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Saturday, January 2, 2021

Mindfulness, Compassion, Nonviolence - Series 14

 There are Buddhist meditation techniques with focus on each one of the steps listed earlier. Samatha meditation is for calming the mind. Vipassana meditation is to help look deeply at the way our mind works. There is the Karuna meditation (compassion) and Tongleng meditation (for taking up the suffering of others) etc., They are not one dimensional. Each system has focus on one area but all of them have some common underlying Buddhist teachings at the core, including mindful breathing and being in the present moment. (The three seals of Buddhism, namely anatman or non-self, anitya or impermanence and nirvana are basic teachings in all branches of Buddhism)

Although these Buddhist meditation techniques (and also Hindu methods) are used commonly as part of wellness programs for stress-relief or insight into destructive mental habits, it should be possible to use these as steppingstones to higher levels of spiritual training. That does not mean one should become a recluse or an ascetic to practice meditation. But one can use meditation to grow in spiritual direction and develop helpful, healthy mental attitudes to life. 

I do not plan to venture into all the above areas. However, I plan to write my ideas on how to practice compassion and loving-kindness meditation since I believe strongly that we need as many people as possible in this world to learn and practice compassion meditation so that future generations can live in a peaceful world. It goes without saying that it is not enough to meditate on compassion - it should lead to practice. 

Once you have learnt to meditate with focus on the breath, you can learn to focus on various parts of the body and experience whatever sensations you feel in those parts. You learn to just observe and accept them without judgment or without any need to change what is real. This practice helps in several ways.

First, if there is itching in some part of the body, just observing it, and acknowledging it without a need to scratch, allows you to change your attitude to that sensation. If it is pain, by taking the time to experience it, you may be able to realize that you have been catastrophizing the pain and making it worse. You may realize that you have been imagining many bad outcomes in the future or disappointed about activities you may have to forego. This should make it clear that living in the present moment with focus on breath and the current pain, removes the sting of the anxieties about the future. Buddha calls the secondary pain associated with fear and anxieties as the “second arrow”.

This method is used currently as an adjunct to the treatment of many chronic conditions associated with pain. Studies have shown that learning to practice mindful meditation  gives a sense of control to the sufferer, reduces the need for pain medicines and improves the quality of life.

Second, by learning to focus on body parts and recognize various kinds of sensations (pain, tightness, warmth, tension etc.,) will be helpful when learning to understand our own emotions. For example, we know how our face gets flushed, voice trembles and hands shake when we get angry. Or we may feel a sense of sinking in the abdomen, when we are scared. By being aware of these sensations, next time any one of these sensations are felt and recognized we will be able to realize that we are about to get angry or get anxious or depressed and use that insight to modify our behavior instead of reflexive outburst or retreat.

This can also be used to practice gratitude meditation. We take our eyes and the ears and the legs for granted. They keep working constantly. How wonderful it will be to stop, meditate and relate to parts of our own body, experience the miracle of life and be thankful that every cell in our body is working to keep us afloat!

During one of the meditation-retreats I attended with Rev. Thich Naht Hanh, I learnt to go one level deeper. With focus on each organ, I learnt to say “thank you”, appreciate the miracle of each organ and also take a personal pledge to do things which will strengthen that organ. That gave me a chance to promise to avoid habits which are damaging to that organ. For example, when I am focusing on liver, I can promise not to drink alcohol and  to  eat healthy balanced food ; while focusing on the lung, promise to exercise regularly and not to smoke etc.,

Now, here is a link to a guided relaxation video from Ms. Tara Brach, a popular meditation teacher.      TaraBrach Leads a Guided Meditation for Sleep and Relaxation - YouTube

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