imagination

Guardian angel meditation (Day 11)

Lotus, isolated on whiteYou know when you’re sitting on a subway and there’s someone sitting directly opposite? It’s kind of awkward — all that trying not to make eye contact, and those embarrassing moments when we get caught looking at them…

There’s something of this sometimes in the metta bhavana (development of lovingkindness) meditation practice. It’s not so bad with the friend, since you’re used to making eye contact with them, but even there is can feel a bit odd to be mentally “sitting opposite” them for ten minutes or so. It’s just not very natural, is it? It’s rather stilted.

For quite a while now, I’ve been doing the lovingkindness practice in a different way. For one thing I’ve been imagining the other person not as being statically opposite me, but as going about their daily business. I might visualize my friend working on his computer, or practicing the piano, or doing some gardening. The “neutral person” I might see working at their counter in the post office…

It’s not that I have one ongoing movie, by the way. It’s more a series of fragmented images. That seems to be enough.

So that’s step one.

Step two is that I see myself as an invisible presence. I’m that person’s guardian angel, wishing them well.

I sometimes will imagine that I’m laying a hand on them in a loving touch, and sending my love into their body as I say “May you be well; may you be happy; may you be at peace.” Sometimes I’ll imagine that there’s light streaming from my body to theirs as I repeat the phrases. Sometimes I’ll just see the person “doing their thing” and repeat the phrases.

Usually I’ll smile.

I think I got the idea from the Wim Wenders film, Wings of Desire (Himmel Ãœber Berlin) where invisible angels patrol the city of Berlin, touching people and feeling their pain, although in the movie this is rather depressing and you don’t get the impression that they actually alleviate much suffering.

But I like the idea. We all are familiar with the idea of guardian angels, but we usually think in terms of having one. I think it’s even lovelier to think in terms of being one.

PS Feel free to join our Google+ 100 Day Community, where people are reporting-in on their practice, and giving each other support and encouragement.

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Newest weight loss strategy: Meditate before eating your meal

Jimmy Downs, Food Consumer: Weight loss needs a reduction in caloric intake, which can be realized by simply practicing some meditation before eating meals, a new study suggests.

The study led by Dr. Carey Morewedge from Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University shows people tended to eat less of a food if they imagined the eating process repeatedly before they actually ate the food. And the study found the more food a person “ate” in his imagination, the less food subsequently he would eat.

In the study, according to what Dr. Morewedge told NPR Science Friday radio program, study participants were told to imagine the process of eating M&Ms, including moving the candies into a bowl, and then asked to eat the real food. Those who imagined eating 30 M&Ms ate much less real M&Ms than those who imagined eating only 3 M&Ms.

Dr. Morewedge said simply imagining moving the food did not help.

He said you also need to imagine eating what you are going to eat to reduce the consumption of the food. The study showed when participants imagined they were eating M&Ms, and then when they were assigned to eat cheese cubes, no matter how many M&Ms they ate in their imagination, they ate the same amount of cheese.

What works behind this trick is a process called habituation, according to Dr. Morewedge. According to this theory, people are less responsive to what they got habituated to. In the study case, after the participants imagined they ate lots of cheese cubes, they felt less urged to eat the food and they ate less of the food as a result.

But Dr. Morewedge told NPR that this imagination method does not work for other habits like smoking, which involves a more complex mechanism and imagining smoking could actually boost a smoker’s craving for smokes and the smoker could actually smoke more.

Dr. Morewedge used cheese and M&Ms for the study. It is unknown whether this method would help people cut their consumption of a real meal which consists of multiple foods. Should the diners, like people going to have some Chinese buffet, imagine all the foods they are going to eat to reduce the consumption of the variety of real foods? Or would this method work at all in this case?

The study was published in a recent issue of Science, a prestigious scientific journal.

In China, two idioms describe two pitiful situations in which people don’t have water to drink to quench their thirst and don’t have food to eat to satisfy their hunger. In these situation as the idioms suggest, people may “look at prune to quench your thirst” and “draw a cake to satisfy your hunger”.

Original article no longer available…

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Rainer Maria Rilke: “Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.”

CaveTo many people, the word “mindfulness” excludes the imagination, but, as Bodhipaksa explains, there are powerful insight practices that involve mindfully imagining our connection to the wider world.

For many years I’ve been practicing a meditation known as the Six Element Practice.

The Six Element Practice is an insight meditation involving reflection on our impermanence and interconnectedness.

For some practitioners of the most common form of “insight meditation” — that taught by S. N. Goenka, and by various teachers of the Insight Meditation Society — the notion of reflecting on our experience in the way that we do in the Six Element practice can seem odd, and even contradictory to what they understand of meditation and of mindfulness.

In the form of meditation they practice, thoughts and images may come up, but they are to be observed without interference and allowed to pass. The impermanence of thoughts and images is noted but thoughts and images themselves are not actively cultivated. S. N. Goenka states in one of his books, “Vipassana uses no imagination,” and the variations of the phrase “no imagination is involved” are scattered throughout his teachings. In the Six Element practice, in contrast to Goenka-style vipassana, we do in fact consciously cultivate the arising of thoughts and images. We mindfully reflect and imagine.

 Images spring into my mind, evoked by the words I’m speaking  

In the Earth Element reflection, for example, we call to mind everything solid within the body. This includes some aspects of the body that we can directly sense, such as the mass of the muscles, the hardness of the teeth, and the resistance offered by some of the bones. But being aware of what is solid in the body goes far beyond what we can directly sense, and takes us into an awareness, for example, of the internal organs, the bone marrow, and even the contents of the stomach and the bowels—all things we are asked to become aware of in the traditional descriptions of the practice. These are things we can’t perceive directly, and so we have to imagine them. In the Buddha’s day people would be familiar with anatomy from seeing animals butchered, and from seeing bodies in charnel grounds. Nowadays we can picture those organs in the mind’s eye by drawing our experience of illustrations we may have seen in books, magazines, or on television programs.

Similarly, in the Earth Element reflection we call to mind the solid matter in the outside world. When I’m leading others through the practice I usually draw attention to some examples: the solid floor that supports us and the building covering us, the ground below, rocks and boulders, the distant mountains, the trees and other plants in our environment, buildings, vehicles, the bodies of people and animals, etc. As I say these things out loud for the benefit of students, I find that images spring into my mind, evoked by the words I’m speaking. Sometimes, in order to cultivate a sense of the solidity of the external Earth Element I’ll recall or imagine grasping a handful of soil, or hefting a stone in my hand, or pushing against the rough bark of a tree trunk.

 Einstein once referred to our sense of separateness being a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.  

Imagination allows us to see aspects of reality that aren’t immediately obvious to the unaided senses. Our senses end up fooling us because they’re unable to directly perceive process. When I become mindful of my body, aware only of what is available to my raw senses, I can be fooled into thinking that my body is more static and separate than it is in reality. Einstein once referred to our sense of separateness being a kind of “optical delusion of consciousness.” He was using the words “optical delusion” as a metaphor, but the metaphor is actually very accurate. When I look at my body I see a boundary separating self from other. I also see something that is relatively unchanging. This is what my senses present to me—the body as a “thing.” And yet in my imagination I can recall the way in which my body has come into being by ingesting nourishment and how what constitutes my body is constantly changing from being “self” to being “other.” By recollecting in my mind’s eye the various ways in which the elements flow through my body, I find I can have a truer perception of what the body is: something that is not separate and not static.

All this, however, rather goes against a certain idea of mindfulness, which is that it involves being aware only of what arises in our present moment experience, such as the sensations being presented to our bodies and any thoughts and feelings that arise naturally. In the Buddhist tradition, however, the mind is considered to be a sixth sense, so that when we reflect on our internal organs or on the solidity of the earth we are simply paying attention to the present moment experience of our visual and tactile imagination. Mindfulness can include these things.

And imagination can be a valuable gateway into insight. It allows us to, in Rilke’s words, go into ourselves and see how deep is the place from which our lives flow. Imagination helps us to make the invisible visible, and to see truths that our unaided senses cannot detect.

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