There’s No Point in Punishing the Car, by Ven. Ananda Maitreya

I speak and write often about the practice of Metta, or loving kindness, meditation. Here the Venerable Ananda Maitreya addresses Metta beautifully and stresses that there are many ways to practice Metta. He explains how the Buddha responded when others abused him, and his shining example offers us an alternative to how most of us tend to respond in similar circumstances.

Buddhism now

Gandhara Buddha JAGood will, loving-kindness, friendliness, a friendly feeling, metta. How do you practise metta? You start by trying to understand the value of your own life; you must see how much you love yourself. The dearest thing for every individual in the world is their own life. Therefore, first of all, feel the love for yourself. I do not mean carnal appetite when I use this word ‘love’; I mean good will and benevolence. You must hope for the welfare of your own life.

Anyone who doesn’t love himself or herself cannot love others. First practise love for yourself, and then extend that very same love to your nearest and dearest — your child, for example. Do this until you feel that there is no difference between your child and yourself. Then go a little further and try to feel love for, say, a brother. Again, do this until you…

View original post 1,484 more words

Gazing at Peace and Truth

Embed from Getty Images

 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

IMG_0154

Being An Instrument of Peace

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

SaintFrancisPrayer

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

IMG_0154

Happy Happy, Joy Joy, Spring is here!

Google Spring doodle

Spring has arrived! If you opened your computer, iOS or Android device this morning and clicked on Google to search something out, you saw the image above. It’s animated, so check it out on Google! Seldom has a Google Doodle lifted my spirits as much!

This has been the most horrendous of winters in the Northeast that most of us can remember. Oldtimers have told me they can’t remember such a span of unending winter misery in New York. It has felt as if the cold and snow and ice would never end. But with the arrival of the vernal equinox today at about 1:00 pm EDT, officially, winter is over! Oh sure, we may get more cold days and even some snow before summer hits, but basically, we’ve made it through the worst, and bluer skies and warm weather await.

Why does it matter so much to us? How much it matters has a lot to do with our biology (genetics predominately) and our temperament. If we are active people who enjoy winter sports, the advent of snow can be cause for celebrating.

snowshoes

We have snowshoes and have been enjoying them this winter, but care must be taken always to be moving forward and use the poles. Failing to do either of these can mean falling into hip-deep snow with virtually no way to get upright again. Nevertheless, I love snowshoeing and look forward to getting to use them again. We may still have sufficient snow in the country to use the snowshoes, but if we have to wait until next winter, I won’t be sorry.

Genetically, we may be prone to depression in the form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Many of my clients struggle with this every year, and sometimes the best we can do about it is to acknowledge that eventually it will end. Some people have told me that in late December when the days grow imperceptibly longer again, they can start to feel that depression lift. There are full-spectrum lighting devices available that mimic sunlight, and a few people I have treated claim they help, but of course, only if they use them. Because it means sitting by the light source for 30 minutes or so, many people don’t find them practical.

If our temperament is anxious, it may have begun to seem that this winter is a personal affront to us, a scheme designed to thwart our best efforts and consign us to misery, forever and ever, amen. If our temperament is depressive, we may feel dumped on by the universe and believe that despite winter always coming to an end in the past, this year, and maybe due to the wacky weirdness of climate change, it will never leave. We may imagine ourselves peering out onto an icy front walk in July. Depression has a way of lying to us and convincing us that whatever misery we currently experience is interminable, permanent.

Life is actually pretty short, in the scheme of things. It seems just as if it were yesterday that our adult kids were babies, for example, or that we ourselves were young and had a vast lifetime of possibilities stretching ahead of us. If we don’t live in the now, we miss our lives. Here’s where mindfulness offers us so much. We need to move with all deliberate speed, meaning proceed on the path without withering by the wayside for too long. Meaning we need to understand what our priorities are because they are what drive us. Meaning we need to go slowly enough to savor the life we are living, even the suffering which is such a great teacher that makes the sweetness in life so much more delicious. “No mud, No lotus”, as Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us.

more to life Gandhi

What have you hoped to accomplish in this life? Have you started to go after the things you still fervently wish for? No? Start now. Begin to write, take a painting class, start a blog, take photographs with your phone and have fun playing around with them on your computer or tablet. Take a class, begin to meditate. Whatever it is, there is a way you can begin to do it, if even only a little bit. Do it! Let go of what anyone else thinks you should or should not do. Listen to your heart and try to let it guide you into a positive new direction, one which aligns with your values and your dreams.

life is short

Those of us who have sat by the bedside of a dying loved one know how short life is. So let’s begin to nail down some goals and take steps toward reaching them. We just don’t know how much time we will have if we delay.

do it now

May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.

And today, this is my practice.

Namaste

IMG_0154

Mountain Mindfulness and Metta

Snowy Woods

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.

Koi_Zen_Garden,_Tokyo

Namaste

IMG_0154

Being the Change We Wish to See in the World

Image

As Mahatma Gandhi said to us, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” What does this mean? Figure out what you feel needs to change in your world and change yourself and your life with its thoughts, intentions and actions accordingly. For example, if we abhor the degrading of our environment, wreaking havoc with our climate, we do what we can to change it. We advocate for sustainable energy and recycle or reuse metal, glass, paper and plastic objects to avoid consigning them to the rising refuse piles on the planet, and we minmize buying products that waste our precious resources. Here in New York City many residents can now compost much of what once ended up in landfills. If we grieve the suffering of farmed animals in the factory production of meats, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products, we buy only humanely raised foods, or as some would deem to be even better, switch to vegan or vegetarian eating, easier to do today than ever. I know, because I have been a fat and sassy vegan for years with no harmful health effects. If we aim to live in a peaceful and conflict-free world, and to be free from anger in the Metta sense, we practice compassionate listening, and we resist the seductive lure of defensiveness and even of playing devil’s advocate, as well as avoiding blatant arguing, righteous indignation and ego-driven defiance. Of course, we may fall short repeatedly, but we can try again and learn over time to eliminate our knee-jerk and hair-trigger reactions to bombast, offensiveness, false accusations and rage, stepping aside to avoid engagement with the fire of that anger lest our own be ignited as well. Fiery anger spreads rapidly through the tinder-dry undergrowth of mindless existence, running along the ground, up tree trunks, onto roofs, and into untended hearts and minds.

the_path_of_life_by_uktara

What is the path we are walking in our lives today? Are we part of the solution, or are we by our advocacy, silent assent or apathy being a part of the very problem we seek to change for the better? When we decide to no longer be a part of angry interactions, inflamed rhetoric, and the need to be right above all else, or the abuse of our fellow sentient beings and the world we share with them, we step onto the path of peace.

TNH beautiful path

Let us find and keep on the beautiful path of peace with every step. Naturally we will stray in our steps, especially at first, but we can with each moment of awareness step back where the peace is, where the love is, where the healing is.

Namaste

IMG_0154

Coping with Discomfort on the Fly

flames

When we decide that anger, and aggravation, irritation, frustration and similar states of inner discomfort, are no longer welcome in us, what happens when they arise?

What do we do, and how do we handle those feelings? First of all, these feelings are normal human states and happen to everyone. What matters most is how we react or respond to them.

As we can read in depth in The Noble Eightfold Path covered by American Buddhist Bhikkhu Bodhi, we can gravitate to one of two extremes wherein we tend to cope with those feelings: 1) giving in to them and allowing them full expression, and 2) repressing them and escaping their immediate influence. The first may feel great in the moment but creates unease, tension and dissatisfaction within us, the nervous system arousal we experience can be very addictive, and usually this behavior exacerbates or causes problems for us with others. Repressing the emotion only momentarily frees us from the interpersonal inflammation so that we can stay peaceful on the surface and in a state of denial that we are angry at all. The bolus of anger, hot and dangerous, sinks deeper into the psyche to cause damage down below our conscious awareness. When anger is submerged it creates vague distress, depression, anxiety, and apprehension, and these can lead us to self-medicate with addictive behaviors such as substance abuse, compulsive overeating, spending, and other efforts to relieve the anger we don’t even know we have.

middle way

Walking the Noble Eightfold Path, also called the Middle Way by the Buddha, puts us at neither extreme but in the middle where we neither express the an ger nor repress it but face it and learn about it and let it go. In Metta meditation we aspire to learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving and delusion in ourselves. We learn to look at what inflames anger within us and see how we can better deal with it. We stop trying to run to or from that anger but sit with it. We let it teach us about ourselves. We welcome it as our teacher but we do not let it control our thoughts or drive our actions.

Recently we attended a community gathering. My husband went to secure our seats while I went to the refreshment area for a cup of tea. Someone I see rarely spotted me and gave me a happy greeting and big hug. But as I moved toward the hot water urn, she said something insulting about my husband, insinuating that if he wasn’t with me she’d be glad. I didn’t engage in that conversation, probably laughed nervously as I moved away. But I didn’t feel very good about it. I was trying to repress the anger. A few moments later I heard this same person tell my husband she had hoped he wouldn’t be at the gathering. He became angry and made a retort that I also tried not to experience. We sat and listened to the lecture, but I was very troubled by the anger I had tried to ignore in myself and by the anger my husband seemed to be feeling as he muttered about the exchange under his breath.

honesty1

This is how I dealt with this. I focused on my breathing, using the gatha “Breathing in I am calm, breathing out I smile.”  After a minute or two I had indeed calmed. I then wished the nine Metta aspirations of my daily practice for myself, then for my husband, and lastly for the individual who had provoked our discomfort. I was able to identify fear and anxiety in myself, and I explored my desire not to be in the middle between angry people  and my own indirect avoidance of the conflict without addressing it honestly. I knew this sudden attack had angered my husband, and I felt terrible for him. I also remembered that this person had a history of mental illness with frequent episodes of unwelcome hostility and impulsive blurting, and I wished for her to be free of that affliction. The lecture was a lengthy one, allowing me to get in about 20 minutes of sincere Metta before the gathering broke up. I chatted with others I hadn’t seen in a while, and the troublesome individual hung nearby. I attempted to pass to leave when she walked in front of me to hug me again. I stepped back slightly, and without anger or confrontation in my voice or in my heart, I simply said, “You insulted my husband.” The response was surprising. She stood staring at me for quite a while, silent. Then she said, “I live to insult husbands,” and moved away laughing as we left. I wish her healing, and I hope she can be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit. When we experience these blessed attributes, we do not attempt to hurt others with our words or our actions.

I am so grateful for my meditation practice and for the Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh from whom I have learned so much.

Mindful calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindful calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Namaste

IMG_0154

Compassionate Listening

listen

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.

 

keep-calm-and-thank-you-for-listening-32

Namaste

IMG_0154

 

Healing Through Meditation

lotus

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.

e54a6c02-27a3-4d10-a206-f1a1c998414d

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.

0ebe6812-9622-43a0-900e-05d918242d0d

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.”

08047ac2-0293-49fd-8ebc-edb789fea7b1 

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.

 

IMG_0154

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.