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                                                      Meditation, Benefit By It by Shanti S. Sweeney

There is no doubt we live in a stressful society. We are always running here and there, worrying about this, and worrying about that. Even in our time off, we fill it up with things to do. Run here, run there, and even vacations are exhausting. We just don't know how to really just sit and do nothing. Sadly, we don't even know how to just rest. Our minds and bodies need rest and we need to make time for this necessary healing to avoid emotional problems and physical illness. Those who have mastered meditation reap the benefits of this healing practice. By resting the mind, one is more in control of it, and not likely to dwell on disturbing things in our life that may or may not be actually something to concern ourselves with. Totally calming and relaxing the body is restorative. The fact one is bringing both mind and body together means one is coming to their true home. The safe place of refuge which is our birthright that we need to be taught to connect with even though it has been there all the time. We are the owners of our minds and bodies yet we let them control us. Minds race from one negative thing to another, jumping around like hyperactive monkeys. Our body reacts by raising blood pressure, we can't concentrate, focus, and we get anxious and touchy. Meditation is a practice that gives us control over the mind.

The "science" behind meditation shows it can calm anxiety, lower blood pressure, and one can experience true relief from stress. When trained minds are observed with equipment, we see changes to brain waves and the brain actually becomes rewired. Because the mind is plastic and malleable, we can effect positive changes to encourage good health and happiness. I just recently saw there is work being done with brain injury patients and using meditation to help them recover more brain function.

At first, I didn't think I could meditate. I've always had severe monkey mind...leaping from one thing to another, always grasping after this thought, then that one. I also did not have a good concept of what meditation is. I thought one had to totally empty the mind. Yes, some forms of meditation try to achieve this but there are many ways to meditate. I will mention a few which are simple and effective which anyone can do.

First, before you think you can't do it, or you tried before and couldn't do it, please think again. Years of habit is responsible for having no control over your thoughts and it will take time to break this habit. At first, all I got was a fleeting glimpse of what could be achieved. It was tantalizing because those fleeting moments felt very good. The fleeting moments turned into a minute, and that turned into minutes at a stretch. As control is gained, one could theoretically maintain meditative states for ever. So, remember, this is a practice and practice you must before you gain dexterity...as with anything learned. Then, this new practice becomes the habit.

The Buddha gave a teaching on how to meditate. It is as valid now as it was 2500 years ago. He taught one should sit with the legs crossed, the body erect and straight, as this makes one stable on the earth. If one experiences too much pain sitting this way, one can sit comfortably in a chair with back straight and feet flat on the floor. Close the eyes to block out sensory stimulation as a distraction. Smile slightly and begin thus: be totally and fully aware of the breath. Say to yourself: I am fully aware of my breathing. When I breathe in, I am aware I am breathing in, breathing out, I am aware I am breathing out. Say those phrases while you breathe. The goal is to focus on the breath, in and out. If this is all one can muster for meditation this is great! If the monkey starts jumping around or thoughts come to your mind, do not get upset. Remember, this is an old habit and it will intrude, most likely frequently when you first start. Recognize what is happening, your mind isn't paying attention, and you are thinking. Acknowledge this with gentleness, perhaps say to yourself ah, I know you. You are back Well, it's not time for you, this is time for mind and body to come together and go back to focusing on the breath. Breathing in, I know I am breathing in, breathing out, I know I am breathing out. It helps to focus on the rise and fall of your stomach so you see, whether or not you have your eyes open or it's in your mind's eye, the effects of the breath on your body. After a bit, you can start saying to yourself, breathe in, breath out. Or, breathing in calm, breathing out peace. One can also count how long it takes to breathe in, how long it takes to breathe out. What will be noticed is that the breathing becomes slower, more regular and your body becomes relaxed. Then just the words in and out while breathing or calm and peace. A richer experience may be gotten if one visualizes the path of the oxygen as it passes into the nostrils, down to the lungs, into the blood, through the heart, and to all the organs and cells of the body. Visualize the carbon dioxide getting into the blood from the cells, being pumped by the heart to the lungs and back out. The next form of meditation is a total relaxation of the body and involves visualization.

This next meditation should last at least a half hour and I found easier to do than concentrating on the breath. The result is relaxation of the body and the mind is focused on the body so mind and body are brought back together. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn says not to worry if you fall asleep. Your mind and body needed it or you wouldn't have fallen asleep. Try again when you are less tired. Lay comfortably on your back. Focus on the breath for a bit and then proceed by focusing on your feet. Express your gratitude for all the hard work they have done for years. You depend on them, they do your bidding, you need to appreciate them. Think about them relaxing. They deserve it, they need it, and tell them you appreciate them and want them to be happy and healthy. Next, move up to your lower legs. Do the same thing, be grateful, feel the feeling of gratefulness for them. Thank them for their years of service. Then working your way up through the body, concentrate and thank each body part in turn. The more one knows about anatomy, the richer the experience. Internal organs, how they work, etc. gives much to meditate upon. If you have a body part that is unwell, diseased, or hurting spend extra time with it. Let it know you know of its suffering and you will take care of it the best you are able and urge the other parts of the body to lend their strength and health to the ailing member. Comfort it like you would an ailing child. Show it you care. Say loving, caring things to it. A new study shows people who practice meditation can change the way their bodies perceive pain. They can gain some measure of relief from chronic pain just with their minds.

The last one I will mention is walking meditation. I have seen many, many suggestions on how to do walking meditation. I will explain the one I do because that is what I am familiar with. Pick a path either indoors or out that you are familiar with. Begin walking at a very leisurely pace. Focus on the breath and each step you take. Here the sound of the step, feel the step, feel the muscles work, take the next step and focus totally on that. Of course, you can't have your eyes closed for this because you need to see where you are going and there are lots of opportunities to get distracted by what you see, but keep coming back to the steps. I also like to carry a hand mala with me to do mantras. Hand malas are unobtrusive and one can recite mantras while walking.

One can can meditate, walking or sitting, on the interconnectedness of things. The Buddha taught nothing arises out of nothing, this is, because that is. Meditate on this. See the tree, see the sunshine, rain, and nutrients that made the tree. See a park bench and if it is made of wood, really see what it is made of. It is made out of sunshine, rain, nutrients from the soil, the logger who logged the tree, his parents, all of his ancestors, what he had for breakfast, the sunshine and rain in the food he ate, which is the same sunshine and rain in the tree and you, the carpenter that made the bench, etc. See the truth in how we are all connected even with inanimate things. There are a multitude of paths to see this inter-being and you can explore them all. One of my favorites is Thich Nhat Hahn's suggestion of seeing the flower in the compost pile of rotting fruit and vegetables. Or all your ancestors in the palm of the hand. You are not distinctly you in the sense that you are here because of many circumstances and they are all apart of you. Parents, ancestors, the farmers who feed you, the sunshine, etc. Nothing arises from nothing, something always was there before and many things come together in order for something to manifest.

So, this was the briefest of introductions on meditation and it really can be done by anyone. It gives control over your mind, it makes one calmer, more able to deal with problems in life by being able to focus and not be scattered, blood pressure usually goes down if it is stress related, pain is easier to tolerate, and when the negative monkeys jumping from one thing to another are removed from your life, you become happier, less anxious, and less angry. If enough people practice meditation in a society, the society becomes a less stressful one. Anxiety, fear, and anger are contagious but so is calm, serenity, kindness, and patience. The choice is actually our own as to which path we wish to take.

Author is a practicing Buddhist who pulls her practices from all sources to create her vehicle. Visit Mani Plants and Malas to see and purchase Buddhist malas and Buddhist Malas and Thought  for explanation of malas, some mantras to say, suggested books on Buddhism, and thoughts to meditate on.
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