Are you afraid of being truly seen? For who you really are? Do you hide parts of yourself out of fear, insecurity, or self-doubt?
Opening our heart is a brave act. To open our heart is to accept everyone and everything in our life unconditionally. To accept it all, and embrace it all, and stop living in projections of what we think life should be. And like everything this begins in our own hearts – in our ability to accept and embrace ourselves in this way.
Our ability to love others, and to feel loved, is in direct proportion to how much we have opened to our true selves. Most of us hide parts of ourselves out of a fear of being hurt, or out of a sense of unworthiness. We do not want others to see these shadows. We often do not even want to see them ourselves, and try to forget they exist. But all of the energy we put into hiding parts of ourselves blocks us from owning our true radiance.
From an energetic perspective, these blocks are often lodged in our heart chakra. It’s almost like we have a small, scared child inside of us saying ‘I don’t deserve this, I am unworthy.’ Until we find and embrace this child, and release the emotions that feed her, our heart can never truly open. We must keep it closed, to keep her hidden. We fear that if she is exposed, if anyone knew what was truly inside of us, we could never be lovable. Ironically though, it’s this very fear that keeps us from ever feeling the full radiance of love as our own being.
There are many ways to work with this. Indeed, you could say every spiritual path that exists ultimately comes down to this – how to open our heart, how to release these blocks that we have in the name of self-protection. My own path is to work energetically, and so I offer you the following guided meditation to help you heal this part of yourself, and allow yourself to be truly seen.
In this meditation, you will try and ‘select’, or connect with a pattern, emotion, or feeling in yourself that you know represents one way you block your own heart from giving or receiving. Doing this will allow you to work directly with your own subtle body, deep in your own heart chakra, to heal and release this energy. Then you will invite divine light to see you, as you truly are, and bring this light into your own heart.
Enjoy, and may you feel the radiance of this season, and a true opening of your heart, as move through Solstice, the holidays, and the New Year!
Lisa is a meditation teacher, energy worker, writer, and mom to three. She loves helping people heal and explore the unseen aspects of themselves through chakra (energy center) meditation and related energy body work. She specializes in women's energetics - the distinct characteristics and phases of women's subtle bodies, and the special spiritual doorways available to women through their feminine divinity. In her work she draws on many diverse traditions, including Vajrayana Buddhism, Tantra, Zen, gnostic Christianity, shamanism, yoga, astrology, and several energy healing systems, most particularly the work of Cyndi Dale. She writes on all these subjects at her blog Mommy Mystic (http://www.MommyMystic.com), as well as writing regularly on Buddhism for Bellaonline (http://buddhism.bellaonline.com/Site.asp), where she is the Buddhism site editor. She offers classes, workshops and personal sessions through The Maat Institute (http://www.themaatinstitute.com.) Lisa's column here is entitled, "Women's Energetics."
The Magical Path: Creating the Life of Your Dreams and a World that Works for All
by Marc Allen
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Book Review by Leann Harris
Marc Allen’s The Magical Path is a tightly-packed treasure of wisdom, insight and inspiration. Allen’s style is very warm and comforting and he presents a tremendous amount of information for such a short book. Don’t let the size fool you; if you are looking for meditation, affirmations, or a fascinating read on many paths, this is the book for you! Allen has a unique voice that blends ancient teachings across spiritual disciplines with a modern twist.
I really appreciate how Allen began the book—with a reminder to take what you find useful and leave the rest. After this introduction, he explains what “magical” means to him: “it is the mysterious process by which something is created out of apparently nothing. It is the process that has created this entire vast universe with you and me sitting in it and pondering these words at this moment. It is the ever-mysterious process of life — call it what you will.” The practices he includes in the rest of the book explore how to set this magic into motion. He sets the stage for the rest of the book by encouraging the reader to try on the practices he outlines in order to take this inner journey.
I really enjoyed how Allen focused on practices which help us become aware of our world, but he didn’t leave us to be in the world alone. These experiences are then channeled into use with his chapter on "Community" and our role in it. He emphasizes that even though we can dedicate our lives to social causes or justice; this is all just outer work. The real change comes by doing the inner work necessary to express the kindness within us all. The author gives us myriad tools with which to start and makes it very easy for us to begin to walk our true path.
Allen begins his instruction with meditations he calls the “Middle Pillar of Light”. He bases it on the idea that every human has a force within them that can be used to direct the flow of life. While I won’t give away the process here, I thought his instruction was thorough and detailed. Meditation is not an intellectual exercise. Throughout the book he touches on bodily senses and imagery. He also includes affirmations which complement each particular meditation and encourages the reader to try them out and see if they work.
Allen covers a vast number of topics from healing, the power of the spoken and written word, protections, time, money and the Kabbalah. I think my favorite chapters were the ones on "Prayer and Mantra" and "Magical Relationships." I found the mantras and prayers he included to be very centering and a great reminder to tap into Source. When I did them, I felt reassured and grounded. His tone in this book is very inspiring but I found this chapter to be especially so. I also have a soft spot for anyone trying to bring clarity to relationships. I loved how he started the chapter with a great quote from Huston Smith—“The human opportunity, the religions tell us, is to transform our flashes of insight into abiding light.” —and ended it with a simple key to fulfilling relationships. This chapter is one of the larger ones and it’s packed full of meditations and insights on every kind of relationship we can have. So if you’re looking to examine your personal, work, or your relationship with yourself, this is the chapter to savor.
Leave a comment below and you'll be entered into the drawing to win a copy of The Magical Path!
Marc Allen is a renowned author, composer, and speaker. On the day he turned thirty, Marc cofounded New World Library with Shakti Gawain, and as the company's president and publisher, he has guided it from a small start-up operation with no capital to become one of the leading publishers in its field. He has written numerous books, including The Greatest Secret of All, Visionary Business, The Millionaire Course, and The Type-Z Guide to Success. He has also recorded several albums of music, including Awakening, Breathe, and Solo Flight. He is a popular speaker and seminar leader based in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more about Marc, including his free monthly teleseminars, see www.MarcAllen.com. For more about his music (including free samples), see www.WatercourseMedia.com.
Author, Leann Harris, is a meditation teacher, writer and spiritual seeker who has finally found home. Along her way, she has delved into many practices, but considers Buddhism her foundation for depth and breadth. She is committed to helping others recognize their own wisdom so that they may nourish a deeply rewarding and inspiring life. Leann writes at www.BrightnessInspired.com, where she gives gentle and grounded guidance on meditation, spirituality, Buddhism, and relationships, all tailored for spiritual seekers who want their own path illuminated. Her wish is for everyone to live a gratifying and open-hearted life, and to be Inspired by their own Brightness. Leann writes our book reviews and interviews notable authors.
An Enlightening Interview with Guest Mentor Max Highstein
Jan Lundy, Editor
Buddha Chick Life is pleased to present a very special guest this month, Max Highstein. If you don't know about Max and his good work in the world, you should. He is considered by many to be the "father of Guided Meditation." He was one of the first people to explore putting words and images to music for the purpose of relaxation and healing.
Today, Max is a spiritual facilitator, author, and music composer best known for his series of guided meditation programs beginning with the bestseller, "The Healing Waterfall," which has sold over 100,000 copies worldwide. For over 28 years he has helped listeners and clients learn to deeply relax, connect to their higher consciousness, and heal from within.
I first discovered Max and "The Healing Waterfall" in the 1990s when I was struggling with health issues, especially anxiety. This guided imagery recording was invaluable to me. I am pleased to say that About.com recently announced it to be the "Best Meditation Tool of 2012," and, this, over 20 years later!
Recently, I spoke with Max, inviting him to be our Guest Mentor for the month of November. He graciously agreed and in a 25-minute telephone interview he spoke with me about:
• How he came to create "Healing Waterfall" • How guided imagery and guided meditations work • How guided meditations are not a crutch but an important gateway to traditional meditation • Why relaxation tools like these are important • How we can begin to heal any issue with the help of Guided Meditations
He also offered us a powerful prayer for healing that anyone can use. And more!
I am grateful to have benefitted from Max' creative genius over the years and am confident you can too. Thank you, Max for being our Guest Mentor this month!
You can listen to the 25 minute interviewHERE. Download it to your portable device too!
I work in an office to which I must go every day. Regardless of job titles, most people have at least something they do day after day. They repeat it. Over and over again. What does your mind do while you’re doing your job? If you say, well I think about what I’m doing and I have very complicated things to think about, well, that’s true too. But eventually, we get a break. In between customers. In between projects. In between phone calls. At some point during the day, there is a moment when we’re not talking to someone or writing about something important.
Typically, when we’re in your cube or doing whatever it is we do, we just “keep pushing”. We sit or stand or run in our normal, repetitive environments, and keep pushing our minds down the same tracks. We make well-worn groves in our minds that “when I am in this physical space my mind must work”. So the only thing hard about “finding time to meditate at my job” isn’t so much about finding the time. You have time – at least eight hours! The hard part is jumping out of that grove and stopping. Seeing that there is nothing that will explode immediately if we just stop and feel where we are in the present moment.
Most likely, this pause happens it’s when we go to the restroom. Notice, it’s called a restroom, not a “I have to hurry up and do my bodily functions so I can run off to my next meeting and oh my, I have no idea what I’m going to say” room. It specifically says “Rest”. Sometimes that’s the best place to meet up with your mind again. To say “Hey! I recognize you! I’ve seen you around!” It’s been my favorite place to meditate for years.
Your mind will try to tell you that you have to *finish*, you have to *go*, you have to *do*. But in the Resting Room, you don’t have to. This is Sacred Space – in a stall.
Take a moment and catch up with yourself. Breathe. Stop pushing to do anything other than what you’re doing right now. Feel your feet – do they hurt? Feel your legs – are they tight? Take a breath in and let it out. Feel your shoulders – are they near your ears. Feel your body sitting down – you have no place else to go. Now, where is your mind? Just notice. We’re not in evaluation mode here. We are just noticing. What color are the walls in the stall? What size are the floor tiles? If this is your own bathroom, we are not evaluating the level of cleanliness during this time.
Notice, we do not hold the exact same word in your head for more than a brief moment. There might be different words about the same subject, but no one word stays . Thoughts pass, that’s what thoughts do. Our minds think, that’s what they’re designed for. If you have emotions come up while you watch the thoughts, notice them. If you feel something someplace in your body, notice that too.
This sitting is not about NOT having thoughts; this sitting is becoming aware of what is already there. The myth that mediation is all about getting rid of thoughts is just that – a myth. Our minds are designed to have thoughts. The problem is, we have becomes so identified with the mind – “I think, therefore, I am”- that we have forgotten that this is one big, gray squishy tool. Our minds have come to rule us. Instead of us using it as a skillful surgeon uses a blade – to cut thru and see what’s beneath. We find ourselves feeling anxious, or angry, or scared and believe that’s who we are. We believe it and there is nothing outside of us forcing us to! Why? What if there was a different way? What if you could see that these thoughts come and go and change and morph but… they do not define who we truly are? Do you have a sense of who is the “You” behind your thoughts?
That is the point of meditation. To watch what’s happening; to become aware that thoughts occur, but they are not the captains of this boat. That yes, Virginia, there really is something else behind the thoughts. Those thoughts are here to help us, not rule us. If we can use our thoughts as a tool, and remember to take time to pause.
Leann Harris is a meditation teacher, writer and spiritual seeker who has finally found home. Along her way, she has delved into many practices, but considers Buddhism her foundation for depth and breadth. She is committed to helping others recognize their own wisdom so that they may nourish a deeply rewarding and inspiring life. Leann writes at www.BrightnessInspired.com, where she gives gentle and grounded guidance on meditation, spirituality, Buddhism, and relationships, all tailored for spiritual seekers who want their own path illuminated. Her wish is for everyone to live a gratifying and open-hearted life, and to be Inspired by their own Brightness. Leann writes our book reviews and interviews notable authors.
Grow and Glow with Conscious Intention Healing through Meditation
by Cindy Hively
Conscious Intention Meditation teachings and practices guide you to experience the place of true inner peace where the 'story' and distractions of life fall away leaving you with a life of wholesome health and happiness.
Conscious Intention Meditation is a simple and authentic self-empowerment and healing system that only requires your presence, intention and passion. It does not require any prior qualifications in energy medicine, meditation or spiritual philosophies. It is a modern and advanced system used by people such as Reiki masters, yoga teachers, psychologists, energy healers, social workers, accountants, school teachers, university students, musicians, parents , workers and people of all cultures and ages. It is one of the most evolved systems used in the developmental education of enlightenment since 2010, yet is as ancient as the first moment of creation itself. I would say the healing through CIM is on fire and the word is out and being taken seriously. More and more are paying attention, especially in the field of Mental Wellness because of the over whelming scientific evidence that conscious intention medicine factually works. This is great news for those of us who suffer from chronic illness/any illness, and especially brain disorders.
Traditionally in Western culture, we have sought relief from stress, anxiety and depression through medicine, alcohol or drugs. Now, in today’s modern world and the joining together of world cultures through technology and media, we can enjoy sharing and exploring scientifically researched and proven practices such as meditation to enhance the well-being of our lives naturally and authentically. This system of meditation is easy and simple and requires less and less effort the deeper you go into the process of letting go. Can you feel relief and a sense of empowerment knowing this? I am using this practice everyday and jumping for joy. Inside of our own being we actually have the power to heal ourself, feel as well as possible, and the medical field is getting it! That is truly a cause for celebration ...
Thoughts are the cause of all human suffering. Our thoughts are constantly comparing, searching, seeking, judging, organizing, controlling, manipulating and questioning life. Who Am I? Why me? How do I look? Why do others act as they do? Why am I happy? Sad? Lonely? Depressed? Why is there anger? Blame? Criticism and war? Where do I find peace in my life? Is it in my relationship, money, work, my home or my car? The list goes on. The mind is always “doing’ something or getting ready to take action in order to survive, keep safe, or feel loved.
Thoughts from the past constantly replay themselves from our subconscious mind. For example, fear of abandonment, need for approval, unworthiness and failure are patterns that repeat themselves throughout life—in relationship with ourselves, others, and community. These thoughts sometimes force us into feelings of confusion and depression.
We define ourselves and who we believe we are through family, media, religion, spirituality and society. Our natural state of being is stillness, peace and silence. It is as pure and innocent as it was the moment you where born. From birth you have been conditioned, controlled, manipulated and encouraged to believe you are different than this natural state. The need for safety, wisdom and education is an important part of human existence but we spend so much time working on survival that we have forgotten to give ourselves time to stay in touch with our authentic self.
Peace is always will be present. Silently sitting behind the activity of the mind like an ocean that calmly abides, it watches the waves arising before itself, and from itself, but not separate from its own essence. Meditation helps control the waves of thought that crash endlessly against all resistance to peace. Meditation is an authentic contemporary approach to spiritual practice and inquiry designed to bring about a total transformation of humanity. Conscious Intention Meditation creates equilibrium of the mind.
One of the most common misconceptions people have about learning how to meditate is that it involves trying to stop your thoughts or attempting to control or change the mind in some way. For this reason, many people see it as something difficult to do. In truth, true meditation is completely effortless. In fact, trying to stop your thoughts is an impossible task. The mind's job is to produce a constant stream of thoughts and we actually have zero control over the content or the frequency of the thoughts. The average adult has around 100,000 thoughts per day, 95% of which are the same as yesterday! No wonder we find so little peace. Giving the monkey mind our attention all day is absolutely exhausting! One of the most significant benefits of learning how to meditate is that it frees up a tremendous amount of energy. CIM is the philosophy and the technique which helps direct the 'Conscious Mind' to create a new perception of itself by dismantling old patterns, habits and addictive thoughts. These patterns of beliefs are what creates the obstacles to happiness in our lives. (Source: Robyn Collins, Coordinator, Conscious Life Teachings. www.consciouslifemeditation.com)
CIM creates new neural pathways within the brain. This can lead to improved concentration, a feeling of true contentment and peace, increased productivity levels and sensation of fulfillment, joy and happiness. This meditation process also allows for previous life difficulties to be brought unto a place where you are able to consciously with intention heal from past experiences.
Stress, pressure, fatigue, poor diet, alcohol, and drugs damage neural connections between the brain’s prefrontal cortex—or “CEO”—and the rest of the brain. When you are overtired or under intense mental or physical stress, the brain bypasses its higher, more evolved, rational frontal executive circuits—it starts using more primitive stimulus/response pathways. Consequently, you respond to daily demands without thinking; you make impulsive, short-sighted decisions. When the CEO goes offline, strong emotions, such as fear and anger, take over, adversely coloring your view of the world.
Impulsive, reactive behavior
Poor working memory
Drug and alcohol abuse
Unethical thinking and behavior
High blood pressure
Eating and sleeping disorders
Weak immune system
Low self-esteem and self-confidence
Worries, anxieties, and fears
Shallow, divisive emotions
People who practice Conscious Intention Meditation have reported improvements in various areas of their lives.
Here are some of them:
Natural Spiritual connection
More mental clarity and creativity
Feeling less stressed
Improved sleep patterns
A more relaxed way of handling difficult situations
Improved energy levels
A deeper understanding of life
Purposeful, flexible thinking
No impulsive, proactive behavior
Greater work focus & productivity
Excellent working memory
Settled, focused attention
No substance abuse or addictions
Ethical thinking and behavior
Energy and vitality
Fit cardiovascular system
Strong immune functioning
Self-confidence and secure self-esteem
Feelings of safety and peace
Compassion and empathy for others
Healthy interpersonal relations
Happiness and optimism
Practice is preparation. Without practice the human being is unprepared to meet the demands of life. Practice is, at its center, engagement. When you practice, you engage the various faculties that the chosen activity requires. The more you engage, the more prepared you become. When you took your first steps in life and began walking you most likely balanced tentatively, teetered and fell. Often. But with practice, as you engaged the activity of walking over and over, you became increasingly more competent, more proficient and ultimately more elegant to move about in the world and meet the demands of your life.
Without practice you often find yourself lacking the competence needed to meet the multifaceted challenges of life. Fail to engage in disciplining your mental focus and you are likely to find yourself in repeated dis-stress instead of focusing on real strategic priorities. Fail to practice attuning to your child and you are likely to find yourself unprepared in being able to connect with them as they grow. The practice of CIM is no different.
Without the repeated engagement of practice you are largely unprepared to meet the demands of your life. It is simple, practice is a necessity. But what happens when you engage life and acquire a certain level of competency that is satisfactory for you? To answer this question we must look more closely into what it means to engage.
Engagement is the conscious inhabitation of your body and mind. Practice is happening when your open awareness is moving with, in and through your embodied activity. Dedicating to practice is your conscious participation with your life. Engagement is the conduction of your free and open awareness through your activities, whatever they may be.
When you acquire a certain level of competence that is presumed to be working well, practice typically stops. As soon as ‘good enough,’ is achieved something subtle yet extremely powerful happens: habituation steps in. One of your habituation’s central attachments is comfort. Wherever you are comfortable, wherever ‘good enough’ is subjectively perceived, your habituation will invest vast amounts of resources to maintain this comfortable status quo. One way your ego achieves this is to stop practicing. Shoeing away the ego and continued practice of CIM will continue to cultivate your life in ways that keep you centered and grounded.
This inspired desire to cultivate equanimity for yourself, the inner imposition to develop and evolve your gifts, skills and unique capacities is nothing other than your Divine be-ing calling you forth into your greatest possibilities. Your desire to go beyond habituation, to reach into novelty and to liberate the constraints of your life is the beating heart of your true strength. When you free yourself from the ego’s grip upon comfort, I think you will find yourself realizing a necessity once again. If you are to actually face and embody the purpose of your life you need your strength. Without practice strength and cultivation rarely manifest. Ultimately, practice is part necessity and part inspiration. To understand and embody practice requires both.
“True fulfillment, peace and happiness can be found in the silence of the mind. Suffering is caused through the identification and definition of the body, the world and the question: who am I? Freedom is attained through transcendence. Conscious Intention Meditation is about welcoming the miracle, freedom and peace, found only in stillness”. ~Author Unknown
An Interview with Author and Therapist, Karuna Cayton
The Misleading Mind: How We Create Our Own Problems and How Buddhist Psychology Can Help Us Solve Them
Released by New World Library, 2012
I'm thoroughly enjoying this new "self-help" book by psychotherapist, Karuna Cayton. The title alone drew me in. What? We create our own problems? Of course we do, maintains the author, and he tells us why and how we can stop this debilitating cycle. We do it by getting to know our own mind thoroughly and by making new, wise choices (responses, not reactions) to people and life situations, as you'll hear him explain in this insightful interview.
In my own reading ofThe Misleading Mind,the pages are becoming heavily marked with yellow highlighter. I am applying what Karuna teaches (well, at least trying) and finding that his humor and boundless compassion invite me into personal investigation of some of the more "treacherous" places within my mind. I highly recommend this book to anyone (especially non-Buddhists) who wants to experience greater peace of mind and ease in their life. The tools and meditations the author presents are invaluable, practical, and truly invitational. The Misleading Mind spells relief and I am very grateful to now have this book in my self-growth library.
Leave a comment after the Interview and you'll be entered into a Giveaway Drawing to win this wonderful new book, courtesy of the publisher, New World Library.
Karuna Cayton, psychotherapist and author of The Misleading Mind,spent twelve years working with Tibetan refugees in Nepal and studying with Buddhist masters. His Karuna Group practice applies Buddhist psychology to individual and organizational clients. He lives in Northern California. Visit him online at www.thekarunagroup.com.
The ideas in The Misleading Mind are rooted in Buddhism. In order to reap their benefits, do your readers need to become practicing Buddhists? Will those with no real understanding of Buddhism be able to adopt your techniques?
The whole mission of this book, one could say my own life mission, is to be able to communicate the profound and useful ideas of Buddhist thought for any person in any walk of life. This mission is rooted in the idea that Buddhism is a system of thought and ideas rather than a religion or dogma. Albeit, religions and dogmas have been created from Buddhist ideas but I think Buddhism is more science and philosophy than religion. So, do people have to become “practicing Buddhists” to benefit from the ideas in this book? The answer is “yes and no”. They do not have to become “Buddhists” to benefit from these ideas but they do need to practice training their mind if they want to experience a positive difference in their mental health.
What are the similarities between modern psychology and Buddhism? What are the differences?
Well, this is a very big question. Simply, the similarities are with the intent of both seek to understand the mind and how it functions. Both propose a model of pathology or mental dis-ease. But they differ in their deeper explanation of the mind and they differ in their approach to long-term mental health. In handling short term mental and relationship issues they also differ since Buddhism, in some ways, has less concern on the short term, crisis management approach. Finally, in modern day psychology the primary mode of therapy has been talk therapy. This is presently evolving but Buddhist therapy is less concerned with talking and more concerned with training the mind primarily, but not exclusively through contemplative techniques.
I think it is useful to point out that modern psychology is much more suited to handling severe mental disorders such as psychotic disorders, severe substance abuse disorders, and most disorders where a person’s actual mental functioning is impaired. Lama Yeshe once commented to me, when advising that a particular student needed a psychiatric intervention, that Buddhism was for “healthy people”. I do not think he meant merely the “worried well” but he did indicate that one needs a certain degree of ego strength and grounding.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Buddhist therapy and psychology has been tested for over 2500 years with thousands, millions perhaps, of success stories. It was created and developed by highly accomplished practitioners. It is not the latest craze. I’m sorry to say that modern psychology is hardly even formulated, it is not a uniform system of thought, and it is in its infancy. We are doing something very, very serious here by playing with people’s minds, people’s lives. So we should approach both Buddhist and modern psychology with caution.
You say that your book creates a gradual process of becoming happier, but isn’t everyone looking for a quick fix?
Yep. That’s the problem. This is another indication that we are in the nature of suffering. If our condition were not so intolerable, why would we need a quick fix? Quick fixes lead to quick breakdowns. They are not enduring. I understand that we need some quick relief sometimes. If we have a brain tumor we may need to take painkillers in order to just endure. But everyone would be aware that painkillers are not going to get rid of the tumor. I have to admit that I’m taking kind of the brutal approach of focusing on long-term solutions. As a result, short-term remedies like comfort and Band-Aids might not get much attention. The short-term problem just fades away anyway. But many of the techniques presented in the book can work on the short-term solution as well as the long term.
You say that it is important for us to befriend our problems. What does that mean and what does that look like?
I was quite sensitive and concerned when presenting that idea. Really, I would say that we need to befriend ourselves. Perhaps a clearer statement would be that we need to be in relationship with our problems. It’s like this: let’s say you have an unruly teenager living in your home. In fact, he is your own child. He is family. This is often similar to the problems that arise from our disturbing emotions such as anxiety, fear, irritation, and disappointment. In counseling teenagers and families I have found that the problem that exists between them is impossible to resolve if they don’t have some kind of relationship where they can talk and dialogue about the situation. So, first is to be able to build or rebuild this rapport between the parties. Then, communication begins and I have found when all the parties can begin to understand the other person’s experience and reality they can begin to create shared solutions. It works. Then, what can and does happen is the parties become “friends” or “allies” working against the problem together. This not some kind of wishful thinking. It happens.
And, likewise, we need to develop a kind of relationship with our afflictive emotions, engage with them, and learn from them. When we open up to our mind and all of its functions as a curious student, we become better and healthier. In that way, the mind helps us and it is as if we are friends.
One final point to this question. I think, in general, we are not friends with ourselves. When we notice a flaw or aspect of ourselves we do not like we often generate a kind of self-hate or self-dislike. I do not believe we should necessarily “love” our faults but we must rein in the kind of “emotional violence” we may inflict upon ourselves when our best qualities are not coming out.
You say that life means suffering. How so?
Well, we have to get very clear on our terms. I don’t really think the word “suffering” is particularly an accurate synonym for what the Buddha taught. Of course, he did not teach in English. The idea of suffering has a few different levels of understanding but the easiest way to understand what is meant by the term is that we are never satisfied. We are always on a kind of seesaw of up and down. We are not in control of our own destiny. A simple example is that you may decide, “I am going to be happy today no matter what,” and yet, we don’t really have control over whether or not we can make it through a whole day being happy. Anything can happen, will happen, and we will lose our balance and joy. I doubt that most of us can make it even through a whole day. What does that say about our life? That we cannot just decide and will our way to a whole day or two of happiness, security, being problem-free, let alone a whole lifetime. This is what is meant by suffering – having no real control over our destiny, our mood, our wellbeing. However, we do have the potential to have control. We just haven’t figured out how to access this potential. Anyway, this idea of suffering is huge and I can go on and on.
What is the primary cause of suffering in our lives and what can we do about it?
The primary cause of suffering is confusion. That’s all. From confusion all problems arise. What are we confused about? The way things really exist. That includes the nature of our own personal identity and the nature of how things themselves exist. Why does this matter? Well, it is like in a dream. If you are being chased by a group of thugs who want to harm you if you knew it was just a dream you would not be afraid. Or maybe a better example is the work of an illusionist like David Copperfield or David Blaine. When you know it’s just a trick you don’t worry that the actual Statute of Liberty has disappeared! So, things happen as problems because we see things existing differently than they are and then, due to habit, we respond.
What we can do about this situation is slowly train the mind to see things as they are. Then our habitual reactions will slowly cease and we will respond in an authentic manner that will be uncharged with all the emotional garbage we engage in at the present time. We’ll be quite relaxed and satisfied.
You say that enthusiasm is one of the most important positive emotions to cultivate in our lives. Why?
Without enthusiasm we get so heavy, too serious and too self-conscious. The opposite of enthusiasm is probably boredom. As modern people with a conditioning of stimulation we are very prone to being entertained and thus, when not entertained we become bored. Enthusiasm seems to arise from a vision, a mission. In business when the vision wanes or is not communicated well to the rest of the people then work becomes mundane. Training our mind, while at times of course can be a bit mundane, should not be mundane or boring the majority of the time. By having a vision of our own mental health and how we can positively impact others then we will maintain an enthusiasm that is infectious to others. That alone can change the world and, enthusiasm is a positive state of mind, a positive emotion. So it is healthy.
What advice would you offer to individuals who are dealing with challenging emotions like anger and rage?
You have a choice. First you really need to see that anger is destructive of everything you want from the anger in the first place. It’s toxic and poisons your own wellbeing and those around you. So, the first thing is to see that. The second thing is to know you have a choice. While it is not easy to make a choice when we see that being under the control of the destructive emotions is like being a prisoner of our own mind then it is just a logical thing to make a stand against anger, against loss of control, and begin, slowly, to make a change. In the beginning we have to maybe just shut our mouths, go outside, get away from the situation. As we become better we begin to actively just watch the mind, the anger itself arise, abide and subside. Eventually, we can even harness the anger and turn it into energy to do something constructive or even generate warmth and affection. Anger is just energy that we hook on to in a particular way. Taking the hook out allows us to just reform, reshape, transform it. I’m not very good at it myself but I’ve done it once or twice and I’m encouraged.
What impression or thought do you want to leave with people? What do you hope to change?
We can be happier than we presently are. And the key to this happiness is only within you. We have to become our own coach or therapist and that the long term solution must include an understanding of how our mind exists and how it functions. This means understanding reality: How do I exist and how does the world exist? This not just a head trip. It sounds sort of intellectual but, in fact, it is spirituality in the purest sense. At least in my opinion. That is because spirituality, for me, means accessing and opening our potential. And our inner potential is limitless. What we see and know of the world and ourselves, reality, is so limited and erroneous that it leads to a level of happiness that is extremely basic and, ultimately, not satisfying in any way. So, it is not really happiness at all. We deserve better. But it does not just fall upon us from the sky, from God, from a therapist, from Buddha or a guru. It comes from us.
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Editor's Note: This article comes to you as a Special Feature due to its length and scope. It is an excellent and insightful portrayal of Vipassana meditation practice from the Buddhist tradition and one woman's transparent experience with it.
I: The Agony of the Breath
I dread committing gaffes. There—I said it! Until a few years ago, I wasn’t even aware of my fears or of the simmering, underlying dissatisfaction that fueled their existence. A surge of awareness has since developed, helping me become increasingly mindful. Today, I acknowledge and accept failures and limitations as a gallant step toward positive mental health. This is just one example of the many gifts vipassana meditation has given me.
To understand how an ancient meditation technique correlates to an individual’s acceptance of their fears, and in doing so, of transcending dissatisfaction, let’s first understand what vipassana is. Vipassana, a mindfulness technique the Buddha practiced nearly twenty-five hundred years ago, is the process of examining one’s mind through silence, breath, and body awareness. The Buddha advocated the three marks of existence: dukkha, or that dissatisfaction is inherent to life and causes suffering; anicca, or that life’s sufferings are impermanent; and anatta, or that releasing attachment to worldly pleasures and the ego can help an individual release suffering. Vipassana in the ancient Indian language Pali means “to see things as they are.”
In the summer of 2008, I was among a group of nearly 120 people that attended a ten-day, instructor-led vipassana meditation course offered by Spiritual Master S. N. Goenka. The setting couldn’t have been more picturesque: a quaint retreat center in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California. At the time, I lacked even the faintest understanding of just how swiftly this experience would transpire change. The retreat consisted of ten days of breath awareness and meditation, at the rate of ten hours each day. Grueling? You bet! Actually, it was downright brutal. For ten days I spied the vast cosmos of my mind, searching for inner peace and clues to unravel the mind’s myriad mysteries. For ten days I lived like a monk, shunning all luxuries and self-indulgences. Imagine a benign, insipid world of no computers or cell phones, and no texting, reading, writing, praying, listening to music, or watching television. Here’s the granddaddy of all forfeitures—no talking! The only highlights were Goenka’s nightly video sermons and food.
Notwithstanding the sacrifices, my meditation got off to a roaring start. Just waking up at the crack of dawn was energizing. Experiencing nature amid all of its beauty enthralled my senses. Taking a break from my normal life seemed rejuvenating. Goenka introduced retreatants to a technique called anapana, which consists of observing one’s own respiration. Per the instructions, I watched my breath as it traveled in and out of my nose. Outside, all was quiet but for the minor distractions stemming from fellow meditators’ digestive track faux pas, or the air conditioner’s intermittent drone, or the occasional straggler’s muffled strides. The governing diversion was “inner” commotion. At every meditation sitting, my conditioned mind became readily absorbed in thought, reaction, analysis, drama, and fantasy. At this stage, a meditator has two goals: become aware of a spiraling thought, and restore the mind’s focus to the breath. Simple, right? Not really! The primary hurdle is the ability to recognize a wandering mind. Many minutes would drift by before I would realize that the movie playing on my mental monitor, starring me, was headed to Nowhereville. I would shudder back to the present and return to my breath. Then Mental Films would roll out its next production. Again, the minutes would elapse until the next realization and refocus. Needless to say, this happened over and over. The first day in meditation turned out to be more of a game involving constant pursuit, near-captures, and repeated escapes.
In addition, other sources of external distraction, such as physical aches and pains caused by long hours of sitting, the struggle to acclimatize to a new place, the anger and irritation that arose from people’s insensitive behaviors such as checking out early from meditation so they could make a beeline for meals or trading a sit for sleep also took up a good portion of my attention. My conditioned mind judged their conduct with a roll of the eyes, or a bobbing of the head in disbelief, and even an occasional snort and snicker. It took me many hours to let go of the memory of the woman in the dining hall who sneered upon seeing a grimy plate on the buffet table. All she had to do was pick it up and put it for wash. She didn’t; I did. It took even longer to forgive the woman in the neighboring bed whose constant squirting of a nauseating mist interrupted my sleep.
My awareness and my capacity to observe my mind strengthened on the second day, enabling me to follow my breath for longer durations. But it had been two days since I had left home. I missed my family. The lack of social interaction sprouted boredom and restlessness inside of me, which was ironic as I was continually amidst people. The lull of the exterior offered a clear contrast to my mind’s chaos; both drove me crazy. That night, the swell of stimulation I had experienced upon arriving at the retreat deflated to a mere ripple, and I felt physically, mentally, and emotionally fatigued.
The third day unraveled a surprise: my mind’s clamor began to fade into a calmness that I never knew existed. I found myself eating meals slowly, mindfully, pausing between spoonfuls of food, and then chewing and swallowing it with a sense of gratitude. Thoughts still dominated during meditation, but my tranquil mind’s focus had shifted from engaging in melodrama to merely observing thought. It hadn’t come easy, but my mind had finally learned how to disentangle itself from thought’s nomadic ways and ease into the oasis of the present moment. During breaks I found myself contemplating on the art of “being with oneself,” emitting compassionate vibes in response to others’ disruptive behaviors, and making a mental list of potential candidates for this course, among other things. I wasn’t just living like a monk; I was beginning to feel like one too! Although I didn’t grasp it at the time, this exercise in honing patience and concentration helped ground me in the reality that is the now, and would remain as an anchor to help endure all future emotional upheavals.
II: The Anguish of Pain
The three-day rigorous practice of watching my breath prepared me—mind and body—to enter the realm of vipassana. The technique itself is not complicated; it consists of observing the sensations the breath creates. Sensations represent pre-conditioned, mental patterns of the mind. They are a basic form of experience and existence that precede the thought processes, i.e., they exist before the litany of commenting, editing, labeling, qualifying, and judging begins. Per the Buddha, sensations are “karmic” in nature, in that an individual inherits the previous life’s “sensation load” at birth—a congenital disorder of sorts! This defilement “reservoir’s” extent is directly proportional to the past lives’ karma buildup. In the present life, sensory contact with the outside world through the portals of sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, and thought can activate dormant sensations and/or fashion new ones.
Sensations are also described as “defilements” or the very specific emotions, memories, fears, attitudes, expectations, beliefs, pain, likes, dislikes, and stories that appear repeatedly in our consciousness. When summoned through a mental practice such as vipassana, the sensations manifest on the physical body in a variety of forms: pricking, pinching, itching, goose bumps, tingling, tickling, burning, pulling, tugging, pressure, tightness, heaviness, numbness, dryness, creepy-crawly sensations, pins-and-needles type sensations, pain, heat, chill, and/or sweat. And while these sensations are present at all times throughout the body, the conscious mind can’t detect them because of its lack of focus.
With each breath, as my attention moved throughout my body, from my scalp to my toes, the sensations slowly began to emerge from within. Continued meditation intensified my attention and accelerated my awareness of the arising sensations, which consisted mainly of pain, pressure, heaviness, numbness, pricking, and a few pleasant sensations. Whatever their nature, the sensations arose and passed away. As I learned to observe them, new sensations surfaced and bounced off of the physical landscape of my body. Ongoing mindfulness showed that no single sensation lingered for longer than a few moments. Per the instructions, I directed my attention to what was happening from moment to moment without holding on to what felt good or pushing away what felt bad. The directive was to survey the sensations with perfect calm and objectivity. Thus when sensations surface, and the individual remains nonreactive or nonjudgmental to their emergence, the sensations can make a permanent exit from the individual’s system. Through consistent practice, this “shedding” of sensations “lightens” an individual’s load of defilements, helping change unhealthy attitudes, perceptions, and habits at the deepest, unconscious level.
Goenka’s nightly lectures provided the doctoral dissertation for observing the sensations. It is striking how external, sense perceptions—what we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch—veer towards, but ultimately elude, a sustained experience of joy and contentment. The human focus rests primarily on externally oriented functions and results in a good part of our lives used up in planning, researching, analyzing, implementing, and decision making on the external plane. The Buddha advocated going past the external plane, beyond the physical form and paying attention to the reality of human life: what can’t be seen by the naked eye, but stimulates the brain; what can’t be touched, but tightens the muscles; what can’t be sniffed, but burns the lungs; what can’t be heard, but throbs in the ears; or what can’t be tasted, but produces a sick dread in the pit of the stomach.
The human resistance, owing to bias, ego gratification or error, to look inward and acknowledge paralyzing thoughts and feelings is self-defeating, and keeps individuals locked up in unhealthy patterns. Sex, alcohol, drugs, food, power, fame, money, work—the list is exhaustive, really. People take refuge in material pursuits, falsely believing that these pursuits will lead to Nirvana. Life becomes a contrived cat-and-mouse game as individuals mindlessly fasten themselves to sights, sounds, tastes, words, motions, or electronic stimuli, chasing after the next job, the next house, or the next spouse/partner, until fatigue or death triumphs. Reacting to situations in the outer environment, the Buddha said, affects the inner environment, spawning two types of sensations: (1) “Craving” sensations generated from reacting to anything that satisfies pleasure. (2) “Loathing” or aversion sensations generated from reacting to pain, both physical and emotional. The human predisposition to react with craving and loathing sets up a vicious cycle of reactions and sensations. The reactions eventually dissipate, but leave behind a residue that reinforces an existing sensation or begets a new one. Either way, the outcome is “suffering”—a life that reinforces addictions, compulsions and emotional dysfunction, and is filled with dissatisfaction, emptiness, stress, anxiety, anger, fear, and other negativities.
A question emerges: how is the Buddha’s ancient, psycho-spiritual doctrine relevant in the digital age? The first revelation that jumps out for a vipassana practitioner is the impermanent nature of the arising bodily sensations. When an individual observes change at the experiential level and sees firsthand how things arise and pass away, they soon begin to associate impermanence on a more conscious plane, in life situations and challenges, an ocean wave-like activity—they come and go. Some of life’s challenges arrive unannounced like earthquakes and tornadoes, and unleash unspeakable horror. Job loss, financial loss, divorce, emotional betrayal, and illness are a few examples. Others, like hurricanes, leave behind a trail of destruction but are more predictable and can be planned for. Ongoing family and marital conflicts are examples. The regular practice of vipassana builds up equanimity, an opportunity to harness pain into something positive, more workable, usable, and sustainable. Loss and change are facts of life, but reactions, negativities, impulsive behaviors, and self-destructive habits don’t have to be. They don’t have to define who we are or how we live life.
Humans are creatures of habit. We hold on to our past, because we think we can go back and fix it. We’re also emotional beings and cling to our fears and insecurities because we are afraid of change. Looking inward helps determine what enslaves us. Learning to let go and moving with the flow of life—disaster and all—is a wonderful shift as it helps break free of the limitations that have held us back, encouraging us to grow, to live meaningful lives. As the veil of inner blindness lifts and we learn to accept the present, cravings transform into love and fears dissolve into faith, ultimately fostering a healthy, balanced, connected life. After all, humans are social creatures. It is binding on us that we maximize that connection and learn to live harmoniously with peace and equanimity. And where we find peace, balance and composure, therein, we find Nirvana!
III: The Harmony of Breath and Pain
When vipassana camp ended, I was more than ready to return home and be with my family, and even more ready to plunge into my normal life with my husband, children, friends and family, and I did so with a renewed sense of spirit. One of my chief concerns during the course had tethered on whether I’d make the transition back into talking and how challenging it would be to get back into the rhythm. The thought surfaced in meditation, especially in the beginning, and I remember wondering if there would be any “side effects,” such as hours of speech training and therapy. And then my mind had switched orbits. What if I’m so taken by silence that I decide to embrace monkhood, trading in my home for a monastery? Imagine, Sister Raji! Oh, my poor family! How are they going to manage my loss? Oh, the mind is so rooted in fears and self-importance! Of course, my concern was completely baseless as I neither ended up in a convent nor have I stopped talking since the course concluded.
Vipassana, the blueprint of a new life, has helped me fashion a world in which I’m able live in sync with my heartfelt longings, without the fear of failure or of being judged. I live life with a keen sense of awareness. I understand that I should stop reaching out for sense gratification, and instead, reach in, within myself, to find the authentic me. The Buddha’s teachings have taught me to focus on my myriad strengths, surround myself with positive people, and tailor my attitude to be more accepting of people and their behaviors. I’m less inclined now to fulfill others’ expectations at my emotional expense. Vipassana has also turned down the volume on my “complain” and “demand” notes. Forever I had experienced anger and frustration because I could never win arguments or dominate conversations like some of my friends and colleagues did. Post vipassana, my “deficiency” has transformed into a skill—a skill that allows me to be a better listener and remain open to others’ points of view, one that has added a whole new dimension to all of my relationships. I now understand that dominance and defiance are the hallmark traits of the ego, not of an individual; that traveling in the fast lane and multitasking are recipes not for effectiveness, but rather dissatisfaction. Making peace with what I cannot change or make go away has been, paradoxically, empowering.
Continued practice enables me to operate in a realm in which I’m truly excited to be myself and I’m energized to serve the greater whole. Awareness of the overwhelming impacts of perfectionism and self-recrimination has resulted in my being kinder to me and less self-critical. What is really great about silence is the simplicity it evokes, the opportunity to observe, absorb and appreciate the miracles in seemingly ordinary things, including bees buzzing as they flit from flower to flower transferring pollen, puffy white clouds that drift away to reveal a blue sky, or sunlight glistening through raindrops to erect a rainbow. I’m also learning to integrate flexibility into my life through the art of prioritizing. Each day now is a celebration of life’s bounty—food, shelter, health, friends, and family.
By profession, I’m an environmental engineer. Years ago I had a sweet government job, owned a house in the suburbs, had a wonderful family, and lived a perfect life by all external accounts. Yet I felt restless, powerless, and driven—if not consumed—by an inability to accept my good life. I always wondered why I was among the few that flourished while millions languished in hunger and poverty. I later traded in my career to become a stay-at-home mother, which, unexpectedly, proved to be a turning point. I became involved in volunteering, a new life experience that allowed me to have a meaningful, positive impact on communities worldwide, and eventually helped channel my distress into gratefulness. I have since stayed active by being involved in my children’s lives and in charitable causes. A privilege that I’m truly grateful for is using my thoughts, words, and action to inspire my children.
Before long, the waves of life washed me over to vipassana’s coast. Looking back at my early years, I now realize that I lived like an iceberg, a drifting existence, a mere flick of the potential that lay obscured below the surface of who I am. Vipassana has helped me tap into that potential, giving form and expression to my creativity. I’m sure glad to still have the house in the suburbs and a wonderful circle of family and friends. I’d like to believe that I write more adroitly now. In addition to responding to my family’s needs and fulfilling my various responsibilities, I am beginning to articulate my own needs, voice my opinions, express my preferences, and nurture my passions like never before. As a youngster I loved to sing. So I enrolled in voice lessons to revive and enjoy the art. I wrote and published a book about my vipassana experience, entitled Inner Pilgrimage: Ten Days to a Mindful Me. Thereafter, I started writing a blog. I maintain my facebook fan page and a website. I’m now a motivational speaker, and fervently talk about my transformation to audiences at various venues. And to think that public speaking had always buckled my knees! My hope in sharing my story is that it’ll inspire others to begin their own journeys of self-discovery, at their own pace, using vipassana.
That said I still experience low days. “Inner” conflicts still hold their grip. Despair, dread, and doubt continue to clutch at me. Anger and frustration over what I can’t change, like when my neighbor overwaters their lawn, still burns my insides. But the equanimity derived from vipassana has made it easier to release irrational fears and negative emotions. Vipassana meditation is helping me reconfigure my life, one fear fragment at a time. To say that these changes happened overnight would be a gross exaggeration. Finding the authentic me is—and will be—a lifelong journey of exploration, trial, and acceptance.
In the spirit of interspiritual awareness, we are pleased to feature a new author, Raji Lukkor, and an excerpt from her powerful new book, Pilgrimage: Ten Days to a Mindful Me.
A young woman arrives in the woods on a searing summer’s day. Voluntarily sacrificing luxury and self-indulgence, she willingly follows a rigid daily routine that excludes reading, writing, praying, listening to music, watching television and—the granddaddy of forfeitures—talking. Where exactly is she and why is she there? She’s at a ten-day vipassana meditation retreat where she spends ten hours every day, meditating. An ordinary being, she hopes to unlock the secrets of the ever-thinking mind so it can help her live a calmer, more centered existence. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Raji Lukkoor’s memoir, entitledInner Pilgrimage: Ten Days to a Mindful Me.
Goenkaji instructs us to close our eyes and watch our breath, our natural breath, as it flows in and out of our nostrils, the objective of which is to help the mind achieve a one-pointed or single focus. Awareness of the natural breath is called anapana (aa • naa • paa • na). The idea is to purge the mind of citta (CHIT • tha) or thoughts or pre-conditioned, misery-causing habits, exercising restraint on the mind’s restlessness, thereby giving it a fresh start, which in turn generates happy, compassionate, and benevolent thoughts, words, and actions. Goenkaji warns against the use of beads, mantras, or images, and regulating the breath during meditation, stating that these elements are distractions that could thwart the very concentration we are trying to achieve, impeding progress on the path of vipassana. He advises us to use the breath as the focus or frame of reference—the pivotal point—to which you could come back each time the mind wandered off through one of the six sense “doors,” namely sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch, and thought.
“At last! This is the moment. It’s why I’m here. It’s time to abandon all apprehension and plunge into meditation.” I sit up straight and close my eyes. Breathe in…breathe out…breathe in…breathe out…. My loquacious mind travels to the distant land of the past, obsessing in thoughts about a neighbor who humiliated me twenty years ago, or a friend who took advantage of my goodness in middle school, or a fellow college student who betrayed my trust more than fifteen years ago.
“Oh, I’m off course.” I bring my attention back to my breath, and then take a swallow. Inhale…exhale…inhale…exhale…inhale…. My feet begin to tingle. “Oh, no, not cramps!” Inhale…exhale…. Thoughts about my parked car bother me. “Will my car turn on after ten days of inactivity? Do they have jumper cables? I’d need to stop for gas on the way home. Wonder where the nearest gas station is.” My mind soars to the undefined horizons of the future, weaving unparalleled stories into rapturous masterpieces, inarguably giving a veteran author a run for his or her money.
Several minutes pass. I become aware of my breathing. Inhale…exhale…inhale…. The tingling in my feet intensifies. “Ahh…. I need to change positions.” I extend my knees into siddhasana (a yoga posture that consists of sitting in the standard cross-legged position, and then extending out the hip joints such that one ankle rests on top of the other). Exhale…inhale… exhale…. A loud, drawn out yawn. Inhale…exhale…. “I’m tired.” I want to focus on the breath, but my cramped up feet won’t let me. I can no longer deal with the numbness. I wiggle my toes and jiggle my heels to jumpstart the blood circulation. “So much for breathing! I’ll do a better job tomorrow. Promise!” Inhale…exhale….
The audio comes back on and Goenkaji sings a brief closing prayer in Pali. His voice is powerful, sonorous, but he sings in a low register, which jolts me back to the room. His tuneless singing makes me forget about the cramping and the numbness. It’s my very first exposure to Pali, a derivative of an ancient Indic language Prakrit (a contemporary of the Indo-Aryan Sanskrit). It has an unmistakable Eastern twang to it and many of the words contain emphatic double syllables as in dhamma, nibbana and magga. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it’s a derivative of Sanskrit because it sounds like it.” Sanskrit, like Pali and Latin, is no longer a spoken language; its classic literary expression is preserved only in ancient Hindu scriptures, chants, and hymns. Although his performance lacks melody, Goenkaji sings in both Pali and Hindi. I don’t understand Pali, but Hindi is one of the many Indian languages I speak and/or understand. The lyrics weave spells of profound spiritual, moral, and social messages. I keep with the singing despite my physical and aural discomfort. “Alright! Alright! This isn’t a Madonna concert.” Goenkaji ends the prayer with an equally discordant “Bhavatu sabba mangalam!” It’s like saying amen, I suppose, and basically translates to “May everybody be happy,” as he explains. The old students then say, “Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu,” with the sa drawn out as in aaahhh; this means, “May you be happy as well.” I bring my hands together in the namaste pose and bow down as a mark of respect. Return to Home Page
Raji Lukkoor is a mom, author, engineer--trying to live her best life. You can read more about her at www.rajilukkoor.com.
The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. ~ Marcel Proust
One of the reasons I love chakra, or energy center, meditation so much is because the chakras are doorways to levels of consciousness that transcend religion. Mystics throughout history from all different cultural and religious backgrounds have described similar mystic experiences – profound visions of light and ecstatic waves of love. Visions of light and experiences of universal love are two of the most frequently described spiritual experiences by seekers of all types.
For me, it is truly personal experiences of this type – rather than dogma – that propel our spiritual journey. And it is not only ‘big’ experiences such as these, but smaller moments of stillness, gratitude, or appreciation for beauty that pull us deeper into ourselves and spirit.While it’s not necessary to meditate on the chakras for these moments to arise, I find it fascinating that so many mystics do have similar experiences, particularly related to the opening of the heart chakra and the third eye. I wrote about the heart chakra here a couple of months ago, so thought I would focus on the third eye this month.
In a way this is the perfect chakra to discuss this month, as Buddha Chick Life celebrates Interspiritual Connection, because the third eye is what enables us to see beyond the surface - beyond the limits and categories that our brain and conditioning usually impose. It is through our third eye that our intuition and subtle senses are activated, as well as our ability to inquire deeply into the nature of reality and truth beyond convention.
The third eye, also sometimes called the ‘mind’s eye’, is considered the sixth chakra in the most common 7-chakra system, and is located in our forehead, just above the midpoint of our eyebrows. From an energy healing perspective, it is most commonly associated with our eyes, and frontal brain lobe, as well as our pituitary gland, sometimes called our ‘master endocrine gland’. Some healing systems also associate it with our pineal gland, whiles others associate the pineal with our seventh, or crown, chakra.
Our third eye has many layers, and meditating on it connects us with each of these. In our third eye we can find a still-point, a way to connect to the space between or beneath our usual thoughts and busy mind. While meditation is often described as stilling the mind, in our third eye we can discover that this isn’t necessary – stillness is always with us, just waiting in our awareness for us to pay it a bit of attention. Stillness isn’t something we have to ‘do’ or create, but something we can simply see when we turn our attention towards it.
Our third eye is also the center of our intuition, especially visual intuition, and some people experience visions of light when meditating on this chakra. For others who are less visual, meditating on it may initially trigger waves of energy, or a physical feeling of lightness, as this chakra helps shift our attention away from our usual focus on our physical body. Our third eye is also a doorway into a sense of metaphysical oneness – the experience (rather than the thought) that we are all rooted in one Source.
On a more mundane level, our third eye is connected to our ability to see ourselves clearly. It grounds our capacity for self-awareness – our ability to contemplate our own thoughts and actions, and to revisit them. In this way, it is also the center of self-inquiry practice, or any practice in which we inquire into the contents of our own consciousness, seeking to find its root and Source.
As you can see, our third eye is truly another organ of sight, opening our inner vision to all that our physical eyes cannot show us. We naturally connect with our third eye through almost any spiritual practice, but if you’d like to try a more formal third eye meditation, here is a simple one that anyone can use:
1.Sit comfortably with as straight a spine as possible. Take a few deep breaths to center and calm yourself.
2.If you like, use one finger to gently press and release on the third eye spot on your forehead a few times. If you are not sure of the location of your third eye, gently pressing like this, and focusing in on where you feel the most sensations, will often help you locate it.
3.Close your eyes and visualize a white sphere of light in this location. Each time your mind wanders, simply return your focus to the sphere of white light. If you see other colors, enjoy them for a moment, and then return to your visualization of the white light.
4.If the visualization of the white light is difficult for you, you can instead try imagining you are floating forward, out the front of your third eye, as if you are on a roller coaster in the dark. For some people this sense of moving forward helps open their third eye, and then you can try the white light visualization, or it might occur spontaneously.
5.If you feel any sensations in your third eye area, you can shift your focus to those instead. Some of us are more visual, while others are more physical and sense the chakras vibrationally, so honor however you connect with them. If you feel a sense of profound stillness or silence, surrender yourself into this experience, however long (or short!) it is.
6.When you are ready to complete your meditation, shift your focus down to your heart area for a few breaths. Then shift your awareness to the ground or chair you are sitting on, or wherever your feet or legs are touching the floor. This will help ground you again in your physical body, which is important after third eye meditation.
7.Honor yourself and your meditation however you like – with a small bow, prayer, chant or other expression of gratitude.
Feel free to post questions in the comments. May true seeing be yours this month!
Lisa is a meditation teacher, energy worker, writer, and mom to three. She loves helping people heal and explore the unseen aspects of themselves through chakra (energy center) meditation and related energy body work. She specializes in women's energetics - the distinct characteristics and phases of women's subtle bodies, and the special spiritual doorways available to women through their feminine divinity. In her work she draws on many diverse traditions, including Vajrayana Buddhism, Tantra, Zen, gnostic Christianity, shamanism, yoga, astrology, and several energy healing systems, most particularly the work of Cyndi Dale. She writes on all these subjects at her blog Mommy Mystic (http://www.MommyMystic.com), as well as writing regularly on Buddhism for Bellaonline (http://buddhism.bellaonline.com/Site.asp), where she is the Buddhism site editor. She offers classes, workshops and personal sessions through The Maat Institute (http://www.themaatinstitute.com.) Lisa's column here is entitled, "Women's Energetics
In the past year I have discovered meditation. I'm not very good at it, but I'm getting better and plan on mastering it. What if I had been taught to meditate as a child? How differently I imagine I would have handled myself in the world.
In just the short year or so I have been using it my love for myself and life has drastically changed. I use meditation at bedtime to help my daughter release the day and accept the night. She has not had one nightmare since we added this to our routine and I am so impressed with the smile and glow on her face once we're finished. I plan on encouraging her to do it more often throughout her days and life.
I think having her create her own meditation station will encourage her to be creative and excited about her time in meditation. I want to give her freedom to make her own space and give her the knowledge she needs to understand why it's an important routine.
I wrote this as I was brainstorming on how I could make this a fun experience that she would look forward to. And of course to remind her of how completely important her presence is no matter where she is or what she is doing. When my son is ready I hope he follows suit.
A calming crystal for clarity. A hand picked rock to ground thee. A picture of a waterfall to help our time here flow with ease.
A feather to ask our heavenly friends for protection. Praying hands to ask for guidance and direction.
A cross to ask our Christ to clear our conscious. A purple flower to remind us of beauty and encourage thoughts of bliss.
Our meditation station we have lovingly made. Now is our time to feel our way into a peaceful state.
We sit as still as a lotus As we use our breath to help us focus.
Peace and happiness we choose to exude As we sit in deep gratitude.
Clear our minds by letting our thoughts rest As we allow our bodies to enjoy deep cleansing breaths.
This space we have created within us Is to help us find what frees us and help us release what freezes us.
When our time here is finished Thoughts of fear will have been diminished And our love for ourselves and the day will be enhanced and replenished.
Pushing past life's limitations Using mindful meditations Creates inner peace which serves our entire nation.
Quieting our minds and listening to our souls Will help us step into our role and achieve our goal Of helping to mold a society that works towards love as a whole.
Your little soul made of gold wants you to know How to sparkle, dazzle, grow and glow.
Be sure to find time to quiet your mind So we can listen and learn how to express and live our purest divine.
Our meditation station is one more tool we can use To bless this world with new more loving views. Choose to know you. Choose to exude the love within you. If you do, a better world you will leave behind you. And all those you pass will have one more reason to smile and say thank you.
Danielle, in her own words: I am a young woman seeking out ways to help and heal my life. I am releasing my fears and worries to enlighten and lift my being in order to better myself, my children and the world around me. I am learning to be responsible for my energy and my contribution. I live in tiny town in the middle of Illinois on 2 beautiful sandy lakes surrounded by family. I have 14 beautiful healthy nieces and nephews and 2 amazingly bright children that help me to live life on the silly side. Children are so pure and free to be. They inspire me to let loose and live optimistically. Danielle writes the column "Buddha Babies." You can find Danielle on Facebook too. http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Blossoming-Buddha-Baby/246912155353686