Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation

Science is catching up to what many of us have known for a long time – meditation is very good for you. Neurologist researchers have concluded that we have between 15,000 and 50,000 thoughts each day, and that the majority of these thoughts are fear-based or negative. Of these, 80% are re-runs, or thoughts we’ve had before – sometimes over and over. That, folks, is bathing our brain in negativity for a large portion of our day.

If you keep track of your thoughts for even a few minutes, you’ll see that there is a lot of busy-ness up there in your head. In yoga, this busy-ness of the mind is called “monkey mind”. In the office or at home, it might be called “multi-tasking” – but whatever you call it, it can be wearing and exhausting for the mind and contributes to our stress levels. Meditation is a great technique to help curb this tendency. It is a remarkably simple technique that, with practice, all of us can learn. Though simple it is not  necessarily easy because of our tendency to judge ourselves and become uneasy when our untrained mind becomes still.

Here are three steps to begin your meditation practice that I teach in my meditation classes. My heartfelt thanks go out to two of my meditation teachers, Christopher Baxter and David Nichtern for helping me learn and master these steps.

1). Taking our Seat:

Sit cross-legged only if this is comfortable, otherwise it is far better to come to a kneeling position (with support) or to sit in a chair. Rest your hands on your thighs with torso upright but relaxed. Chin should be slightly tucked in toward your chest with the back of the neck feeling long and relaxed. Your posture should feel uplifted but not stiff. Your back should be as straight as possible with a feeling of rootedness through the sitz bones and tail bone, and a feeling of rising up through the torso and chest. Feel a sense of settling down and reducing your sphere of activity.

2). Placing Attention on the Breath:

Begin to pay attention to your breathing. Have a light touch here, not too intense. Just a relaxed focus on the breath going in and out of the body is all you need. Once you notice your awareness has shifted elsewhere (and it will shift elsewhere! – This is not a failure.) simply bring your awareness back to your breathing without judgement or criticism of yourself. Just keep bringing your awareness back to the breath as many times as you notice it is wondering away. Your focus is soft and relaxed, not hard and intense.

3). Labelling Thoughts:

When you notice you are thinking about something, just say to yourself, “thinking” and bring your awareness back. It is helpful to take a “democratic” approach to thoughts – ie., no more importance is given to one thought over another. So, whether you are thinking about what you are going to have for dinner or about climate change – it is all just labelled “thinking”. You are neither repressing your thoughts or focusing on them. You just label each thought “thinking” and come back softly to focusing on your breath.  As the body continues to settle down, your mind will as well. Be patient and loving with yourself, just like you would if your mind were a toddler that kept wandering off. Label that wandering off “thinking” and patiently come back to your breath. It is always there, waiting for you to come back.

If you need to move to restore circulation, go ahead and do that without any frustration or self-criticism. Fix the problem, resettle, and continue where you left off….focusing on the breath.

In future blogs, I will write about other techniques. For now, practice these three steps for 10 minutes every day for the next 7 days. Increase to 15 minutes the second week.  Finally increase to 20 minutes on the third week. There is no need for any expectations because all you are doing is making a date to be with yourself a few minutes every day. Nothing woo-hoo needs to happen, so don’t worry about seeing colours or having a peak experience. All you are going to do is sit quietly with yourself and observe the breath. Try it for the next 21 days with all my good wishes.

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Death Is an Illusion – There Is Only Life

Not long ago was the four year anniversary of my dearly loved sister’s death. This prompted lots of thought about death in general, including my own death and the death of other people I love.

Lots has changed regarding how I think of death now as compared to when I was young.  While in my 20’s, there was often a swift thought in the back of my mind that coloured everything I did or even thought about doing. This thought was different versions of “Hey – you’re going to die anyway, so what difference does anything you do make? You’re just going to die anyway, so why bother?” I remember being in French class thinking, “I’m just going to die anyway, so who cares if I ever learn French?” I would dabble in yoga, and even though I enjoyed it, still this sentence was there….”what difference does this make”. Of course it didn’t stop me from living life, but it definitely put a damper on things.

Over a period of time, thoughts like these started to shift for me. I started having experiences and insights that began to illuminate for me that life is actually ongoing….that when someone “dies”, that death is an illusion because life is eternal. Can I tell you exactly what happened that was the catalyst for this change in thinking? Not in a couple of paragraphs. But even before I started an ongoing meditation practice, and after I proclaimed myself an agnostic, I had experiences that began to demonstrate to me that this continuation of life after one dies made far more sense to me than clinging to a belief that this human life is all there is.

When I discuss this with friends or family, there is a reluctance to open up and let ideas really flow about the eternal nature of life. Perhaps this is because so many zany faiths have told so many lies and made belief seem ridiculous. I remember telling someone after a particularly horrendous incident had occurred who was trying to comfort me with some statement about “God’s will” that any God who would allow such a thing to happen was a sadistic prick so it was better for Him that I didn’t believe in Him. Yes, it shocked the poor soul who was trying to comfort me – I’m sure that was my intention. Keeping in mind the huge deceptions that many religions have put out there regarding “God”, not to mention the many atrocities committed in his name, it’s not hard to see why a thinking, caring person would decide God doesn’t exist. I no longer believe that God doesn’t exist but I do not define God in the same way as my early training defined God. In truth I no longer believe that defining God or debating the existence of God is important or even helpful. My direct experience of the God of my understanding through seeking a more spiritual life has been helpful and illuminating; dogma has never helped or illuminated me in any way.

Death is an illusion – it is not real. It can be awkward to talk openly about this, probably because there are a few religions saying the same thing that also say lots of other things I cannot align with. However, over the course of my life I have had experiences and received insights which began to illuminate for me the fact that life is on-going and eternal. What looks like death is an illusion; your existence continues after death as you shed your body like an old set of clothes. The simple shift of perspective from death is the end of my existence to death is the continuation of my existence has made a huge difference for me. Suddenly it makes so much sense to get involved and participate in life, and the more involved I get the more interested and curious I get. Life has become more meaningful and even more fun for me with this consciousness of life. This realization of the continuation of life has brought me intimately close to the interconnectedness of all life in a way that my former unquestioned assumption in the reality of death never could. Death is an illusion. There is no such thing. Life is forever new and is always morphing into fresh expression.