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Friday, September 26, 2014

If a tree falls

I often tell meditation students that there is no perfect place to meditate. We meet in a beautiful, serene room -- where we hear yoga students "ommming" in the studio next door, the beeping of the crosswalk sinal, and the skateboarders in the parking lot.

But last weekend I was in a place that was as good as it gets: A former Shaker mill in upstate New York. The room where we practiced had wide, worn wooden floors and large windows that opened onto a view of trees whose leaves were kissed with yellow. A brook flowed down the hill, providing the constant -- yet constantly changing -- sound of water flowing over rocks that spas and therapists try to simulate with fountains to borrow its calming effect.

We were doing body-centered practices, relaxing into the earth, listening to the voices of nature, feeling our toes, one by one, and it was as smooth as the floors that had seen a hundred years of wear. We went outside for walking meditation, filing silently to a relatively level place beside the brook. And we were met by the buzz of chainsaws.

People on the neighboring property were cutting down trees, massive trees that had stood for years and years. As I reached one end of the path, getting ready to turn back, there was a mighty crash as a tree hit the earth. Before we went back inside, another tree was down, thudding its weight into the ground.

Back on our cushions, the leader dinged a bell. "Chainsaw meditation," he said.

People obviously had strong feelings about what happened. Some simply stopped and stared at people with the chainsaws, angry expressions on their faces. My feelings were mixed. We'd just taken down a tree at our house that was dying (and planted a new one), and I'd gotten in the habit of noting dead branches on trees as I moved through the world. There was a tree along the stream that was dead and dry and undoubtedly will fall into the water this winter when the weight of the snow settles on it. That, in turn, will change the stream in some way.

I'd been to this same center in the spring -- the teachers and other students were all different, the water in the brook was higher, the leaves were new, not getting ready to die.

Everything changes -- the yoga class moves on to stretching silently, the crosswalk stops beeping and traffic moves, the chainsaws finish their work for the day. Meditation is about becoming aware of what's there in the moment -- the external phenomena, the internal thoughts, and the interplay between the two -- and resting in the awareness that says, "right  now, it's like this." That's where calm and wisdom abide.
When we speak of "calm abiding," we are not referring to a calm situation, such as meditating in a quiet, beautiful place. We are speaking of a mind that stays steady in the midst of fluctuating circumstances. -- Yonge Mingyur Rinpoche

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mindfulness eases migraines in study

Meditation might be a path to migraine relief, according to a new study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

“Stress is a well-known trigger for headaches and research supports the general benefits of mind/body interventions for migraines, but there hasn’t been much research to evaluate specific standardized meditation interventions,” said Dr. Rebecca Erwin Wells, assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study published in the online edition of the journal Headache.

The study was designed to assess the effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a meditation program, in adults with migraines.

The study was small, only 19 people, but it found measurable differences in headache frequency and severity between those did the MBSR training and those who did not -- 1.4 fewer migraines of shorter duration. Meditators also had increases in mindfulness and self-efficacy -- a sense of personal control over their migraines, Wells said. There were no adverse events and "excellent adherence.”

"For the approximate 36 million Americans who suffer from migraines, there is big need for non-pharmaceutical treatment strategies, and doctors and patients should know that MBSR is a safe intervention that could potentially decrease the impact of migraines,” Wells said.  

Read more here. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Meditation instructions from Guru Bill Murray

A reporter at the Toronto Film Festival, which designated Bill Murray Day, asked Murray: What is it like to be you?

His answer is a gem, and a really good four-minute meditation.

Take three conscious breaths to bring yourself into the moment. And listen to Bill Murray.

Here's the transcript, from

What does it feel like to be you? What does it feel like to be you? Yeah. It feels good to be you, doesn’t it? It feels good, because there’s one thing that you are — you’re the only one that’s you, right?. So you’re the only one that’s you, and we get confused sometimes — or I do, I think everyone does — you try to compete. You think, Dammit, someone else is trying to be me. Someone else is trying to be me. But I don’t have to armor myself against those people; I don’t have to armor myself against that idea if I can really just relax and feel content in this way and this regard. If I can just feel, just think now: How much do you weigh? This is a thing I like to do with myself when I get lost and I get feeling funny. How much do you weigh? Think about how much each person here weighs and try to feel that weight in your seat right now, in your bottom right now. Parts in your feet and parts in your bum. Just try to feel your own weight, in your own seat, in your own feet. Okay? So if you can feel that weight in your body, if you can come back into the most personal identification, a very personal identification, which is: I am. This is me now. Here I am, right now. This is me now. Then you don’t feel like you have to leave, and be over there, or look over there. You don’t feel like you have to rush off and be somewhere. There’s just a wonderful sense of well-being that begins to circulate up and down, from your top to your bottom. Up and down from your top to your spine. And you feel something that makes you almost want to smile, that makes you want to feel good, that makes you want to feel like you could embrace yourself.
So what’s it like to be me? You can ask yourself, What’s it like to be me? You know, the only way we’ll ever know what it’s like to be you is if you work your best at being you as often as you can, and keep reminding yourself: That’s where home is.