On Meditation (Aka My Healing Process)

I have just returned from retreat at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and I have to say it could not have come at a better time. I have been on spring break this past week, but my mind has certainly not been at rest. Since my retreat at IMS, my practice has faltered a bit, but this was a great refresher and has also given me some perspective on my practice since I have had some time to reflect on my experience at IMS, but it was also a much shorter retreat and had a different feel to it. From my experiences, I have compiled a list of some “stuff” that has really been working for me lately.

1. Samadhi (Concentration Meditation)
This is the first type of meditation I was taught. In this meditation, you pick a point of focus, typically the breath or your sitting points (ie your booty), and you keep your mind focused on this point for the duration of your meditation. When (not if) your mind becomes distracted, you simply notice it and return to your point of attention. I began my practice focusing on the tip of my nose because it was simple and I could feel a physical sensation for my inhales and exhales. Another form of this meditation that I have started to turn to is listening meditation, in which you become aware of the sounds around you and choose those as your point of attention. Even something as annoying as a car horn for the screeching of the train on the tracks becomes another point of awareness. Because a lot of my anxiety arises from concerns about my physical health, a lot of these issues arise when I focus on a body part (ie I constantly think I’m having a heart attack). By focusing on an external stimuli, I have been able to remain more focused on my object of attention. I have noticed that through this practice, my attention and concentration in other parts of my life, such as focusing in class or even just holding a conversation, has drastically improved.

2. Vipassana (Insight Meditation)
I have less experience with vipassana, but in the small amount of insight meditation I have done, its benefits have proved to be numerous, as this is the meditation that most yogis strive for (concentration meditation is a stepping stone toward this). It is an opening up of the concentration meditation, where instead of concentrating on a simple point of attention, one becomes open to all experience and sensations, all without judgment. When a moment of anxiety or worry arises, one simply notices and explores the sensations if he or she wishes. The intention of the meditation is not to leave a person devoid of emotion, but simply to allow people to become aware of their bodily states and perceptions so that they cause less suffering for the yogi because he or she has learned how to control them. On the T on the way home today, I started to have some migraine symptoms from having woken up at 7 in the morning and having eaten nothing but soup and bread the entire day. I had been practicing listening meditation because being on the T is a bit of an overwhelming experience. When I noticed that my head started to hurt, I shifted my awareness to the point where the pain began and became aware of the sensation. I then noticed that I was growing anxious because I hate getting migraines and I noticed that my heart was starting to feel tight. Then I realized that these were only sensations and sensations are temporary. My heart began calming down and the tension in my head drew its course and disappeared.

3. Metta (Loving-kindness Meditation)
Although its the title of my blog, I haven’t talked about metta very much. It is essentially a meditation mantra full of love and goodwill that one expresses toward oneself, then moves on to family and friends, neutral individuals, and finally their enemies. These phrases are as simple as “May I be well. May you be happy. May we all be at peace.” The idea is to start with the person it would be easiest to wish these intentions upon, even if it is not yourself, and gradually shift toward people who you may believe don’t even deserve these thoughts. Our instructor today, Michael Grady, said that he used the phrase, “May I be at ease” whenever he was feeling anxious. Its not a bad thing to have in your pocket to use on a bad or even a neutral day and the more you practice it, the more effect it will have. This is something I have not done often and I still have trouble doing (especially with myself), but I continue to strive toward it.

The chant that I originally learned on retreat at IMS can be found here in original Pali (the language of the Buddha) and in English along with a recording of the chant. I just randomly googled this, but it appears this person also first heard the chant at IMS!

May we all be happy and healthy 🙂

 

We’re All Human

“I think one of the most universal human experiences is feeling alone. You’d never know it, but there’s most likely tons of people feeling the exact same way.”

-JD from Scrubs

This has been a rough month for me healthwise, physically and mentally. When I get stuck in one of these states, the hardest thing for me to do is be around other people because you can only fake a smile for so long. Its so hard when you feel like no one could possibly understand what you’re going through, but the truth is, as humans, we are more similar than we think. We yearn for the same elemental things: unconditional love, companionship, a sense of true self-worth. And when these things can’t be found we start looking for someone to blame, usually beginning with ourselves. In a way, I think the root of these problems is learning to forgive, no matter who you blame, and honestly, there is nothing harder than forgiveness. I’ve been winding down this path for a long time now and I’ve discovered some things about myself I never realized. It’s been very difficult to face these facts, but I try to take it day by day. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Here’s hoping we can all find our way.
Metta.

Am Asian American, Have Been in Therapy

Well said.

my name is elizabeth

I imagine that the title is making some of you wary of me, so before I continue, let me assure you:  I am, by all accounts, a fairly normal person.  I’m very outgoing.  I have a lot of friends.  I’m usually happy.  I have a great family.  I have no shortage of quirks, but I’m not a weirdo.  (Though few weirdos think that they’re weirdos, so that’s probably not the most reassuring statement.  But for what it’s worth.)

So why on earth was I in therapy?

Continue reading on the Salt Collective

Thanks to Diana Hong for suggesting the topic.

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7 Ways to Get a Little More Out of Life…

1. Handwrite someone a note
We all have that special someone who has made our life just a little bit better just by being in it. Maybe its time to tell them that. Thank them for making a difference in your life and let them know why. It takes ten minutes to write down how you feel and it will mean the world to them.

2. Make a checklist
There are always those simple little tasks that we always say we will do later. Making a doctor’s appointment, cleaning your room, returning your email. For some reason there is nothing more satisfying to me than checking those little shadowed boxes, especially if those tasks take less than five minutes to accomplish. At the end of list, have a checkbox for “starting the list” so you can start off strong.

3. Get mindful
Take a couple minutes each day to center yourself. Don’t think about the past or the future, but focus on the present. It’s difficult to remember this as you go about the day. Ironically, there are several iphone apps to help you out. Most of them are about 99 cents and you can pick time intervals (eg 1 hr or 2 hrs) when it will ding and remind you to be mindful. I use a free app called Lotus Bud that will ring at random intervals. If you buy the full version, you can set a schedule for quiet times when you don’t want to be interrupted, but otherwise, you just open the app and there is a switch for on and off.

4. 100 Happy Days (or something like it)
You’ve probably heard of 100 Happy Days where for 100 days, you take a picture of something, little or big, that was a highlight to your day or made you smile. For my winter study class at Williams, I took landscape photography and I felt like for the first time I was really seeing the beauty of the campus. Obviously living in the Berkshires and in the mountains doesn’t make this very difficult, but I also started to see the beauty of a swatch of grass or a pile of leaves or the magic of a snowy night. Now that the class is over, I’ve started to notice less since I no longer have assignments to complete, but I’m starting to make an effort to get back to seeing and not just looking.

5. Do a few burpees
I’ve noticed that when stress starts piling up, I get into a bit of a rut which usually ends up in me lying under the covers in fetal position blaming myself for getting into this situation. I’ve started to see that all it takes is a little exercise and a bit of a pep talk. It doesn’t have to be extreme exercise, but if you do 20 burpees or jumping jacks once every hour or when you feel yourself sinking into that bottomless pit, it might get your motor revving a little.

6. Set an intention for the day
Like I wrote earlier, it was much easier for me to see the beauty in the world when I had to do it for an assignment. That may sound terrible, but its not so bad when its a goal that you set for yourself. It can be something on this list or an inspirational quote or something arbitrary like saying hi to someone you’ve never seen before. Hopefully focusing on this goal will make you start living more in the present and not in the past or the future.

7. Write yourself a note
I don’t mean one of those goal setting notes that they make you write at every workshop, retreat, or orientation. I mean acknowledging that you appreciate yourself, that you’re proud of yourself, and encouraging yourself to get through whatever you need to get through. Throw it out, delete it when you’re done, but make sure you take that time for yourself.

“One thing about trains… It doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.” -The Polar Express