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meditation

The Jar in Our Minds by Larry Perkins

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The Jar in Our Minds by Larry Perkins

The Jar in Our Mind
by Larry Perkins

 

Many people begin meditation with a misconception of what meditation is or the benefits it can provide.  Today, I'd like to discuss the misconception that meditation will stop your mind from thinking.  This is akin to believing that because you have placed a mask on your face you would no longer be able to breathe, or by placing a glove on your hand you would no longer be able to grab things.

Just as your lungs provide a means to transfer oxygen from the air to your blood, and fingers provide a sense of touchour minds serve a function as well: to create thoughts.  But do not be discouraged, because through meditation you can learn to become aware of these thoughts and, in doing so, learn to identify less with them and be able to more clearly see them for what they are: the mental phenomenon of this existence.

Let us envision for a moment that your head is a large transparent jar of water.  As you look into the jar, this is analogous to your perceiving the world around you through the thoughts in your mind.  In this case, there are no thoughts that cloud your perception.

Now, let’s add some of these ‘thoughts.’  In our example, we will use confetti, some dirt, and food coloring.  Just like the thoughts created by our minds, these items create a cloud through which we end up seeing the world.  If we only added dirt and were to believe what we see, we would believe that the world is a dirty, muddy place.  If we used confetti, we could be deluded into thinking that the world was some kind of party.  And if we only add food coloring, we would be tricked into seeing that the world is shaded some color or another.  If we do a mixture of these things, it would be more representative of the thoughts that are typically generated: there are some negative thoughts (like the dirt), there are some good thoughts (like the confetti), and there are thoughts that are colored by the past stories we have told ourselves and continue to believe.

As we live our lives, our mind creates thoughts based on the experiences we are involved in.  This ‘churning’ keeps our thoughts swirling through our mind.   In order for these things to settle in the jar, we have to put it on some flat, level surface.  Similarly, in order for our minds to settle, we have to let them process the experiences we have had without adding more to them.  This is where the sitting practice of meditation comes in.  By sitting and following our breath, we are providing an opportunity for our minds to work through and sort out the experiences of our lives.

This settling isn’t an easy process.  Because we have been conditioned to believe that the stories our thoughts present us are true, we will be distracted by the thoughts as they drift before our awareness.  When that happens, we will respond and follow the thoughtand that is okay and natural.

By being present with our breath, we can guide our attention and awareness away from the ever-present thoughts and allow them to work through themselves without carrying us along with them.  The very fact we recognize that we have transitioned from being aware of the breath is where we are presented the choice: continue following the entrapping thought or return to the breath.  It is always a choice, and one that we will experience over and over again each time we practice our meditation.

Bio: Larry Perkins is a Performance Improvement Coordinator in the Nuclear Industry who spent 11 years serving in the US Navy. He has been an informal student of meditation since 2010 when he first came across such influential persons as Alan Watts and Ram Dass (Richard Alpert).  A spiritual non-theist, he has 2 daughters and 2 sons over the course of 2 marriages so he has a firm grasp on the role of duality in this incarnation.  He became qualified as a volunteer Meditation Instructor for the New Leaf Meditation Project in December 2016 and serves on the New Leaf Board of Advisers.  Everyday, Larry looks for opportunities to learn without boundaries and teach without preaching.

 

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Finding Comfort in Discomfort: Chronic Pain and Illness

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Finding Comfort in Discomfort: Chronic Pain and Illness

37-year-old Catherine carries the weary body of a 90-year-old with grace and dignity as she quietly suffers with simple tasks because of her rheumatoid arthritis. She showed up to a beginners’ meditation class in the hopes of developing patience and finding acceptance with her aching body.
 
I met Robert 3 years ago after his seventh failed back surgery. The doctors recommended a course of daily pain medication that would leave him undesirably stupefied. He was looking for an alternative solution that would keep his feet planted on the ground.  
 
Venus came to a practice because she struggles with the will to live and the chronic depression that follows her in the wake of years of abuse. She trusted a meditation practice would help her find meaning, purpose and hope in her life.
 
I continue to be inspired by John who competes in triathlons on good days but meditates because some days he can’t get out of bed when he feels the effects of his slowly progressing multiple sclerosis.
 
We are confronted with a seemingly hopeless situation when we discover we have a condition that will not get any better.
 
But there is hope.
 
I have witnessed it in my friends Robert, Venus, Cat, John and countless others.
 
Over the 60+ years of his teaching, the Buddha talked extensively about how we were prisoners to the impulses that drives us away from things that make us uncomfortable and towards the things that give us pleasure. He proposed a radical path to finding inner peace, a middle way, that suggested we didn’t have to be the unwitting passengers on a boat that tugged us one way or another. We could choose how we respond to discomfort and craving: We could simply sit.
 
I know, I know. That doesn’t sound like much of an answer at first. But when we come to a meditation practice in the face of great suffering we find a solution in acceptance. We learn how to do this while sitting on the cushion.
 
My friend and New Leaf Meditation instructor Christine exemplifies one of those stories that gives me hope.
 
Diagnosed with a chronic condition 8 years ago that causes intense muscle and joint pain for several days out of the month, Christine came to a meditation practice to find a way of coping with her illness. Today, she volunteers as a meditation instructor to share her experience with others who wonder if there is a way to manage their new reality.
 
I’m grateful that Christine has agreed to host a monthly meditation and discussion group called “Finding Comfort in the Uncomfortable: Chronic Pain and Illness Group.” We’ll meet on Sunday, February 12th at 8:30pm EST for the first session.  
 
You can find the details about how to connect with us online or by phone at newleafmeditation.org/events

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project


P.S. In addition to tomorrow night's 8:30pm EST Chronic Pain & Illness meditation group, we have a beginner's introduction to meditation on Thursday, February 16th at 8pm EST / 5pm PST with New Leaf Instructor Lee Peterson. Details at newleafmeditation.org/events
 

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Mindfulness to Cope with Addiction

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Mindfulness to Cope with Addiction

Mindfulness to Cope with Addiction
by Kevin O'Brien

Addiction is a nearly universal problem.  Everyone has habits that they would like to change.  Some are relatively inconsequential things, such as checking a smartphone a little too often, not being present with your loved ones, or eating unhealthy occasionally. Other habits such as alcoholism, smoking, drug, gambling and sexual addictions can drastically affect the lives of the individual, their family and society in negative ways. 

Whatever the habit, they all derive from the natural reward mechanism for seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.   Sometimes habits can be triggered by the pleasure that is associated with act itself, such as a high of a substance or the taste of a food.  Other times they are triggered to avoid pain of an uncomfortable feeling, such as taking a substance to stop physical or emotional pain, drinking to relax after a hard day at work or having a smoke to calm nerves.  These habits are all learned responses that have been learned and unconsciously reinforced over sometimes many years and can be difficult to stop even when a person has a strong desire to do so.   

Mindfulness meditation can be a very effective tool in changing undesirable habits in the following ways:

1.       We learn to pay attention to the here and now.  Meditation at its core is a practice that helps build concentration and focus on what is happening within and around us.  We learn to notice our bodily sensations and thoughts that may have gone unnoticed.  This allows us to catch stray thoughts and feelings that may not be helpful in reaching our goals.  We may catch a thought or sensation before it gains a head of steam and becomes a full-fledged craving

2.       We notice the space between the sensations (emotions, feelings, bodily sensations, thoughts), the urge to act on those sensations, the decision to act, and the actions themselves-our behavior.  These steps may appear to be seamless, but they are not.  The focus and attention of a consistent meditation practice shows that these are all points where we have an opportunity to choose and not automatically do the behavior without considering the alternatives.

3.       Change relationship to cravings.  One of the greatest insights that becomes obvious during a consistent meditation practice is the truth of impermanence, that everything has a beginning, a middle and an end.  We tend to give into cravings by believing that unless we do something to alleviate the discomfort the feeling is going to last forever.  If a craving arrives we can learn to simply watch it.  Notice where it lies in our bodies, it may be a tightness in the belly or a tightness in the neck or back.  Notice the thoughts that arise.  Now notice the craving change.  It will start small, rise up like an ocean wave and then subside and disappear.  Then perhaps come back but the cycle is always the same.  We are not stuck with a craving forever it will go away of its own accord if allowed to and not given into no matter what our mind tells us.  When we are able to feel the urges and not react to them by giving in to the craving the reinforcement pattern gets weaker and in time the cravings become lessened or subside all together.

4.       Allows us to learn from our slips. Training the mind in meditation practice allows us to notice what were the triggers that brought on the cravings and what was going on in our bodies and minds, before, during and after we indulged.  This helps us to be more vigilant to the factors that were present within and around us before and during our slip.  We may notice feelings of shame and inadequacy after a slip.  These feelings may bring on the “what the heck” affect- doing the behavior again to self soothe because you feel bad about screwing up.

Meditation practice to cope with cravings

1.       Practice breath awareness for a few minutes to gain focus and to bring yourself in the present.

2.       Next introduce something into your mind that is mildly pleasurable or will relieve discomfort.  Not the substance that you are trying to correct if you know you have a problem. An example of something mildly pleasurable may be a favorite food, drink or something that isn’t healthy but tastes good but is not what you are addicted to.  An example of something to relieve discomfort: having to wait to use the bathroom or mild cramping in the back while sitting in meditation. 

a.       What are the thoughts that come up about this?  Where do the desires arise in the body?  Just notice, don’t do anything, just observe using your breathing to bring you back if you get too lost in the thought or too focused on the craving.

b.       Notice that the craving waxes and wanes.  Notice that there is a space between you and the craving.  It does not define who you are.  The craving begins as a small wavelet and rises to a giant wave and then subsides, begins, rises and subsides. 

3.       Return to breath practice for a few minutes.

As you get more accustomed to this in your sitting practice and you are feeling stable, introduce thinking about whatever you are addicted to in the same way during your meditation  sitting practice.  This may happen in your normal practice anyways.  Use the breath to notice the impermanent nature of the cravings.  They rise and subside, rise and subside.

Then take it out to the real world and when you are tempted your mindfulness practice will help you notice the craving early so you don’t go on auto-pilot and do the addictive habit without awareness.  Then use the breath to ride the craving until it subsides.  Don’t reinforce it with your thoughts when it goes away.  Use moment to moment awareness to concentrate on what is going on around and in you.

Kevin O'Brien
New Leaf Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Board of Advisers
 

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2017 New Year Meditation Challenge

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2017 New Year Meditation Challenge

  

Day 1: Start Small - The Power of Tiny Habits

Good morning Friend, 

Quote for Today"Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together." ~ Vincent Van Gogh

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 1, 3 or 5 minutes. Read this email or check out the link to today's video. (Don't worry, everything is covered in both - you can read or watch.) The video starts with 3 minutes of silent meditation, so you can get your daily meditation in with me! 

Today's Video Reflectionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlhOd__1FWY

A few quick logistical items:  

  1. We'll have a beginner's meditation instruction tonight at 9pm EST. Don't worry if you can't make it, it will be recorded. We'll stream live on Youtube here
  2. We'll host interactive beginner's sessions every night this week, typically at about 9pm EST / 6pm PST. The information for connecting will be in the daily emails and these sessions will NOT be recorded because they are a chance for you to work in small groups with our instructors.
  3. I'll be running a blog post where I'll be adding the daily emails in case you miss them. Check that out here
  4. I'm here to help! So are our 22 volunteer meditation instructors. Email me (reply to this), text/call me 203-613-3122 or pop into the Facebook Discussion Group.  

Reflection:  Happy New Year! I'm so glad we're starting the year off meditating together. Thank you for joining us! 

When we show up for a meditation practice it is because our motivation is very high. Something is going on in our life that needs a solution and we've found a practice that we will help us. 

A common problem many of us encounter is we start off with daily goals that are too ambitious. A central belief of our community is that a daily meditation practice is the answer: Starting small, focusing on slow and steady, is the way we'll see real change in our life. 

Put another way, if you want the most from your meditation practice, focus on meditating everyday more than you focus on sitting for long periods of time. 

Dr. BJ Fogg has a brilliant TED talk focusing on the power of Tiny Habits. If you have some time, check out the video. In short, he suggests that our motivation inevitably wanes and we get left with goals that are too ambitious when our motivation has disappeared.

I studied habit formation during my master's research, specifically for new meditators, and I can tell you the science is clear: It takes 66 days on average to create a new habit. That means for the first two months sitting a little bit everyday is the best strategy.  

We are what we do repeatedly. We experience the benefits of meditation not during the time on the cushion, but rather from the way our day to day life changes. Practicing a little bit everyday is the most powerful way to reshape your life. 

Summary: If you walk away from this challenge with only one lesson, let it be this: 3 minutes of meditation a day can change your life. It takes a long time to install new habits, so start small and celebrate consistency over the length of your practice.  

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

P.S. If you haven't yet, join the Facebook Discussion Group where over 5,000 of our friends support each other and talk about things like this challenge! 

Day 1 Part 2: How to Meditate

Good evening Friend, 

I had a great time with the group in tonight's introduction/kick off video.  If you haven't meditated before or you need a brush up, the recording might be helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwWEhSWFSuY
 
Reflection: Tonight we practiced "Zazen" (zen meditation) which is a concentration practice and a "breathe awareness meditation." It is the oldest and most practiced form of meditation in the world. It is a simple practice, but by no means easy. 

  1. Sit in a solid chair with an upright spine. Take a relaxed but wakeful posture that allows for deep natural breathing. Good posture will help us sit completely still. 
  2. Breath in and out of the nose. Try not to "control" your breathing.
  3. Bring your awareness squarely to your breath focusing your attention on the experience of your breath all the way down in your lower abdomen. 
  4. Count each in and out breath. When you notice your mind is wandering, don't judge or criticize yourself. Your mind is merely doing its job. Brains think, eyes see and ears here. Just acknowledge that you were thinking, let go of the thought and bring your focus back to your breath.   

For a 7 minute video summarizing this check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYhmjIV-BM8
For the whole long conversation tonight check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwWEhSWFSuY
For a short blog post on this: http://www.newleafmeditation.org/blog/a-short-introduction
Our "How to Meditate" page with some additional resources: http://www.newleafmeditation.org/howtomeditate/

Some additional tips and resources: 

  • App Recommendation: "Insight Timer" is a great Android and iPhone app. You can adjust the settings to mute your phone while you are meditating and it will automatically turn the ringer back on when you are done.   
  • Join the Discussion Group: We have 5,000+ members in our discussion group on facebook. It is a great way to connect with other meditators, get inspired, have questions answered and support each other. Find the group here: www.facebook.com/groups/newleafmeditation 
  •  Email me: It is me, Anthony, on the other end of this email. Reply and you go straight to my personal email. If you are having a problem, a question, a worry or a success, please don't hesitate. Send me a note and say hi! 
  • Daily Beginner's Groups: Keep an eye out for all the emails this week. We have a beginner's meditation group everyday this week! 

Nice work tonight! I look forward to being in touch this week. Remember, I'm here to help. I'll send little reminders in the morning with some words of encouragement. 
 
May your practice go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

Day 2: Events This Week

Good evening, 

As promised - I post the events for this week. Here is the link with all the details: newleafmeditation.org/events 

Here are the highlights of what you'll find on that events page:

  • Tonight at 9:30pm EST / 8:30pm PST - Beginner's Instruction with Leann
  • Tuesday - Beginner's Instruction at 8:30pm EST with Danielle 
  • Tuesday - The Weekly Book Club at 9pm EST (No reading required - show up - we read together!) 
  • Wednesday - Beginner's Session at 8:30pm EST with Kevin
  • Thursday - Experienced Meditators Huddle: Falling off the wagon and other challenges at 9pm EST with Chris  

We use some really cool software called "Zoom" which you can connect to us by computer, mobile device or phone! There are details on the events page about how to connect to our zoom channel. 

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

P.S. We'll have more events for the weekend but they aren't scheduled yet! We'll keep the events page updated and I'll let you know by email as they get updated! 

P.P.S. I'm open to taking requests! If you have a topic or a day/time you're interested in, let me know and I'll staff it with a volunteer meditation instructor and invite our friends to join us! 

Day 3: Link New Habits to Existing Habits

Good morning, 

Quote for Today: “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken. ~ Warren Buffett  

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 1, 3 or 5 minutes. Email me or jump in the discussion group and tell us what existing habit you identified to link your meditation practice to. 

Today's Video Reflectionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_k_IpsSKP58

Reflection: Gosh, I like this meditation group of ours. We had an amazing session last night. 20 people showed up for our beginner's instruction with Leann. I loved meeting so many of you and I hope more of you will show up this week. There are groups all week. Check out newleafmeditation.org/events for the complete schedule.
 
Today many of us are going back to work. From a habit formation perspective this is a great opportunity. Here are two well researched facts that will hopefully change your enthusiasm for returning to work today: 

First, whenever we have a break in a routine like a week long vacation, starting a new job or moving, we have a perfect moment for installing new habits. Why? Because our previous habits are just a touch weaker than they normally are. Typically what prevents new habits from taking hold is our tendency to revert to our old habits. A reset or change of a routine is a great opportunity to break an old habit or insert a new one. 

Second, habits are like little programs our brain runs so we don't have to make decisions all day long. Personally, I wake up, shower and brush my teeth, in that order, everyday. When I started linking my meditation to that habit loop, I started seeing a great increase in my ability to remember to meditate every morning. My new program is wake up, shower, brush my teeth and sit on the cushion to meditate. 

Today's exercise is simple. Think about your day and identify a daily habit that you would like to link your meditation practice to. Email me or add your voice to the discussion group to share what existing habit you'll add your new habit too. Hopefully sharing our ideas will spark some realizations for our friends. 

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

Day 4: Two Types of Writing to Help Your Practice

Good morning Anthony, 

Quote for Today: “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” ~ Confucius

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 3 or 5 minutes. Try one of the two writing exercises discussed in the reflection.

Tonight's EventBeginner's Instruction with Kevin at 8:30pm EST 5:30pm PST

Video Reflectionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL_uzU7MlBA

Reflection: It is hard to develop a new habit.
 
Fortunately, I have a weird trick to help you and it is scientifically proven to work.
 
In a famous study “The Methods of Interrogation and Indoctrination Used by the Communist State Police” Lawrence Hinkle and Harold Wolff, examined how the Chinese government “brainwashed” American prisoners of war to become vocal proponents of China. The so called brainwashing was perplexing to the American military who funded the study. There was no evidence of torture, drug use or hypnosis typically associated with such a dramatic reversal of opinions.
 
The Chinese secret police had discovered through small, incremental steps of essay writing the opinions of the prisoners could be deeply and profoundly molded. Simply writing and sharing essays on the merits of communism could change a prisoner’s most cherished beliefs. (Hinkle, 1957)

In the science of habit formation public statements are effective but written statements prove to most effectively shape future behavior. (Read, follow through.)  

Try this exercise:

  1. Stop right now and grab a pen and paper.
  2. Visualize when you would like to meditate.  I find it is best to link a new habit to something you already do daily like showering or brushing your teeth.
  3. Write down this commitment. “I will meditate for ____ minutes immediately after I __________.” 
  4. Send me an amazed email in a week telling me it worked!

This has been tested and proven in a number of ways over the last 50 years. I did a research experiment for my master’s thesis which confirmed just how powerful this simple trick is.
 
In my research I gave basic meditation instruction to 30 new practitioners. All agreed to meditate daily and report back their success. The control group got basic instruction. The experimental group got the same instruction plus the recommended steps mentioned above.
 
The difference was surprising. The control meditated 4.5 days on average and the experimental group meditated 5.75 days.
 
It is a simple trick and it works.

My friend Sheila has a great tip for helping quiet our mind during meditation.
 
Before sitting, Sheila dedicates a few minutes to writing in a notebook. She empties her mind of any of the random thoughts that she might need to process, let go of, or remember later.
 
Sheila tells me, “despite having a calendar, apps on the phone, etcetera, I keep details of things in my head and miraculously, they surface when they need to. When meditating, though, I find all those ‘reminders’ that bubble up to be distracting.”
 
She continues, “Sometimes there are bits of conversations and experiences that resurface because they feel unfinished. Often I replay these thoughts where I felt hurt or I get concerned that I left the wrong impression  and sometimes I don't even know the underlying 'why' until I revisit it. I write all of it down because it means that there is something there that requires further attention on my part.”
 
Sheila concludes, “After a few minutes of unloading my mind on paper, I feel ready to dedicate myself to my practice. I find sitting quietly comes more easily.”
 
I love Sheila’s practice and in trying it myself I find it very practical and effective. There is good scientific research that proves it is also a very helpful way to reduce stress. 
 
May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

 

Day 5: No Super Humans

Good morning Anthony, 

Quote for Today: “You are perfect and complete, just the way you are.” ~ John Daido Loori

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 1, 3 or 5 minutes. Look out for a moment where you are critical of yourself and ask if you would have said the same thing to a loved one. 

Today's Videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgdRb9BXcD4

Tonight's Event: Experienced Meditators Discussion - Challenges and pit falls with Chris at 9pm EST / 6pm PST. Details here

Reflection: I can say some pretty ugly things. 

Almost never about or to anyone else, of course. I try very hard to be caring, compassionate and kind with my words. I avoid swearing and work hard to never say something about a coworker or friend I wouldn't say if they were in the room. 

But me? That's a whole different story. 

When I first started developing these challenges four years ago, I tested it out on my friend Celia who I had been meditating with for years. At the start of week three I was typically doing a loving-kindness guided meditation. In my skype call with Celia I asked if she would like to do the guided or if she preferred silent meditation. 

She said she wouldn't mind just being silent. I replied, "Great, I can't stand the sound of my own voice." 

I then sat there for 10 minutes meditating with Celia and thought to myself, "wow, I would never say that about another person. Why am I okay with being so ugly to myself? 

After years of meditating I've come to strongly believe there are no super humans, no sub-humans, just human humans. 

Of the thousand people in this challenge I have emailed or talked with probably a quarter of you in the last week.I was a little heart broken to hear how hard many of you are on yourselves. Where many of you see the failure to live up to an inspirational ideal, I see a person who should be praised because they are trying to move in a positive direction. 

If you are finding yourself being critical about your meditation practice, I'd encourage you to take a minute and think about how you'd talk about this with someone you loved. Would you be harsh and damning? Or would you be supportive and encouraging? 

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

Day 6: Problems and Solutions for Experienced Meditators

Good morning Anthony, 

Quote for Today: “Above all, don't lie to yourself.” ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Recommended Exercise: Meditate for 1, 3 or 5 minutes. Jump into the discussion group and let us know what challenges you've faced in your meditation practice and what solutions you are trying.  

Video Reflectionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsJkUM1dCYU

Reflection: We had a great discussion led by our friend and New Leaf Meditation Instructor Chris last night. Our topic was challenges facing experienced meditators and what we're doing about it. Thank you everyone who participated, you certainly helped me! 

At one point Chris paraphrased a meditation instructor (whose name I can't remember!) as saying, "the only rule in meditation is to not lie to yourself." This basic level of self awareness will go along way to helping you understand the challenges facing you and your ability to try out some solutions. Here are a few themes that came up last night. 

Problem #1 - Aversion to sitting: Many of us shared about the experience of having a challenging time in life and finding that when we meditated the emotions were very strong and it made sitting uncomfortable. So we started to avoid it. Solution: We all agreed there was no way around a problem or a difficult time, there was only through it. By accepting this and being gentle with ourselves, we found a solution of decreasing the period of time we were sitting. We knew it was going to be hard, but found with less time we could face our difficult emotions and slowly make our peace with them. We also discussed switching to guided meditation or substituting yoga or other mindful activities for a short period. 

Problem #2 - Boredom: Some of us who have been sitting for years talked about hitting a plateau and finding our meditation a bit routine or uninspired. Meditation started to feel more like a chore. Solution: Three themes emerged here. The first was obvious, try a new technique and see if that helps us rediscover the benefits and enthusiasm for our practice. The second was less obvious; try drilling down on the basics and refining the practice. There are only the 101s of meditation, nothing to graduate from. If we renew our desire to bring curiosity and inquiry to our practice we rediscover the subtly of the practice with new vigor. Third, use the boredom as a point of questioning. Why am I bored? What does boredom feel like? Why can't I accept being still? Why do I run away from feelings of discomfort, even those as subtle as boredom?   

Problem #3 - Life is going too well: Jan shared about her professional life as a psych nurse. She said so many patients stop taking their meds after they get better. For many of us we come to a meditation practice because we were suffering. Eventually that suffering fades, especially if we've been practicing and the motivation to meditate can disappear. Solution: Renew your commitment to sitting by reminding yourself of why you started. Do you want to return to that state of distress? Try writing down a list of all the things you love about the benefits of meditation and remind yourself that you value these. 

Problem #4 - Too much time: I basically took 2016 off and when I had all the time in the world I meditated less than I did when working 50 hours a week while in school. Why? Something about a lack of structure gave us few existing habits to link our meditating habit to. Solution: Create structure. Join a group, get a partner and try the writing exercise from Day 4. 

Problem #5 - Life changes: Many of us talked about moving and how this upheaval changed our routine and we lost our daily practice or sitting group. Solution: Don't be hard on yourself! This is understandable. In the same way we discussed changes being an opportunity on Day 3, we find that they can erode existing habits. Hit a hard reset. Go on a retreat, join a new group, invest in your relationship with this community, start small and celebrate your successes. 

Such a wonderful conversation last night. Thank you everyone who came and contributed their challenges and solutions. 

May your practice be strong and your life go well. 

Warmly, 
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 
Founder & Meditation Instructor
New Leaf Mediation Project

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Why Do I Meditate?

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Why Do I Meditate?

Why Do I Meditate?     By Tracy Martorana

I think about this often…why do I meditate?   I have a graphic I use to show people the benefits of meditation and how meditation supports Holistic Wellness (balancing Body, Mind, Heart and Soul).

But do I meditate to lower my blood pressure?  No.  It’s the more esoteric benefits that I gravitate to…mindfulness, awareness, peace & serenity…but to what end?  What do these even mean and why do I care?

I have realized that sitting in meditation, being mindful of the present moment and letting go of judgment, slowly trains your brain to let go.  It’s not so much that I stop caring, but I have begun to realize that my thoughts and opinions are not reality and that in clinging to them and in trying to push them on others, I am causing much of my own stress and suffering. 

In the introduction of The Issue at Hand by Gil Fronsdal, he explains this phenomenon pretty simply:

 “Mindfulness entails knowing what is happening in the present moment while it is happening.  It is a training in how not to be lost in thoughts, opinions, and reactivity.  It is also a training in how to see things as they really are, as opposed to seeing them through the often distorted lens of preconceived ideas and interpretations.” (p. ix)

Learning to meditate is simple, but it is far from easy.  Meditation is about so much more than sitting in silence for 20 minutes.  That is the simple part!  The more difficult part, but also the most valuable, is learning how to take what you learn about yourself in meditation and let it change the way you interact with the world. 

As I have learned to pay attention to my thoughts, as I have noticed the lies I tell myself and the stories I make up in my mind to support what I want to believe, when I notice the patterns in behavior or the reactions to certain people or emotions; as I learn about me, I learn to laugh at my thoughts and just let them go. I have learned to cling less to my judgments and accept that the opposite is also true.  These are gifts I gained in meditation, but it wasn’t until I took what I learned off the mat, that the benefits really started to emerge.

I continue to learn about me and the way tiny little inconsequential things in my past have colored my views on all kinds of things, big and small.  The more I sit in meditation, the more I learn about me and the more I can let go.  The more I can let go, the more I enjoy mindfulness, awareness and peace & serenity. 

This is why I meditate.

Tracy Martorana
Guest Blogger
New Leaf Meditation Project
NewLeafMeditation.org

Tracy Martorana is the owner of Holistic Wellness with Tracy and Tracy’s Teas,in LeRoy NY.  She is a Nutrition & Wellness / Lifestyle Coach, an Herbalist and a Meditation instructor.  Her mission is to teach people how to make healthy choices easy and enjoyable. You can learn more about Tracy, her blog, her teas and her book (90 Days to Holistic Wellness – balancing your Body, Mind, Heart and Soul) at her website: www.holisticwellnesswithtracy.com.

 

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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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