Buddhist 7’th Element Taught in Canadian Public Schools

Grade six school kids copyI was surprised to hear a CBC radio program (see Links below) December 1, detailing mindfulness (Pali – the seventh element of the Noble Eightfold Path) being taught to grade six schoolchildren in Surrey, British Columbia as classroom behaviour control. Connections to Attention Deficit Disorder and drug therapy elimination through mindfulness are highlighted.

The reporter calls it “self regulation” probably because public opinion on teaching Buddhist principles in school would likely start a sectarian argument among parents and taxpayers funding public education. The program teaches children to spot inner tension, engage mindfulness and become calm and productive to enhance their learning.

Here is the CBC radio 27 minute audio link and here is the 5 minute reading time print article link.

Mindfulness is also being taught at my local health clinic to brain injured patients  having trouble conducting their lives. Again, there is no mention in the clinical program that mindfulness is a spiritual or psychological faculty (indriya) that, according to the teaching of the Buddha, is considered to be of great importance in the path to enlightenment.

Whatever it’s called, it’s good to see the medicine and education communities supporting and practicing centuries-old principles!

Link to sample Mindfulness mediation instruction

Peace and abundance to all.

Physical Benefits

Physical Benefits of Meditation

With meditation, the physiology undergoes a change and every cell in the body is filled with more prana (energy). This results in joy, peace, enthusiasm as the level of prana in the body increases.

On a physical level, meditation:

  • Lowers high blood pressure
  • Lowers the levels of blood lactate, reducing anxiety attacks
  • Decreases any tension-related pain, such as, tension headaches, ulcers, insomnia, muscle and joint problems
  • Increases serotonin production that improves mood and behavior
  • Improves the immune system
  • Increases the energy level, as you gain an inner source of energy .

Mental Benefits of Meditation:

Meditation brings the brainwave pattern into an Alpha state that promotes healing. The mind becomes fresh, delicate and beautiful.

With regular practice of meditation:

  • Anxiety decreases
  • Emotional stability improves
  • Creativity increases
  • Happiness increases
  • Intuition develops
  • Gain clarity and peace of mind
  • Problems become smaller
  • Meditation sharpens the mind by gaining focus and expands through relaxation

A sharp mind without expansion causes tension, anger and frustration.

An expanded consciousness without sharpness can lead to lack of action/progress.

The balance of a sharp mind and an expanded consciousness brings perfection.

Meditation makes you aware – that your inner attitude determines your happiness.

Importance of Breathing in Meditation and Yoga

YogaIn yoga and meditation classes there is always a focus on the sensation of breathing, like “… take some deep belly breaths, notice the belly rising and falling rhythmically… expanding the breath now from the belly into the ribs… feel the ribs move up and out… expanding up into the chest like a wave… feel the chest rise… exhale… feel the air leaving like a wave rushing out…” after some intervals “Allow the breath to regulate unconsciously, focus on the passage of air” Italics are mine.

You may also notice that instructors introduce a pattern of conscious breathing reminders and/or more breathing exercises en route. This is not coincidence!

Sure, it’s calming, but why all this attention to alternate conscious regulated/unconscious breathing?  There is a practical answer.

Truth is, concentrating on the sensation of breathing within the body takes us to the crossroads of where physical sensation meets  mental activity .  Breathing is the perfect “route of least resistance” to begin studying where conscious (thinking about breathing) meets subconscious (allowing breathing to regulate as an unconscious activity).

Another advantage of this switching, is the opportunity of discovering how sensations and the mind are connected, and how this plays out on meditation and yoga.

Sensing bodily sensations during conscious breathing are the prelude to controlling your mind (concentration) by noticing  that every thought, emotion, mental action is accompanied by a corresponding sensation in the body.

Sensation then, is the meeting of mind and body together. Let’s see how this happens.

Although physical, sensation also encompasses one of four mental processes

  1.  consciousness (aware of the sensation)
  2.  perception (labels the sensation , categorizes it ,judges it)
  3.  awareness (sensation is pleasant – I want it… or  unpleasant –  repel it)
  4. reaction (physical reaction or mental reaction)

Therefore, by observing the physical sensations of breathing in mediation, and the breath and body in yoga, we also begin, whether we know it or not, observe the mind!

Peace and abundance to all.

Q. Describe what meditating is like…

A. Unfortunately there are many confusing sectarian answers . But I love a good story, so here is one that I use when people ask what meditating is like.

The Buddha used  this story, wherein six blind men are asked to describe a beast they have never seen- the elephant- to illustrate how sectarian disagreements are narrow, selfish and skirt the truth.  The Jain createelephant feeling described it and was adapted by Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi.  Here is my version:

“A king has grown weary of the disrupting fundamental disagreements between various holy sects. To show the priests how divisive their arguments are, he directs his prince  to summon six blind men to examine a pack elephant tethered in the town square, and give their  verdict  on what they are examining. The crowd is hushed as the blind men are led to the beast.

Each inpsector takes hold of a different part of the animal — in the Buddhist version, the men assert the elephant is either like a pot (the blind man who felt the elephants’ head), a winnowing basket (ear), a plowshare (tusk), a plow (trunk), a granary (body), a pillar (foot), a mortar (back), a pestle (tail) or a brush (tip of the tail).

The men cannot agree with one another and come to blows over trying to answer the question, each one claiming HIS version is the correct one. After the crowd has a good laugh, the King intercedes, saying,

“All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned alternately”.

The Buddha ends the story: “Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing…. In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus.” The Buddha then speaks the following verse:

O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim, For preacher and monk the honored name! For, quarreling, each to his view they cling. Such folk see only one side of a thing.

Demystifying Meditation

Meditation does not have to be so confusing!

Consider that meditCandle gazeation has accompanied humanity since the sun set on the first prehistoric cooking fire. Picture our ancient ancestors gazing into the glowing coals; a warm, comforting and ineffable pleasure after a stressful day of running from tyrannosaurus rex while hunting and gathering nuts and berries. In the fire’s ever shifting coals, our forbearers imagine animal shapes, faces, or familiar scenes among the fire play of glowing wood.

This ancient fire-gazing object meditation requires no instructions, comes to us as naturally as looking, and all of us can still enjoy and wonder at it to this day.

Sadly, students of meditation can encounter, as I did, conflicts, dichotomies, rigid or contrary instructions, to cause discouragement. The deeper the neophyte looks, the more complex it seems, when really we are self-complicating a simple process.

My view on the subject has become this: developing an inquiring and all-accepting attitude before, during and after meditation is essential. I refer to the first two steps in the “How to Meditate” article by Tara Brach posted on my “Practice Meditation” page.

Here is a simple candle meditation you can try that could de-mystify the process. I like to set a silent running timer that chimes gently (I find the clicking mechanical ones too distracting) for about 10 minutes to start, expanding in 5 minute increments every-other day. The objective is simply to look at the flame while clearing the mind.

Sitting in Candlelight

As you sit comfortably, with an erect spine and eyes focused on the flame, settle your body and take several slow, deep breaths. Notice the flow of air through your nostrils and aim to smooth the process.

Take note of spots where there is tension in your body, then smooth and calm those muscles in your imagination until they become peaceful.

Follow your breath and try to be conscious of the act of breathing as you gaze into the candle flame. During meditation your business is simple awareness, nothing else. No two experiences will be the same. Distracting thoughts will arise but simply bring your attention back to the flame while following your breath.

A tip form my yoga instructor Jenni Burke, who also teaches meditation, “If you want to add a ‘kriya’ to the meditation (detoxification exercise) gaze first with eyes open as long as possible without blinking. This will cause the eyes to water, which is part of a detoxification process. Then return to a gentle Buddha-gaze for the meditation practice.”

When your meditation comes to an end, rest before rising.  This transition time is important to reform the mind, so do not return to daily activity suddenly, after meditating.

I wish peace and abundance for all.

Why meditate?

The question is, why would we seek to meditate?

It is probably safe to say that we are feeling uncomfortable, agitated or suffering, and perhaps we are thinking that meditation might be a tool to alleviate this. But how will it work?

To begin answering that question, let us examine what leads to these feelings in the first place, for it is only by discovering the roots of suffering that we will be able to use meditation to help with it.

Llet’s consider that actions lead to suffering.

Physical actions – deeds – wrongfulness in deeds can bring suffering.

Vocal actions – words – wrongfulness in what we say to others can direct our own inner suffering outward to others, who can mirror it back to us, and share with others.

Mental actions – thoughts and ideas- wrongfulness in thoughts and ideas, how we talk inward to ourselves, are the seeds of vocal and physical actions.

It is important to make a distinction that mental actions precede vocal and physical actions.

Understanding this, then if we expect meditation to ease our suffering isn’t it natural to see that instead of simply making us feel relaxed or feeling good,  meditation would somehow  influence our actions ?

Would it also follow, if the above is true , that meditation could influence our reactions as well ?

If this makes sense to you, watch your three modes of actions for a time, watch the actions of others around us and most especially watch our reactions. 

Previously I mentioned that an agitated person affects everyone around them.   Now we can see how our levels of action can cause suffering to ourselves and how “contagious” it is to others.

If mental actions are the seeds of all our other actions, and actions are the root of suffering, then gaining some control over the mind might be the first step in gaining some mastery over the art of living.

This is an important step on the path to peace and enlightenment

What Meditation is Not

It is helpful for the beginner to understand what meditation is- as a first step to understanding the truth. A condensation of this post is included on the “Quick Study” page.

The meaning and practice of meditation has been twisted by promoters in modern culture who erroneously include a host of “feeling good” self visualizing, self relaxing, self exploring and self-examination techniques and practices. These may or may not yield results in their own domain, at times limited to narrow personal objectives – sometimes our personal goals try to defy the laws of nature! But this is not true meditation. Allow me to get “personal” for a moment.

I studied and practiced progressive relaxation in the late 20’th century under the late Dr. George Blake and therapist Eli Bay because I felt anxious most of the time and drugs were not helping me.  Progressive relaxation helped me feel better temporarily – relieving the symptom – but did nothing to the deep seated unrest within. This was not meditation.

For a time I entered psychotherapy, not because I thought I was ill, but seeking to discover my true self… the roots of my unease. Drug therapy brought more unease. I was given lessons in visualizing the good and positive. This was not meditation.

Under the tutelage of Bob Monroe from the Monroe Institute I practiced and completed the Gateway Experience manual and series, developing a sense of resisting distraction and discovery of self but found the practice appealed more to my entertainment of ego. This was not meditation.

It was not until 2008 meditation classes from Jenni Burke, a Yogini from Port Hope, Ontario, that I began to understand the true nature of meditation.

More specifically, I discovered what meditation is not;

  • not mental relaxation
  • not positive thinking
  • not visualizing what we want
  • not trying to repel discomfort
  • not free association
  • not seeking specific “feelings” (good, euphoric, positive)
  • not seeking out of body “astral travelling” or hallucinatory events

In future posts we will examine how although some of the above may come to occur through meditation, they are not the global goal.

Peace and abundance to all!