A Random Musing about Meditation

I did something unprecedented yesterday: I meditated. By that I mean I sat down with my hands folded together in my lap, closed my eyes and watched my breath go in and out while repeating a “secret” mantra I learned almost 45 years ago. Back then, I meditated almost fanatically, but as the years passed, I gradually eased off on any sort of formal or regular practice.

Yesterday morning I felt completely scattered and torn between work, breakfast and a bike ride. Recognising my lack of focus, I took the previously mentioned steps and meditated for about 15 minutes. When I finished, I felt focused and refreshed and wisely chose a morning ride instead of jumping straight into work.

As I road to the beach, it struck me just how transformative a simple exercise like that can be. Colours and sounds are in sharper focus, with greater depth and clarity. Feelings seem to be more benevolent and compassionate. Thoughts become more optimistic and altruistic. In other words, meditation seems to have the power to make one a better person.

On the downside, in my case, at least, it can be hard for me to shake off that feeling of peace and get back to my “real” life. That’s one of the reasons why I rarely meditate anymore. Amgdala clicking or whatever you want to call it works like a kind of active meditation for me, so I usually stick with that.

Anyway, yesterday passed with hardly a shred of work getting done, so I’m behind today and don’t have time for a long post, but I wanted to share my musing with you. I reckon the best medicine is whatever works to make you happier personally and wish for the happiness and wellbeing of others. If we all did that, imagine what a wonderful world this could be.

Shambhala Sun – This is Your Brain on Mindfulness (July 2011)

This is Your Brain on Mindfulness

Meditators say their practice fundamentally changes the way they experience life. MICHAEL BAIME reports on how modern neuroscience is explaining this in biological terms.

EXCERPT: CHANGES IN REGIONS OF THE BRAIN

Note the balanced brain on the right

One of the most interesting areas of research on the effects of contemplative practices has explored the possibility that the actual structure of the brain is changed by meditation practice. Several neuroscientists have shown that some of the brain regions activated during meditation are actually different in people who meditate regularly, and the most recent evidence suggests that the changes can occur in as little as eight weeks. This finding is at odds with what we think we know about brain structure in adults. We used to believe that sometime shortly after twenty-five or thirty years of age the brain was finished with growth and development. From then on, the brain became progressively impaired by age and injury, and it was all downhill from there. But recent meditation research suggests that this glum outcome may not be inevitable. Meditation practice is associated with changes of specific brain areas that are essential for attention, learning, and the regulation of emotion.

via Shambhala Sun – This is Your Brain on Mindfulness (July 2011).

Spirituality versus Activism

This blog has taken a turn in recent weeks as I write about social issues. When I began A Cookbook of Consciousness, it was in order to share my thoughts about higher states of consciousness. I was working on Sea of Joy at the time and was tired of keeping my thoughts to myself.

After Obama was elected, I assumed that America would back off its imperialistic ambitions and focus on fixing the U.S. economy. Like so many others, I was wrong. This, and the writing of The Curse of the Internet, led me to take an interest in politics and economics. The more I learned, the more upset I became. Although I’m just another voice crying in the cyberspace wilderness, I felt like I had to express my views on the important issues facing us today. In essence, I became an activist. I was a reluctant one, though, because in the past, I believed that spirituality and social activism didn’t mix. I’ve changed my mind.

Ram Dass and Friends

Ram Dass and Friends

A minor miracle helped make my mind up. When I opened my email last week, an old newsletter from the Ram Dass Love, Serve, Remember Foundation miraculously opened. I say miraculously because it simply opened by itself. It contained this quote by Ram Dass:

You use the things that are on your plate, that are presented to you. So that relationships, economics, psychodynamics—all of these become grist for the mill of awakening. They all are part of your curriculum.

At that moment in time, I was having second thoughts about my decision to take on the responsibilities I’ve taken on in the past five years. I used to live a quiet, almost hermetic life and lived in an almost constant meditative state. Since moving to Cambodia, I have had to confront life head-on as I face the challenges of life here. Had I abandoned the spiritual life? That miraculous email, which I had only cursorily read the first time I saw it, convinced me that I had not.

I’ve been taking a lot of time off of my regular writing assignments to read and write about the social issues that face us today. You’d have to be blind not to notice that we’re on the edge of an economic and, more importantly, political precipice. I’m well aware that I don’t have a following, but also strongly feel the need to express my views. Is my foray into activism just a waste of time?

Although it isn’t as spectacularly miraculous as having an old email spontaneously open, this morning a new Ram Dass “Words of Wisdom” quote came to my inbox. This is what it said, in part:

does working on yourself have anything to do with whether you protest, march, drop out, drop in? No, it has nothing whatsoever to do with that, because at any moment you are consciousness involved in a nature package

Let me make it clear: Ram Dass is not my guru. I met him when I was in India. We both were drawn to the same guru – Neem Karoli Baba, the “guru who is not my guru.” However, in these two instances, at least, I believe that Maharaj-ji was speaking to me through Ram Dass. I am at peace with myself again. Acuun Trann (thank you), Ram Dass. I don’t have words to express my gratitude to Neem Karoli Baba. That’s okay. He knows what’s inside my heart.