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Anthony Cernera

The Personal Story Behind Our New Group Name

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The Personal Story Behind Our New Group Name

I have always wanted to be famous. 

As a kid I sang, danced and acted. As an adult, I snatched up every opportunity to present at conferences or speak publicly as part of my professional work. If there was a spotlight or an open mic, I gravitated to it. 

As the Zen Happiness Project’s growth exploded over the last 2.5 years, I’ve become aware of my ego in a new context. Thousands of people read these emails. Hundreds of thousands see my posts on social media. 

Things I never would have imagined started happening: Attractive women sent me provocative messages. Businesses offered me money to advertise or endorse their products. Folks would ask me how I planned on monetizing our success. Would I write a book? Would I charge for membership? 

I started daydreaming about appearing on Oprah, offering lectures to sold out crowds and enjoying the fruits of being a “spiritual celebrity.” 

As my meditation practice has deepened over the years, I’ve started to recognize this desire to be center stage as the yearning of an insecure and self-destructive ego. Ego leads me around by the nose, it can’t ever be satiated and prevents me from being truly at peace. 

Fortunately, through my meditation practice, I have found great personal, emotional and spiritual growth by recognizing manifestations of my ego, then slowly chipping away at it. 

When I realized my ego could actually derail our community’s shared Mission, I started taking some deliberate actions to undercut it, freeing our community to evolve unbounded. 

  • First, I recruited volunteers to come together for self-lead study groups focused on training to become meditation instructors. 
  • Second, I placed an open call to our community inviting more voices to participate in our blog, sharing experiences and offering fresh perspectives. 
  • Third, I asked 12 members of our community to serve as a Board of Advisors to decentralize the decision-making that will steer the direction of our group.   

We’re turning a new leaf and with that we’ve decided we need a new name. 

Moving forward, we’ll be known as the New Leaf Meditation Project.  

As a community, we’re so much stronger than as individuals. Pursuing our goal to teach a million people to meditate will create real and lasting good in the world. Let’s help more people benefit from the practice that has so positively changed our lives. 

I’ll be working on chipping away at my ego for the rest of my life. Including more instructors, bloggers and leaders is helping me grow in humility. I am also confident these actions ensure this is a community of peers united and empowered to achieve a noble goal. 

Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
NewLeafMeditation.org

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A Short Introduction to Meditation

It is important to remember there are a lot of forms of meditation out there. We teach a simple, stripped down version of meditation that can be done in just 3 minutes a day. 

Before we start: Meditation is not an escape but rather away of authentically living in the present moment. Our mind won't stop thinking during our practice. There is no doing it wrong, there is only practicing in a way that benefits your life. 

The instructions are threefold and deal with our body, breath and mind.
 
Body:
 
First, we sit as still as possible during our meditation. Body and mind are one. A still mind can only develop with a still and relaxed body. Once you start your period of sitting make an agreement with yourself that you will not move. Don’t scratch an itch, adjust your seat or let your posture slouch. Use a timer to create a defined period of practice. 

To be able to sit still, we focus on having good posture. Flexible people can sit in full or half lotus on the floor with a cushion. Others kneel with a seiza bench. Many sit in a chair. The most important thing is that we attend to our posture: straight spine, shoulders back, chin tucked in, mouth softly closed and hands resting palm in palm or on our thighs. 
  
Breath:
 
If we are in an upright-seated position with good posture our breathing should be easy and unencumbered. It is helpful to wear loose fitting clothes, especially something without a tight waistband. Natural breathing feels like it reaches down into our lungs and through our belly. Like a newborn baby whose tummy billows with every breath, a calm body with natural deep breathing should expand down into our belly.
 
We don’t force the breath during our practice. This isn’t a deep breathing exercise. We simply let breathing happen naturally. After sitting for a little while we will notice our breathing slows down and the rhythm of our chest has a soothing quality.
 
Mind:
 
With good posture and easy breathing we turn to the mind. How do we practice? We focus on developing the ability to concentrate and quiet our mind with a simple practice of counting our breath. (Note I said simple, not easy.)

The instructions are basic. Place the focus of your mind deep into your belly. The bottom third of your belly where we can feel the farthest reach of our breath.  Breathe in count one, breathe out count two, in three, out four. When we get to ten we go back to one and start over again.
 
Almost immediately we will encounter our mind’s tendency to run away from being present to the current moment. Each morning when I first start meditating I find it difficult to get to the count of three before distracting thoughts arise. Our practice is to notice that we are thinking, let that thought go in the middle of it and return our focus back to counting our breath.
 
Thoughts don’t stop. Minds think the way ears hear and eyes see. It is in a brain's nature to think. Don’t be critical with yourself. This practice is one of noticing our thinking, letting it go and returning to the experience of breath.
 
With time an ability to place our concentration where we choose develops and from this comes great ease. For some this happens quickly. For others, like me, it is a process that comes after many years of practice. Both are okay. The moment when I first let go of a thought and I am unencumbered, completely present in the moment, I am truly free.
 
May your practice go well!

Warmly,
Anthony 

Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. founded the New Leaf Meditation Project in 2014. Anthony started meditating in 2007 and took formal vows as a student of a Zen Buddhist order in 2009. When he isn't meditating, skydiving or playing with his cameras, Anthony is a non-profit fundraiser. He received a Master's in Education in 2014 and continues his research as doctoral student focusing on habit formation and motivation for new meditators.  You can find his writing right here at www.newleafmeditation.org

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