Posts

STRESS REDUCTION THROUGH MINDFULNESS AND WISDOM

Posted on Nov 17, 2021 in Ressources

Mindfulness based stress reduction comes to us through a tradition of wisdom based on a loving and accepting attitude.
The other day, I realized that the Beatles’ song Let it be expressed the heart of that wisdom:

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be…

‘Let it be’ is another way of saying ‘let go’—let things be without reacting to them with anger, attachment, envy, or disgust. Allow the world to run its course without losing one’s centre. Even members of our own family are bound to have different tastes and attitudes. We do not have to agree or disagree; we just need to let it be. The same is true of work colleagues.

This does not mean that we condone everything everybody does—it means that we need to be grounded enough to embrace each day and each person the way they are. We can speak our truth, or ‘whisper words of wisdom’ without yelling or insisting. And then we let go and let it be. (By the way, ‘Mother Mary’ in that song is Paul McCartney’s own mother who passed away when he was 14, and later appeared in a dream.)

But what about a wish to make this world a better place, and to support good causes?

The fact is, a person first needs to ‘support’ herself—in the literal sense of being able to stand on her own two feet—before being able to support others. And the stress of reacting emotionally to everything is exhausting. A person who is emotionally exhausted and teetering is in no position to support anyone else.

‘Peace in oneself, peace in the world’ said Thich Nhat Hanh. That is the right order, not only for peace, but also for wisdom, love, and compassion. They emanate from a centre outward.

The next 8-week session includes the practice of mindfulness meditation and its well documented stress-reducing effect. But it doesn’t stop there. Just as a restaurant menu includes a variety of foods such as soup, salad, pizza and chocolat cake, we also need to offer a variety of nourishment to our heart/mind.

During the 8 weeks, we will also also update the practice of meditation to include ‘thinking’ in some of its various guises such as contemplation and reflection.

Read More

STAGES OF MEDITATION

Posted on Sep 4, 2021 in Posts

STAGES OF MEDITATION

 

Meditation comes in many varieties. Below is a summary of the different stages or kinds of meditation as I have experienced them myself. Generally, each centre or teacher specializes in one of these, and teaches only that one. However, each kind of meditation has its own benefits to offer, as you’ll see below.

Also, some people stop meditating because they get tired of their own approach to meditation. Becoming aware of the different kinds of meditation makes it possible to move forward instead of stopping.

  1. Posture Meditation
    This is typical of do-it-yourself meditators, but also of people who are in groups where there is no instruction or coaching. Here you mostly imitate meditation by copying its physical aspects. You sit straight, with legs crossed and eyes closed, even though this posture feels uncomfortable. I must confess that I also started this way.

People with a Yoga background might be more likely to have this attitude toward meditation, as Yoga works with postures (Asanas). Good posture is important—for the health of your back, for your state of mind, and for proper breathing. But it is not enough for meditation. Awareness of the mind is also necessary.

Check that you are breathing from your diaphragm. Sitting on the floor with legs crossed is not necessary for meditation, but breathing from the diaphragm is.

  1. Guided Meditation

When you are first starting to meditate, you may find that the mind slips into the brooding or rumination mode easily. A guided meditation helps keep you on track with a reminder every minute or so. Consider the bell also as a reminder.

You might start with the first meditation entitled Calming the Mind at:

mindfulnessmeditationcentre.org/buddhas-book-of-sleep/

The second one on the same page is entitled Taming the Mind, aims at developing a positive attitude. Follow the first one in the morning and the second one in the afternoon or evening. Do this daily until you can stay on track on your own.

  1. Mindfulness Meditation: Observing and calming the mind.

Start with observing the breath. Normally, our attention goes outward. In meditation we reverse this, and look inward. This feels like looking at the mirror, or introspection. Here’s video for a five-minute introduction to mirror meditation at:

youtube.com/watch?v=95qO4gDiZ7E

Thoughts ideally come and go, as appropriate for changing circumstances. But sometimes they come and do not go. Observing the mind makes us aware of that—it makes letting go possible. Grounded in the breath and the body, you sit noticing thoughts, states of mind, and feelings coming and going. You become acquainted, and then intimate with yourself. You know what kinds of thoughts you are prone to—anxious ones, negative ones, sexual ones…
At this stage, you experience important benefits of meditation. Awareness is the first step in calming the mind, and a calm mind (colloquially known as ‘being Zen’) is necessary for a happy and successful life.

When judgments arise, replace ‘good’ or ‘bad’ with ‘That’s how it is!” Nonjudgmental observation is helpful in relationships, parenting, and work.

  1. Reaching toward positivity.

Just like breath awareness is the way to start any meditation period, reaching toward positivity is the way to end one. In its default state, the mind often leans toward negativity. Nature is more positive. That is why there is often a bouquet of flowers on the meditation altar. If you just observe the mind and start and end your meditation on a negative note, your happiness or wellness level will not improve. Today is my Dancing Day is a video that focuses on positivity:

youtube.com/watch?v=DjvXrKkc904

Here’s a short list of positive emotions:

Joy, Gratitude, Serenity, Interest, Hope, Amusement, Awe (such as in front of nature), Contentment, Confidence, Appreciation.

You can invoke one of these in three ways. Examples:

  1. Memory. Bring to mind an occasion when you spontaneously felt gratitude. Then, let go of the particular occasion, and stay with the emotion.
  2. Imagination. Just imagine you won the lottery. Joy will arise spontaneously!
  3. Intention. The video, Light through the Clouds focuses on intentional positivity:
    youtube.com/watch?v=LfpGPTWfJ_U

Positivity is the way of nature. Plants lean toward the light, not toward darkness. Their roots reach toward wet soil, not toward dryness.

  1. Insight meditation.

This stage reaches toward a holistic vision and the interrelatedness of all things. The video Love the Apple Tree focuses on holistic vision:

youtube.com/watch?v=MH07R_z4a4Q

Insight meditation prompts us to make peace with change in relationships, in parenting, in health, in youth and looks, at work, indeed in all areas. It also urges us to go beyond the ego-mind.

In mindfulness meditation we detach from thoughts in order to find some peace.
In Insight meditation we listen to them selectively—we are no longer drowning in thoughts, and can afford to be more discerning. The mind is not our enemy, it is our friend. Here, we listen to thoughts and separate the grain from the chaff.

Bob Marley had a black spot growing on his foot. He did not worry. It got bigger and was diagnosed as melanoma. He still did not worry. He sang,
Don’t worry about a thing, for every little thing’s gonna be all right.
He was offered amputation to save his life. He refused, saying he enjoyed playing soccer. He died of cancer at age 36.
A good way to stop ruminating is action—taking care of the issue. If you do not turn off the timer that says that the rice is cooked, it’s going to continue ringing.

As you feel at home in them, feel free to combine different stages in one meditation period. Traditionally, Calming the mind and insight Meditation (Samatha and Vipassana) go together—a calm mind helps us to appreciate insights. And positivity is a good note to end any meditation period on.

  1. Flow: meditation in action
    Thich Nhat Hanh has integrated meditation in action into the life of his retreat communities where activities such as walking, eating, and meal preparation are also done as meditation. I have a cup that says ‘Drink your Tea’ on it. What this implicitly means is, ‘Drink your tea and enjoy its taste. Connect with the spirit of the herbs and the Earth they grew on. Don’t daydream or ruminate between sips. Just stay with the tea, its flavour, and the feel of the warm cup in your hands.’

Try applying similarly appropriate instructions to other activities, such as taking a shower, eating, meal preparation and dishwashing. Apply it to driving, and to housecleaning. The psychologist with the challenging surname, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has applied flow to tennis and other sports activities. However, there’s a difference in purpose: The Zen tradition aims at paying full attention in every moment. Csikszentmihalyi is more interested in a spontaneous grace that comes with full absorption in action that moves us forward.

  1. Meditating with themes.

We can also move forward embodying our own and others’ insights. Koan meditation, an example of this, is central to Rinzai Zen. Many sayings of Thich Nhat Hanh are meditation themes. A sampling of my songs to his words are at:
https://mindfulnessmeditationcentre.org/basket-of-plums/

Life lessons from your partner, your child, from birds and flowers, even your dog can serve as meditation themes. Here is a lesson from a horse:

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
This saying was not intended as course material for veterinarians.

Each day, each encounter brings new insights if you are open to them

  1. Loving-Kindness Meditation—Making Love your primary emotion and motive.

Loving-kindness Meditation has a special place in the Buddhist tradition. My simple version of this practice is at:

https://www.pleineconscience.ca/loving-kindness-meditation/

Love also holds a special place in Sufism.

The Sufi poet Rumi said, “Love is the bridge between you and everything.”

Make that bridge a reality:

In business, do not lose sight of love in the search for profits.
In ecology, keep your care for the Earth in mind while shopping.

At work, let love for the people you are serving motivate your efforts.

In relationships and family life, do not lose sight of love and kindness for the members of your family.

  1. Mantra Meditation is another path to meditation. It uses repetition of a phrase that has a positive significance to induce elated states of mind in the listener. Weekly kirtan sessions are held in many Hindu and Sikh temples.

George Harrison of the Beatles founded the Hare Krishna temple in Paris. His song, My Sweet Lord, was written in homage to Krishna.

youtube.com/watch?v=Dpdq7a_zIxY

However, just chanting Krishna’s name is not enough. A knowledge of Krishna’s legend is essential for appreciating his mantras fully. Some of my songs are in fact mantras you can meditate with. They are in simple language without reference to ancient traditions. The song ‘Just Breathe’ is one of them. To find it, navigate to:

mindfulnessmeditationcentre.org/buddhas-book-of-meditation/
and scroll down to it.

  1. Non-verbal meditation (Zazen)

In a sentence, there is a subject and an object. That creates duality. Duality is built into our grammar, as categories are built into our verbal thinking. Language is unable to express the experience of non-duality directly.

Non-verbal meditation cuts through the subject-and-object duality. It is a way to touch nature that is also in us.

Consider butterflies: they know air already at birth, they don’t need a master’s degree in aerodynamics in order to fly.

Nature is also in our bones, DNA, our makeup; we are part of it. What alienates us from nature and from ourselves is our language and dualistic mode of verbal thinking. Nonverbal meditation reconnects us intuitively.

The Zen tradition calls this practice Zazen, or ‘just sitting’.

In Zazen, just sit, and when verbal thoughts come, let go. ‘Think’ with images, sounds, smells and other sensations rather than words. These are always present outdoors. In traditional Buddhist temples, they are also available indoors in the form of images of the Buddha, the sound of bells, and the smell of incense.

Words make it possible to share knowledge of all kinds. Yet, nature itself is not divided into the verbal categories that we humans invent to describe it. Take the step of seeing the world without words to fully appreciate your oneness with nature.

My version of the traditional Gayatri Mantra points the way: youtube.com/watch?v=hZIW9hDzOv8

  1. Finding the Buddha within: Actualizing an archetype

The real Buddha is an archetype that resides inside our heart/mind, and awakening starts when a person stops looking for the Buddha outside, and touches the one inside.

‘Only sit with the Buddha-heart, be only with the Buddha-heart, sleep and arise only with the Buddha-heart, and live only with the Buddha-heart,’ said Bankei. I read that as an incentive to recognize, and then to connect with the mind of awakening and the mind of love. The archetypes of Buddha (awakened mind), Tara or Guanyin (loving kindness), Manjusri (wisdom), are more real for some of us than for others. Parents, culture, and training all help in connecting with them. The video entitled RUMI: A Trio of Kirtans is a reflection on this theme:
youtube.com/watch?v=l3Jp-q7V6qk

  1. Staying ‘Zen’ in the midst of everyday life and its chaos.

Now the circle is complete, and we are back at everyday life where the meditation journey started.

Calm and relaxed? Stay that way throughout the day and not only when you are on the meditation cushion.

Aware of thoughts and emotions? Take that awareness with you as you discuss things with your intimate partner and work colleagues.

Positivity? “Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side of life” as the song goes.

Holistic vision? Drive mindfully, and eat mindfully.

Non-dual perception? See others as yourself.

Buddha within? Look at everyone with eyes of love.

A recurring thought? Look for the message behind the thought.
“Make the mountains, rivers, and great earth your sitting cushion; make the whole universe your own Zendo,” said Hakuin. Bring along your wisdom, serenity, and love with you as you go about your everyday life.

The video Serenity Mantra says this in a humorous way: youtube.com/watch?v=WuMlopXD6NQ

The group sessions starting on Wednesday September 8 at 7:30 at
43 ave. De Breslay in Pointe-Claire will follow this basic outline.
Last session: October 27.

(Voluntary Contribution)

Read More

WHY PRACTICE MINDFULNESS MEDITATION?

Posted on Aug 13, 2021 in Posts

We practice mindfulness meditation for seeing the world with fresh eyes, and for living a more conscious and fulfilling life. But a conscious life does not mean living out of the conscious mind all the time.

When Thich Nhat Hanh makes a map of the mind, he draws a circle and a horizontal line across the middle of the circle. What is above that line is conscious, and what is below is unconscious. That simple diagram unites the essential features of the mind as seen by Freud, Jung and the Buddhist tradition. The details differ among those three, but the rough outline is similar.

Living exclusively out of the conscious mind is an illusion. The conscious mind—the Ego in Freud’s terminology—is only a part of the psyche. The unconscious mind runs the body, beats the heart, and takes care of our digestion—it is our constant companion. It is where our thought patterns and archetypes reside. It also prompts our wishes, and takes over automatically when we go to sleep, creating the images and stories that dreams are made of.

It is also the home of our habits.

Habits, whether they are habits of mind or of the body, need to be addressed one by one. As far as I can know, there is no such thing as a general mindfulness that fixes all undesirable habits.

The first step for change is the insight that a particular habit is not contributing to your happiness, to the happiness of your loved ones, or to the health of the Planet.

The second step is to make a firm resolution to make a change.

The third step is to practice the new habit consciously, patiently, and nonjudgmentally, until it becomes habitual. Then it will be spontaneous and part of the treasury of the unconscious. If you are a middle-aged person, you may have practiced the habit you are trying to break for thirty or forty years. If you did it only once a day, that adds up to about 13825 times.

Say that you are trying to break the habit of taking things personally. You may have done that 10,000 to 20,000 times over your lifetime. That habit will not change just by wishing. You need to practice until you can naturally respond to negative comments with a smile, mentally saying, ‘His thoughts are his business! My happiness is my business!’

We know how to practice the piano and how to practice Spanish, but how do we practice such mental habits as self-love and not taking things personally?

Meditation helps. Use the resources on this website, the meditation mantras, guided meditations, and the videos to focus your meditation. To move further on, consider what other old habit you wish to break next, and what new habit you wish to develop.

Can you design your own mindfulness practice with that in mind?

Do you have enough resolve to keep at it for a few weeks?

Read More