Becoming aware of your inner dialogue

Begin this meditation by paying attention to your thoughts. After several minutes, notice what the voices inside your head are telling you. (If you're not aware of any voices, you may want to observe feelings or images instead.) Does one voice predominate, or do several voices vie for your attention Do they criticize or encourage you Shame or praise you Or do they focus primarily on the other people in your life Do any of the voices argue with one another What kind of emotional tone do these...

Bypassing

Just as you can hide out from life's problems, you can also use meditation as a convenient way to avoid facing deeper psychological and emotional issues. Particularly if you develop strong concentration, you can focus on your breath or some other object of meditation while actively suppressing unpleasant or unspiritual feelings. I know people who, after many years of meditation in monasteries or ashrams, finally discover that they're literally sitting on a lifetime of unresolved grief,...

Guru yoga Tibetan devotional practice

For the Tibetan Buddhist practitioner, the root teacher, or guru, embodies the wisdom and compassion of all the enlightened beings throughout space and time. By invoking the guru and fervently praying with uncontrived devotion, in the words of the great contemporary master Dudjom Rinpoche (quoted in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche), after a while the direct blessing of the wisdom mind of the master will be transmitted, empowering you with a unique realization, beyond...

Improving your life

Imagine for a moment that your life's a mess and you're struggling to get it together so you take up the practice of meditation. You figure meditation will teach you the concentration and self-discipline you need to succeed. Or maybe you have a difficult time in relationships, and you want to calm your mind and even out the emotional rollercoaster so you're not constantly in conflict with others. Perhaps you suffer from some chronic illness and hope that the regular practice of meditation will...

Focusing on your breath

Compared to surfing the Net or catching a movie on HBO, watching your breath may seem like a boring way to spend your spare time. The fact is, the media have conditioned us to be stimulation junkies by flooding our senses with computerized images and synthesized sounds that change at laserlike speed. Recently, I heard the head of an ad agency brag about how his latest TV spot bombarded the viewer with six images per second far faster than the conscious mind could possibly register them. By...

Meditation at the edge of life

Many teachers have written about the powerful role meditation can play in helping people bridge the chasm between life and death. In fact, some traditions, like Zen Buddhism, teach that one of the primary purposes of meditation practice is to prepare you for the ultimate transition. Certainly, most traditions would agree that how you live helps to determine how you die. (For example, if you tend to be fearful or angry in life, then you're likely to be fearful or angry at death. And if you tend...

Meditation in Judaism Drawing closer to

According to Rami Shapiro, rabbi of Temple Beth Or in Miami, Florida, and author of Wisdom of the Jewish Sages, mystical interpreters of the Bible have found evidence of meditation dating back to Abraham, the founder of Judaism. The Old Testament prophets apparently entered into altered states of consciousness through fasting and ascetic practices, and mystics in the first few centuries A.D. meditated on a vision of the prophet Ezekiel. But the first formal Jewish meditation, says Shapiro,...

Meditation Reduces Cholesterol Levels

Although diet and heredity can certainly make you more susceptible to elevated cholesterol, research has shown that chronic stress plays an important role as well. So it makes good sense that practicing an effective stress-management technique like meditation would lower your cholesterol levels. Well, a pioneering study in the Journal of Human Stress (Cooper and Aygen, 1979) proves that it does just that Twenty-three subjects with hypercholesterolemia (just a fancy word for very high...

Using Meditation for Healing and Performance Enhancement

Benefiting from recent advances in mind-body medicine Exploring the many ways that meditation supports the healing process Using light, imagery, sound, and breath to facilitate healing Checking out the meditation skills that help you do your personal best Meditating your way to more successful performance f you practice the basic meditations taught elsewhere in this book (especially Chapter 6), you may begin to notice that your health gradually improves (even if you think you're already...

Resistance to the Way things are

Most of us struggle unhappily to get what we believe we need in order to be happy, while ignoring or actively disliking what we already have. Now, don't get me wrong I'm not suggesting that you just sit back passively and do nothing to improve your life. But as one of my teachers used to say, the secret to improving your life is first to accept things just the way they are which is precisely what the practice of meditation can teach. In particular, resistance to the way things are usually comes...

The myth of the perfect life

In my years as a psychotherapist and meditation teacher, I've noticed that many people suffer because they compare their lives to some idealized image of how life is supposed to be. Cobbled together from childhood conditioning, media messages, and personal desires, this image lurks in the shadows and becomes the standard to which every success or failure, every circumstance or turn of events, is compared and judged. Take a moment to check out yours. Perhaps you've spent your life struggling to...

Native American meditation

When I describe the Americanization of meditation, I'm revealing my cultural bias. Clearly, Native Americans have been meditating here for tens of thousands of years. In addition to shamans, who play a special role in the life of the tribe (see the sidebar Shamans The first great meditators), Native American boys and girls often mark the transition from childhood to adulthood by spending three or four days meditating alone in a sacred spot. By fasting, praying, focusing their minds, and opening...

Working with your mind at first

Right now, the whole notion of working with your mind may seem totally incomprehensible. After all, thoughts may fill your head like fog, and you can't see even the faintest trace of blue sky beyond them. The good news is, you don't have to pay any attention to your mind, at least initially. Just keep following your breath, and when you become lost in thought, which you will no doubt do again and again, gently come back. The point is not to stop your mind an impossible task in any case but to...

Christian meditation Practicing contemplative prayer

The Christian equivalent of meditation, known as contemplative prayer, dates back to Jesus himself, who fasted and prayed in the desert for 40 days and nights. In contemplation, says Father Thomas Keating, whose centering prayer has helped revitalize interest in Christian meditation, you open your awareness and your heart to God, the ultimate mystery, who dwells in the depths of your being, beyond the reach of the mind. (See the Centering prayer sidebar for more about the practice taught by...

Early Buddhism The roots of mindfulness meditation

The historical Buddha was a Hindu prince who, according to the traditional account, renounced his luxurious life to find answers to the mystery of suffering, old age, and death. After practicing asceticism and yoga for many years, he decided that rejecting the world and mortifying the flesh would not lead to the understanding he sought. Instead, he sat down under a tree and began looking deeply into his own mind. After seven days and nights of intensive meditation, he woke up to the nature of...

How to Live in Harmony with Your Meditation

Now that you know what motivates you to meditate, you may benefit from a few guidelines for enhancing and deepening your practice. In particular, meditators over the centuries have discovered that how you act, what you think about, and which qualities you cultivate can have an immediate impact on the depth and stability of your meditation. Every spiritual tradition emphasizes right conduct of some kind and not necessarily on the basis of rigid notions of right and wrong. When your actions don't...

Other Journeys That Masquerade as Meditation

Now that you have an overview of the meditative journey, take a look at some paths that superficially resemble meditation but lead you in an altogether different direction. Of course, every activity can become a meditation if you do it with awareness or concentration. For example, you can wash the dishes or drive the car or talk on the phone meditatively. (For more on how to do this, see Chapter 15.) But certain activities become confused with meditation in the popular imagination, whereas they...

Meditation in Action

It's one thing to calm your mind and open your heart in the privacy of your room, but quite another to practice meditation throughout your day, with your boss (or your clients), your partner, your kids, and the person in the car in front of you. This part shows you how to extend the benefits of meditation to every area of your life, from sex to stress-reduction to spirituality. If you're primarily interested in healing your body or mind or performing more effectively at work or play, you'll...

The art of the mantra

As Herbert Benson, M.D., explains in his groundbreaking book The Relaxation Response, the meditative repetition of a mantra tends to calm the mind and relax the body. But the earliest practitioners of mantra had more spiritual intentions, such as invoking the power of a particular deity, cultivating and strengthening positive qualities, or achieving union with divine reality. Though the term mantra (meaning mind protection) derives from the Sanskrit, the practice appears in one form or another...

The Future of Meditation

Now that meditation has become so popular in the West, you may wonder how its influence will expand and evolve over the decades to come. Needless to say, no one really knows, but I'd be happy to offer some informed speculation, based on recent developments and cutting-edge research. Some of the latest scientific studies use state-of-the-art technology to prove that regular meditation makes you happier, more empathic, and more resistant to disease (see Chapter 19). Coupled with earlier studies...

The mindbody benefits of meditation

Although the earliest scientific studies of meditation date back to the 1930s and 1940s, research into the psychophysiological effects of meditation took off in the 1970s, fueled by a burgeoning interest in Transcendental Meditation (TM), Zen, and other Eastern meditation techniques. (For some of the most influential research studies, see Chapter 19.) Since then, more than 1,000 studies have been published in English. In the book The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation (first...

The taste of pure mountain Water

To elaborate on this mountain metaphor a bit, imagine that there's a spring at the summit that gushes forth the pure water of being and never runs dry. (Depending on your orientation, you may prefer to call it the water of grace or spirit or unconditional love.) Those who make it to the top get to dive into the pool that surrounds the spring and immerse themselves completely in the Although many ordinary folks are meditating these days (including, quite possibly, people you know), the practice...

What Meditation Isand Isnt

Climbing the mountain of meditation Finding picnic spots and lesser peaks along the way Checking out the major meditation techniques Knowing what you'll see when you get to the top Developing concentration, receptive awareness, contemplation, and cultivation The great thing about meditation is that it's actually quite simple. Just sit down, be quiet, turn your attention inward, and focus your mind. That's all there is to it, really (see the sidebar Meditation It's easier than you think). Then...

Where Meditation Comes From

Tracing meditation to its Indian roots Discovering there's more to yoga than stretching and breathing Uncovering the sensual secrets of tantra Exploring the renaissance of meditation in Judaism and Christianity Tracking meditation in North America from Thomas Jefferson to Deepak Chopra Exploring the future of meditation hen you think of meditation, do you envision an Asian monk or yogi in loincloth or robe, sitting cross-legged in deep concentration Well, meditation was definitely refined in...

Different paths up the same mountain

Imagine that you're getting ready to climb this mountain. (If you live in the Netherlands or the midwestern United States, get out your National Geographic for this one ) How are you going to get to the top You could take some climbing lessons, buy the right gear, and inch your way up one of the rocky faces. Or you could choose one of the many trails that meander up the mountain and take a leisurely hike to the summit. (Of course, you could always cheat and drive your car, but that would ruin...

Promoting the benefits of meditation

Although Western researchers have been studying the benefits of meditation for more than 50 years, three people in particular have helped popularize the practice by demonstrating how it can cause measurable improvement in a broad range of health concerns. I Herbert Benson and the Relaxation Response A cardiologist and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Benson pioneered the field of mind-body medicine with the publication of his bestseller The Relaxation Response in 1975. Based on...

Organizations and Centers

With the rapid spread of meditation in the West, centers and organizations devoted to the practice have sprung up in every major city and plenty of small towns, too Needless to say, I couldn't possibly list them all in these pages. So I offer you an annotated catalogue of major national organizations and in the case of traditions like Zen, where no centralized organization exists representative centers. If you just want something nearby and don't particularly care about style or affiliation,...