Saturday, February 23, 2013

A meditation on Meditation

"See if you can catch yourself complaining in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. 

To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness."

-- Eckhart Tolle

“Accept - then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.” 
 Eckhart Tolle

Meister Tolle, author of A New Earth, The Power of Now and Stillness Speaks continues to inspire and centre me.  He is like a voice directly from the heavens, reminding me to stay present and feel the beauty of this life.

Another source of inspiration who resonates on the same plane as our man above is Sue Cooper, a psychologist from Cape Town who taught me how to meditate, really understand and feel what if feels like to  "just sit and just breathe" and allow the feelings of the present moment, without stories attached, to be felt.  That is acceptance of the present moment.  That is an open heart.  That is beauty, peace, love....felt. That is true self acceptance.  Not a concept that my brain understands but one felt in my heart, in my body, in my soul.  Really real.

"Sue Cooper is a Clinical Psychologist with 20 years of experience as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in Cape Town. She integrates psychotherapy and meditation in her 9-week Open the Heart and Still the Mind Courses and Retreats, combining her long-standing commitment to both psychological and spiritual approaches to self-discovery and inner healing. Sue has attended Buddhist meditation retreats for almost 30 years in both South Africa and UK." BRC pamphlet or check out their website :  Link to Buddhist Retreat Centre, Ixopo

I attended her silent retreat at the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo in Natal as Cape Town is a little far for me and what a privilege to learn from Sue.  I highly recommend learning how to sit still and accept each moment under her tutelage.  But if you don't, then find someone or buy tapes or just sit and just breathe ... for a while each day. 

The 2 most important things I learnt from Sue:

Firstly, "just breathing in, just breathing out" as you breathe in and out, allowing yourself to drop the story associated with any thoughts coming into your head and allowing yourself to feel whatever emotion arises without attaching it to a story.  For example, when I felt sad, my initial response was to attach a story to the emotion and think: "oh, that must be sad because I am missing my son and I don't want him to go to boarding school and suffer like I suffered."  Instead, I went back to breathing in and breathing out, saying the words in my head, and really allowed myself to feel what I was feeling, instead of occupying myself with other thoughts or, my personal favourite, intellectualizing my emotions, like this: "oh, my sadness must be connected to depression or fear of being separated from my family as a child when I was sent to boarding school and now these feelings are returning as my son goes to boarding school.  That makes sense. I really must deal with these emotions when I have some time. Right now I must really concentrate on thinking nothing.  Oh, I am useless at meditating. I can never empty my brain. Its impossible." Etc, etc, etc.  And the monkey chatters on, distracting me from feeling any scary or uncomfortable emotion that just needs a little attention, so it can be felt and transformed, like a small miracle.  It is really that simple.  Yet the monkey mind chatters on in fear.  And the breathing in and the breathing out brings us back to our bodies, sitting in a room where boarding schools are far away and the past no longer no longer exists.

Sue Cooper read these quotes to us whilst we were meditating, just to remind us what we were doing. They are worth their weight as keys to unlocking understanding.

"Many of the great sorrows of the world arise when the mind is disconnected from the heart.  In meditation we reconnect with our heart and discover an inner sense of spaciousness, unity, and compassion underneath all the conflicts of thought.  The heart allows for the stories and ideas, the fantasies and fears of the mind without believing in them, without having to follow them or having to fulfill them.  When we touch beneath all the busyness of thought, we discover a sweet, healing silence, an inherent peacefulness in each of us, a goodness of heart, strength  and wholeness that is our birthright.  This basic goodness is sometimes called our original nature, or Buddha nature.  When we return to our original nature, when we see all the ways of the mind and yet rest in this peace and goodness, we discover the healing of the mind." A Path with Heart, Jack Kornfield, pp 50 - 51

"A path of genuine awakening is a path of growing increasingly alive and aware of our emotions.  As we learn to release the stories, interpretations and resistance that camouflage our emotional life, our emotions become more accessible an simple - fear is just fear, loneliness just loneliness, anger just anger, joy just joy - thus inviting exploration and understanding.  Waves of feelings are no longer frozen by our attempts to define them - they arise and ebb away.  We learn to find refuge in stillness and calm.  Diving more and more deeply into stillness, there are times when deeply buried emotional wounds and memories arise; we learn to receive them and find freedom within them." The Buddhist Path to Simplicity, Christina Feldman, pp 120

Secondly, her particular twist on the Loving Kindness Meditation which goes like this:

May I be well and at ease
May I be peaceful and calm
May I live with an Open Heart
Filled with Loving Kindness and compassion,
Courage and Trust

May All Beings be well and at ease
May All Beings be peaceful and calm
May All Beings live with an Open Heart
Filled with Loving Kindness and compassion,
Courage and Trust

Or think of someone specific that needs love or attention and say their name in place of "I" or "All Beings".  This really expands the heart which is felt as a huge sense of well-being or that everything is well in the world.

 The positive benefits of meditation are well documented in scientific research. A study done in November 2012 reported in the Harvard Gazette (Harvard Gazette Link) says "a new study has found that participating in an eight-week meditation training program can have measurable effects on how the brain functions even when someone is not actively meditating...meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress....decreased depression scores in the compassion meditation group, which suggests that having more compassion towards others may also be beneficial for oneself. Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.”

Another reports says: "But in this study, the researchers weren’t just asking the participants how they felt. They were examining their brains, two weeks before and right after the eight-week program. Over the same period, they also scanned the brains of people who didn’t receive the MBSR training.
The MBSR participants, none of whom were experienced meditators, reported spending just under half an hour per day on their meditation “homework.” Yet when their brains were scanned at the end of the program, their gray matter was significantly thicker in several regions than it was before.
Brain scans of the hippocampus, showing the regions the researchers determined were affected by meditation.Brain scans of the hippocampus, showing the regions the researchers determined were affected by meditation.Image adapted from B. Hölzel, et al., Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging Vol. 191 (1), January 30, 2011, pp. 36-43.
One of those regions was the hippocampus, which prior research has found to be involved in learning, memory, and the regulation of our emotions. The gray matter of the hippocampus is often reduced in people who suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The researchers also found denser gray matter in the temporo-perietal junction and the posterior cingulated cortex of the meditators’ brains—regions involved in empathy and taking the perspective of someone else—and in the cerebellum, which has been linked to emotion regulation. " Berkeley Article Link
This reminds me of that famous quote by Arthur C. Clarke: 

“Magic's just science that we don't understand yet.”
So this is very apt.  A few years ago, meditation was for hippies and airheads.  Now science is getting serious about understanding the effects of wha-wha-woo-woo on us in the real world in a real way.  These digital images of the brain are physical evidence, not just a compilation of feedback from a pool of people, but actual body/brain growth.  So if your brain has not followed the heart's longing for meditation yet, here is some proof.
The benefit for me is acceptance of the moment which is the same as acceptance of the self in my experience.  The two are not separate.

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