Category Archives: benefit

Why In Times of Crisis Meditators are Especially Grateful for the Practice

As meditators, we are grateful for our practice that helps us more skillfully navigate this current financial crisis and all situations in our lives — not as observers untouched by the experience, but as conscious participants, fully engaged but clear seeing.

Here are some examples of the kinds of differences in our daily lives that we meditators often find between having a regular meditation practice and not having one:

Say you have a headache or stomach upset after looking at the value of your retirement fund or the daily news. As a non-meditator you might take a drug or try to distract yourself in various unskillful ways, and if it persists call the doctor in hopes of more heavy duty drugs.

As a practiced meditator you will more likely sit with the sensation of the pain, notice the emotional component and breathe into the experience. You may recognize the tension in the body and understand the cause and condition from which it arose. You may give yourself more spaciousness, be gentle with yourself right now, not take on too much during this period, and perhaps take walks in nature or meditate more frequently.

As a non-meditator you may not connect the fear you are feeling with the anger you are expressing to family or fellow drivers on the road. You may not see the connection between your anxiety and your difficulty doing your work, so you give yourself a hard time for being so stupid. And you may give coworkers, also affected by the crisis, a hard time for their suddenly less than stellar performances as well.

As a practiced meditator you will be more likely to see the connection between your emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and sense your connection to all other beings. So you will be more likely to take the fear experience, sit with it, and allow it to inform your interactions with your coworkers, family and everyone else, in the form of compassionate understanding for any unskillful displays they show in response to their own anxiety.

As a non-meditator you may compound your fear by getting caught up in incessantly imagining a dark future, rerunning images of the 1930’s in your head, thinking back over what you might have done differently in the past that would have changed this outcome or cursing the past actions of others in an endless loop of blame. This leaves you unable to be attentive to the current moment that requires your full attention.

As a practiced meditator you have trained your mind to notice when your thoughts get caught up in the future or the past and you can skillfully and gently bring your attention back to this moment, knowing that this is the only moment that is real, the one you can experience with all your senses and the only one in which you can take action. The future and the past are just plans, fantasies and memories, in other words, just thoughts.

As a non-meditator you may have your identity firmly invested in your material wealth or your position. As a practiced meditator you have a greater opportunity to begin to recognize that you are not your stuff, that your value is not composed of material wealth, prestige or how you make that wealth, that you – and all of us – are uniquely and universally valuable just the way we are.

These are some of the reasons why at times of crisis meditators turn to each other and say, “I am so grateful for the practice. I can’t imagine going through this without the practice.”

Of course there are people who don’t have a regular sitting practice who have found the same spaciousness of mind. Perhaps they do Qi Gong or some other form, or perhaps they have a naturally spacious mind. But for most of us, without a meditative practice of some kind, we fall into the habitual and unskillful patterns of mind that bring us ongoing suffering.

At a time of crisis those who don’t have a regular practice might say to themselves, “I really should start to meditate.” or “I need to meditate more regularly.” It’s never too late to start!

If you would like to learn more about getting started meditating, click on the link (right side of this page) to my website — In the meditation section you will find several downloadable pages that offer ways to begin. If you need more help, contact me, or find a meditation center in your area.

Meditation: Back from the Future

I am in one of those periods in life where it is very easy to get caught up in anticipating the future. Recovering from hip replacement surgery, getting around with the aid of a crutch, having strict limitations on my mobility, it is challenging for me not to look forward to when I will be walking normally without a crutch, driving a car, bending more than 90 degrees, and experiencing the pain free benefits for which I went through the surgery in the first place.

When such leaning into the future thoughts become so obvious, it’s an excellent opportunity to really notice them as they arise and to sit with them a bit.

In doing so, I see that these anticipatory thoughts involve comparing my current experience with others. This other experience may be an imagined future one, as in this case, but it could just as easily be some remembered past experience, or the imagined experience of someone else whose life seems vastly superior in some way.

By noting that my thought process is in a comparing mode, I have brought a clear awareness to my mind activity. This awareness isn’t judging the activity, but if I am suddenly judging, then hopefully I can become aware of my mind switching into a judging mode. These modes are in constant movement throughout our days. We don’t have to switch them off, we just benefit by becoming aware of them.

Now I could at this point just note ‘comparing’ or ‘judging’ and return to the breath. But I can also choose to notice if there is any emotion attached to this thought. And in this case I was surprised to find there was. I discovered an underlying fear or anxiety that seems to ask the question, “What if?” In my case: “What if I am the unusual patient that doesn’t fully heal, that continues to need a crutch, continues to feel pain forever?”

It doesn’t matter how rational these “What if?” scenarios are. If we are to have an honest and open exploration, we need to accept what is true for us in this moment. Sometimes the mind rushes in to offer supporting evidence for the fear, fueling it. Or, conversely, our mind might argue with the fear, belittling the experience. But rational arguments hold no sway with emotion, they just add the new emotion of frustration or shame on top of it.

The challenge is to simply acknowledge an emotion in our current experience and sit with it. In our sitting with it we might then discover a physical component to the emotion — a tightness in the chest or tension in the jaw, for example. If so, we can sit with the physical sensation and breathe into it. Which ultimately brings us back to the breath, where we focus our attention.

Why bother with all this awareness?
Well it might save us and those around us from a lot of unnecessary suffering!
In the usual course of events, a thought trips a whole series of actions and reactions. Staying with my current case, I am caught up in anticipating a few weeks down the road when I will be returning to normal activity. The emotional component is a small underlying anxiety, as noted, but more noticeably an eagerness to get the show on the road. This could quite easily lead to over-reaching my current physical boundaries in this moment out of a restless impatience, which could cause injury. It could also make all my interactions with others a little testy or grumpy, as I complain of my current fate. Instead of savoring the wonderful visits from friends and family and being incredibly touched by the tender care of my wonderful husband, I could be making both their lives and mine a living hell. I’m sure there are many other possible results as well, but you get the idea.

By paying attention and noting our thoughts, we don’t get rid of them, but they are somehow derailed from their causative roles. They exist but they have lost their powerful hold on us. We can be with them with spacious awareness, acknowledging them but not ruled by them.

And it all starts in meditation, noticing that we are thinking, then noting the mental mode of the thought (planning, remembering, comparing, judging, fantasizing, problem solving, etc.) Then we have the option to see if there is any emotional component, then any physical sensation that accompanies it. Then we simply breathe into the physical sensation.

Our attention always comes home to the simple but miraculous core of our physical existence: the rise and fall of the breath.

Why practice metta meditation?

Sending metta (loving kindness) to ourselves and others has value whether or not you believe that it is effective! If you feel resistant to the idea of ‘transmitting loving energy,’ rest assured that this practice doesn’t rely on beliefs of any kind to be valuable.

The practice itself shifts our relationships with people in our lives, and it changes the way we think and feel about ourselves. It can release the tight patterns of self-loathing that may have rendered us poorly equipped to function in the world. So if you feel at odds with the world and even with yourself, neither ever being quite up to your critical standards, then this is a great practice for you!

Metta is a conscious focus, so even if it were only that it would be a benefit, keeping us present, training our minds to be able to concentrate. For those who have difficulty simply paying attention to the breath in meditation, metta practice feels more active, providing something to DO.

But it provides much more than that: Metta offers a tonal shift, a warm loving attitude that has the capacity to open our hearts, creating spaciousness in our thoughts, and developing the deep innate caring that may have been dormant.

Everyone is different, of course, but for many of us this may be a huge shift – especially in relationship to ourselves. Wishing ourselves well may be a totally new concept for us. “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be free from harm.” These words hardly seem unreasonable, but it is surprising how few of us allow ourselves to feel worthy of such simple blessings. We may be more inclined to put ourselves down, scold ourselves for our ineptitudes, our thoughtlessness, our forgetfulness, our lack of skill, generosity or guts.

As we practice, we begin to hear how we talk to ourselves, the names we call ourselves, the anger we feel toward ourselves. Now these habitual thoughts are seen in such contrast to our metta practice that we see them more clearly. We may never have even noticed the harsh tone of our thoughts. Without any real effort except the ongoing practice of metta, our awareness begins the shift. We may begin to sense a softening and an opening in the tangled knot of our inner lives.

We may find that our metta practice makes us more patient, less irritated with others as well. When driving we may be less likely to curse out other drivers, remembering that there are many, often painful, reasons that people drive badly, that we ourselves have driven mindlessly perhaps. A little metta sent to them and to ourselves eases our experience, and allows us to return more readily to our focus: driving the car!

At first glance, these simple blessings don’t seem to pack a lot of punch, but if you send metta to yourself and others with any regularity, you may be surprised how powerful this practice can be.