What Westerners can learn from Eastern meditation

13/06/2017 at 10:00 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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When meditation goes well, it’s brilliant. Blissful. Calming. However, many people, especially beginners, struggle to reach that point. They talk about ‘failing’ and ‘not being able to meditate’, as though it’s an exam they’ve somehow flunked.

I’ve heard this despondent comment many times over the nine years that I’ve been running meditation groups in the UK. When newcomers turn up, they often say, “I can’t meditate, but I want to try and give it another go”. Or “I tried meditation once before, and I couldn’t do it.”

And, of course, I regularly meet people who wouldn’t go anywhere near a meditation group, believing that they are doomed to failure so it’s not even worth ‘trying’. But there’s something wistful in the way they tell me this. It’s as if they suspect they’re missing something, and they just don’t know what to do about it.

There is an interesting reason why Westerners may sometimes find it more difficult to meditate than their Eastern counterparts. It all comes down to the name itself: ‘meditation’. Or, to be exact, the origins of the name.

The Western approach

We can trace the verb ‘to meditate’ back to Latin. It meant: to ponder, reflect, consider, devise. In the old European languages it also meant: ‘to measure’, ‘to judge’, ‘to protect’, ‘to provide for’ and ‘to deliberate’. Go further back in time, to the original ‘seed’ language that early humanity shared, and it meant ‘to take appropriate measures’, ‘to give advice’ and ‘to heal’.  This was the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) seed word, ‘med’, which also evolved into ‘mediate’ and medicine among other words.

The historical Western approach to meditation is therefore driven by a well-intentioned desire for results: the solving of a problem, the righting of a wrong, the mending of an ill.

The Eastern approach

In the East, the Sanskrit for meditation is ‘dhyana’. Other Eastern languages have variants on this. The PIE seed word for dhyana is ‘dheie’ meaning ‘to see, to look’. The word ‘Zen’, signifying an aspect of Buddhism with a deeply contemplative approach to life, shares the same seed word.

So in the East, ‘dhyana’ is the practice of simply being, simply witnessing without judgement.

Western meditators broadly follow the Eastern tradition. We sit in silence, simply being… but we also have a cultural legacy which whispers to us that we need to get results from our quiet time.

A happy fusion

Of course, we can’t really divide the world into neat East-West packages. Wherever you live, whatever your origins, you’re pretty well guaranteed to experience the ‘monkey chatter’ of your mind during meditation. And this can do a great job of distracting you with wide-ranging thoughts.

But your approach to the monkey chatter can make the difference between frustration and happiness during your practice – and that’s where an awareness of meditation’s ancient definitions can be helpful.

If we accept that we have chosen to sit in silence, focusing on a particular word, or concept, or image, or sound, simply to witness without trying to change anything, then we are much more likely to enjoy our meditation sessions. Each time we notice that our thoughts have strayed, we calmly remind ourselves that we are here to meditate, and we return to our point of focus.

No judgement. Just practice.

To summarise, we meditate simply to meditate. There is no end result we are looking for.  So we cannot ‘fail’. We are simply being conscious witnesses of the moment.

And yet, when we make a regular practice of meditating in this way, with no expectation of reward, the insights and inspiration do come. Meditation focuses and refreshes the mind like nothing else.

So if you really struggle to meditate, take heart. You are not alone. Now that you know the ancient secret buried in the very name of meditation, you can choose to let go of the striving and, instead, embrace the serenity.

 

Six steps to perfect prediction

20/03/2017 at 9:15 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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woman-hand-girl-glass 2Photo: Karolina/Kaboompics

Prediction is a popular pursuit in many areas, including business, politics, weather, economics, and (of course) the field of intuition. This article is about channelling one’s own intuition to gain a sense of what is likely to happen in the future. Perhaps the following tips will be useful for economists and weather forecasters too. Here they are, in six not always straightforward steps.

  1. Let go of any personal agenda. If you can’t do that, your best predictions will be no better than guesses, and often far worse. If you secretly want a certain outcome, you will distort your interpretation of everything you see, or sense. If you are not aware of this personal bias, or even in denial about it, your attempts to predict will fail. It’s good to work at knowing yourself. What, for example, do you fear? Unless you deal with your fears, they will pop up and distort your intuitions about the future.
  2. Make a life-long practice of being an observer of people, of life, of events. The more you observe, the more consciously aware you become of patterns. Patterns are everywhere. We tend to believe that we have self-determination – that we can shape our own future. That is true. But beneath the conscious level we ourselves are a part of many overlapping and interweaving patterns. This means that our choices are not always entirely our own. They are an expression of our family, our community, our country, our culture. Even when we rebel against these influences, they still work on us in unconscious ways. When we see the many patterns of life clearly, we are more likely to notice breaks in the patterns, and the effects of those disturbances to the general order of things. Observing the pattern of cause and effect is in itself a life-long discipline.
  3. Understand the process of prediction. Think of yourself as a channel. To be more precise, your conscious mind is the conduit through which unconscious information flows. You might think of pioneering psychologist Carl Jung here: he suggested that beneath the realms of our individual unconscious are vast realms of collective unconscious knowledge that we all share. When predicting, it’s useful to think of yourself drawing on this vast well of unconscious knowledge.
  4. Be clear about what you are aiming to predict. Ask a question. Consider whatever comes up in relation to that question.
  5. Use tools in moderation. Understand that no tools are essential, but they can be helpful. Tools might include scrying instruments, such as a crystal ball or a blank mirror, that you gaze into with a lightly unfocused gaze – a tv screen for the mind. Tools might also include oracle cards, or simply watching the sky or land and noticing what you notice. What comes forward for your attention? What relevance does it have to your question?
  6. Relax. Let go. Answers may come quickly, slowly or not at all. Sleep on it. Keep a dream journal. Be open to answers in your dreams, which can cut right to heart of an issue and reveal the psychology of a person or a nation. When you wake in the morning, pause… and sense the beautiful fresh blankness of the new day, like an empty slate on which your intuition can write. Take the whole process lightly. Be grateful for insights.

Finally, remember that prediction is always based in the present moment. It is subject to change. If a person starts thinking differently, they behave differently and the future changes. So we can only really tell what is likely to happen if people continue as they are. Above all, be kind. We always have the power to shape the future for the better.

For a healthy life, love is the answer

10/03/2017 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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i-m-priscilla-105714Photo courtesy of I’m Priscilla/Unsplash

Think of the good relationships in your life. These could include a partner, children, parents, sibling, nephew or niece. A small group of supportive friends or colleagues. Maybe an animal companion or two. Whoever they are, think of them now….

Chances are you feel a glow deep inside you, a softening and relaxing of your whole body. It’s uplifting to think of those we love and care for. And now there is plenty of evidence that having these relationships helps us to stay healthy too.

A Harvard study  which began in 1938 and is still ongoing has been tracking over 700 men, some from inner-city Boston and the others from Harvard. They were teenagers when the study began. Seventy members of the original group are still alive. The men’s wives and children are now also being included. Along the way, the researchers have discovered that people with good relationships tend to be healthier too.

“Good, close relationships predicted not just that they would stay happier, but they would also stay healthier,” says Dr Robert Waldinger, the study’s current director.

Fame and fortune – the things people so often believe they want – simply don’t have the same effect. Having enough is all that’s required as far as happiness is concerned.

Realistic, not rose-tinted

Good relationships don’t always go smoothly. But that’s just part of being human. What matters is that you feel the other person fundamentally has your back.

When relationships do end, it’s good for our long-term health to build new bonds with like-minded others.

Joining new clubs may feel daunting, but it could be the healthiest gift you can give yourself.

It’s never about the number of friends you have. What matters is the quality of your relationships. Many will agree that loneliness in a crowd is far worse than pleasant periods of chosen solitude.

Loneliness is toxic. In the Harvard study, loneliness is associated with a shorter life span. Yet it’s sadly common. Relate’s new study of relationships in Britain, ‘The Way We Are Now’, has found that 13% of UK people have no close friends, and this number has risen in the past two years.

Relate has also found that just under half of all people feel lonely sometimes. A similar number of people living together feel lonely often or all of the time.

Five steps to happiness

Nurturing the good relationships we have, and building new ones when we feel the need, are linked strongly with happiness and health. This is an active process. We have to work at it a bit. Here are some suggestions.

• Write a thoughtful letter by hand to someone you care for, full of appreciation and kindness. Ring up an old friend you haven’t spoken to lately.

• Say “I love you” often to those you love.

Volunteer at a local charity that’s aligned with your interests and skills.

• Join a Meetup or local community group with similar interests to you. Regularly attend get-togethers.

• Finally, there is one practice that will make all of the above easier to accomplish. It’s simple really: love and cherish yourself. Remember that you are a unique member of this amazing human race. You are loveable. For many of us, this takes a little work. But it’s worth it. When you can cherish yourself, it’s infinitely easier to love others – and to allow others to love you in return.

Dream school: learn while you sleep

29/09/2011 at 12:10 pm | Posted in Intuition, Uncategorized, Wellbeing | 2 Comments
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Ask for solutions to come to you in the night, while you sleep.

Mary was a new client who was struggling with a new course that she’d started. “The problem is my memory,” she told me. “I just don’t remember things as well as I used to.”

I told her to stop trying and start relaxing. “That’s all very well for you to say,” she retorted. “But this situation is making me feel stressed. How can I possibly relax?”

So this is what I told her. Maybe it will be useful for you too…

Before you go to sleep at night, while you are lying in bed, ask for the most suitable expert that could possibly exist to help you with your memory, or the subject which you are learning. Ask for expert tuition in this subject while you sleep. Thank the expert, feeling happy in the knowledge that you will get the help you need.

Then… go to sleep.

In the morning when you wake up you may or may not remember any dreams. That doesn’t matter. You will, however, find your learning goes more smoothly. Repeat, at night, for any specific help that you require.

Mary reported back a few days later. “I don’t know how it works, but it does,” she said. “It’s as if I’m using another part of my brain to help me. I almost feel as though I already know what I’m learning.”

Mary now frequently attends dream school while she sleeps. And so can you.

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