MEDITATION vs RUMINATION
Let’s become aware of the difference between rumination, brooding, and daydreaming on the one hand, and meditation on the other.
The scientific term for the first group is Self Generated Thoughts (SGT)
Self generated thoughts arise independently of what’s around us or what we are doing, and often go in a negative direction. They frequently occur when lying in bed in the morning, during commuting, and while waiting (at the dentist, the checkout counter, or on the phone).
Let’s switch to meditation during those times by watching the mind instead of being carried along by it.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MINDFULNESS
At the most basic level, mindfulness means awareness of our sensations, thoughts, feelings, and actions.
You may be surprised that actions also appear on this list.
Yet, doing something and being aware that you are doing it do not always go together.
Example: Did you ever go round and round looking for your keys?
Yet, you are the one who put them somewhere.
Similarly, many people drive too fast, eat and drink too much without awareness.
Mindfulness has a practical aspect that touches all of us.
Police reports show that over 60 percent of road accidents happen because of distracted driving, and according to research from Johns Hopkins University, surgical errors occur more than 4,000 times a year in the U.S. Surgeons leave stuff like towels or sponges inside a patient, or perform the wrong surgery, or operate on the wrong body part. And accoding to the Québec Department of Public Security, half of house fires are caused by lack of mindfulness.
Below is an incomplete list of areas where mindfulness has been shown to help, with personal examples (Joseph Emet):
I like to check for tension in my body from time to time during the day because I often find unnecessary tension somewhere in my body. My personal hotspots are shoulders, belly, eyes, and the forehead. I found that to relax everything for just the 20 minutes of a regular meditation period is not enough.
On the average, we are awake for 16 hours. That translates into 960 minutes.
20 minutes a day of relaxation out of 960 minutes comes out to approximately 2 %.
So, by meditating once a day, we become more relaxed for only 2 % of the time.
The rest of the day we have the same tension as before.
Turning wishes into habits is why some people choose to go on residential retreats, anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks or longer.
In Plum Village, there are reminders everywhere. By the way, they do not just say RELAX. they say SMILE, or BREATHE.
SMILE in this sense is not what you do when someone is taking a picture and goes 1,2,3.
It is an inner smile of contentment, safety, and joie de vivre. It leads to relaxation. BREATHE means awareness of the sensations of breathing, of being alive. By all means practice those intentionally during a meditation period, but not only then.
Consider putting up a few reminders around if you want to be more than 2 % relaxed during the day,
The car is a magic carpet. It goes with hardly any effort on our part. And other people feel the the stink that a gas engine produces, not the driver.
Here are two driving habits with big consequences:
Accelerating and then braking toward a red light, a stop sign, or a curve.
Driving in stop-and go traffic. Many drivers constantly accelerate and brake in order to follow the car in front. This wastes gas. Truck drivers usually go at a steady pace, they do not constantly accelerate and brake in heavy traffic.
You might think that one unnecessary acceleration only wastes a few drops of gas—not a big deal. However, there are nearly 1.5 billion cars in the world, with each driver thinking the same thing. If each driver wastes one drop, that comes out to
1.5 billion drops, which equals 75,000 liters.
Over a year, that adds up to 27,375,500 liters.
Do you waste more than a drop a day, maybe 1 cup?
That adds up to 129,210,000,000 liters a year for 1.5 billion wasters.
We waste gas as a result of habitual driving, as well as because of emotional driving.
Emotional driving is driving while feeling very sad, impatient, angry or agitated, and according to research, it increases crash risk nearly tenfold. Road rage is one type of emotional driving. Another type is exemplified by someone driving as if he just escaped from captivity at the end of the working day.
BETTER SLEEP THROUGH MINDFULNESS
We do not control sleep, but we control the circumstances that make it likely. My award winning book, Buddha’s Book of Sleep, had been translated into 11 languages. Recently, the Buddhist magazine, Lion’s Roar commissioned me to write an article on better sleep. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of that article:
“Consider the comfort of your bed. Are you there to enjoy it, or are you mentally somewhere else, stressing about something that happened during the day or might happen tomorrow? Mindfulness practices promote being in our senses over being in our thoughts, and being in the “Here and Now” over being in the past or the future. You may be physically in the “Here and Now” when you are in bed, but mentally you may be somewhere else. During the day, mindfulness meditation can bring a sense of contentment, peace, and happiness. At night, these feelings translate into a relaxed attitude and better sleep.”
Read the full article in the March 2023 issue of Lion’s Roar at: https://www.lionsroar
MINDFULNES AT THE CANCER WARD
I worked as a volunteer for six years teaching mindfulness to cancer patients at the Wellness Centre of the Jewish General Hospital. My clientele consisted of people who had received a cancer diagnosis. Here three teachings that I found most helpful in my constantly changing groups:
* The mindfulness teachings of Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Nonjudgmental observation of sensations, particularly those of discomfort, fatigue and pain takes the edge off those sensations.
Body scans, thought scans, and emotion scans help.
* Buddha’s teaching of the second arrow.
In this teaching story, one of the hunters in a group notices a movement in the bushes. Thinking that there’s a wild animal there, he shoots an arrow. It turns out that it was one of the members of the hunting party there, and the arrow got him in the shoulder. Ouch…
Later in the day, a similar scenario unfolds, and by a stroke of bad luck, the same hunter gets shot again, in the same shoulder. Now, his shoulder hurts even more, maybe twice as much.
The interpretation of this story is that the first arrow is the inevitable consequence of being alive in this world where old age, sickness and death are the norm. The second arrow is an attitude of nonacceptance and victimhood. That attitude is charactrized by thoughts such as “Why did this happen to me, it is so unfair”, “What did I do to deserve this”, “I’m so unlucky”, and the like. These thoughts can cause even more suffering than the physical discomfort and pain of an illness such as cancer. We have control over this second arrow; with mindfulness practice we can be aware of it when such thoughts arise, and let them go.
* The Sufi poet Rumi’s often repeated exhortation to identify with the rosebush rather than the rose.
The gist of Rumi’s consolation is that the rosebush continues to come up with flowers each one more beautiful than the other, whereas a rose flower blooms for a short while and then withers away. I personally have recourse to this change of perspective when illness strikes. It allows me to appreciate the beauty and the wonder of nature so acutely that the prospect of my personal passing fades in perspective. Identifying with the rosebush makes death more like a continuation than an end.
MINDFULNESS IN THE CLASSROOM
Here is the description of the session I offered at the Annual Teachers’ Convention at Hôtel Bonaventure in Montréal on October 13, 2022:
CONNECTING WITH COMPASSION AND MINDFULNESS
What motivates a teacher? Is it just covering the subject and maintaining discipline? That may not be enough for connection. This workshop imagines a teacher with a friendly and compassionate attitude toward each student. Her main concern is to engage from a position of friendship and care rather than authority. Mindfulness techniques are used to question motivation, and to develop compassion and positivity. Bonus: Research shows that compassion reduces stress.
In most schools, only about half the students in a class feel they have a rapport with the teacher. Let’s raise that percentage. Rapport creates more enjoyment of the subject matter and of the class. It also motivates the students to pay more attention.
MINDFULNESS AT THE KITCHEN TABLE
Here is Joseph’s article entitled Eating Better Through Mindfulness that appeared in the Autumn 2022 issue of the FLOURISH magazine:
Hunger is the voice of our biology. But biology can be deceiving and sometimes, we can’t depend on our feeling of fullness to stop eating. Our levels of leptin—the satiety hormone—depend on several factors, one of which can be genetics; but remarkably, these levels don’t change immediately after eating. In 2019, 40% of the adult population aged 18 to 74 in Quebec had a waist circumference that was considered by the World Health Organization as being at risk in terms of heart disease, hypertension, or type 2 diabetes. An incredible 2.3 million adults were subject to abdominal obesity, which is twice as many as in 1990. Without intervention, the life expectancy of these individuals will be reduced by several years. But we cannot presume that so many people have poor judgment. This situation may be due to the eccentric behaviour of our signaling system, which can give us the impression that our stomach is a bottomless pit. Eating too quickly is another way to exacerbate this issue, as we are more likely to eat excessively before we start feeling full. Overeating is yet another problem, as the stomach extends and as a result, the body will need more food before the feeling of satiety can be perceived. As you can deduce, we should not wait until we actually feel full to stop eating. We have the ability to determine which foods we should consume, and in what quantities, before we even sit down at the table. And we should stick to our decision. This voluntary approach will not only allow us to eat the appropriate amount, but also to eat a balanced meal. As far as I am concerned, mealtime is an integral part of practicing mindfulness, just as any other moment of the day. But mindfulness also requires knowledge. In this case, it is necessary to know that leptin, the satiety hormone, needs time to come into play. It is therefore essential to rely upon your planned meal and to base your decision about what to eat based on sensible reasoning rather than sensorial indicators. Be cautious when your stomach is speaking to you. Often, during meals, my stomach tells me: “Eat more; I’m hungry”, until the moment when it suddenly changes its tune and says: “Oh, I'm stuffed!” The stomach does not often say, “I am pleasantly full now, you can stop.” It’s the voice of mindfulness which tells me that. Thankfully, that voice can drive our will to maintain a healthy weight. It can contribute to the comfortable sensation we feel when we have eaten well, and eaten enough, instead of feeling heavy after a meal. Furthermore, mindfulness is also necessary when shopping for groceries. We must find our own way to overcome unhealthy habits, as well as self-serving commercial interests promoting unhealthy food choices. Today, an average supermarket carries an astonishing range of more than 40,000 items; so, more than ever, it is essential to be smart when we are selecting our food. Unlike the ancient tribal societies, where everybody had the same basic diet, our dietary choices have become extremely vast. We need more than basic knowledge to navigate through supermarket aisles, which are full of temptations, carefully stacked upon each other. Doing the groceries conscientiously involves careful reading of product labels and ingredient lists. Whereas the front of the product packaging contains the advertising messages, the back contains all the crucial details for your health, which are often in fine print. These are worth some extra attention—perhaps even some research—to better understand how these ingredients impact our health. Doing the groceries conscientiously also means prioritizing seasonal, locally grown, and organic products. At local markets, you can find products that are less processed and generally have a better nutritional profile. By shopping there, you are also contributing to the welfare of your local community and promoting sustainable farming. Lastly, we need to be mindful of nutritional shortages and a need for supplementation. I learned this the hard way, having to endure 3 painful gum surgeries before realizing that coenzyme Q10 supplementation is helpful in maintaining healthy gums. I have been taking it now for 15 years and don’t suffer with gum issues anymore. CoQ10 is one of the half-dozen supplements that I take regularly, including omega 3, vitamin C, and during the winter season, vitamin D. Taking supplements is necessary for several reasons: The lack of sunlight during winter, agricultural practices which deplete the soil—and therefore crops—of their nutritional value, as well as the changing needs of our bodies, amongst others. Whether it is at your dinner table or while shopping in stores, mindfulness is a simple tool to help you eat and live better. Find the full article at: https://newrootsherbal.com/en/blog/lifestyle-wellness/eating-better-through-mindfulness
MINDFULNESS IN RELATIONSHIPS Love is a feeling. Relationship is a story—the story of the way love unfolds in time between two people. Classical poetry or religious texts do not talk much about relationships. Romeo and Juliet did not have a relationship. ‘Relationship’ itself is a relatively recent word. It was first used to refer to romantic or sexual relationships in 1944, but this use must have been slow to catch on. My two-volume Oxford Dictionary published in 1975 had not yet heard of it. Our grandparents did not have relationships. They had marriages and sometimes affairs. My personal suspicion is that Buddha did not have a relationship either, although he had a marriage and a harem. This modern notion did not exist in his day. Relationship is a partner dance that includes a healthy level of attachment, bonding, and strong sense of connection. You can love somebody all by yourself, even without the object of your love knowing it, but you cannot ‘relationship’ alone. Buddha’s teachings on love and desire are a bit lonely for me. They portray those emotions in a one-sided way, a bit like my infatuation for chocolate, rather than within the reciprocal comfort of a relationship. They do not acknowledge that there’s a human being with feelings on the other side of the equation. It is thus up to us to apply the precious teachings on mindfulness practice and Zen to relationships as we know them today.
We tense up when we jump over a puddle.
Do we relax completely afterwards?
Our day is like a country road with many puddles.
Tension accumulates if we do not let go after each jump.
Impatience also creates stress as it separates mind from body:
The body is still waiting in line, but the mind is already at the checkout.
The mind is already at work, at home, at a destination.
The body is stuck in traffic.
If you notice that you are petting a thought,
stop and come back to your breath.
Come back over and over again.