Robert Piper: Meditation: America’s New Pushup

The pushup has been a standard part of being American. If you grow up in America and go to school, one of the first things you’re taught in gym class is how to do a pushup. Millions of Americans do pushups before work, during their lunch break, and at the gym. Because of pushups, we’ve mastered getting ripped pectorals, deltoids, and triceps.

However, we’ve done horrible at managing stress.

Stress costs American businesses around $300 billion a year. Stress is one of the most common long-term absences in the workplace. NBC’s chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, recently said: “Stress is a huge factor when we look at medical problems such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiac disease.”

Millions of people in America are paying for an overstressed lifestyle: More than 25 million American suffer from diabetes, and some 74 million have high blood pressure. Stress shrinks our brains, may cause depression, and people who are stressed have higher risk for a stroke.

Several of my friends are driven business-savvy men and women with Type A personalities; they like to tease me about how I do meditation. Until one day, on a Friday night one of them pulled me aside and said, “Hey, I have really bad stress problems. Can you tell me about meditation?” He wasn’t the first of my friends to do this; I’ve heard the same line from a few of them. I stopped over at one of my friend’s house, who lives in an expensive high rise in Chicago and works 100 hours week. When he opened the door, he was grinding his teeth, and looked like he hadn’t slept in a week. My first words were, “Stressed out?” He responded, “Yeah, terribly stressed.”

This seems to be the culture of America; everything is go, go, go! No wonder the majority of heart attacks in America is on Monday morning. Another guy I know had band aids on his thumbs, from typing so many emails on his BlackBerry keyboard. He types more than 100 emails a day on the thing — the skin on his thumbs were actually peeling off. He was so stressed; it was difficult just to have a conversation with him.

It seems like this fable of The Lion and Gazelle is installed into the psyche of American culture, “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle — when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

We don’t have to live like this; we can still be successful and relaxed at the same time if we incorporate meditation into our culture. There’s nothing wrong with a culture full of ambitious men and women; I just want to see more people relax.

I teach meditation to a lot of very wealthy Type A personalities, and one of the things I see with Type As is a lot of them have forgotten how to breathe. The first thing I teach them is to breathe naturally.

Simple mindful breaks throughout the day will do wonders to the culture as a whole. If we all looked at our breathing and checked in with ourselves throughout the day, we would feel a lot better.

Here’s a simple meditation that anyone can do.

1. Find a comfortable place to sit in a chair, close your eyes, bring your awareness to your breathing.

2. Take a deep inhale.

3. Exhale out.

4. Again inhale, bring your attention to all the feelings in your body in a non-judgmental way.

5. Exhale out, focusing on all the feelings in your body in a non-judgmental way.

6. Repeat those steps above. As you progress, work on bringing your breathing to its natural state.

7. Then, open your eyes and carry that feeling with you for the rest of your day.

America is a culture that loves to win. If Americans want to continue to win, they better figure out a way to incorporate meditation into their schedule. Because as the statistics show, stress is cleaning house. To continue winning we have to incorporate meditation into our culture. Meditation is the new pushup.

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via Robert Piper: Meditation: America’s New Pushup.

Anushka Fernandopulle: Buddhist Meditation: Catching the Right Thought Train

Consider your mind being like the platform of a train station where different trains of thought pull through the station in each moment, heading to various destinations: childhood memories, creative ideas, revenge fantasies, cravings for chocolate, vacation plans. The untrained mind gets on every single train that pulls through the station, only later realizing what the destination is. For instance, the “Jealousy Train” leads to a bleak wasteland — fear, aggression, obsession, stalking your ex, burning garbage, large rodents — you do not want to get on that train! On the other hand, the “Generosity Train” leads to a place that is spacious, happy, relaxed and connected. That’s a good one to board.

The path of Buddhist meditation practice involves developing a deep understanding of what leads toward peace and happiness and what does not; what is in harmony with the truth of the way things are (Dharma) and what creates suffering by going against the grain. Wise effort involves cultivating intentions that are aligned with this goal (skillful states), abandoning those that are not (unskillful states) and knowing the difference.

Developing this skill is a lot like learning how to read; in this case, reading the mind, heart and body through knowing the energy of the intentions, emotions and thoughts that drive us in each moment. You may not remember what it was like to learn how to read, but it can take some time! I had the experience in my adult life of learning how to read another language. After I finished college, I spent time in Sri Lanka doing meditation practice at various monasteries and centers. While my family is originally from Sri Lanka, I was born and raised in the U.S., so though I could speak conversationally, I was not very good at reading Singhalese language. I could read slowly like a small child, but certainly not fluently.

I traveled around a lot by bus, and in order to take the bus, you had to stand by the side of the road and when you saw your bus coming, flag it down to get on. The trouble was, my reading of the bus signs was too slow. I would see a bus coming and try to read the sign: “Co…..Lo….” Zoom! The bus would be gone before I could finish reading the destination. “Ku….Ru…” Zoom! Again I couldn’t tell if it was the right bus or not. Sometimes I would guess based on the first two characters, flag the bus to get on and finish reading from the inside of the bus, stopping the bus as fast as I could if I had guessed wrong!

But as I studied the language more, I got better at reading. So after a while, I could read the signs well and easily know which was my bus and which was not. I spent less time on buses going in the wrong direction and was able to have a smoother, faster trip to my intended destination; I traveled with less confusion and more confidence.

Similarly, as we develop our practice we can learn to get on the thought trains that are helpful and skip the ones that are not. And just like in a train station, if nobody is boarding the trains that go to a destination, they will stop running them so often, and eventually stop running them at all. This is known as the path of purification, and it is completely possible for a 21st century person to attain, if you are interested in learning.

Of course in the meantime you will often get on the wrong train, but each time can be seen as an opportunity to learn. You will spend a lot of time developing intimacy with difficult states of mind, connecting with their challenges. But you will also learn about the beautiful states of mind and the joy that they bring. Through this practice you will become more effective in whatever you are trying to do in your life: politics, social change work, parenting, business and creative arts all benefit from catching the right thought trains!

So I wish you well in your practice. Enjoy learning about your mind and heart! Your efforts will be beneficial for you and all those you meet for the rest of your life.

via Anushka Fernandopulle: Buddhist Meditation: Catching the Right Thought Train.