whatever is available to you, and if possible speak to the participants about their spiritual experience.

Conclusion:  Alpha and Omega

I hope whatever you cull from this month’s chapter (and this project in general) that it serves you moving beyond Living Chapters.  Despite my own beliefs, I think there are wellsprings of creative and mollifying resources in daily introspective reflection.  I don’t feel this type of mediation needs a supernatural or religious structure to be beneficial to an individual, but that is a path each person has to navigate for themselves.  As Lao Tzu wrote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Hopefully, this experience and this project will be an important step in that journey.

day of silence


On my first day of silence last Wednesday, I opened up the hatches on the boat letting the crisp fall air and sun come in. It was a perfect way to start a “Day of silence” 5 minutes after settling into my morning meditation, I was startled and distracted by unknown voices outside on the dock. I glanced over and noticed 2 men standing a mere 15 feet from my meditation cushions. “Did they see me sitting here cross-legged with my plastic mustache meditation glasses on?” I realized that even if they did, there would be no way that I could explain myself at this point to them – it was a “Day of Silence” and I could not speak. I closed my eyes and sunk into the silence.

As a part of the Wild Card suggestion this month, I was given the challenge of taking one “day of silence” each week. When I heard this suggestion, I made an audible sigh of relief – what a pleasure and opportunity that would be.

The concept of what silence is and what it can bring to individuals has always interested me. I actually spent over 2 years creating audio pieces and photographic portraits exploring the role that silence has played in our lives. The project was called “Speaking of Silence”. Through that exploration, I interviewed nearly 100 people, listened and learned about what silence meant to and for those individuals. During those 2 plus years of examining the concept, I do not think I ever spent one full day being completely silent myself. I thank Amy this month for asking me to explore what the concept means for myself in meditation practice and I thank Agnes for pushing it a bit further.

Each mediation session this month itself has been training in a way for these extended periods of silence. Practicing meditation has allowed me to create a silent space for my thoughts and feelings. I’ve used this space to focus on the present moment, becoming aware of the time itself between my thoughts, actions, and speech patterns. This process has been great to do alone – it has helped me become more still and slower – not in work or my daily activities but in my reactions to others and my environment. Giving me the time to really observe and respond accordingly. I am finding that taking the time to be silent even outside of meditation practice is helping with this as well. So throughout the month even on “non days of silence” I am making time each day to be silent. (organizing, walking, writing, observing others)

But what would happen if I brought my silence out into the world? What would a normal day be like with the added silence? How would others react? How would it make me feel to not be able to communicate easily? This week Amy asked me to delve into how I felt in my body, alone and in social situations. I am taking my days of silence to experiment with what it feels like to hold the space in a busy coffee shop, in a grocery store, down town and in conversations with friends.

Below are some of the highlights of my first speechless days. I will say I was not completely successful in not speaking or uttering a sound entirely, I did said “SORRY” involuntarily when I bumped into someone by mistake and I made some exclamations to myself during the day – once when I accidentally hit the curb parallel parking “Yikes!” also at one point I found myself whistling. And even though I gave up my phone I did not give up technology or communicating all together. I was lucky enough to schedule 2 meeting free and telephone free days but I did still need to send emails for work.

Enhanced experiences:

Organizing/cleaning – I am more focused and more efficient

Emailing/working: I am more efficient when I am not taking phone calls

Writing: I am taking more time to write what I feel rather than worrying about what the words sound like together.

Walking: I have been walking alone and without excess sounds, music or calls. I have enjoyed the physical environment more.

New experiences:

Communicating: I mostly communicate through written notes in a small book and on post it notes. I sometimes “mouth” words as well or “mime” an action. I did this while doing errands and grocery shopping. When people noticed that I was not speaking they treated me differently – they started speaking really quietly and also slowly? Hmmm… because I was silent I guess that meant I was also unable to understand or hear them? Some people wanted to write return notes to me rather than say anything out loud. One lady decided that I was deaf and started signing to me in sign language – I shrugged my shoulders not being able to tell her I didn’t understand sign language and just pointed at my shirt that stated “Day of Silence”. She continued signing to me.

Body motions: I noticed myself using my hands to talk (even more so than usual) I gave the “thumbs up” and “ok” sign so many times that I started to feel like a cartoon character. I also felt strangely like a mime when I realized that not only was I silent but my “Day of Silence” T-shirt was black and white.

I noticed myself smiling A LOT. I really did not want to appear rude or as if I was offended by anything the other person said by not speaking to them.

Strange occurrences and/or observations:

  • I got into a note conversation with the old man in a coffee shop – he spoke to me in riddles and I tried to answer him in written pictures – I am not sure who was more confused or amused in that interaction.
  • I started a race with a 2-year-old in the park who seemed to understand my silence more than his parents.
  • I had a telekinetic interaction with a squirrel.
  • I did not miss phone conversations one bit.
  • I realized how silent we are already in our communication with eachother
  • While observing my own communications – I realized I am more connected online through my writing, emails, and texts almost more so than my face-to-face meetings? I am more honest and open in my writing than my face-to-face conversations.
  • I appreciate the time in between the responses of written notes, text messages or emails.
  • I tried to help a guy with a mustang charge the dead battery in his car. I could not convince him that he had connected the cables incorrectly. I am not sure if he didn’t want to “listen” to me because I was writing him notes or because I was a girl?
  • I got into the best conversation I have ever had about “truth, loyalty, and acceptance” with a barista. The entire conversation took place on post-it notes.
  • I am good at playing charades – I can now order breakfast in charades.

I am thinking of instituting this “Day of Silence” at least once a month for the rest of the year, if can not schedule weekly sessions as I move forward.  I can not tell you how many benefits are coming from this experiment. I can not tell you today anyway, I am still learning. But I will try talk to you about it tomorrow!  Please share your silent experiences with me.


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