In our rapidly changing society, where technology, pace and expectations have risen to an alarming level, the very thought of calm ~of tranquility and serenity ~ is refreshing to body and soul. Yet the achievement of such a state seems more and more difficult, if not downright impossible. When can we find the time? How do we reduce stress? What does slowing down really mean? And is it worth the sacrifice of accomplishing one more thing?
Perhaps a more effective self inquiry might be to imagine a life of attending to an inner calling for health and well being; for choosing quality over quantity; for appreciating the power of simple beauty and the peace of tranquility. Do you long to restore balance, wholeness and simplicity to your life? Would you like to take time out each day to reflect and recharge? Imagine creating energy for what is truly essential and being present to the richness of life.
Mindfulness Meditation is the ancient practice of bringing the fullness of our attention to the present moment. It is often defined as: Moment to moment non-judgmental awareness. It is, simply, the art of conscious living. Yet to many Americans the concept brings to mind uncomfortable positions, heavy incense and people drinking carrot juice. Still a growing number of individuals are turning to meditation in order to improve their life, health and state of mind. Ten million American adults are now practicing some form of meditation regularly. Meditation classes are becoming filled with mainstream folks and are being offered at hospitals, law offices, schools, government buildings, corporations and even prisons. So how does one break through the stereotypes, understand the latest findings and make sense of what is becoming much more than a trend?
I teach Mindfulness Meditation at Evergreen Hospital Medical Center and have created both corporate programs and educational programs for students on all levels. I have been meditating for over thirty years and have been trained by the masters at The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare and Society at the University Of Massachusetts Medical School. I am certified at the highest levels possible in Yoga and own a roomful of research and books on the subject. Yet I am my most challenging student! I understand very well how difficult it can be to stop..to be still..to let go. Sometimes ‘sitting on my cushion’ is harder than it was to raise my children, earn my degrees and deal with my toughest relationships.
So why mediate?
Because it works. According to the Office of Alternative Medicine of the U.S. Government: â€œMeditation is the most valuable activity you can do to change your health and well-being”. It is being recommended by physicians as a way to prevent, slow or at least control the pain of chronic diseases such as heart disease, AIDS, cancer and infertility. It restores balance in the face of disturbances such as depression, hyperactivity and ADD. It decreases insomnia, headaches and backaches.
As a nurse, I know that nothing flies in the medical world without scientific evidence. Now we have it, and more is on the way. As Daniel Goleman, author of Destructive Emotions and a member of the team of neuroscientists who recently met with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, said: “For thirty years meditation research has told us that it works beautifully as an antidote to stress…but what’s exciting about the new research is how meditation can train the mind and reshape the brain.” Current tests using the most sophisticated imaging techniques have shown that the brain can actually be reset, changing the point at which a traffic jam, for example (any Seattle drivers here?), can trigger anger and frustration. Now this is something to pay attention to. Plus, looking from the practical side: compared to the cost of surgery today, sitting on a cushion is cheap.
So let’s pretend that you are a beginner and would like to know how to meditate. In my classes, I encourage participants to do three things: to come as you are (or aren’t), keep it simple and begin now. There is no need to complicate things! From this point of ease, we learn 4 basic steps which I call “Meditation 101”:
- Sit in a comfortable yet dignified position anywhere you choose. Feel free to modify â€œsitâ€ to fit your needs. It helps to find a quiet spot where you can take 10 to 30-40 minutes to yourself.
- Bring your attention to the breath, the inhale and the exhale. Then begin to develop the ability to notice the mind with all of its thoughts, comments and ideas without getting lost in any of it. Don’t be surprised to discover this is easier said than done!
- Allow yourself, from time to time, to purposefully return to the breath and in doing so, accept what is occurring for you. Try to be a nonjudgmental witness to your experience, being open to whatever shows up.
- When you are ready, return to waking consciousness gently and congratulate yourself for taking these few minutes to be in stillness.
By this simple process of dwelling with yourself and looking inward, your whole life can change. A few minutes of meditation daily can bring states of increased contentment, enthusiasm, relaxation and happiness. It can also reduce stress, bring harmony and sharpen focus. In short: Mindfulness Meditation is an invitation to wake up: to experience the fullness of your life and transform your relationship with your problems, fears, pain and anxiety.
In these stressful, uncertain times, a few minutes of mindfulness meditation can move you toward greater balance, control and peace of mind. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity and acceptance of our lives. As the Sufi master and poet Kabir so beautifully says:
“Don’t go outside your house to see the flowers
My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.
Inside your body there are flowers, one flower has a thousand petals.
That will do for a place to sit.
Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty inside the body and out of
it, before gardens and after gardens.”
My friends, I wish you blessings on your journey and welcome inquiry should you have questions or comments. May serenity, peace and joy be your constant companions.