Tag Archives: meditation

How to Turn Anger into Forgiveness (Four Tools)

Lists are cute, but…they can only take you so far. The reason is usually because they tell you the “what” at the expense of the “how,” rendering them entertaining, and perhaps inspirational, but simplistic.

For example, I saw this piece of advice, in a list, just last week:

Give up the need to always be right.

 

A good pointer, for sure. After all, the need to be right is not worth the price of your inner peace. But, alone, it’s a bit like that pair of shoes that looks really good, but won’t help you much when it rains. First, we need to understand where this need comes from. Yes, it’s the ego’s obsession. But for practical purposes, the need to be right arises, all too often, in the midst of conflict, and in the nub of an argument. And it comes with anger (the deeper problem), which is escorted by the inability, or unwillingness, to let go, which, in its turn, comes with the inability, or unwillingness, to forgive.

So, what do you do when your mind is spinning, your composure is slipping and your heart is raging? Here are four tools to use, either alone, or in any order you choose:

1. Affirmations. To diffuse anger.

And you thought a Zen person would only tell you to stop talking to yourself! It all depends on what you say. Talking to yourself can either be a help or a hindrance. We talk ourselves into things and out of things all the time and can skillfully talk ourselves out of being angry if we commit to the task. We can start by reminding ourselves that it is our choice to refuse anger and turmoil and instead choose peace and tranquility. It’s also a choice to be offended and if we’re not offended, there’s nothing left to “prove.”

Anger starts out as a feeling and can quickly turn into words, or even worse, violence. And as both the Yogis and the behavioral therapists say, you are not your feelings. Meaning, that bit of anger that starts out as a nudge can be nipped before escalating into a coercive shove.  It’s a kid, talking out of turn. “Thank you for sharing,” you might say, and move on.

But, what about those television shows that tell us to punch things and get it all out? Anger is not something that needs to be nurtured or “practiced.” Which is why, “venting” doesn’t work. Venting is destructive, rather than constructive. Anger is a habit, like everything else. By venting, you are nurturing the combustible mixture of blame and resentment, clinging to the short-lived illusion of relief due only to the effect of exhaustion.

So, how do we talk to ourselves effectively? A positive affirmation is a bit like a mantra, which, when used properly, results in healing and restoration of the mood and emotions. By repeating a mantra, you are enabling your mind to focus on what you want it to focus on, rather than on the continued negative self-talk that only spins the anger. An affirmation can create a powerful shift in your attitude, resulting in peace of mind. An example would be something simple, such as, “I Am Love,” or, “I Am Forgiveness,” or, “I Am Light.” Notice these are all grounded in presence, as opposed to the past or the future realms, which keep us grounded, in turn.

2. Perspectives. To diffuse anger and enable forgiveness.

The need to be right is a poorly covered power struggle, with you vying to maintain control. The palpable tension it creates is driven on by your belief that there is a price the offender must pay, for their wrongful words or actions.

Remember back, for a moment, to a time when you acted rudely to someone you loved, when you unintentionally hurt someone either because you were distracted by your own troubles or because you let your emotions take you for a ride. Sometimes we don’t even know why we do certain things. We can hardly understand, let alone control, our own moods and behaviors—how much more difficult to fathom someone else’s? It’s seldom even about us, at all. Remembering our own slips and blunders brings us quickly into a state of equanimity and calm compassion. It lets us remember that we too, have been there, done that.

3. Visualizations. To Forgive and let go. 

This is a powerful Buddhist meditation I learned many years ago from one of my teachers. It is both startling and highly effective—if done with concentration. Here is the shortened version:

Imagine the dead body of the person who angered you. Visualize their body as distant, pale and lifeless. See, in your mind’s eye, the lifeless body beginning to rot. Imagine worms crawling in and out of the eye sockets and the mouth, and all of the crevices, eating away at the putrefying flesh. Finally, see nothing left, at all, but a strewn pile of dried-up bones. 

This ancient meditation will remind you of the fleeting nature of existence. It will remind you of how silly it is to get hung up on what usually turns out to be nothing at all. It will remind you, most powerfully, of the precious, short time we have to spend with our loved ones and to cherish that time, rather than waste it on nonsense.

5. Breathe.  To diffuse anger and quickly switch gears.
Truth: Most people breathe unconsciously. Which means, too shallow and too fast. We don’t fill up our lungs, which means, we’re not getting enough oxygen and we’re not expelling carbon dioxide. Aside from the health problems that would likely be ameliorated through deep breathing, what it means for our purposes here, is that we’re irritable. The Yogis have long known that shallow breathing is associated with anger and ill temper. And to make things worse, stress uses up even more oxygen. To turn things around, take three big, long breaths—but really do it! With one hand on your belly to act as a guide, bring that breath down toward your belly, expanding your diaphragm until you look like you’re pregnant! This activates the parasympathetic nervous system and effectively kick-starts the relaxation response, immediately bringing you into a different state of mind.

“The art of deep breathing is also the art of real living.” ~Yogi Bhajan

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Yes, Yoga Is Wise!

I recently had lunch with a few old friends. While sharing our current goings-on, the fact that I teach Yoga was met with general interest: I would love to take Yoga…It seems so wise, one woman said.

Well, that’s an understatement, I thought! It is wise—but how? What does it mean to be wise? Something that is described as wise, conveys the suggestion that by practicing it, you’ll become privy to a better way of living.

Yoga is defined as a technology and set of practices that are employed to enable human beings to achieve Self-Realization. Will this Self-Realization lead one to a better way of living?

Firstly, what is Self-Realization?

It is a state in which one is profoundly aware of his/her true nature. And if that is vague it is because it has to be, for it is a state that must be experienced. According to Yogic traditions, it is a process by which one ceases to identify with the ego-self, and the sense of separateness that characterizes this ego-based, state of illusion, known to Yogis as maya.

And so, as for the first question, how this awakening may improve the quality of life, we must remember that this condition of maya is plagued by a roster of negative emotions, like fear, suspicion, envy and anger. Accordingly, a practice meant to bring us back to a realization of wholeness, and away from this false sense of separateness, would restore a feeling of inner peace, while removing the adverse emotions. If we can speak in terms of goals, we might say the ultimate goal is increasing the joy in our lives.

Of course, like any noble and worthy goal, true practice takes work, but as my dear teacher Gurudhan is wont to say, life without Yoga takes even more work.

This worthy goal involves the pacification of our thoughts, emotions and habituated reactions—nothing short of the management of the mind—that unruly, rebellious thing, that does not want to be managed. Yoga offers us various tools to help us do that. And the many diverse Yogic traditions emphasize different tools. Like trails that lead to the summit, all will lead you there. In my own practice of Kundalini Yoga, we make copious use of kriya, mudra, eye-focus, powerful breath work and mantra meditation, all of which are often enhanced by sound modalities.

In the language of Yoga, the process of awakening is just that—a process, meaning that on a subtle level, you start to approach life in a different way, relate to people through new perspectives, see through open eyes, perceive with a clearer, less reactive mind. Problems may not be interpreted as problems any longer, and when they are, you have the clarity and presence with which to approach them more skillfully. All of this results in a higher quality of life.

Yes, Yoga is wise!

Please, Call Them “Yoga-Inspired Exercises”



This morning, on my usual walking route with my dog, I noticed a new sign on the neighborhood gym that said “Yoga.” The word “Yoga” is everywhere, especially here in L.A., where, according to recent statistics, there are more people doing it than in its native India. The problem is, the activity that is actually being practiced is not exactly Yoga. More often than not, it is a simulation of the ancient spiritual technology, at best, thereby rendering the statistics irrelevant.

As Stated Elsewhere

Like many arts and sciences that are profound, beautiful, and powerful, yoga has suffered from the spiritual poverty of the modern world–it has been trivialized, watered down, or reduced to cliches. The deep and eternal essence of yoga has been misrepresented and packaged for personal profit by clever people. At the hands of some, yoga has been reduced to the status of just another exercise program available on videotape. In other contexts, yoga has been presented as a cult religion, aimed at attracting “devotees.” Such a haze of confusion has been created around the clear and pure concept of yoga that it is now necessary to redefine yoga and clarify its meaning and purpose.
~ Bhole Prabhu

While there are many holistic classes to be found, too often, all you’ll find in “Yoga classes,” are the postures, which are merely a preparatory part of the discipline as a whole. But this is the part that is most eagerly consumed here, due to our emphasis, or rather, obsession, on the body.

My Proposition

For the sake of maintaining the integrity of this ancient, and unbelievably rich tradition, here’s what I’d like to see hanging on the doors of these kinds of classes: a sign that says, “Yoga-inspired Exercises” in place of the sign that says, “Yoga.” After all, as Swami Bharati says, “we would not call a brick a ‘house’ even though it is part of the construction. Yet, this is what is often done with Yoga.” The postures are but a small part of the complete eight-part system known as Raj Yoga. So, the change would be done for the sake of clarity, dignity and truthfulness.

So, What Is Yoga?

It is not within the scope of this article to explain those eight rungs of Raj Yoga, nor the other ancient Yogic paths, such as Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga, since this information can so easily be found elsewhere (including via my own Youtube lectures). But, here is an overview of the inherent point and purpose of all the Yogas.

Yoga is about union. You could say that the goal of Yoga is…Yoga, since  that’s what the word means. It is the union of the self and the True Self, of the ego identity and the Supreme consciousness. It is a process of awakening to the divine reality that we were never separate from in the first place. It is the evaporation of maya, or, the delusion of separateness. It is the direct experience of the preexisting union between Atman and Brahman, or if you will, Shiva and Shakti. It is, as Paramahansa Yogananda describes it, Self-Realization. It is the awakened consciousness. It is God-consciousness. It is, as Sivananda has described it, Supreme Harmony. It is Samadhi—the final limb and crown of Patanjali’s eight rungs of classical Raj Yoga.

The many therapeutic effects of Yoga have been touted so frequently, that many people now realize that the purpose of Yoga is not to workout. But to think of Yoga as a form of relaxation is to still miss the point. It is to replace one misunderstanding with another!

Yoga Is Spiritual

On their website, YogaDayUSA.org listed the “Top 10 Reasons to Try Yoga” as, stress relief, pain relief, better breathing, flexibility, increased strength, weight management, improved circulation, cardiovascular conditioning, better body alignment, and focus on the present for health reasons. The authentic reasons for Yoga seem to be not even worthy of mention in their Top 10 Reasons for Yoga.

Yoga Alliance, the sponsor of Yoga Day, described itself as “the leader in setting educational standards for yoga schools and teachers.” However, while they claim this authority, they did not see fit to acknowledge or include in their Yoga Day promotions the fact that the roots of Yoga come from the ancient tradition of Sanatana Dharma, out of which has grown Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and other traditions.
Swamij 

The therapeutic effects of Yoga are many, but they are not the central intention of any of Yoga’s many paths, which are like the many rivers that all find their way to the sea. The different paths, or Yogas, intersect one another and often run in parallel. They accommodate the various inclinations and karmic propensities of the individual student who would find himself on a spiritual journey. Yet they all have the same goal of Self-Realization.

* In this article, as elsewhere, I have followed the tradition, as pioneered by the renown authority on Yoga, Georg Feuerstein, of capitalizing the word Yoga, just as we would capitalize Zen, or, Christianity.

An Insightful & Honest 10-Day Meditation Journal

One of my students turned in a 10-day journal, chronicling her first sustained attempt at meditation. It was one of their options for a 50-point feature project. This particular journal was penned by a Japanese girl of about 18 years old. She presents such an amusing, accurate and insightful account—with all her struggles and modest rewards delightfully narrated—that I am reproducing it here without edit, as some of the awkwardly translated phrases only add to its overall charm.

First Day.
Sitting still for ten minutes was the toughest thing in meditation. After five minutes, my legs started to feel numb and my concentration faded away. Breathing is what humans do without even realizing, but I could not breathe well when I tried to focus on my breathing. Moreover, I felt difficulty to even hear the sound of my breath. Another thing I realized was that something that never bothers me could really bother me during the meditation. Sounds of people talking, noise of my neighbors, things in nature really tick me off during the meditation. The more I tried to focus, the more I became distracted. During the ten minutes of meditation, my hatred towards meditation grew and I even started to blame the existence of meditation itself. After the meditation, it made me realize how immature I am.

Second Day.
As I expected, today’s meditation was as tough as yesterday’s. During the meditation, I was wondering how I can improve my concentration during the meditation. I know that meditation helps to purify my foul mind, but only disturbing thoughts came up during the meditation. I just remembered what professor said, that people are rushing and rushing. I think this is a necessary practice in the life. To shorten the time makes more time that I can do other things. Therefore meditation gives me more relax and steady.

Third Day.
Still meditation is not enjoyable for me but I believed that I could find something through it. Today I meditated while listening to music from Youtube for meditation. I could relax and hold steady mind. I used to understand what meditation is, but it was so irritating to my existence on the first day. I read the text book to feel Buddha’s spirit more deeply. It said bodies and minds are strongly related. I feel like I understand the meaning of this. For example, we say “pain is from the mind,” in Japan. For example, if someone trod on my foot and the person was who I like, probably I would not mind and the pain would go away soon, but in the case of someone who I hate, I would feel pain longer than in the previous case and with hatred. Moreover, I might give the same back to the person. I felt that I have to practice meditation in order to control my devil spirit.

Fourth Day.
I don’t feel pain with sitting anymore, although sometimes I started thinking and can not focus on being empty and my mind moves around. 10 minutes passes more quickly than before. It may just be my imagination, but I feel I’m able to be kinder to others than I was. Because I can rethink how I am after meditation.

Fifth Day.
On the fifth day, my attitude towards meditation finally became positive from negative. I was willing to start to meditate to find out what kind of outcome I will be getting out of this session. Once I started to meditate, I realized how clear my mind was. To be honest, I was not thinking about anything during the meditation. I was not enjoying the moment nor hating the moment. I was neutral. When I opened up my eyes and checked how long I had been meditating, I found out that I was meditating for 20 minutes without any thoughts. My mind was so clear that I felt like my brains were washed out. My breathing was so natural and smooth that I could not even tell if I was really breathing. I was so happy with the effects of meditation that I finally started to look forward to the next mediation session.

Sixth Day.
I had a bad day at school and I felt like I didn’t want to do anything. I was chilling on the bed all day after school because fortunately I didn’t have any homework for tomorrow. Still, since I continue to meditate, I did so before I go to sleep. Then I came to realize that meditation gives me opportunities to face myself when I become deflated or have an anxiety. At times like that, I tend to escape from the matter and try to get them away from my mind; though I have learned the importance of facing my problems, not turning away from them. My feeling has become great, even though I was depressed before meditation.

Seventh Day.
Period of wax and wane of the moon.
Cycle of period.
Period of revolution of the moon.
Period of rotation of the sun.
28 days.
28th is cycle of the time of the universe. After I meditated, I was just muddling about the universe, and I came up with these. If we live the life according to the rhythm of nature, physical and mental would be healthy more and more. Live along with universal providence. It is beautiful.

Eighth Day.
I did meditate on the eighth day. I felt great and refreshed. By listening to the sound and wind of nature, I realized I was part of the universe. Human beings are not the center of the universe. If everyone can realize that, confusion and worry would be diminished in the world because all human beings are connected by a big bond.

Ninth Day.
I assumed happiness was always felt when we achieve some difficult goal, though actually, it was not. Truthfully, happiness is always nearby; in addition, it costs nothing and is fuss-free. I was meditating for 30 minutes today. Meditation makes me comfortable, and I can see myself from the third person. If I can keep this sense, I would be able to act with making transgressions because I believe people make transgressions only when they can not see themselves. There is really a lot to learn about meditation.

Tenth Day.
Today is the final day for meditating for this assignment. Before I started the final session, I was thinking how far I’d come already. I could not even stand the idea of meditation on the first day, but I was already addicted to the idea of meditation on the tenth day. I was surprised at how clear my mind was before the last session started and how good I felt about my achievement. Finally, I started my last meditation. Everything was going well until I realized the strange noise my neighbor was making. At first, I tried to shut it off and concentrate again. Funny, I could not. After I failed to concentrate, I started to get mad at the noise because it is ruining my precious last meditation session. I was surprised at the fact that I got ticked off so easy again, just like the first day. I was satisfied with my mental growth just before this session started, but here I am acting like myself as I was on the first day. After I finished meditating, I was embarrassed and decided to be more humble. Another lesson taught by meditating. I have to be humble. A lesson is something we are taught by others. It is amazing how meditation can create a lesson out of myself. The lesson is coming from the deep part of my mind. I really think that is beautiful. I am fascinated with meditation now and I will practice meditation more and more in my life.

Teaching Kundalini Yoga

I have been grading papers this week. Earlier I came upon a passage written by a student who has also taken my Yoga class. My heart swelled with gladness as I read the description of this girl’s first experience in a Kundalini Yoga class. It touched my heart to know that the class had so touched hers. Here is a portion of the endearing note:

On July 8th, I attended Professor Quesada’s Yoga class at Machatz Self Defense Studio. I am not a morning person, especially when it is not a school day. Thus, I entered the studio rather grumpy. However, the lights were out, so that was a plus. I sat on the mat and we were told to sit with our legs crossed, a diamond-like pose. The tuning-in mantra was “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo,” meaning, I call on divine consciousness. It calmed me down…We began some deep breathing and gradually sped up the pace…we flexed our bodies…I couldn’t have begun my day better…Professor Quesada had us lie on our backs while she played the gong. This was my first time having this experience. It felt as if my heart was beating along with the sound. As I closed my eyes I felt as if I was in a whole different world, a world of emptiness, a world free of strain and frustration. To conclude the Yoga, we all began to sing Long Time Sun, which I found on Youtube that night and played on my laptop. It just puts a smile on my face, and the fact that we all sang along made it so much more beautiful…

Mindfulness vs Distraction

Mindfulness vs Distraction

Seventh on Buddha’s eightfold path, Zen buzzword, and greatest hit of Buddhism in general, is mindfulness–which is simply the practice of being here. It at least sounds simple, and it is, but simple is not always easy. Which is why it takes practice. With slightly more elaboration, it is the deliberate, but nonjudgmental, attention we place on the present moment.

A student asked me one day about it, and why it was preferable to distraction, especially in the face of something unpleasant. For example, if you have a headache, what’s wrong with watching TV just to zone out? In brief, distraction immediately separates us from the situation, which might sound desirable, but the problem is, the discomfort remains, and worse, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to surrender, and worse still, of the opportunity to recondition ourselves out of old patterns. And as life is full of discomfort, we’ll simply continue to suffer as a result, as we try in vain to run, time after time, and find, time after time, that wherever we go, there we are.

The question is a bit like the one I was considering the other day.

Presence vs The Big Picture

During the first few days following my book’s release, I found myself checking sales statistics obsessively, looking for sales info and any other sign of excitement that would signify, what was to me, an important event. But, this kind of narrow focus only sets us up for disappointment. I reminded myself how fortunate I was just to be published and how wonderful it is that my book is finally available. Moreover, I reminded myself of the real purpose, which is to inspire other teachers. I marveled at how strange it is that being published—every author’s dream—suddenly wasn’t enough. We are funny creatures that way, endlessly grasping for the next thing while missing everything. This reminder to myself, of what is essentially at the heart of Buddha’s Noble Truths, engendered a swelling of gratitude that left no more room for frustrations.

Funny enough, the very next day, one of my Yoga masters told a story about pain. He described a midwife he knew, who had the habit of telling her screaming clients, while in the grips of agony, to remember that they are having a baby! It might sound like a silly reminder of the obvious, but it indicates importance of putting the pain into perspective.

But, isn’t this a departure from presence? You might ask. After all, the pain is as present as it gets!

But in neither case—my obsessive checking nor the laboring woman—does the reminder to see the big picture negate the importance, or, if I may, the presence of presence. It’s not obvious at first, but the fact is that seeing bigger means seeing more, and seeing more means nothing other than more presence!

You’re looking at everything, you’re in tune with all that is, rather than merely your own hang-up. And by getting in tune, you’re dropping your resistance to the current situation, and since resistance is what magnifies all discomfort and suffering, by dropping the resistance, you’re lessening, at once, your suffering.

As the Taoists would say, don’t push the river.

By coming back into reality, as it is, you’re losing the AVERSION to the discomfort, you’re with what is, rather than fighting what is…and you’re in peace.

Thoughts; Do They Define Us or Not?

We are what we think, The Dhammapada begins. All that we are arises with our thoughts.

Yet, at the same time, a thought is nothing other than a passing wave of the mind, Suzuki Roshi says, in the classic, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I remember another Zen master likening thoughts to bodily secretions. He was reminding us not to take them seriously. A thought is nothing other than an inconsequential emission, like sweat, which evaporates on its own, or a burp, which is gone as quickly as it arises, without a single trace. It is why, in Zen meditation, we don’t try and stop our thoughts. Like a revolving door, they will come and they will go, of their own accord. Those incessant emissions don’t define us any more than the steam from a boiling cup of tea defines the quality of the tea leaf.

Or do they?

Perhaps thoughts are more like the emissions from an old Chevy…black and heavy, betraying our old, outdated, carburetor engine, and the total lack of smog control. The smoke and soot sullies up everything, and we breathe in all the black pollution. As The Dhammapada suggests, our thoughts give us away, and we can hide our identity no more than a ’57 Chevy can hide its smoke. We think ugly thoughts and we wear them.

The Resolution:

Thoughts are passing waves, but there’s a catch…if we let them pass. They come and they go…if we avoid getting attached to them. And this is where mindfulness starts. With this realization, we can avoid the karma that clings to us, like gum getting stuck to our shoes, every time we fixate on those thoughts.

So both ideas are true. They can live together, side by side, without conflict. Like a light wave, there’s no necessary contradiction with regard the different viewpoints: it’s a wave or a particle, depending on which way you look at it. Our thoughts are only secretions when we recognize them as such and then let them go—a useful trick, when it comes to what Buddhists would call unskillful thoughts, and what the Yogis would refer to as negative thoughts. The problem surfaces when we habituate. Then we get stuck; then we get in our own way; we prevent ourselves from moving along;  we wear it on our faces; we exude it in our demeanor, and it affects every aspect of our relationships, our lives and our worlds.

Seen in this way, our thoughts have tremendous power and define us, if we let them. So we can let them, in a skillful way, or in an unskillful way. That’s where spiritual training comes in. As one of my favorite yogis, Swami Sivananda reminds us, in Thought Power, by raising only thoughts of mercy, love and kindness, we bring happiness upon ourselves and others. Conversely, when we are stewing in hatred, pain is sure to follow. In this way, we use thoughts conscientiously, with deliberate aim.

Similarly, in Kundalini Yoga, we are taught to convert negative thought forms and tendencies, rather than fight against them or wait for them to go away on their own; we use them skillfully to good purpose. For example, we may put the tendency toward anger to good use, by directing that anger toward ourselves for not being more patient, or we may turn our greed into the noble desire to become enlightened.

So, it seems we have two choices, we can let negative thoughts settle on their own, without the validation of judging them, or even naming them. Or, we can convert them. In both cases, we are willfully using our mind rather than the other way around. We are the master and are working with our thoughts in a decisive way.

Whatever you give attention to, thrives—especially habit patterns. Water the grass and it grows. Water the weeds and they grow. Water the thoughts and we become those thoughts.

Close Your Books! Teaching Meditation in a Community College Classroom

I’m thrilled to be a part of elephant journal!

Following is an excerpt from my article, Close Your Books and Forget the Thinking: Teaching Meditation in a Community College Lecture Hall:

In the East, knowledge is all tangled up with the religious and so it is that the western categories of philosophy and religion don’t quite fit. Knowledge comes via direct experience, rather than cogent arguments. Truth is found in the stillness of the quiet mind, rather than on the pages of competing theories and the very pursuit is to drop the pursuit. We rediscover, rather, what we already know, uncover what was already there—what Zen calls your original face, what Hinduism calls your true self. But we have to get real still, so that we can see without looking and hear without listening.

I explained all of this. Then, I dimmed the lights.

“With your attention only on your breath, jot down, in your project books, each thought you become aware of. But don’t write me a composition! And, as strange as it sounds, don’t try to write stuff—because that means you’re following your thoughts. Just scratch out any key word and come back.”

I tiptoed around and stole glances over their shoulders. Some had no more than five words, even though five minutes had passed, even though we’ve got thousands of thoughts streaming by in the blink of an eye.

I interrupted the silence with two hits of my handheld meditation bell.

“Anybody care to share?” I asked. “Was there some thought you kept coming back to?”

“Yeah, that I can’t wait to eat, after class!” one said.

“Me too–I couldn’t get lunch out of my head,” a girl in the back added.

“Sounds like what we used to call ‘sick dreams’, as kids,” I laughed.

“So, we’ve got burritos on the brain. What kind of thought is that?” I asked.

“A future thought,” offered one quick student in the front.

“Exactly!” I said.

“So, here’s part two of our experiment: Next to each word, write a ‘P’ next to the past thoughts and an ‘F,’ next to the future ones.”

Read the whole article here!

Reincarnation and Presence: A Contradiction?

We talked in class, about the importance of presence, and the role of meditation in bringing us back to the only moment that has ever, and that will ever, exist—Now. And then a student asked a question:

“But Hindus believe in reincarnation—isn’t that a future-worry?”

At the heart of meditation, in Hinduism, and in all the Dharmic traditions, including Buddha Dharma and Sikh Dharma, is the importance placed on nurturing our power of focused awareness. It strengthens the mind’s ability to consciously choose, in anew in each moment, where to focus its attention. As it happens, the best thing to focus on is now, and although there are countless reasons why, these are the three most important ones:

  1. Now is the most incredible and momentous event of our lives.
  2. Now is the only time and place joy lives
  3. Now is the only time and place we can discover how the mind really works, and thus, get it to work better.

Now starts with the simple sensation of our own breath flowing in through our noses, and down into our lungs. Watching this is where presence begins and where true meditation begins.

I can appreciate my student’s concern about reincarnation, and the idea that if it happens at a future time, then thinking about it would seem to constitute future thinking—a direct contradiction to the enterprise of staying present.

However—and this is at the heart of my response—Just because you know the rest of the staircase is there, doesn’t mean you ever walk more than one step at a time!

The subtler nuances of my response concern the idea of reincarnation itself, which may be conceived of in myriad ways.

Ask a Zen Buddhist what she thinks of reincarnation and get one answer. Ask 10 others and get 10 more. Ask a Hindu, get another one still. Life and death happens every moment. It happens because you change every moment. In each and every moment, the forces of creation, preservation and destruction happen within you and without you, on every level of your physical, spiritual and mental existence. On the cellular level there is a war going on, and in the world of our minds, as meditation clearly shows us, we are forever duking it out.

But we only notice the aftermath and inevitable changes that follow, when something moves us and shakes us to such a degree that we’re thrown into shock—when we’re sure nothing will ever be the same again. We must remember though, that at any moment, we may proclaim with absolute certainty, that nothing will ever be the same again. We always notice only later, when, seen through the bittersweet palette of our mind’s eye, we gaze nostalgically back upon the events of our lives.

Reincarnation, conceived of in the most brute sense, as the soul taking up residence in a new physical vessel, after the complete physical death of the prior, is still just an extension of the way life is already—you know there’s a tomorrow, but you don’t live there. You know you’ll die, but you choose to live, while you’re alive.

In this unrefined interpretation of reincarnation, the soul’s rebirth is determined by the karmic balance left after our physical existence is done. But in the meantime, and in realtime, through meditation, we can redeem our innumerable debts. When we say we choose to live, we can really do it, by waking up now. The Hindus call it Moksha. We can all call it liberation.

As written for Spirit Voyage.

10 Reasons to Chant

In yogic parlance sound is related to the dimension of space. So when we use sound in specific ways, we positively affect our internal space, our most subtle element. We trigger transformation from within.

I am particularly happy with my latest blog-post for Spirit Voyage, on sound and mantra in yogic meditation–not only because mantra meditation is such a beloved part of my own practice, but because, well, simply put, I worked hard on putting together intricate material in a readable format. The reward is that it has already reached over 350 shares! Here is an excerpt:

#1

The Benefit:

Reduces Anxiety and Depression

The Technology:

By combining sound, breath and rhythm, mantra meditation channels the flow of energy through the mind-body circuit, adjusting the chemical composition of our internal states and regulating brain-hemisphere imbalances, contributing to a natural abatement of fear and despair–emotions that underlie both of these common afflictions. By balancing the nervous system, chanting regulates the chronic stress and tension that is the norm for many people in today’s hyper-stimulated lifestyle. And by balancing the endocrine system, chanting normalizes hormone production, which balances our moods and overall sense of well-being.

#2

The Benefit:

Releases Neuroses

The Technology:

Chanting delivers us from the excessive preoccupation with our bodies and with material concerns. It delivers us from fear of old age and death. We begin to identify with the timelessness of the soul and consequently begin to shed neurotic habits that no longer serve and that no longer seem relevant. By returning us to what is essential, it clears away subconscious habit patterns. Embraced by the steady rhythm and by the vibration that connects us all, our thoughts combine wholly with the sound current. As the captain sets the canvas to the wind, thus pulling the boat out of trouble, it is through mantra that we steer ourselves out of our own stormy seas and into clear waters.

#3

The Benefit:

It is Soothing

The Technology:

The power of mantra is betrayed in the roots of the sanskrit word, man, meaning mind, and, tra, meaning deliverance, or, projection. Thus, chanting the sacred sound of the mantra delivers us from our sense dependency, from our unrelenting habit of looking toward the senses for gratification; pleasures that are and that will always be, fleeting and limited–how much can you eat? Or drink? Or buy? Sense gratification never really gratifies. We are always left either unfulfilled and guilty–wishing we had never started, or else, wanting more and lamenting the loss.

Chanting is a pleasure that transcends the senses, it takes us beyond the bounds of time and space (which is why we don’t have to understand the mantra). Thus it soothes in a most profound way. It soothes on a cellular level. It merges our finite identity with the infinite, and so dissolves us. It relieves us from the sights and sounds and stimulation of the material world and delivers us into a spiritual space, where the sound is God. The material needs are reduced to nothing but mind chatter, and like smoke pumped into the sky, will be scattered into the expanse. Through the sweetness of devotional surrender, mantra turns the negative into positive. I once heard it said: “as music has charms to soothe a savage beast, so the spiritual sound of mantra soothes the restless mind.”

Hop on over to Spirit Voyage to continue!