Maryland

The power of meditation: How a quiet mind can unlock wonders

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Cheryl Clemens (Baltimore Sun): To understand the impact meditation can have on the human mind, picture a glass of muddy water. If you stir it, the water stays cloudy and anything that might sink to the bottom is instantly sucked back into motion. But if you allow the glass to become still, slowly the dirt settles to the bottom and the water begins to clear.

Meditation means different things to different people, but most agree that it is a means of quieting the mind, of stilling the parade of daily distractions and becoming less reactive to the stimulation that assaults our senses and emotions every waking hour. By achieving such stillness and clarity, meditation practitioners experience a sense of focus, insight and peace that they describe as nothing less than transformative.

“The way most of us live our lives today means our minds are horrendously busy,” said Dr. Jeff Soulen, an Ellicott City psychiatrist and founder of the Howard County Dharma Group. “Thoughts can be unruly and all over the place because so many distractions are vying for our attention, and often we’re not even aware of it.”

For Soulen, the members of his group and many of his patients, the answer can be found in regular meditation, which he describes as “cultivating the capability to put your attention where you want to, when you want to, for as long as you want to.

“There’s a misconception that you have to clear your mind in order to meditate,” he added. “Meditation is about clearing the mind. It’s about achieving a state of mindful awareness of what is going on around you without judgment so you are observing it rather than getting caught up in it.”

The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine acknowledges meditation as a “way to become mindful of thoughts, feelings and sensations and to observe them in a nonjudgmental way … to result in a state of greater calmness, physical relaxation and psychological balance.”

Meditation exists in many styles and has numerous places of origin. And while it has roots in spiritual growth and enlightenment, many of today’s practitioners use it simply as a tool for relaxation and stress relief.

In Howard County, residents have many options for learning or practicing meditation, from in-depth courses to informal meditation groups to machines that help train the brain to relax.

“Meditation can be nothing short of life changing, and the irony is, you sit down to meditate with no purpose, just a powerful trust in the process,” said Mark Fradkin, a Dharma member.

‘An amazing clarity’

When he was in his 40s, Soulen, now in his 50s, found himself wondering about life beyond what was in front of him every day.

“I was raised in a very scientific household, where faith and belief were downplayed,” he said. “But I’ve always been interested in questions about the spiritual realm.”

That curiosity intensified after he read “The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion,” by Ken Wilber.

“The book talked about realms other than the one we live in every day, and how you can know what goes on in any realm,” he said. “That got me very excited, the idea of possibly seeing the truth of the spiritual realm.”

Soulen began reading up on the subject and attending workshops. When he felt ready to really immerse himself in the practice, Soulen signed up for a weeklong seminar for health-care providers in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, which joins meditation and yoga. He was sure the five hours of daily meditative yoga would intensify the mindfulness practice he’d been cultivating for some time and lead him to the spiritual breakthrough he’d been waiting for.

“I was ready to see the realm of the divine instead of the realm of the ordinary,” he recalled.

But by the end of the week he felt only frustration. “The week was completely ordinary, and by the end, the only thing different was I was really confused and my knees hurt.”

Soulen left the seminar unsure of his future relationship with meditation — until he returned to work on Monday. That week he met with four patients who had been struggling with four very different problems, and each one had recently stalled in his or her progress.

“At each appointment it became perfectly clear to me exactly what they needed,” he described. “I had an amazing clarity of vision that I’m convinced had everything to do with the previous week, and I thought, if this was the result, I have to do this for the rest of my life, because I owe my patients no less than this.”

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Sand mandala dismantled in ceremony

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Frederick News-Post: It took monks from the Tibetan Meditation Center in Frederick, Maryland, about a week to build a sacred sand mandala.

It took a single ceremony Thursday afternoon to destroy it.

Dozens gathered at the Claggett Center to watch the dismantling of the mandala, created by monks to coincide with a visit by Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche.

Devotees chanted “om mani padme hum” as they stood in line to receive small bags of sand — sand that monks had strategically placed on a wooden board to honor the deity Nairatmya, the “mother of selflessness.”

Following the destruction of the mandala, a caravan of cars and trucks paraded about 10 miles down the road to gather along the banks of the Potomac River near Point of Rocks. Kyabgon sat on a small log near the water and chanted and blessed the sand as lamas in saffron and magenta robes poured it into the water. Sand mandalas are dismantled and the leftover materials returned to nature to symbolize transitory nature of material life.

The ceremony was part of a week-long retreat, the crux of which was the transmission of the Nairatmya Great Empowerment.

On a U.S. tour, Kyabgon, one of two heads of the Drikung Kagyu Order of Tibetan Buddhism, chose Frederick as the only place in the United States to transmit the Nairatmya Great Empowerment, in part because he helped establish TMC more than 25 years ago.

Some people returned to see His Holiness after seeing him in Frederick eight years ago, when he last visited from his home in Northern India.

Hun Lye, president of TMC and organizer of Kyabgon’s tour, said he has received transmissions from Kyabgon on several occasions, as have others at TMC.

Lye said Kyabgon is committed to promoting the Nairatmya program, which belongs to a larger collection of teachings known as the Hevajra.

“His Holiness has said that he sees it as his main spiritual contribution to revive the Hevajra practice within our lineage. This cycle of practices used to be very important in our lineage but in the last few hundred years have suffered some decline.”

Other guests simply awaited an appointment with Kyabgon, so they could ask him a question — quite often the product of several meditations.

But you can ask him anything, insisted Pamela Konchog Gyurme Drolma, in Frederick from North Carolina. She and others agreed that all high lamas are psychic, so to speak, and that people’s questions will be answered, regardless of whether or not they’re asked aloud.

They also agreed that people are changed by the experience, that personalities undergo transformations.

“There may be problems they had, but when they leave … there’s a kindness, a softness,” said Michael Pittmin, who participated in the retreat with his son. “It’s visible. … They come in sort of a cloud of confusion, and things seem so far over your head maybe sometimes, and then the sun comes out … and you get an inexplicable sense of clearness. When you’re in the presence of someone who embodies the (qualities) you’re practicing, it sort of carries you forward,” he said. “It’s like getting a jump start.”

Those at the ceremony were told to keep their pouches of colored sand on their altars or shrines at home, as a reminder.

“We can celebrate impermanence,” Pittmin said as he walked away from the river, “and not fixate on what we just did.”

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School offers transcendental meditation for ADHD Students (WAFF, Alabama)

WAFF, Alabama: At Chelsea School in Silver Spring [Maryland], 10 students with ADHD are trying transcendental meditation. The school is part of a 3-month study to see if meditation can help the children overcome the stresses of their disorder.

Project director Sarina Grosswald, Ph.D. said, “TM is a mental technique that allows the mind to settle down – when the mind settles down the body settles down.”

Settling down is one of the problems of kids who suffer from ADHD, they often have difficulty focussing and paying attention.

“It’s frustrating when these children become behavioral problems but it’s not something they do intentionally, it’s something they really can’t control.”

At Chelsea, students in the pilot program gather twice a day to meditate, and they say it’s helping.

Taylor David, student said, “It’s helping me do my homework and helping me with my relationship with my friends.”

“It’s helped me in not getting as frustrated with my work, not being disrespectful with my teachers and basically just being a normal teenager,” said Scott Schwartzman.

The academic head of Chelsea Academy says the meditation program benefits the entire school.

Principal Dr. Linda Handy said, “I see this as having tremendous impact for all our students. I’m excited about being able to take it to all of them.” Original article no longer available…

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