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.”

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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

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.

Spirituality: The Next Starbucks?

starbucks

A few years ago, millions of people from around the globe were logging on to Oprah.com for Eckhart Tolle’s New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose book study and webinar. It was the NY Times #1 bestseller of the moment. What is going on? Are meditation and spirituality going mainstream? I hope so.

Spirituality isn’t just confined to the New Age movement anymore, it is undeniably migrating to the center of mainstream cultural awareness. I mean, Oprah meditating live in front of millions of people? Yes, it happened.

What used to be considered a private aspect of life is spilling over into the public domain and onto the internet. Spirituality is becoming more popular, trendy even. And I am happy about that.

People are actually shopping for meaning and purpose. My husband is reading Michael Moe’s book, Finding the Next Starbucks, that says spirituality is a trend that is growing dramatically. I often imagine a meditation center next to every Starbucks. Meditation is a great way to start a day, better even than a grande half-caf soy latte.

When I worked at the Chopra Center in California, we started our day with a group meditation. It actually made my job easier. If for some reason I was late doing it, or had to miss it all together, I really felt it. It’s almost like not having your cup of coffee in the morning.

I believe the single, most significant step to opening your awareness or awakening to who you really are is by meditating every day.

How? Don’t worry, you can do it and you don’t have to join a religion, wear special robes, eat differently or believe anything. You don’t even have to stop thinking. Find a meditation class that focuses on a type of silent meditation, and be sure that it doesn’t emphasize any goal – like finding your animal totem, spiritual guide, or figuring out your past lives.

It is only when your mind is still, that you can truly experience the your true essence , your true self – the you that is beyond the roles you play and your self image.

The journey toward self-discovery that silent daily meditation activates will bring you inner contentment and clarity more quickly and completely than any other single activity I know. And once you experience the restful, deep stillness and peace that meditation provides, you will radiate that peacefulness to others. And over time, you’ll want to meditate more than you want that cup of coffee in the morning!

The Yogic Art of Gazing

The yogic art of gazing

candle3Trataka – also called Yogic gazing – is an ancient technique using the sense of sight – both internally and externally. The gaze is fixed on an object like a candle flame for some time and then that object is visualized clearly with your eyes closed, as an inner image at the eyebrow center.  It is very relaxing and is classified as a cleansing practice in yoga.  It is the perfect way to de-stress, and there are always opportunities to stare at candle flames this time of year!

This powerful practice especially relevant in today’s stressful times to increase focus and attention, and to create a sense of deep silence and rest. It is also said to also develop the “third” eye – the seat of intuition or that associated with “psychic” powers.

How it is done?
Trataka can be practiced on several objects, but the most popular and effective gazing at flame. This is because a flame (such as a candle flame) produces the best after-image that helps in easier visualization of the flame even when eyes are closed. This is the desired effect of Trataka -visualizing and concentrating on the image even when the eyes are closed.

You can do this practice before or after or separately from your regular meditation practice.  

Soon you will be able to hold the image of the flame steady with your eyes closed. There is a great restfulness that results from candle concentration.
Turn off your phones, television, radio and computer. This is a silent meditation.

  • Safely place a lighted candle 3 – 5 feet in front of you at eye level.
  • Sit in a comfortable crossed legged position or in a chair, feet on the floor.
  • Take off your eyeglasses or contact lenses, and adjust the distance between the candle and yourself so that you can observe a relatively clear image of the candle wick without blur.
  • Gaze directly into the flame of the candle for approximately two minutes. Keep your eyes relaxed while fixing the gaze on the wick. Try not to blink.
  • Then close your eyes and lightly press the palms of your hands against your eyes.
  • You should retain the image of the flame at the eye brow center. If you don’t see it, don’t be disappointed – you will start seeing it with practice.
  • Bring your focus to that image. If the image wanders or disappears, bring it back by simply looking for it with your inner vision (with your eyes closed).
  • Keep the palms lightly pressed against the closed eyes for an additional two minutes, four minutes in all.
  • Open your eyes slowly and re-start the meditation. Do it as often as you like for a total of 20 minutes.

At the end of your meditation, slowly open your eyes.  Do not get up right away.  Slowly move into activity.

Do I Really Have to Sit Like That?

Do I really have to sit like that? These days we are constantly stimulated – mentally, emotionally and physically. Not surprisingly, taking a break from this stimulation actually improves your health, your work, your relationships, and your life.

That is why meditation is becoming more and more popular. It is a great way to take a break, unplug, and reduce stress that builds up and causes disease.

Did you know that over 60% of all doctors’ visits are due to stress related complaints? Meditation is the perfect antidote for stress. And it is a great way to find out who you really are.

Meditation is a time-tested practice that benefits mind, body and spirit. Through inner exploration, meditation awakens creativity, healing, and transformation.

Quieting the mind, or meditation in general, can seem impossible to do especially for a beginner. The mind is used to wandering and being focused outward, and focus inward might not come easily at first. Through the practice of meditation, the nervous system grows used to turning inward.

Here are some misconceptions I hear all the time about meditation and the reason people are not so sure they can do it. And information to set you straight.

I can’t stop thinking.

That’s right, you can’t – it is nearly impossible to stop thinking by thinking about it.   The nature of the mind is to think, like the nature of your eye is to see.  Over time, as you practice meditation correctly however, you’ll find that you can easily access more and more subtle levels of thinking, and eventually, more and more silence.  The mind stops thinking on its own, for a moment or two. Thoughts will always be a part of your meditation.

I will have to work very hard to meditate correctly.

Meditation is something that anyone can learn.  I haven’t met one person who can’t do it. It does take the ability to sit relatively still, with your eyes closed or semi-closed, and the willingness to put your attention on a focus. Most people can do that. Some meditations have you focus on an area of your body, or a color, a candle flame, a sound, or a thought. You’ll need to spend a few minutes every day to practice turning your attention inward, but anyone can do it. Most people can do it easily the very first time.

I’ve  listened to CDs and read books, and I can’t do it.

As long as you can sit down and close your eyes, you can meditate. Most people have so many expectations about what they should be experiencing in meditation, that it can make it nearly impossible to sit easily without effort. I always suggest that people get professional instruction by someone who has had years of daily meditation experience. I also think it is helpful to have a seasoned meditator to practice with sometimes, so you’ll gain confidence that you can actually do it.

I’ll have to wear unusual clothing.

You don’t need to wear a special robe, hat, or love beads  You don’t need to chant out loud either. Though you can if you want to. But it doesn’t necessarily make you more of a meditator.  Meditation is a personal experience: you do it the way you want to by following the techniques that suit you and your lifestyle.  Always be kind to yourself, and stay with your own integrity. Just because some people insist you should look a certain way if you are really into meditation, heed your own inner wisdom, trust yourself and do what you want.

Meditation will make me too relaxed to get in the game.

Most people are used to functioning while being tense or stressed, and they feel it’s the only way to get something done. You know, Red Bull, caffeine, performance, competition, beat yourself until you get it right. In reality, over time, the effects of stress can lessen your ability to concentrate or make good decisions.  You won’t become lazy or too relaxed: you’ll be clearer, and operate in your life from a place of centeredness and balance. You’ll probably gain some focus, creativity and better concentration. With meditation, you’ll learn be more relaxed and you can do less and accomplish more. Nice!

Isn’t it dangerous? Won’t I leave my body or run into evil spirits?

I live in Sedona, and there is an emphasis on the experiences in meditation. But I look for the experiences in my life to show me whether meditation is working or safe. Some people get great insights and others love it when they lose a sense of where their body begins and ends.  But my experience over the past 20 years has been that meditation isn’t like that, at least the type of meditation that helps you to transcend the world of thought and form.  The real reason to meditate is to have a better life. There are so many experiences you can have in meditation: you’ll have thoughts (lots of them), get distracted by noises outside, feel uncomfortable, see colors, feel relaxed, feel restless, feel bliss, etc. But the real measure of how your meditation is working is by taking a look at your life. Are you happier, healthier, more relaxed? Are your relationships more fulfilling, are you making better choices?

I’ll have to change my religion, because Buddhists and Hindus know what’s up.

Meditation is a practice, not a religion. Many of the techniques come from an Eastern religion of philosophy, but meditation can be secular too. It is really about closing your eyes, sitting still, and reconnecting with who you really are. You can meditate if you are atheist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Quaker, Buddhist, Hindu, anything. Regardless of your background or beliefs you can meditate. It might even make you more connected with the religion you already practice.  Or it might strengthen your connection with your creator, whatever your belief is.

I am so busy, I don’t have the time in my day.

How long do you wait in line for a latte? How much time do you spend checking your email? Most of us have five minutes extra a day. It is totally worth taking this time out for a time in. I think of meditation as the perfect way to reduce stress, and it rejuvenates me.  If you meditate for a short time each day, you’ll receive more benefits than sitting in front of the TV or surfing the internet. It’s all about priorities, and your health and happiness.

It is for weirdos.

I used to be considered weird by my family, before they got married, had kids, got jobs, got stressed. I headed off to an ashram, lived in a monastery, made meditation my priority.  Now that their kids are teens, and they themeslves aren’t kids anymore, they realize that I might be onto something.  They ask me how I am so happy, why I look so good, and why I am so healthy. Yes, in our culture, it might just seem strange to see someone sitting up with their eyes closed, in silence, without their iPod in, for an extended period of time, but it really isn’t.  That being said, some people who meditate are definitely weird and have really unusual beliefs. But there are people like that everywhere.

I cannot sit like that.

Even though sitting in the lotus position, a traditional yoga posture for meditation; it’s not required for you to sit in any special way.  If crossing your legs is uncomfortable, it won’t help you to turn your attention inward. You can meditate while you are sitting down almost anywhere – as long as you are not driving. I teach people to sit in a chair and they can have their back supported, or not. It is best not to lie down (you’ll fall asleep and that is NOT meditation.)  Some people sit on cushions on the floor, others sit up against their headboards when they wake up in the morning. It is totally up to you. The most important thing is that you do it!

There are many different types of meditation. Some examples are following the breath, repeating a mantra out loud or silently, chanting, walking meditations, or gazing at a candle. Find out more here. Each individual has a unique experience with each one. You’ll find what works for you.

Just for a few seconds, notice the way the breath is flowing into and out of your body. There are many little things to notice about the way breath feels, and if you start paying attention to it, you can settle into meditation.

Anyone can learn to meditate. Don’t have any experience? Don’t worry. If you can think a thought, you can meditate, and you don’t have to change a thing – not your diet, your religion, your beliefs – nothing. You just have to have the desire to do it and then take a short time out every day. You’ll notice the benefits unfold naturally and effortlessly.

Sarah McLean director of Sedona Meditation Training can be reached at (928) 204-0067.

Peace Is the Way

  
Sedona's Natural Beauty. Photo by Mel Russell

Sedona's Natural Beauty. Photo by Mel Russell

I first wrote the article Peace is the Way while serving on the board of Keep Sedona Beautiful.  I was struggling to make sense out of why some people (i.e. developers and politicians) wouldn’t want to protect the natural environment – especially in and around one of the most beautiful places, Sedona.

A few years ago, the president of Keep Sedona Beautiful, Barbara Litrell and I went to Washington DC and delivered signed petitions from thousands of citizens to Congressman Rick Renzi, and Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain .

These petitions (we carried in in suitcases) urged them to introduce legislation which would protect Sedona’s environment.  Even though these fellows helped to draft the National Scenic Area legislation, they refused to introduce it. 

Unfortunately, land developers had already gotten to them.  One call from them outshined the concerns of the 3000+ people who signed petitions.  I decided instead of trying to change people’s minds, that I would practice what I often preach, and make changes from the inside out.  I would continue to meditate and teach meditation, and that. in effect, could change the consciousness around protecting the environment  (I know that is a little woo woo, but I am writing to you from Sedona). 

In the Sedona Red Rock News  I just read that our Arizona Congressional Dist. 1 Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick [D-Ariz.] announced on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009 that she will champion the National Scenic Area legislation to protect roughly 160,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land surrounding Sedona.

Congresswoman Kirkpatrick said she paid careful attention to the wishes of constituents in the area who wrote to encourage her to protect land situated next to Sedona in the Coconino National Forest from ever being traded to developers. 

 “The struggle for the designation has been going on for years,” said Angela LeFevre, Democrats of the Red Rocks president. “I would like to give sincere thanks to those at Keep Sedona Beautiful who have given so much of their time and energy to this cause.”

Victory…..Peace (for now).

You can visit this page to contact Ann Kirkpatrick to let her know your thoughts on the preservation of this special land. You know developers will.

World Peace via Inner Peace

Most people admit that world peace is something they’d like to see in their lifetime. However it’s not usually one of the reasons people give for wanting to learn to meditate.

Solutions to the conflict and the disasters facing the world today are on the minds of most of us. Along with hearing the news that we just might be on the brink of financial disaster, there are plenty of wars going on right now between and within nations, and then there’s the global climate change going on.

History has shown us that it’s not possible to legislate against conflict. Perhaps this is because wars are first fought in the minds of humans – and it is nearly impossible to change someone’s mind – never mind enacting legislation to change the way someone thinks.

Thoughts such as, “things should be different than they are,” “this person should act a different way,” ” they shouldn’t have done that,” “those people should believe what we believe,” or “their natural resources should be shared with us,” are the seeds of disagreement that can grow into, in extreme circumstances, war or some other calamity.

I have spent many hours trying to change people’s minds. Not only have I worked within the mind/body health field to encourage complementary medicine, I’ve lobbied for legislation to protect National Forests, conserve water, encourage commercial recycling, educate people about green building and alternative energy, and to promote humane treatment of animals. And yes, sometimes I have found myself arguing with those who don’t agree with me. Unfortunately, disagreements do not usually create peace, and they usually don’t net the results I am looking for.

Most people have heard Einstein’s assertion that goes something like this: You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.

This is why I always come back to meditation. Practicing it and teaching others how to meditate. It is different thinking…. literally. Through meditation a shift naturally occurs – instead of being at war with what is, I more easily experience a sense of peace with the way things are. This doesn’t mean I roll over and give up my convictions, but it simply means I can be more peaceful while advocating change.

In addition to finding more peace within, meditation has been touted as creating a more harmonious effect in our environment.

As long ago as 1974 people have been experimenting with meditation to create change in their own minds and their environment. Studies have shown that where the proportion of people in any community practicing a silent meditation, reached a particular threshold (about 1% of the population), changes started to occur in social trends. Crime, road accidents and hospital admissions decreased.

It may seem surprising that a few people meditating – simply meditating – not thinking of anything in particular – can, by the effect of their practice, influence the behavior of others in the environment, but it does make sense that our behavior is affected by the quality of our environment. This research gives great hope to those who have the vision of a better quality of life for humankind and all life.

When two nearby loudspeakers emit the same sound, these sound waves create a synergistic effect. They produce a sound volume equivalent to four loudspeakers (the square of the number of speakers, which is two). This is a universal principle of wave behavior, and commonly held knowledge in physics. When individuals meditating together in a group generate a ripple in consciousness or awareness, the power of their combined waves grows as the square of the number of individuals. So if four people were meditating, it could conceivably affect 16 people in their environment in a positive way.

Research confirms even relatively small groups can have enormous impact on their environment, and therefore their society.

Perhaps the reason that meditation as a means to peace hasn’t garnered much media attention is because with meditation there is no conflict, no drama, no winner or no loser, there is nothing to buy, and little money to be made from it. It is simple, anyone can do it, and it just might work. Here is my simple formula to increase peace in your life and in your environment.

1. Learn to meditate.

2. Meditate every day for at least 20 minutes

3. Meditate with a group whenever possible

4. Ask yourself, Who am I? What is my heart’s desire? What is my purpose in life? And listen

5. Speak your truth sweetly

6. Walk your talk

7. Don’t take anything personally

8. Live in the present moment- this is the only moment there really is.

(of course I have a lot more advice, but this is a start)

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