Indian government wants bureaucrats, inmates to meditate

Sanjeev Shivadekar: Meditation is the latest mantra which the state administration is keen on adopting to enhance efficiency in Mantralaya [the administrative headquarters of the state government of Maharashtra in South Mumbai].

At a recent meeting with senior bureaucrats, chief secretary Ratnakar Gaikwad advised babus to consider conducting vipassana and meditation courses to enhance the output of the administration. Gaikwad also recommended these techniques to the student community as well as a tool for prison reforms.

“Vipassana is a methodology that helps one gain control over the mind, which helps in increasing work efficiency. I start my day with meditation and it really…

Read the rest of this article…

Read More

“The Brightened Mind,” by Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu

The Brightened Mind, Ajahn Sumano

Ajahn Sumano is a Chicagoan who worked in the corporate world before becoming a Buddhist monk and living in a cave in Thailand for 15 years, intensively practicing meditation. You’d therefore expect him to have a deep understanding of meditation, and The Brightened Mind suggests he has.

Unfortunately, just as Sumano had to go through his corporate phase before he hit his meditative years, so do we. Almost the whole first half of the book has a “marketing” feel to, it where you’re constantly told about the benefits meditation will bring, without any meditation actually being taught.

Title: The Brightened Mind
Author: Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu
Publisher: Quest Books
ISBN: 978-0-8356-0899-2
Available from: Quest Books,, and

The meditation instruction, when it comes, isn’t extensive, but it’s full of precious nuggets of spiritual gold. I’d almost suggest skipping over the first half of the book just to get to this material.

Actually, the meditation teaching doesn’t start in a very promising way. The first direction is “put your mind at ease.” That’s a good aim, although of course it’s one that is easier said than done, and Sumano doesn’t tell us how to accomplish it. Having (somehow) put the mind at ease, we then focus on some neutral object such as the breath, and “just stay with what’s happening right in the moment.” This is a very important suggestion, of course. Then Sumano suggests “holding one inhalation for as long as you can” and tells us that you will “immediately feel the presence of serenity and peace.” I’m unclear what he means by holding the breath for as long as possible. Surely he doesn’t mean that we should hold the breath until we almost pass out? That would seem to lead anywhere but serenity and peace. So up to this point I was becoming increasingly skeptical that I was going to get anything from The Brightened Mind — but then I turned the page and hit the mother-lode.

The second half of The Brightened Mind is solid gold. Sumano’s strength is in emphasizing the “naturalness” of meditation. The second meditation exercise begins with the suggestion, “Allow your eyelids to close gently and begin to think ‘soft.’ That means relaxing the mind and smiling within.” This is beautifully put, and a valuable reminder that meditation can be something we let happen rather than make happen. We don’t try to “do something,” the Ajahn reminds us, but rather meditation is ultimately “a way of undoing and letting go into the smile.” From this point on the instructions are precise and emphasize a profound letting go: “You can just allow gravity to relax the body from the top of the head all the way down to the soles of the feet … when the body has opened and extended fully, the mind will follow and respond accordingly.”

Ajahn Sumano suggests using the evocative power of words, and he says something that I’ve said many times myself: “Every word has power. Every word, even if we do not speak it but simply think of it, emits a vibration in our mind.” And so we breathe in words such as “calm,” “clear,” and (intriguingly) “beyond,” allowing them to work their spells. Sumano explains that we “breathe in” a word by “mentally inclining toward it with a silent whisper as we inhale.” Beautifully put.

The next section, which I thought was highly effective, involves taking meditation into our daily life. Say we are a student listening to a lecture. Sumano suggests that we pay minute detail to everything the lecturer does: every movement, every gesture, the tone of voice, etc. We do this with a “fascinated scrutiny that measures the present moment accurately and precisely.” The net effect of this is that the mind becomes “sensitive, sharp, and focused.” If I may interject an element of my own teaching here, I emphasize a similar quality of total attention in sitting meditation. I find that by paying attention to many sensations simultaneously, in a wide-open field of awareness, there is simply no room for inner chatter (see Meditation and Mental Bandwidth). The effect of that is to bring us rapidly to a state of calmness and happiness. We also become more intimate with and closer to our experience, because as soon as we start to talk to ourselves about our experience we erect a barrier. As Sumano puts it, “In relaxing into this awareness, you are learning how to link the outside world with the inner world.” We are, in fact developing (although Sumano never mentions this term) a non-dual awareness that can lead (and again Sumano doesn’t use this terminology) to what are often called the “formless absorptions.”

In this chapter Sumano also suggests that the attitude with which we approach our lives should be a “resolve to do well in everything we do.” I often find that Buddhists lack this resolve, and are content to just bumble along in an almost haphazard way, with their email inboxes overflowing with hundreds or even thousands of messages, and their minds full of unhelpful stories whose validity and ethical skillfulness they never question. A commitment to excellence is essential. Once we have that resolve, Sumano tells us, “the mind will gather focus and stability and launch itself into the process without conscious effort from you.” That is profoundly true.

Working in this way (letting meditation happen, paying total attention, committing ourselves to excellence) leads to concentration and, eventually, to insight. “This present-moment focus is the key to penetrating the understanding of anything and everything.” What would that look like? “In this state of deep concentration, the contents of the mind (objects, moods, thoughts, memories, feelings, etc.) take on a light and translucent quality, allowing us to investigate these elements without getting stuck in any of them.” And so we begin to realize that we are not our experience.

“With this discerning detachment, we can see [these experiences] for what they are: ever-changing energy patterns that don’t belong to anyone and are not ours to keep.” We thus come to weaken and eventually lose the sense of having a self.

The remainder of the book consists of a summary of the benefits of practice, some reflections on the ultimate goal of practice (enlightenment), and a number of short reflections on lovingkindness, an awareness of impermanence (the better to have a sense of urgency about our practice), and on the value of spiritual friendship (giving it as well as receiving it!). This is all valuable material, although Sumano is pretty much dropping spiritual wisdom into your mind at this point, and leaving you to engage with it. This is fair enough. He’s already given us the tools by which we can radically transform our approach to such material. The extraordinary thing is the very compact way in which he’s done this, by simplifying his presentation of the spiritual path down to those three key activities of letting meditation happen, paying total attention, and committing ourselves to excellence.

Although I think the first half of the book should have been dramatically cut (and I wonder if some editor insisted that the core text on meditation needed to be fleshed out with some “spiritual marketing” to extol the virtues of the goodies to come) the pith instructions themselves are excellent, and I’d highly recommend Sumano’s spiritual manual.

Read More

Ten days without talking

Was it possible to survive 10 days of meditating in an Indian retreat without speaking, reading or making eye-contact with fellow guests?

I am sitting cross-legged on the floor in a large hall, surrounded by strangers. Sweat is running down my face, and my thighs are bleating in agony. I’m trying to meditate but my mind keeps calculating how long I’ve been here (about five hours) and how long there is to go (about another 100).

It is the first day of my silent retreat in Gujarat, India. I am not allowed to talk throughout the 10 days. In fact, I am not allowed to do much at all: I can’t make eye contact with my fellow meditators, or read, write, listen to music, exercise or do just about anything except sit here on the floor.

My reasons for signing up suddenly seem very foolish. Rather than it being a spiritual quest or an attempt to resolve deep-seated personal issues, I came here hoping…

Read the rest of this article…

for fireworks of the meditative kind. I have meditated intermittently for years, and I know that it works.

When I have occasionally managed to keep it up for more than a few days at a time, it definitely makes me a calmer, nicer person, and better able to sleep. On good days, I find it mildly pleasant, but there has always been something missing. Other meditators describe seeing colours, experiencing heightened states of bliss or developing a serene understanding of the complexities of life. That has never happened to me. So, in the hope of bypassing the years of steady effort I suspect may be required, I travelled to the Dhamma Sindhu centre to do a Vipassana retreat, the most extreme form of meditation I know.

Vipassana, which means “to see things as they really are”, is an ancient Buddhist technique revived and popularised by a Burmese-born Indian, SN Goenka. His courses are taught in about 140 centres around the world, all of which observe the same schedule: wake up at 4am, meditation from 4.30am, breakfast at 6.30am, more meditation, lunch at 11am, meditation, dinner (two pieces of fruit and a cup of tea) at 6pm, meditation, a video talk by Goenka, and lights out at 9.30pm. The courses are free, although you are encouraged to give a donation at the end.

There are about 120 of us doing the Gujarat retreat, all but 10 of whom are Indian. The day before it starts, we queue to hand in books and mobile phones, before being shown to our single, cell-like rooms. The following morning, with just five hours of meditation under my belt, I am already experiencing misgivings.

I had been prepared to hate it at times, even occasionally to regret coming, but I hadn’t expected it to be a constant struggle. Worse than the silence, by far, is the pain. No amount of meditation I’ve done before could prepare me for sitting on the floor for 10-and-a-half hours a day. I try everything: more cushions, fewer cushions, two small cushions under my knees, a firmer cushion tilted under a softer cushion, a cushion on my lap to rest my hands on. Nothing helps.

After two days, gaps start to appear in the meditation hall. People are dropping out. We have been warned that days two and six will be the most difficult, so I moderate my expectations and prepare for it to be grim until day seven, when, surely, there will be joy?

In the meantime I suffer. The Vipassana technique involves systematically moving your attention around your body, noticing physical sensations but not reacting to them. If you find your mind wandering, you are told to observe your thoughts and let them pass without joining the conversation. But that is easier said than done. Work, relationships, my parents’ deaths, the novel I had been half-way through, Downton Abbey: all these kept popping into my head.

Every night Goenka encourages us from the television screen, promising a happier, more harmonious life if we learn to welcome both pleasure and pain. “Accept the sensations as they arise, no craving and no aversion, they will pass,” he keeps saying.

Day six is no improvement, and several more people leave. Day seven is awful. As well as the pain, there is the boredom. I realise how much I rely on external narratives to get me through the day – work, novels, films, gossip, Twitter, news, whatever. Here it is just me and my daydreams, which are embarrassingly transparent. By now I know my search has failed.

“The purpose of Vipassana is not to experience pleasurable sensations but rather to develop equanimity towards all sensations,” Goenka says. “Your progress is measured only in how far you are able to face life’s vicissitudes with equanimity, nothing more.”

There is a lot of talk about the vicissitudes of life, and being equanimous in the face of adversity, all of which I find rather quaint. I can imagine how useful that might be, but mostly I’m just counting the hours until I can leave.

Then, after lunch on day eight, everything changes. I enter another dimension. It is as if the boundaries of my physical body have dissolved, setting every molecule free to fly around the room. Everything is glowing red; everything is joyful. It is like the most intense drug-induced out-of-body euphoria, but calm, with no anxiety, no doubt.

So this is it, I think. I picture my fellow meditators sitting quietly around me. Are they feeling the same thing? Why has it taken me so long? I don’t understand what is happening and I don’t feel the need to try. It could be a purely chemical reaction to depriving my brain of pleasure for so long. It doesn’t matter.

The sensations last, with varying intensity, for the remainder of the retreat. On the afternoon of the 10th day the silence is lifted and I try to speak to the others about their experiences, keen to find out if they had these glorious out-of-body sensations too.

A Polish woman, who is in a cell near mine, seems a bit embarrassed by my questions. “That’s not what it’s about,” she says, somewhat dismissively. A Filipino man on his fifth Vipassana retreat tells me that he has never felt any bliss, but doesn’t mind because meditating has changed his life so much.

Back home, my friend Stella, who has done a Vipassana retreat, is more forthcoming. “Oh, you had the orgasms,” she says. “Yes, I had those too, but not everyone does. They’re really not important.”

She is right. What I have to admit afterwards is that sensation-seeking is the very antithesis of meditation. It is not about the colours or the bliss; rather it’s about strengthening the muscle that helps build resilience. A steady practice that leaves you a bit better equipped to pause before lashing out, to rise above perceived slights and not be put off by the usual setbacks. A little more able to face life’s vicissitudes with equanimity, as Goenka would say.

Read More

At end-of-the line prison, an unlikely escape

Deep in the Bible Belt, an ancient Eastern practice is taking root in the unlikeliest of places: Alabama’s highest security prison.

Behind a double electric fence and layers of locked doorways, Alabama’s most violent and mentally unstable prisoners are incarcerated in the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility outside Birmingham. Many of them are here to stay. The prison has 24 death row cells, and about a third of the approximately 1,500 prisoners are lifers with no chance of parole.

“You’re dealing with the worst offenses that have been committed by humans in the state of Alabama,” says Gary Hetzel, the warden at Donaldson.

The lockup has a history of inmate stabbings, deaths and suicides and is the target of lawsuits. The prison is named for an officer killed here in 1990.

During chow call in the isolation blocks, food trays are slid through a narrow metal box built into the cell doors so the inmates can’t hurt the officer feeding them.

‘Seeing Things As They Are’

That’s a sharp contrast from the scene inside the prison gym, where about two dozen inmates in white pressed uniforms roam freely, working together to clear…

Read the rest of this article…

bed pads from the concrete floor.

For the past 10 days, the gym has been transformed into a peaceful Vipassana meditation hall.

“Vipassana means seeing things as they are,” says inmate Johnny Mack Young, as he kneels on a blue mat, resting back on a small wooden stool. This is the position he keeps for up to 10 hours a day during the intense silent-meditation course.

“For the first three days, the only thing we do is sit and focus on our breath,” Young says. “This is to still the mind and get the mind sharp.”

Isolated in the gym, the inmates wake up at 4 a.m. and meditate on and off until 9 p.m. They eat a strict vegetarian diet. They can’t smoke or drink coffee. And there is absolutely no conversation, only an internal examination of how the body is reacting.

“You’ll start feeling little stuff moving all around on your body,” Young says. “Some guys can’t handle this; some guys scream.”

It’s a rude awakening for some prisoners, Vipassana teacher Carl Franz says.

“Everyone’s mind is kind of Pandora’s box and when you have 33 rather serious convicts facing their past, and their own minds, their memories, their regrets, rough childhood, whatever, their crimes, lots of stuff comes up,” Franz says.

For Young, a convicted murderer, that stuff includes his childhood role in the accidental death of his baby sister, the fact he never mourned his mother’s death and his crime -– a drug-related murder.

“That’s one of the things that tortures me,” Young says. “We learn this stuff. We learn it too late in life.”

Now, aged 61 and likely in the last home he’ll know, Young says he just tries to have the highest quality life he can. He says that prior to taking the meditation course, he was in trouble a lot, fighting and trying to escape.

“It changed my life,” he says.

Dramatic Results

Dr. Ron Cavanaugh, treatment director for the Alabama Department of Corrections, says many inmates put their defenses up, denying responsibility for their crimes and blaming others. But the meditation practice, he says, chips away at those defense mechanisms.

“They have nobody to talk to,” Cavanaugh says. “So there’s nobody that they can deny stuff with or project everything with.”

Cavanaugh says inmates who go through the course have a 20 percent reduction in disciplinary action. But it hasn’t been an easy sell in Alabama, a state known for harsh punishment policies like chain gangs and hitching posts.

The Vipassana technique, though secular, is based on the teachings of Buddha. Soon after it started at Donaldson about a decade ago, the prison system’s chaplains expressed concern it might not be in keeping with Christian values. The state put an end to the program.

But Hetzel, the warden, saw the dramatic results and brought it back.

“I could see a significant decrease in behavioral problems, acting out,” Hetzel says. “The inmates that participated in those previous Vipassana programs seemed to be much calmer, much at peace.”

He’s also found they come out ready to help other inmates by volunteering in the prison’s hospice unit or leading self-help courses at the prison chapel.

Hetzel says he’s convinced the program is not religious and he’s encouraged staff members to take a mediation course to dispel misperceptions.

Donaldson Chaplain Bill Lindsay is still skeptical, but now tries to give Vipassana the benefit of the doubt.

“It’s kind of strange, something different,” he says.

But he acknowledges it seems to work.

“That’s the main thing,” he says. “What is a life worth, see, in this business? So if you can get just one, who knows?”

Clashing Cultures

To date, 430 inmates have gone through the Donaldson Vipassana meditation program, the only one of its kind in North America. There’s a waiting list for the quarterly sessions and the state wants to expand the offering to its women’s prison.

Filmmaker Jenny Phillips made a documentary called “The Dhamma Brothers” about the Alabama program and its unlikely marriage of an ancient meditation practice and an end-of-the-line prison.

“They’re clashing cultures,” Phillips says. “Yet when you bring them together, they fit.”

Behind the secure prison walls, Grady Bankhead, 60, says he’s walking evidence of that fit. A convicted murderer who came within hours of being executed before winning a new trial, he is now serving life without parole.

“Before I went to a Vipassana meditation, this isn’t what Grady Bankhead sounded like,” he says. “I was probably the angriest man in this prison.”

He says the meditation helped him deal with the root of that anger.

“When I was 3, my mother left my little brother and I out in [the] farmhouse, dressed us up like we were going to Sunday school or church, and said she’d be back in a little while,” Bankhead recalls.

He didn’t see her again until he was on death row. His brother had died.

“And I blamed me for not taking care of him,” Bankhead says.

Now, he’s recruiting other inmates to take the difficult course.

“We have to have some kind of balance back in our lives from the horrible things that we’ve done,” Bankhead says.

Read More

Meditation class helps lower violence at Alabama prison

wildmind meditation news

Washington Post: Deep inside an overcrowded prison with a reputation for mayhem, convicted killers, robbers and rapists gather in a small room. Eyes closed, they sit silently with their thoughts and consciences.

Their everyday life is just outside in the hall – a cacophony of clanging steel doors, yelling and feet shuffling along cold concrete floors. The noise never really ends; peace is at a premium in Alabama’s toughest lockup.

Despite a history of violence at the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility, which is named for a slain corrections officer, the prison outside Birmingham has become the model for a meditation program that officials say helps inmates learn the self control and social skills they never got in the outside world.

Warden Gary Hetzel doesn’t fully understand how the program called Vipassana (which is pronounced vuh-‘POSH-uh-nuh) can transform violent inmates into calm men using contemplative Buddhist practices.

But Hetzel knows one thing.

“It works. We see a difference in the men and in the prison. It’s calmer,” he said of the course that about 10 percent of the prison’s inmates have completed.

The word Vipassana means “to see things as they really are,” which is also the goal of the intense 10-day program using the meditative technique that dates back 2,500 years.

Vipassana courses are held four times a year in a prison gymnasium, where as many as 40 inmates meditate 10 hours a day. Most sit on cushions on the floor, while a few use chairs.

The courses begin with three days of breathing exercises – the prisoners learn to focus on bodily sensations so intently they feel the exhalations on their upper lip. Students are required to not speak to each other.

Outside volunteers guide their way, along with recordings of chanting and instructions.

On Day 4, students are told to begin letting their deepest thoughts percolate up through their consciousness so they can sense the effects on the body, like tension or anger. The ultimate goal is to learn not to react to those sensations.

Students are forced to grapple with their innermost selves. Some men are brought to tears; a few have thrown up. It’s not unusual for half of the students or more to quit or be sent back to the prison population for disobeying the rules.

Those who finish come out changed, prison officials say.

Convicted murderer Grady Bankhead said the hours of meditation forced him to accept responsibility for his crime and helped him find inner peace. Bankhead, who’s serving life without parole, radiates calm.

“I’ve been here for 25 years and this statement is going to sound crazy, but I consider myself the luckiest man in the world,” Bankhead, 60, said last month after the latest course at Donaldson.

For Ronald McKeithen, Vipassana became a tool for controlling his actions.

“I had a lot of anger issues, and this has given me a way to deal with it,” said McKeithen, 48, serving life without parole for robbery. Eyes shut, his face is relaxed during a weekly meditation session for prisoners who finish the program.

Vipassana courses have been taught in Indian prisons for decades and began in 2002 at Donaldson. The program was temporarily shut down over concerns among some Christians that Vipassana was some sort of evangelical Buddhism – it’s not, teachers and prisoners insist – but it restarted in 2006.

“It’s medicine for the mind,” said Timothy Lewis, 45, serving life without parole for robbery and assault.

About 380 state inmates have completed a Vipassana course, said Dr. Ronald Cavanaugh, who brought the program to Donaldson while working there and is now treatment director for the Alabama Department of Corrections. It took him three years to convince administrators to allow the program and to find the space for it.

A Department of Corrections study of about 100 inmates who completed the program and were still in custody in late 2007 found they had 20 percent fewer disciplinary actions after the course, Cavanaugh said.

“The goal of Vipassana is to change one’s relationship to thoughts instead of changing the content of the thoughts,” said Cavanaugh. “You don’t need to act or react to thoughts. You can just observe them.”

Vipassana courses have been taught at a few other lockups in California, Massachusetts and Washington, but ended for reasons including space limitations, security concerns and funding. Donaldson is currently the only U.S. prison with the courses, but advocates are trying to get others interested, said Harry Snyder of the Vipassana Prison Trust. The trust pays for volunteers to travel to the prison and conduct courses.

John Gannon, executive director of the International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology, said he applauds Alabama’s efforts.

“Anything that helps to reduce impulsivity is likely to reduce recidivism … and that’s what the process is about as I understand it,” said Gannon, of Pismo Beach, Calif.

Baptists far outnumber Buddhists in Alabama, and state corrections officials deserve credit for their willingness to try the program, said Jenny Phillips, a Massachusetts psychotherapist who introduced Cavanaugh to Vipassana meditation.

Phillips wrote a book and produced a documentary movie about the Donaldson program called “The Dhamma Brothers,” which incorporates the Indian word that refers to the concept in Vipassana of gaining happiness through doing good for others. It’s an older, alternate spelling of the word “dharma,” which is used more often in popular culture.

“You can feel the energy when another Dhamma brother passes by you,” said Bankhead, an inmate leader of the program. “You can relax. It’s one person calming five or six.”

While the warden said Vipassana helps officers and administrators keep a lid on Donaldson, the lockup is still considered the state’s roughest. It’s the last stop for inmates with behavior problems, and more than one-third of its approximately 1,500 prisoners are either serving sentences of life without parole or are on death row.

A judge is currently considering a prisoner lawsuit that claims Donaldson is so crowded and violent it violates inmates’ constitutional rights. State officials don’t deny that Donaldson has problems, but they dispute that the lockup is unconstitutionally harsh.

An organization for corrections officers has taken the unusual step of siding with the inmates by agreeing with some of their claims about Donaldson, but no trial date is set.



Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Click here to find out about the many benefits of being a sponsor.

Read More

“Vipassana – the Musical” inspired by author’s experience of silent meditation

Kaki Hunter

Kaki Hunter is no stranger to success. Her background includes a career as a successful film actress, a published author and a recognized guru in sustainable building.

Two years ago, however, despite all of her success, Hunter says she found herself miserable and at what she describes as, “an extremely low point in life emotionally, spiritually and physically.”

After hearing about friends’ experiences with Vipassana, a 2,500-year-old silent meditation technique designed to eradicate human suffering, Hunter decided to enroll in a 10-day retreat.

The program required all participants to abstain from all communication, including talking, eye contact, writing, music, and reading. As Hunter entered into “noble silence” and began the practice of nearly 16 hours of sitting meditation each day, she said she found she enjoyed the silence, and became almost immediately aware of the degree in which talking, both between people and within a person’s own mind, dominates human existence.

Hunter said she enjoyed abstaining from the ubiquitous chatter, but what proved difficult and physically excruciating was the actual act of sitting. On day two, her retreat experience was given mission and purpose with the unlikely visit of an unexpected guest. That visit shaped the remainder of her retreat, and planted the seed that would become “Vipassana – The Musical.”

“Vipassana – The Musical” is a playful, provocative, unpredictable and introspective look at the process of self-discovery. From cynical shenanigans and righteous rebellion, the musical winds its way through the process of spiritual breakdown to final epiphany.

While Hunter says her journey is the foundation of the piece, she says her own story is interwoven with those of individual trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the other students at the “boot camp” of meditation.

Through dialogue, song, dance and musical performance, Hunter wrote the lyrics to 13 songs and, together with her partner, Doni Kiffmeyer, crafted the melodies in a variety of musical styles including rock, rhythm and blues, soul, African/Latin drumming, country and musical theater. Highly technical and with elaborate special effects, The musical, which is performed by a large cast and supported by a sizeable crew, features some “highly technical and elaborate” special effects, according to producers.

Staged at Moab’s historic Star Hall, 159 E. Center Street, “Vipassana” opens Feb. 4, and runs through Feb. 19. Performances will be held Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m., with a special matinee performance on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 13, at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $10 and are available online at Arches Book Company, 83 N. Main Street, or at the door the night of the performance. For more information visit the website or call 259-4811.

[via Moab Times-Independent]


The Moab-Times-Independent published the following letter on Feb 10, 2011:

My husband and I went to the opening night of “Vipassana: the Musical” at Star Hall Friday night, having no idea what to expect. It turned out to be what they advertised: funny, sad and provocative, and we really enjoyed it.

The amount of talent in this small town is just amazing, from the writer, to the music, all the actors, and everyone else who helped in the production.

Thanks for a fun evening, and I hope many others will go and enjoy it also.

—Bonnie Crysdale

Read More

“Awake at the Wheel: Mindful Driving” by Michele McDonald

“Awake at the Wheel: Mindful Driving,” by Michele McDonald

There are pitfalls in listening to mindfulness tapes in the car. Once I was talking to a woman at a workshop I was leading in Spokane, and she related that she’d once been so engrossed in a mindfulness tape by Thich Nhat Hanh that she’d rear-ended a truck. It’s for that sort of reason that I’ve never acted on any of the suggestions various people have made over the years that I should record a CD about mindful driving.

Michele McDonald, however, is made of braver stuff, and with both hands firmly (but gently) on the wheel she set off to record guided meditations that help turn driving into a mindfulness practice. And she’s done a good job.

Title: Awake at the Wheel: Mindful Driving
Author: Michele McDonald
Publisher: More Than Sound

Awake at the Wheel is a two-CD set of mindfulness exercises, also available as a download. There are seven exercises in all, from around five minutes in length to just over 16 minutes. The same exercises are repeated on both CDs, with less guidance being given in the second set.

McDonald is the founder of Vipassana Hawai’i and has been teaching vipassana meditation for over 25 years. Her Facebook page says that she has been a “quiet pioneer, having being the first woman to teach a formal retreat in Burma.” This experience shows, for her teaching in Awake at the Wheel is exemplary. She begins, in the introductory track, with emphasizing the need for safety, care for ourselves and others, and lovingkindness. And the final track is simply entitled “Kindness,” and is a what I’d call a “moving metta (lovingkindness)” practice. This framing of the entire program in terms of mindfulness is good on two counts: first, the listener may (we hope) avoid the pitfall of rear-ending a vehicle while listening to someone talk about mindfulness, and second, it emphasizes that lovingkindness and mindfulness are complementary, and even inseparable, qualities.

McDonald’s teaching is carefully crafted. She introduces mindfulness skills a little at a time, first just emphasizing the two “anchors” of noticing the sensations in the hands, and what we’re seeing in our visual field. In the first exercise she rather cleverly asks the driver to use oncoming regularly spaced objects (think telephone poles or fence posts) as ways to break the experience into manageable chunks. She builds from this to noticing the thoughts that arise when we space out and slip into autopilot, skills of “noting” (gently applying mental labels to our experiences), being aware of the body, our hearing, and our emotions.

In several cases she introduced a brief exercise, and then asks us to repeat it. This is an excellent way of helping people to, as McDonald puts it, “build a skill-set.” Her choice of words is excellent, and she has some insightful phrases, such as “The willingness to start again is the most important aspect of mindfulness.”

There were times that I thought she failed to suggest noticing experiences that it would be natural to pay attention to while driving. For example, she suggests that in our mindfulness of hearing we can pay attention to the sounds of birds (which I don’t think I ever notice), but doesn’t suggest being aware of the sound of the engine, or the swoosh of passing vehicles. When being aware of the body she doesn’t mention being aware of the movements in the arms. But these are minor points, and the mindful driver will no doubt notice these sounds without having them pointed out.

This CD set is, as I indicated, designed to be used while driving rather than listened to at home as a rehearsal for driving. I confess I listened to the program in my office, because I wanted to be able to take notes, and because I don’t do enough driving (I rarely drive for more than 10 minutes) to be able to listen to the whole program in a reasonable length of time. The exercises are, I think, more likely to be useful on longer, unbroken drives, rather than in stop-start driving in a city. When the traffic is heavy, or when I’m having to pay attention to navigating, I tend not even to listen to music. I don’t think that under those circumstances I would even attempt to listen to instructional guidance of this sort. I’d advise potential listeners to think carefully about which drives are the most suitable for listening to a program of this nature, taking into account driving conditions and the amount of time available.

There was perhaps only one thing I thought could have been usefully added to the mindfulness instructions, and that would be a brief track to be listened to while stuck in a traffic jam or while at traffic lights. The impatience and frustration that can arise in those situations is one of the most difficult things that drivers have to contend with.

Overall, however, this is a valuable contribution to the “oral literature” on mindfulness, and one for which there is a great need. I hope that the “mindfulness” label doesn’t put anyone off, because all drivers would benefit from listening to Michele McDonald’s skilled coaching.

Read More

Bangladesh to introduce meditation in prisons

Bangladesh has introduced a meditation course for its jail inmates with prison officials saying the pioneering work at India’s Tihar jail prompted them to launch the service to reform prisoners.

“In the past three years of my experience as the prison chief, I saw same people are coming back to jail committing the same crime as our routine counselling service appeared to be of little use. They actually need spiritual and mental purification,” Inspector General of Prisons Brigadier General Mohammad Ashraful Islam Khan told PTI.

Khan, an army doctor with expertise in preventive medicine serving as the prison chief on deputation, said that he expected the course would help to rectify prisoners and prevent recurrence of crimes through the meditative practices as “it worked in Tihar jail in India and prisons in Sri Lanka”.

Quantum Foundation, the leading and pioneering meditation school in Bangladesh, offered its free and voluntary service designing a special 10-day course outline for the inmates.

“We want to hate the sin, not the sinners – this was our principle in offering the service for the jail inmates,” said founder chief of Quantum Foundation.

The foundation’s director Suraiya Akhtar said 40 males and similar number of female inmates, who joined the maiden meditation course separately for the second consecutive day today, “massively responded”.

The prison chief said they selected the 80 prisoners, who were languishing in jails with longer term sentences, were selected for the maiden course as “we planned to develop the meditation instructors from them for running the practice sessions”.

The initiative came a month after Dhaka hosted an international jail conference, also joined by famous former Indian police official Kiran Bedi, who earned a special repute for introducing the meditation course in Tihar jail while she was in charge of the correction centre there.

Via Outlook India

Read More

Breathe in, breathe out, fall in love

A New York Times article about the phenomenon of “Vipassana Romance” (falling in love on retreat):

At that point in my life I had never attempted a full day of meditation. I was chain-smoking my way through a series of boyfriends because I had no idea how to be alone. I hated the cold spot in the bed and the empty hangers that rattled in the closet. Which is why I started meditating. I thought I’d try wading into loneliness the way you enter the sea, easing myself into the bone-chilling cold a bit at a time — first toes, then calves, then legs.

Today would be the first time I’d plunge in all the way. I was terrified. But after meditating Vipassana-style for a few months, I also knew how to handle that terror: I would place my fear in a display case, as if it were a diamond, and shine a spotlight on it. Breath in. Breath out. And so this is what I did for hours, until I itched with boredom.

Eventually, I allowed myself to spy on the other people in the room, their shoulders wrapped in blankets, hands fallen open, faces drained of expression. That’s when I noticed him several pillows away: a lanky man in a button-down shirt, his blond hair dangling over a delicate ear. It was hard to make out his face — I was sitting behind him — but I could see that he wore wire-frame glasses that were Scotch-taped at the joint. His corduroy pants had gone bald at the knee. His wrist peeped out of the sleeve, endearingly bony and frail.

Read the rest of the article…

Read More

Hospital to become a meditation centre

wildmind meditation news

The Whitwell House Day Hospital in Saxon Road, Saxmundham [Suffolk, England], used to look after mental health patients but closed last year.

Planning chiefs at Suffolk Coastal District Council have now given the thumbs up for the building to be used as a silent meditation retreat centre subject to a number of conditions.

It will be run by the Vipassana Trust, a charity which was formed in 1988 and has its headquarters in Hereford.

Most of the the residential courses on offer will be no more than three days long, although some could eventually last for up to 10 days.

Last night Patrick Elder, from Walpole, near Halesworth, who acted as an agent for the application and practices the meditation technique, said: “Vipassana is based on the techniques taught by the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. It is not in any way religious – it is open to everyone.

“The courses are quiet retreats and the participants will enjoy silence for the majority of their stay.

“It will certainly bring people into the town and we are excited about the project.

“There is a bit of work that we still have to do but we would be disappointed if we were not up and running before the end of the year.”

Some concerns were raised about the lack of car parking, the risk of flooding and the poor access for disabled people but these have been addressed by the applicant.

The charity is run through donations and there are no charges for any of the courses. “People may or may not give a donation,” Mr Elder continued. “It depends if they feel they have benefited from what they are doing. It is entirely up to them.

“It means the courses are available to absolutely anybody from whatever walk of life, religion, creed or nationality.”

Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient forms of meditation.

Original article no longer available


Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Click here to find out about the many benefits of being a sponsor.

Read More