A gesture of kindness

tara-brachThe next time you find yourself in a bad mood, take a moment to pause and ask yourself, “What is my attitude toward myself right now? Am I relating to myself with judgment … or with mindfulness, warmth, and respect?”

Typically, you’ll find that when you’re anxious, lonely, or depressed, you’re also down on yourself in some way, and that undercurrent of feeling deficient or unworthy is what’s keeping you cut off from your own aliveness, as well as your feeling of connection with others.

The way of healing and homecoming begins with what I call “a gesture of kindness.” You might for instance put your hand on your heart—letting the touch be tender—and send a message inwardly. It might be “It’s okay, sweetheart.” Or “I care about this suffering.” Or, “I’m sorry and I love you.” Often, it’s simply, “This, too.”

Sometimes, this gesture of kindness includes saying “yes” to whatever’s going on—the yes meaning, “This is what’s happening, it’s how life is right now … it’s okay.”

If you’re really down on yourself, you can also say “Forgiven, forgiven.” Not because there’s something wrong to forgive, but because there’s some judgment to let go of.

As you offer yourself this gesture of kindness, take some moments to stay with yourself, to keep yourself company. Allow whatever most wants attention to surface, and sense that you are the loving presence that can include and embrace whatever’s arising.

True Refuge, published Jan 2013. Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

True Refuge, published Jan 2013. Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Then, see if you can widen your attention, and notice what or who else is floating in your heart space. Perhaps you’ll intentionally offer a gesture of kindness to a friend who’s struggling with disappointment, a family member dealing with illness, or a teen caught in self-doubt.

As you continue to practice offering yourself and others this gesture of kindness, you will discover that this response to life becomes increasingly spontaneous and natural. In time, you’ll recognize it as the most authentic expression of who you are.

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Synesthesia may explain how some healers can see auras

Researchers in Spain have found that at least some of the individuals claiming to see the so-called aura of people actually have the neuropsychological phenomenon known as “synesthesia” (specifically, “emotional synesthesia”). This might be a scientific explanation of their alleged ability.

In synesthetes, the brain regions responsible for the processing of each type of sensory stimuli are intensely interconnected. Synesthetes can see or taste a sound, feel a taste, or associate people or letters with a particular color.

The study was conducted by the University of Granada Department of Experimental Psychology Oscar Iborra, Luis Pastor and Emilio Goez Milan, and has been published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition. This is the first time that a scientific explanation has been provided for the esoteric phenomenon of the aura, a supposed energy field of luminous radiation surrounding a person as a halo, which is imperceptible to most human beings.

In basic neurological terms, synesthesia is thought to be due to cross-wiring in the brain of some people (synesthetes); in other words, synesthetes present more synaptic connections than “normal” people. “These extra connections cause them to automatically establish associations between brain areas that are not normally interconnected,” professor Gómez Milán explains. New research suggests that many healers claiming to see the aura of people might have this condition.

The case of the “Santon de Baza”

One of the University of Granada researchers remarked that “not all ‘healers’ are synesthetes, but there is a higher prevalence of this phenomenon among them. The same occurs among painters and artists, for example.” To carry out this study, the researchers interviewed some synesthetes including a ‘healer’ from Granada, “Esteban Sanchez Casas,” known as “El Santon de Baza”.

Many local people attribute “paranormal powers” to El Santon, because of his supposed ability to see the aura of people “but, in fact, it is a clear case of synesthesia,” the researchers explained. According to the researchers, El Santon has face-color synesthesia (the brain region responsible for face recognition is associated with the color-processing region); touch-mirror synesthesia (when the synesthete observes a person who is being touched or is experiencing pain, s/he experiences the same); high empathy (the ability to feel what other person is feeling), and schizotypy (certain personality traits in healthy people involving slight paranoia and delusions). “These capacities make synesthetes have the ability to make people feel understood, and provide them with special emotion and pain reading skills,” the researchers explain.

In the light of the results obtained, the researchers remarked on the significant “placebo effect” that healers have on people, “though some healers really have the ability to see people’s ‘auras’ and feel the pain in others due to synesthesia.” Some healers “have abilities and attitudes that make them believe in their ability to heal other people, but it is actually a case of self-deception, as synesthesia is not an extrasensory power, but a subjective and ‘adorned’ perception of reality,” the researchers state.

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New article on The Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru

Medicine Buddha, BhaisajyaguruBodhipaksa and Srivandana have posted a new article in our mantra section on the Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru. The article includes an introduction to the Buddha as well as a recording of his mantra.

The Medicine Buddha, or Bhaiśajyaguru, is as his name suggests connected with healing. His mantra exists in both long and short forms. In its long form it is:

namo bhagavate bhaiśajyaguru vaid?ryaprabharājāya tathāgatāya arhate samyaksambuddhāya tadyathā: oṃ bhaiśajye bhaiśajye bhaiśajya-samudgate svāhā.

The short form is:

(tadyathā:) oṃ bhaiśajye bhaiśajye mahābhaiśajye bhaiśajyarāje samudgate svāhā.

“Bhaisajya” means “curativeness” or “healing efficacy,” while “guru” means “teacher” or “master.” Thus he’s the “master of healing.” He’s also known as Bhaisajyaraja, “raja” meaning “king.”

The short form of the mantra could roughly be translated as “Hail! Appear, O Healer, O Healer, O Great Healer, O King of Healing!” The optional “tadyathā” at the beginning means “thus,” and it’s not really part of the mantra, but more of an introduction.

The long version could be rendered as, “Homage to the Blessed One, The Master of Healing, The King of Lapis Lazuli Radiance, The One Thus-Come, The Worthy One, The Fully and Perfectly Awakened One, thus: ‘Hail! Appear, O Healer, O Healer, O Great Healer, O King of Healing!’ ”

You can read the rest of the article and hear the mantra here.

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Healing the mind’s wounds

Every time we have a thought tinged with ill will, jealousy, anger, hatred or revenge, we are self-harming, and we are causing a wound to the mind. Whether the thought be about ourselves or another being, or an inanimate object, we are injuring the mind.

Lama Rangdrol, at a talk in the Bay Area, spoke about how we don’t even trust that our minds will heal when we injure them. He said when we cut our hand, we find some ointment, and a band aid, and trust that it will heal, but we never trust our minds will heal when we have dark thoughts, or fall into depression.

I went away from this talk reflecting on what was the ointment and the band aid for the mind, and I realized it was metta: The practice of loving kindness. It was the meditation that the Buddha gave to his disciples who while meditating in the forests came running back to there teacher crying: “There are monsters, ghouls and evil spirits out there.” The Buddha smiled, calmed them and taught them the metta bhavana, the practice of friendliness, the release of the heart, which shines forth, blazes and penetrates all beings. Loving Kindness. He sent them back into the forest and not one monk returned out of fear. They had healed their minds.

Before we can soothe our minds and heal our minds, we must begin to slow our lives down so we can hear our thoughts.

The Buddha taught pain, and the cessation of pain. He gave us many formulations and methods to work with the pain. Metta, part of the four immeasurables, or the sublime abodes, is one of these methods.
Before we can soothe our minds and heal our minds, we must begin to slow our lives down so we can hear our thoughts. We must learn to allow our thoughts to arise and cease. We must learn not to hold on to our thoughts, or chase our thoughts like a child who is chasing his or her kite. We must learn not to dwell in our thoughts. We must trust the essence of the Buddha’s teaching, the universal law: “This being, that becomes; from the arising of this, that arises; this not being, that does not become; from the ceasing of this, that ceases.” This is the universal law of conditioned co-production.

In simpler terms we must trust that everything is impermanent, that things are always changing. If you tried to count your thoughts you would be amazed at how many thoughts you have in half an hour, and how many thoughts you try to hold on to.

Metta is one of the ways we can begin to soothe our thinking.

This is my reflection for the summer and fall months. I offer this poem, which I wrote some time ago. With Loving kindness,

Advice For Your Anger

There is nothing worse than seeing flaming red
With Butterflies churning away in your stomach.
And your body has ignited into a blazing fire
Extinguishing all the love in your heart.
It’s a warning. Your mind is full of toxic passion.
It’s your bull inside your head, charging with raging anger.

And when your body is consumed with anger
You need to stop when the stars before your eyes are red.
You need to realize that you’re not in control of your passion
If you can feel your breath palpitating inside your stomach.
It’s a warning that you’ve abandoned your heart
You need to find some love to put out your intoxicating fire.

If you ever hear yourself hissing and spitting like a fire
Take a deep breath and try to control your red hot anger.
This will help you dampen your worst thoughts inside your heart
Otherwise you may trigger another person to see sizzling red.
And they’ll stoke up everything from the depths of their stomach
And you will retaliate with a fuming and burning passion.

God forbid you don’t commit a crime of passion.
And pray that you manage to put out your bush fire
With the hope that you can calm your head and stomach
And douse out the fanning flames of your anger.
Try to ignore, every time someone winds you up and waves red
By remembering that it’s important to pause and connect to your heart.

Beware that when hatred sparks up inside your heart
Jealousy and revenge will become compulsive passions
Not even a street traffic light stuck on flashing red
Will stop your anger – It will flare up into a scorching fire.
Hatred is also resentment, prejudice and ill will mingled with anger
Try not to harbor these smoldering poisons inside your stomach.

Anger and hatred mustn’t become flammable luggage inside your stomach
Otherwise you’ll be unhappy and have fear stalking your head and heart.
And not even your family and friends will cope with your fiery anger.
Try to let go of all your pollutant and heated passions
Because they will stoke your head into a combustible fire
And you’ll be like the colored blind bull lunging towards the color red.

So when you feel a flicker of fire inside your stomach
It’s a warning that you’re full of anger and imagining red
What you need is compassion purifying your heart.

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“Healing Breath: Zen for Christians and Buddhists in a Wounded World,” by Rubin Habito

healing breathZen and Christianity may have much to offer each other and to learn from each other. But is it possible to be both a Christian and a Zen Buddhist? Author Ruben Habito seems to think so. Reviewer Samayadevi is more skeptical.

Ruben L F Habito was for many years a Jesuit priest serving in Japan. He studied with both Father Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle, a spiritual pioneer in inter-religious dialog and with Koun Yamada, a renowned Zen teacher. He thus brings a fascinating perspective on the interplay of Christianity, as experienced in Catholicism, and the practice of Zen.

Healing Breath is aimed at those seeking a healing spirituality in their own lives and guidelines for a practice that integrates the personal, social and ecological dimensions of life. He assumes a familiarity with Christian concepts, beliefs and traditions and an unfamiliarity with Zen practice. These are fortuitous assumptions on his part as they allow Habito to explain and teach the four characteristics of Zen and the three fruits of that practice.

The overarching thesis of Healing Breath is that the Zen practice of being still, listening to the breath, and calming the mind all conduce to an experience of the interconnectedness of all life, to “seeing things are they really are.” The healing begins with a (radical) change in how we see the world, a “shift not of strategy but of cosmology”.

In this “right view” the spiritual path is “one with the path of active socio-ecological engagement,” and “healing the world is not unrelated to healing our personal woundedness.” Zen is presented as a practice that resonates with a Christian belief system and is compatible with a Christian faith commitment. “Christian expressions and symbols and practices point to transformative and healing perspectives and experiences opened to on in Zen practice.”

There are many lovely gems in this little tome. In writing about the second mark of Zen practice, not being limited by words or concepts, he writes: “The human capacity to name things takes its toll on our mode of awareness.” The implication is that Zen practice leads to the limitless spaciousness of the Heart Sutra. What an invitation to go beyond our analytical mind (our comfort zone), and, to go deeper into pure unfettered awareness!

Habito sees the violence and destruction in the world being caused by the illusion of “I” and “other”, and Zen sitting, following the breath and calming the mind, as leading to the dissolution of that false dichotomy. “The fruit of concentration is that the separation between subject and object is overcome and we can see our true nature.” It is from that dissolution that compassion for all beings flows.

The “art of living in attunement with the breath” is how Zen is described. These are all appealing insights and pretty much propel me to my cushion, or to my breath, as I sit here writing. On my first reading I was not so taken with the invitation to sit zazen (I tried that first in 1970), but on a second reading I could not help but be inspired. Especially in the midst of Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the image of quiet sitting to quietly realize an innate connection with all beings is pretty irresistible. It can even color and perhaps guide the potential frenzy of gift giving celebrations.

In discussing the Six Point Recovery to healing, Habito lists “integrating the shadow side.” Pema Chodron also often writes of befriending what scares us, what we want to hide, deny, or push away. It is an essential element in healing, in claiming our wholeness, and it cannot be said often enough.

In the section on Rekindling After the Burnout, Habito suggests that the very sense of “I” doing “good” to achieve good “results” is that cause of burnout! Again, we are reminded of the Heart Sutra: “Not even wisdom to attain, Attainment too is emptiness.” The practice is not to distinguish between the giver and the gift and the receiver. That is a high calling and a description of freedom.

So far, so good. However, I should admit that I was once a deeply committed Christian. I have a Master’s of Divinity degree from Weston Jesuit School of Theology. I am intimately familiar with Christian symbols and concepts. I am also a committed, practicing, ordained Buddhist. As Habito explains, the Christian corollary of “living in attunement with the breath” is found in Genesis, in the Hebrew word “ruah,” meaning “the divine breath that is at the base of all being and all life.” This breath inspired the prophets to speak the word of God. Christian spirituality is literally a life led in the Spirit or Breath, of Jesus Christ.” Zen practice is then (seemingly) used to access this Breath of Christ, to allow us to “…become an instrument of this Breath.” I clearly have trouble with this. I find a quantum difference between realizing I am not a discrete, inherently existing entity but rather deeply one in “interbeing” (Thich Nhat Hahn’s neologism) with all life, and believing that my ultimate truth is to be an instrument of the Breath of Christ.

Habito suggests that the koan practice of Zen is a means to “dissolve the opposition between subject and object.” The task of the practice is to remove obstacles to that realization. But this is followed by the suggestion that that realization is similar to glimpsing “the universe from the eyes of God; the one who hears is inseparable from the Word that is heard.” The concept of a creator God is so discordant with my Buddhist insights, I find it almost disturbing to try to mesh them together.

The implication throughout is that Zen practice and Christian commitment are not only compatible, but mutually beneficial. My own experience is that while Zen practice gives me the tools of sitting, following the breath, and calming the mind, the fruits of that experience exist in their own right without the need of a Christian world view. For a Christian, Zen may be beneficial in facilitating and fostering centering prayer, and a stillness of the heart.

Buddhists and Christians have so very much to learn from one another. Habito mentions at the beginning, that ‘Placing ourselves within differing religious traditions to discover mutual resonance, (leads) not only to inner healing, but to global healing.” I wish and hope that might be so. I just have trouble finding the resonance.

Samayadevi is a 65-year-old mother of six, step-mother of four, and step-grandmother of eight. She discovered meditation when she was thirteen and has been practicing (erratically) ever since. Her spiritual path has led her through Catholicism to the Episcopal church and finally into Buddhism. She was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order this summer on a three month retreat in Spain.

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Back to the Future for Pain Management (eMedia Wire)

eMedia Wire: More and more pain sufferers are turning to traditional alternatives such as acupuncture, herbal medicine and meditation. In addition to pain relief, these alternatives are seen to provide general health benefits without serious side effects. This article examines some of the popular treatment options.

The ancient Chinese Practice of acupuncture is based on the belief that health is determined by the level of chi (vital life energy) that is in the body. This energy is thought to move through the body through pathways called meridians, which connect to specific organs in the body. Acupuncturists insert needles into points on the body that connect to these channels to release blocked “chi” that might be the cause of pain. During treatment, the acupuncturist inserts thin needles for anywhere from a few minutes to a half an hour into specific points on the body. This practice is thought to stimulate endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and is useful for the treatment of a variety of disorders including backache, sinus pain, jaw pain, spinal disorders, withdrawal and mental disorders.

Also known as “contact healing”, acupressure is based on the same principles as acupuncture, except hand-pressure and finger pressure is applied to specific points on the body to release neurotransmitters that alleviate pain.

Another aspect of traditional Chinese medicine is herbal medicine. Herbs have been used for centuries for their pain relieving qualities. Here are some herbs that are recommended for common disorders:

Cramps & Spasms: angelica, cramp bar, kava, rosemary. Nerve Pain: capsaicin, chamomile, gotu kola, licorice. Back Pain: hops, wood betony, passionflower. Migraine: feverfew, linden, skullcap. Headaches: peppermint, spearmint. Joint pain: ginger, sea cucumber.

Aromatherapy (sniffing or applying essential oils) is yet another popular option. Aromatherapy is thought to change an individual’s brain chemistry so that pleasurable neuro-transmitters are released to relieve pain. Geranium, jasmine, juniper, lavender, peppermint, rose, rosemary and thyme are oils commonly used for this purpose.

Homeopathy, which has been popularized by the British Royal Family since Victorian times is based on the principle of “like repels like.” The theory is that miniscule amounts of chemicals, irritants or elements that mimic or resemble the main ailment will send a large message to the brain to repel pain and discomfort.

Meditation, which has also been practiced for thousands of years, is a conscious attempt to calm the mind so that it is not cluttered with thoughts and anxieties that might be contributing to an unnecessary belief in the existence of pain. There are hundreds of different meditation techniques, but mostly they all into three categories: concentrative, mindful and transcendental meditation. During concentrative meditation, focusing on a single sound, object or one’s breath, produces a tranquil mind that facilitates the production of pain-relieving endorphins. During mindful meditations, the mind is encouraged to become aware of, but not reactive to thoughts, feelings and sensations in order to achieve a tranquil state of mind. During transcendental meditation, the mind settles down to a state that transcends thought altogether.

Therapies that focus on the mind are becoming increasingly popular. Guided Imagery research has indicated that bodily functions that were previously thought to be beyond conscious control, such as chronic pain, can be controlled through the use of visualization. Guided imagery encourages the sufferer to think in pictures that eliminate negative thoughts thus raising levels of pleasurable brain chemicals, such as serotonin, decreasing anxiety and increasing the effectiveness of the immune system. Through guided imagery, the mind conjures up mental scenes in order to better direct the body’s energy. For instance, if an individual is suffering from a stabbing pain, he or she might want to imagine a knife being removed from the spot and a subsequent glowing feeling of relief.

The current popularity of traditional treatments is likely to continue for some time. Even major pharmaceutical manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon by manufacturing such herbs as willow bark and feverfew and marketing them as natural alternatives to ibuprofen and aspirin.

It is important to note that the above suggestions do not represent cures for conditions, but more represent strategies and opportunities to manage your chronic pain. It is also recommended that you consult with your health practitioner before embarking on any new pain management program.

Original article no longer available…

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Awakening to the Medicine Buddha (Phayul Times, Tibet)

James Sacamano, Phayul Times, Tibet: A story, a meditation practice and a way of understanding healing, the Medicine Buddha has been used for centuries by Tibetan physicians to maintain their own health and aid healing in others

I learned to meditate shortly after completing medical school at the University of Missouri in 1969. I realized the healing power of both meditation and medicine and wondered how to bring these traditions together in my life and practice.

My path through this dilemma opened when I attended a seminar on the Medicine Buddha taught by a senior Tibetan teacher, the Venerable Kenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, at a retreat near Mt. Ranier in 1999. This program brought the spirit of healing to life directly before me.

The Medicine Buddha, or Menla as he is known in Tibetan, is a story, a meditation practice and a way of understanding healing that has been used for centuries by Tibetan physicians and meditators to maintain their own health and aid healing in others. In these stressful times, fortunately, Menla is now available to all of us.

The practice of Menla is like a koan (or riddle). It does not provide answers but is a tool that provokes our innate ability to look for ourselves, to go beyond the usual way we prevent ourselves from knowing our true nature as healers.

For example, we tend to see things in black and white terms and separated on several domains. There is body and mind, self and other, happy and sad, illness and health, rational and poetic, etc. We generally take allegiance to one side or the other. But as we practise the Menla meditation we begin to see the essential brilliance beyond all dichotomies, which is one way koans can lead to an open, fresh state of mind.

Menla was an ordinary human being just like us, but he lived a very long time ago at an extreme distance to the East—all too distant for us to know but still “real.” When I heard this, the scientist in me said, “Now, just a minute!”

Yet I also experienced a yearning for and invitation to a vaster perspective that this story conveys, and another voice in me said, “How interesting! Ordinary and beyond at the same time. Isn’t that like life itself?”

Like ourselves, Menla had to face all the difficulties of ordinary life—fear of death, loneliness, pain, difficult social situations, etc. But he realized that while life can be difficult, the real suffering we experience is not from our problems per se but from the way we constrict our heart to protect ourselves from the openness in our being that these problems expose. This constriction leads to attitudes and actions that do not authentically represent our basic nature.

Being human we have an inherent vulnerability. We dislike suffering in ourselves or others. But in time we tend to lose confidence in the value of this vulnerability and we give up this part of our spirit in the hopes of becoming more solid and secure. This only creates more problems in the long run.

Menla realized this self-alienation could be reduced by creating space to simply stop and be, just as meditators do today. This makes possible occasional, brief moments when we are simply our self and nothing else happens or needs to. We taste the freshness of being willing to be bored. We do not attain a special state of mind. Instead, we have a chance to disengage the auto-pilot of our busy mind and experience the simplicity of our unadorned, basic being. This is not just theory. Contemplative traditions throughout the world have held, and current scientific research demonstrates, the value of meditation in many aspects of life.

As Menla’s meditation deepened he began to see all his life, even the difficult parts, as a manifestation of his own mind. There was ultimately nothing to be afraid of and he realized he could work with everything in his life. So his meditation was not a retreat from life but a way to be more awake in it.

As his confusion lessened, he was able to see the suffering of others more clearly. He realized his personal happiness meant little if so many others around him were still disturbed.

Sensing the magnitude of others’ distress, he dedicated himself to helping others realize the goodness of their basic being and free themselves from the suffering of self alienation, just as he had done.

This wish to help others is a crucial step in going beyond all ignorance and is the source of great joy once one is committed. As physicians, we have probably all felt some of this joy at some time in our career. This is how people become enlightened. Buddhas are not “gods” but ordinary folks who develop their awareness and compassion in order to help others be free.

Menla is unique, however, because he realized that while ultimate health comes from being awake, ordinary folks like ourselves stand a much better chance of accomplishing this if we are reasonably healthy and have time and freedom to meditate in order to uncover our natural awareness.

If we are too ill, impoverished or oppressed, we will most likely be focused on reacting to those issues and it will be much less likely that we will be able to deal or have an interest in dealing with the deeper causes of our problems.

So he vowed to learn how to help others have a peaceful, healthy life that would make it possible for them to pursue a path to liberation from fear and ignorance, and realize the full wisdom into which they were born.

When he set himself to this task he began to embody this expansive and caring attitude. His vow to help others lives on today in the practice of Menla that we can all do.

In the Menla meditation we identify with his vow to help others by reducing their burden of illness and ultimately their fear. We recall his story, how he started in confusion just like ourselves, how he settled his mind, just like we can, and how he committed himself to the benefit of others, just as we would generally like to do. We can also facilitate this attitude in ourselves by seeing his archetypal form in our mind’s eye.

He is blue and holds in his hands the symbols of his activity—a begging bowl of a monk in the left hand, and in the right hand the stem of an arura flower, the essential ingredient of all ayurvedic medical preparations. These are the foundations of healing—the bowl of accepting all life has to offer as nourishment and the flower of radiating love and compassion to all.

When we do Menla practice we acknowledge those healing energies, both in ourself and in the universe. Then we live with this attitude of awareness and compassion the rest of our day. Acceptance and compassion are the essential ingredients of all healing relationships and practices—so Menla is the human paradigm of healing.

This practice has benefited my life and guided my work as a physician ever since I received it. It sustains a humanistic, non-dual reverence for life which is the basis of real joy. We open to the universe as it opens back to us, all with the promise of: “In the long run, it is all OK.”

It invites us beyond the dualities of inside, outside, health and wellness, and even the need for health itself. Menla is a bridge from ordinary health to pure being.

Menla illuminates the spirit of healing and augments all other healing disciplines, whether medical, surgical, psychological, conventional or alternative—and it makes them all more enjoyable. This is great medicine for the healer and ultimately for the patient as well.

For more information visit www.medicinebuddha.net.

James Sacamano is a psychiatrist in Victoria and teaches meditation to patients and psychotherapists.

See the original article…

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How a 10-day silence transformed my life

Rose F. Scott, 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.

As a professional counselor, I have encountered many people at the lowest and most turbulent points of their lives. Couples disillusioned and ready to give up on their marriage, families trapped by the difficulties of relationship among themselves and individuals enslaved by their addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling and sex sought help to get relief and resolution to their problems. They found themselves in the path of self-destruction, destroying themselves and their loved ones, even if it was not their intention to do so.

What they, you and I have in common is the phenomena of pain in its physical, emotional and mental form. Life produces pain. This is a difficult reality to accept. We naturally dislike pain and like the opposite of pain, which is pleasure. We have a disdain for one and an attraction for the other. Our negative thoughts and emotions as well as our attachments cause us great pain…

Aside from relying on books, knowledge and skills I have learned from professional school, I rely on my own experience as a person in dealing with human difficulties. I don’t just counsel other people, I am also very serious with my own growth process. I can only suggest and apply to others what I practice and find effective for myself.

If I say to a client, “get to know yourself or love yourself,” you can be assured I have endeavored on the path of self-knowledge and continuously search for ways and means to truly love myself. I’m both a researcher and practitioner in my profession.

Being educated and trained mainly in Western methods, I have found that although these are the prevailing schools of thought, there is something lacking in the process. In counseling, the process of helping the client verbalize his feelings and thoughts can only be the beginning of a healing process. Simple psychology of talk therapy is not enough. Complete healing requires integration of the body, the mind, the heart and the spirit. The process needed to achieve this integration is still missing in Western therapy.

Over the past few years, I did my exploration in Eastern healing arts and philosophies. I have indulged not only my mind but also my body in disciplines such as shibashi, yoga, tai-chi and nature movement. The journey has brought me closer to “home.” My 10-day rendezvous with meditation has provided the key to the front door. It was exactly what I was looking for.

According to S.N. Goenka, a teacher of Vipassana, the final aim of this approach to meditation is not concentration of mind. Concentration is only a help, a step leading to a higher goal, which is purification of the mind. Meditation helps eradicate all the mental defilements and the negativities within, to free us from the thought patterns that cause us misery. At the same time, the mind learns to trust fully in the moment and is purified, preparatory to attaining enlightenment.

Unlike concept-laden workshops and seminars, this course mainly provided a technique for meditation by actually doing it. As the teacher suggested, a direct experience of reality is essential. The technique helped to examine mental and physical structures to which there is much attachment, resulting in tension built up in the body. The body has been the vessel that receives all the negativities and toxins our mind generates throughout our lives. Meditation is like a detoxification process. As the mind becomes purified, the body attains relaxation and a feeling of peace is a natural result.

In this course, I got to know myself, not in an intellectual way by answering the question “who am I,” but actually experiencing a very deep phenomenon from within. This energy I felt was very powerful, it made me afraid at first. I realized later that I was afraid of this power that is in me, the power that will allow me to fulfill all my dreams and more. It was not just an assured feeling but an actual encounter with this infinite potential. All answers reside in the very depth of my being. And now, I can actually touch that being and feel adequate in all situations.

The technique of meditation can only be understood fully if experienced. In the beginning, it is simply focusing on breathing, to get rid of the cluttered thoughts that come rushing to the mind. Then, the mind becomes calm and quiet. This is just the first step to meditation. The rest of the technique was new and mind-boggling to me. It is actually very technical and the teacher gives a very clear step-by-step instruction.

Anyone with knowledge and skills in psychology, medicine and other sciences on the human body would truly appreciate this technology. The question that lingers in my mind is: How can something concrete and technical, a simple methodology, deepen one’s spirituality? Is this where science and spirituality meet?

The teacher explains the technique and shares the philosophy behind the practice of meditation at the end of each day. There are no dogmas preached, only insights that are very refreshing and inspirational. It doesn’t matter who or what your God’s name is. You are challenged to examine if your belief is merely intellectual and devotional, or practical and experiential. Do we simply adhere to the laws of God because we are conditioned to do so in obedience or do we choose to follow as well as emulate the values and characteristics of the God of our belief?

One might ask, will this conflict with my religion? This practice of meditation is not biased towards any religion; in fact it is universal. It is for all those who wish to grow spiritually in whatever religion one chooses to practice. A problem may arise in the mind of someone who is conditioned by fear. Because meditation is not part of their religious tradition and is not taught by religious leaders, one might be afraid of going against the teachings of one’s religion. Some would rather play it safe and stay within the familiar traditional rules and rituals they are used to. There is nothing wrong with this thinking as long as one is aware of it. There is also nothing wrong with someone who is searching beyond what is familiar and is confident and can decide on what is good.

Books and discussions give insights and inspiration, while meditation gives wisdom through a physical, mental and emotional experience. Very deep spirituality is not merely meaningful and inspiring, it is life-transforming.

The 10 days of silence requires discipline, commitment and an open mind. To sustain the silence and other rules of the course requires determination, discipline, patience and perseverance. These in themselves are spiritual qualities being strengthened through the process. There is no easy way or short cut to holiness or mysticism.

Just like any course, tools are provided as a jump start. It is up to the individual to take it or leave it afterwards. To take it means to use the technique and continue the practice in daily life. To leave it means it was just a one-time meaningful course.

This 10-day course in Vipassana meditation answered what I have been looking for. It is the practical “how to,” in a nut shell, the missing process to the integration of the mind, body, heart and spirit.

I have decided to be a diligent student of meditation by giving the exercise my best shot. I believe I have become a better counsel for myself and also for others. I also believe that those who learn how to meditate will, indeed, find in themselves a very wise counselor.

As I meditate daily, great fullness permeates my being. I live each moment grateful no matter what comes; basking in the gratitude of which I speak!

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