Finding Inner Calm and Deeper Wisdom

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Archive for the ‘conscious thought’ Category

Does Meditation Really Help?

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Will meditation help me live longer? And will meditation help you live longer?

Almost everybody with a brain knows the answer to that question. But let’s be honest, most people don’t pay much attention to what they know or intuit about meditation. They think, “Oh yeah, meditation is great, yada yada. But I’m too busy right now.”

This morning I had an ideal opportunity to test the theory on myself. I had been annoyed by somebody. Well wait a minute. Taking responsibility for my feelings, it’s more correct to say that I annoyed myself about somebody.

I had just finished Sunday brunch, and I was sitting there at the table by myself, just thinking about that self-centered, inconsiderate, unthinking person who I’d annoyed myself about. I thought okay, since it’s time to take my daily blood pressure (which my doctor has been nagging me about), let’s see what’s going on in my body. (And mind.)

My BP meter is right beside my eating place. I relaxed a bit and took my blood pressure. It was high. Since I was alone, I relaxed for 15 minutes, meditated some of that time, and took it again. It was better. I relaxed a third time, had a nice meditation of maybe 10 minutes, and took my BP a third time. For each observation I recorded the Time, BP, and Pulse Rate in my doctor-ordered BP journal. Here’s what I got:

12:30 188/100 75
12:45 170/90   74
13:15 150/80   90

Frankly, I’m amazed. I never thought it would be such a radical change. I wasn’t even on my cushion or in a good place for meditation. But I dropped my blood pressure 38 points just sitting in a chair, watching birds eating in the feeder, and not thinking (well, not much). I guess that proves my point.

Haha, I’m laughing at myself. Here I’m a meditation teacher (or coach, actually) but obviously I don’t coach myself enough. I haven’t had any doubts for decades about the effectiveness of meditation. Isn’t this like the shoemaker who doesn’t have any shoes? Or doctors who who have more heart attacks than their patients? We gotta learn to practice what we preach.

I promise to do better.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

January 14, 2018 at 4:20 pm

Mindfulness Makes a Better Person

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We all want to become a better person.

Right? Well, perhaps I should say most of us want to be better people. It seems clear to me that people who read my stuff must be motivated by self-improvement. The topic on my mind toMeditatorInTwoPieceday is exactly how Mindfulness can make you a better person.

First, a simple and accurate definition: Mindfulness is learning to become an observer of your own thoughts and feelings. Many people who want to learn meditation, start first by sitting in a meditation position with a pad and pencil by their side. And then stopping now and then to record what is going through their mind.

Most people rarely stop to think about what they’re thinking about. And then, also rarely, to ask themselves why am I thinking about that. This is a very important step in learning to control your mind—instead of letting it control you. Of course, the next step beyond Mindfulness is learning to stop the mind, which is the very definition of the Zen meditative state.

So how does this make you a better person? Easy. By observing your own thoughts (which is accomplished at a “higher” place in your mind), you can actually witness your own beliefs and values in operation. That higher place in your mind is often free from much of the judgment and indoctrination by belief systems that control what you think, say, and do. Mindfulness permits the practitioner to think free–at least for a short while. Mindfulness gives your mind an opportunity like a breath of fresh air.

So many of us are not aware how strongly we were indoctrinated. We were “trained” by parents, teachers, preachers, and mentors. All of them authority figures who instilled our values and beliefs. We didn’t have much of a choice then. And now, you are at the mercy of the beliefs of all those people. But wouldn’t you like the opportunity to step back and examine for yourself the basis of all your values and beliefs? Wouldn’t you like to have a say in what kind of person you are? And don’t you want to become a better person as a result?

Get a cushion to sit on and a writing pad for making notes. Go to a quiet place, sit on the cushion, and watch that mind of yours. Just let it run free, and see what comes out.

 

 

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

December 20, 2017 at 3:05 pm

How I Go To Sleep

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SleepingGirl

So many people have difficulty getting good sleep. I’m astounded at the huge industry of sleeping pills and other aids. I’ve never used sleeping pills in my entire life. You might think I’m just lucky. But there’s a little more to it than that.

Typically, when I go to bed at night or take an afternoon nap, I fall asleep in about ten or fifteen seconds. People have asked me how I do that. So for the last few nights, I “watched” myself during the process just so I could describe it.

Oh by the way, a short answer to that question is: Many decades of regular meditation practice and training my mind. But a thorough answer takes a few more words.

When I’m headed for bed, I usually start my mental “falling asleep” process well before I actually hit the sheets. I might be brushing my teeth or taking my clothes off, but I’m winding down the thinking machine. I’m telling myself, “Okay, now is not the time to be worrying about things. Let’s slow the mind down. Just quit thinking.”

That is the first part of my secret: actually preparing the mind for sleep well before bedtime. Maybe it’s the decades of self-training kicking in, but as I slow the mind down, I can sense the heavy feelings of tiredness, fatigue, and low energy flowing downward into my whole body. Thus, with my thinking mind very near to stopping and the body already aching for rest, I’m close to falling asleep by the time I slip into the sheets.

Settling into bed, I’m letting my body find the most comfortable position for sleep. For me, this is already a well-practiced position that minimizes pain and suffering from my old body and a few old injuries. Everybody needs to know his own body and how it can best be positioned to minimize aches and pains. So, unless I’m dealing with  unusual bodily stress, getting myself positioned for dropping off to sleep takes me only a couple of seconds.

And now, it’s time for my “mini-meditation” that I use for going to sleep. Once again, this is where the many years of meditation practice pay off. My mind does a relaxation scan in one or two seconds, and I can feel my body going limp from top to bottom. At this point, the world around me is beginning to disappear. Sleep is near.

Now I focus my remaining consciousness on watching my breath and my heartbeat. The breath is already slow and relaxed, and now it is gradually slowing even more. I can feel my heart beating in my chest, and I also notice it in my fingertips and my temples. The heart rate is also slowing, and I can detect a lower blood pressures. And that is usually the last thing I’m aware of. I am asleep. It is a deep dreamless sleep.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

September 14, 2017 at 11:31 am

Torment of the Mind

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Almost everybody I know suffers from an overactive mind. They tell me they can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, and never get any real rest from all the stuff they worry about. Yes, I know the problem.

More accurately, I knew the problem all too well–until I learned a certain skill. Decades later, I wrote a book about it. To me, it’s the most important knowledge I’ve gained since I was born. But judging from the apparent popularity, it’s the most boring subject in modern civilization.

If it’s not too boring, read some more about ending your torment: Original Zen.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

July 2, 2017 at 11:59 am

The Value of Aloneness

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Being alone can result in one of two states of mind: either loneliness or aloneness. The first is being alone and not happy about it. The second is being alone and liking it.

lonelygirl01I spent many of my younger years trying to avoid loneliness. And hating every minute I was lonely. I did all the typical things people do to avoid being alone. I scheduled my life so I’d be busy all the time. If I found myself alone for some reason, I’d make sure there were several radios and televisions making noise to keep my mind occupied. And during that time, I had no inkling of what aloneness was all about.

Then something happened way back when: I heard a song on the radio that reminded me that we all die alone. I know from stuff I learned in collidge that the human body dies from the outside in. That is, we lose contact with our sensory organs and our physical body while our mind is still functioning. So, that means my whole body will shut down and essentially be “dead” while I’m still alive somewhere deep in my brain. I imagined that could be utterly terrifying.

Then, a few decades ago and with the help of a teacher I know, I began deliberately changing my attitude about being alone. I began to appreciate aloneness. And that was about the same time I began loving myself a bit more than I had earlier in life. Looking back, this worked out very well with Zen meditation, and it really did enhance my practice.

In certain ways, aloneness and meditation are the same things. And in other perspectives, they are complementary and work well together.

Simply put, being alone with yourself and observing your mind is known as Mindfulness meditation. Being alone with yourself and not thinking is Zen meditation. I like to do both, sometimes alternating one with the other.

Now that I’m getting into my senior years, my meditations are sometimes very deep and I lose contact with my body for a while. In case I’ve never told you, that is a great experience. And not terrifying at all. For me, there’s not a shred of fear about the possibility of not “waking up.” I would just go on through the Window and see what happens next.

Let’s get back to the point of this blog. Aloneness is good. Start switching the gears in your mind to be more appreciative of aloneness. Even to the point of seeking it and planning for it. You don’t need the radios and TVs playing all the time. You don’t need somebody there for you all the time. And you don’t have to be “bored” by silence. You can learn to be comfortable and at ease being alone all by yourself. Just being with yourself.

Aloneness is a state that can be comforting and nourishing. It creates an atmosphere conducive to inner growth and self-development. It can also provide an opportunity for healing from the daily slings and arrows.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

February 20, 2017 at 8:20 am

Who’s The Boss?

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In that noisy jumble of thoughts and feelings we call our mind, who or what is actually in charge? Anybody? Anything?

StatueHere’s a simple way to think about it: When you meditate, one part of your mind is trying to control another part of your mind. The primary goal of Zen meditation is to stop the conscious mind from thinking. So, the part you want to be controlled is the conscious mind. We can call it the “Thinker.” The part trying to exercise control we can call the “Boss.” Thus, meditation is a state where you, the Boss, is trying to make you, the Thinker, stop thinking. At least for a little while. Make sense?

During the thousands of years people have pursued inner development and practiced meditation, what we’re calling the Boss has been given many names. I’m responsible for a couple of those names myself. For example, I used to call it the Higher You. Or the Higher Self. But I found those names were confusing to some people. And translating those terms to other languages was problematic. Since then, I’ve found that calling it the Boss is clear and simple. What’s more, “Boss” is a word understood in many languages.

So, here is what’s most important about this lesson: You must become aware that you can “be” in two places in your mind.* You can be in your Thinker, which means you’re busy thinking at the time. Or, you can be in your Boss, which means that higher level being inside you is in charge at the moment, and it’s not letting the Thinker control you.

When your Boss is in charge of your mind, you are in the Zen state.

*As your meditation practice continues, you’ll discover another one or two “places” you can be in your mind. Or perhaps slightly out of your mind.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

February 26, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Who’s In There With You?

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When you’re alone—and I mean really alone—you may discover there’s another “person” inside yourself besides you. For me, that was one of the most interesting, somewhat scary discoveries I made as a Zen practitioner.

This is actually a very simple and basic discovery of inner development. When you are practicing meditation, the chief object (especially while you are first learning) is to quiet the conscious mind. As I’ve already told you at least a hundred times in this blog, you must stop the flow of thoughts in order to reach the Zen state.

So what you learn how to do is tell the conscious thinking mind to be quiet and stop thinking. Right? Let me say that again with different words. “You” must stop your thinking machine and make it be still.

So, who is “you,” and who is the thinking machine?

The answer is this: There are two entities, two parts of you working with each other (or perhaps working against each other). Down through thousands of years, teachers and gurus have called them by so many different names that I can’t recall them all. My preference is to just call them the conscious mind and the higher self—chiefly because that is how I’ve experienced them.

In an untrained person the conscious mind is always in control. In a somewhat successful Zen practitioner the higher self of that person is often in control, and the higher self often directs or leads the conscious mind.

Thus when you’re practicing, what’s really happening is the higher self is training the conscious mind to behave. And the more you practice, the more you realize these are two separate beings inside you, each having different attitudes, values, and goals. You’re also likely to learn the higher self is wiser in many respects than the lowly conscious mind. The chief reason is the higher self is close to and part of the human spirit, which contains a higher form of knowledge than your conscious mind has ever known.

When you are able—after much consistent, faithful practice—your higher self will influence your conscious mind more and more. Voila! You are beginning to receive true spiritual wisdom and it is becoming a part of your life. Soon you’ll be experiencing life on a higher plane than you did before.

Okay, you won’t be able to walk on water yet. But you’ll surely live in a way that brings you more peace, joy, and satisfaction than before.

I guarantee it.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

November 12, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Ease Your Troubled Mind

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I’ve discovered a new inner mechanism—a mental resource for inner development—that I hadn’t known about. Perhaps hundreds of people may already have discovered the same thing. A few of them may even have written about it. But let me explain it this way:

People have difficulty being present in the moment because of their noisy, non-stop minds. From my experience working with people, the worst of the worst are people who have unresolved issues with past trauma. And that covers the majority of our population.

Recent research shows trauma is not merely remembered by the mind, but it actually changes brain structure. Trauma changes the way a person thinks and feels. Trauma reprograms people’s behaviors, often forcing them to react in the same way as the time the original trauma happened. As a result, a person’s mind can be hijacked over and over by something that happened in the past.

This is known as Post Traumatic Stress, or PTS. Previously it was called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But the psychiatric community decided to quit calling it a disorder, so the “D” was dropped.

Perhaps the most significant thing to know about PTS is it damages your your mind. Most significantly it damages your ability to control your mind.

For example, there you are, sitting on your meditation cushion, trying to calm your out-of-control conscious mind. But stress from some past trauma (that you may not even remember) is forcing your mind to go round and around like a rat in a roundhouse.

What to do?

In the short-term, improve your skills in Zen meditation. Then, the long-term solution is using your Zen practice to stop those rat-in-roundhouse thinking patterns, allowing you to be fully present where you are.

Each time you feel fear and anxiety forcing your mind into those round-and-round, out-of-control thought patterns, you must relax, breath deeply, and pull yourself back into the Zen state. As you do that repeatedly, over and over for many meditations, you can gradually undo the programming damage that was done by previous trauma.

The magic is this: Each time you feel threatened by your PTS, put yourself into a peaceful present-to-the-moment state of mind . You will gradually, over time, change your programmed responses. Instead of reacting with overwhelming fear and suffering from whatever stimulus formerly caused stress, your mind will react instead by creating a peaceful state. All it takes is practice. Lots of practice.

You can use the Zen state in almost any conceivable situation. You can use it to put yesterday and tomorrow out of your mind, and allow yourself to be in the peaceful experience and awareness of now.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

June 17, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Be Here–Right Now!

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What percentage of your day-to-day life do you spend in the here and now? That is, how much are you actually present to the moment in your life? If you’re like most people, not very much.

You’re either thinking about the Past, what you did or what you should have done. Or you’re thinking about the Future, what you want to do or what you’d like to do if you could. But the Past is gone, and the Future hasn’t gotten here yet. So what you’re doing most of the time is imagining life—not living it. Your Conscious Mind is projecting an imaginary picture show inside your head that distracts you from the here and now.

A Zen meditative practice teaches you how to take control of the movie projector.

When you have the ability to switch off the imagination movie, you are able to bring your full attention to the present moment in your life. You can begin experiencing life instead of daydreaming about it. Things will change. You’ll see things you hadn’t seen before. Colors will be brighter, people will be more beautiful, many of your experiences will be more interesting and enjoyable. Life takes on new meanings.

One of my friends told me the only time he feels really alive is when he jumps out of an airplane. (Not to worry. Up to this point, he’s always used a parachute.) Do you see why he feels that way? It is because the fear of death scares him into ignoring the distractions in his mind and allows him to be absolutely present to what is happening at the time.

Reading this, you may have already caught the correlation between the dreaming & imagining state and the Conscious Mind. Naturally, it’s beneficial to be able to dream and imagine, but it’s also terrible to be unable to control it. The Conscious Mind is often the reason why you can’t be present to the moment. It is busy generating torrents of thought to keep you from experiencing the here and now.

I can see how free falling at ten thousand feet gets your full attention pretty quickly. But that’s not a very practical way to train your mind to be in the here and now. Besides that, I have a firm policy of not jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. Instead, I learned how to control my overactive Conscious Mind while sitting on my perfectly good meditation cushion.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

March 22, 2015 at 11:59 am

Where Do You Live?

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No, I’m not talking about your snail mail address. What I’m asking is where in your body/mind do you spend your time? Has it ever occurred to you that you have choices about where you, that is, your inner being, can reside in that physical bodily conveyance you use to get around in?

It’s interesting to ask people this question, because (a) most people have never really thought about it and, (b) when they actually think about it, they realize that all of their waking time is spend in the conscious mind. Barely one person in a hundred in western societies is able to get away from their conscious thought stream while they’re awake.

Add to that, research has shown the conscious mind to be about five percent of the whole mind. Thus, if your total life experience is limited to living only in your conscious mind, it’s like owning a palace and living in the coat closet.

One of the most beautiful aspects of practicing Original Zen is learning to separate yourself from your conscious thought stream and thereby being able to become an observer of the conscious mind. By observing it, you’re also better able to control it. Oh, and train it, too. Which means you’ll be able to do things with your mind you might have never imagined. Not the least of which is noticing some of the self-damaging behaviors caused by your conscious mind—and correcting them.

In my own case, learning to shut down my noisy mind at night so I could get a night of restful sleep was my first huge benefit from Zen meditation. It’s been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received, and it didn’t cost me a penny.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

December 28, 2014 at 1:50 pm