Do it yourself: Meditation does not have to be like boot camp – The Nation

In our hi-tech, switched-on world, many people question the value of certain practices that have come down to us through the traditional religions. One of these is meditation, a practice of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and other ancient faiths.

Here in Thailand, some temples offer meditation retreats. People who attend them sometimes fail to get anything out of them. They complain that they have to get up at 4am, have to endure tasteless vegetarian food, can’t eat after noon, aren’t allowed to talk, have to be in bed by 8pm, and – the ultimate horror for plugged-in netizens of the 21st century – they have no Internet access and have to leave their iPads, iPods, smartphones, Blackberries and mobile phones at home.

Meditation retreats in Thailand make the mistake of trying to impose the lifestyle of arahats (saints) on people who are only arahat wannabes. Many lay people do not adapt readily to a regimen designed for monks. This is like trying to force every foot into the same shoe, or teaching calculus to people who haven’t yet learned basic arithmetic. It expects too much of them, is counterproductive, and will drive them away. A meditation retreat should not be a boot camp.

The good news is that you don’t have to attend a meditation retreat to meditate. Once you know the method, you can do it on your own, although it’s always helpful to have a qualified teacher to steer you right in case you start to go off the rails.

Meditation can be practiced by anyone, any place, any time. But it works best if you’re open to new ideas and curious about the ultimate metaphysical underpinnings of the universe. It’s not a social activity, and is best practiced alone. A quiet, secluded place is desirable. Only an advanced meditator trying to test his skills – or a masochist – would try to meditate in a discotheque with flashing strobe lights, a yelling, dancing mob, and a sound system blasting at top volume.

You have to be awake and reasonably conscious, so early-morning meditation isn’t right for everybody. A full meal makes you sleepy, so after-dinner meditating is a bad idea. Sleep as long as you like, then wake up, wash up, and meditate alone in a quiet place.

Both intensity and duration are important. You’re not going to get much benefit if you’re always daydreaming, or drifting off into memories and fantasies. That also applies to five quick minutes of meditation before rushing off to work in the morning. If you lead an active life or think a lot, it may take a full hour of meditation just to get your mind calmed down. After two hours, you should start to feel something, and certainly after three. Anybody who dismisses meditation as baloney without sticking with it for at least three hours isn’t giving it a chance.

There are many methods of meditation, usually advocated by specific schools or religions. You can get the details from books. Basically it involves turning your thoughts inward and paying attention to whatever you may regard as ultimate. The goal is to evoke that “ultimate” and experience it in whatever way it may manifest itself. Often visualisation, mental chanting and prayer are involved. That covers a lot of territory, so an example may help.

Here’s a method that may work for Buddhists. You turn your attention inward and visualise your heart as a lotus. Then you mentally project an image of the Buddha seated on the lotus, radiating light and compassion. Keep your attention fixed on the image. It may change shape or assume different forms. Never mind. Keep bringing your attention back to the image and continue to visualise it. A different image may arise that still represents the Buddha, but it may be clearer or more pleasing. If that happens, and especially if the new image persists, let go of the old one and pay attention to the new one. The idea is to be continually conscious of the presence of the Buddha within you.

To strengthen this consciousness, mentally chant a mantra. Many people like the standard Theravada invocation, “Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa.” (“Homage to Him, the Exalted, the Worthy, the Fully Enlightened One.”) If that seems a little long. you might prefer a shorter one: “Namo Buddhaya.” (“Homage to the Buddha.”) Ajahn Chah used to teach his disciples to chant simply “Buddho, Buddho” with every inbreath and outbreath.

Some people like to use a rosary to keep track of the number of repetitions. That can become a distraction. The emphasis should be on the chanting. Don’t worry about the number of repetitions. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu once tried using a rosary, but he gave up because it reminded him of a Chinese shopkeeper totting up sales on his abacus. If a rosary works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t. Meditation is not a marathon; nobody is going to give you a gold medal for the number of times you chant. Even so, duration does tell, so the longer you can meditate and the more repetitions you can chant, the better.

Practitioners of other religions can follow the same method – visualisation of an ideal combined with mental chanting of a mantra. But obviously they would focus on their own ideal of what is ultimate and chant a mantra drawn from their own tradition. Hindus can meditate on Rama, Krishna, Shiva or any of the Hindu deities. Christians can meditate on Jesus. Taoists can meditate on the yin-yang symbol. Jews might meditate on the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter Name of God in the Hebrew alphabet. Muslims might meditate on the Arabic phrase, “There is no God but Allah.”

People may wonder what the benefits of meditation are. To some, it may sound like self-hypnotism. A cynic might define it as reinforcement of deeply held delusions. It can be considered a system of self-conditioning, and it does look like self-hypnotism in the beginning. But eventually it takes on a life of its own, continues effortlessly, and seems to draw on hidden wellsprings in the mind to generate new ideas and insights. Above all, it generates a sense of the presence of something pervasive and indefinable that gives great comfort. This has to be experienced to be understood, and even those who experience it rarely understand it fully. Everybody interprets it in terms of his own tradition. Apart from that, meditation relaxes the mind and conveys a feeling of wellbeing.

So you don’t have to get up at 4am, eat tasteless vegetarian food, starve after noon, or go to bed at 8pm. But you do have to put away your techno-toys and do it alone in a quiet place. You also have to give it at least three hours to produce some effect before dismissing it as baloney.

If you ever have three hours to spare, give it a shot.

Paramananda Pahari is a writer and student of religions.

Do it yourself: Meditation does not have to be like boot camp – The Nation.


NHS recognition of mindfulness meditation is good for depression | Mia Hansson | Society | The Guardian

Scientists have now discovered how mindfulness meditation can give patients control over levels of depression, anxiety and chronic pain, says Mia Hansson

The secular meditation courses now being rolled out by the NHS are a lot easier than the one the Buddha taught. Photograph: GuardianMindfulness meditation has been shown to give patients control over their own depression and anxiety levels and levels of chronic pain, according to a paper published earlier this month in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.Previous studies have found that mindfulness meditation can cut the recurrence of depression by 50%, and neuroimaging scans have shown significant positive change in brain activity of long-term meditators. But while scientists knew mindfulness was having an effect, they have not known how until now.Catherine Kerr, lead author of the new study and director of translational neuroscience for the contemplative studies initiative at Brown University in Providence, in the US, says that when we are depressed, attention is “consumed by negative preoccupations, thoughts and worries”.

Instead of disengaging and moving on, we find ourselves digging deeper into negative thought patterns.Mindfulness gives patients control over this habitual chain via a “body scan” technique, where patients systematically engage and disengage with the sensations in each part of the body. As they do so, alpha rhythms, which organise the flow of sensory information in the brain, increase and decrease. Kerr describes this as a “sensory volume knob” and it is this flexible focusing skill which, the paper proposes, “regulates attention so that it does not become biased toward negative physical sensations and thoughts, as in depression”. Early Buddhists advanced a similar theory 2,500 years ago in a famous practice text called “Mindfulness of the body and breath”.I came to mindfulness on a 10-day Buddhist meditation retreat in Thailand. Letting go of thought felt as impossible as tearing off a limb; particularly when the leg and back pains started from sitting cross-legged.

Years later, I came to see that it was unacknowledged emotions that gradually manifested as pain, on an emotional and sometimes physical level. Turning towards them, and accepting them fully, helped to resolve them.Thankfully, the secular antidote that the NHS has rolled out is far easier than the one the Buddha taught. You don’t have to sit cross-legged, and the sessions, usually run by a clinical psychologist, take place once a week over a period of eight weeks.Having recognised the health and cost benefits, some NHS trusts accept self-referrals, others accept referrals via GPs. The Mental Health Foundation, which has produced a list of some of the NHS-funded courses, estimates that as many as 30% of GPs now refer patients to mindfulness training.However, these programmes are often bundled under “talking therapies” treatment, such as cognitive behavioural therapy CBT, which is misleading since talking is exactly what mindfulness practitioners aren’t doing.

via NHS recognition of mindfulness meditation is good for depression | Mia Hansson | Society | The Guardian.

Ed and Deb Shapiro: Why Meditation Doesn’t Belong to Anyone

Yogis do it, Christians do it, Buddhists do it, Jews do it, Hindus do it, Muslims do it, and atheists do it. Kids, the elderly, CEOs, celebrities, housewives and politicians all do it. It can be done in schools, hospitals, boardrooms, town halls, or your own living room. Meditation is now written into TV dramas. Cross-legged yogis and monks can be seen in computer and credit card ads, while newspapers and magazines publish meditation tips from famous film stars. In our local post office, fliers advertising meditation and yoga classes hang next to overseas postal prices.

Meditation doesn’t belong to anyone, nor is it exclusive to any particular religion, belief, or doctrine. There are as many forms of meditation as there are people who practice, and it’s of value to all. It’s as simple and normal as breathing. The Dalai Lama, probably the world’s most famous meditator, says that meditation is like cookery: “You wouldn’t merely read recipes with approval, you’d try them out. Some you’d like and would use again. Like cookery, meditation only makes sense if you put it into practice.”

We have both been doing it, writing about it, and teaching it for more than 40 years and couldn’t image how we could survive without it. In that time, we’ve seen how easily people get confused or miss the point, believing meditation means having to stop their thinking (which is as pointless as trying to catch the wind) or do complicated techniques to reach an unrealistic place of perfect bliss. But remember, saints get headaches, the Buddha had a stomachache, Oprah has bad hair days. We’re all ordinary, and meditation is no big deal — it’s just being quiet with ourselves, as we are. It is more of an undoing than a doing. It enables us to witness how our mind jumps from one drama to another, it dissolves mental clutter, frees us of habitual patterns, helps release stress, and feels wonderfully peaceful.

The type or method of meditation is not the point, as it is simply an aide. It’s not the experience itself. Everyone is different, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. A hammer can help build a house, but it is not the house. No one practice is better than another; they are simply methods that give our chattering minds something to do other than drive us crazy, thereby allowing us to be still.

Meditation is waking up from the misconception that the intellectual and rational mind is the whole picture. It is the realization of the brilliance of who we truly are. Someone once asked Ed if he had ever experienced another dimension. Ed replied: “Have you ever experienced this one?” As a result of meditation, our mind becomes clear of obscuration, our heart as big as the universe. We are awake, free, spontaneous, and in the moment. What a gift!

So what can you do for yourself this year? Meditate! It’s something that will change your life for the better, forever!

What does meditation mean to you? Do comment below. You can receive notice of our blogs every Tuesday by checking Become a Fan at the top.

via Ed and Deb Shapiro: Why Meditation Doesn’t Belong to Anyone.


Meditation: Stress Reduction or Induction? | North Coast Journal | Humboldt County

(Feb. 21, 2013) What [the Buddha] taught … the path that we think will lead us to happiness leads instead to sorrow.

Donald Lopez, Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies, U. of Michigan

Every week or so, I receive an email announcing the latest scientific finding about meditation or, as it’s usually termed, “Buddhist meditation.” Not only is the practice now a proven remedy for stress and anxiety, but meditation lowers cholesterol, decreases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, counters addiction and eases depression. All good, no doubt. I’ve seen it for myself. For instance, I lead meditation sessions in our local county jail, and I’ve seen both dramatic and more modest results, as the simple process of sitting quietly appears to help inmates to accept a fresh sense of ownership of their situation, rather than seeing themselves as victims of raw circumstance. Where before they knew only boredom and despair, they come to see opportunities such as reading, education, discussion, growth. And in my own life, time and again, personal grief has become lighter and sadness has turned, unexpectedly, into humor while sitting. So I don’t doubt the psychological and physiological benefits claimed for meditation.

What I do question is whether any of these payoffs have anything to do with Buddhist meditation. Of course, professing something to be “Buddhist” is about as useful as claiming, “The Buddha said such-and-such.” In the latter case, we’re asking a lot of oral tradition. The first Buddhist writings (the Gandharan Texts) date from the first century CE, which puts them between 300 and 800 years after the death of the historic Buddha, depending on which tradition you believe — if, indeed, there was a “historic Buddha” in the first place. Google that phrase, and you’ll see how flimsy the evidence is for an actual founding teacher of Buddhism, rather than a committee of sages.

And what is “Buddhism,” for that matter? A term invented by European missionaries and travelers 400 years ago, who noted the similarity between statues they saw in China, Japan, Ceylon, Siam and Tibet, and came up with the one handy umbrella term. (Ten thousand Indian beliefs and rites suffered the same fate when Westerners, coining the word “Hinduism,” proclaimed them all to be aspects of the same religion. Today’s scholars are a little more rigorous in their taxonomy.) I don’t know how Tibetan lamas, with their bells and incense, robes and rituals, feel about being lumped in with “sit-down-and-shut-up” Zen practitioners, for instance, but I suppose it works both ways. Easterners probably have no trouble seeing Mormons, Holy Rollers, Quakers and Egyptian Copts as slightly different manifestations of something called “Christianity.”

In any case, I doubt if any flavor of Buddhism would recognize what often passes for “Buddhist meditation” nowadays in the U.S., with its emphasis on stress-reduction and therapeutic healing. The goal of traditional Buddhism is quite the opposite, seeking (as Donald Lopez puts it) “to create stress and destroy complacency” in order to smash the mind — a far cry from healing it. So there’s your choice: Meditate on your path to serenity and low triglyceride levels; or meditate to realize there is no path, there’s nothing to “get” because, in the words of that fount of human wisdom, the Old Milwaukee beer commercial, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” The Big Guy couldn’t have put it more succinctly.

Barry Evans (barryevans9@yahoo.com) has been meditating since 1970. He still hasn’t a clue what it’s all about.

via Meditation: Stress Reduction or Induction? | North Coast Journal | Humboldt County.


Lewis Richmond: Is Meditation Narcissistic? on Huffington Post

Is meditation narcissistic? The short answer is: it depends. The act of sitting in silence, eyes closed or facing a wall, attention focused on the inner landscape of breath, body and mental activity, could at least be characterized as self-absorbed — some might call it navel gazing. The term “navel gazing,” which the dictionary defines as “useless or excessive self-contemplation,” was originally a concentration practice of Hindu Yoga. Jack Engler , a psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher, has written extensively about the wrong use of meditation by psychologically unbalanced people. In the book “Buddhism & Psychotherapy,” he speaks of those who “practice meditation in the service of defense, rather than self-awareness.” Engler’s contributions are part of a growing literature about the many ways that the goal of true meditation can be subverted by those with a distorted motivation.

Motivation indeed is the key. While “right meditation” is the eighth spoke in the wheel of the eight-fold path, “right motivation” is the second. When Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, confronts Mara the Tempter, he dismisses Mara by saying, “You are not striving for the welfare of the world.” In other words, Mara — who could be seen as the narcissistic shadow of the Buddha — lacks correct motivation. Mara wants the fruit of spiritual practice to satisfy his own selfish needs for power, status, security or perfection. Perhaps today’s Western practitioners leap a bit too quickly into the innerness of meditation without a thorough grounding in all the other spokes of the Path — “right view,” “right intention” and so on.

These days I am growing less fond of this prefix “right,” which is a legacy of 19th century scholarship. To my ear “right” is a bit superior-sounding and moralistic. I have come to prefer simply “Buddhist” — Buddhist view, Buddhist motivation, Buddhist action, Buddhist speech, Buddhist livelihood, Buddhist effort, Buddhist mindfulness, Buddhist meditation. There are other paths; this is the Buddhist one. Each of these eight spokes are important; each supports the others and helps keep Mara-like self-absorption at bay. Emphasizing one at the expense of the others is not salutary.

The prince Siddhartha left the palace and took up the life of a monk not because he needed more adulation, wealth or influence (he already had those things) but because he wanted to clearly understand the causes of suffering and how to assuage it. In many places throughout the Sutras, the Buddha says this, “I teach suffering and the cause of suffering.” In other words, Buddha strives for the welfare of the world; that is his work.

This concern for the suffering of others is not an idea; it is a deeply emotional response. Siddhartha was upset by the suffering he saw, a powerful emotional reaction that changed his life. This is described often in Buddhist scripture. The Vimalakirti Sutra begins with the news that the Bodhisattva Vimalakirti is sick. When the disciples of the Buddha go to visit him, Vimalakirti explains that he is sick because all sentient beings are sick. And in the “Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life ,” Santideva says that while an ordinary person experiences the suffering of others like a grain of sand in the palm of the hand, for the Bodhisattva it is like a grain of sand in the eye. Suffering is painful; the Bodhisattva feels that pain on behalf of others.

Meditation practiced in this spirit and with this motivation is not at all narcissistic; in fact, it is narcissism’s opposite. Neuroscientists are now looking at the brain scans of people with strong narcissistic tendencies, and are seeing anomalies in the region of the frontal lobe having to do with emotional response. It is not clear yet how this might relate to Buddhist practice, but it supports Jack Engler’s observations about people who practice meditation to armor themselves against feeling.

Buddhist Motivation is not some elementary or preparatory practice to be left behind once meditation begins. Cultivating Buddhist motivation is a lifelong endeavor, because the tendency to slip into self-aggrandizement does not necessarily diminish as one’s spiritual prowess grows. In fact, it can increase. In many meditation traditions — including my own school of Zen — every period of meditation begins with a recitation of the four Bodhisattva vows, and concludes with a dedication to the welfare of all beings. Buddhist meditation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is not navel gazing; it is deeply relational.

The Eightfold Path was designed to be practiced as a seamless whole. Otherwise things can go awry. Any single practice or effort can go off the rails. Mara’s stratagems are indefatigable and ingenious. The ego constantly looks for ways to bend the benefits of the practice back toward the self and its selfish needs. It helps to have other people — practice companions, good spiritual friends and teachers — to watch you and point out where you might be veering off.

One contemporary Japanese Zen teacher, when asked by a student what was the most important principle of Zen practice, replied, “Look under your own feet.” We must ask, are we standing on solid ground, or on quicksand? This question is the continuous life koan of every seeker of the truth and every aspirant for wisdom.

via Lewis Richmond: Is Meditation Narcissistic?.

Unwind your Mind at the UW in 2013 – Only 1 class on campus winter quarter!

Techniques to help clear and open your mind.

Unwind your Mind Meditation CD

Meditation Instruction CD

Practice watching thoughts and feelings like children on the playground of your imagination. This 3 hour intensive is chock full of tips for beginning a meditation practice. Gain a quick overview of different kinds of meditation practices so that you can discover for yourself the benefits of meditation and choose the style best suited to you.

Can’t make it to a class?  A CD is now available, over an hour of  instruction and guided meditation!  Order today!

For more info, please visit http://www.karahpino.me/meditation. On UW Campus.

Wed 6:30pm-9:30pm 02/13 Register Today!

The “best” meditation is what works for you! by Karah Pino, MAcOM

The results of a research study from San Francisco State University came out in July of 2012 that asked the question: “What is the best meditation?”

Meditation practitioners around the world would say: “The meditation I do!”  and as it turns out, the research shows that it is absolutely true!

The study followed people who learned different styles of meditation and tracked the effectiveness of the meditation program.  What was shown is that those who learned a style that suited them tended to follow up with their practice better than those that didn’t particularly like the style they were taught.  But the results of the different styles were equally effective, so long as they were practiced regularly. This confirmed what I had noticed for my students over the years.  Any technique will help you deal with stress to improve your health,  smooth your relationships, and help you enjoy your life.

“A new study just published notes the importance of selecting a meditation method that is most comfortable to the new meditator, not the one that is currently the most popular. Choosing the one you are most comfortable with increases the likelihood that you will stick with it, says Adam Burke, the author of the study and a professor of health education at San Francisco State University.”Read More

Helping people find a style that works for them is the goal of the Unwind your Mind curriculum.

Unwind your Mind Meditation CD

Meditation Instruction CD

This class is designed to give an overview of the types of different techniques to people newly interested in meditation.  The four categories of meditation techniques are: Mindfulness, Visualization techniques, Sound techniques and Movement techniques.  The types of techniques introduced in the three hour class include breathing techniques, guided meditation, chanting, self observation and QiGong.

To take this class or purchase the CD, please visit: MindUnwind.org/Meditation

mommy-and-alvin-sqKarah Pino, MAcOM has a master’s degree in Acupunture and Chinese medicine including meditation techniques for healing.  She is a meditation instructor at the University of Washington Experimental College and Mind Unwind Gallery.  Courses are offered regularly in Seattle, WA on on retreats offered through Mind Unwind.

Breathing exercises to combat anxiety | Mail Online

By Dr Jonty Heaversedge

More than 870,000 Britons suffer from anxiety, a condition that triggers unnecessary feelings of uneasiness and worry.

Increasingly, mindfulness – a psychological therapy with roots in Buddhist meditation – is being used by the NHS to help alleviate the symptoms.

Here, in the final extract from his book The Mindful Manifesto, DR JONTY HEAVERSEDGE explains how it can help.

Increasingly, mindfulness – a psychological therapy with roots in Buddhist meditation – is being used by the NHS to help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety

Increasingly, mindfulness – a psychological therapy with roots in Buddhist meditation – is being used by the NHS to help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety

Before directing your mind towards the anxiety you are experiencing, focus on your breathing – the sensation of air slowly flowing into your nostrils, streaming down the back of your throat and into your lungs. Feel the beating of your heart and imagine how it pumps oxygenated blood around your body. Continue until you’re ready to meditate.

Now, shift your attention to your anxious thoughts. What thoughts are present in your mind right now? Are there many moving quickly or does each one remain for a while? Consider the thoughts objectively rather than reacting to them emotionally.

There’s a myth that when you meditate, you should have a blank mind. But thoughts are not the enemy and trying to stop them will only lead to more struggle. Treat the thoughts during meditation like having a radio on in the background – you can hear it, but your main focus is elsewhere. In mindfulness, you’re paying attention to the fact that you have a thought but you are not buying into what it is saying. Try not to judge the thought as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Cultivate an attitude of equanimity to whatever goes through your mind. Watch your thoughts with curiosity and kindness and they will become easier to bear.

Whenever you notice your mind is wandering, acknowledge that it has meandered and gently bring your attention back to observing your thoughts.

Continue working with your worries in this way for the period of time you have chosen. Working mindfully can be challenging, so it’s good to practise for short periods at first.

You may feel dizzy when you start but that’s because you’ve suddenly stopped spinning around in circles. In the stillness of meditation, it can also seem as if you have more thoughts than usual but this is not so: it is just that you are becoming more aware of them. The more you practise, the more your mind can deal with worries in a less panicked way.

The Mindful Manifesto, by Dr Jonty Heaversedge and Ed Halliwell, Hay House, £10.99

via Breathing exercises to combat anxiety | Mail Online.