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February 2004

Dear Wildmind Subscriber,

Welcome to our latest newsletter.

As ever, we bring you a roundup of recent news-stories about meditation, a book recommendation, a quote of the month with commentary -- and of course news about Wildmind's forthcoming online meditation courses.

Our courses can help you to achieve your full potential, so that you can experience more joy and creativity in your life. Make sure you book your place now so that you can experience the benefits of meditation. Our next online meditation courses start Monday, February 2.


In this issue:

  • Meditation in the news
  • Workshops in New Hampshire
  • Give $1 to Wildmind
  • Our online courses
  • Book of the month
  • Quote of the month

Meditation in the news

Here are last month's news stories concerning meditation.

Meditation, exercise stop stress before it happens (Herald-Dispatch)
Many Americans tend to be reactive instead of proactive when it comes to battling stress, said Richard Wilson, director of Cabell Huntington Hospital Pastoral Counseling Center. "We tend to get overwhelmed instead of doing what is necessary on the front end," he said. "I think reducing stress works much better from a preventive side than it does after we're pulling our hair out. I practice meditation, prayer and exercise. I find that I have less stress if I do these things."

Virgin Atlantic Offers Passengers Inflight 'Meditainment' to London (Yahoo Business News)
Virgin Atlantic Airways is to offer passengers Meditainment, the world's first inflight meditation program, from February 1, 2004 as part of its extensive inflight entertainment package. Meditainment Ltd, a company that specializes in guided meditation experiences, has produced a series of meditative journeys for the audio inflight entertainment system.

Exercising the demons (Observer, UK)
...The other key component of my anti-depressive programme is meditation. As Rowe says: 'The depressed person might appear to an outsider to be inactive, but inside, the person's thoughts are churning around. Meditation, or just learning to centre yourself and relax, can quieten these thoughts'...

Setting captives free (Buddhist News Network)
Prisoners can't go to the temple, so for the past three decades, Phra Khemadhammo has been taking the temple to them. Each week, the British-born Buddhist monk travels more than 960 kilometres to prisons in various parts of Britain to give spiritual guidance to inmates.

Mind over disease: Meditation is proving to be an antidote to a variety of ills (New York Daily News)
In the middle of the night, Dale Lechtman wakes up, all kinds of thoughts crowding sleep out of her mind. But Lechtman has an effective weapon to fight her insomnia: meditation. Lying in bed, she focuses on breathing. She breathes in deeply. Then she exhales through her nose and mouth slowly, as if she were trying to make a feather float on her breath.

How a 10-day silence transformed my life (The Philippine Star)
I have been filled with gratitude since I attended the 10-day course in Vipassana meditation last October. Since October is the month of my birth, I decided to make this course a retreat for myself. This retreat gave me 10 beautiful days of silence, time with myself, and some techniques on meditation. Indeed, I received a gift from life about life that came at a most precise time.

Meditation may help brighten year (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
When Abby Terris was a little girl, she used to sit in the garden and do absolutely nothing, and it was wonderful. When she got a little older, and the world got a little more complicated, that kind of peace left her for awhile. But she found it again when she discovered Zen meditation and learned once again to live in the moment...

Quest for spirituality has many looking within (Cleveland.com)
Slowly, they turn, Buddhists, Jews, Catholics, atheists and others, moving in short, purposeful steps around one another in walking meditation at the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland...

Achieving inner peace: Meditation provides relaxation (Lawrence Journal World, KS)
Joe Mentesana got into meditation by happenstance. "I just came across an old self-help psychology book of my dad's from the '60s. It had a little snippet that said not to meditate for more than 20 minutes a day, because it would be an infringement on your relationship to the universe," said Mentesana, a December graduate of Kansas University with a bachelor's degree in religious studies. "It's very funny, but that got me started. After that, I just kept on reading." Six years after coming across that odd passage, Mentesana is still meditating -- for at least 20 minutes per day, usually before he goes to bed.

In sickness and in health: empty your mind (The Telegraph, UK)
Forget the gym - what we need is mental fitness, says Robert Matthews

Swedish prisoners mending ways through meditation (The Star, South Africa)
Red drapes billow from the ceiling, tea lights flicker in front of an altar and chants play softly. It is easy to forget the setting is Sweden's top security prison and the men meditating are hardened convicts. Kumla prison, 200 km west of Stockholm, runs a unique project where inmates serving long sentences can apply for contemplative retreats in a prison wing turned into a monastery.

Monks in the mist (SMH travel News, Australia)
Monks in the mist January 6, 2004 In search of spiritual enlightenment - and a cheap place to stay - Arin Greenwood books into a Japanese monastery.

People can draw energy from all sorts of outlets (Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Indiana)
Good nutrition, regular exercise, more sleep and better time management are some of the proven ways to increase personal energy, but there are others as well. Some people swear by the ancient arts of meditation, massage, yoga and tai chi and chi kung. Here is information on each.

Meditation's medical benefits draw followers (Erie Times-News, Pennsylvania)
Addie DiBacco doesn't think about her three heart attacks when she meditates every morning in her living room. She doesn't think about her two grandchildren, or her husband. In fact, she tries not to think about anything at all. "It's the most difficult part of meditation," said DiBacco, 60. "I try to focus on my breathing. As soon as I feel myself start to drift off, I come back by repeating the word 'peace.'"

Rugby star on Buddhist life (BBC)
Former rugby star Ricky Evans has spoken about how life has been transformed by his conversion to Buddhism. Evans, who won 19 caps for Wales, says the inner peace he has found by adopting the Eastern spiritual tradition means as much to him as representing his country.

Buddhist's battle to meditate (BBC)
A Buddhist from Essex was forced to apply for planning permission to meditate in his own patch of woodland.

You Be the Judge (Louisville Snitch, Kentucky)
...Thou shalt not teach religion in the schools, ruled the judge, and the course was stopped. transcendental Meditation, he said, involves instruction about a supreme being or power, and that violates the First Amendment...

Indian stress-busters target Iraq (BBC)
India's Art of Living Foundation is bringing yoga, meditation and breathing exercises to try to soothe a people rattled by war and continuing violence.

Meditation Has a Place in Helping Patients Improve Health, Doctors Say (Good housekeeping)
In the middle of the night, Dale Lechtman wakes up, all kinds of thoughts crowding sleep out of her mind. But Lechtman uses meditation to handle insomnia. Lying in bed, she focuses on breathing. She takes in air deeply. Then, she expels it through her nose and mouth slowly, as though she were trying to make a feather float on her breath.

At one with the cosmos (if not the council) (The Telegraph, UK)
Edward James points to Northwood, his tiny, half-acre plot of Essex woodland, and sighs. "This," he says, "has been put under the same kind of planning scrutiny as a housing estate or a 24-storey high-rise." But Mr James does not want to erect housing on his land, or even one house; he wants to use it for meditation.

Christian meditation revived (Montreal Gazette)
Silent repetition of a mantra called a 'jesus prayer' aids search for inner peace, priest says.

A fancy for Falun Dafa meditation (Times of India)
Falun Dafa, the practice of improving one's mind and body through simple exercises and meditation, is gaining popularity in the twin cities. Falun Dafa grabbed the headlines in 1999 when Chinese authorities banned its practice alleging that it was "advocating superstition and spreading fallacies".

Group seeks Peace Palace site (Iowa City Press-Citizen)
The transcendental Meditation Program wants to begin building a 5,000-square-foot Peace Palace in Iowa City within a year. An artist's rendering of a Peace Palace, or Maharishi Vedic Center. Special to the Press-Citizen The new meditation center could cost more than $1 million.

Tibetan nun's path to asylum hindered (Washington Post)
Sonam always feared her devotion to Buddhism would land her behind bars in her native China. As it turns out, she is serving a long term in jail -- not in East Asia but in central Virginia. The 30-year-old Buddhist nun, who grew up in a Tibetan village near the foot of Mount Everest, fled to the United States last August after family members had been tortured and friends jailed for their faith, she said. But when she arrived at Dulles International Airport and requested asylum, federal immigration officials detained her and placed her in the local jail in this small city outside Richmond.


Forthcoming workshops with Bodhipaksa in NH

Bodhipaksa

Weekend retreat, Friday February 20 to Sunday February 22
"Guides to Beyond".

Borrowing a phrase from Rumi, I call our distractions "messengers from beyond" because I see them as being (this time borrowing a phrase from Marshall Rosenberg) "the tragic expressions of unmet needs". I see each hindrance as being the mind's poorly educated attempt to find peace, and our task being to find a wiser way to bring that peace into being through intuiting and meeting our needs.

The problem with the hindrances is of course that they don't generate peace, but it's important to realize that they are not "the enemy". The underlying motivation that each hindrance has (no matter how unpleasant or "unspiritual" the distraction may seem on the surface) is to bring us peace. Each hindrance is expressive of a real need which we much fulfill in order to become happy.

When we look at each hindrance in a nonreactive way, we can intuit what that underlying need is. This may require some time spent just sitting with the hindrance, giving it our care and attention, as if it were an old friend who has turned up on the doorstep in an unhappy state. We need to invite the hindrance in, sit with it, and listen. That listening is not passive, of course. It involves an attitude of gentle curiosity to help the hindrance unpack itself, and to reveal its message to us so that we can grow and develop.

"This is what we'll be practicing on the weekend retreat: learning to sit with our distractions in an appreciative, compassionate, and curious way."

Starts 7pm, ends 3pm. At Aryaloka Retreat Center, Newmarket, New Hampshire. $145.


begging bowl

 

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Our next online courses start on Monday, February 2.
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Course Schedule for 2004

Bodhipaksa is taking a few more breaks this year in order to go on retreat and to concentrate on writing projects, so plan ahead if you're interested in taking one of our courses.

Please note that there has been a slight change from the dates announced last month. We're no longer running a course in September, but there will be a course starting late November and running until just before Christmas.

Courses start on the following dates:

  Feb 2, 2004
  Apr 5, 2004
  May 3, 2004
  Oct 4, 2004
  Nov 1, 2004
  Nov 29, 2004


book cover

Book of the month

Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha
Tara Brach, Hardcover, $16.77.

(Click on the title to purchase from Amazon.com, or click here to purchase from Amazon.co.uk, paperback 6.99)

Tara Brach's book follows hot on the heels of Tara Bennett-Goleman's "Emotional Alchemy", which was another title exploring the application of Vipassana meditation to the field of psychotherapy. Who'd have thought there would see so many meditating Taras practicing as therapists?

But joking aside, I'd like to get my main reservations out of the way right at the start before I go on to praise this very helpful book. The book, like much spiritual self-help literature these days, is much longer than it needs to be. The central message of each chapter, although very valid, is drummed in with example after example, and every point is explained in exhaustive and sometimes repetitious detail to the point where the writing seems to be "padded". Maybe this is just a temperamental quirk on my part, but I appreciate conciseness in writing. And one other minor criticism; I'd have expected that a Buddhist who has been practicing as long as Ms Brach has, and who is herself called Tara, would know that Tara and Kwan Yin (also known as Avalokitesvara in India and Chenrezig in Tibet) are not the same figure.

Those quibbles aside, this will be a very helpful and practical book for many people, dealing as it does with how we can work with our feelings of unworthiness in order to transform them through awareness. It's a much needed book as well, since this is a topic that traditional Buddhism scarcely touches on, self-loathing being a particularly western phenomenon (the Dalai Lama was completely perplexed when told that many westerners had problems with self-hatred, and had never come across this amongst eastern Buddhists).

Brach introduces various tools to help deal with the scourge of self-hatred, and incidentally introduces the very moving stories of some of her patients who have worked through these issues using those same tools. I really was close to tears as I witnessed people accepting feelings that they had been running from for years, and making strides towards self-acceptance.

First and foremost amongst the tools offered is of course mindfulness, which introduces into our experience what Brach calls a "sacred pause". Mindfulness is a nonreactive state of mind that avoids running away from or indulging in our problematic emotions, allowing us to fully acknowledge what is present. Brach teaches how to use an awareness of the body to escape from the "trance of unworthiness". She teaches the metta bhavana (development of lovingkindness) and the closely related Tibetan Tonglen meditation practices, in order to cultivate more self-love, as well as the karuna bhavana (development of compassion) to help us become less self-absorbed. And lastly she touches on the Tibetan practice of Dzogchen, or "great perfection" which involves relaxing into an awareness of the mind's inherent purity.

Over the course of this book then, we are taken from learning to acknowledge and accept who we are, including our self-hatred and sense of unworthiness, to seeing the inherent purity of the mind that Buddhism says is always there beneath the surface. At every stage of the way, Brach supplies meditation exercises (sometimes more than one per chapter) to help make the material experiential rather than merely theoretical.

And in making her points she quotes widely; from Sufis, modern western poets like David Whyte and T.S. Eliot, and from teachers from all of the Buddhist traditions -- Theravadin, Tibetan, and Zen -- from past and present. In fact the breadth of her knowledge is quite astonishing, and I felt privileged to be given a glimpse into so many different worlds, all unified within a single perspective.

The tone throughout is compassionate and confessional, and in showing how she has worked through her own difficulties Brach gives one of the highest teachings that anyone has to offer -- that of exemplifying the path.

 

 


orison swett marden

Quote of the month

"You cannot measure a man by his failures. You must know what use he makes of them. What did they mean to him. What did he get out of them."
-- Orison Swett Marden

When I first went to the State Prison in Concord, New Hampshire, last year to teach meditation to some of the prisoners there, I have to confess to a certain amount of anxiety. I'd expected an atmosphere of barely suppressed anger and frustration, and that the men I'd be working with would be difficult, aggressive, and suspicious of whether meditation would have anything to offer them.

It's interesting just how complete the mind's simulation of a future event can be -- and how wrong! It turned out that the group of men I met were friendly, intelligent (several had Masters degrees), witty (one reminded me of the comedian Robin Williams), and many of them were highly committed practitioners of Buddhism in an environment that was far from ideal. I remarked afterwards that if I'd met these men in an evening class at the local university I'd have wondered what I'd done to attract such a fine group of people.

Lessons? I realized that you can't judge people on the worst mistake that they've ever made. People sometimes "lose it" and do very foolish and harmful things. Doing so doesn't make someone "a bad person". Criminals can have many fine qualities, as I saw. At the same time, you can't judge someone just on their apparent personality, leaving out the worst things they have done. Some of these men are in jail for 20 years or more, and we can assume that some have murdered, been very violent, raped, sold dangerous drugs, robbed people, etc.

But perhaps the most important lesson I learned (and not for the first time) was to notice the mind's tendency to create fantasies of what future situations are going to be like, and its tendency to believe those stories.

I think this is a lesson that all of us could do with reflecting upon. When we observe the mind in meditation, we notice it doing exactly that -- creating stories and believing them. And the stories we create and believe in this have a profound effect on our lives. The book reviewed this month ("Radical Acceptance") explores how inner stories of unworthiness, repeated over and over at crucial points in our lives, can cripple us. Even those people who appear to be highly successful and competent can be sucked into the "trance of unworthiness" -- that state of mind in which we create and believe stories of our own lack of worth.

One of the most wonderful and radical things about meditation is how it can lift us above these stories, revealing them to be fantasies and not reality. Not only can we learn from our failures, as Marden says, but we can discover that many of our failures exist only in our minds.

Bodhipaksa


Copyright © 2004, Bodhipaksa.
Wildmind, PO Box 212, Newmarket NH 03857, USA.

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