Meditation Can Change the World

This is a guest post written by Carol Studenka, a long-term meditator and a student of the Teacher Certification Program with the McLean Meditation Institute

Meditation can change the world. There I’ve said it. Sounds crazy, maybe. But I believe meditation can change the world.

I know I saw it this weekend at the Soul Radiance Retreat. Those unexplainable “aha” moments when all your senses tingle. When you and everyone else understand completely the other. When we see each other in ourselves and we know what separates us is meaningless.

It gives me hope and makes me a believer that in extension we can change the world.  Perhaps even ten minutes a day of meditation may be the ticket. If what I see happening with 50 people in a room can be taken into the larger world, why not do it?

At the three-day retreat most people sit in chairs, few are scattered around the room on floor cushions. One woman shiny in front, Sarah McLean, leads the meditation and reminds us to pay attention to each breath, She rings a bell to begin and we do, each closed-eyed and focusing on the sensation of each breath in and out. The sounds of the room fade into the background, even the revving of a motorcycle outside doesn’t seem to matter. We are all breathing together. Sarah’s gentle voice reminds us to focus on each breath, then a silent mantra, and then a word – freedom, and we do, until the bell sounds again and the meditation is over.

What’s changed? For most of us deep relaxation is the norm. I feel well rested. For a few first time meditators they sat through some agitation brought on by slowing down – too new to their systems. Each experiences a deeper relationship to an inner place inside oneself – one not easily described. It’s that part of each of us that has been there since birth, and that may go on after death, some call it our essence, others, the soul or the spirit. Whatever the word, we all have a deeper sense of it.

This is where it begins – that change in the world I talked about earlier. It’s meditation that opens the door to the part of self that is overlooked and forgotten. Love thy neighbor as thyself…it’s the self we are supposed to love and cherish always. How many of us have time or energy to do this in this hectic world we live in?

What I experienced in that retreat in Sedona gives me hope that we can and could find this place more often. Meditation creates an avenue of awareness unveiling our true heart, and seeing each other as a true part of the community of humanity. People shared their stories. Some dramatic, others mundane, but as each of us listened from that center unearthed by meditating, we knew we only had to change a details or two for every one of those stories to be our own.

As I listen to those stories told, I hear my own heart speaking. I silently love them, telling them to love themselves, forgive themselves, and believe in their own value. I remember that I need to do the same. As I see these transformations take place before my eyes, I truly believe each individual in this world has the capacity to feel this way too.

It’s like what we all feel looking into a baby’s eyes. We know all possibilities are there in that moment. And that everything good and loving about humanity is embodied right there.

The simple truth is that we have always known what will change the world. And that is love. You could say meditation is love. Loving yourself so you can love others, and therefore love the world. I hope everyone will take time every day to love one’s self through meditation. I love Sarah’s retreats because they give me hope that so many people are beginning to see the same possibilities that I do through their own practices of meditation.

Advertisements

Conversation with Sarah #1

When I was doing my tour for Soul Centered, I was interviewed for the women’s health site EmpowHER by writer Marcia G. Yerman.

In reviewing my book and explaining to her audience the benefits of meditation,  Marcia became interested in beginning her own meditation practice.

Beyond the questions that she raised in order to write her article,  Marcia had a series of additional inquiries and observations that were similar to those that many others have encountered as they embark on the path of meditation and self-awareness.

As we discussed these topics, we hit upon the idea of Marcia contributing monthly for my blog, we’re calling it “Conversations with Sarah.” In addition to tackling material that we believe will be of interest to the community through a dialogue, we invite you to submit questions that you would like to have addressed—as you sail forward in your meditation voyage.

Send an e-mail to mcleanmeditation@gmail(dot) com, with BLOG TOPIC in the subject line.

Yours,

Sarah

 

 

 

The Meditation Journey Begins

by Marcia G. Yerman

 

June of 2012 was a rocky month for me. Reality kept rearing its insistent head, reminding me that my son was leaving for college—and a new life—in sixty days. All the decisions I had been able to put off for years because of my son’s priorities were now rushing to the fore and demanding my attention.

Ironically, it was during the same time frame that I was working on an article about Sarah’s new book, Soul-Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with MeditationAs part of the press kit, I had received her meditation CD. I listened to the first track. It immediately resonated and made the lessons from the book visceral for me.

Soon, every morning before getting out of bed, I put on my headphones and meditated along with Sarah. At night, I did the “Transformational” or “Gratitude” meditation—always ending with the “Crystal Bowl Healing Sounds,” which served as a kind of auditory amen. I had sandwiched in my own personal ninety-second prayer, the one I have been reciting since the age of six. As Sarah frequently explains, meditation can co-exist with your religious beliefs.

Recognizing that my nervous system was on overload, I was excited to discover that meditation could alter brain patterns—regardless of one’s age—and that there was real science and date to back the findings up.

Beyond the actual act of meditation, I began incorporating a number of Sarah’s lifestyle suggestions into my daily routine. Previously on my own, I had been gravitating toward many of the behaviors that Sarah advocated in her book. Intuitively and organically I was on the same track.

I felt calmer when I sought out green oases within the urban sprawl of New York City. I had decided to cancel my newspaper subscription for the three months of summer because I was feeling as if I were drowning in a morass of frustratingly bad news that I could not impact. It’s what Sarah calls a “media-fast.” In addition, without yet knowing of Sarah’s “one-day a month” retreat of unplugging from electronics, I had decided that for a week I would only fulfill essential computer work. That meant staying off social media over the weekend (I am an inveterate Tweeter!).

It made a difference.

I still got a lot of news from television and online media, but I felt that a weight had been lifted off my shoulders—the responsibility of feeling that I constantly needed to be on top of every bit of information.

Meditating helped me settle into the fact that my son was leaving, and helped me to enjoy the moment and the time we had left to spend which each other. I focused on “my own world” and what was “under my control,” as Sarah had explained. When I felt overwhelmed, I turned to her “Peacefinder Exercise,” a stress buster to “refresh” my attitude and “shift my body’s response.”

It worked.

In August, I spent five days in the vicinity of Woodstock, New York. I went with my son and his father, taking my new awareness with me. I went on several hikes with my son. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we didn’t. Yet, in the midst of nature we both felt very connected. I stopped in a Tibetan store and bought a turquoise colored beaded bracelet that I began using during my mediations to help me stay attentive.

By the time my son had left for pre-orientation, I was in a different state of awareness. I had a whole new set of resources in my toolbox. I wore the bracelet when I traveled up to his campus to drop off his belongings, a reminder that I didn’t have to fall into the old patterns of reactivity when things got stressful.

Upon returning to an empty apartment in disarray from last minute packing, I was able to sit with uncomfortable feelings in a fresh way. As August turned into September and Labor Day summoned an end to summer, I thought about where I had been emotionally on Memorial Day. I became aware of the new rhythms that had begun to take root in my life.

Perhaps the clearest and most recent example came several days into the month when my dog had a medical problem. I rushed her to the vet. In the waiting room, not only was my dog anxious, but I was too. Intolerant of how long it was taking to see the doctor, I repeatedly looked at my watch, worrying about the dog—as well as the time I was losing from my workday.

Then I stopped.

I remembered Sarah’s advice about “starting again at any moment.” I realized that I could make a different choice and change “rote behavior.” I took a deep breath. I cleared my mind by concentrating on my breath. Inwardly, I repeated the mantra I had learned. The fear and nervousness started to release, and I accepted what part of the situation was under my control.

There in the vet’s office, I recognized my old patterns and chose a different way to respond. Or in Sarah’s words, “You can’t change anything about yourself until you see it.”

September 22nd is the first day of autumn. I look forward to moving into the new season with a reframed self-awareness that will put me on a new path.

Cultivating inner peace is the goal.

Soul-Centered Released Today

 

Just released today…
A new book that just might transform your life!
Order your copy of Soul-Centered today…..
Agave Blooming | Agave Blooming |  Agave Blooming
And start meditating right away!
  • Be gently guided through an 8 week program with over  20 meditations and meditative practices that will completely support your practice for a true transformation in your life.
  • Discover how you can easily begin to meditate – you’ll learn to focus your attention not only while you are sitting quietly, while walking, eating, waiting in line, sitting in a meeting, or doing just about anything!
  • Get your 5 essential keys to a successful meditation practice so you know you are doing it right, even if you are one of those whose mind races the moment they sit down to meditate.
  • Find out what the latest research reveals about you, the way you think, and how meditation can actually change the structure of your brain to help you to be more peaceful and more compassionate!
  • Learn how to focus, find peace, take care of yourself, and reduce stress with the Peacefinder and Mindful Living exercises. There are tips for better sleep, better digestion and you’ll even discover how to set up your own personal one-day retreat.
  • Discover how you can live  a soul-centered life as you enhance your self-awareness, find more peace, approach life with an open mind, develop compassion for yourself and others, experience intimacy with your own soul, become a better listener to yourself and others, focus more attention on what matters to you – those you love, your desires, what you’re grateful for, your dreams and your life.
Get your copy of Soul-Centered today!
Agave Blooming | Agave Blooming |  Agave Blooming

Love Thy Neighbor

The Golden Rule

Love thy Neighbor

The Golden Rule and variations on that theme have been in effect since ancient times, from Babylon and Egypt to Greece and China.  It’s written about in the Bible, the Torah, and is found in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Jainism.

The Golden Rule and the Love thy Neighbor commandment instruct us to do unto others as we would have them to unto us. Or love the other as we love ourselves.

Often when we look at these tenets we see them as instructive in ways to treat the other. Being kind and generous to others is rewarded.  It’s even said in the yoga tradition that the path of service, or karma yoga, can lead to enlightenment. I don’t doubt that, but why is it that flight attendants have to remind us to put our own oxygen mask on in an emergency before we help others, could it be we forget to take care of ourselves in the name of service?

Let’s look at this rule or commandment more closely.  We often overlook the basis of the rule or commandment – which refers to how we’d like to be treated, or even how we treat ourselves.  Love thy neighbor as thyself.   Putting this practice into effect has to start with loving ourselves. How do you love yourself? Sometimes when people come to learn to meditate we take a look at how they treat themselves. Every one of us has thoughts in meditation or sometimes drift off in a daydream, but there are some students that are so hard on themselves when this happens – getting angry or frustrated with themselves – a habit they’ve fallen into as a way to make themselves do it right. Some people simply believe they can’t do it at all, or that there is something inherently wrong with them. Of course they can meditate, I remind them. I’ve never yet met someone who can’t.

I suggest that they practice being sweet to themselves, in and out of meditation. And by sweet, I don’t mean buying a new outfit or an ice cream, I mean actually being kind to yourself, and paying attention to yourself. Maybe you’ve forgotten your own inner loveliness. You are wise, you are kind, you are aware, and you know what is good for you on a very basic level. Being unkind to ourselves can simply be an old habit. It might come up that someone stays in a relationship that isn’t nourishing, or they say nasty things to themselves when they look in the mirror, or don’t take good care of their body, or don’t listen to their own inner wisdom. What if we treated our neighbor based on the ways that we sometimes treat (or loved) ourselves? We’d ignore them, say nasty things about them, or not care about them in some way. You see how that goes?

How we treat ourselves can inform everything we say or do. We have to become aware of it first, we each have to expand our awareness. I’ve written about really listening to yourself, discovering your intuition, asking yourself what you really want, living in tune with nature, beginning your meditation practice, and remembering to be grateful. But it all comes down to loving one’s self – which is often more difficult than it sounds. It takes practice.

There is a Buddhist meditation practice known as Loving Kindness (You don’t have to be Buddhist to do it.) It has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old habituated negative patterns of mind. In this simple practice, one begins with truly experiencing love for themselves, and from there, one meditates on kindness to others.

It goes like this:

  • Sit down and relax your body. Give yourself three slow, deep breaths through your nose and then let your breath return to a natural rhythm.
  • Bring your attention to your heart center, gently place your hand there if you like.
  • Take some time to cultivate a warm and gentle feeling for yourself.
  • Silently say some sweet things to yourself, with a sense of sincerity, kindness and warmth (see some examples below.)
  • Notice how your heart and mind respond. There is no need to hurry.
  • Experience your heart slowly fill with the warmth and bliss of your own loving intention.
  • After you give yourself the attention, you can then have the same intention for all beings to be well and free from suffering.
  • Keep your eyes closed for a few minutes and enjoy for a few moments your state of being.
  • Take three breaths through your nose, deeper than normal, and come back to yourself and the environment you are sitting in.

Here are some intentions I use, choose one that resonates with you, or come up with your own:

  • May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be free from suffering.
  • I am safe. I am cared for. I am loved and all is well.
  • May I become an intimate, kind, and friendly force for myself and all of life.
  • May I be completely present in my own life.
  • May I know and experience the Divine fully.
  • I accept myself exactly as I am and exactly as I am not.
  • May I remember the universal kindness which surrounds me at every moment.
  • There is no one on earth who is more deserving of my love than me.
  • May I be on my own side and not betray myself.

The more I practice Loving Kindness, the more I learn to know myself as a person capable of warmth, of sweetness, of love and a peaceful response to life. I trust myself more and have more to give. Each act of kindness to others then becomes an act of gentleness to myself and to my own spirit.

© 2011 All Rights Reserved. Sarah McLean, Sedona Meditation Training Co. www.SedonaMeditation.com

The Five Essentials for Successful Meditation

An excerpt from the Introduction of Soul-Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation 

Before you begin your 8-week journey to becoming soul-centered, there are five basic keys to success in meditation that I want to address. These are: (1) it’s okay to have thoughts during meditation, (2) don’t try too hard, (3) let go of expectations, (4) be kind to yourself, and (5) stick with it. And it’s important to know this: The way you meditate and treat yourself in meditation is the way you treat yourself as you live your life.

1. It’s Okay to Have Thoughts

If you’re thinking, I probably can’t do this program because I have too many thoughts, then you are not alone. Perhaps you’ve already tried to meditate for a few minutes once or twice, and it “didn’t work.” You sat down, closed your eyes, and tried to clear your mind but couldn’t. Then you gave up.

Students in my classes often tell me, “I can’t stop thinking.” My reply is, “That’s right, you can’t stop the thoughts.” I explain that you can’t stop thoughts by thinking about not thinking, because the nature of the mind is to think, like the nature of your eyes are to see. If you try to stop thinking, your effort will make you frustrated and possibly give you a headache.

You don’t need to completely stop thinking during meditation. Instead, the meditation practices you will learn in this program naturally settle your mind and body, making it easier to experience the subtler levels of your thoughts and impulses. Sometimes the thought process even stops for a moment or two, and before another thought or sensation arises, you’ll have experienced the silence that is always present, underlying the thoughts, the silence of your soul. This stillness of mind is not created by you stopping your thoughts. Instead, it is a natural process that is always available to be experienced—it is merely revealed through meditating.

2. Don’t Try Too Hard

I once taught meditation to a heart surgeon and his wife on New Year’s Day (he had called and set up an appointment at 9 a.m., wanting to start the year off right). After they learned to meditate he asked how he could “get good at it.” I responded by asking him how he got to be “good” at surgery.Practice, right? Well, it’s the same with meditation.

At first, you may try to do it “right.” But you soon find that overly working at it, trying too hard, forcing it, or concentrating only creates more thoughts and bad habits. You can’t try to do anything without the mind getting involved.  Instead of expending mental effort or trying to have a certain experience, you’ll learn to refocus your attention, gently. Contrary to what so many believe, you don’t get good at meditation by trying hard to do it. Instead, the practice requires ease and effortlessness.

With meditation, your mind and body will settle down naturally, and as with any natural process, too much effort can ruin the process. For example, trying to go to sleep, even if you’re tired, can make you miserable. Trying to come up with a new idea and force through a creative block is the same way—it rarely works. Trying to meditate is similar, because meditation is an effortless pursuit. The only effort you put in is the effort to set aside the time and space for your regular practice. Some of us are in the habit of having to be doing something in order to feel a sense of satisfaction, and that includes “doing” meditation, trying hard at it. Instead, meditation is trains you to get comfortable “being”, being yourself without effort.

3. Let Go of Expectations

You may have preconceived notions of what is supposed to be going on during meditation and how you should feel or what you should experience. Many of us have seen pictures of the monks in robes or yogis sitting cross-legged, some have heard  stories about the wild experiences some meditators have, but I love to teach those who have no expectations about meditation. First timers come and sit with me for 15-20 minutes and then report that they felt great and that it was easy. I attribute this to “beginner’s mind,” an attitude you’ll learn more about in Week Three.

During meditation, you’ll have all kinds of experiences—some you like better than others, and some you’ll want to repeat in your next meditation. It’s important to treat each meditation as innocently as the first time you learned, and expect nothing. Let go of expectations or wanting your meditation to go a certain way. The body and mind are intelligent and will naturally do what they need to do to eliminate stress and to create a nourishing effect.

I’m often asked, How will I know I’m doing it right? My answer is that when you approach meditation without expectations, without trying “too hard” or attempting to control your experience, and with a sense of ease and welcome for whatever experiences arise, then you are doing it right. Instead of judging your meditations as good or bad based on the experiences you have in meditation, you’ll see if it’s working another way. Ultimately, most people notice they are doing it right because they notice changes in their lives: they’re happier, more relaxed, less stressed, more creative, more perceptive, and more appreciative of their lives.

4. Be Kind to Yourself

An essential key to meditating correctly is to be kind to yourself. This is one of the most important things I have learned through my years of practicing and teaching meditation.. While it should go without saying, I still say it because many people have learned to be tough on themselves. Being tough on yourself does not help change your behavior; it’s simply a bad habit. Instead, be gentle towards yourself as you commit to transforming your life. Don’t get down on yourself in meditation if your mind wanders, or you get bored, or the experiences you have in meditation don’t fulfill your expectations. Be nice to yourself when you are not meditating too. Don’t compare your experience to others’. All is well.

5. Stick with It

Finally, meditation only works if you stick with it and don’t give up. During your meditation period your mind may wander, you may feel restless, you’ll have a brilliant idea, or you think of something you simply must do (like check your email or write something down) and you may want to give up. But don’t. Simply begin again and return your awareness to the focus of your meditation. Have the discipline to do the practices and stick with the entire meditation period you committed to each day, whether it’s five minutes or half an hour, even if you’re antsy or bored.

By staying with the practice, you will create a new relationship with your mind. As you let the thoughts and impulses come and go, without taking action, you change your reactivity to a thought, and become the witness to your mental activity. This will lead you to a deeper understanding of how your mind works. Often when you feel a fidgety or feel frustrated in meditation, it’s an indication that you’re releasing a lot of stress. If you stick with the practice, the stress will dissipate and you’ll experience a “meditator’s high”. Don’t quit before the bliss! Don’t quit the program either. Stay with it each day for eight weeks. Meditating every day will give you the benefits, but not meditating won’t. Even if you don’t think anything is happening in meditation, science shows dramatic changes in the minds and bodies of consistent meditators. And you’ll soon believe it once you see the benefits for yourself..

***

Now is a good time to ask yourself: What is my intentionHow do I want to live my life? How do I want my life to transform? If you don’t discover the answers right away, be patient, eventually the answers will come. Each meditation you engage in will reveal, or be inherently inspired by, your sincere intention.

Read on, visit http://www.Soul-Centered.com for more excerpts!

© 2011 All Rights Reserved. Sarah McLean, Sedona Meditation Training Co. www.SedonaMeditation.com

Lightness of Being

Stress Free Living through Meditation

Have you ever  had a day or two when you felt completely in harmony with yourself and life? 

Perhaps you woke up feeling great, you had a chance to meditate, pray, journal or whatever your morning ritual is, your needs were being met before you even thought of them, your intuition was right on, you got perfect parking spaces wherever you went, you ran into the right people right when you needed to connect with them, everyone you met gave you a compliment (and you believed them), you saw the good in everyone, time flowed perfectly – you were never late or rushing to go somewhere, your creativity burst at the seams, you expressed yourself easily, and you felt like you were smiling from the inside out.

This happened to a client of mine. She described how she felt in the flow of life, where she saw everything and everyone including herself as luminous, peaceful, powerful, and whole, full of potential. Then after a few days of bliss, unexpectedly, she woke up one morning and the feeling of lightness and perfection was gone. She described her self-talk as going something like this: “You can’t follow your dream, who do you think you are?” “You aren’t good enough.” “You need to do A LOT more than you are doing.” She was left deflated and discouraged.

What happened? Why didn’t that lightness of being last?

There could be many reasons, and hers was that she was overworking. The effects of the physical stress were what blocked her mind and body’s ability to maintain that good feeling.

Stress. What is it really? If you were to ask a dozen people to define stress, or explain what causes stress for them, or how it affects them, you would likely get twelve different answers. What is stressful for one person may be pleasurable or have little effect on another. And, we all react to stress or stressors differently.

It can go like this: something doesn’t go your way, and then stress occurs. Are you bored with your job, and you wish it were more interesting? Stress. Do you desire a better relationship with someone and all you do is argue with them? Stress. Do you desire a pain free body and you have pain? Stress. Do you desire a peaceful world, and you keep hearing about war and violence? Stress.

Stress can also be caused when we don’t get enough sleep, eat food that isn’t good for us, say ‘yes’ when we mean ‘no’, or ‘no’ when we mean ‘yes’, or when we don’t live in tune with nature’s daily, seasonal or lifecycle rhythms. It can accumulate due to toxic environments, undigested experiences or emotions, or painful relationships.

Stress affects everyone both physically and mentally. You can ignore the feeling of stress or temporarily wish it away, drink it away, or watch TV to forget about it. However, once the masking effect ends, the stress is literally still there, blocking your creativity, wholeness, bliss, health, and peacefulness.

Left unchecked over time, stress can cause tension, anxiety and panic, high blood pressure, chronic pain, headaches, respiratory problems such as emphysema and asthma, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal distress, fatigue, skin disorders, mild depression, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Your birthright is to experience yourself as blissful, joyous, energetic, creative, peaceful and loving. WE start out that way, just look at a young child, full of energy and bliss. As we get older the stress compounds in our nervous system, and if we don’t get rid of it, it masks our fullest expression of who we really are.

Most of us cannot go through life completely avoiding stress, it is just not possible. Yet there are a few effective ways to deal with it. Sleep is one way, meditation is another.

Meditation is proven to be the perfect antidote to stress. It counteracts the physical and mental component of the flight or fight syndrome. Did you know that the purpose of yoga and meditation is to reduce the stress in your nervous system so you can experience and maintain higher states of consciousness and experience your full potential?

This is good news. As we meditate, and the stress dissipates, we become healthier, happier and able to realize greater self-awareness. People who practice meditation regularly report that they experience greater intuition, more creativity, increased mental abilities, improved memory and a decreased need to visit a doctor compared to before they began to meditate. They are ‘tapping in’ to the intelligence that pervades our world.

Studies have even shown that meditation can reduce or reverse cardiovascular disease and improve the ability to cope with chronic illness.

Although there are many different ways to meditate, I recommend that you try a meditation that isn’t about imagination or affirmations. We teach simple mantra meditation techniques, including Deepak Chopra’s Primordial Sound Meditation, to train your awareness to go transcend thought. It then relieves the effects of stress. The meditation techniques we teach help you to reconnect with the part of you that is most real and most true. Eventually, through meditation, you’ll find that you can maintain a sense of balance and peace no matter what the outside world is up to. And when you do it, you too can experience your true lightness of being.

Join a meditation class or a free introduction to meditation, look at our new online schedule, or listen to the Meditate CD so you can learn to meditate, or if you already know how to meditate and have been taking a break from it, here’s your reminder to begin your practice again.

A Meditator’s Journey

meditationA Meditator’s Journey
Into the heart of Namaste

People ask me about what they can expect from a practice of meditation. I often suggest that they approach it with innocence, as if they were on an adventure to somewhere that has never been explored. It is certainly different for everyone. Often, new meditators have amazing experiences their first day, like Carol who wrote:

“Learning to meditate was like that moment standing on top of the mountain and seeing the whole world lay out at your feet. A feeling of being a part of something much larger than yourself and at the same time knowing it was always within you. There is this image in my mind of the swirling pinks and purples of the rocks against that dark and moody sky that day when I opened my eyes after meditating for the first time. It was as if the world had polished itself just for me.”

But her experience is only one of many that people can have. A meditation student from Flagstaff , we’ll call R.H. recently shared his perspective as he explores his practice of meditation…. I thought you might enjoy it.

“I have read many books, and talked to a wide variety of people about meditation, and in my practice I have been seeking the peak experience that many describe: the merging with the universe, the transformational experience, the overwhelming realization of my oneness with the spirit that moves in all things, an experience that would change my life forever, but it never came.

“So I would read more books, talk to more people, and take more classes looking for a better way, or for what I was doing wrong. But my practice continued to be filled with thoughts, and my enlightenment remained illusive. I kept seeking, kept up my practice, but seemed to make little progress toward universal consciousness.

“Over time, however, I did notice that I felt calmer and more often at peace with myself, my circumstances and with others. I noticed that sometimes walking felt more like dancing, a sweeping ballet of movement that filled me with wonder.

“I started to notice a voice within me, that wasn’t a voice I could hear, but was more like a knowing, that helped me to see the way though my days. I notice that I stopped wanting things, or doing things that did not serve me, from the foods I ate, to the TV I watched, and the ways I invested my time.

“As my awareness of these changes grew, my disappointment at not having a transformational experience faded, and I rejoiced in the growing quality of my life, and it was enough.

“Then one day I realized my whole life was changing. While I was looking for an ecstatic experience, it had come to me, not all at once, but in the breath of daily living. What I saw when I looked around, what I felt when I talked to people, what I experienced when I went within, was a connection, a oneness that is at the heart of Namaste.

“The experience I had sought arrived gently, more like the warming breath of spring than the crescendo of a symphony, more from surrendering to the wisdom of the spirit that moves in all things than from my seeking, more like a quarry that appears unannounced in the night, than one you hunt down.

“So my meditation practice continues, sometimes uncomfortable, always interrupted by thoughts and the random sounds of my everyday world, sometimes ordinary, but the peace and connectedness still pervade my life, and this gift is priceless.”

*The translation of the greeting “namaste” that best expresses what I mean comes from Alan Watts:

“I greet that place in you, which, when you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are one.”

More

Your Spirit is Unbreakable

Recently, a student told me her spirit was broken. I believed her at first, she had gone through a stressful breakup and seemed a bit down. But then it occurred to me that it was impossible for the spirit to ‘break’.

I remembered an ancient saying from India about the soul …..Vasangsi jirnani yatha vihaya … meaning, “Fire cannot burn it, water cannot drench it, wind cannot dry it, weapons cannot cleave it…” Na jayate mriyate va kadacin… which means, “The soul is never born and it never dies. It has no beginning, it has no end, no past, no present, no future.” Sounds unbreakable to me.

So how can one feel their spirit is broken? Perhaps it is when the qualities of the soul are masked by the effects of stress.

Stress is truly a psychophysiological response that impacts your nervous system, and if it isn’t released in some way, stress can build up and cause disease. And when a traumatic event happens, the stress builds up even more, weakening the immune system, inhibiting the body’s intelligence to heal or bring balance back, creates stress hormones that cause depression, and somehow keeps the qualities of who we are, our soul, from shining through. That could be when we feel as if our spirit has been broken. I think the effects of stress break our lines of communion or illumination from the soul. I know that sounds weird, but bear in mind, I am writing to you from Sedona.

Take a moment to turn your attention to the one who is reading this page. Keep reading, but notice where your attention is coming from. Do you feel a presence there? A sense of awareness?

You probably already know you are not your thoughts – you are not the conversation you are having in your mind like, “What am I going to have for dinner?” Or, “I really should call so and so.” You are not your body either. If you break a leg, are you broken? No.

“Everything in your life is constantly transforming – transforming within a presence that’s always there. That presence was there when you were a newborn baby, it was there when you were a child, it was there when you were an adolescent, just as it’s there right now. And it will be there when you are very old,” says Deepak Chopra.

This presence is often called pure awareness, spirit, consciousness, the field of intelligence, the inner self, or your soul. It calls your ever-changing body, with its myriad of thoughts and roles it plays, ‘home’. And perhaps it calling you to become more intimate with it. No one else can do that for you.

You can become more intimate with who you really are – commune with your soul – in a few different ways: through silent meditation practices, by spending time in nature (without your cell phone), and by practicing non-judgement (I don’t find that very easy).

The trick is to shift your reference point in your life away from the changeable, transitory experiences (like roles, environments, thoughts, bodies, breakups) to the awareness of this presence with its many qualities: bliss, spaciousness, flexibility, infinite possibilities, silence, and so much more.

How can we culture this relationship and become intimate with this presence? Of course, meditation is my choice. That, and spending time in nature. My daily practice of meditation reorients my awareness towards this presence, and keeps the awareness of it in the forefront of my experience – in almost every situation. It also releases stress and the impact of stress in my nervous system so that I can maintain a more wholesome outlook through life. No matter what, the spirit cannot break. So don’t worry.

Where did Meditation come from?

Where did meditation come from?

Meditation can lead to a natural, spontaneous state of expanded awareness that has probably been around as long as humans walked the  earth. Perhaps it was first experienced by hunters, craftsmen, artists, singers, dancers, drummers, lovers, and stargazers, each in their own way. People can experience meditative states whenever they dedicate themselves with total intensity into their life’s calling.  But what is the most dependable way to reach a meditative state?

The knowledge of how to intentionally cultivate meditative states has been passed down from teacher to student for ages. Meditation does not come from Northern Europe, India, Japan, or Tibet — those are just places the knowledge was cultivated for awhile, and the sages in those places created chants to convey the knowledge that was revealed to them – as  a way too embody the knowledge and pass it along.

Human beings have been using tools for hundreds of thousands of years, according to the archaeologists. It’s probably more likely they have been using sophisticated mental tools for tens of thousands of years too. Hunters, for example, sometimes have to make themselves still for hours. They have to merge with the forest and not even think, lest they scare the prey away. Then they leap into action with total precision at a moment’s notice — that’s Zen in a nutshell. Hunters teach each other these skills, through verbal instruction and example.

Human beings are always wondering, Who am I? Why am I here? And what are the rhythms of the natural world around me? and meditation is a natural emergence of that inquisition. There are thousands of meditation techniques, and all of them are appropriate for someone, somewhere.

Yogis or rishis (seers) are the ones we have heard the most from, really because they were clear they wanted to convey the knowledge of self-discovery to others. That is why we always think of yogis in the Himalayas when we think of meditation.

In modern Western culture meditation hasn’t really been valued. First, it doesn’t seem exciting, it sure isn’t fun to watch someone meditate. Plus we want instant gratification. To get the benefits from meditation you have to do it yourself. It’s like exercise, you don’t get the benefits by hanging out with people who exercise or by reading about it. You have to do it. Meditation isn’t a talked about part of our Judeo-Christian culture either, and a lot of people are afraid of it because they don’t know what it is and they think that perhaps they might have to turn Buddhist or Hindu. And, meditation got a bad rap in the 70’s with gurus driving expensive cars and hanging out with rock stars. Scientists are now discovering proven benefits or meditation outweigh any question of its relevance in the search for psychological well being and its effectiveness in creating health.

Meditation: Hanging out with your self

lotus_flower

Jeanna Zelin is a student of Sarah McLean’s.  We often get asked the questions what is meditation and how do I meditate in my hectic life.  We would like to share Jeanna’s experiences and explorations with you.          

It’s Saturday morning, and I’m driving north on the 101 to Scottsdale.  Only this time I’m not heading to Scottsdale Fashion Square or to some hip, new restaurant.  I am off on one of my boundary-expanding adventures.  I am stepping out of my daily routine to learn how to meditate.

It’s already around a hundred degrees out, so I figure sitting in a cool, studio suite learning to clear my inner clutter might not be such a bad way to spend the day.  Besides, taking a break from the techno-charged world of cell phones, e-mail, IPODs and Blackberries might do me some good.

Sarah, the teacher, has a very soothing manner, and her eyes dance as she describes the practice of meditation and what we will be learning over the course of the weekend.

My mind wanders as I contemplate how I will ever be able to sit through a class on keeping my mind from wandering.

I would later learn that meditation is not about forcing my mind to be quiet; rather it’s a process to rediscover the quietness that is already there underlying the chatter of my thoughts.

Sarah talks about how there’s no good or bad meditation,  no judgment and no criticism.  “Anyone can meditate,” she says.  “Just bring your attention to your primordial sound, and whenever you notice your attention has drifted to other thoughts in the mind, or sounds in the environment, bring your attention back to your mantra. It doesn’t matter how many times you lose your mantra.”

In just a half-hour spent in my own silence, I learned more than I ever would in my usual, hyper-distracted and information-overloaded life.

So I decided to delve deeper into the realm of meditation.  Here’s what I discovered.

Meditation: What is It?
Webster’s Dictionary defines meditation as “engaging in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness”.  Other definitions I’ve heard describe meditation as a way to tap into the sacred silence that lies within or how to get in touch with your true nature.

The word meditation is derived from two Latin words: meditari (to think, to dwell upon, to exercise the mind) and mederi (to heal). Its Sanskrit derivation medha means wisdom.

I like Victor Davich’s definition from his book, 8 Minute Meditation: Quiet Your Mind.  Change Your Life.  He says that meditation is allowing what is.

Sounds too easy.

Of course I would find out that it’s not that simple.  Meditation requires patience (with yourself) and practice (by yourself).

Meditation usually involves slow, regular breathing and sitting quietly for 15 to 20 minutes.  While there is no right or wrong way to practice, most instructors agree that it’s best to find a fairly quiet place free from distraction.  Sitting is sometimes preferred to lying down (in order to avoid falling asleep).  Then simply relax your muscles and breathe in a free and natural way.

In his book, Getting in the Gap, Dr. Wayne Dyer explains meditation as a way to get in “the gap,”  which is a place between your thoughts.  It is the place where you can be still and release yourself from the 60,000 thoughts hurtling through your mind during the course of a day.

Practiced for nearly 5,000 years in Eastern religions, meditation seems to also have become more mainstream in Western cultures.  Americans are learning to take the time to sit and say “Om.”  Probably in part due to the scientific evidence that shows how meditation produces long-lasting changes in brain activity, improves health, and reduces stress.

Benefits of Meditation
Recent research indicates that meditating brings about dramatic effects in as little as ten minutes.  Meditation can reduce the effects of such illnesses as stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, chronic pain and insomnia.

In people who are meditating, brain scans have shown an increase in activity in areas that control metabolism and heart rate. Other studies on Buddhist monks have shown that meditation produces long-lasting changes in the brain activity in areas involved in attention, working memory and learning.

According to Dr. Herbert Benson, author of the Relaxation Response and professor of medicine at the Mind Body Medical Institute at Harvard University, found through his research that meditation acts as an antidote to stress.  Under stress, the nervous system activates the “fight-or-flight” response. The activity of the sympathetic portion of the nervous system increases, causing an increased heartbeat, increased respiratory rate, elevation of blood pressure and an increase in oxygen consumption. This fight-or-flight response has an important survival function. It helps an organism run quickly to escape an attack or to fight off an attacker. However, when this stress response is activated continuously, as happens for many people in today’s over-scheduled world, the effects are harmful. And the flight or fight response does nothing to help when you have too many emails or are stuck in a traffic jam.

Through his research, Dr. Benson demonstrated that the effects of meditation directly counteract the fight-or-flight response.  Meditation decreases the heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure and oxygen consumption.  Those who practice meditation report feeling more relaxed and generally experience an overall state of wellbeing.

Types of Meditation
There are many traditions and countless ways to practice meditation.  I googled “types of meditation” and got 2,110,000 results.  There is not just one way to meditate. You must find the way that is best for you personally. It does not matter what technique you choose, the foundation of all techniques is focus and attention.

Some of the more widespread types of meditation include: transcendental meditation, vipassana meditation, Zen meditation, Taoist meditation, mindfulness meditation and Buddhist meditation.  There are perhaps hundreds more methods out there.

The course I took is called Primordial Sound Meditation.  Derived from the yoga tradition of India and recently popularized by Dr. Deepak Chopra, this technique is based on the basic sounds of nature.  Once you learn the unique vibration of nature that corresponds to the exact time of your birth, you repeat this as a mantra.  Focus on this mantra helps take our awareness away from the repetitive thoughts of daily life brings our awareness to our own inner silence.

This place of being still and connecting to something deeper within ourselves is available at every moment.

And given our current manic pace and over-scheduled lives, a little “being” sure beats more “doing.”

Article by Jeanna Zelin

Previous Older Entries

Share this Blog

Bookmark and Share