All posts tagged meditation

My Personal Journey into Meditation – Part Two

Meditation is not just an activity for yogis seeking spiritual enlightenment.  As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, the science on the benefits of meditation is strong and growing with the practice showing promise across a range of both physical and mental/emotional disease states.  For me personally, I’m entering the world of meditation in the hope it can be a tool to help me find peace within my hectic, and sometimes chaotic, life.

I’ve just returned from a five-day meditation retreat at a Buddhist monastery founded by Thích Nhất Hạnh.  Thầy, as he’s known to the community that follows him, is a Buddhist monk originally from Vietnam who came to the United States in the 1960s and is largely recognized as a world leader in the peace movement (he was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967).  His practice pulls from a variety of sources within the Buddhist tradition as well as from Zen teachings and Western psychology theory.  In terms of meditation, his approach is summed up as “mindfulness meditation” which is basically just what it sounds like it would be.

Our days at the retreat were pretty scheduled and looked something like this:

5.30a – Wake up with group exercise followed by walking meditation to the Big Hall
6.30a – Sitting meditation for 45 minutes followed by more exercise
7.45a – Silent breakfast with eating meditation
11a – A Dharma Talk given to the group by one of the resident monks or nuns*
12.30p – Silent lunch with eating meditation
2p – Deep meditation in the Big Hall (also known as “snore meditation”, this quickly became a personal highlight)
3p – Breakout session with smaller groups led by a monk or nun to discuss the practice and related subjects
5.30p – Dinner with eating meditation
7.30p – Sitting meditation in the Big Hall for 45 minute followed by “Nobel Silence” which lasted until after breakfast the next morning

It turns out “mindfulness meditation” can manifest in many forms and the practice of meditation can take place outside of sitting silently, eyes closed, in Lotus position.  This form of meditation requires clearing your mind and bringing it to focus on the present moment.  For example, at the beginning of each meal we were encouraged to eat in silence.  Prior to beginning to eat, we sat with our food in order to appreciate all the hard work by numerous people and the planet that went into creating the ingredients and presenting it as our meal.  When we began eating, we were encouraged to eat slowly, taking the time to really experience the taste and texture of our food, placing our utensils down between bites and chewing thoroughly.  Although it may sound simple, in my experience, it was profound.  Especially with my background in food and medicine, taking the time to truly appreciate what I was eating was a powerful exercise.

Now that I’m back I’ve noticed that I have a greater ability to focus…during a conversation with a colleague or to the lyrics in the music I listened to while jogging this morning.  But more than that, I feel calm.  Really calm in a way I haven’t felt for a long time.  It feels wonderful.

My plan now is to try and use some of the time I traditionally reserve for TV to sneak upstairs and practice silent sitting meditation for 20 minutes Monday-Friday.  I’m also planning to look for a Sangha, a meditation community, in my area to join as a way to stay connected to other people who are following a similar path.  Turns out, I’m also thinking a bit about the practice of Buddhism in general since the retreat…not sure what that means yet.

Inside the Big Hall at the altar was a beautifully painted sign that said “This is it”.  That sign is definitely the most profound visual memory I have from my time at the retreat as its message is so incredibly simple and yet, to me, so true.  This is our life.  The time is now.  This is it.

*During one of the Dharma Talks, a monk referred to a piece in the New York Times about the “Busy Trap”.  It’s a great read about how we create busyness in our lives and the value the author places on his moments of idleness.

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My Personal Journey into Meditation – Part One

I’m heading into a five day meditation retreat this afternoon.  Beyond my focus on Ujjayi breathing during yoga practice, I can’t say I’ve ever really meditated.  I have to confess that I’m pretty anxious about it (to the point of having a stress dream the other night) which in some ways feels counter-intuitive to the whole point of meditation…however, I also have this feeling deep in my gut that meditation is a powerful missing link in my health journey and that now is the right time to explore what this practice has to offer.   I’m choosing to trust my gut on this one.

The science behind the benefits of meditation is convincing.  Using meditation to treat everything from the symptoms of heart disease to post-traumatic stress disorder has been published.  There’s even science to suggest it delays the thinning of the frontal cortex of the brain typically seen as we age.  If you follow Oprah or Deepak Chopra, you may be aware of the 21-Day Meditation Challenge they are currently leading which has over 600,000 participants.  My point – meditation isn’t just for yogi gurus, meditation is powerful natural medicine.

For me personally, I hope this journey into meditation will provide two things: 1) an ability to maintain calm and clarity amidst the chaos that is my life (full-time job, two small children, etc), and 2) a greater ability to appreciate the beauty of the present moment, letting go of my focus on worries about the past and fears about the future.

You could say I’ve been stuck in a heavy contemplation phase for months now about committing to meditation.  Books I’ve read (and then often stopped once I get to the part where they want me to commit to daily practice) include, Full Catastrophe Living and Buddhism for Mothers.

I think my biggest struggle is in making the commitment to daily practice.  Where do I find the time?  How can I truly relax and focus when I know my kids could barge in on me at any moment?  How do I stop myself from falling asleep while practicing (which is a realistic concern to a sleep-deprived mom)?  These are the questions and excuses I tell myself.

So, my solution to get “unstuck” from contemplation is to jump in with both feet and head to a five day retreat.  No cell phones, computers or makeup allowed (the last requirement is my own).

I’ll look forward to reporting back on my experience next week.  Namaste!

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