|Dr. Robert Puff|
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#1808 - Tuesday, May 25, 2004 - Editor: Jerry
This issue is about stress and meditation.
The most effective method of
avoiding subjective stress is to have faith -- call it faith,
devotion, or surrender. Faith is the clear understanding that the
one Lord is taking care of us. Is He not running everything? And
still we are worried? That is why in the Bhaja Govindam it is
said, " O fool! Why worry...? Is there not for you the One
who ordains, rules and commands?"
When we travel by plane, the plane flies, we only eat and sleep. We know that the pilot is taking care of us; we have faith in him. When we are seasoned travellers, we are not afraid of anything. We are relaxed.
We should have the same attitude in the voyage of life, remembering Lord Krishna's promise: "Rest assured . Remember Me. I will take care of you. Those who remember Me with single - pointed attention I take care of; I take care of their entire life."
Nature we are friendly, cooperative,
compassionate. If we are unfriendly, it is
because of stress and tension." - Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Through out our lives we learn
reading, writing, science, music and art but very
few of us have actually learnt the true Art of
Living. We are rarely taught how to handle our
negative emotions - anger, depression, stress.
Yet, the quality of our life depends upon the
quality of our mind.
The Art of Living courses offer
effective techniques which eliminate toxins and
stresses that accumulate in our systems over
time. They are a unique way to harmonize and
energize the Body, Breath, Mind, Emotions &
Developed by H.H Sri Sri Ravi
courses offer simple and effective techniques for
eliminating stress, resolving conflict, improving
health and living life with new joy and
enthusiasm - A combination of the very best of
ancient wisdom and modern science.
From Start Where You Are : A Guide to Compassionate Living
Our next slogan is "Abandon any hope of fruition." You could also say, "Give up all hope" or "Give up" or just "Give." The shorter the better.
One of the most powerful teachings of the Buddhist tradition is that as long as you are wishing for things to change, they never will. As long as you're wanting yourself to get better, you won't. As long as you have an orientation toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have or already are.
One of the deepest habitual patterns that we have is to feel that now is not good enough. We think back to the past a lot, which maybe was better than now, or perhaps worse. We also think ahead quite a bit to the future - which we may fear - always holding out hope that it might be a little bit better than now. Even if now is going really well -we have good health and we've met the person of our dreams, or we just had a child or got the job we wanted-nevertheless there's a deep tendency always to think about how it's going to be later. We don't quite give ourselves full credit for who we are in the present.
For example, it's easy to hope that things will improve as a result of meditation, that we won't have such bad tempers anymore or we won't have fear anymore or people will like us more than they do now. Or maybe none of those things are problems for us, but we feel we aren't spiritual enough. Surely we will connect with that awake, brilliant, sacred world that we are going to find through meditation. In everything we read -whether it's philosophy or dharma books or psychology- there's the implication that we're caught in some kind of very small perspective and that if we just did the right things, we'd begin to connect with a bigger world, a vaster world, different from the one we're in now.
One reason I wanted to talk about giving up all hope of fruition is because I've been meditating and giving dharma talks for some time now, but I find that I still have a secret passion for what it's going to be like when-as they say in some of the classical texts, all the veils have been removed." It's that same feeling of wanting to jump over yourself and find something that's more awake than the present situation, more alert than the present situation. Sometimes this occurs at a very mundane level: you want to be thinner, have less acne or more hair. But somehow there's almost always a subtle or not so subtle sense of disappointment, a sense of things not completely measuring up.
In one of the first teachings I ever heard, the teacher said, "I don't know why you came here, but I want to tell you right now that the basis of this whole teaching is that you're never going to get everything together." I felt a little like he had just slapped me in the face or thrown cold water over my head. But I've always remembered it. He said, "You're never going to get it all together." There isn't going to be some precious future time when all the loose ends will be tied up. Even though it was shocking to me, it rang true. One of the things that keeps us unhappy is this continual searching for pleasure or security, searching for a little more comfortable situation, either at the domestic level or at the spiritual level or at the level of mental peace.
What is meditation?
from The Meditation Society of America
If you go to your Doctor for stress related problems, she or he will likely tell you that perhaps the best treatment for stress is Meditation. They will suggest that you start meditating and this leads you to two problems. The first is where to get appropriate direction in how to meditate. By finding Meditation Station, you've already solved that problem. The other is understanding exactly what Meditation is.
Meditation is a three step process that leads to a state of consciousness that brings serenity, clarity, and bliss. As depicted in the first illustration, our "normal" state of mind is actually quite abnormal. We receive sensory stimuli and react in a completely uncontrolled way (although we tell ourselves we have great control). We bounce from one thought to another and follow with our emotional and physical reactions. The same thought can bring about diametrically opposite reactions at different times. For instance, we may see a dog and then start a thought process that reminisces about a pet dog we once had and loved. Emotionally, we then start feeling all warm and cuddly; physically, we feel very relaxed. Another time, we may see the same dog and fear it may attack us and start thinking paranoid thoughts, get fearful and uptight physically.
The second illustration demonstrates Concentration. This is the first step in Meditation and is the start of gaining control over the mind and thereby life. The procedure is deceptively simple and seems like it would be very easy to do, but there are few tasks more difficult to master. The idea is to pick an object/subject to place your attention on and then to focus exclusively on it without diversion. An example of this would be if you decided to focus on love. To start, you would relax your body, sit in a comfortable position, calm your emotions and begin repeating the word "love" over and over. The problem is that your mind has been your master your whole life and won't easily relinquish its position. To trick you back into obedient slavery, your mind will divert your attention, often by giving you a tantalizingly interesting distraction. It usually goes something like this: You're sitting there repeating love, love, love when your mind suddenly adds "I love candy. They sell the candy I love at the 7-11 up the road. I can get into my car and drive there and get that candy. I know it will be delicious when I bite into it ..." and so there you are --- instead of concentrating on love, you're eating an imaginary candy bar at a 7-11. What you are supposed to do is to witness your being distracted and return to concentrating on the object of your meditation. Concentration is well worth persevering in and ultimately liberating, spectacular and a blessing.
The third illustration depicts Meditation. Here we have unbroken attention. The classic description of the difference between Concentration and Meditation is given in the example of pouring oil from a bottle into a bowl. At first the oil drips out a drop at a time. This is concentration. Then the oil comes out in a steady stream. This unbroken pouring out is Meditation. If you really examine the process closer, you would notice that when the oil was coming out drop by drop, each drop caused a splash and the droplettes of the splashing can be considered analagous to the distractions that interrupt our concentration. Once the stream starts becoming steady it flows effortlessly. Similarly, when Concentration flows into Meditation, the attention paid to the object of Meditation becomes deeper and deeper effortlessly and spontaneously, true knowledge about the object presents itself.
Using love as the example again, you would concentrate on love, love, love, love. You might then find your mind filling with thoughts of love -- motherly love, fatherly love, love of country, love of money, qualified love, unqualified love, puppy love. Everything in the universe that love is connected to will come to you. Every feeling of love, every sensation, every thought. And since, as Albert Einstein tells us, everything in the universe is relative to everything else, ultimately your meditation on "love" will connect you to everything. At this point, the unity of the object of your meditation and your mind, as illustrated in the fourth illustration, occurs. This is the state of Contemplation and is the pentultimate state of consciousness. Where we usually are only conscious of our body and ego and consider ourselves apart from the rest of the universe, with the experience of Contemplation we become conscious of the cosmos and know ourselves to be a part of it and realize our unity with all of it. This is Realization, Cosmic Consciousness. It is our birthright and destiny to know this exquisite state first hand and enjoy the Truth, Consciousness, and Bliss that is our eternal true nature. Thus the justification in expending whatever energy is necessary to learn to meditate and to begin to make Meditation an important part of our lives.
Meditation for Everyone
Response is a simple practice that
once learned takes 10 to 20 minutes a day and can
relieve the stress and tension that stands
between you and a richer and healthier life. The
technique was developed by Herbert Benson, M.D.
at Harvard Medical School, tested extensively and
written up in his book, "The Relaxation Response".
The following is the technique taken word for word from his book.
1.Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
2.Close your eyes.
3.Deeply relax all your
beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face.
Keep them relaxed.
4.Breathe through your
Become aware of your breathing.
As you breathe out, say the word, "ONE",
silently to yourself. For example,
breathe IN ... OUT, "ONE",- IN .. OUT, "ONE", etc.
Breathe easily and naturally.
5. Continue for 10 to 20
You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm.
When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes,
at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened.
Do not stand up for a few minutes..
6. Do not worry about
whether you are successful
in achieving a deep level of relaxation.
Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace.
When distracting thoughts occur,
try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them
and return to repeating "ONE."
With practice, the response should come with little effort.
ractice the technique once or twice daily,
but not within two hours after any meal,
since the digestive processes seem to interfere with
the elicitation of the Relaxation Response.
- The Relaxation Response, Herbert Benson, M.D.
Mindfulness-awareness sitting practice
Meditation is part of the
Eightfold Path and is
known by three aspects: right effort (not too
tight, not too loose), right mindfulness
(one-pointedness), and right awareness (of the
present, unbiased experience, open yet
penetrating). Meditation is the way to understand
suffering, ego and compassion. It is not enough
to merely have book knowledge of Buddhist themes.
One must 'taste' them, and meditation allows
that. When the shadow of real tragedy is cast
upon one's life, book knowledge and such things
as the memorization of Buddhist lists are not
wholly adequate, except when one has engaged in
scholarly study and refined "one's understanding
through using the words of Buddha, the statements
of enlightened masters, and one's personal power
of reasoning." Hence, both study and meditation
are ways to follow the path of Buddhism. This
paper emphasizes the way of meditation.
The three aspects of
meditation are evident in
the sitting meditation described by Karen Kissel
Wegela, in How To Be a Help Instead of a
Nuisance. Wegela is with the Naropa Institute and
calls her technique a mindfulness-awareness
sitting practice. The following discussion is
taken from the book. The practice is a way of
sitting down and seeing what one's experience is.
It allows a person to touch base with her warmth,
compassion and tenderheartedness; with
open-mindedness, and with clarity or cleansed
awareness, that is, the ability to see things as
Wigela's method is
attractive because it
emphasizes how meditation can be used to help
others in their suffering. She points out that
through meditation a person can reduce
distractions, confusion, wild thoughts, and
thereby tame the mind. The result is greater
presence and an understanding of the difference
between being present and not being present. That
is a powerful kind of discrimination. Once one
can identify when they are not present,
meditation can be used to restore presence.
Wigela illustrates right
effort by a couple of
examples. When Buddha was asked by a musician how
tightly or loosely the mind should regard
thoughts during meditation practice, the Buddha
asked him how he tuned his instrument. Were the
strings tight or loose? Which made the right
music? The musician said that when the strings
were neither too tight nor too loose, the right
sound was produced. Same with the holding of the
mind during meditation, the Buddha replied.
Neither catch every thought tightly, nor let the
mind's activity be so loose that most of it is
She speaks also of
imagining the mind as a wild
horse. To tame the wild horse one might attempt
to house it in a small enclosure, keep an eye on
it at all times, and not allow it to drift for an
instant. This wouldn't tame the horse, only break
its spirit with tension and rigidity. It does the
same to the mind, generating self-doubt and not
allowing for the discovery of clarity,
open-mindedness and compassion. Or one might feel
it is better to let the horse run wild in
unbounded wilderness. This is not a taming at
all, but an absence of consistency and
discipline. Hence the mind remains distracted and
presence is not known.
In the wild horse example,
right effort means
housing the horse in a big, roomy pasture with a
fence around it. This allows the horse, the mind,
to roam, play, dance, move to the periphery, move
to the center, and eventually be approached,
touched and ridden without breaking its spirit.
This is the effort required to allow meditation
to work, which means not achieving some celestial
state of higher consciousness, but getting to
know who one is, getting to know one's ordinary,
clear, open, compassionate nature.
When sitting with
suffering, thoughts, sensations,
emotions are allowed to arise as distractions.
Allowing this arising and resolving it, is the
third step in Wigela's technique of
mindfulness-awareness sitting practice. One might
entitle that step "thoughts". The first two steps
- "body", "breath" -- need to be considered.
The first step requires
attention to the body. If
possible, one sits on a cushion with the legs
crossed in front of the body. One may sit in a
chair. It's important that one's back be kept
straight. Wigela provides advice on kinds of
cushions and chairs. The posture is to be
relaxed, upright, and reflective of "our basic,
inherent dignity." The eyes are kept open as a
gesture of inclusion of the environment. This
fosters presence in the everyday world. One gazes
downward about six feet ahead. Right effort is
applied to the gaze; it is neither strained nor
totally unfocused. The gaze is a relaxed focus on
whatever is present in the field of vision. Take
a few moments and simply be present in the
environment, the room.
The second step works with
the breath. Breath is
a point of attention. Breathing is an activity in
the moment, so it brings one into the present. No
special kind of breathing need be done. Attention
need only be lightly upon it. As a guideline,
approximately one-quarter of the attention should
be on breath and the rest on body and
environment. Focus is on the outbreath. This
means that attention being applied to breath,
body, environment, is applied with the outbreath.
Attention isn't particularly anywhere on the
inbreath. Where the outbreath ceases and before
the turn is made to the inbreath, there is a
moment of dissolving: dissolving of breath,
dissolving of attention, dissolving of mind, even
a dissolving of who one is. And so the rhythm is
The third step of Wigela's
sitting practice has already been introduced:
"thoughts". With the outbreath there will be
distractions. Thoughts will arise, emotions will
be stirred, sensations will come to the
forefront. These are distractions. When a
distraction is obvious it is given a mental
label. That label is named "thinking." If
thoughts turn to money owed, for example, one
silently says, "thinking." Right effort is
applied here so that neither every slight
distraction is labeled, nor are all distractions
disregarded and allowed to carry one's full
attention. That is how distracting thoughts are
resolved in this method. The other factor to note
is that thoughts are not judged. Whether one is
thinking something negative, positive or neutral,
it is labeled "thinking," not "good thinking,"
"Buddhist thinking," "bad thinking" or "neutral
thinking." Thus the non-judgmental state is
maintained, whether one is thinking of a fireman
or a terrorist during this meditation.
Those three steps describe
the technique. It is
simple and effective. It teaches right effort:
"not too tight, not too loose;" right
mindfulness: "one-pointedness, staying focused;"
and right awareness: "of the present, unbiased
experience, open and letting go."
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