Mindful moment… Walk away your worries

Marianne Power, The Independant: Ok, so it’s back-to-reality-blues time. The tree is on its way down and the house is covered with its spines. The Hoover is snarled up with tinsel.

Boxes awaiting decorations surround you and every time you put on your trousers you regret that fourth tin of Quality Streets you ate. So here’s what you do: go for a walk in nature. The simple act of walking in a green space has been found to improve mental health, according to new American research…

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Walking with love (Day 20)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

When I walk, I usually do a “walking lovingkindness” practice. Since it takes me 15 minutes to walk to work and another 15 to walk home again, I get a “bonus” 30 minutes of meditation on the days I don’t have to drive. So even if I only manage 30 minutes of sitting practice I end up meditating for an hour, which is a reasonably substantial amount of meditation to do in a day.

Of course I’m sure there are many ways to do walking lovingkindness, but I’ll share what my practice is.

Basically, it’s very simple: as I walk, I say to myself, “May all beings be well; May all beings be happy.” I remain aware of the space around me, and let a sense of kindness take hold. Since my consciousness is tinged with kindness, and since my consciousness is filling the space around me, I have a feeling that my well-wishing is touching those around me.

I’ll be a bit more aware of the body than when I’m doing regular walking (when I tend to disappear into my head) but not as much as when I’m doing mindful walking. The practice of walking lovingkindness takes us more “out in the world” than mindfulness typically does, and so there’s bit less focus on internal experience. I sometimes keep some awareness on the heart as I walk, but often I don’t.

If there’s no one to be seen (and that’s often the case) then I simply continue like this — walking, repeating the phrases, letting my goodwill radiate into the world around me. If I see someone — the guy putting his recycling out by the curb-side, a car driving by, a woman walking her dog — I direct my attention toward those beings and specifically wish them well.

As a car goes by, my attention tracks it in a focused way, as if I’m shining a mental spotlight on it. As I walk past the guy putting our his recycling I smile and say good-morning.

I hear a train in the distance, and my attention turns in that direction, wishing the staff and passengers well.

If there are a lot of people around, then it can seem a bit restless and unsatisfying to have the “spotlight” jittering around all over the place, so I’ll return to simply allowing a field of kindness to extend around me, knowing that it touches all these beings as they pass through my awareness.

Sometimes if I’m experiencing personal suffering — like the day last week I was feeling a little irritable — I direct my lovingkindness mainly toward myself, until I’m feeling more at peace and less likely to be judgmental of others.

The phrases I’m reciting take up “mental space” that would otherwise be occupied with rumination that would often be tinged with anxiety or ill will. Most of that thinking is laid aside, although sometimes my mindfulness slips and I find myself distracted. But when this happens I simply let go of the unhelpful thinking at the first opportunity and return to the practice: walking and loving.

But the phrases don’t simply displace mental activity that would generally make me unhappy: they actually help foster kindness and joy. Often I’ll feel like I’m radiating this love and joy into the world around me. I’ll feel buffered by it, buoyed up by it.

There’s a feeling of my sense of self expanding and attenuating, because of this sense of my consciousness radiating into the world. There’s a large degree of “un-selfing” in this practice, which can bring it close to being an insight practice.

This is a very traditional practice, by the way. According to the Metta Sutta, one of the key teachings on lovingkindess:

Let him radiate boundless love towards the entire world — above, below, and across — unhindered, without ill will, without enmity.

Standing, walking, sitting or reclining, as long as he is awake, let him develop this mindfulness.

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Walking meditation a fitness favorite

René Fay regularly walks the labyrinth outside Grace Cathedral to relax and meditate. She is seen here on Monday, December 10, 2012, on San Francisco, Calif., walking the path. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle / SF

Debra Levi Holtz, SF Gate:

René Fay, 30, San Francisco

Occupation: Referral coordinator at A Home Within, and barista at Sweet Inspiration Bakery.

Activity: Walking meditation.

Where do you do walking meditation? I walk the labyrinths (both indoor and outside) at Grace Cathedral every weekday after work. I start at the beginning of the labyrinth and, usually at a slow pace, make my way toward the center. I concentrate on …

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Save your career with walking meditation

As my colleague Rusty wrote last week, you shouldn’t get mad at work. But sometimes it just happens. One minute you’re typing up a memo, and the next, you realize it’s been a good minute since you took a breath. Anger has a devilish way of sneaking up on us—especially at work.

But here’s a cure: walking meditation.

At the onset of anger, the best thing you can do for yourself and your career is get up from your desk and walk away. Implement these steps for a successful walking meditation session, and your quality of life at work will dramatically improve.

The goal is to observe the act of walking while becoming completely aware of your body, your breathing, and your surroundings.

Step One: Schedule walking meditation practice on a daily basis. As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. One of the keys to maintaining equanimity is to incorporate regular meditation into your daily life. By scheduling a daily walk, you will improve your meditation skills, ensure you get up from your desk, and create a routine, which gives you a better shot at achieving success. By practicing regularly, you’ll learn to squash anger quickly when it arises.

Step Two: Choose a walking meditation route. One of the goals of this practice is to…

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quiet our minds. We all spend much of our day multitasking at work, while juggling our personal lives as well. Choose a route with little vehicular or pedestrian traffic. The ideal route will be straight, flat, and outdoors. However, walking meditation can be practiced anywhere; a stairwell, quadrangle, or even the office lobby. Try several different routes until you find one that works for you. The best routes are ones that give you enough to observe, without over-stimulating your mind.

Step Three: Before you get started, take several deep breaths. Stand still. Take air in through your nose and feel your abdomen rise. Make yourself aware of the earth under your feet. Enjoy the miracle of being alive. Forget whatever brought you to get up from your desk and temporarily walk away. Tell yourself that you are about to take a walk and clear your mind because you deserve to feel good—even at work.

Step Four: You are now ready to begin your walk. Take measured steps and get in tune with your body. Notice how your feet feel against the ground, how your legs are gliding you forward, how the air feels against your face. Remember that this is not a race. You are enjoying this walk and the world will be fine even if you check out for a few minutes.

Step Five: Keep your mind quiet. As you walk, thoughts will pop into your head. Some of them will be negative thoughts about work. Others might be about how you have 1,000 things to do when you get home tonight. As each thought comes up, acknowledge it, let it go, and concentrate on the walk. This walk is to clear your mind—not clutter it. It is important not to become angry with yourself if this task is difficult for you. Most people are surprised about how difficult it is to shut off their brains for a few minutes! With some practice, it will become easier for you to quiet your mind.

Step Six: Wind down. Ideally you’ll be able to devote 15 minutes a day at work to your walking meditation practice. However, not everyone has that luxury at work. With some practice, a successful walking meditation session can be as short as the walk from your desk to the bathroom. Remember, the goal is to regain your balance and not allow yourself to get angry, upset, or overly emotional at work. Also, don’t end your walking meditation abruptly. Ease yourself back into work life by coming to a planned halt.

Step Seven: Use a mental checklist. When your walk ends, notice how your body feels compared to the beginning of the walk. The good news is that you can’t fail at meditation; there are only varying degrees of success. Don’t have any expectations, other than you know this exercise is good for your body and mind—even if the results aren’t obvious.

Walking meditation has done wonders for my mental clarity at work, and I hope it helps you too! There are many different approaches to this practice. Let us know what works best for you.

Andrew G. Rosen is the founder and editor of Jobacle.com, a career advice blog. He is also the author of How to Quit Your Job.

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Labyrinth experience provides outlet for meditation

wildmind meditation news

Sara F. Neumann, The Etownian: Although Elizabethtown [Pennsylvania] College is a Brethren-affiliated college, the religious identity of students and faculty has become more diverse in recent years; the religions on campus vary from Christian faiths to Jewish to Muslim and everything in between. In light of this diversity, there have been more attempts by student organizations to reach out and invite people of various faiths through different activities.

The Labyrinth, hosted by the Chaplain’s Office, is one of these new interfaith activities. Most students are unaware of what a labyrinth is and what the experience at Etown offers them. “Labyrinths are a kind of walking meditation and they are like mazes, but there is only one path in and one path out. It’s a guided path that allows walkers to get closer to God or just to themselves,” explained Assistant Chaplain Amy Shorner-Johnson.

The Labyrinth began last semester and is held on Sunday nights, but this semester it was switched to Thursday afternoons.”We wanted it to be more interfaith,” Shorner-Johnson said. “Having it during the week makes it more inviting toward everyone.”

Labyrinths date back to Roman times, when Romans carved the circular paths onto rocks. They were then adopted by various faiths, including Christian sects, who often placed them on church floors. Depending on the faith, labyrinths could be walked on the knees for penance or walked as a substitute for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. One of the most famous labyrinths is in the Chartres Cathedral in Paris, France; the labyrinth is a circular maze, which leads into a patterned center and then leads the walker back out.

Etown’s own labyrinth is modeled after the Chartres labyrinth. It is a large canvas piece that, when rolled out, reveals a winding path defined in purple. “The Chaplain’s husband picked the color, actually, and the company liked it so much they picked it up for their other labyrinths,” Senior Marshal Fettro said, the student leader in charge of the Labyrinth.

While Chartres labyrinth is a Catholic labyrinth, the assistant chaplain is eager to emphasize that Etown’s is multifaith and open to all. While labyrinths can be religious for some, walking one does not have to be a path to a personal God. It can just be a way to relax.

“It provides a sacred space or just a getaway for students. You can practice mindfulness while walking it. Sometimes if I try to meditate or relax while just sitting, I worry about sleeping. I tend to be able to focus when I’m doing something,” Shorner-Johnson shared.

Senior Laura Miller explained that she goes to the Labyrinth as an escape. “I’ve been coming since last semester. It’s just a break from everyday life,” she said.

Senior Amanda McGeary, a first time attendee, came to earn Called to Lead points. “It was calming and quiet. It was just nice,” she said.

Another first time Labyrinth walker was impressed with the fulfillment of the slogan that drew him in. “I saw the poster in the BSC that said, ‘Walk your worries away,’ and I thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ Well, it worked—I don’t have any worries anymore,” he explained.

The Labyrinth experience offers a few quiet hours for students to focus simply on themselves or on getting close to the God in which they personally believe. Music is played during the experience, but it is non-denominational; the CDs vary from Native American chants to simple nature sounds. The music changes from week to week. The walk can take as long or as short as the walker desires, depending on what they are contemplating.

“Just setting some time, whether to meditate, pray or think, can turn the profane into the sacred,” Fettro said, referencing Emile Durkheim’s dichotomy of the sacred and profane.

The Labyrinth is held every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. in the M&M Mars room in Leffler Chapel. It is open to all who wish to attend.

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Get enlightened on Germany’s meditation trail

In harmony with the rushing Ammer River, Norbert Parucha, our guide, recites Lao Tse. Poised on a rocky ledge overlooking the water, he stands craggy-faced and as solid as an ancient tree. He might be part of the mountain’s landscape but for the soothing melody of his speech and the rugged hiking boots on his feet.

Here, along the Ammergau Alps Meditation Trail, he calls us to contemplation. We stand, above the rapids, embraced by a belt of wine-bottle green pine trees and a smattering of moss-covered boulders. His words flow out into the brisk air and down to the water. It’s our job to catch them like summertime fireflies in a jar — and apply them to our musings.

We’ve followed Parucha to the fourth official stop, one of 15 along the newly marked 52-mile Ammergau Alps Meditation Trail. Conceived by Parucha in collaboration with a team from Ammergau Tourism, this undulating path is carved into a well-trodden holiday region south of Munich in the foothills of the Alps. It leads hikers of every level through the gentle hills, Alpine moors, lush valleys and flowery meadows of Bavaria.

The metaphor for this new course might be the labyrinth — or the road as a symbol for our lives. The Meditation Trail takes advantage of the spiritually significant sites in the area, from Celtic mounds to mountain chapels to monasteries and reflective lakes.

“It’s not a highway,” croons Perucha as we take off hiking at warp speed from the Baroque, UNESCO-listed Wies Church, where the trail begins. Because we’re more determined to set records than meld into the music of nature, Parucha speaks again. “Plod along. Stop, smell, look, listen.”

Parucha’s role is to ensure we unravel internally, that we allow the majesty of mountains, the chirping of birds, the scent of pine needles to lull us to a self-awareness too easily misplaced in the city. At each stop along this route that can take five or more days to finish, we mull poetry and mystical words at sacred man-made and natural sites.

A proponent of self-healing and the life-affirming aspects of spiritual walking, Perucha, 56, a therapist, was once as enmeshed in the frenzy of the external world as the rest of us. But the untimely death of his wife sent him reeling. Searching for answers, he went to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, perhaps the best-known pilgrim’s path. As he healed, he changed careers, studied therapy and holistic medicine and commenced to take groups of seekers to wander the Santiago Compostela Trail and the lesser known, and linking, Path of Jacob.

Soon learning that his patients gained relief from rhythmic, philosophy-supported treks through nature, Parucha took the next step, linking a variety of sights in the Ammergau and offering (in conjunction with the region’s office of tourism) contemplative tours.

And, that’s why we’ve come, my teenage daughter and I, to walk with Perucha. He’s a tranquil master. And his region, the Ammergau, speaks for itself.

At Lake Soier, we ponder the glassy lake, noting how it mirrors the sky. Here, Parucha presents the words and philosophies of Lama Govinda, a European-born Tibetan Buddhist, instrumental in bringing Buddhism to the West. “The world is merely a mirror of what is in our own being,” quotes Perucha. After we do some breathing exercises and concentrate on visualizations, we ramble on — but not before Perucha points out how close the German word for lake (see) is to the word for soul (seele). With that in mind, we circle the lake in walking meditation.

Another day, we hear the words of Chief Seattle over the hilltop ruins of Dottenbichl, a Celtic and (later) Roman archeological site. Some places along the trek call for the musings of Christian mystics, others for the wisdom of poets. We pass fat cows with bell necklaces, geese that chase us, picnicking couples ensconced in a meadow and boys hauling a canoe to the rapids. In front of one pub, we see a crowd of men dressed in lederhosen and feathered hats. We eat hearty Bavarian food: pork, dumplings, grainy breads and mache lettuce salads — washing it all down with immense beers. In some places, we smell the peaty mud of the centuries-old bogs as we wander; in others, we catch a whiff of a wood fire.

Although many stops celebrate only nature, others consider human-made passion. Station 9, for example, is the tiny village of Oberammergau, famous for its centuries-old Passion Play tradition. We tour the theater, learn about the vow made by villagers to God nearly 400 years ago and study iconography carved from wood in the town’s museum. A subsequent stop takes us to Ettal. Here we visit with Benedictine monks at the famous Gothic-styled, medieval abbey.

The expedition ends at King Ludwig II’s Linderhof Palace, a fantasy creation designed as a poetic retreat and homage to myth, especially that of the Grail theme. “What are your visions and your dreams?” Parucha asks us. “How are you living them?”

A guide isn’t necessary to hike this route — the trails are well marked and even the meditations are displayed at each station — but having someone lead us to consciousness has been exalting. We end our adventure with sharpened minds, recharged spirits and stronger bodies. Admittedly, we don’t find answers to all the big questions — but that just means we’ll have to return to trek again.

If you go …

Getting there: Before you leave, buy a Eurail Pass (eurailtravel.com) which allows on-and-off privileges on most trains. Fly into Munich and take the train to any of the towns in the Ammergau Region, just about an hour’s ride. Or, rent a car.

The hike: Hiking packages for the trail come in seven- or four-night packages and include all meals (picnics for lunch), mid-priced hotel stays (including one night atop Hornle mountain in a rustic hut), a pilgrim guide, transfers, meditation and more. The packages are 850 Euros (per person, double occupancy) or 540 euros, respectively. www.ammergauer-alpen.de/en/ammergau-alps-meditation-trail.html

Do consider some of the Ammergau regions other offerings, including spa packages that feature the region’s famous moor bark baths.

[Becca Hensley, Statesman]
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Monk’s enlightenment begins with a marathon walk

Anyone who has run a marathon knows that feats of endurance require mental discipline — a way to fuse mind, body and spirit. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, a monk at a Zen Buddhist temple in Japan has walked a great distance — roughly the equivalent of the Earth’s circumference — as a form of physical and spiritual exercise.

On the side of Mount Hiei, overlooking the ancient capital of Kyoto, the wind whistles around a part of the Enryaku-ji temple complex. Inside, a small congregation of Buddhists recites sutras.

Leading the service is 34-year-old Zen monk Endo Mitsunaga, who manages one of the temples in the complex. His hands flow powerfully and precisely as he wields ritual prayer objects and executes a series of mudras, or hand gestures, used in prayer and meditation.

Last fall, Mitsunaga became the 13th monk since World War II to complete the Sennichi Kaihogyo, 1,000 days of walking meditation and prayer over a seven-year period around Mount Hiei. He walked 26 miles a day for periods of either 100 or 200 consecutive days — a total distance about the same as walking around the Earth.

A Circular Pilgrimage

In his living quarters, Mitsunaga kneels on the tatami floor mat and pours green tea. Walking meditation is like sitting meditation, he explains. The participant must maintain a calm mind, good posture and steady breathing.

“As we walk, we recite the mantra of the Immovable Wisdom King, our principal deity,” Mitsunaga says. “We’re not supposed to be out of breath when we walk uphill. By reciting the mantra, we can first control our breathing and then control our mind.”

Fudo Myo-o, the Immovable Wisdom King, is an important figure in Japanese Buddhism. He is a wrathful-looking guardian spirit sitting amid flames, dressed in rags, and holding a sword and rope.

On his walks, Mitsunaga carries a fan and a rosary, representing the sword and rope. He dresses in white, the color of death in Japan. On his feet, he wears only straw sandals.

Robert Rhodes, an expert on Japanese Buddhism at Otani University in Kyoto, says the Kaihogyo tradition is unique because it takes a tradition of spiritual retreats in the mountains and turns it into a sort of circular pilgrimage.

“The people who are doing the Kaihogyo are not just walking around the mountains,” he says. “They’re actually doing a pilgrimage and giving prayers at … about 260 places on the mountain.”

The Kaihogyo is often described as an ascetic practice. Mitsunaga says it’s really not that hard. A lot of it is just learning to manage time.

“My walking prayers take up less than half of the day,” he points out. “Anyone can do that. But the rest of my daily routine is also a part of my spiritual practice. I have to take care of the whole temple by myself, and it can take forever. If I don’t do things quickly, I get no sleep.”

During the Kaihogyo training, Mitsunaga got up at 12:30 a.m. and walked from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. Monastic routines and household chores took up the rest of the day. He slept for 4 1/2 hours a night.

Death Of The Old Self

After 700 days, the Kaihogyo practitioner faces what Mitsunaga calls an exam. He enters a hall and prays nonstop for nine days, without eating, drinking, sleeping or even lying down. It’s a near-death experience, the monk says.

“Put simply, you just have to give up everything and pray to the Immovable Wisdom King,” he says. “By doing this, he may recognize you and allow you to live for nine days.”

The practitioner interrupts his prayers every night to come to a small fountain and get an offering of water for Fudo Myo-o. Toward the end of the nine days, the practitioner is so weak, he must be supported by fellow monks.

Finally, his old self dies, at least figuratively, and he is reborn to help and lead all beings to enlightenment.

Mitsunaga pauses, struggling to find the words to describe his transcendental experience. Finally, he says that his fast helped him realize this: He is interconnected with everything else; independence is simply an illusion.

“Everybody thinks they’re living on their own without help from others,” Mitsunaga says. “This is not possible. I really think that others have done something for me, and I have a feeling of gratefulness to other people.”

Training Yourself To Help Others

One lesson of the Kaihogyo is that in order to help others, you have to first train yourself. Rhodes says that dividing the Kaihogyo’s 1,000 days into 700- and 300-day phases is a way to determine how much time to devote to cultivating yourself and how much to spend to helping others. He says the 70-30 split is based on the different stages of becoming a Buddha — of which there are 10.

“The first seven are working for your own benefit, cultivating your own mental attitudes,” Rhodes explains. “And from the seventh, eighth and ninth stages, you’re not only working for yourself, but you’re working for everyone else as well.”

Now, Mitsunaga spends most of his time training younger monks and tending to the spiritual needs of his small and mostly middle-aged or elderly congregation.

After the service, a woman in the congregation remarks that in her frenetic life, moments when she can attain stillness are few and fleeting. But Mitsunaga’s whole life, she says, just seems like a continuous state of pure mind. She says she learns this and so much more just from watching him move.

[via Vermont Public Radio]
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The Good Life: Meditation eases the mind

Tracy Press: Whether you attend church regularly, practice personally from home or have a unique spiritual practice, you can bring a sense of spirit into your daily life through practical spirituality.

It’s a way to stay consciously connected to your spirit and strengthen your mind-body-spirit connections. Even the busiest of us can take two to five minutes to help ourselves.

Look at the suggestions below and pick one to practice each day this week. Then, notice if you feel any different.

• Breathing exercises are easily the most basic and universally practiced way to slow down, relieve stress and bring more oxygen to our body and brain, helping us feel and think better.

Take three to five deep breaths using your diaphragm. Breathe in through your nose as you slowly count to eight; breathe out through your mouth to the count of seven. Your belly should expand and contract rather than your chest. Focus on each breath and turn your attention away from all thoughts that come up. Think “I am breathing in” and “I am breathing out.”

• Another option is to take a break during your day for a walking meditation, focusing all your attention on walking and slowing the movement as much as possible.

Walk in slow motion for three to five minutes. As unrelated thoughts arise (and they always do!), turn your attention back to your body. Consider how your legs move. What do your arms feel like when you walk? Notice the air on your skin. Observe everything about the simple act of walking, and think of nothing else.

By taking time each day to focus on otherwise mundane activities, you can create renewed energy and a more centered feeling through connecting mind to body.

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Walking: meditation for non-meditators

Huffington Post: You know who you are. You never do less than two things at once. You read while you eat. You check your email while you’re on a conference call. You’re restless, and it works for you because you get things done. And when it comes to calming your mind, you have no interest in meditating because that would require you to sit still and do nothing. Right? Not right. You don’t have to sit to meditate. Read more here.

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Making peace: Let it begin within

Tom Holmes, Wednesday Journal: The contrast could not have been more striking. On Sept. 11, General David Petraeus reported to the Senate Armed Services Committee on how his 168,000 troops were doing in their effort to change the situation in Iraq. Three days earlier two Buddhist nuns and one monk along with 17 members and friends of the Vajrayana Buddhist Center in Oak Park set out on a two-mile Walk for World Peace.

The mood at the Center on that Saturday morning felt much like what you experience in many churches and synagogues as people gather for a fundraiser or advocacy walk. There were hugs, laughter and one in-depth analysis of the Cubs. A scurry of activity included registering names, handing out Walk for World Peace T-shirts and posing for pictures. Armed with water bottles and granola bars, the group began its two-mile amble with two goals in mind:

1) raising awareness about world peace and

2) raising money for the Vajrayana Center

“Our mission is world peace,” declared Rafael Valadez, the walk’s coordinator. Initially that goal might seem unrealistic, grandiose and futile-that is, unless you understand how the Buddhist approach to peace works.

Under the surface, beneath the laughter and admiring of pet dogs and babies in strollers, a more serious and counter-cultural process is being played out. In an interview preceding the walk and again at a “teaching” following the event two days later, Kelsang Lektso, the resident teacher at the Vajrayana Center, explained how she as a Kadampa Buddhist goes about peacemaking.

She quoted the spiritual leader and founder of Kadampa Centers in the West, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who said, “Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible.” That’s more than a spin on the lyrics of the old peace song, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

“The causes of unhappiness and suffering are not from the outside,” Lektso instructs. “Rather they are states of mind. The cause of our suffering is within our mind.” What causes us to remain stuck in the cycle of suffering and rebirth, she said, are negative states of mind, which they try to replace through meditation with “virtuous states of mind.” For example, in meditation the work of replacing anger with compassion goes on until there is no room left for the negative feeling. States of mind lead to action.

In one of the books for sale at the Center, Joyful Path of Good Fortune, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso writes, “To attain [actual liberation or nirvana] we need to abandon all delusions and contaminated actions which are the source of samsaric rebirths. … The definition of delusion is a mental factor that arises from inappropriate attention and functions to make the mind unpeaceful and uncontrolled.” (p. 310)

Lektso likened the process of abandoning delusions to the pulling of weeds in a garden. Over time and with great effort a gardener can have a weed-free garden in which wonderful vegetables are free to ripen. By pulling the weeds in your mind, i.e. abandoning delusions, you let the Buddha seed in you flower. In the 21 basic meditations, the Buddha, according to Lektso, has given us the practical tools to do this.

“The more we practice,” she said, “the more we rid the mind of bad habits. The spiritual path is about changing the heart and mind. You can eventually feel peaceful all the time.”

Lektso said there are two paths open to every person:

1) try to find peace and happiness by changing the world or

2) find peace and happiness by changing your own mind.

She laughed as she listed examples of how people-and herself at times-have tried to find peace through externals: TV, food, the latest technology. She admitted to being intrigued by iPhones for awhile. The problem, she concluded, is that lasting peace is not possible through externals.

In Buddhism, peacemaking always begins internally and all of the work has to be done by the individual. Kelsang Lamden, the administrator of the center, was a Christian for 50 years before being ordained a Buddhist nun. “Some of the pieces were always missing,” she said. “The trouble with some Christians is the attitude they can do anything they want and then be forgiven in the end. In Buddhism the responsibility lies with each individual and that responsibility is huge.”

Lektso repeatedly emphasized that the methods taught in Buddhism are practical and can be applied by everyone whether they are Buddhist or not. Some, she noted, have called Buddhism a philosophy rather than a religion because God really doesn’t come into the picture at all.

What matters, said the resident teacher at the Vajrayana Center, is that each individual can use the meditation techniques taught here to become more relaxed and peaceful in their everyday life.

In fact, that became the life mission of the spiritual director of all Kadampa Buddhist Centers, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Geshe-la, as he is affectionately called by his students, who was ordained at the age of eight and then spent almost 40 years in intensive studies.

When he came to the West, he learned English and devoted his life to bringing the teachings of Buddhism to everyday people. The brand of Buddhist meditation taught at the Vajrayana Center is likewise very down to earth. Perhaps this practical approach is facilitated by the fact that most Kadampa Buddhist monks and nuns have regular jobs in addition to their service to the “sangha” or community.

Kelsang Lektso didn’t mention the names Crocker or Petraeus once during her hour-long teaching on the eve of their testimony before the Senate committees. Instead she led a 10-minute meditation which focused on replacing anger with compassion in each of the 12 people in attendance.

She coached the people meditating to replace the “unbridled pursuit of happiness through trying to change externals” with a changed state of mind, one that gradually substitutes compassion for anger until there’s no room left for negative feelings.

Can 20 people walking two miles do more to create peace in the world than 168,000 military personnel in Iraq? None of the participants even raised the question. Those, however, who were really into the kinds of meditation taught at the Vajrayana Center would if pushed probably quote Kelsang Lektso who said, “I know from my own experience that it works.”

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