Quiet Time

“No one can see their reflection in running water.

It is only in still water that we can see.”

– Taoist proverb –


Meditation Struggles

When I am determined to sit in quiet meditation or engage in a meditative session of Yin yoga, the bombardment of thoughts that come rushing at me, more often than not, catches me off-guard. When I am busy I am hardly aware of my thoughts, and I often fool myself into believing that I do not have that many distracting or negative thoughts. That is until I place my body in a position of complete stillness and close my eyes. A sudden rush of awareness reveal thoughts that come in a variety of shapes and sizes that vie for my attention. It is then, that I have to remind myself of the following:

“Don’t become a prisoner of your thoughts, and likewise don’t attempt to master them. They come and they go. They’ll always come and go. Let them. When you hang on to a thought, you’re breaking the flow of that thought’s path. You’re keeping it from doing what it is designed to do – arise, pass through, and disappear. Make no mistake; you hold the thought. The thought does not hold you.”

– Laraine Herring –

Simply Be

So often in yoga practice we obsess about doing things “right”. Thinking that if we don’t we aren’t practising yoga. It is in times like this that Sogyal Rinpoche’s words are especially worth remembering:

“Sometimes when I meditate, I don’t use any particular method. I just allow my mind to rest, and find, especially when I am inspired, that I can bring my mind home and relax very quickly. I sit quietly and rest in the nature of mind; I don’t question or doubt whether I am in the “correct” state. There is no effort, only a rich understanding, wakefulness, and unshakable certainty. When I am in the nature of mind, the ordinary mind is no longer there. There is no need to sustain or confirm a sense of being: I simply am.

Nature – A Meditation

“If you find that meditation does not come easily in your city room, be inventive and go out into nature. Nature is always an unfailing fountain of inspiration. To calm your mind, go for a walk in the park, or watch the dew on a rose in a garden. Lie on the ground and gaze up into the sky, and let your mind expand into its spaciousness. Let the sky outside awaken a sky inside your mind. Stand by a stream and mingle your mind with its rushing; become one with the ceaseless sound. Sit by a waterfall and let its healing laughter purify your spirit. Walk on a beach and take the sea wind full and sweet against your face. Celebrate and use the beauty of moonlight to poise your mind. Sit by a lake or in a garden and, breathing quietly, let your mind fall silent as the moon comes up majestically and slowly in the cloudless night.

– Sogyal Rinpoche –

Another Meditation Experiment

There is a long-standing debate in the neuroscience community: is neural structure hard-wired from youth, or is it changeable depending on the nature of one’s thoughts throughout life?

In a study that was done by Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist and psychologist at the University of Wisconsin’s Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience, the findings support the latter part of the debate.

Eight of the Dalai Lama’s most seasoned practitioners of Nyingmapa and Kagyupa meditation participated in this study where 256 EEG sensors were attached to each monks scalp to record electrical activity from a large number of different areas in the brain. The monks were asked to carry out compassionate meditation, which is best described as meditation that focuses on a readiness to help others and a desire for all living things to be free of suffering.

Within 15 seconds of starting to meditate the monk’s brains started to speed up, and not slow down as most of us would expect. Their brain waves rapidly shifted from beta waves to alpha waves, then back to beta and finally up to gamma waves. Gamma waves, the highest rate of brain-wave frequencies, are employed by our brains when they are working at their hardest: when we sift through our working memory, during deep levels of learning or concentration and focus, as well as during flashes of insight.

Davidson discovered that when the brain operates at these fast frequencies, all the different areas of the brain begin to operate in synchrony, and it is this type of synchronization that we need to achieve heightened awareness. The fact that the monks could achieve this state so rapidly suggested that over the years of intense meditation, their neural processing had been permanently changed. It was found that meditators who can withdraw their attention from outward stimuli and completely focus their attention inward are more likely to reach gamma-wave hyperspace.

The researchers also found that the monks who had been practicing meditation the longest recorded the highest levels of gamma activity. This heightened state of being also produced permanent emotional improvement through the activation of the left anterior portion of the brain that is most associated with joy. It seemed that the monks had conditioned their brains to tune into happiness most of the time!

A Meditation Experiment

During the winter of 1985 in a monastery high in the Indian Himalayas the following experiment was conducted by a team of scientists, led by Herbert Benson, a cardiologist at the Harvard Medical School:

A group of scantily clad Tibetan monks were sitting in quiet meditation. Sheets soaked in cold water were draped, still dripping, around their shoulders by a fellow monk. The bodies of the monks, instead of cooling down, were starting to heat up and soon steam was rising from the wet sheets; within an hour the sheets were dry. This process was repeated two more times.

An array of medical equipment that was attached to the monks during the experiment yielded interesting results. The monks managed to raise their body temperature with up to 9.4°C, while lowering their metabolism by more than 60%.

What makes this specific experiment even more amazing is revealed only when one considers that our metabolism drops a mere 10-15% when we sleep, and that experienced meditators can mostly only decrease it by about 17%.

This experiment offers persuasive proof of the power of our thoughts.