Meditation Benefits: Patience and the Practice of Meditation

Patience and the practice of meditation will equal consistency. And because every action has a reaction, it’s not possible to consistently practice and not receive benefits. However, those benefits may not be noticeable to you early on in your practice. This is where your patience comes in. You may not, in the beginning, notice the benefits, but gradually over time, because you are storing the samskaras (impressions) in your unconscious mind, the benefits will bloom to help you later. And because it takes time to notice the results be consistent, and most of all, gentle with yourself.

Meditation Benefits: Patience and the Practice of Meditation

Patience and the Practice of Meditation

Meditation is quietly looking inward, beyond the mind and discovering the different levels of your being, one after another. This process is personal and it is experiential, meaning that it can only grow out of practice and not by intellectual pursuits. This is important because you “need to do in order to be.”

In his article in the “times of India,” Sant Rajinder Singh notes that there are two ‘elements’ which make up the study and pursuit of spiritual (self-realization) teaching, Study and practice (he refers to study as theorizing). Singh warns against too much study and not enough practice.

As a way of illustrating the point he tells us a story of  Buddha and one of his disciples Malunkyaputta.

“While we must satisfy the mind and have our questions answered, we do not want to get trapped into mental wrangling, for that is like a spider web in which we may get stuck.

The Buddha spent 45 years teaching spiritual truths to enable people to break free of the karmic wheel of life that binds them to this world. Buddha was full of compassion and served humanity selflessly. The only time he did not tour was during the rainy season, when he stayed in one place. He gave all an equal chance to find the way to enlightenment.

So many questions

One day, a disciple, Malunkyaputta sought an interview with the Buddha. Malunkyaputta had a restless mind, that asked: “Is the world infinite or finite? Is the soul identical with the human body?” Since he was preoccupied with these questions, he could not meditate. He requested the Buddha to answer his questions failing which he would leave the order.

Buddha replied, “O Malunkyaputta, did I ever ask you to take up this path and did I promise you that I would answer these intellectual wranglings?” The disciple sheepishly replied, “No.” Buddha said, “Whoever worries about these meaningless speculations such as whether the world is infinite or finite, or whether the soul looks like the body, is taking away time from spiritual practice. It is just like someone who is shot by an arrow who instead of letting the doctor treat him to get out the poison starts saying, ‘I will not allow my wound to be treated until I know who is the man who shot me, what kind of person is he, is he tall or short, what type of bow and arrow did he use, or what colour is his skin.’ The key is to get treatment first. Similarly, if we say we will not do our spiritual practices until we get answers to these questions about whether the universe is eternal or not, and other such questions, then one may pass one’s whole life and never reach the spiritual goal.”

While in the Simsapa forest near Kosambi, Buddha was sitting with his disciples. He picked up a few leaves and asked his disciples, “What is your opinion? Which is more? Is it the few leaves in my hand, or the leaves in the forest around us?”

The disciples said, “You have very few leaves in your hand, while there are many more in the forest.” Buddha then told them, “It is the same with my teachings. Of everything I know, I have only told you a little. What I have not told you is much more, like the leaves in the forest. Why did I not tell you everything I know? The reason is that all that information is not useful. Information that will not lead to enlightenment, I have not told you. I have only told you that which you need to know to gain the spiritual experience and find salvation.”

Practise makes perfect

As we think about our own lives, many get involved in intellectual pursuits. But there comes a point when we find that the mind will never stop its wrangling. We have to discriminate which questions will help our spiritual progress and which ones are merely to satisfy the intellect’s curiosity. People who are steeped in the theoretical side of religion can spend years debating each point found in scriptural writings and never find any solution. It is far better to spend time in our spiritual practices so that we can rise above our limited intellect and come in contact with our soul. Then, we will not have to wonder about answers, for we will know them for certain and see them for ourselves. Our soul has all the answers; it is one with the Lord.” Read more…

In cultivating a meditation practice, how much and what technique you need to practice, will depend on your motivation. If you simply want a little less stress in your life, you don’t need to meditate three or four hours a day, on the other hand if you are seeking spiritual awakening, then ten minutes in the morning really isn’t going to cut it. This is where the “theorizing” come in, after determining your motivation you can begin to discover which meditation or combination of meditation practices fit your needs.    

No matter which technique(s) you decide upon, at first you will see progress in terms of feeling less stress, physically relaxed and emotionally calmer. As your practice progresses and depending, again on your intention, you may begin to notice subtle changes. At this stage some of the benefits of meditation will only make themselves known over time and are less dramatic.

With persistence, patience and the practice of meditation, you will discover a sense of freedom. Freedom from everyday worries and the freedom to experience the joy in this moment.

What is your motivation? What meditation techniques do you use, and do you need help determining what one fits your needs. You can share here.

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Meditation benefits: The Source of Joy and Sorrow

The mind is the source of joy and sorrow.

Patanjali sutras

Patanjali sutras on the source of joy and sorrow

In the Yoga sutras, Patanjali explains, by cultivating a practice of meditation a student begins to develop a calm and clear mind, and as the practice evolves the still mind can focus on both the subtle and gross objects. The highest goal spirituality or meditation is to awaken to the true nature of things and discover the cause of suffering at the individual and collective level. To implement a cure for our suffering, Patanjali reminds us, we must awaken to our own true nature.

All sorrow lies at the core of our being, deep within us, and it’s here that the cure can only be found. Unless you can shine the light of awareness on the deepest parts of your inner being, your search for emotional freedom will be confined to external factors, where they can never be found.

Most of us know how precious and wonderful life is and that we should not waste it. Yet somehow we manage to pass each day lost in the fog of the unconsciousness. Sometimes events awaken and motivate us to participate, and even then despite our good intentions, we found ourselves slipping back into the unconscious and mundane.

Though we have the powerful spiritual teachings and the words of wisdom from the great seers and teachers, we find ourselves only looking to external causes for unhappiness and sickness, instead of placing our vision on the underlying subtle and more potent causes. As a result we hold someone or something in the outer world responsible for all our problems. Patanjali, in the sutras, ask and answers why.

The sutras teach that we are what we think, that the core of our being is made up of our belief system, our inner tendencies and habitual patterns that make up and define our personalities. It’s out of these personal tendencies and patterns that our mindset arises. While at the level of our soul we contain the essence of the Divine, in our everyday existence our mindset create our reality, good or bad, happy or sad, filled with suffering or imbued with joy. We perceive (and therefore create) our reality based on our mindset. It is from this perception that our patterns of likes and dislikes, our conditioned world, grows.

It’s through the repeated actions that our mental impressions grow stronger and stronger creating, what Vedanta describes as, deep groves in the mind-field, called samsara. This effect in the mind-field is also known as the wheel of karma. And once we are caught up in these perceptions the grooves deepen and the wheel spins faster and our only opportunity to disrupt this pattern is to bring awareness to our fundamental perceptions, our likes and dislikes. This is the level of true transcendence and transformation and the only way to bring fundamental and lasting change to all aspects of our lives.

This is why, according to Patanjali, the highest form of meditation is on self-awareness, and why enlightenment is understood to be self-realization. When we still our minds we have then have to power to become whatever and whomever we wish. We accomplish this when we transcend our judgments (likes and dislikes), our aversions and attachments. It’s from this place of transcendence, that the clear awareness of what lies at the core of our being allows us to discern what we need to release, and give us the courage to do it.

Patanjali, through the sutras, shows us that meditation on our real nature takes us into the subtlest realms of our being, the birthplace of all our suffering and with this knowledge we can end it. This clear, still and peaceful state of mind is called samadhi (the most subtle being sabija samadhi, meditation on prakriti), a state of total spiritual absorption.  

Yes, the mind is the source of joy and sorrow. Patanjali, through the sutras, shows us how to shine our inner light of awareness on the source allowing us to directly experience the truth and attain liberation.

One of my favorite translations and commentaries is,The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali by Alistair Shearer.” 

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Meditation Benefits: Asanas are not all there is to Yoga

Asanas are not all there is to Yoga

Asanas are not all there is to Yoga

Asanas are not all there is to Yoga. For the few who may not know the ‘asana’ (meaning posture) are the poses that are generically referred in Western pop culture as Yoga. The asana is the third ‘limb’ (anga) of the sage Patanjali’s eight limbs of Yoga known as Ashtanga Yoga.

Bhartendu Sood, in his article, in the editorial page of “Times of India,” makes exactly this point, and that in practicing only the asanas one is practicing only one limb of Yoga. While practicing the postures will keep you fit and toned, if they are practiced with only that intention, fitness and good health will be the only benefit. A great one to be sure, but not one that will awaken you to your Divine nature.

Mr. Sood explains what is involved in walking the path set out by Patanjali, so here’s Mr. Sood…

The eight stages of ashtanga yoga are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratihara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. The five yamas are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy and non-covetousness. The five niyamas are cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self-study and surrender to God. Sage Patanjali expected seekers to embrace yama and niyama before coming to the third stage, asana. The eightfold path is to take the practitioner towards moral, physical and spiritual uplift. The ultimate aim of yoga is spiritual realisation or samadhi via mind and body.

Pranayama is control of breath; it purifies and removes distractions, facilitating concentration and meditation. Pratyahara is withdrawal of the senses during meditation that enables you to focus on the Supreme Power and establish a cosmic link. Dharana is to concentrate on one point for a considerable length of time. The aim is to still the mind by gently pushing away superfluous thoughts. Dhyana is uninterrupted meditation without an object.

The eight limbs work together: The first five steps – yama, niyama, asana, pranayama and pratyahara – are the preliminaries of yoga and they build the foundation for spiritual life with body and brain. The last three, which would not be possible without the previous steps, are concerned with reconditioning the mind. They help the yogi to attain enlightenment.

Samadhi or enlightenment can be achieved only when we follow these eight stages in the order prescribed by Patanjali. A yogi acquires equanimity and a detached outlook before developing a flat tummy or toned body.

Training of the mind brings equanimity. It is a mental state that looks with equal ease at happiness and sorrow, at misery and luxury, and treats success and failure alike. It looks at the world and happenings around with an open mind, free of biases, fears and has only good and positive thoughts.

The Bhagavad Gita describes yoga as a state of equanimity, achieved by cultivating a detached but unified outlook, serenity of mind, skill in action and the ability to stay attuned to the glory of the Self or atman and the Supreme or Bhagavan.

According to Krishna, the root of all suffering and discord is the agitation of mind caused by selfish desire. The only way to douse the flame of desire is by simultaneously stilling the mind through self-discipline and engaging in a higher form of activity. Yamas and niyamas speak of this self-restraint and discipline, underlining that asanas without yamas and niyamas are simply exercises.

Traversing the path of yoga is not that easy since it calls for lot of restraint, discipline and devotion. It is not good to skip the first two steps in order to begin with asanas. There is nothing wrong in it but it can’t be named yoga and we ought to be aware of its limitation when it comes to making a person spiritual. Read more…

Mr. Sood points out that the first five steps are preliminary steps need to reach the final three. This true, but there is a deeper truth. It is true that there is a sequence to the eight limbs which makes up the daily practice and that total samadhi is the result of the previous seven limbs being fully developed, however, there are different levels of samadhi. Samadhi means a completely still or settled mind, and the first stage of samadhi (samprajnata), is the initial settling down of the mind, that right from the beginning of the practice, helps bring together the practice of all eight limbs.

Even these early stages of samadhi are very beneficial for the mind body system and move the practitioner closer to total absorption.

The whole process of Yoga is to unite the separate individual self with the Universals self. Yoga is the practice of reentering our original state, the state of perfection, a state of perfect self-realization. Knowing this it’s easy to understand that asanas are not all there is to Yoga.

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Meditation Benefits: Vipassana Meditation Brings Peace of Mind

Vipassana meditation brings peace of mind to the youth of India, at least around Mumbai, according to the Hindustan Times. Vipassana means “insight” in Pali, an ancient language of India. Vipassana is described as the essence of the teachings of Buddha, the experience of his teachings, because he attained the experience of the truth in meditation, so meditation is truly the essence of the teaching.

Vipassana Meditation Brings Peace of Mind

Vipassana Meditation Brings Peace of Mind

   

Vipassana is taught as a living practice of the Buddha’s teaching and it has been passed on for millennia. Vipassana as a technique is simplicity, is universally applicable and non-secular.

Vipassana is taught over a ten day period (though there are longer retreats) and is open to anyone that wants to practice this type of meditation. During this time the practitioner stays at the center, cutting all ties with the outside world. They are given instruction and told that refrain from all other activities such as reading, writing and, of course, any electronic devices are ‘turned off.’

While there is an open duologue with the meditation teacher, silence is observed between the participants. During the first three plus days the focus of practice is, appropriately enough, mental concentration, which is in preparation for formal meditation. Each day thereafter new practices or steps are introduced, until day ten when the silence ends. The tenth day is preparation for reentry into the everyday world, and the course end on the morning of the eleventh day.

The idea of meditating ten to twelve hours a day for days on end may seem a bit extreme to the uninitiated. In fact at the Vipassana centers around Mumbai, India, (as with all Vipassana centers) there is an evaluation process, like a doctors certificate, required to determine the fitness of the practitioner.

(For a detailed schedule of a ‘typical’ Vipassana retreat check out my post “The Benefits of Vipassana meditation.”)

But according to the Hindustan Times young people around Mumbai are embracing Vipassana meditation in order to relieve stress.

“Sujata Khanna, registrar, Pattana Vipassana Centre, Goregaon says that the number of people below the age of 30 who opt for Vipassana has increased noticeably in the past year. “While Vipassana was considered to be popular among the older crowd, we now find that the number of people below the age of 30 outnumber the senior crowd.”

She adds that during the vacation season, the ratio of women to men is higher: “Most come because they cannot handle the stress in their daily lives.”

Another reason for the youth to attend the intense retreat is to develop concentration skills that will help them in their studies and career.

“We always ask for a doctor’s certificate before they come, because Vipassana isn’t physically easy,” Khanna explains. “You have to sit for long hours and wake up very early, which is a big change from your usual routine. Some people do break down and cry, but a teacher is there to help them with the right techniques to deal with their situation. In fact, we’ve noticed almost 50 per cent of our young students come back.”

Advertising executive Labony Kaushal, 25, admits the only reason she thought of giving Vipassana a shot was to alleviate her boredom. “I was just tired of doing the same thing, and having nothing new in life to look forward to. I thought that 10 days of not talking to anyone would be good for me, since I’m not a very talkative person anyway.” Kaushal didn’t do any research before signing up, which she recommends for anyone who’s rolling the idea around in their head. “It’s not about religion; it’s an intense physical and mental experience because you’re just sitting and observing yourself. So, everybody’s experience is different.”

The first day, called Zero Day, is where an audio-visual explains the techniques of meditation to the new arrivals… and little else. “You expect someone to come up to you and tell you something, but you’re just sitting in one place, meditating. I got a headache on the first day, which is something they warn you of because your body is not used to it,” she recalls.

By the second day, Kaushal experienced a surge of energy, but admits the days dragged on. “I was doing a mental countdown to the end. And every day, it felt like I was running a never-ending race,” she says, adding, “But by the final day, I didn’t want to come back to Mumbai. And I definitely want to go back there soon.”

Ask Kaushal whether she’s noticed any permanent changes and she says, “ I was an angry person who’d react without thinking of the consequences, but I’ve become more patient now. I can feel a balance, though I would need to be in an extreme situation to test how powerful it is.”

Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Seema Hingorrany admits she’s seen a substantial rise in the number of young patients opting for Vipassana, and cites stress as the main reason. “Patients between the ages of 22 to 30, who find that they cannot cope with the stress in their lives and the constant need to be in touch with people, take this step because Vipassana teaches you to detach yourself,” she says, adding, “Many of them are going through a break-up in their relationships, or have parents who are getting divorced. They listen to recommendations from friends or their spiritual guru, or have read up on the subject.”

Hingorrany says that she gets emails and calls from patients asking what the right age for Vipassana is, but she opines, “It’s not about being the right age, but having the right reason. If someone is emotionally disturbed or unbalanced, I wouldn’t recommend this intensive introspection because it might further upset the mental balance and cause you to crumble.”

For those who return from their retreat successfully, Hingorrany notices a change in their composition. “I’ve seen patients achieve a balance in body and mind.  Many reveal that their stress-related migraines and allergies disappear. And of course, they become emotionally stronger because they have enhanced their coping methods.” Read more…

The experience of Labony Kaushal is actually a common one. In the beginning most students find the meditation practice to seem more like torture instead of the deep inner peace they are seeking. They feel themselves very resistant to the forced timetable (like getting up at four or four thirty in the morning), the sparse facilities, instructions of the teacher, all the discipline and even the technique itself.

The big surprise for most of the students is, as it was for Kaushal, by the tenth day there’s the realization that Vipassana meditation brings peace of mind, that at some point the meditators slip into effortless effort, discover detached involvement and maintain a peaceful alertness.

My favorite books on Vipassana meditation are, “The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation by William Hart” and “Insight Meditation: A Step-By-Step Course on How to Meditate by Sharon Salzberg.”

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Meditation Benefits: Dealing with Distractions in Meditation

Dealing with Distractions in Meditation is really an opportunity for practice. There are many types of distractions that arise during meditation, they can be a thought that catches your attention, sometimes they’re a sensation in the body or they can be noises in our environment.

Meditation Benefits: Dealing with Distractions in Meditation

Dealing with Distractions in Meditation

 

Elbert Hubbard an American writer and philosopher, was quoted as saying “Life is one damned thing after another,” and meditation is the practice of letting go of ‘one damn thing after another.’  

One of the first practices in mind-training is to bring your attention to a point of focus, witness the rising images and thoughts and then let go of the distractions. The problem is that in trying to ‘control’ your thoughts it is easy to get caught up in the idea that they are your adversaries.

About dealing with distraction and, seeing them as your adversaries, Zen master Wolfgang Kopp, expressed it this way, “many are of the opinion that once the evil intellect is suppressed, the ardently desired nirvana will automatically reveal itself. It cannot be stressed enough that this belief has not the least to do the true practice of Zen. The point is not to suppress thought, but rather to surpass it.”  

Distractions are not your enemy, you should treat them with the same kindness that you would your five year old who innocently wanders away from you. You find them, take them gently by the hand and lead them back to where they should be.

Speaking of children and distractions, Olivia Rosewood wrote a wonderful post about meditation, children and distractions. As parents of young children it can sometimes feel as if there are almost insurmountable obstacles to a peaceful meditation. Olivia notes how many of her friends, who are moms, become frustrated when they try to meditate because of the distractions and interruptions created by their young children.

Here are Olivia’s amusing thoughts and insights on meditation and distractions, beginning with…    

“…Eckhart Tolle espouses the simple yet profound encouragement to “allow what is without resistance.”

In fact, Eckhart has spoken at length about meditation practice and children. His most poignant recommendation, from my point of view, is not to yell harshly at your child when they interrupt your meditation practice. You are sitting quietly on your silk pillow, breathing, perhaps repeating a mantra silently. A child bursts in the room screaming and tackles you. How do you react? Scold? Ignore? Hug?

A meditation practice is just that: practice. Practice for what? Practice for life. It is practice for dealing with life as peacefully and receptively as possible, not just superficially, but on the inside, too. So if your child interrupts your practice, it’s no longer practice, it becomes real. Therefore hug the child, love the child, and if you can, resume your practice afterward. If you can’t resume your practice, whether it is energy cultivation or silent sitting, then practice is over and the game is on. How loving, receptive, and calm can you be in real life? Can you have boundaries without being reactive or emotionally volatile? Can you bring the principles of a meditative practice into your parenting style?

On my second trip to India, my meditation teacher felt it was in my best interest to sit in the basement of the ashram for several hours a day first in a mantra practice, and then sitting in silence. This kind of meditation is my idea of sheer heaven: the peace, the depth, the inner quiet are so blissful. Except that just outside of the ashram was a graveyard, and wandering that graveyard shouting out prayers to Shiva for his own personal reasons until sunset was a devoted older man gifted not only with loud voice that carried well, but also gifted with a bullhorn. It was through that bullhorn that he shouted his prayers to Shiva. One early morning, I wandered out to this gentleman in the graveyard and asked him why he shouted, and why the bullhorn? He told me that Shiva was more likely to hear him if he was as loud as possible. He said it with the sweetest smile that I realized there was nothing more for us to talk about. He was on a sincere mission, and I loved his devotion to it. “I understand. Thank you. I know Shiva will hear you.” I told him.

Directly on the other side of the little ashram was a wedding celebration center. In India, weddings can last as long as five days, and they are serious about their celebration. They are beautiful, ornate, full of joy, and constantly accompanied by dancing music. I learned that many Indian newlyweds love to have Celine Dion and Cher alternately played all day and night through surprisingly high-tech speakers that seem to penetrate thick walls — as though they don’t even exist.

Sitting in meditation in the basement of the ashram, my friend blasting his prayers to Shiva on one side, and a very happy bride and groom with all of their loved ones pleasantly rocking out to “I’m Alive” and then “My Heart Will Go On,” I experienced a deep surrender. As soon as I let go of resisting the sounds around me, I not only stopped giving them attention, but they disappeared deeply into the background, passing through my awareness like a cloud passes peacefully through a sky. It was such a relief to stop resisting what was unchangeable. (Well, perhaps I could have changed it, but that would have required great effort. And I had no desire to rain on anyone else’s beautiful journey.)

It’s since then that I can meditate no matter the noise level. And now that I, too, have children who like to be children, this “allowing” really comes in handy” Read more..

You may not have learned to meditate while being blasted from one side with prayers to Shiva or distracted by wedding music on the other. Yet anybody who has tried to sit it quiet solitude, even if they were sitting in a cave in the wilderness, as had to deal with distractions in meditation.  

Meditation, as Olivia points out, is a practice and it’s a gentle practice, so if you face a thousand distractions, whether in the mind, the body or the environment, like the young child you gently return to your meditation a thousand times, without judgment.

With the consistency of practice you will naturally let go of trying to control your mind, as you strive for stillness, and as Sally Kempton said, “simply let it be.” The paradox is that when that happens you will be able to deal with all the distractions in your meditation.

Please share  your thoughts on meditating with distractions, what works for you.

 

I wanted to share with you Olivia’s video on silent meditation practice.

Please Meditate Part 5

Please meditate. You can try it at a sidewalk cafe while you wait for your lunch to be served. Simply stop thinking and feel the peace of being wash over you. Be stillness amidst hustle and bustle. Experts agree that meditation is as essential to overall health as good diet and regular exercise.

Here’s a another way you can help.

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Meditation Benefits: What is Spirit?

Meditation Benefits: What is Spirit

Meditation Benefits: What is Spirit

When we ask the question “What is Spirit,” the answer that all the wisdom traditions have in common is known as the perennial philosophy, which as three basic threads of commonality. First, there’s a deeper reality that underlies the world of ordinary physical and mental reality. Second, that within each of us there exist a quality that is a part of this greater reality. And that the purpose of life is to realize, or awaken to, this larger reality.

The deeper reality that underlies the world of ordinary physical and mental reality is, according to the great traditions, a Spiritual or Divine reality that really exists, known to some as God or Holy Spirit, for others its described as the ground of being. Other language used to describe this deeper reality is, Tao, essential nature, emptiness of Self. Whatever language that is used to describe this sacred reality, it’s the reason, meaning and purpose of life.

We are the connected to and a part of this Divine reality. Once again there the language differs but the meaning is the same. Known to the Hindus as Atman, to the Buddhist as Buddha nature, to the Christians as Soul and to Jews as the Divine spark within. While the words used to describe it differ, all the traditions agree that there is something that connects us all to the greater reality.

The purpose of life is to realize, or awaken to, this larger reality. Millions of us acknowledge our connection to Spirit in church, temple or synagogue and many of us yearn, like the Buddhist monk, to awaken it. However we choose to acknowledge it, whether we are Christian and seek to embody the Holy Spirit or like the Sufi mystic long to unite with it, there is a natural and deep desire to realize this deeper reality.

No matter how you describe it all the wisdom traditions agree that the reason we suffer, and the primary difficulty that we need to resolve is the feeling of separation, the loss of connection to the deeper reality; we feel isolated, cut off from our own essential nature.

Why do we feel separated from Spirit?

Deepak Chopra addresses this question on his blog, giving his answer to what Spirit is.

Asking “What is spirit?” is another way of asking “Who am I?” Your true Self is pure, infinite spirit. Spirit isn’t something outside you, but is intertwined in everything you feel, think and do. Looking for spirit, the Vedic sages observed, is like a thirsty fish looking for water.

Even when you know that your essential nature is spirit, you can easily be deluded by the incessant activity of your mind and ego . . . the continuous cascade of thoughts, sensations and emotions. The mind can get mired in a conditioned pattern of thinking, returning again and again to thoughts of anxiety, stress, depression and limitation.”

Some of the traditions define the ego as self-image, personality or pride, and it’s the inner turbulence created by this self-centered preoccupation that keeps us feeling separate and from realizing true self-awareness.

These ego patterns can be buried deep within us and can require years of meditative practice to unravel. At a deeper level of awareness there is no, and never has been, a separation from Spirit.      

The Benefits of Meditation, Expanding Your Spiritual Awareness

Deepak explains it this way:

“In truth, you are always free. You can go beyond mental conditioning by using the timeless tool of meditation to expand your consciousness and access the field of pure potentiality. Meditation allows the mind to become quiet and experience the silence and peace of pure awareness. Numerous studies also show the many health benefits of meditation, including lowered blood pressure, stress reduction and increased immune function.

With a regular practice, the expansive awareness you enter during meditation begins to permeate your life outside of your meditation sessions. You might experience flashes of elation and notice feelings of well-being sweeping over you at unexpected moments. You will begin to walk with more buoyancy and feel a warmth and peace in your heart. These are all signs that you are opening to spirit.” Continue reading 

Ramana Maharshi

Ramana Maharshi

The way Ramana Maharshi said it The only thing that separates you from the Self (Spirit) is the belief that you are separate.”  

Ultimately the question, “What is Spirit” can only truly be known and understood by asking the question, “who am I?”

Meditation Benefits: Bhakti Fest 2011

On September 8, 2011, for four days of Kirtan, Yoga, Meditation, Workshops and Loving Community, many thousands will arrive at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, “to express our love and devotion as one community through an enchanting array of activities.”

Bhakti Fest 2011

Bhakti Fest 2011

This will be an absolutely a cornucopia of the spiritually gifted and the event has been billed as the Spiritual Woodstock. There will be yoga led by Shiva Rea, Saul David Raye, Bryan Kest, Seane Corn and there others as well. Of the many workshops, one will be led by my one of my beloved teachers, Ram Dass.

Krishna Das, will of course, be leading Kirtan, but along with the singing and playing Krishna Das and Radhanath Swami and others will also be leading workshops. Speaking of Kirtan, Deva Premal & Miten, Jai Uttal, Dave Stringer, Donna de Lory, Wah!, MC Yogi, Larisa Stow and Shakti Tribe, The Mayapuris, to name a few will be there adding to the joy.     

Jai Uttal, just back from India, has a new album out, “Bhakti Bazaar,” which is absolutely wonderful with hints of rock, reggae, and classical music. In his blog Jai said about the music, “We took some beats and grooves and simply wandered. No rules, no formulas except following our feelings,” and “Making an album is a journey across mountains and valleys of moods and emotions.” We have certainly been blessed to have been invited along and the treat of hearing it performed live, well, bliss.   

There are so many notables that will be attending Bhakti Fest it’s hard to decide who to write about, because if I were to write about all the wonderful people ths would be a book not a blog post!

If you’re a fan of Krishna Das you’ll be happy to know he’ll be performing and doing a workshop, the Heart of Devotion and this will allow you the opportunity to ask him questions. The workshop will include chanting with musical accompaniment, storytelling, dharma talks, and discussions about life on the spiritual path.

Krishna Das

Krishna Das

 

I would like to note that substantial portion of the profits from Bhakti Fest will go to charities like the Seva Foundation, created by Ram Dass, an organization of “compassionate action.” That is the meaning of “seva,” compassionate action and that is in perfect balance with bhakti, which translates as “devotion.” Together they fulfill the mission of the Seva Foundation, “To be fully human, we must translate our compassion and concern into useful service.”

Damien Rose returns to Bhakti Fest for his third annual performance, those who are unfamiliar with Damien or his performance with the Tibetan healing bowls, are in for a very wonderful surprise. Damien have had a very synchronistic introduction to the Tibetan healing bowls, says he first discovered the Tibetan bowls when he picked up a hitchhiker in Northern California after graduating from law school. After arriving at hitchhiker home, he was invited in, and it was there he saw “a vast array of ancient bowls set up in the living room.” It was from that point on he decided to dedicate is energy to “working with sound vibration as a revealing and healing source of spiritual experience.”

My own experience was, as I said, synchronistic. I too, picked up a hitchhiker in Northern California. It as thirty five years ago, I noticed a man hitchhiking with a baby so I pulled my VW over and offered them a ride. It turned out that he was a somewhat of a local celebrity in the Bay area. Karman Moffitt, then also known as the ‘bell ringer of San Francisco,’ had played, on occasion, with the Grateful Dead and other area band, when they were in town. Karman was also a pointillist and on a trip to Nepal a couple of years earlier had traded some art for a set of Tibetan healing bowls. That was my introduction to the bowls.

And like Damien, the bowls have been a part of my life ever since. A few years ago I was introduced to my master teacher, Suren Shrestha, and began to become immersed in the healing practice. And as a side note if you are interested in the Tibetan healing bowls, Suren’s book “How to Heal with Singing Bowls,” is a chance to learn from a master.  

Here are a few other highlights to look forward to at Bhakti Fest. Philippo Franchini will talk about musical alchemy and how “creation is vibration.” Hoop Girl Christabel Zamor brings her love of hoopdance to Bhakti Fest. Joey Lugassy will enlighten us with the message of “stillness,” and how to release attachments and transform them “with a lighter touch” as “doorways to relevant self-discovery.”

Many of people, I’ve come to know and call friend, from the Chopra center will be attending and participating. Max Simon (assuming all is well with his dad) will make, as he has in the past, an appearance. Paul Heussenstamm, will be leading a mandala workshop. By the way, Paul’s workshops are of the ‘not to be missed’ variety, truly fun and transformative.     

Bhakti Fest is a Spiritual festival not a religious one, though there is a loving acceptance of all faiths. It’s the coming together of a loving community, creating a space as was said to express our love and devotion as one community through an enchanting array of activities.”

I thought I would leave you with a couple of videos of past festivals, so that if you’ve never had the opportunity to attend you can a sense of the ‘vibe’ and if you have, well, for a moment to be there again.   

Bhakti Fest September 2010.mov

Bhakti Fest brings people together from around the world to celebrate life through kirtan. This is an event that you do not want to miss. Next festival September 9-12, 2010, Joshua Tree, California. www.bhaktifest.com

Bhakti Fest 2010 Jai UttaL Groove Ananda

Jai UttaL led Kirtan for 3 hours! It was so crowded I could only get long shots but the sounds and psychedelic lightshow are awesome! My pleasant surprise was Wynn Paris’ band Groove Ananda ~ a sweeet mix of Music my fav being the Gospel type song. M…

Deva Premal and Miten… Whaou! – Bhakti Fest 2010

stunning! the crowd was speechless – Incredible silence for a minutes after that one!

Meditation Benefits: Deepak Chopra on Happiness and being present

The last piece of advice given to Deepak, by his Abbot, The Venerable Arjarn Ekachai, at the end of his two weeks of a “monk’s journey” in Thailand, was advice that Deepak wanted to share with us all.

"monk's journey" in Thailand

"Monk's journey" in Thailand ~ Photo Gotham Chopra

Here’s the piece of advice that the Abbot gave to Deepak, “The only moment that never ends is now. The most important activity in your life is what you are doing now. The most important people in your life are the ones you are with now. And the most important way to create the future is to be present now.”

When we are present in this moment life will consistently reward us. When we see in the present moment, we won’t miss the beauty, when we taste in this moment, flavor will be our reward, when we are fully present to the sound we will feel the music in our soul, when we are present to the aroma the scent will become sense, and when we are present to touch we will know that we are alive. That is the power of the present moment.

Being in the present moment we enter the timeless and we arrive at the true nature of our being.

Does this all sound esoteric? Well, in fact it’s very real and practical. All meditative practices, from mantra meditation to mindfulness, seek presence, either as deep inner awareness or being wholly present in the moment.

Before a thought arises in the mind we are in a timeless state and in this timeless state we need no, nor do we seek any, reason to be happy, we just are. This is the true state of happiness and our birth right.

When we are dependent on, people, positions, places or things to make us happy, then our happiness becomes conditional and bound to those people, positions, places or things. When our happiness is dependent on the world outside of us it can be taken away from us at any moment because the nature of the universe is change.

Bliss is defined as happiness that needs no reason, and the wisdom traditions came to the conclusion that time is the movement of consciousness, not far from Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity (Some physicists argue that there is no such thing as time). In consciousness time has a ‘flow,’ often described as the ‘arrow of time,’ but that flow is subjective and personal.

When we focus on the present we are attuning ourselves with our deepest reality and that this level happiness can never be taken away.

This focus on our true nature, or being present in the moment, doesn’t mean giving up participation in the everyday world; it simply means giving up attachment to it. Letting go of attachment is not becoming aloof, or detached from the world, it’s allowing the world to be as it is, the wonderful, the good, the bad and the ugly, without identifying with it or losing sight of your eternal nature.    

Ram Dass, in the title of his iconic book, “Be Here Now,” said it all. And in his book, “The Ultimate happiness Prescription,” Deepak said it again with one of his favorite sayings, “being here is enough.”  Deepak explained it this way:

“When people hear this, particularly successful people whose lives are full of projects and accomplishments, they look confused. To them, “being here” sounds passive and empty. Yet think about it. As they pursue lives that are so full of activity and goals, most people are not fulfilling their being. Quite the opposite. They are running away from a deep-seated fear that life is empty unless you constantly fill it up.”

Our ego drives our need to identify with people, positions, places and things, starting as children we begin our attachment and identification with our toys, and as we grow we continue to identify with the changing world, and to us this is the ‘real world.’ Yet, we live in two realities. The reality of the time bound is the reality created by the ego, and it’s thought be, by most of us as the only reality, but for some, the invisible world is the primary reality out of which all other realities are created; realities which arise out of every moment of now.  

Experiencing presence and ‘being here now’ are the same and no effort is required to enter. And as Deepak puts it, “Easy come, easy go” actually has a deep spiritual meaning. What comes and goes isn’t the real you. The real you is the bliss that exists beyond time.”

In This video, recorded at TEDMED 2010, Deepak speaks on the subject of happiness and being present, NOW.

Enjoy.

Deepak Chopra at TEDMED 2010

Meditation Benefits: Why should Baby Boomers Meditate?

Why should Baby Boomers Meditate

Why should Baby Boomers Meditate

As a member of the baby boomer generation and a long time meditator, I have had the opportunity to experience, first hand, the long and the short term benefits of meditation on my wellbeing. The best known of these benefits is stress reduction, but as we pass midlife, meditation becomes so much more than a simple stress reduction practice and instead can become an important part of our overall health regiment.

Let’s face it, if you’re a baby boomer then you know you’ve started to slow down in the last few years, and while aging doesn’t have to be accompanied by, any health issues, depression, or the loss of desire, ambition and joy, however, it often is.

We know that to enjoy the latter half of our lives we need to take care of ourselves, and how important it is to be physically active and eat right. And now it’s becoming increasingly evident, the third key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and aging successfully, is meditation.

The only true measure of our age is found by measuring our bio-markers. Because we don’t all age at the same rate, three different measures of age have used to describe the aging process. The first is chronological, simply the number of our birthday’s. Second, and closer to our ‘real’ age, is our biological age, a measurement of the functioning of our physiological systems in comparison to the average of the same aged population, and the final type of measurement are the biomarkers of age based on all our different biochemical and physiological measurements and then compared to the group averages of all ages.

One of the more recent findings, regarding meditation and aging, has to do with a simple structure at the end of our chromosomes, the telomeres, which help maintain the optimal health of our cells and genes.

In his article, “Why Aging ain’t no Myth,” Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. spoke with Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn (who was awarded the prize for her work on telomere biology), along with her associate, Dr. Ellisa Epel, about the issue of the benefits of meditation and the lengthening of telomeres and the improvement of “many aspects of psychological wellbeing (PWB), a critically important aspect of successful aging.”

PWB is made up of the following six characteristics:

1. Self-Acceptance: You learn to compassionately accept yourself as you are and accept others as they are as well.
2. Self Confidence: You have the perception that you can handle whatever comes your way with strength and grace.
3. Independence: You are not reliant on other’s approval and feel you are healthy enough to take care of yourself. You want to live at home and not have to go an assisted living facility, for example, later in life.
4. Personal Growth: You sustain a desire to learn new things and have new experiences. You remain mentally active.
5. Positive Relationships: You surround yourself with people who love and support you and forsake those who don’t.
6. Purpose and Mission in Life: You continue to have a reason to live, be it giving back to society or taking care of your children or grandchildren.”
   Read more…

In an earlier study the way older adults defined, for themselves, successful aging (which was considered a critical component for well-being) was in alignment with the six characteristics psychological wellbeing offered by Dr. Epel.

According to the study published in “The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry,” defining healthy aging from the perspective of the older adults would only enhance an understanding of the correlations between self-rated criteria and researcher-defined criteria which could lead to development of a valid and reliable model for successful aging.”   

Dr. Epel told Dr.  Dharma Singh Khalsa, “that meditation is the fastest way to PWB. This is substantiated by emerging medical research. In one recent study, practicing mindfulness meditation for six hoursa day, for three months in a retreat setting, increased telomere length and enhanced PWB. In two studies in which I’ve been involved, one published and one presented in abstract form at the conference in Sweden, it was revealed that PWB can be increased by practicing a simple twelve minute meditation called Kirtan Kriya (KK). Practicing KKfor 12 minutes a day, for eight weeks, increased telomere length by 43 percent, which is groundbreaking.”

Another benefit of a regular meditation practice is improved cognitive function, and because there are such a large number of us in baby boomer generation the numbers who are thought to suffer from cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) will be proportionally large.

A study published in the “Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease,” tested meditation’s effects on cognitive function and cerebral blood flow in people exhibiting memory loss. The results showed a “number of significant changes in the preprogram baseline and the post program baseline scans in the” group practicing a specific type of meditation. In a low cost meditation practice practiced for only 12 minutes a day over an eight week period showed “positive results in both functional neuroimaging changes as well as an improvement in cognitive function in people with memory loss…”

In the end those who practiced meditation regularly, even for short periods of time, on measures of associative learning, cognitive skills, mental health, and aging, fare much better than those who don’t. So if you meditate, not only will you live longer, but you will think clearer, you will be less likely to suffer from depression and will feel a greater sense of joy and well-being.

Meditation Benefits: Improved Brain Functioning in ADHD Students

Neuroscientist Fred Travis, PhD, director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management completed his second study investigating the effects of Transcendental Meditation practiced on task performance and improved brain functioning in eighteen students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Improved Brain Functioning in ADHD Students

Improved Brain Functioning in ADHD Students

This random-assignment controlled study, which was published in Mind & Brain, The Journal of Psychiatry, found decreased symptoms of ADHD in students practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique.

The study took place of a six month period of time at an independent school for children with language-based learning disabilities in Washington, D.C.  This study showed improved brain functioning, along with an increase in brain processing; there was also, an improvement in the language-based skills, for those students with ADHD, who practiced Transcendental Meditation.   

All the students were pretested, then using delayed-start or random assignment comparison groups, were post-tested at three and six months. The students in the delay group began learning TM after the first three month period, when they were once again post-tested.

The student were given a verbal fluency test, a psychological test in which participants have to say as many words as possible from a category in a given time (usually 60 seconds). This test measures the executive functions of the brain, including systematic retrieval of knowledge, initiation and simultaneous processing.

How well students were able to perform these tasks were dependent on certain basic cognitive abilities, including attention, spelling and vocabulary knowledge.

EEG (Electroencephalography, can be used to diagnose and accurately identify students with ADHD by measuring the varying relationship between theta brain waves and beta brain waves.

 Daydreaming, drowsiness, and unfocused mental states are usually associated with a theta EEG reading of around 4 to 5 Hz, while a theta EEG reading of around 6 to 8 Hz indicates focus on mental tasks, for example memory, identification, and association.

According to co-researcher William Stixrud, PhD, a prominent Silver Spring, Maryland, clinical neuropsychologist,  Prior research shows ADHD children have slower brain development and a reduced ability to cope with stress. Virtually everyone finds it difficult to pay attention, organize themselves and get things done when they’re under stress,” he explained. “Stress interferes with the ability to learn—it shuts down the brain. Functions such as attention, memory, organization, and integration are compromised.”

Transcendental Meditation was chosen for a variety of reasons, the first being that TM has been shown to increase brain function. TM has been shown to effectively reduce stress and because stress is a key component effecting the lives of students with ADHD, for this reason Dr. Stixrud believed that this meditation technique would be the most effective.

The number one reason that TM would be an affective type of meditation is because it’s easy to practice and easy to learn, TM is a mantra based meditation technique, which means that the students didn’t have to learn to concentrate or control their minds, at least not to the degree that some of the other techniques would require.  

Dr. Travis notes that TM, like all forms of mantra meditation or “automatic self-transcending meditation,” creates an experience known as restful alertness a state that’ associated with increased activity in the frontal and parietal portions of the brain, as opposed to the reduction in metabolic activity in the thalamus which is linked to hyperactivity.       

According to Dr. Travis, “the repeated experience of the Transcendental Meditation technique trains the brain to function in a style opposite to that of ADHD.”

In a student-parent survey:

“Students reported that the TM technique was enjoyable and easy to do. They felt calmer, less stressed, and better able to concentrate on their schoolwork. They also said they were happier since they started TM. This correlated with reports from the parents.

At the end of the research, the parents completed a questionnaire to assess their perceptions of changes in five ADHD-related symptoms in their children from the beginning to the end of the study. There were positive and statistically significant improvements in the five areas measured: a) Ability to focus on schoolwork, b) Organizational abilities, c) Ability to work independently, d) Happiness, and e) Quality of sleep.”

The conclusion of the report was that the results were very promising and as Dr. Stixrud observed, “Significant improvement in the theta/beta ratio without medication and without having to use any expensive equipment is a big deal, as is significant improvement in student happiness and student academic functioning reported by the parents.”

It would seem that there is real hope for improved brain functioning in ADHD students who practice Transcendental Meditation or any form of mantra meditation. While further research is needed, it is seems there is hope for parents looking for a way to reduce their child’s need for medication. Read the full article…