Meditation can be the doorway through which we enter into deeper connection with the world within us and around us. At the beginning of his five-day retreat at Kripalu, The Wise and Loving Heart, Jack Kornfield reflects on the benefits and blessings of meditation.
by Tresca Weinstein, guest blogger There’s a well-known story about a sitar player (in some versions, it’s a lute player) who was discouraged with his meditation practice and went to the Buddha to ask for instruction. “What happens when you tune your instrument too tightly?” the Buddha asked. “The strings break,” the musician replied. “And [...]
That girl isn’t pretty enough to be that annoying.
WHAT? WHAT did you just think? Who ARE you?
Oh, right. I’m me. Hi. My name is Valerie and I have a judgmental brain feed that reads like a cross between Mean Girls,The Hangover, and Heathers. It’s stunning to me. But there it is. Judge, judge, judge, all the livelong day.
Swami Kripalu once said, “Every time you judge yourself you break your own heart.” I’m pretty sure that judging others also breaks our heart. That’s partly because we bear the brunt of the poison that burbles up to form a negative judgment, and partly because we’re all energetically connected. I’m convinced that, on some level,we feel each other’s psychic barbs, especially if we intentionally throw them. They’re also the seeds of violence and war.
Harsh, constant judging creates barriers—which at times can actually be helpful. When judgments protect us from maniacs who cause harm, that’s good (yep, I’m judging!). But we also use judgments to protect our hearts from other scary things, like, you know, love. If I’m judging you, then I don’t have to take you in. I don’t have to need you. I don’t have to be vulnerable to you. I’m tough—I’ve got my barbed wire thoughts and they’re protecting me! (Or not.)
The benefits of meditation for seniors
In a recent study, nearly 70 percent of people over the age of 60 reported experiencing loneliness, a risk factor for functional decline and early death. But those who took part in an eight-week meditation program reduced those feelings of loneliness—and gave their immune systems a boost as well. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles, is published in this month’sissue of the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
Yoga has long been known to help ease depression and loneliness by raising concentrations of gamma-amminobutyric acid (GABA), the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating the nervous system. High levels of GABA have a calming effect. Of course, loneliness isn’t just an emotional issue; it’s a form of stress that can have physical manifestations as well, says Randal Williams, a Kripalu Yoga instructor and teacher trainer, who isn’t surprised by the study’s findings. “When I was a child I used to go to religious services with my grandmother,” says Randal. “This was her way of connecting with others. Whether it is to do yoga or meditate or walk or sit and share tea, getting together with others has a positive impact.”
Tim Olmsted has been a student of meditation for 35 years. For 12 of those years, he lived in Nepal, working as a psychotherapist and studying with many of the greatest Buddhist teachers of our time. After returning to the United States, Tim served for three years as the director of Gampo Abbey, the largest residential Buddhist monastery in North America. He now travels internationally, and is the president of the Pema Chödrön Foundation.
Q Describe what you do in 15 words or less.
A When not on the road teaching meditation for Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, I watch over the Pema Chödrön Foundation.
Q Tell us about a turning point in your life.
In this edition of Ask the Expert, meditation teacher and senior Kripalu faculty member Bhavani Lorraine Nelson answers questions from readers like you.
My mind races when I sit. Can mantras help?
The reason I cover five or six different techniques in my Introduction to Meditation program is because not every type of meditation is effective for everyone. Some people thrive on simply sitting with the breath; for others, the breath is very ephemeral, so the mind has free rein to wander. Some concentration practices can be more engaging for the mind and help it to quiet down. Mantra is one of those—it can be helpful for people who find it difficult to sit simply with the breath.
Recent scientific research on mantra practice shows that it is very soothing to the nervous system because of the repetition. Setting an intention when repeating a mantra adds to the power of the practice. There are different mantras for different goals; practitioners can create a “family” of mantras to use at specific times and for specific purposes. It’s important, though, to have a primary mantra, just as you have a primary yoga practice. To find one, you might start with Thomas Ashley-Farrand’s book Healing Mantras. Choose a mantra that you’re drawn to and can imagine wanting to repeat often.
Is it “cheating” to visualize pretty patterns and concentrate on those, to stop “thinking”?