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.

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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.

Finding Your Real Voice

The Yoga of Writing – A Women’s Meditation and Writing Retreat

Yoga of Writing with Sedona Meditation Training Co.

For many, writing is a spiritual practice which leads to a profound experience of timelessness and present moment awareness.  A single moment of inspiration can become an eternity.  That is also true of meditation. For those who practice meditation, life is transformed physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

During the retreat, we’ll give attention to silence, stillness, and the present moment. You’ll listen to and trust your own voice as you transcend your inner critic and express your authentic voice from the womb of spaciousness and creativity.

Discover the ease of writing practice and meditation, and how to use these practices to enhance healing, authentic expression and self- awareness.  You’ll write, listen to yourself, and be heard, perhaps for the very first time. No writing or meditation experience is necessary.

Facilitated by meditation mentor Sarah McLean & writer/artist Victoria Nelson.


At the Briar Patch Inn in Sedona, Arizona: Nestled in Oak Creek Canyon just a mile north of Sedona, along the lush banks of Oak Creek, sits the Briar Patch Inn – a secret hideaway which nurtures your relationship with nature.  The retreat location sits at the base of red rock mountains, surrounded by majestic canyon oaks, and dappled sunlight, creating a healing, magical oasis with private and shared cabins. The retreats in Sedona are limited to 15 women, lodging onsite with private and shared cabins available. To find out more about the retreat in Sedona call 928.204.0067.

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