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Beyond Positive thinking
There is an old adage in yoga psychology which is at the heart of the phenomenon of positive thinking.
‘The mind takes the shape of its object’.
When you pour water into a container, it will take the shape of the container. Our mind stuff, that most subtle of all substances, acts in a similar way. If you think of a camel then there is a portion of your mind that takes the shape of a camel, which is another way of saying that the mind forms an image of a camel. Now as we learned earlier, each and every expression of the universe is vibrational in character. A thought is a mental wave composed of psychic energy or mind-stuff. Because it is vibrational in character that mental wave has a particular wavelength. The wavelength of the thought-image of a camel will not be the same as the wavelength of the thought of a vast ocean or a feeling of compassion. Some thoughts are subtle in character and some are less so. Subtle or expansive thoughts, as you might suspect, have a long, steady wavelength while crude thoughts have a much shorter, erratic wavelength. Our mind as a whole has its own characteristic wavelength which is the composite of all the waves active in the mind at any one time. While our mind’s wavelength is constantly changing as different thought-waves rise and fall in our mental ocean, it never changes very much because we each have our own habitual style of thinking, our personality, which determines the nature of those recurring individual waves.
Now what happens in nature when two interact? There is a clash between the two waves and each is influenced to some extent by the other. The stronger the wave is, the greater the influence it exerts, and the less it is affected by the other wave. When two waves are similar in character then there is very little clash. They vibrate sympathetically. On the practical level we experience this as a natural affinity or dislike for the people and things we come into contact with. Our feeling of like or dislike depends on the degree of sympathetic or non-sympathetic vibration between our mental wavelength and that of the object we come in contact with. ‘Good vibes’ is exactly that, the good vibrations that come when we experience a parallelism between the wavelength of our mind and that of the person or object or environment we are in contact with.
As the mind stuff gathers to take the shape of the mental object the wavelength of that thought-form is going to affect the overall character of mind. To some small degree it will influence or alter the characteristic wavelength of that mind. If the thought object is very subtle then the mind will be benefited. If the wavelength of the thought is cruder than the mind is accustomed to then the mind will be affected for the worse. Over time the constant repetition of a thought of either a crude or subtle nature will either degrade or elevate the mind. It is for this reason that the yogis teach that excessive preoccupation with crude physical objects such as money gradually crudifies the mind. Our mental power diminishes, and our capacity for happiness, enjoyment of life, and Self-expression is decreased. But if we fill our minds with expansive, more subtle ideas, it will stretch and expand and grow to accommodate these new lofty ideas.
Changing the mind from crude to subtle is the task of meditation. In order to accomplish this we think about the subtlest object possible, consciousness, with the help of the mantra. By raising subtler and subtler waves in the mind through the constant and concentrated repetition of mantra, the mind gradually expands and becomes more subtle. It gains the capacity to transmit and perceive subtler vibrations. The regular practice of meditation opens the mind up the higher realms of experience — the awakening of intuition, a deep appreciation for art and aesthetics, profound emotions of love and compassion, feelings of sympathy and oneness with nature, and a yearning to realise the inner Self. The world around you changes from a world of fixed and immovable boundaries to one of infinite possibility.
Looking at it from this perspective underscores once again the importance of what we meditate on. History is full of examples of individuals who developed psychic powers through the practice of concentration techniques, but who eventually became degraded by that same practice because they allowed their minds to become crudified.
The author is deeply influenced by ‘A Course in Miracles’, ‘The Power of Now’ and ‘Tripura Rahasya’, and gives various suggestions keeping in the mind the learning received from these books.
I am unable to meditate. When I sit to meditate, my mind wonders more wildly. I have tried it all but found no benefit. What do I do now?
Mediation is a great tool to enlightenment, but it’s not the only one.
What are the other ways?
If meditation has not worked for you, don’t worry. Try other means to switch off your mind.
Play, dance, sing, run, walk in the woods, eat, take a bath, enjoy sex, work, do anything that you would normally do, but with little caution.
Do what you are doing, but make a conscious effort to be fully involved in the doing.
I don’t understand this..
Observe your mind. See how it wonders uselessly. The mind will always tell you that what you are thinking is of extreme importance. Most of the time it will tell you that something has gone wrong in the past and you will have to face the consequence in future or get it right in future.
Is that not the right way? Should we not be introspecting and take necessary steps to improve our future?
All you are thinking about is the past or the future. Introspection is fine, but just see how much time is required for the same.
Constantly thinking about the past or the future, you miss the present.
Focus on the present, and do what you are doing. This is a 24 hour meditative state. You won’t need to sit and close your eyes and try to meditate.
Is it as good as meditation?
In meditation, you give a certain dedicated time. Being in the present, is taking benefits of meditation, while doing all your daily activities.
Will there be any spiritual progress?
God resides in a quiet mind. Meditation is a way to achieve a quiet mind. Being in the present is another way of keeping your mind quiet.
The third characteristic of a mantra is that it is rhythmic. What this means on the practical level is that it has to be able to align itself with our breathing and hence all mantras for meditation consist of two syllables.
Our breathing exerts a great influence over our thinking. The more rapid and irregular our breathing is, the more difficult it becomes to concentrate or to think deeply. When our breathing slows, our capacity to think deeply increases. For example, take a person who has just finished some hard physical exercise and is breathing very heavily. If you ask them a question that requires some concentration you are bound to get an answer like: Hang on a minute while I catch my breath. Conversely, whenever you are deeply concentrated on any subject you will notice that your breathing has become very slow and regular.
The alignment of the mantra with our breathing has two principle benefits. First of all, it helps to naturally regulate and slow our breathing, which in turn deepens our concentration. Secondly, we develop an association between our breathing and the repetition of mantra which helps us to remember the mantra. When a meditator becomes accomplished in the practice of mantra they start finding the mantra going on with their breath even when they are not formally meditating. Their mind remains in a meditative state even while performing its daily activities. When they sit for meditation they find it easy to remain concentrated because the mantra is rising and falling with the breath. Almost no effort is required.
Now that we have some theoretical understanding of why mantras are so effective as an object for meditation let us look at how the daily practice of mantra affects our day-to-day thinking.
Your Mental Object.
Thinking, as we normally understand it, is an activity which involves a subject and an object. We can take it one step further, however, and distinguish between one’s mental object, the image you have in your mind of something external to you, and the object itself (bear in mind that concepts, such as fame or good health, are also mental objects). The thing your mental object refers to (that new car, your name in all the fashionable magazines) may not exist yet in reality. It may never exist. But the thought exists. Your mental object is quite real. This is indicative of what we talked about earlier, that thoughts are real, significant events involving movements of powerful energy. When the human mind, the mind which has invented and which controls nuclear weapons and space shuttles, thinks something, it is a tangible expression of the most powerful machine in the universe.
Mental Objects tend to become a reality.
According to yoga psychology, mental objects tend to become expressed in the external world. What we think about tends to happen.
If you think you’ll succeed, you’ll succeed. If you think you will fail, you will fail. Either way, you are right. — Yogananda
Indeed, nowadays there are few people who will deny the significant effects on our lives of a positive Self-image and a positive mental attitude, or the crippling effects of negative thinking. By thinking we are happy, healthy and successful, we tend to become happy, healthy and successful, and the reverse is just as true.
Coincidence? Or incidence?
You were thinking of someone when the phone rang and guess who was on the other end. You want to go to a concert but can’t get a place; suddenly a friend tells you he or she has an extra ticket to the show and wonders if you would like it. Has anything like this ever happened to you? Were these coincidences or were they rather small examples of the powerful connection between thought and physical reality? Meditators everywhere notice a startling increase in the number of such ‘coincidences’ in their lives after they start meditating. Whether it so happens that meditation speeds up the process by which thoughts are translated into physical reality, or whether it just makes us more aware of our thoughts and how they shape our lives, this phenomena points directly to tendency of our mental objects to find expression in the external world.
Let us examine more closely the pathways a thought takes to find expression in the external world. Suppose a desire arises in your mind. That desire activates your imagination. Your mind paints a picture for you of the desired object and, consciously or unconsciously, you visualise yourself achieving it. Spurred on by that power of that thought-wave, you apply your will power and determination towards the materialisation of your desire. This is the driving force — desire, imagination and will — which enables you to translate a thought into reality, though often most or all of this process is unconscious to you and you are only aware of your sense of surprise when you find your desire materialised.
Our desires can fail to find material expression for many reasons, but perhaps the most common is that the negative side of our imagination gets in the way, sabotaging our fondest desires. Our imagination has tremendous power and when this power combines with fear, or its counterparts — doubt, anxiety, worry, insecurity, anger, resentment — it can quash all positive expressions of the will. It is somewhat like driving with the handbrake on. Part of you pushes you forward while another part restrains you, and the result is a trip to the mechanic.
Meditation teaches us a style of thinking which is conducive to the synchronisation of our imagination and our will. We raise a positive wave (or mental object) in our mind and then exercise our will to move towards it. Whenever negative thought-patterns arise and threaten to pull us in a different direction we redirect our mind back to that positive wave, thereby training it to overcome the distracting or inhibiting influence of such thought-patterns. Through regular practice this style of thinking becomes habituated and starts reflecting in other areas of our lives, hence the common experience of regular meditators that they start finding their desires quickly and easily materialised in the external world. Of course, this is not always a positive experience, as everyone soon discovers. Often what we desire is not what is best for our growth, and meditators soon learn that they must exercise control over their desires for the simple reason that they so often come true.
This aspect of meditative practice has much in common with traditional and more modern schools of positive thinking, but with several critical exceptions. Rather than utilising numerous mental objects (for example, different affirmations) and thereby diffusing the mind, we meditate on one object and one object alone, which enables us to develop the full power of the mind. And that object is the subtlest object available, consciousness itself, which leads us to the greatest possible growth and expansion of mind. By a dedicated program of positive thinking we may develop a strong, positive self-image and a sense of well-being. We may even become rich or influential, if that is what we tell ourselves we will be, but we may not realise our inner Self.
Washington: A new study has revealed that technique incorporating meditation and yoga can benefit patients with high blood pressure or `prehypertension`.
The study by Joel W. Hughes , PhD, of Kent State (Ohio) University included 56 women and men diagnosed with prehypertension.
One group of patients was assigned to a program of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR): eight group sessions of 2 and a half hours per week. Led by an experienced instructor, the sessions included three main types of mindfulness skills: body scan exercises, sitting meditation, and yoga exercises.
The other “comparison” group received lifestyle advice plus a muscle-relaxation activity. This “active control” treatment group was not expected to have lasting effects on blood pressure.
Researchers found that patients in the mindfulness-based intervention group had significant reductions in clinic-based blood pressure measurements. Systolic blood pressure (the first, higher number) decreased by an average of nearly 5 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), compared to less than 1 mm Hg with in the control group who did not receive the mindfulness intervention.
Diastolic blood pressure (the second, lower number) was also lower in the mindfulness-based intervention group: a reduction of nearly 2 mm Hg, compared to an increase of 1 mm Hg in the control group.
“Mindfulness-based stress reduction is an increasingly popular practice that has been purported to alleviate stress, treat depression and anxiety, and treat certain health conditions,” Dr Hughes said.
The study is published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.
Meditation is largely prevalent nowadays because it is seen as an antidote to stress. However it is much more than just that. Meditation is a way of life. It is to be lived. We have a vast reservoir of energy in us, lying unused, untapped. Once we get in touch with this energy, our life changes from just being an ordinary to a Divine one. Meditation is being in tune with our inner energy source.
It is about moving into the inner zones of emptiness, where stress can never touch you. It is to explore the inner space where you remain absolutely untouched from the ill-effects of the mind. All that is needed is the right method to move into that space. Being there is like being in an ocean of joy. Releasing ourselves from the clutches of our mind is called meditation.
Interestingly, meditation is not about doing something, but rather it is about doing nothing. The life of today’s man or woman is so hectic and fast paced that there is no time when one does absolutely nothing at all. To begin with, find a comfortable and quiet place to sit for 10-15 minutes every day. Stop all movements of body and mind to simply be by yourself, be still. The transformation that comes from the regular practice of meditation is gradual but certain to happen.
The author is a guru, mystic, contemporary spiritual master. For details, visit http://www.gurumaa.com
Author and fitness expert
In my childhood home, each person was assigned a specific task. My dad’s job was to wash dishes after dinner. In retrospect, it’s not surprising the memory remains so vivid to me. I remember watching him as he lovingly handled the job every night. He was so methodical, never varying his routine. First he put on an apron, next he filled the sink with soap and water. (This was before most kitchens had automatic dishwashers.) Making sure the temperature was just right, he gently lowered each dish into its soapy place. The last step was setting out a drying towel on the counter. The preliminary work done, it was time to get on with the task at hand.
From the moment he completed the pre-routine, dad went on automatic. Today I realize that in his own way, this was his meditation — a time when he could be fully present. Nothing to think about except the rhythmic movement of lifting each dish out of the water, making sure it was clean, rinsing it off and placing it on the drying towel. His mind didn’t ask, “Hmm what’s my purpose here? What’s my next step? Can I quiet my mind? What is it I have to do after the dishes are done?” The calm radiated from his eyes, but I knew it was birthed in his heart. He was at total peace.
How can washing dishes put someone at peace and how can it be a meditation? By definition, meditation is continued or extended reflection or a fixing of thought on something… the ability to maintain a single-pointed concentration that promotes a sense of well-being. This labor of love was something he could count on. He knew if he did the preparation, he’d be in the “zone.” Same time every night, same place, same preparation, same results. Everyone knew this was dad’s quiet time, so nobody bothered him. Dad was perfectly happy in his domain, focused on the task and nothing more.
I’m not suggesting you hand wash dishes. I’m suggesting that meditation is not mysterious, it’s not a woo-woo religious experience. It’s simply being able to still the “monkey mind” long enough to relax into a feeling of well-being, not concerned about the outside world. There is no new skill to learn. You already know how. Ask yourself where in life you get that incredible feeling of peace and well-being that comes from one pointed intention and total relaxation. Is it painting, cooking, soaking in a hot tub, riding a bike, singing? Once you determine your particular nirvana, create a pre-meditation routine that will transport you into the same space — the one my dad was in every night after dinner, and use it before you “officially” meditate — at the same time, same place, every day. Just as the soap and water washed away the debris of our dinners, your meditation time will wash away the cares of the day.
How easy is it to start or restart a meditation practice? No need to leave the house. No worries about bad hair days, no class fee and no pre-requisite training. You can meditate anytime, day or night. Just boot up your laptop. How easy it that? Don’t put off giving yourself the gift of meditation. It will change your life dramatically. Find a series that is about to begin, register online and embark on a wondrous journey to your real self.
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One increasingly popular form of meditation is loving-kindness meditation (LKM), the practice of wishing oneself and others to be happy, content and at ease. In the yoga tradition, loving-kindness is seen as an opportunity to “cultivate the opposite.”
Where many meditation techniques encourage students to explore difficult feelings or emotions directly, in loving-kindness the invitation is to send well wishes to oneself (who is in distress) as well as the other (who we feel distress toward). This isn’t meant to suppress the feelings as they arise, but instead it can be thought of as a soothing balm, something gently placed on a wound for healing.
Over the past several years, as meditation research has become more prevalent, science has become interested in the effects of loving-kindness practice on the mind and the body. Under the guidance of such well-known contemplatives as the Dalai Lama, researchers believed that LKM would offer similar benefits to other forms of meditation, such as breath meditation or open-awareness meditation.
As it turns out, LKM offers unique benefits that are subtly different from other kinds of meditation. What are those differences? Some just might surprise you.
LKM is a key tool for an optimal life.
One benefit of LKM is that loving-kindness reduces the stress response. Those who practice even a short course of LKM (say over the course of eight weeks) experience less distress than those who do not by the end of those eight weeks, according to this study. Probably no huge surprise there, right?
However, further exploration into this practice may intrigue you. The study on the effect of compassion meditation also investigated the impact of LKM on the body’s inflammatory and neuroendocrine system. At first preliminary results revealed that LKM showed no discernable differences in inflammation compared to the control group.
However, when divided into high-practice group verses low-practice group (i.e., those who practiced LKM each day compared to those with minimal practice) the results became more striking. The high-practice group saw a significant decrease in inflammation compared to the low-practice and no-practice groups. This research highlights two important findings. First, that not only can LKM subjectively reduce distress, but it can impact the body’s physiology as well (in this case, LKM reduced inflammation). The second, equally noteworthy finding is that this only happened for those who activity engaged in the practice of LKM. Simply attending a meditation class once a week was not enough to produce a change. Students had to practice at least a little each day.
Another pivotal study in the investigation of LKM was conducted by positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson. Dr. Fredrickson and her team investigated the impact of LKM not only on emotions, but also on how this practice could actually build personal resources (cognitive, emotional and physical). Her research team invited a group of people to practice LKM over the course of nine weeks. Participants in the LKM group had to practice at least a little every day, and researchers measured subjects on a variety of outcomes — including their experiences of positive emotions, their immunity to illness and their relationships to others. Her question: Could LKM actually build a person’s personal resources?
It did. In their seminal research paper, Dr. Fredrickson and her team write,
The practice of LKM led to shifts in people’s daily experiences of a wide range of positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement and awe. These shifts in positive emotions took time to appear and were not large in magnitude, but over the course of nine weeks, they were linked to increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relationships with others and good physical health… They enabled people to become more satisfied with their lives and to experience fewer symptoms of depression.
These findings are powerful.
The Brain on LKM.
So we know that LKM positively impacts our emotions, our physical health, our sense of connection. But does that translate to an impact on the brain?
Neuroscientific meditation researcher Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin became interested in just that question. He has extensively studied the effect of meditation, including LKM, on the brain. He had a simple question. Would LKM change the brain? To investigate the exact implication of this practice on the brain he invited two groups of subjects into his lab: those who had at least 10,000 hours of LKM under their meditative belt and those who were interested, but new to meditation. He invited both these groups into the fMRI scanner to see how LKM would impact the brain.
The results were clear. The practice of LKM changed several important brain regions: both the insula and the temporal parietal junction (TPJ) lit up as a result of LKM. The insula is the part of the brain responsible for our ability to empathize with others, and to make oneself aware of emotional and physical present-moment experiences. While both groups saw an increase in insula activity, the group with 10,000 hours of experience showed significantly more activation than the other group. This group was experiencing higher levels of compassion than the non-practicing group.
A similar finding appeared for the TPJ. The TPJ, like the insula, is also related to our ability to process empathy and our ability to attune to the emotional states of others. Again, compared to short-term meditators, those with a long-term meditation practice showed significant activation of this brain region.
Loving-kindness creates feelings of social connection.
Given this research, it is no surprise that LKM has been shown to increase social connectedness, even for strangers. A study conducted by a group of researchers from Stanford University found that in just seven minutes of LKM, subjects reported greater social connection toward others. Other studies have shown that the feeling of social connection can predict changes in a person’s vagal tone (a physiological measurement of resilience and overall well-being).
As a yoga teacher for Kripalu’s Frontline Providers Program, I have the opportunity to teach the Loving-Kindness practice to members of a workforce who are at high risk for compassion fatigue — health-care providers. In just the 10 minutes that I invite participants to practice LKM toward themselves and others, something powerful emerges. Some students begin to cry. Some bring their hand softly to their heart. Some physically relax. Afterward, when I invite the group to look around at each other, the sense of connection is palpable.
What is striking about the research and about the experience teaching is that these changes can happen in a short amount of time. Concentrated practice is essential. Even a few minutes creates a shift, and that shift is marked.
The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying, “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” And indeed, it seems that in fact, with a little practice, LKM has the potential not only to improve our connection with ourselves, but to foster deeper connection and care for others as well.
For more from Kripalu, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.
Even though some politicians have derided prison yoga programs as unnecessary inmate “coddling,” there’s a growing push for their expansion across Canada.
Advocates say yoga and meditation boost inmates’ mental well-being and help to reduce prison violence. They point to the success of programs in the U.S., including one at California’s San Quentin State Prison, notorious for housing some of the most dangerous offenders.
The question – can the downward dog really benefit those doing hard time? – will be the focus of a discussion next month at a conference of the Canadian Criminal Justice Association.
“We’re interested in promoting (offenders’) return to the community with better skills than when they left it. If meditation helps them become more self-aware and helps them control their anger, then it’s really advantageous,” said Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, which advocates for prisoners’ rights. “It contributes to the successful re-integration of people.”
The society is in the process of taking over administration of Freeing the Human Spirit, a Canadian charity that has provided yoga and meditation classes at more than two-dozen provincial and federal institutions, mostly in Ontario, using volunteer instructors.
Latimer said she is now hoping to expand the yoga and meditation programs – which she says cost very little to run – to more institutions across the country.
This summer, a study out of Oxford University found prisoners who went through a 10-week yoga program had a more positive mood, were less stressed and performed better on a computer test of their impulse control.
Expansion of yoga in Canadian prisons may still be a tough sell for some. The federal Conservatives appear to question the value of prison yoga. Asked this week if the federal government would consider
providing funds to help expand such programs, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said via email: “Our government’s focus is on making sure the correctional system actually corrects criminal behaviour. Let me be clear: No taxpayer dollars have been spent on this program.”
Edmonton-area yoga instructor Chantele Theroux, a speaker at the upcoming criminal justice conference, doesn’t understand what the fuss is about. Theroux, who also works as a provincial investigator specializing in fraud and forensic investigations, said prison inmates often have anger issues, impulse-control issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder – in other words, they’re prime candidates for exposure to yoga’s calming effects.
Added At: 2013-06-30 9:18 PM
The dictionary meaning of meditation is a mind under control to escape from the outer world realities to be in short, strain-free moments. A meditating mind comes to the centre stage achieving a blank phase.
In the phrase of spiritual gurus, meditation is but a complex workout. They make it a difficult move although here I basically differ. Meditation is not an abstract management. It is not religion or holy war nor is it dhyana or yoga.
Meditation is the mind together with concentration on specific motions for a conscious goal. Concentration is the motion again to be single-minded which may be a flash or formal that an individual performs or completes at one sitting. Take a simple case of brushing your teeth in the morning. First take out your toothbrush from the brush holder, grasp evenly, wash with water, put a dab of paste, rub along the teeth-line above, below, side to side, and in and out with due care, and blah, blah. You are careful to spend as little water and toothpaste as possible.
Imagine contrarily a slight move of the rash fingers. Either you scratch your gum which bleeds profusely. “Now, this is a formal task,” you may say. But you know there’s always a risk of losing the attention. When the mind flies, i.e. loss of attention, for other imagined motions of the future or past, it proves hazards for the present.
Not under control for one long minute, you know the mind flies against a motion from tree to tree, branch to branch, and leaf to leaf, real or not, what meditation is not here. To bridle it, some sing in the bath and some tend to stand in front of the mirror. Singing or listening to music and viewing yourself on the mirror are just some instances of how
to hang on to conscious concentration. On the mirror, the value of one’s face and body comes to the viewer.
Meditation happens in common motions. Eating food with active mind bite by bite is delicacy and heavenly. The eater here just eats with focus on taste and thinks or makes no other interrupting moves. The past does not bury him nor does a future worry. The eating moments catch him in a grand breathing sans strain.Meditation is a going concern with interest and attention aimed at pleasure and mental deliverance. This is where the mind forgets other motions and attains relaxation during the small moments. Here one requires no guru or supervision or stunt categorically. Practice, patience and persistence are the uninterrupted parts of meditation. Be they students or white-collar workers, meditation puts any career strain-free with bliss of the mind in return.