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Reaching out for compassion

April 23, 2014 - 7:30am

At a weekend workshop I led, one of the participants, Marian, shared her story about the shame and guilt that had tortured her. Marian’s daughter Christy, in recovery for alcoholism, had asked her mother to join her in therapy. As their sessions unfolded, Christy revealed that she’d been sexually abused throughout her teen years by her stepfather, Marian’s second husband.

The words and revelations Marian heard that day pierced her heart. “You just slept through my whole adolescence!” her daughter had shouted. “I was being violated and had nowhere to turn! No one was there to take care of me!” Christy’s face was red; her hands clenched tight. “I was afraid to tell you then, and now I know why. You can’t handle the truth. You can’t handle me. You never could. I hate you!”

As she watched her daughter dissolve into heaving sobs, Marian knew that what she’d heard was true. She hadn’t been able to handle her daughter’s involvement with drugs, her clashes with teachers, or her truancy and suspensions from school, because she couldn’t handle anything about her own life.

At this point, compassion for herself was not only impossible, Marian was convinced it would have been wrong: the horror that Christy endured was her fault; she deserved to suffer.

We’ve all harmed others and felt as if we were bad because of our actions. When we, like Marian, face the truth that we’ve hurt others, sometimes severely, the feelings of guilt and shame can tear us apart. Even when the damage isn’t so great, some of us still feel undeserving of compassion or redemption.

At times like these, the only way to find compassion for ourselves is by reaching out to something larger than the self that feels so small and miserable. We might for instance take refuge by calling on the Buddha, Divine Mother, God, Jesus, Great Spirit, Shiva, or Allah – reaching towards a loving awareness that is great enough to offer comfort and safety to our broken being.

As a Catholic, Marian had found moments of deep peace and communion with a loving God. But, in her despair, she now felt alone in the universe. Sure, God existed, but she felt too sinful and wretched to reach out to him.

Fearing she might harm herself, Marian sought counsel from an elderly Jesuit priest she had known in college. After she’d wept and told him her story, he gently took one of her hands and began drawing a circle in the center of her palm. “This,” he said, “is where you are living. It’s painful—a place of kicking and screaming and deep, deep hurt. This place cannot be avoided, let it be.”

Then he covered her whole hand with his. “But, if you can, try also to remember this: there is a greatness, a wholeness that is the kingdom of God, and in this merciful space, your immediate life can unfold. This pain is held always in God’s love. As you know both the pain and the love, your wounds will heal.

Marian felt as if a great wave of compassion was pouring through the hands of the priest and gently bathing her, inviting her to surrender into its caring embrace. As she gave her desperation to it, she knew she was giving herself to the mercy of God. The more she let go, the more she felt held. Yes, she’d been blind and ignorant; she’d caused irreparable damage, but she wasn’t worthless, she wasn’t evil. Being held in the infinite compassion of God, she could find her way to her own heart.

Feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. Rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance. The priest wasn’t advising Marian to ignore the pain or to deny that she’d failed her daughter, but to open her heart to the love that could begin the healing.

Now, rather than being locked inside her tormenting thoughts, Marian could remember the possibility of compassion. When remorse or self-hatred would arise, she would mentally say, “Please hold this pain.” When she felt her anguish as being held by God, she could face it without being ripped apart or wanting to destroy herself.

Two weeks later, when she and her daughter met again in therapy, Marian admitted to Christy – still acting cold – that she knew she’d failed her terribly. Then, gently and carefully taking her daughter’s hand, Marian drew a soft circle in the center of her palm, and whispered the same words the priest had whispered to her.

Upon hearing these words, Christy allowed herself be held, wept, and surrendered into the unexpected strength and sureness of her mother’s love. There was no way either of them could bypass the raw pain of yet unhealed wounds, but now they could heal together. By reaching out and feeling held in God’s mercy, Marian had discovered the compassion that could hold them both.

Whenever we feel held by a caring presence, by something larger than our small frightened self, we too can begin to find room in our own heart for the fragments of our life, and for the lives of others. The suffering that might have seemed “too much” can now awaken us to the sweetness of compassion.

4 ways mindfulness meditation benefits so many conditions

April 23, 2014 - 6:14am

PsyBlog, Dr Jeremy Dean: Four central components of how mindfulness meditation works, psychological research finds.

With studies pouring in on the benefits of mindfulness, psychologists’ attention is turning to why mindfulness works, and the results are fascinating.

For example, mindfulness meditation has been shown to have therapeutic benefits in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, chronic pain and eating disorders.

Its benefits extend out to physical features like lower blood pressure and lower cortisol levels.

How is it that this type of practice can have these beneficial effects on such a broad range of conditions?

A recent study by Hölzel et al. (2011) finds four central …

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“Fearless at Work” by Michael Carroll

April 22, 2014 - 12:54pm

I jumped at the chance of reviewing ‘Fearless at Work’. A close workmate in my business died very suddenly before Christmas. She went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up. I miss her. My workload has temporarily doubled and I’m practising the art of muddling through, with a brain befuddled by shock and grief. So I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of ‘Fearless at Work’ in engaging with this particular phase of life.

The stated aim of this book is to draw on Buddhist philosophy and the practice of mindfulness in helping readers to become more confident and open to possibility in their work lives. Michael Carroll is the founding director of an organisation called ‘Aware at Work’, has held a number of executive positions and is a long-time student of Buddhism. In his words in the introduction, this book is about ‘sitting down and being still’ (original italics) and he refers frequently to ‘mindfulness-awareness practice’.

Title: Fearless at Work
Author: Michael Carroll
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 9781590309148
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

‘Fearless at Work’ is divided into five parts, with each themed part exploring various ‘slogans’ to reflect upon, memorize, apply the slogan at work each day and so on. Some of my favorites slogans, to give you a flavor, were: ‘Face the fierce facts of life’, ‘Lean in’, ‘Be vividly present’, ‘Where’s the edge?’ and ‘Be a spiritual fool’. Carroll points out how his development and use of slogans is inspired by the tradition ‘lojong’ or mind-training practices originating from Tibet in approximately the 12th century. In detailed appendices Carroll outlines what he calls his: ‘traditions of fearlessness’, including Kagyu-Nyingma meditative disciplines and Shambhala warrior practice.

Carroll’s writing style is passionate, conversational and sometimes entertaining. I really appreciated his overall message about living fearlessly:

“Distracting ourselves from a life we are afraid to live comes in many forms, some simple, some potent, some pathetic, others complex” (page 161);

“The slogan: “Where’s the edge?” reminds us that living in harmony is not about being free from conflict but about being free to live life fully” (page 44).

Having read this book, I’m left in little doubt that Carroll is a dedicated Buddhist student and most likely a very helpful and inspiring guide to many folk going through organizational change. He is clearly very passionate about his work and how he applies what he has learned from studying and practicing the Dharma: the teachings of the Buddha, as well as a number of other spiritual practices.

Yet I find I’m disappointed. Carroll indicates early on (page 7) that the book is based on a “simple, practical gesture: sitting down and being still”. Unfortunately very little of the content and method of this book reflects this intention. Carroll refers to ‘mindfulness-awareness’ practice throughout but omits to define what he means by this in the body of book, instead only including references to ‘traditions of fearlessness’ in the appendices. The reader is given no indication in the main body of the book what Carroll personally means by and practices in relationship to ‘mindfulness-awareness’ practice.

Carroll’s pace, tone and the sheer density of the book’s content doesn’t, in my mind, conduce to the contemplative practice which he invites in the book’s introduction. Many of his 38 slogans, explored throughout the five parts of the book, are more akin to sound-bites of his own thoughts, anecdotes and examples, rather than an invitation to the reader to reflect upon their lived experience or draw very deeply on practical workplace examples.

It’s not immediately clear to me why the book is entitled ‘Fearless at Work’. Much of this content applies to life in general, rather than just life at work. The examples and anecdotes which do refer to work seem to be largely based upon work in the corporate world, so I imagine Carroll is writing with this readership in mind. I have to admit that by two-thirds of the way through the book I started to lose interest. Not because Carroll doesn’t have interesting and important things to say, but because of the slogan structure and content. The clarity with which he explains each slogan is variable and pithy to the point of sometimes not quite saying enough for me to fully understand his point. In the end the book felt more like a slogan ‘shopping list’ than an invitation to reflect on work, life and practice. In this sense, it didn’t much resemble what I know of the flavour of traditional ‘lojong’ practice, even though that was his original inspiration.

Learning each of the slogans didn’t encourage me to want to sit down and reflect on them, although I did give that a go. I didn’t find them especially potent and inspiring, as advertised on the back cover. He includes Dharmic ideas but often these are not sufficiently ‘unpacked’ to throw light on each of his slogans. On occasions I found his slogans interesting, poignant and entertaining, but not particularly conducive to contemplating fearlessness. I had one or two ‘aha’ moments, so all was not lost, but this isn’t a book I would hurry to recommend. I found one of his others — ‘The Mindful Leader: Ten Principles for Bringing Out the Best in Ourselves and Others’ — much more helpful and better-written.

In his introduction, Carroll emphasises that sitting down and being still sounds easy but is ‘exquisitely demanding’. To my mind he misses an opportunity in this book. Had he expanded some of the content of Part II ‘Taming the mind’ and a few of the other chapters from Parts III and IV — which are aimed more directly at helping readers to create the conditions for both effective meditation practice and life at work — the book would have unfolded more closely in line with his stated aim. Had there been a little less breadth and more depth with more emphasis upon meditation practice, the book would certainly have helped me with the exquisitely demanding work of being still amidst work pressures and feeling fear. As it stands, for my personal taste at least, this book has a few design faults and doesn’t touch in closely enough to the Dharma.

Does meditation have health benefits?

April 22, 2014 - 7:55am

Fred Cicetti, LiveScience.com: Meditation definitely reduces stress. And too much stress is bad for your health.

There is some research that indicates meditation may help with: Allergies, anxiety, asthma, binge eating, cancer, depression, fatigue, heart disease, high blood pressure, pain, sleep difficulties and substance abuse.

I started meditating in 1976, when Dr. Herbert Benson published his book, “The Relaxation Response.”

The techniques he advocated work. In the years since, I’ve found that, when I forget to meditate, I get a stress buildup. As soon as I meditate, I feel better. And the effects of the meditation carry through the day.

I studied Zen Buddhist …

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Meditation improves productivity

April 18, 2014 - 7:14am

Beth Taylor, PayScale.com: When we think of meditation, we may think of relaxation, breathing, and emptying the mind of stressful thoughts. It may be surprising to learn that the act of quiet meditation increases mental acuity and makes us more productive at work. Instead of meditation emptying our minds, it actually helps fill them with improved concentration and creativity.

Psychology Today reports on a plethora of benefits from including meditation in your routine. Decreasing stress is one, and improving physical health is another. Some of the benefits, however, are directly related to work productivity.

Improved Attention
A study published in 2007 found that after …

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Is the “self” real?

April 17, 2014 - 12:53pm

Is the “Self” real? What’s the nature of the sense of being that remains when parts of the psyche fall away?

The answer depends on how you define “Self.” I use that word to refer to the central “I” that’s presumed in Western psychology and philosophy (and everyday usage) to be the owner of experiences and agent of actions, and which is defined and constituted by three attributes: unification (there’s just one “I”), permanence (the “I” stays the same, things happen to it but it doesn’t change), and independence (the “I” is just there, an innate part of the psyche, not created by anything, and fundamentally not dependent on anything [other than a brain] for its existence).

The facts that these three attributes that presumably constitute an “I” – unification, permanence, and independence – cannot be found in one’s own experience, nor in the neural processes that underlie I-related activations or representations in the brain. The actual experience of “I” is made up of parts (not unified), continually changing (not enduring), and affected by many factors (not independent; much the same has been seen in neuroimaging studies. (Check out these two papers: Is Self Special? and What Is Self-Specific?)

To use the language of Buddhism, the apparent “I” is empty: without substantial, essential nature; both phenomenologically and ontologically, the presumed “me, myself, and I” is empty. If you like, check out my book, Buddha’s Brain, whose last chapter is about this subject.

In general I think that we can have and value all sorts of experiences of witnessing, integration, beingness, spacious awareness, etc., while also recognizing that these experiences (and their dynamic neural substrates) are compounded, transient, and dependently arising . . . and thus empty of essence. Like others I’m sure, I’m leery of reifying or substantiating dynamic and insubstantial processes – even vital ones, such as the executive functions, subjectivity (ipseity), or the encompassing awareness that remains when the “parts” step back – into an entity, a being, a self . . . because this is when trouble and suffering begins, when we identify with and try to protect and glorify such an entity.

Try meditation for anxiety relief

April 17, 2014 - 10:40am

Dr. Eddy Lang and Dr. Zoe Oliver, Edmonton Journal: This viable alternative approach has little downside, study shows.

Glenda is a 52-year-old woman who has recently experienced a divorce. She has not slept or eaten properly for months. In turn, her work and relationships have been affected. Her thoughts were scattered and her irritability was raising eyebrows among her co-workers.

Generally averse to taking medicines, Glenda asked her doctor if there was something “that didn’t involve a poke or a pill” that could help her better cope with her developing anxiety problem. While advertisements might have you believe that antidepressant or antianxiety drugs …

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Bringing accountability to your practice

April 16, 2014 - 1:46pm

I’m just getting over a bad habit relating to meditation that’s plagued me for over thirty years.

It was reading a blog post on developing good writing habits that helped me. The idea came from Brett Cooper who, like me, found that he tended to write in fits and starts, with long periods of non-writing, followed by spurts of intense production.

Two ideas came to his rescue. The first was that he realized he needed to establish “a small, non-threatening daily writing habit,” and that a goal of 100 words a day was innocuous enough to be doable.

The second idea was the realization that he needed accountability. Left to our own devices, it can be all too easy to let ourselves off too easily. So he found a friend who agreed to be his “100 words accountability partner.” The partner doesn’t have to comment on the writing or even read it. She just has to give Brett a hard time if she doesn’t receive at least 100 words of writing each day.

As it happens I had my writers’ group meeting the day after reading Brett’s article, and so I proposed that I undertook the same two practices. So two of the people in my group agreed to be my accountability partner, and I theirs. Now each of us is emailing the other two at least 100 words a day.

It’s worked great. 100 words is such a non-intimidating target that I find it easy to sit down to write, and I inevitably end up writing well over 100 words. At this rate I’ll be adding a chapter to my novel every two weeks or so. And this is after several months of producing nothing. It’s a big turn-around.

Now, when it comes to meditation, I’ve been meditating daily for a long time. I’ve hardly missed a day in the last two years or so. But my sits have at times become very short — sometimes just five or ten sleepy minutes at the end of the day. And although it’s better to do five or ten sleepy minutes than to do nothing, that’s far from ideal. Five minutes was supposed to be an emergency provision for those days when I genuinely didn’t have time for a longer sit, but it threatened to become my default. It’s as if I hit 100 words and then stopped in mid-sentence.

The bit that was missing from my meditation practice was accountability. This is where my long-standing bad meditation habit comes in; I’ve always resisted accountability.

I’ve often resisted meditating with others, or following set schedules, or even using apps like the Insight Timer, which announces to other app users how much meditation you’ve done. I think the reason I’ve resisted these things is that I’ve wanted to be sure that my desire to meditate was coming from me, and not from a desire to fit in, or to gain acceptance from others, or to show off. And while it’s good to want to meditate because it’s what I really want to do, I think that habit has long outlived its usefulness. It’s led to what’s almost a kind of secretiveness about how much meditation I’m doing, and that’s not good. Bad habits flourish in the dark.

So I decided that as well as my commitment to daily meditation practice (with an emergency fall-back position of five minutes a day) I needed a commitment to sharing what I do, so that I hold myself accountable. So on Wildmind’s community on Google+, I’ve been sharing how long I’ve been sitting, and what I’ve been doing.

This has already made a difference. When I meditate in the evening, which is often the first opportunity I have to meditate, I’m sitting earlier rather than later, when I’m often tired. I’m sitting for longer. And I’m being more mindful of the effort I make in my practice.

And the great thing is that I still have the feeling that I’m doing all this for me, not to please other people, so that fear has gone. I’m glad to have left that old habit in the past, where it belongs.

New trend: meditation studios

April 15, 2014 - 10:23am

There’s a new studio opening this week in Santa Monica where clients can come in and…sit. Unplug Meditation’s only offerings are 45-minute meditation classes, each led by an instructor who guides students through sessions as they sit on padded cushions. It’s designed to be like a cycling studio, offering nearly-identical classes on the hour, every hour, so busy adults can choose one that fits their schedule and then get on with their day.

While Unplug Meditation is unique in its meditation-only focus, yoga studios and spiritual centers in cities across the country are increasingly offering meditation classes or time slots where you can …

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Telomeres for life

April 14, 2014 - 7:16am

KUSA, 9News.com: Which choice are you most likely to make: you have had a stressful day, the drive home was challenging to say the least, and you aren’t craving steamed broccoli – more like an entire bag of potato chips. When you finally get home do you grab a glass of grape derived “medicine” and plop down in front of the news or take a seat on your meditation cushion and center yourself? Opting for meditation over marinating in stress hormones may help you to live longer and stronger.

The “fountain of youth” can flow when you are under the influence of meditation …

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4 ways to meditate during your day

April 11, 2014 - 8:05am

Herald Sun: Finding time to relax and close your eyes isn?t always possible. Fear not – you can do these four meditations anywhere, no shut-eye required.

1. In the shower: Waterfall meditation
Waterfall meditation Shinto priests use the cold crashing force of waterfalls in purification rituals. This is a far more pleasant version.

How to do it:

Adjust the water to your ideal temperature. Take a few deep breaths and set your intention to use this time to meditate. Feel the water on your head and dripping down onto your shoulders, arms, torso, legs and feet. Become mindful of the scent and texture of the …

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Feel Whole

April 9, 2014 - 1:32pm

When I look back on mistakes I’ve made – like dumping my anger on someone, making assumptions in haste, partying too much, losing my nerve, being afraid to speak from my heart – in all cases a part of me had taken over. You know what I mean. The parts of us that have a partial view, are driven by one aim, clamp down on other parts, really want to have a particular experience or to eat/drink/smoke a particular molecule, yammer away critically, or hold onto resentments toward others.

The mega part – the big boss – is of course the inner executive, the decision-maker and driver – some call it the ego – centered in neural circuits in the prefrontal cortex, behind your forehead. This part is determined to a fault, running things top down, ignoring bottom-up signals of growing fatigue, irritability, burnout, and issues with others. It draws on and gets wrapped up in the sequential, action-planning, language processing parts of you that are based in regions in the left side of your brain. (The statements here about sides of the brain are reversed for about half of all left-handed people.) Meanwhile, the boss part shames, disowns, and suppresses other parts of you, especially those that are softer, more vulnerable, and younger.

But when you open to the whole of your experience, you have more information and can make better decisions. You perceive more fully, seeing the big picture, putting things in perspective. You free up energy that was spent pushing down your real feelings. You tune into your body, your heart. You’re less fixed or attached in your views. You recognize the good things in you and around you that you’d tuned out. You feel more supported, more protected. You take things less personally.

You feel at home in yourself.

Awareness is like a big stage upon which lots of sights, sounds, tastes, touches, smells, thoughts, feelings, memories, and wants pop up for a bit and then pass away. All this is in your consciousness, but mainly in the background. The spotlight of attention bounces around the stage, lighting up one thing after another.

In the practices that follow, you are going to widen the spotlight – the field of attention – to include more and more of the whole stage. This draws on networks on the sides of your brain, mainly on the right side, because it is specialized for holistic processing, for taking things as a whole, as a gestalt. By doing these little practices repeatedly when you have a moment of quiet, you will stimulate and therefore strengthen the neural networks that support feeling whole, so that you can sustain that sense of wholeness even when the oatmeal hits the fan.

Here we go.

For a dozen seconds or longer, be aware of all the sounds around you. Let them be what they are, lasting or changing. Disengage from inner verbal commentary about them; stay with the experience of sounds as a whole. Notice how this feels: probably more relaxed and at ease.

Soften your gaze and be aware of sights around you, the visual field as a whole. Explore lifting your gaze toward the horizon, which will tend to activate neural networks that process sights in a more global, I’m-integrated-with-the-whole-world way. (See James Austin’s book, Selfless Insight, for more on this.)

For a dozen seconds or longer, be aware of the sensations of breathing in the front of your chest, around your heart . . . aware of this area as a whole. Then be aware of your whole chest breathing, including the stomach, diaphragm, rib cage, and back. Take the whole chest as a single, unified gestalt, rather than attention skittering from one sensation in it to another. Then broaden attention further to include the sensations of air moving down your throat . . . your hips and shoulders and head shifting slightly with each breath . . . sensations around your nose and upper lip . . . gradually taking the whole body as the unified object of attention . . . abiding as a whole body breathing. Notice how this feels; let the feeling of this sink in again and again so that you can come home to this way of being more easily in the future.

And you can take it a step further, with the sensations of breathing coming together with sounds and sights, these perceptions experienced as a single whole, all known together globally, nothing left out, breath after breath.

Also – resting in some sense of ease with yourself, try opening to the emotions you may have pushed away. Can you let them come up, and flow through you? Then try opening to longings you may have pushed away, opening to needs or vulnerabilities that’ve been silenced or set aside. Welcome these various emotions and longings into awareness. You don’t have to act upon them. In fact, by welcoming them you will make them feel more at home – so they will become less insistent or strident – and you will feel more at home in yourself.

With moments of practice that add up over time, you will feel more like a whole person, less fragmented and partial, less yanked this way and that by competing desires in your head. As this happens, you will feel more fed and fulfilled and thus less defended, less separated from others, less a part – and more connected, more entwined with the world as whole.

Notice how this feels, probably safer, more contented, and more loved and loving. Let it sink in again and again.

At home in wholeness.

The mainstreaming of mindfulness meditation

April 9, 2014 - 8:12am

Frances Weaver, TheWeek.com: Stressed-out Americans, from war veterans to Google workers, are embracing mindfulness meditation. Does it really work?

Why is mindfulness so popular?
It appeals to people seeking an antidote to life in work-obsessed, tech-saturated, frantically busy Western culture. There is growing scientific evidence that mindfulness meditation has genuine health benefits — and can even alter the structure of the brain, so the technique is drawing some unlikely devotees. Pentagon leaders are experimenting with mindfulness to make soldiers more resilient, while General Mills has installed a meditation room in every building of its Minneapolis campus. Even tech-obsessed Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are using …

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Mindfulness in policing

April 7, 2014 - 7:07am

Rebecca Woolington, OregonLive.com: Since last spring, the Hillsboro Police Department has offered mindfulness-based training to build resiliency in officers.

The three, nine-week courses have cost the city about $18,000, said Hillsboro Lt. Richard Goerling, one of the program’s creators. Each round comes with a $5,800 bill for the instructor, and some officer time is included in the overall cost.

The department has tentatively budgeted $30,000 for mindfulness training next fiscal year.

About a third of the department’s officers have participated in the Mindfulness-Based Resilience Training. The course was created by Goerling; Brant Rogers, a mindfulness instructor at Yoga Hillsboro; and Michael Christopher, a psychology professor at …

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Why another book on recovery?

April 6, 2014 - 9:06pm

During the past few years we have seen several authors like Kevin Griffin, Tom Catton and Noah Levine publish books about recovery. They are making the rounds in the recovery community. This year three new books have come onto the market, Scot Kiloby’s Natural Rest for Addiction: A Revolutionary Way to Recover Through Presence, Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings to Overcome Addiction by myself and Dr Paramabandhu Groves, and in June Noah Levine’s Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Overcoming Addiction will hit the streets.

Not so long ago there was only the Big Book, of 12 step recovery, and it was a book that was in the closet. Nobody went public about it, unless of course you were in the fellowship, but these new books have brought addiction and recovery far more out into the open. You can walk into somebody’s front room and see some of these books lying on the coffee table. Once upon a time the only places to get recovery were in the rooms of 12 step meetings or psychiatric treatment offered by the doctor. Now we have Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention, Mindfulness Based Addiction recovery courses, Self Management And Recovery Training (SMART), Scot Kiloby’s Living inquiry for addiction, Noah Levine’s recovery program, Eight Step Recovery, and Buddhist versions of the traditional 12 steps that were originated by Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I often hear people saying: ‘I’m shopping around, there is so much out there to choose from’. I believe that is a good thing, because although 12 steps has saved many peoples lives, and saved families too, it has not worked for everyone. These new books or recovery programs are not a panacea either; they will not work for everyone. But we live in a climate where we recognise that people have different learning styles and needs, and hopefully, people who are looking for a way out of their misery will find something in one of these newer recovery approaches on offer.

We identified eight steps in our book, because steps have a venerable historical tradition in Buddhism. One of the main texts in Buddhism is called the Dhammapada. The etymology of the word Dhammapada actually means steps of the Dharma or more commonly interpreted as verses of the Dharma. Statues of the Buddha are recent symbols of the Buddha. Once upon a time it was a tree, or a turning wheel, and many other symbols, including two footprints carved into the earth, into wood or clay. These footprints were a metaphor for the Buddha walking out into the world and spreading his teachings. We do know that the Buddha walked throughout India teaching the Dharma.

Our book is by no means a short cut to recovery, or the fast track route, and we haven’t forgotten the other four steps, as some people have suggested. It’s just that the teachings we took from the Dharma fell neatly into eight steps. Plus the shorter the list, the more memorable, and hopefully the more manageable it will be to work through. However each step covers many teachings, so take your time in reading.

Are we competing with 12 steps? No most definitely not. We hope to compliment what is already out there. People in the 12 step community often are looking to understand step 11, they are wanting to have a deeper connection with meditation, prayer and a God of their understanding. However one thing that the 12 step offers is a community specifically for people in recovery. This is something that those of us who are introducing new approaches do need to think about. Yes we can offer the Buddhist community, or other spiritual and self development communities, but are these doors open to somebody who has hit bottom, for somebody who is in a life-and-death crisis? 12 steps does, and offers one-to-one sponsorship, which is crucial part to the 12 step recovery process.

Community is something that all of us authors and pioneers in the recovery community do need to think about. How are we going to support people who walk through the door who are clearly under the influence of an intoxicant? How can we best serve these people? My approach to date, is to send them along to a 12 step meeting, and insist they only have to be clean on the day they arrive, or not using in that moment they walk through our Buddhist sangha doors. You could say this is their actual first step. Community is important, it’s what most of us place at the center of our lives. So if we want to recover from addiction, we need a community that is in recovery at the centre of our lives, to help us on our recovery path.

How to use the book has been a question asked by many. Throughout this year, I will begin to explore each step, and ways that you can use the book in groups, or by yourself. Meanwhile, dive in, and see if there is anything in the book that resonates for you. We hope to see some of you at our launches throughout the year. This month we are in Goderich, Toronto, Guelph and Edmonton. Look at our our Facebook page for updates.

Eight Step Recovery is out now: Eight Step Recovery – Order your book now

Or try a free sample – For a free sample chapter of Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction please email: [email protected]

Could stress make hay fever worse?

April 3, 2014 - 7:57am

Emma Innes, Daily Mail: Meditation and breathing exercises could be key to relieving allergy flare-ups.

Hay fever and other allergies could be made worse by stress, new research suggests. As a result, meditation and breathing exercises could be the key to relieving allergy flare-ups by reducing tension, scientists claim. And even though sneezing and coughing cause stress, it is now thought that flare-ups could be triggering a self-perpetuating cycle of stress and sneezing.

Dr Amber Patterson, from the Ohio State University Medical Centre, said: ‘Stress can cause several negative effects on the body, including causing more symptoms for allergy flares also have a…

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Research method integrates meditation, science

April 2, 2014 - 10:38am

Medical Xpress: Mindfulness is always personal and often spiritual, but the meditation experience does not have to be subjective. Advances in methodology are allowing researchers to integrate mindfulness experiences with brain imaging and neural signal data to form testable hypotheses about the science—and the reported mental health benefits—of the practice.

A team of Brown University researchers, led by junior Juan Santoyo, will present their research approach at 2:45 p.m on Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the 12th Annual International Scientific Conference of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Their methodology employs a structured coding of the reports meditators provide about …

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Intention of harmlessness

April 2, 2014 - 7:59am

This is a broad aim of not causing pain, loss, or destruction to any living thing. At a minimum, this is a sweeping resolution to avoid any whit of harm to another human being. The implications are far-reaching, since most of us participate daily in activities whose requirements or ripples may involve harm to others (e.g., use of fossil fuels that warms the planet, purchasing goods manufactured in oppressive conditions).

Further, in American culture there is a strong tradition of rugged individualism in which as long as you are not egregiously forceful or deceitful, “let the buyer beware” on the other side of daily transactions. But if your aim is preventing any harm, then the other person’s free consent does not remove your responsibility.

Taking it a step further, to many, harmlessness means not killing bothersome insects, rodents, etc. Even as you feel the mosquito sticking its needle into your neck. And to many, harmlessness means eating a vegetarian diet (and perhaps forgoing milk products, since cows need to have calves to keep their milk production flowing, and half of those calves are male, who will eventually be slaughtered for food).

Nonetheless, we need to realize that there is no way to avoid all harms to other beings that flow inexorably through our life. If we are to eat, we must kill plants, and billions of bacteria die each day as we pass wastes out of our bodies. If we get hired for a job, that means another person will not be.
But what we can do is to have a sincere aspiration toward harmlessness, and to reduce our harms to an absolute minimum. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Decide on love

April 2, 2014 - 7:00am

Jeff was convinced he’d fallen out of love with his wife, Arlene, and that nothing could salvage their twenty-six-year marriage. He wanted relief from the oppressiveness of feeling continually judged and found wanting. Arlene, for her part, was hurt and angry because she felt Jeff avoided any real communication or emotional intimacy. As a last-ditch effort, she convinced him to attend a weekend workshop for couples sponsored by their church. Much to their surprise, they both left with a glimmer of hope for their future together. The message they took away was “Love is a decision.” Their guides at the workshop had insisted that while we don’t always feel loving, love is here should we choose to awaken it.

Yet, back at home, when their old styles of attacking and defending were triggered, deciding on love seemed like an ineffectual mental maneuver. Discouraged, Jeff sought me out for a counseling session. “I don’t know how to get from point A to point B,” he declared. “Like when we were together yesterday . . . my mind told me to decide on love, but that didn’t make a difference . . . my heart was in lockdown. Arlene was blaming me for something, and all I wanted to do was get away from her!”

“Let’s take another look at what happened yesterday,” I suggested, then invited him to close his eyes, put himself back into the situation, and let go of his notions of who was right or wrong. “Just let yourself experience what it’s like in your body to feel blamed and want to get away.” Jeff sat still, his face tightening into a grimace. “Keep allowing the feelings to be there,” I said, “and find out what unfolds.”

Gradually, his face softened. “Now I’m feeling stuck and sad,” he said. “We spend so much time caught in this. I withdraw, often without knowing it . . . that hurts her . . . she gets upset . . . then I very consciously want to get away. It’s sad to be so trapped.”

He looked up at me. I nodded with understanding. “What would it be like, Jeff, if instead of pulling away during this kind of encounter, you were able to let her know exactly what you were experiencing?” Then I added, “And if she, too, without accusing you of anything, were able to report on her feelings?”

“We’d have to know what we were feeling!” he said with a small laugh. “We’re usually too busy reacting.”

“Exactly!” I said. “You’d both have to be paying attention to what’s going on inside you. And that runs counter to our conditioning. When we’re emotionally stirred up, we’re lost in our stories about what’s happening, and caught in reflexive behaviors—like blaming the other person or finding a way to leave. That’s why we need to train ourselves to pay attention, so that we’re not at the mercy of our conditioning.”

I went on to explain how the practice of meditation cultivates our capacity for presence, for directly contacting our real, moment-to-moment experience. This gives us more inner space and creativity in responding—rather than reacting—to our circumstances. When I suggested that he and Arlene might consider coming to my weekly meditation class, he readily agreed. They were both there the following Wednesday night, and a month later, they attended a weekend meditation retreat I was leading.

Some weeks after the retreat, the three of us spoke briefly after class. Arlene said that thanks to their meditation practice, they were learning how to decide on love: “We have to choose presence with each other, over and over and over,” she told me. “We have to choose presence when we’re angry, presence when we aren’t in the mood to listen, presence when we’re alone and running the same old stories about how the other is wrong. Choosing presence is our way of opening our hearts.”

Jeff nodded his agreement. “I realized that it’s not about getting from point A to point B,” he said with a smile. “It’s about bringing a full presence to point A, to the life of this moment, no matter what’s going on. The rest unfolds from there.”

Taking refuge in presence—choosing presence—requires training. When “point A” is unpleasant, the last thing we want to do is to stay and feel our experience. Rather than entrusting ourselves to the waves of experience, we want to get away, lash out, numb ourselves, do anything but touch what’s real. Yet, as Jeff and Arlene were realizing, these types of false refuges keep us feeling small and defended.

As I explore in my upcoming course on cultivating more conscious, vibrant relationships, only by deepening our attention and letting life be just as it is can we find real intimacy with ourselves and others. In more than thirty-five years of teaching meditation, I’ve seen it help countless people to deepen their capacity for loving, because if we are able to stay present, we can decide on love, and give it the space and attention it needs to ignite fully. When you are next in a conflict with a dear one, you might inquire, “What would it mean to decide on love? Can I commit to deepening presence for the sake of love?” Just the inquiry will draw you closer to your heart.

Treating chronic pain with meditation

April 1, 2014 - 11:03am

Brian Steiner, The Atlantic: In some cases, the holistic practice could replace narcotics. Integrating meditation into regular treatment could significantly cut healthcare costs.

Sarah Kehoe tried Aleve for her back pain. She tried stretching. She tried yoga. She tried forgetting about it. She tried pain patches. She tried acupuncture. A shot of painkillers into her back. Prescription anti-inflammatory pain patches. Opiates. Surgery. Physical therapy. Heat and compresses. Ignoring it again. Steroids. More opiates. Acupuncture again. She couldn’t sit, stand up straight, lie down on her back. She was weak, had lost muscle tone. She fainted on the subway. Sarah Kehoe, an otherwise healthy …

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