Archive | Meditation

Marianne Williamson Defines Spirituality

Also part of the November 13th Super Soul Sunday, Marianne Williamson defined spirituality, which I like very much:

the practice of spirituality is when you get very still and very humble. There are forces inside you, forces of fear and limitation and chaos and they live inside us saying you can’t do that. Spirituality is where you lay claim to a ground of being within yourself, where you say I want to be that, I really do. I want to be that person that I am capable of being. We think we are not happy because of what we are not getting but really we are not happy because of what we are not giving. The most important thing is that we learn how to forgive each other, that we learn how to love each other, how to live in the spirit of blessing and not blame. What matters is when you are standing in front of a person, is your heart open or is your heart closed? Are you thinking a judgmental thought or are you trying to see the best in them? Are you showing the mercy towards other people that you would wish that they would show toward you? The spiritual path doesn’t mean always an easier path. But it means a choice, a choice that we are making to try our best to be as loving as we can be.

Meditation Can Help Heart Disease, Medical Study Finds

A medical study suggests that meditation provides physiological benefits – at least with people with coronary artery disease. The New York Times time reported the news in a brief blurb, Regimens: Meditation, for the Mind and the Heart.

Money quote:

The participants found transcendental meditation easy to learn and practice, Dr. Schneider said. He suggested that the stress reduction produced by the meditation could cause changes in the brain that cut stress hormones like
cortisol and dampen the inflammatory processes associated with atherosclerosis.

What Trying to Meditate is Really Like

Robert Wright is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. He just published his third book, The Evolution of God earlier this summer. In hearing him promote his book, I’d heard him speak of his attraction to Buddhism and meditation, so I was delighted to come across this rendition of time he spent on a meditation retreat on the New York Times Opinionator Blog: Self, Meditating.

As usual, he’s brutally honest about the experience of meditation – the frustration, the imperfection, the confusion. And he’s funny. And smart.

Here’s a taste:

This retreat is coming at a good time for me. In June I published a book that I’ve been feverishly promoting. Publishing and promoting a book can bring out the non-Buddhist in a person. For example, when book reviewers make judgments about your book, you may make judgments about the reviewers — ungenerous judgments, even.

Also, you’re inclined to pursue the fruits of your activity — like book sales — rather than just experience the activity. Checking your Amazon ranking every 7 minutes would qualify as what Buddhists call “attachment.” And attachment is bad. (Oops: I just made a judgment about attachment.)

The Perils of All That Mindfulness

Judith Warner of the New York Times penned a witty, perceptive essay, Being and Mindfulness, on the perils of trendy “mindfulness.”

Mindfulness is supposed to bring people together. By embracing your essential humanness, getting in touch with and accepting your body, sensations, emotions and thoughts, you are supposed to join with, and empathetically connect to, all humanity.

This, I think, is true and sort of defeats the purpose:

in real-life encounters, I’ve come lately to wonder whether meaningful bonds are well forged by the extreme solipsism that mindfulness practice often turns out to be. For one thing, there’s the seemingly unavoidable problem that people who are embarked on this particular “journey of self-exploration,” as Pipher has called it, tend to want to talk, or write, about it. A lot.

And one of the problems with this tendency is that everyone’s experience with the practice is unique.

And those who talk, write, share it tend to hold out their experiences as ideal, which in turn leaves those who’ve never felt the “kundalini rising” feeling left out, inadequate and perhaps quit. This difficulty was one of my problems with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, as I discussed in my review.

It also bring to mind the passage from Matthew’s gospel which tells Christians to pray in secret and not to blab or brag out it (Matthew 6:6-8).

One of Warner’s concluding insights:

Some of us experience our emotions always in capital letters and exclamation points. This isn’t always pleasant but, to go all mindful for a moment, it is what it is, and if you are one of these people then probably one of the great pleasures of your life is finding others like you and settling in with them for a good rant. A world devoid of such souls can be cold and forbidding, and above all terribly, terribly dull.

True. But for me, it’s still worth while to try and smooth out the edges. To me, the practice is like a calculus curve – always approaching. I’ll never get there, but that doesn’t mean I stop trying.

Thanks to student Sara for the link.

Setting Intention

You are what your deepest desire is.
As your desire is, so is your intention.
As your intention is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.
~ Upanishads

I got that from Chopra’s newsletter. The Chopra Center’s newsletter also includes a guided meditation for setting intention that you can listen to here.

Meditation Alleviates Medical Symptoms

Natural News headlines – Meditation Benefits for Those with Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia

I knew this already. Guided meditation can be especially helpful when the symptoms are persistent. I’ve experienced remarkable improvement after listening and following the instructions of a 15 to 20 minute guided meditation (Shiva Rea’s is a favorite).

The article outlines the mental/emotional benefits of meditation:

  • More even moods, fewer mood swings.
  • Releasing Depression
  • Less anxiety
  • Increased energy and vitality
  • Improved memory and cognitive function
  • A sense of peace and calm
  • Less Stress
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Reduced heart rate
  • More balanced nervous system
  • Better Sleep
  • May help balance the immune system to help the body resist disease and heal
  • Less physical stress and a more balanced the autonomic nervous system (which is what governs the stress response in the body.)

Specially in regard to FM and CFS, the article outlines this:

Stress exacerbates CFS and FM, as well as causing more of it, creating a vicious circle. Lowering stress in some way is important for sufferers…Meditation has also been shown to improve sleep patterns and increase energy. Furthermore, research has continually shown that it reduces pain levels. It can enhance the body’s ability to heal itself, and improve overall quality of life. Physically, it can lower the level of cortisol in the body, which is a stress hormone. Mentally, it helps you to get your mind off of worries, pain, stress, and illness. It allows you to cultivate a focus on something completely unrelated to your life, your pain, or your illness.

America’s 2 Most Prominent Buddhist Teachers in DC

Well, aren’t we lucky?

Thanks to the National Cathedral, Robert Thurman and Sharon Salzberg are returning to the DC for a seminar on Working with Our Enemies: Finding Freedom from Hostility and Fear. What an appropriate subject for this age of fear and hostility.

Here’s an excerpt describing the subject:

Enemies—habitual, painful mind-states and people toward whom we steadily feel antipathy or fear—consume tremendous energy that we can liberate for powerful, healing change.

These pioneers in bringing Buddhist practices to the West guide us to explore our inner and outer enemies, and the stuck mode of “us” and “them” that constricts our lives. Through lecture, dialogue, and meditation practice, they show us the way toward the potential boundlessness of lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity—the four sublime states of mind known as the Brahma Viharas.

Format: both lecture and workshop.
Date & Time: Friday June 27th at 7:30 pm.
Saturday, June 26th from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm
Sponsor: Cathedral College
Location: the Kay Spiritual Life Center at American University (at Massachusetts and Nebraska Avenues).

It’s sure to fill up fast so register at the link above. It is possible to attend either Friday or Saturday or both. Special senior, student or limited income fees are available.

These are two great teachers. Salzberg books are well loved. I feature one on my web site:
Loving Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness. Some find her writing too personal, too confessional. But I find her writing on Buddhist precepts to be practical, when other writers on the same subjects can be abstract or elliptical. As one intelligent friend remarked, it seems the counsel is simply: be truthful. Well, Salzberg provides further helpful guidelines.

I’ve never heard Thurman speak, but he is well-reputed as well. He teaches at Columbia University. He did have some recent notoriety in testifying against his daughter’s stalker and evidence some self-deprication, as reported in the New York Times back in April:

In spite of the stressful subject, their testimony was sort of a star turn for the Thurman parents, who gave a strikingly poised, sometimes compassionate and even humorous accounting of grappling with Mr. Jordan.

“I’m known as the father of Uma,” Dr. Thurman testified, with whimsical pride. “It’s my major accomplishment in life.”

Reading excerpts from 19 e-mail messages he received from Mr. Jordan, Dr. Thurman described his growing sense “not as a psychiatrist, but as a literary critic,” that Mr. Jordan was delusional. “I imagined us in a cave a long time ago, Shiva Parvati carved or mummified in that stone temple with the elephant outside of it,” Mr. Jordan wrote in one e-mail message, referring to a Hindu god and goddess that he equated with himself and Ms. Thurman.

“By this time I’m trying to remember the telephone number of the
F.B.I., frankly,” Dr. Thurman testified.

In one e-mail message, Mr. Jordan addressed Dr. Thurman as “Ten zen Thor man.” Mr. Jordan’s lawyer, on cross-examination, asked whether that might be a typographical error, derived from Dr. Thurman’s nickname, Tenzin, given to him when he was a Buddhist monk.

“Not likely,” Dr. Thurman said, adding that it seemed to him that “there was a mythic thing going on.”

If any of you register to go, please let me know!