Choosing the Teacher that’s Right for You

Choosing the teacher that’s right for you

Choosing the teacher that’s right for you

Choosing the teacher that’s right for you depends on what it is you want. Is it a meditation teacher or a spiritual master that you want?

A meditation teacher can help you deepen and refine your meditation practice and they can help answer basic questions that arise. If, however, you wish to develop a meditation practice that will help you cultivate a spiritual path then you will need a mentor or a master.

There are many reasons that you might seek out a teacher or a mentor. Maybe you’ve encountered challenges, like dealing with strong emotions of anger, fear or sorrow. Perhaps you simply need some accountability, someone that will help you stay focused on your path.

A spiritual teacher can coach you as you move through the transformational process and they can even help accelerate this process by bring awareness to places where you get stuck.

There are many pitfalls that you can encounter when looking for a teacher, such as idealizing them, expecting them to be perfect, and becoming disillusioned when they don’t live up to that expectation.

In their article, Joel and Michelle Levey, give their answer to the question, “How can I find a qualified meditation teacher?” Their answers contain wisdom…

“As we travel and teach around the globe, many people ask us, “How can I find a qualified meditation teacher?” The answer is not always an easy one. When we first began our own practice, there were three meditation centers in Seattle and two yoga teachers. Now, there are thousands of yoga and meditation teachers and hundreds of meditation centers! In looking for a spiritual or “mind fitness” teacher, the qualities to look for include compassion, knowledge and insight, morality, sincerity and skill — both in teaching and in their way of living — and a greater realization of their true nature and highest potentials than you have. From your own side, you should have confidence in your teacher and be able to communicate well with him or her. However, don’t set out on a frantic guru hunt! We encourage you to proceed slowly, mindfully, and to be both open-minded and very discerning. It may be a matter of years before you meet the person who can answer your questions and be this special spiritual friend and teacher for you.

Meanwhile, you can begin to practice meditation from what you read and from podcasts or recordings on the web, and seek the advice of any meditators whose qualities you admire. The role of any good teacher is ultimately to help you learn to trust your own intuitive wisdom, your own inner guru or inner guidance system, which will ultimately be your most reliable source of true direction.

Because it’s so important, and fraught with so many potential pitfalls, the subject of finding a teacher deserves a special subset of guidelines of its own. A classic Buddhist teaching on “The Four Reliances” advises the spiritual seeker to:

“First rely on the principle, not on the person. Second, rely on the spirit, not the letter. Third, rely on wisdom, not conditioning. And fourth, rely on complete teaching, not incomplete teaching.”

There are many perils on the path of meditation and spiritual growth. Keep your eyes open and your discerning wisdom keen. There are teachers and traditions that are rare and precious beyond belief. If you are fortunate enough to be able to spend time with them, your life will be truly enriched. And, there are teachers and traditions that quite honestly, we don’t send people to. How do you know if you are pursuing an authentic spiritual path, or have met a good teacher?

Signs to watch for are: ethical and moral integrity; service to others; compassion; respect for discipline; personal accountability of both leaders and community members; faith; embodiment; groundedness; respect; joyfulness; fellowship with, or at least tolerance for, people of different faiths; an inspiring lineage of practitioners whose lives have been enriched; a community of kindred souls that inspires your respect and admiration; love; celebration; humanity; respect for silence as well as questions; an honoring of the mythical and the mystical as well as clear reasoning that welcomes debate; a balance of prayer, contemplation, study, and service in practice.

If you find that you are the type who is easily confused or bewildered by exploring many paths or studying with many teachers, it may be wise to simplify your spiritual pursuits. Research and visit different meditation centers and teachers until you find a path that is spiritually satisfying for you, and then through study, practice, and contemplation, go deeply into the heart of that path.

If you are by nature a weaver and synthesizer, your temperament may better suit you to seek inspiration from study and practice with a diversity of traditions. Seek to find the common heart and core around which they come together, and appreciate how each contributes to deepening your wisdom and love, and to strengthening your faith.

If you are a mature practitioner with a clear sense of your path and tradition, there is little to fear and much to gain through encounters with other traditions. These will likely serve to only clarify and deepen your faith and insight. Keep an open heart, an open mind, and seek for a path that works for you.

Spiritual communities, though potential havens, can also become escapes for the socially challenged. And teachers from other cultures, though masters in their spiritual disciplines, may lack the experience they need within their new culture to give realistic counsel to their students — and sometimes get distracted as they encounter the enticements of the West.

We wholeheartedly encourage you to keep your eyes wide open. Open-minded skepticism will help you to find a healthy balance between over-critical cynicism that may miss the real thing, and gullible naiveté that is easily duped into signing up for misleading or dangerous pursuits.

Over the years, in search of a deeper understanding, our work, travels, and research have lead us to encounter many different spiritual paths. Having also encountered many of the perils of the path — and having worked clinically with some of the casualties — we offer the following list of cautionary guidelines to check out before you “sign up” with a spiritual teacher or group. Though it is possible you may find some of the following warning signs on an authentic path, they are often associated with less trustworthy situations. It is always wise to observe the integrity of people’s behavior carefully, and ask yourself these three essential questions:

• Does what I hear make sense to me?
• Does it conform to the golden rule, empathy, and compassion toward yourself and others?
• What is the intention? Is it to harm or to help? Is it for limited self-interest — or service for the good of the whole and benefit to many for generations to come?

Beware if you encounter any of the following “red flags”:

• Teachers or circles of practitioners who are out of integrity, or who don’t practice what they preach.
• Settings where questions are not welcomed or answered in straightforward ways, or where raising concerns about conduct or ethical violations is frowned upon — especially if you are told you are being “too judgmental” when you do raise honest concerns.
• Anyone who claims that they can give “it” to you, especially for a price.
• If the price of admission excludes people who are truly sincere.
• If you are expected to purchase lots of expensive merchandise or paraphernalia to get on board.
• Slick, extravagant trappings or heavily marketed, empire-building enterprises.
• Discrimination or attempts to turn your heart against others.
• Hidden agendas.
• Fanatical, narrow-minded sects claiming to be “the only true way.”
• A heavily authoritarian, paternalistic, sexist, or militaristic scene.
• Practices that work with intense energy manipulation or heavy breathing practices without having first established a strong foundation in ethics and personal grounding.
• Teachers, paths, or seminars that seem ungrounded, make outrageous claims, use coercion tactics, or hustle you to get others to sign up.

Be especially discerning if you encounter people who seem to display unusual or extraordinary powers. Spiritually naïve people may easily confuse psychic sensitivity with spiritual maturity, deluding themselves and others. Purported channeling and clairvoyance may have little to do with authentic spiritual teachings. Because some teachers misrepresent themselves, claiming spiritual authorizations, realizations, or backgrounds that are downright lies, it’s always good to check references or question their authenticity. If the biography of a spiritual teacher heavily emphasizes their attainments in past lives, (maybe, but who knows?) we suggest that you stay focused on the integrity of the one you can see sitting in front of you.” Read full article…

No matter their style or approach to meditation and spirituality, all good teachers create space for you, allowing you to experience for yourself, the joy and wonder of the transformation which takes place within you.

Choosing the teacher that’s right for you should always, in the end, be made by consulting the guru within.

Always rely on your inner wisdom and guidance, which was the advice of the Buddha.

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

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Meditation can Heal You in Less than a Day

Meditation can heal you in less than a day, this what the data shows in research done by Yi-Yung Tang, of Dalian University of Technology in China, and Michael Posner, of the University of Oregon. Their research shows that meditation creates physiological changes in the brain in as little as 11 hours.

Meditation can heal you in Less than a Day

Meditation can heal you in Less than a Day

In what amounts to a revolution in science, recent discovers reveal that the human adult brain remains open to change during our full lifespan. How and what we think about creates and regulates a flow of energy and information, understanding this we then understand that the mind can change the brain. In other words, what and how we focus our attention and intention on, how we direct the flow of energy and information can directly affect the brain’s structure and activity.

In his post, Stephan Schwartz, explores this subject. He links the seemingly universal need to connect to something greater than ourselves to meditation, and meditation to science. Scientific studies verify that when compassion is practiced that the social circuits of the brain light up, which helps us to transform all our relationships, even the one we have with ourselves.

According to Stephan Schwartz:

“Of all the things that you can do to know yourself, nothing will serve you as well as developing the practice of meditation. Although meditation is often associated with Asian cultures, it is not Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Satanic or any faith at all. It can be done in the name of any of these faiths, or without faith in a religion — as distinct from a spiritual sense. Meditation is a single term defining many practices.

More than 1,000 papers have been published on meditation in the peer-reviewed literature between 2006 and 2009. There is not one meditation literature, but multiple branches to this literature in several disciplines, from physics to pastoral counselling, concentrating on everything from using meditation to end addiction, to symptom reduction in Fibromyalgia. Much of the research focuses on stress reduction, sleep problems and attention issues. But the emerging evidence on the lasting effects meditation has on our neuro-anatomy, and particularly our brains is, perhaps, the most fascinating research of all.

This work has documented a kind of deep “stillness” that affects the entire brain. When this occurs, the frontal and temporal lobe circuits — which track time and create self-awareness — seemingly disengage. The mind-body connection dissolves. These studies show us that the limbic system is responsible for assigning emotional values to persons, places, everything in our total life experience. Since the limbic system, among other things, regulates relaxation and ultimately controls the autonomic nervous system, heart rate, blood pressure and metabolism, it produces both emotional and physiological effects when you react to a specific object, person or place. This is why your hair “stands on end,” your skin “crawls,” your stomach “lurches” or your heart “beats faster.”

Because meditation affects the limbic system, developing the discipline allows one to become more volitionally in control of these responses. The practice has a calming effect that leaves us relaxed and physiologically more evenly regulated. This, in turn, allows us to be coherently focused, because we are less distracted by our inner dialogue and emotions as well as our physiological responses. And this literally changes your brain.

A team at the Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, headed by Sara Lazar, used MRI to scan the brains of long-term meditators to see if the physical structure of their brains really were different. In 2005, they reported their findings in Neuroreport:

“Brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula. Between-group differences in prefrontal cortical thickness were most pronounced in older participants, suggesting that meditation might offset age-related cortical thinning. Finally, the thickness of two regions correlated with meditation experience. These data provide the first structural evidence for experience-dependent cortical plasticity associated with meditation practice.”

In 2009, at the Center for Functionally Integrative Neuroscience at Denmark’s Aarhus University, Peter Vestergaard-Pulsen led a team seeking to explore the effects of long term meditation on brain structure. They found, as they report in their paper, also in Neuroreport:

“Using magnetic resonance imaging, we observed higher gray matter density in lower brain stem regions of experienced meditators compared with age-matched nonmeditators. Our findings show that long-term practitioners of meditation have structural differences in brainstem regions concerned with cardiorespiratory control. This could account for some of the cardiorespiratory parasympathetic effects and traits, as well as the cognitive, emotional, and immunoreactive impact reported in several studies of different meditation practices.”

That same year, a research team at the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, Department of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine, publishing in Neuroimage, reported:

” … meditation practice has been shown not only to benefit higher-order cognitive functions but also to alter brain activity … meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the right hippocampus. Both orbito-frontal and hippocampal regions have been implicated in emotional regulation and response control. Thus, larger volumes in these regions might account for meditators’ singular abilities and habits to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior.” Read full story here…

Though the study by Yi-Yung Tang and Michael Posner shows that meditation can heal you in less than a day, even Mr. Schwartz believes that a person should commit to at least a nighty day program in order to affect lasting changes. His belief is that if a person practices meditation for ninety days, they will have established a regular practice.

So take a deep breath, sit and quiet your mind, take a break from your daily stress and overwhelm from multitasking and running on autopilot, and balance your brain and let the connections in your brain improve along with the connections others and yourself.

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Meditation Quotes: No man is an island…

~ On Oneness ~

Meditation Quotes John Donne

Meditation Quotes John Donne

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or thine own were; any mans’ death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls foe thee.

~ John Donne ~  

John Donne was an English poet and is noted as the first of the metaphysical poets.

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Meditation Quotes: If you can cease all restless activity…

Meditation Quotes Lao Tzu

Meditation Quotes Lao Tzu

If you can cease all restless activity, your integral nature will appear.

~ Lao Tzu ~

LAO TZU TAO TE CHING verse 1-2 set to acoustic guitar – original piece called “the ocean free”

This is an original instrumental, recorded by Alan Goodman from MothersLove. The words are from the TAO TE CHING a collection of verse from LAO TZU. The images are a collection of HDR Photography shots taken from SmashingMagazine, Watch, Read, Enjoy,…

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Meditation Benefits: The three Elements of Meditation

The three elements of meditationlead us on our inward journey of self-realization.

The three Elements of Meditation

The three Elements of Meditation


Meditation begins with the breath. Breathing is always with us, whether we are meditating or not. From this place there is never a time when we are not meditating, only a time when we are unaware of it. Meditation is awareness. Meditation centers us in the present moment.

Meditation is a process that involves three important elements. The first is concentration, a place of inner focus. The second is an attitude of non-attachment, where our thoughts are left fleeting unable to disturb our awareness or gain energy. The third element is mindfulness, being fully present in this moment by awakening to our natural state of quietness, where awareness becomes aware of itself.

To deepen your practice of meditation you will want to practice each of these skills regularly.

Concentration

Concentration in meditation is without doing, it is creating awareness without judgment. There’s nothing mystical or spiritual about concentration, and like breathing we all do it in one form or another. It is a way of focusing the mind and applying thought to what is being done.  

Concentration is applying mind to what is felt, seen or thought without an effort to change a thing. It is when we rest our attention on one thing. The focus of our attention when developing a meditation practice can be a candle or Sri Yantra or mandala; more often it is the breath or a mantra.  

In the beginning concentration feels as if it is hard work and can be frustrating. There is, however, a difference between the type concentration we use to solve a problem and the focus we bring to meditation. Meditative concentration is the process of bring together all our scattered energies and letting them settle down, restoring a sense of wholeness.  

Whatever we choose to use as our focus of concentration, whether it’s the breath or a candle, it becomes the center of our attention. In the end the object of attention fills the mind and the energy of thought settles.

Non-attachment

Concentration is the process of letting go of distractions. Thoughts, emotions, sounds or sights in the environment can all disrupt concentration and when that happens, usually we react. And when we react we give energy to those disturbances. The easiest way to have them move out of our conscious awareness is to remain neutral and this is the practice.

Instead of trying to suppress the thoughts (an almost impossible task) we let go of our instinctual need to react to them. This is the process of non-attachment, allowing whatever thoughts that arise in the mind to pass as clouds pass through the sky, dissipating as they go.

The thoughts that distract us in meditation usually center on our cravings and desires. It is these objects of thought that not only disturb our meditation but our daily lives as well.  

Our craving and our moments of silent bliss come and go in meditation; non-attachment is the process of watching without trying to understand them. And when we do not give them new energy through continued attention, the power of these distractions is diminished, they leaves us without acquiring new power.

As the practice develops an experience of one-pointed concentration becomes part of our unconscious mind as well. We create a new samskaras (grooves in the mind) that support our meditation.

Concentration and non-attachment work together supporting each other allowing the other to deepen.

Mindfulness

As our practice of concentration and non-attachment grows there is a transformation that takes place in our awareness. As we become aware of the consistent mind chatter and begin to slowly step away from it, our mind begins to settle and we become aware of our natural state of silence and presence.

The Sanskrit translation of the term “mindfulness” is smriti, and it means ‘to bring to mind’ or ‘to bring to remembrance.’ In describing mindfulness Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (developer of Mindfulness-based stress reduction) said, “Mindfulness can be cultivated by paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, non-judgmentally and openheartedly as possible.”

In the beginning your practice is a collection of developmental skills that support your practice, including your ability to:

  • Pay attention. In order to develop a mindful posture, you need to pay attention.
  • Present moment awareness. Remain in the present moment instead of fantasizing about the future or worrying about the past, or as Ram Dass put it, “Be here now.” This is ‘seeing’ things as they are, without judgment, being aware of things as they are now.
  • Non-reactivity is the ability to respond to your experiences rather than react to your thoughts. Reaction is automatic; response is with awareness.
  • Sensing your emotion is the process of becoming aware of the emotions that give rise to your thoughts.
  • Becoming non-judgmental. Letting go of judgment allows you to see things as they are instead of seeing thing through the filter of your conditioning. This, especially, includes the judgmental self-talk that is so often our inner companion, and allow the feelings of self-acceptance to wash in and fill the void.
  • Maintain concentration. Maintaining your focus keeps you from being carried away on a train of thoughts.
  • Being Openhearted. To be open-hearted is to be kind, compassionate to other as well as yourself. You cannot find the qualities of kindness and compassion outside of yourself, you must look within; and when you can see yourself with awareness as who you truly are, then you can be genuinely compassionate to others.

Meditation is not about self-enhancement but self-transcendence. To realize the self is the gift of meditation and the means to understand and experience the center of consciousness within.

The three elements of meditation, concentration, non-attachment and mindfulness, help us move along our inward journey of self-realization.

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Meditation Quotes: We are already one…

Meditation Quotes Thomas Merton

Meditation Quotes Thomas Merton

We are already one and we imagine we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. Whatever we have to be is what we are.

~ Thomas Merton ~

Thomas Merton’s Hermitage / A Short Video

Thomas Merton lived the last few years of his life in this hermitage… Filmed 5/31/08 using natural light on the finale day of Gethsemani III, a Buddhist/Catholic environmental conference…

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Meditation Quotes: Now is the time to sit quiet…

Now is the time to sit quiet, face to face with thee, and to sing dedication of life in this silent and over-flowing leisure.

~ Rabindranath Tagore ~

Meditation Quotes Rabindranath Tagore

Meditation Quotes Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore – Do Not Keep to Yourself

This poem belongs to The Gardener collection. Music by John Sokoloff

~ Rabindranath Tagore ~

Rabindranath Tagore; sobriquet Gurudev, was a Bengali polymath. As a poet, novelist, musician, & playwright, he reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

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