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Archive for July, 2010

A Spiritual Retreat

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Buddha

Buddha

Maybe your next vacation should be a journey inward.

On the path to the hot springs at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, I begin a kind of walking meditation, a continual awareness of what I am doing right now. Now I am crossing a footbridge to the baths, now I am taking off my flip-flops, now I am standing in front of an altar and reading the calligraphy: “With all beings/I wash body and mind/free from dust/pure and shining/within and without.”

“Guess my name,” says the little girl who shares the Japanese-style outdoor pool with me.

“Okay. Emma,” I say.

“Do you know her?” her mother asks, puzzled.

“No,” I say, “she just looks like an Emma.”

I’m not clairvoyant, but at retreat centers people converge in unexpected ways. Beyond the pool, past the sun-bleached sycamores on the far side of the creek, seven naked women in sun hats carefully wind their way upstream. There’s something mischievous about them as they wander in haphazard single file. I try to give them a context: Are they workshop participants hunting for wild mushrooms? Who knows? I think of the Zen notion of beginner’s mind, ready for anything, open to everything…and, silently, I thank Emma and the naked women for being here, for opening my mind.

Buddhas

Buddhas

In my mid-30s, I became an inveterate retreater. With two small kids, time to myself seemed a thing of the past. So I began to take week-long breaks, alone and seeking contemplation, at cabins, in farmhouses, on islands. Along the way, I discovered one retreat that offered me contemplation as a way of life shared by an entire community. Tassajara is the place I return to year after year.

Slowing way down is the first gift of Tassajara, and slow is the only way to drive the 14-mile dirt road that climbs through the Los Padres National Forest and over a 5,000-foot ridge of the Santa Lucia Mountains to the retreat. I stop and look down the steep descent through firs, sugar pines, tanbark oaks, and madrone into the canyon cut by Tassajara Creek. I exhale deeply, sloughing off my half-day drive south from San Francisco and a few layers of anxiety that have accumulated since my last visit here — the war and its threat to all of us with draft-age children, my divorce driving its way toward finality.

An open gate leads travelers to Tassajara, also known as Zenshin-ji (Zen Mind Temple), founded in 1966 by Japanese Soto Zen priest Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and the San Francisco Zen Center. The first Soto Zen monastery outside of Asia follows a traditional monastic schedule during the fall, winter, and early spring, then opens for guest season from late April through early September.

At Tassajara, where electricity is largely confined to the dining room and kitchen, cell phones don’t work, and a single public telephone is more trouble than it’s worth, guests are offered another way — the way of retreat. Here, the scheme of things is clear. One’s small place in it, uncomplicated.

Digital Zen Alarm Clocks and Timers, available in maple, walnut, bamboo, and black lacquer

Digital Zen Alarm Clocks and Timers, available in maple, walnut, bamboo, and black lacquer

Whether here or elsewhere, there are a number of ways to have a retreat. Retreats are times to turn inward, to quiet down, to let your own needs take precedence. At Tassajara, free from cars, buses, jobs, and family responsibilities, you simply bathe, eat, sleep, sit in meditation (or not, as you choose), swim, hike, read. You might venture to the massage kiosk to be kneaded, tapped, stretched, and unblocked. The day’s big excursion could be swimming some laps in the spring-fed creek-side pool, or hiking a mile downstream to a tumble of large boulders and small waterfalls you can ride down to the local swimming hole. Feeling more energetic, you might hike one of the trails — my favorite being up the mountain to the Wind Caves, where you can sit inside shallow, white-sand-floored pockets in the granite cliff face and behold the top of the world. You can return for the organic vegetarian meals, a cuisine pioneered by Tassajara’s Ed Brown and Annie Somerville, the chef of the Zen Center’s San Francisco restaurant, Greens.

Another way of visiting Tassajara is as a workshop participant. “Zen and Yoga” marks a turning point in my retreat life — a threshold to greater community, one that adds structure to my retreat time. With my daughter away at college and my teenage son spending every other week at his dad’s, I no longer crave alone time as I once did. Instead, I’m looking for ways to realign myself in relationship to others. In this context, retreat becomes an active verb.

My workshop takes place in the meditation hall, or zendo, where over the next three days we will examine how sitting meditation and the practice of yoga postures, or asanas, inform and enhance one another.  I have brought my Zen Meditation Timer to end my meditation.  It’s taught by Victoria Austin, a long-time Zen priest and yoga teacher who is also president of the San Francisco Zen Center. The afternoon we arrive, Victoria introduces us to the statue of a sitting Buddha that dominates the altar in the middle of the hall. When a fire destroyed the old zendo some years ago, the stone statue exploded into hundreds of pieces. Painstakingly reconstructed, the Buddha is almost exactly like the original, but not quite. “This Buddha is like practice itself,” Victoria reminds us. “You’re always putting yourself back together, each time a little differently.” I can relate to that; we all can. Practice reaches far beyond the yoga or meditation mat to include, ultimately, each moment of our waking lives.

Tea Room with Zen Clock and Timer

Tea Room with Zen Clock and Timer

After restorative yoga, dinner, and an evening plunge in the hot springs, I’m as relaxed as I’ve ever been, in a comfy bed in my roomy turn-of-the-century cabin, lulled to sleep by the sound of water tumbling over creek stones. I’m awakened before dawn by the boom of a mallet striking a wooden block, calling the entire community to meditate in the zendo. An hour of sitting sorely reminds me of all the muscles it takes to sit that long, that straight. After temple cleaning, my workshop group continues with asana practice, all 25 of us spread out over the zendo, assuming Mountain, Tree, and Triangle poses, the Warrior series, and all the standing poses to fully awaken.

Famished, at breakfast I have a hard time choosing between the offerings: polenta with fresh strawberries, kiwis, and bananas, and the pancakes with raspberry compote. I sit at a table in the dining hall overlooking the creek with three women stem-cell researchers from Stanford University, a woman running for county supervisor, and a Minnesota man who founded a successful marketing firm. Busy lives and type-A personalities are a common bond for many people attracted to retreats.

Later that day, I talk to the gregarious guy from Minnesota. “I’m usually shy and standoffish, judgmental,” he admits to me, “but I decided to pay attention yesterday during sharing time.” He pauses to let a little cynical emphasis grin through. “I felt completely drawn to each story; it made me want to engage with everyone here.” I found myself wishing I’d done that. “Funny what’s possible,” he says.

It’s been a day of intense physical work, experimenting with yoga poses that help strengthen our meditation posture and focus our attention. Lying still, during Savasana, our last pose, Victoria says to us, “Let sounds come to you rather than pulling in the sounds.” I drift in and out, aware of the sound of footsteps on the gravel path, of the squawk of the ubiquitous blue jays, but most of all of our sighing — an ongoing chorus vocalizing the deep pleasure of exertion and release, a natural by-product of the primary work we are doing: following our breath in and out.

The next night at Victoria’s dharma talk, she compares the monks’ winter practice at Tassajara to one long breathing in, or refreshing the practice, and the summer guest season to a long breathing out, or giving to the larger community. I resolve to work on that out-breath.

yoga

yoga

Afterward the low light of kerosene lanterns dimly illuminates the path back to my cabin. I stop to watch the new moon rising above steep black slopes.

It is summer solstice night. Looking deeper, into the bright and scattered stars, I feel as if I’m standing in a roofless cathedral, buttressed by the Santa Lucias, part of some great force tilted upward in praise. My body tingles from the demands of the day, fledgling upper-back muscles awakened, all my cells celebrating in active communion. Attention. I whisper the word to myself, like an ancient secret. I raise my arms to the new moon in thankful salutation, take a long breath in, and sigh it westward, down the path of the year’s longest day.

For reservations call (415) 865-1895 or visit sfzc.org/tassajara/.

Adapted from Body + Soul, April/May 2005

Posted in Bamboo Chime Clocks, Hot Springs, Japanese Inspired Zen Clocks, Meditation Tools, mindfulness practice, Now & Zen Alarm Clocks, Well-being, zen monks


The Exhaustion Cure

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010
exhaustion cures - setting your Zen Alarm Clock

exhaustion cures - setting your Zen Alarm Clock

Are you feeling stressed, fatigued, and burned out? Discover the top 10 ways to put a stopper in your personal energy drains

Consider this simple question: How are you?
We answer it 10 times a day, often rejoining with a clipped “Fine” or “Busy!” accompanied by a glazed smile. But when your best friend or spouse asks, perhaps you tell the deeper truth: You’re stressed out and tired. Really tired.

“Busy,” “stressed,” and “tired” are intimately connected. They describe the ethos of our times — and its inevitable aftermath. We balance work, family, friends, and our various self-improvement programs. We take in a steady stream of information from the people, screens, phones, and sounds that surround us. We don’t sleep enough. We multitask like crazy, striving to get more done in less time.

For a while, maybe even years, it’s easy to feel like you can handle this frantic pace — or even thrive at it. But ultimately, it works against you. “Stress is pervasive in our society, and it’s only getting worse,” says integrative-medicine expert Woodson Merrell, M.D., author of “The Source: Unleash Your Natural Energy, Power Up Your Health, and Feel 10 Years Younger.” “And people do not necessarily have the coping skills to deal with it, even when they think they do.” We often don’t realize how much of our days are spent dealing with stressful situations, and on a physiological level, the effects of stress add up. “You don’t start every day with a clean slate,” he says. “You start the day with all the stress you’ve accumulated in your life, and you add to that.”

No wonder we’re so tired. In fact, many experts contend that chronic stress and our inability to cope with it are the biggest factors in fatigue. “I hear it all the time. People tell me, ‘I have no energy, I can’t sleep, I’m exhausted,'” says Andrew Weil, M.D., director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and author of “Healthy Aging.” 

This “tired-wired” state has become a cultural condition, he adds. And for those that struggle with it, fatigue can also become a significant crisis. “Your personal energy level should meet the demands of the day. Your sense of well-being should be good most of the time,” says Weil. “When it’s not, you have a real quality-of-life shortage.”

As is always the case, however, in crisis lies opportunity. Fatigue, it turns out, can be a terrific teacher, giving you a chance to slow down and examine your life, learn more about yourself, and consider what’s really important. 

For starters, you want to cover your bases by eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, maintaining good sleep habits, and following other steps toward sound overall energy hygiene. But many of our most potent energy drains fly under the radar. By taking careful stock of your daily habits, work life, and relationships, you can begin to see patterns that cause your vitality to slip away unnoticed; make some simple changes, and you’ll plug these leaks and start feeling better.  Choosing a gentle, chiming Alarm Clock to awaken you in the morning could be step 1.

Japanese Leaves Dial Face in Burgundy Finish by Now & Zen

Japanese Leaves Dial Face in Burgundy Finish by Now & Zen

Here, Merrell, Weil, and other experts highlight 10 surprising causes of fatigue and offer thought-provoking solutions to help you energize your mind, body, and spirit — and your life.

1. Exhaustion Cause: Good News
We know that our energy gets drained by negative events: death of a spouse, divorce, imprisonment, getting fired, serious illness or injury, losing your home or savings. But positive events can drain us, too, says Alice Domar, Ph.D., executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Waltham, Massachusetts. “Getting married, having a baby, buying a new house, getting promoted at work — these are all positive steps, but they often come with a lot of worry, which can be exhausting.”

To further complicate the picture, it’s hard to find support when things are going great. “Tell people you’re exhausted because you’re caring for your dying mother, and you’ll get all the support in the world,” Domar says. “Tell them you’re exhausted because you got a fantastic new job, and they’ll be like, ‘Give me a break!’ ”

Exhaustion Cure: Make a Positive Prep Plan
The best way to end-run positive exhaustion? Prepare for it. “When you start getting tired,” says Domar, “ask yourself two questions: ‘What’s being asked of me that I don’t feel that I can deliver?’ and ‘Am I accurately perceiving what’s needed?'” Then make a list of what really needs to be done, and when. “We often feel like everything needs to happen at once, and that’s not true,” says Domar. Breaking things down into manageable chunks lets you catch your breath so you can plan and delegate accordingly.

adapted from Body + Soul, September 2009
Digital Zen Alarm Clocks, available in maple, walnut, bamboo, and black lacquer

Digital Zen Alarm Clocks, available in maple, walnut, bamboo, and black lacquer

Now & Zen
1638 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO  80302
(800) 779-6383

Posted in Bamboo Chime Clocks, Chime Alarm Clocks, Japanese Inspired Zen Clocks, Natural Awakening, Now & Zen Alarm Clocks, Sleep Habits


Five Steps to Make Walking a Mindful Practice

Monday, July 19th, 2010

 

When you apply a few simple techniques, you can turn your daily walk into a rewarding practice.

Hasui-b, Meguro Fudo

Hasui-b, Meguro Fudo

What is mindful walking? It’s a technique that uses awareness of the mind/body connection to improve the quality of your walking experience on all levels. By approaching a walk in a mindful way, you make it a practice like yoga, meditation, or tai chi; every session brings new insights and challenges. As in yoga, you think about your body position, breathing, movements, and awareness, turning inward and outward at the same time. You’re working to get fit, and to improve your life as a whole. Treat walking as a practice, and it will become not only something you do with your legs but also a way to bring your mind, body, and spirit into balance.

Five Steps to Make Walking a Mindful Practice

  • Identify your intention. The key to any mindful activity, intention provides focus and motivation, elevating your practice from routine to ritual. What is your intention? To walk for an hour every day? To develop a sense of centeredness and calm? To reduce stress? Your goals and intentions will evolve as you evolve. Let them, as long as they keep you in line with your higher sense of purpose — and keep you moving forward.
  • Be consistent. A true practice requires ongoing attention. Of course, it’s natural to feel resistant at times, no matter what kind of activity you do. Your mind will create a thousand excuses not to walk today. Don’t let these passing thoughts distract you from your deeper intention. Get moving; start walking around your office or home, or wherever you are. You can quiet the mind by moving your body and get yourself back on track.
  • Train your mind to focus. The mind loves — and craves — engagement. Without something to focus on, it will tend to wander, taking your practice with it. By learning to focus, you will be able to walk more efficiently.
  • Listen to your body. As with any relationship, the connection between mind and body depends on how well one listens to the other. Our tendency is to try to rule the body with the brain; however, they are more like equal partners, offering feedback and direction as you go. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you by noticing any sensations that come up while you’re walking. You may feel energized as your leg muscles engage or relaxed as your breathing deepens. If you detect any complaint from your body, such as pain or discomfort, identify the source. Then make small adjustments in your technique and see whether the sensation lessens.
  • Embrace the process. Goals provide a greater context for your practice. But building patient awareness of the process is even more important. Sometimes walking will feel easy and rewarding; other times, more like a chore. As part of a mindful practice, you accept the challenge as part of the process and continue to stick with it. My tai chi master sees difficulty as an opportunity — a lesson to be learned. Accepting all of these parts of the process lies at the heart of making walking a mindful exercise.

adapted from Body + Soul April/May 2006

Digital Zen Alarm Clocks, meditation timers and alarm clocks with chimes

Digital Zen Alarm Clocks, meditation timers and alarm clocks with chimes

 

Now & Zen

1638 Pearl Street

Boulder, CO  80302

(800) 779-6383

Posted in Bamboo Chime Clocks, Goodness, Meditation Timers, Meditation Tools, mindfulness practice, Now & Zen Alarm Clocks, Well-being


Relaxed revelation

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010
 
 
 

ink painting

ink painting

Fast knowledge is about solving problems, slow knowledge is about preventing them.

Knowledge is being applied faster and on a larger scale than ever before – with consequences that are sometimes disastrous.  Farmers can use the latest chemical pesticides to protect their crops, but the pests soon develop resistance to these new substances.  This is an example of the failings of “fast knowledge”, according to environmental philosopher David Orr.  Truly valuable knowledge is developed through a lengthy process of trial and error, he believes, and not by racing ahead with some new but untested innovation.

As a rule, fast knowledge – standardized, measurable solutions – is seen as the pinnacle of human progress.  But many of society’s current problems can be traced to the fact that we apply knowledge before we took the time to consider the consequences.  The speed at which we are confronted with new technologies – in communication, agriculture, health, energy, etc. – and with growing mountains of information in all fields, far exceeds the human ability to absorb and learn from it.

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) Cranes in a Landscape Ukiyo-e

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) Cranes in a Landscape Ukiyo-e

Orr, who teaches environmental studies at Oberlin College in Ohio, has begun championing what he calls slow knowledge, whose main themes are thoroughness, patience and harmony.  In The Nature of Design:  Ecology, Culture, and Human Intention (Oxford Press, 2002) Orr describes slow knowledge as resilient, elegant and, most of all, practical.  Fast knowledge, meanwhile, is usually hierarchical, abstract, and based upon a sense of competition. Laboratories, universities and boardrooms are the places where fast knowledge is usually created out of reams of new data.  Slow knowledge often arises from the wisdom of local communities.

adapted from Ode Magazine, July 2004 by Marco Visscher

Zen Alarm Clock in Maple Finish, Japanese Leaves Dial Face, harmony in design

Zen Alarm Clock in Maple Finish, Japanese Leaves Dial Face, harmony in design

 

 

 

 

 

Now & Zen

1638 Pearl Street

Boulder, CO  80302

Posted in Bamboo Chime Clocks, Chime Alarm Clocks, intention, Japanese Inspired Zen Clocks


The power of intention

Friday, July 2nd, 2010
plum blossoms with moon

plum blossoms with moon

The power of intention can be used to heal and promote good health, improve performance in many areas and even affect the future.

To be most effective, an intention should be a highly specific aim or goal, which you should visualize in your mind’s eye as having already occurred, while you are in a state of concentrated focus and hyper-awareness.  When you imagine this future event, hold a mental picture of it as if it were occurring to you at that moment.  Engage all five senses to visualize it in detail. 

The centerpiece of this mental picture should be the moment you achieve the goal.
We might also improve the quality of our daily lives just by carrying out detailed mental rehearsals.  At home, we might be able to send intentions to our children to perform better at school or to allow us to be more loving to friends and family.  Human intention might be powerful enough to affect every element of our lives.

Shunsui Katsu-Miyagawa

Shunsui Katsu-Miyagawa

All of these possibilities suggest that we have an awesome level of responsibility when generating our thoughts.  Each of us is a potential Frankenstein, with extraordinary power to affect the living world around us.  How many of us, after all, are sending out mostly positive thoughts?

Bamboo Zen Clocks, progressive chime clock and timer

Bamboo Zen Clocks, progressive chime clock and timer

 

Adapted from Ode Magazine, Jan/Feb 2007 by Lynne McTaggart (The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World, Free Press 2007)

Now & Zen

1638 Pearl Street

Boulder, CO  80302

Posted in Bamboo Chime Clocks, Chime Alarm Clocks, Goodness, intention, Japanese Inspired Zen Clocks, Meditation Timers, Meditation Tools, mindfulness practice, Natural Awakening, Now & Zen Alarm Clocks