May We know How to Nourish the Seeds of Joy and Happiness in Ourselves

Loving kindness meditation includes aspiring for ourselves and all other beings to know how to nourish the seeds of joy and happiness in ourselves every day. Daily practice of seeing, recognizing and nourishing those seeds of joy is not only a pleasure but an obligation towards our well-being, just as eating, breathing and sleeping are equally important obligations. Oh sure, we can get along without nourishing our happiness, but as a wise one said, “man does not live by bread alone,” neither can we flourish without regular infusions of joy. How do we know how to nourish joy? I find that it is mindfulness to daily experience, even the smallest things and seemingly irrelevant events, that provides the seeds of joy. Once perceived and appreciated, and shared, the small things and brief events are ours to savor with joy. In the past few days, here are just some of the things and events that have brought me joy:

  • Watching a chipmunk eat piece after piece of a cut-up peach, filling his cheeks, running back somewhere in the underbrush, and returning for more
  • Seeing the white-tipped, bushy tail of a red fox as he lept in tall grass near my garden, as this beautiful drawing by irishishka portrays

    Red Fox Pounce by irishishka

  • Smelling a skunk under our window at night, the pungent aroma signalling some distress or confrontation but no indications of what by morning.

    Pepe Le Pew, courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

  • Hearing the amazing hooting of an owl in the middle of the night, and learning that it was a Great Horned Owl

    Great Horned Owl

  • Seeing wild raspberries near my garden Buddha

    Wild Raspberries

  • Seeing Spotted Touch-Me-Not near the raspberries

    Spotted Touch-Me-Not

  • Realizing that my anger can teach me something wonderful and useful, healing, peaceful and divine, by reading “The Poison Tree” by Judy Lief in the latest Shambhala Sun. Click here for a preview.

    “The Poison Tree” in Shambhala Sun

    What brings you joy today?

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Gazing at Peace and Truth

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 We gaze at the face of the Buddha, one who has shown countless beings who have gone before us the way of peace and truth, of right living, of non-harming (ahimsa), of mindfulness, of dwelling in the moment, of experiencing life open and aware (mindfulness). We see calm and beauty in his face, and we remember why we seek it, for peace in our hearts and for peace in the world we inhabit. We seek to live honorably, fairly, humanely, responsibly and rightly, and embodying loving kindness (Metta).

What do we bring today to honor this enlightened being who has spoken wisdom, passed down to us through the ages, offering tools by which to bring an end to suffering in ourselves and in others? If we follow the Dharma, we bring the intention to align our lives, every moment of every day, with the Noble Eightfold Path. Perhaps we succeed only momentarily, but as we continue to practice with the intentions of Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration, we will have more such right moments. Even more perhaps than the peace right living brings to us is the peace it can bring to all with whom we come in contact in our lives. The ripples spread ever outward, and the healing influence and positive effects are endless.

The path awaits.

Namaste

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My Obsession

 

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Asked what occupies my head a great deal of the time , I have to admit it isn’t the dharma or my commitment to my vegan lifestyle, as much as I wish it were. No, it’s more often my physical being and what’s wrong with it. It’s health concerns and the aging process and weighing more vs. looking youthful, slim and enviable. Yes, thank goodness for my practice which gets me onto the meditation cushion two or three times a day, and I do contemplate the Buddha and the Noble Eightfold Path, and I practice Metta (loving kindness meditation) sincerely. But preparing for a vacation, I have been trying on colorful new clothing, as well as the summer things I’ve packed away since last fall, and feeling lumpy and uncomfortable trying to wear the size number I can accept. The reality is that I don’t look good in that number anymore. Acceptance of reality is optional, but denial and delusion are not okay with me.

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So what I have been obsessing over of late is how to look my best in two weeks despite midsection weight creep. Happily, having finished a session of meditation, I believe I know now how to handle this. The numbers, whether on the scale, on a tape measure, or on the tag of a garment, have no meaning other than to compare oneself to one’s former self, to one’s fellows, or to one’s ideal. I aspire daily in my Metta practice, “May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.”  And also, “May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving and delusion in myself.” So the delusion that I must be thin–approximating an ideal, in order to be acceptable and worthy of my own understanding and love, once I see, can be shed. This is a sexist ideal, an ageist ideal, a socially promoted ideal, and for today I let it go.

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What also informed me were experiments where children were shown dolls or cards with images of children of varying complexion from pale to very dark. Whenever shown a pair where one child was light and another dark and asked which child or doll was smarter, nicer, more honest, etc., the child, regardless of his or her race, nearly always chose the lighter-complexioned one.

This got me thinking; if I were shown images of women, thin, slightly overweight and very overweight, and if asked who was smarter, nicer, richer, or more honest, I would probably select the thinner one. How sad. But knowledge is power, and as we learn to know ourselves, we become freed from prejudice, self-denigration, low self-esteem and delusion. May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love. And may we all learn to look at all our fellow beings with the eyes of understanding and love. May it be so.

And today, this is my practice.

Namaste

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Being An Instrument of Peace

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Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

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How do we become an instrument of peace?

St. Francis of Assisi lived the words in this prayer attributed to him. He, as did the Buddha, gave up a life of wealth and ease to live modestly and spend his time and energies ministering to the poor and those in need of compassion and relief from suffering. It is said that animals of all kinds came towards him, and he is often depicted with birds on his shoulders and resting in his open hands, and adoring animals at his feet. The Franciscan Order was founded in his name and espousing his values, and Francis, the current Pope, himself a Franciscan, has demonstrated his commitment to being an instrument of peace wherever he goes.

  • In order to transmit peace, we need to receive and nurture peace. This means seeking it and sharing it.
  • Being an instrument of peace, in my view, means abstaining from harming any other beings, practicing ahimsa, the Eastern principle of non-harming.
  • To receive peace we need to be in harmony with the peace around us. We therefore must tune in to peace wherever it may be. We must seek out beauty and tranquility in nature, and we must gravitate to those beings with whom we feel at peace. Animals who share our lives can bring us the peace of their presence.
  • We can find peace virtually anywhere, even where suffering occurs. Even in suffering, we can be at peace, and we can comfort others in their suffering with our peace. Even one suffering and near death can be at peace and in so being transmit that peace to us.

To be an instrument of peace means to earnestly seek peace for all beings–whomever, however and wherever they may be. When we can do this, we begin to become liberated from the schadenfreude that characterizes much modern emotional life. We no longer wish for our allies, candidates or teams to win at the expense of their competitors suffering ignominious defeat. It becomes possible for us to feel at ease with win-win, rather than requiring win-lose for our happiness. This is not to say that we will not yearn for goodness, right and charity toward all to prevail. Naturally we will seek these things always. But we learn to refrain from wishing ill towards those who fight against goodness, right, and charity toward all. Perhaps as peace truly takes up residence in our hearts and minds we aspire for those who sow misery to be transformed into loving, caring and better beings.

One way we can transmit peace toward all beings, to truly be an instrument of peace, is to make Metta, or loving kindness, meditation a part of our daily practice. We aspire to all the desirable states of being for ourselves, then for our loved ones, next for those with whom we do not feel peace and harmony or are aware they do not feel them towards us, and lastly for all other beings, whomever, however and wherever they may be.

When we aspire to Metta, or loving kindness, for all beings, we do so in a sweeping “lighthouse” sort of manner:

For beings in this universe and all other universes.

For all beings above us and below us.

All beings to the north, south, east and west of us.

Male beings and female beings.

Young beings and old beings.

Human beings, animal beings, and all other beings.

Living beings, and beings who are not yet living.

Beings in the air, beings on the earth, beings under the earth.

Beings in or on the waters of the oceans, rivers, lakes and streams.

Beings wherever they may on the path toward enlightenment.

Beings at any plane of existence or level of consciousness.

When I first began practicing Metta meditation, I failed to comprehend the value of this sweeping, inclusive nature of the practice. I simply wished for “all beings” all the aspirations I wished for myself. Now I find myself visualizing peace and all goodness for all beings as I list the various kinds of beings and their various states and positions, and I can feel the loving kindness permeating me as I visualize it permeating the universes and all who dwell in any state of being within them. In this manner, I believe we broadcast loving kindness in all directions, and thus truly become Instruments of Peace.

Today I heard a beautiful rendition of the St. Francis Prayer by Singh Kaur, a devout Sikh convert and amazing musician, and a being whose life ended long before its time, or so it must feel to all those who loved her. This beautiful floral slide show complements her heavenly voice.

 

Mindful calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Zen calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Namaste

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Ending Suffering

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All sentient beings–human beings, and all beings large and small in the animal kingdom, seek to avoid suffering. It is the natural way. Libido, according to Freud, is the life force, the very energy which makes us gulp air even when trying to hold our breath. We associate libido with sexual intention and it does guarantee procreation for the perpetuation of life, but it is far more general than that. Libido drives creativity and interconnectedness, and many in the religious life find that in denying the sexual, they transcend the baser urges into altruism and selfless love. Thanatos, or the death force, is far less known and runs deep underground in most beings. It can be activated when suffering becomes too great.

All sentient beings–human beings, and all beings from the largest to the infinitessimally small in the animal kingdom, seek to avoid suffering. It is the natural way, or so it seems.  Instead, many humans seek suffering through self-harming behaviors and often have difficulty giving them up, so powerful is the addiction to certain very painful experiences. Humans often perpetuate suffering for themselves, and many more who would avoid their own suffering at all costs willfully inflict suffering on their fellow humans, and even more routinely on the animal kingdom. Ironically, by routinely condemning to misery and painful death the 100 or so animals each meat eater consumes yearly, the human hand contributing to this misery by virtue of paying for it, even at a distance, pulls in secondary traumatic experience and, as some believe, bad karma. This is guaranteeing ongoing human suffering. Psychology Today recently published an article on the phenomenon of loving dogs, cats and horses but consigning other animals such as cows, chickens, turkeys, and pigs, and their newborn offspring, to unimaginable terror and suffering without a second thought. Please read it for some interesting political revelations.

Without Prejudice

The Meat Paradox: Loving but Exploiting Animals

Unpacking stereotypes, bias, and discrimination
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And today this is my practice.
Namaste
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Mountain Mindfulness and Metta

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My practice today:

Sitting before my window to meditate today, my eyes rest on the changing winter scene outside. My heart is full with gratitude for returning health after illness, calm after concern, ease after stress. I begin with mindful breathing.

Breathing in I am calm, breathing out I smile.

Breathing in I see the blue sky, breathing out I see the trees.

Breathing in I feel the sun, breathing out I see the shadows.

Breathing in I am calm, breathing out I smile.

Breathing in I see the clouds, breathing out I hear the wind.

Breathing in I see the branches, breathing out I see old leaves.

Breathing in I see green fir boughs, breathing out I see white snow.

Breathing in I see the rocks, breathing out I see the bark.

Breathing in I feel the sun, breathing out I feel solid.

Breathing in I feel peace, breathing out I smile.

Breathing in I feel soft paws on my back, breathing out I greet my cat.

Breathing in we see the trees, breathing out we watch the leaves.

Breathing in I have love, breathing out I am at peace.

After continuing in this manner for many minutes, I began my customary Metta (loving kindness) practice, aspiring first for myself. Then I aspired for specific loved ones in need, for all loved ones, for family and extended family, for friends, for neighbors, and for clients. Next I aspired for those with whom I have or have had conflict. Lastly I aspired for all beings near and far, in this universe and all other universes, to the north and the south, to the east and the west, above me and below me,  in the earth, in the air, in the seas and in the rivers and lakes, living and not yet living,  human and non-human, male and female, young and old, known to me and unknown to me, and those who know me and those who do not.

And today this is my practice.

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Namaste

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Compassionate Listening

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Compassionate listening is an important tool in my toolbox, one that needs to be kept sharpened and ready at all times. When it’s allowed to get dull, I can’t be very effective.

In my work as a psychologist, one of the topics that come up most often is that of communication problems in our relationships. Sometimes it is a wife complaining that her husband misconstrues what she says. Or it’s a daughter feeling manipulated when her mother tells her, or doesn’t tell her, family news. At other times it is a woman in the hospital for a serious health problem complaining that her attempts to make herself understood and to ask for what she needs is seen as her being a difficult patient.

We can fail to get our point across, we can be misunderstood, and our motives for what we say can be criticized by those with whom we attempt to communicate. Naturally these ruptures in a true meeting of minds can be painful and frustrating, and sometimes they can trigger anger responses. Similarly, our loved ones, friends and others with whom we interact experience the same frustrations with us at times. It’s just the way it is. Interpersonal communications are often difficult and stressful, partly because we don’t always speak the same language, metaphorically. We “hear” different things than the other person is trying to say.

If we practice meditation, and if we focus on loving kindness, or Metta, towards and for ourselves as well as for others, we become better able to sit and hear what our loved one is saying to us. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has suggested that we say something to a loved one such as, “My darling, I am here for you.”  You may wish to say it another way, but the point is to be able to invite communication from our loved one and listen as he or she speaks to us. We may be very tempted to reply to something that is said, to defend ourselves, to correct the other person, to fight back against a statement that feels harsh with harsh words of our own. But with compassionate listening, we simply hear, listen and stay aware of what we are hearing.

Later on, we may wish to correct something we heard, but during the practice of compassionate listening, we are fully present to listen and listen only. We may be quite surprised, and often pleasantly so, by what we hear. And even when the thing we hear is not so pleasant, it may be that we need to hear it, let it percolate into our being so that we might reflect upon it, and if it is true, to use the opportunity for growth and healing within ourselves.

To work on our compassionate listening skills, this sourcebook by Gene Knudsen Hoffman, Cynthia Monroe and Leah Green offers many useful exercises to help us do it.

Compassionate Listening Sourcebook

The following from Thich Nhat Hanh offers rich food for thought on this topic as well for those who wish to delve deeper:

Deep Listening and Loving Speech, Thich Nhat Hanh

UPDATE: In the two years since I first published this post, I have encountered two more potential impediments to compassionate listening and both relate to aging in my work as a psychologist practicing psychotherapy. Because I’m now a Medicare provider in an area with fewer such providers, my psychotherapy practice embraces more older men and women than ever before. As I and those around me get older I’ve had many personal experiences with these listening impediments as well.

The first impediment is impaired hearing in which the listener mishears or fails to hear all our words and “fills in” what they think we said, sometimes getting it very wrong. Later someone one tells us emphatically that we said thus and so, perhaps something very contrary to our intent or even tragically so, creating a conflict we must now try to resolve, a potential distraction to the sensitive work at hand. It can be extremely frustrating to both speaker and listener for the communicatin to break down simply because one or both parties can’t hear as well as they think they do.

The second impediment is the more frequent word-finding difficulty most older people experience. We all do this from time to time, and as we get older it happens with getter frequency. They may pause as they search for a certain word or familiar phrase, creating a gap in the narrative. A frustrated listener might quickly offer suggestions, and this is can be perceived as a failure to respect the speaker’s competency or autonomy. Another word-finding phenomenon is the speaker reaching into his or her vast vocabulary database, as it were, and pulling out a similar but incorrect word. The listener then wonders what this is supposed to mean and may ask. The response may follow, “You know what I mean!” Perhaps we do, but what if we don’t? Compassionate listening involves seeing and feeling the struggle that others are experiencing and giving them time and space to find their way. If they ask us to suggest a word, we should do so, but with the tentative deference suggesting we leave it to them to confirm or reject our suggestion. I find it helps to offer something like, “I’m having trouble hearing what you’re trying to say. My fault. Would you please try again?”

As we ourselves get older we will do the same sometimes. Our compassion for others with these difficulties will help us be compassionate towards ourselves as we fumble to express ourselves so that our listener understands. And if we have developed compassion towards ourselves by practicing Metta, or loving kindness, we will naturally feel compassion as we listen.

 

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Namaste

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Celebrating the Metta Sutta

Metta Sutta

The Metta Sutta is dharma from The Buddha to guide those of us who follow his teachings in the manner in which we ought to manage our attitudes, our intentions and our actions in all areas of life. This translation is the “Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness” (Sn 1.8) translated from the Pali by The Amavarati Sangha.  Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 2 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.1.08.amar.html

We can begin by reading the Metta Sutta often. We can post a copy of it on the wall of our home or office where we can see and be reminded of its powerful sentiments throughout the day. I created the poster of the Karaniya Metta Sutta you see above using one of my own photographs for this very purpose in my life. When we sit to meditate, we can read the text and reflect on the words as we focus on our breathing, and we can aspire to the sentiments for ourselves, our loved ones, those with whom we have or have had conflict, and lastly for all beings everywhere, in every status of existence. Sharon Salzberg in her book Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness (Shambhala) explains this in detail and offers exercises with which to begin to implement the Metta Sutta. I highly recommend the book to anyone wishing to bring loving kindness into fruition more fully in his or her life.

We can realize profound psychological benefits from practicing Metta, or Loving Kindness, meditation.

  • We begin to have loving thoughts towards ourselves. This is huge and very healing for any of us who suffers low self-esteem, shame, guilt or insecurity. This is not a negative selfishness but an empowering, enlightened self-interest. It is not possible to revile the self and exalt others with heartfelt sincerity. We must allow ourselves to receive self-love, self-acceptance, hopefulness for and on behalf of ourselves, and to desire to experience joy and happiness, even as we experience the inevitable suffering life brings. Only then are we capable of feeling love, acceptance, hopefulness, and wishes for joy and happiness on behalf of any other being.
  • We expand on the love we already perceive for our family and other loved ones. This allows us to focus mindfully on them while wishing goodness for them, just as we wish it for ourselves. This aspect of Metta can soothe the conflict that arises in even the most loving relationships when we feel misunderstood, taken for granted, abused or exploited. Sometimes the other person needs our loving kindness more than our scolding or our rebuke, even when we feel the least like providing that loving kindness.
  • We wish for goodness for even those with whom we’ve experienced great conflict, felt anger, carried resentment, or harbored negative emotions, intentions, judgments or sentiments. When we do this, we are freeing ourselves from the toxic poisons those negative thoughts and feelings imbue in us, toxic poisons that can be addictive in their own right. When we begin to wish positive aspirations for those enemy persons, we are freeing ourselves from optional suffering, right then. Recently I practiced Metta on behalf of a public figure for whom I had felt anger due to the appearance of corruption and abuse of power. When I did this, I felt a sense of relief.
  • We wish for freedom from suffering for all beings, and that includes non-human animals as well as those persons living and not-yet-living, as the Metta Sutta says. We wish for goodness for people we know and those we will never meet, and this positive energy is very powerful.

I recommend savoring the Great Bell Chant that features Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh chanting and speaking a message of Metta. This video is beautiful and can bring peace to anyone who allows the sound to envelope his or her being, if even for a few minutes.

Loving kindness practice is a process. We allow ourselves to begin it, with no particular expectation, no mandate to get there by a certain date or time, but to simply begin, if and when we wish to begin it. And until we do, many practitioners of Metta around the world are wishing it for us, as they do for all other beings

I suggest you try Metta meditation for yourself. Please comment on this post to let us know what happens for you. Or feel free to contact me via either of my websites listed on the About page.

Namaste

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Healing Through Meditation

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Not long ago, I was asked to submit a post on my views on meditation as a clinical psychologist. What follows below is that post which I hope provides serious food for thought for anyone considering starting to meditate.

Healing Through Meditation

Shielagh Shusta-Hochberg, Ph.D.

Meditation is an ancient practice that has become very mainstream over the past few decades. Celebrities extoll its virtues, doctors recommend it for patients, therapists urge clients to try it, and libraries, community centers and health clubs offer classes in meditation along with yoga, tai chi, and aerobics. Chances are you know someone who practices meditation. Perhaps you yourself already meditate. If so, you already know the benefits. If not, perhaps reading this will inspire you to try meditation or return to it if you left it.

Meditations History and Variations

There are many forms of meditation: Loving Kindness (metta), Insight (vipassana,) Calm Abiding (shamatha), Concentration (dhyana), Mindfulness (sati), Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), chanting, Zen parables (koans), Transcendental Meditation (TM), and quite a few others. Meditation comes to us from India where it was practiced in the earliest Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

Yogic meditation was studied about 2,500 years ago by a rich, Indian prince by the name of Gautama Siddhartha who left his life of affluence to seek enlightenment. After wandering through parts of India, China, Nepal and Tibet and studying with teachers he hoped could enlighten him, he followed an ascetic path of self-denial and neglect of the physical self. He came to believe in time that asceticism was a mistaken self-imposed suffering.

Shakyamuni Buddha

Gautama eventually found the state of enlightenment he sought by sitting still and quiet for many months in what we now call a meditative state, seated beneath a tree which became known as the Bodhi tree or tree of awakening. As one who achieved enlightenment, he became known as The Buddha. Having realized the enlightenment he had sought, The Buddha searched out past teachers and fellow ascetics to share what he had learned and urge them to live accordingly if they would. Many joined him and continued to share the message after his death. Many millions have followed his teachings, and millions around the world follow them today.

Any of the various forms of meditation, Hindu, Buddhist and that of other religious disciplines as well as the more secular Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction method, can promote calmness and serenity and assist the body in quietly doing that which each of its parts was intended to perform. When we slow our breathing and take note of it, we let go of much of the turmoil that tends to inhabit our busy minds. The thoughts will continue to drift into our awareness, but when we meditate we learn to notice but not engage them.

Integrating Body, Mind and Spirit

One of the greatest benefits of meditation is the interconnection of body and mind. We breathe slowly and mindfully, we sit upright with good posture (or we walk mindfully), and we attend to our thoughts without letting them gallop away with our awareness of ourselves and where we are. In our technological age, it is easy to forget our physical bodies for extended periods of time, especially when engrossed at the computer. Numbness in our legs or stiffness in our back may remind us of this. At times like these, as well as when we are stressed with anger, anxiety or fear, we may forget to breathe deeply, and our shallow breathing can aggravate any distress we already feel. Meditation can bring us back to ourselves, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Meditation as Physical Self-Care

Many health challenges are either relieved or exacerbated by our lifestyle choices such as level of physical activity, diet, emotional stability, self-esteem and beliefs. A holistic approach considers these while addressing the symptoms of any condition. Prescription medications and other medical interventions can be effective in treating physical illness and are widely accepted as such, but if we persist in lifestyle choices that undermine our health, such as substance abuse, tobacco use, lack of exercise, poor eating habits, inadequate sleep, too much TV and not enough intellectual stimulation, and so forth, the benefits may be limited.

The practice of meditation can promote physical, emotional and mental well-being, a fact supported by research (references follow). Many studies have been conducted in recent decades correlating meditation with health benefits, including reductions in hypertension, chronic pain symptoms, cancer, anxiety disorders, depression and various conditions related to stress, with increases in sense of well-being, relaxation, attentiveness, self-efficacy and self-control.

How We Meditate

When we decide to meditate, we set up a place where we will do it. This can be a cushion, or several, on the floor. It is important that we are properly supported and sitting up as straight as possible and comfortable enough not to be too distracted by discomfort. If sitting on the floor, the full or half lotus positions are considered ideal, but simply sitting cross-legged or seated on a straight-backed chair with feet flat on the floor will do fine. We try to avoid slouching, slumping or curling ourselves up during meditation. If necessary, we can use special cushions, benches or stools to facilitate the upright posture of sitting, kneeling or one of the crosswise positions. Buddhist monks, perhaps the world’s best experts on meditation, stress the importance of posture, sitting up straight, as if the vertebrae of the spine were a stack of coins.

Anyone who has begun to sit still and upright for more than a few minutes in meditation will notice muscles responding to the effort while sitting, and later when arising from the seated position. It is wise to get to one’s feet slowly with attention to pins and needles in the legs or feet and carefully reestablish one’s upright balance, particularly if we are not accustomed to the position, have blood pressure issues or are not very physically fit.

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We decide how long we will sit and use a timer of some kind so that we don’t feel the need to keep peeking at the clock. We still may yearn to sneak a peek at the time, and most of us will do so at times, but the timer assures us we won’t miss any important appointments or plans by doing it for too long. We close our eyes or focus softly on a pleasant object or scene (such as an altar, candle, photo, flower, or natural view) and focus on the breath. Notice the breath as you breathe in, and notice your breath as you breathe out. You may say or think a mantra to help with this process, and it can be as simple as in on the in-breath and out on the out-breath, or so and hum.

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Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh is an esteemed teacher of meditation whose book, Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice, is an excellent resource to help anyone get started with a meditation practice. He recommends, in addition to sitting meditation, the practice of walking meditation. In this practice we mindfully and carefully walk as we think or say aloud a pair of simple but powerful phrases, called gathas, such as: “I have arrived; I am home,” or “Breathing in I know I am alive; breathing out I am calm.”

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Harnessing Technology to Support a Meditation Practice

            If we wish to learn to meditate, we can explore an abundance of resources online, from instructional articles and videos, guided meditations, and meditation apps for smartphone and tablet, to chanting and instrumental music designed to accompany meditation. Most of us have our phones handy all the time, so downloading a meditation timer, and perhaps a radio app to play nature sounds, bells, chants, music and so forth, means we can meditate virtually anywhere. Guided meditations are also easily accessible. Some app suggestions: Insight Timer, i-Q Timer, Calm Radio, Om Bowls, Lotus Bud, and Dharma Seed, to name only a few.

Metta Meditation and Compassionate Listening

When we become calmer, brighter and more whole, those with whom we interact can sense it, whether or not they know of the positive changes we are making by doing so. A fight or argument requires at least two parties engaging in the process. The practice of Metta or loving kindness meditation is a Buddhist practice derived from the Pali Metta Sutta (called the maitri sutra in Sanskrit), and presents the dharma, or teachings, from the Buddha, and it is widely studied, recited and recommended. The Metta Sutta comprises two paragraphs to inform our actions, our thoughts and our emotions so that we harm no one, not ourselves nor others in any form.  There are many variations on the Metta practice, but this will give you an idea of the Metta format in an abbreviated and simplified way:

May all beings be free.

May all beings be peaceful.

May all beings be happy.

May all beings be safe.

May all beings awaken to the light of their true nature.

May all beings be free.

When we make the principles of Metta meditation a part of our daily practice, these aspirations for self and others can begin to melt the frozen heart, soothe the damaged soul, and ease the pain of life expressed in anger, fear, anxiety and other afflictions. The practice of loving kindness meditation leads to compassionate listening. We learn to hear others with compassion rather than being pervaded by the need to counter their words and be right. The argument never develops because the other is being heard with kindness, even if the argument that is being advanced conflicts with our own values and beliefs. Try it and see.

Namaste

The goodness that is in me

bows to the goodness that is in you.

 

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Shielagh Shusta-Hochberg, Ph.D.

Crossposted at Allergies and Your Gut

Suggested Readings and References

Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., and Walach, H. (2003). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A metanalysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, 35-43.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living (revised edition): Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Bantam.

Keyes, C. L. M. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43(2), 207-222.

Nhat Hanh, Thich (2013). Being #1 and/or being happy. December, 22, 2013 dharma talk accessible at http://tnhaudio.org/2013/12/.

Nhat Hanh, Thich (2012). Making space: Creating a home meditation practice. Berkeley, CA:Parallax Press.

Pagnoni, G., and Cekic, M. (2007). Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation. Neurobiology of Aging, 28, 1623-1627.

Rubia, K. (2009). The neurobiology of meditation and its clinical effectiveness in psychiatric disorders. Biological Psychology, 82, 1–11.

Shapiro, E., and Shapiro, D. (2011). Be the change: How meditation can transform you and the world. New York: Sterling.

Walton, K. G., Schneider, R. H., and Nidich, S. (2004). Review of controlled research on the Transcendental Meditation Program and cardiovascular disease: Risk factors, morbidity, and mortality. Cardiology in Review, 12(5), 262-266.