If you are anything like me, you spend a good deal of time interacting with other people. Is it possible to integrate meditation in your interaction with others, and if so, what does it feel like? The attitude cultivated in meditation is one of openness, softness, and spaciousness. You can focus on the other person just like any other focus of meditation. This means that you are not focussing on something else, which is actually exceedingly rare these days. This in itself is already a large gift to the person you interact with, because we really see the other person, and don't we all spend a large portion of our time trying to be seen?
From the perspective of science, there is no inherent reason for the human mind to have an underlying owner or "self." The brain, the physical structure that creates consciousness and 'the mind,' exists only to provide centralized control over the body, ensuring our survival; it's comprised of numerous subsystems that allow us to engage safely with the world—eg those regions that warn us of threats; others that alert us to opportunities; faculties that monitor body states; systems that process spatial awareness and on. No region can be found via scans or neural anatomy that could feasibly produce a lasting "self." And if consciousness exists to address conflicting impulses and to integrate subsystems, its without doubt an event that changes fluidly over time.
In addition to the First Mindfulness conference in Europe that I blogged about a little while ago, this year hosted another first: the European Symposium for Contemplative Studies organized by Mind & Life in Europe. This symposium took place in Berlin and its theme was the role of contemplative practice in relieving suffering for individuals and society.
Whether we're long-term meditators or just getting started, we invest time out of our day to meditate because we believe or have experienced that meditation has benefits. Some of us may experience this as increased focus, others as decreased stress. What we may not be aware of, however, is the extent of the benefits that meditation can have. Recent scientific research shows that it can improve both our physical and mental health in surprising and significant ways. Not only can it sharpen our attention skills and lower our stress - as we would expect - but it can also boost our memory, increase our feelings of happiness, make us more compassionate to others, strengthen our immune function and make us more resilient! It even has the capacity to change our brain structure in beneficial ways. Of course, many of us know there is a certain intangible aspect to meditation that research may never be able to fully capture. However, the growing field of meditation research provides sufficient data to keep us inspired to continue with our daily practice! Below is an info graphic that summarizes some of the benefits research is showing:
Sitting to meditate at home a few days ago, I found tears pouring down my face. Pouring. Flowing freely. Yet no distress. Just lots of tears.
I had just learnt that Mark, a delightful young doctor from Hong Kong had succumbed to the same cancer I used to have. So what were the tears? Common grief? Sadness? Despair? Self identification?
Maybe. But actually most came courtesy of a profound insight. An insight you may well also value.
But first, consider this
Of all the sad things I see
The worst of it
Is the fear of death
Clifford Saron, PhD at UC Davis, is a pioneer of Meditation Scientific research. His ambitious Shamatha Project where they randomly assigned 60 healthy people with prior meditation experience to an intensive 3-month meditation retreat or a control group.
What many people might not know is that Dr. Saron is a meditator himself. At the Buddhsim and Medicine Forum, I asked him if being a meditator influences him as a scientist. He proceeded to give a fascinating account of crucial events from his childhood up to the present day have contributed to his work.
In the fast paced world we live in, distraction is everywhere: TV, advertisements, billboards, mobile phones, tablets, magazines, computers, the internet, cereal boxes... EVERYWHERE!
In my case, if I don’t meditate first thing in the morning and leave it for later, that’s it, it just doesn’t happen.
“Ok, I’ll just check my emails quickly... Oh wait, I need to reply to that email urgently... What’s new on Facebook... Oh, look a funny video... I’m hungry now... I’ll just send that email, then I promise I’ll meditate... Wait, did I pay that bill... I just do this very quickly and then I will meditate 20 minutes...”
Many meditation retreats, such as the well-known 10-day vipassana retreats consist not only of sitting meditation but also include frequent periods of walking meditation. To the bystander these walking meditations look something like zombie apocalypse--making them not immediately suitable for practising them in daily life. But you can adapt these methods to make the times you are getting from one place to the other be moments of sanity in your otherwise busy day.
Born in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1924 to Indian parents and raised in a devout Hindu household, Goenka was a successful businessman. In 1955 he met the Vipassana teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin who he studied and trained under for the next fourteen years.