walking meditation

Unity Church of Sun City, Arizona, to dedicate labyrinth

The Unity Church of Sun City will dedicate a replica of the labyrinth of Chartres, France, on Sunday at 10:30 a.m.

Fewer than a dozen replicas exist. The first in the United States was at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Labyrinths have been known to the human race for more than 3,500 years. They have been used in many different religious ways by many peoples and as solar and lunar calendars. In Arizona, the Hopi use a form of the labyrinth in their religious symbolism, and the Tohono O’odham “Man in the Maze” is actually a seven-circuit labyrinth and is part of an elaborate creation myth.

Medieval pilgrims, unable to fulfill their desire to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, went instead to many pilgrimage sites in Europe or Britain. In many cases, the end of their journey was a labyrinth formed of stone and laid in the floor of the nave of a Gothic cathedrals. The center of the labyrinths probably represented for many pilgrims the Holy City itself and thus became the substitute goal of the journey.

The labyrinth is a path for prayer and meditation and is available to the Sun City community at any time.

People have different experiences walking the labyrinth. As with all practices of prayer or meditation, the experience will grow and deepen the more one does it.

Some people feel a sense of peace. Others find old memories rising up as they walk. Others find themselves thinking about an immediate situation or person. Others walk at varying speeds as different thoughts and emotions come and go. Some people experience physical sensations, perhaps become light-headed, or have a feeling of floating above, a feeling of weight or of great warmth. Some people have profound insights. Others have very small experiences or none at all. The experience of walking the labyrinth is different for each person, each time.

The labyrinth is in the garden at 10101 W. Coggins Drive (101st Avenue in Sun City). It is open at all times, including nights, when it is lighted.

[via AZ Central]
Read More

Thich Nhat Hanh, “Buddha Mind, Buddha Body: Walking Toward Enlightenment”

Buddha mind, buddha body, Thich Nhat HanhThich Nhah Hanh’s spiritual genius shines through this new book, despite some poor organization and quirky translations.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddha Mind, Buddha Body: Walking Toward Enlightenment offers instructions on dwelling in the body and mind, on metta (or universal lovingkindness), and on Thich Nhat Hanh’s distinctive teaching on “interbeing.” The book includes–as bookends, teachings on walking meditation–but many other practices are discussed in between. The book is in fact quite a collection of Dharma teachings.

Title: Buddha Mind, Buddha Body
Author: Thich Nhat Hanh
Publisher: Parallax
ISBN: 978-1888375-75-6
Available from: Amazon.com and Parallax.

Buddha Mind, Buddha Body is based on The Verses on the Characteristics of the Eight Consciousnesses by Master Hsuan-Tsang (ca. 596-664), though the connection to that text is not readily apparent, and nowhere does the author explicitly state he’s discussing Hsuan-Tsang’s work.

Sometimes Thich Nhat Hanh’s explanations neatly encapsulate major struggles from my own practice and remind me of why I seek the freedom that mindfulness brings:

“Dispersion is when you allow yourself to be carried away by emotions. When we feel out of control of our lives, as if we don’t have any sovereignty, that’s mind consciousness in dispersion. You think and speak and do things that you cannot control. We don’t want to be full of hate and anger and discrimination, but sometimes the habit energy feels so strong we don’t know how to change it. There’s no loving kindness, understanding, or compassion in your thinking, because you are less than your better self … you say things and do thing you wouldn’t say or do if you were concentrated. You lose your sovereignty.” (page 77)

In these flashes of clarity, I wonder: where did this guy come from? Who is he? Thich Nhat Hanh started practicing when he was 16 in Vietnam, in a tradition that draws heavily from Zen, although Thich Nhat Hanh seems to value the whole Buddhist tradition.

Conditionality is a key idea in Buddhism, and is always present in one form or another in this book, mostly in his emphasis on “interbeing.” Conditionality is the idea that we, and everything, are predicated on conditions. Being separate is a mistake and a delusion.

I found the lack of footnotes confusing. I like a Dharma book that notes exactly where a particular story comes from in the vast tradition, so I can look it up and reinforce what I’m learning, or see if I agree with an author’s interpretation of a text.

Also his translations are sometimes different from standard definitions. Instead of the usual translation of “patience” for kshanti, he translates it as “inclusiveness.” He likens it more to growing larger, so that little things do not bug you. He translates sila as “mindfulness”, though usually it’s considered “ethics.” Not that ethics doesn’t require mindfulness, but we have the tradition of the precepts to guide us here. Virya isn’t translated as “energy” but “diligence.”

Thich Nhat Hanh uses the language of theism when he says, “a kingdom of God or Pure Land.” This language might be helpful to some, and unhelpful to others. It’s pretty clear that the Buddha said questions about God’s existence, is not pragmatic on the path to Enlightenment, it’s a red herring. But Buddhism isn’t a stickler for dogma. What ever practically helps you on the path to enlightenment. If thoughts of god help you, then well it doesn’t matter what the Buddha said. Of course because the Buddha has said something, according to the tradition, there’s a good reason to look into it and take it seriously.

The last chapter of the book is a guided walking meditation, derived from past books, and then there are appendices, which leads to a clunky kind of ending, a mishmash of information that is not well strung together. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading the book over all, and look forward to reading more from him. He’s clearly a spiritual genius, a star Buddhist in a great sky of wonderful Buddhist stars, and well worth your notice.

Read More

Meditate to melt stress, improve health

Newer research from the University of Wisconsin shows a meditation habit can strengthen the body’s immune function, plus increase brain performance in the form of electrical activity. It validates the mind-body dynamic of meditation.

To gauge immune function, the researchers measured antibodies in the blood that fight flu and other infections.

Volunteer subjects in the study who meditated had significantly higher levels of these healthful antibodies than nonmeditators in just one to two months. In fact, it is interesting to note that participants who meditated for two months had significantly higher levels of antibodies than individuals meditating for just one month.

Results for brain-wave activity were even more amplified. The region of the brain most activated by meditation is the left frontal area associated with positive emotions and anxiety reduction.

You can do it Anyone who has tried meditation knows that quieting the mind can be difficult to impossible. Charles MacInerney, an Austin, Texas-based meditation and yoga teacher, has an answer for getting started and staying the course. He recommends a simple “awareness of breath” meditation.

“Initially it is best practiced while lying flat on your back on the floor with knees either straight or bent,” he said. “As you improve, it can also be practiced while sitting, standing or walking, as long as you can maintain good posture. Poor posture impedes the breath and distracts from the meditation.

“The secret of this meditation is to observe the breath without consciously trying to change it. Your observations of the breath filter down to the subconscious levels of your brain, which will begin subtly to shift and refine the breathing to lead you gradually along the perfect path toward perfect breathing.”

Dr. Herbert Benson, a Harvard University cardiologist and author of the 1970s best-seller, “The Relaxation Response,” has a core message that puts meditation in perspective but also accentuates its potential power.

Meditation and breathing awareness “won’t eliminate stress, only change our reaction to stress,” Benson said.

Benson’s “Relaxation Response” meditation suggests that we repeat a word, sound or prayer to accomplish an effect. “It can be secular or religious,” he said. “It’s your choice. It could be ‘love,’ ‘peace,’ ‘calm.’ If you’re Catholic, you have it made. You can say ‘Ave Maria,’ or ‘Hail Mary, full of grace.’ ”

Benson has a clear set of nine steps to help people learn to relax with purpose:

1. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer rooted in your belief system.

2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.

3. Close your eyes.

4. Relax your muscles.

5. Breathe slowly. Say the focus word as you exhale.

6. Assume a passive attitude. When other thoughts intrude, just say, “Oh, well,” and return to your repetition.

7. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.

8. Open your eyes and sit for another minute.

9. Practice once or twice daily.

What if you slip? Try another form of meditation, but one that still fits into your days and lifestyle. MacInerney, who has consulted for Apple, IBM and Motorola, suggests that a walking meditation is “wonderful initiation” for beginners and might prove to be easier to adapt than a sitting meditation.

Start a walking meditation by striding a little faster than normal, MacInerney said. Then gradually slow down to what you think is your normal walking speed. Next, slow down until you feel unnatural or even off balance. Finally, speed up just enough to feel comfortable, both physically and psychologically. This is your optimal meditative state for walking.

From there, strive for a “smooth gait,” which MacInerney said might mean you speed up a bit on the first few tries. Be mindful of your breathing and walking; your focus will take you away from stress and anxiety.

“The idea is to walk in silence, both internal and external,” MacInerney said. “Make each step a gesture. You will fall into a natural rhythm and move into a state of grace.”

Best of all The University of Wisconsin researchers report that some participants were particularly thrilled with one result of regular meditation: Road rage went down significantly.

Chicago Tribune

Read More

Meditative Jews adopt new tradition

Courier-Post: Fifteen months ago, Franklin Horowitz was in a bad place in his life.

Entangled in “addictive issues,” he was lost inside his own skin. But then the Voorhees resident started walking the labyrinth at an Episcopal church in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

Though Jewish, he was drawn to the winding path cut in the grass near his childhood home. On it, he discovered the labyrinth’s power for contemplation.

“I was really meditative,” Horowitz said. “I was grounded with the earth. There was something about the way you took specific twists and turns while being cognizant of where you were going, in relation to your center.”

Right there, in the middle of the thing, he called a counselor and arranged to get help.

Labyrinths aren’t a part of Jewish tradition. Centuries ago, they were popular in Medieval European churches for personal meditation and prayer.

But a growing number of synagogues are using labyrinths as a way to reflect and ponder, especially during the High Holy Days, a 10-day period which begins tonight with Rosh Hashana. Also called the Days of Awe, the High Holy Days are a time for self-examination, forgiveness and renewal.

Moved by his experience on the labyrinth, Horowitz donated money to build a small meditation labyrinth and peace garden on the grounds of Congregation Beth El’s new home on Main Street in Voorhees. It was dedicated in memory of his father and his uncle, a longtime member of the congregation.

“There’s nothing not Jewish about a labyrinth,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Arnowitz, the synagogue’s associate rabbi, who meets with Horowitz once a week.

“In fact, there’s something incredibly Jewish about them, this whole idea of wandering. We spent 40 years in the desert wandering. For the Jews, it was more important to wander and learn what you had to learn wandering than it was to get to the goal. That’s ultimately what the labyrinth is all about.”

Arnowitz already has used the winding path as a tool during spiritual counseling sessions, and has plans to use the route for services in the future.

At Congregation Tikkun v’Or in Ithaca, N.Y., a seven-circuit labyrinth is painted on a grassy field just for the High Holy Days.

Diana Levy, the synagogue’s co-president, said a rabbi suggested the idea as an external way to represent T’shuvah (or “return to God”). It’s especially well used after the morning Yom Kippur service, she said. There can be up to 20 people following the path.

“It’s not a Jewish tradition, but it just seemed to be something so much about the High Holidays — to be walking inward, to be turning inward, turning inward, and from that inwardness beginning to come back out,” Levy said. “It’s just really interesting and a lovely experience.”

A labyrinth is not a maze, Levy said. Walkers start on the path and keep moving forward to come back to the beginning.

That’s the intention of this period of introspection, said Abby Michaleski, a student rabbi who leads Temple Beth El, a synagogue in Hammonton.

“We’ve cycled back, spiraled back to the same place,” said Michaleski. “Hopefully, when we come back to the same place, we return at a higher spiritual level.”

Read More

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.

Read More

Labyrinth a place for moving meditation

Herald-Mail: As Michael Holland walked the outdoor Cretan labyrinth at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Hagerstown Sunday afternoon, he paused to read the plaque affixed to a large flat stone at its center.

That plaque expresses in words the impact the late Sharon Rucker made on the growth and health of the church she loved so dearly. She died in May 2008 at the age 58.

Even the stone that holds the plaque is a tribute to Rucker and her beloved congregation. It was the bottom step of the church’s former location on North Potomac Street, saved 12 years ago during the move to 13245 Cearfoss Pike.

“She made a difference here,” said Yvonne Pfoutz, a longtime member of the congregation.

On Sunday afternoon, the outdoor labyrinth awaited for members and visitors wanting to meander in their meditations. Inside the meeting room, a Faith in Action fair was being held.

“A lot of people come here just for the labyrinths,” Pfoutz said.

The outdoor version was built in 2003 and opened to the public a year later. In December 2004, church members created an indoor labyrinth, which is a Chartres pattern measuring 22 feet in diameter. The pattern is named for the Chartres cathedral in France, which featured that pattern labyrinth in the church floor.

Children often move through the outdoor labyrinth at breakneck speed, while most adults tend to take their time and even pause along the way. Any way is fine, Pfoutz said.

The outdoor and indoor labyrinths are usually open on the second Sunday of each month from 1 to 3 p.m.

Labyrinths have been in existence for thousands of years, and appear in one form or another in nearly every culture and religion in the world, according to a pamphlet handed out to walkers.

The theory is that labyrinths call people to take a meandering path of the spirit, not the shortest distance between two points.

“I found it relaxing and easy to follow,” Holland said as he completed the journey.

Although he attends services regularly at the Unitarian Church, Holland said Sunday marked the first time he walked the labyrinth. He said he enjoyed the experience and plans to do it again.

Read More

Monks march in Encinitas park (Buddhist News Network)

CANDICE REED, The North County Times: More than 1,000 people gathered at San Dieguito County Park on Saturday morning to do – nothing.

It may be hard to believe that that many people turned off their cell phones, walked away from their TV sets and sat on the damp lawn at the park to literally do nothing. But they did it for one man, Thich Nhat Hanh.

The event was held to call attention to the profound interdependence between the monastic and lay communities. People from all walks of life and religions gathered to relax and share the art of mindful living with each other.

The celebration began with a procession of 300 Buddhist monks and nuns walking slowly and silently through the park in an Alms Round procession, a sort of re-enactment of ancient times when monks walked silently through villages to receive offerings of food while they gave teachings.

“This is a way to bring the practice of Buddhism to the west,” said volunteer Mary Kathryn Allman of La Jolla. “The Buddhists want to remind people that there are people all over the world who have nothing to eat. This is their quiet way.”

As the monks and nuns, dressed in the brown robes of their faith, walked past the observers, they stared ahead, while other people bowed their heads in respectful observance.

“This is very special, you don’t get this many people together like this for just any event,” said Kerry Thomlin of Encinitas. “Imagine this many people all meditating the day before the Super Bowl. This is what the world needs more of, peace and quiet.”

The main person the crowd came to see was an unassuming man who sat in the middle of his devotees. As a gong rang through the hillsides, Thich Nhat Hanh, an internationally known Vietnamese Buddhist monk, bit into an orange.

The crowd followed his lead and quietly began eating their own lunches.

Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced tick-naught-han) was only 16 when he entered the monastic life and began his activism during the Vietnam War in Saigon. He was exiled from Vietnam in 1966 but his efforts for nonviolence continued, moving Martin Luther King Jr. to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Now he is 77 and one of the most popular Buddhist leaders in the world.

He’s also a poet, a teacher and a master in Zen Buddhism, blending the Theravada and Mahayana traditions of an Eastern religion that dates back 2,500 years and emphasizes human transcendence over the traditional Western concept of God. He has built a worldwide reputation for his devotion to the pursuit of peace and his adherence to the spiritual practice of mindfulness.

While he spends most of his time at his main monastery, called Plum Village, in southern France, he has spent much of this winter at his Deer Park Monastery in the hills above Escondido.

On Saturday, when Nhat Hanh spoke, everyone listened.

“With mindfulness we are able to be fully present, fully alive,” he told the crowd. “When you breathe in, and you know you are breathing in, and when you breathe out, you know you are breathing out —- that is mindful breathing. Mindfulness is knowing what is going on.”

Moving from personal practice to political, Nhat Hanh said, “Violence cannot solve the problem of violence. Violence cannot reduce the number of enemies or terrorists. It creates more hatred, more violence and more terrorists.” The crowd was moved by the small, unassuming man’s words.

“I learned a lot today,” said Krystal Hunt of Del Mar. “Peace needs to start with the regular people. Then maybe the politicians will get a clue. We don’t need war or violence. We need compassion.”

Original article no longer available…

Read More