Finding Meditation

I chant.

It’s not something I would ever have chosen to do on my own. But my EPT therapist prescribed it for me, I practice it, and it works for me.

By “works for me,” I mean I finally found the off switch to the nonspecific sense of anxiety that haunted me most of my life.

My point is not that you should chant, but that if you keep an open mind with respect to the various forms of mediation, then you might find one that works for you.

I tried transcendental meditation back in college some thirty years ago.  It gave me headaches.

I tried pranayama (without a teacher; they were hard to find back then) and had a problem with swallowing air.

I tried just lying down and counting my breaths – that helped.  But nothing has worked as well as the chanting.

I’ve been diagnosed as ADHDWhen I was a kid I couldn’t focus on anything but the television.  I think my favorite kriya, Ganpati Kriya, has several aspects to it that make it easier for me to stay focused and harder to be distracted.

First, there are eight syllables that I chant out loud over and over for eleven minutes.

Second, the kriya has a mudra where the thumb touches the successive fingers on each hand with the pronunciation of each syllable.kirtan kriya

Third, I associate one of the chakras with each syllable and visualize the “activation” of that chakra with the pronunciation of each syllable.

So my mind and body are fully engaged as I practice this kriya, making it easier for me to stay focused for the entire eleven minutes.

I practice Ganpati Kriya in the morning, Sat Kriya at noon, and Kirtan Kriya in the evening.

How about you?  Have you tried meditation?  What works for you?

Emotional Polar Therapy (sequel to Practicing Acceptance)

All my life I have struggled to keep my emotions under good regulation.  When I wasn’t worried or anxious, I was angry or depressed.  Joy was nearly unknown to me, and I thought it belonged only to those who had won some great victory.

When the series on Integral Life Practice came to an end, I wanted to work with someone on my shadow self in the context of the enneagram.  One of the presenters referred me to an Emotional Polar Therapist.

My first visit to this woman was very strange, yet powerful.  We had an interview.  She tapped on my shoulder and took some notes.  She had me push against her hand while thinking some thought and took more notes.

She put magnets under my feet, a pillow on my lap, and a kind of bicolor needle work between my hands. Then she laid hands on me and had me breathe deeply in unison with her.  She had me repeat after her affirmations like, “I am a valuable person,” or “I deserve success,” etc.

The odd thing was that it was a struggle for me to say these things.  In fact, at one point I began to choke and weep.  This was my first visit, mind, and all the while I’m asking myself whether I’d been referred to some kind of witch doctor.

When that was done she gave me some homework of breathing exercises, and kriyasto do.  I left feeling like something had “happened,” like I’d seen a light after a long stay in a cave.

I did the exercises daily, returned to her periodically, and began to notice a gradual change in my emotional state.  The frequency and duration of my negative emotions steadily decreased.  The same measures of my positive emotions trend upwards.

I even experience joy now, and have discovered that it has less to do with great victories than it does with recognizing small ones.

The Problem of Envy

For most of my life, I’ve had a negative affect.  I’m not sure how I got there, but by the time I went to college my world was painted black.

Ironically, I knew I was blessed.  But I felt like my own inadequacies outweighed any number of blessings in my life.  I was so focused on what was missing that I couldn’t see what was present.

Then maybe five years ago, a friend of mine and I went to a weekend workshop on Spiral Dynamics.  During the course of the presentation, I made a comment on the dangers of comparing ourselves with others, and how Spiral Dynamics invited such comparisons.  The presenter said something like, ‘That may be a problem for you, and it’s good that you are aware of it.’

For some reason her comment really pissed me off.  I tried focusing on my breath, tried to listen to what she was saying, but I could not shake my feeling of anger.

I sat by her during lunch, and explained to her what I was feeling and why.  She told me I was a four, and was motivated by envy which was the source of my anger.  Huh?

She went on to explain a little about the enneagram, which is a model of human personality types.  The enneagram is a nine pointed star, and each point represents a type, the fourth point or type having the vice or passion of envy.

Now the Enneagram of Personality is beyond the scope of this post.  The point here is that I knew she was right.

Jealousy was a passion I had struggled with in my youth that I thought I had overcome as an adult.  But what I didn’t realize was that those feelings of inadequacy were another manifestation of envy, or the fixation I had of comparing me with others.

That epiphany led to what has been a sea change for me which I will explain in the next post.

Practicing Aerobics, Frugality, and Sustainability

About four years ago I started riding a bike.  Gas had got up to about $3.50 per gallon, and I was (and still am) driving a Honda Pilot – a 15 mpg gas guzzler.

When I was a kid, I was riding my bike with a friend along a busy highway.  We went up from the road onto the sidewalk, but my rear tire stayed on the road and I wiped out into the right hand lane of the highway.  Fortunately there were no cars behind me and I just got scraped up.  But it scared me, and I quit riding my bike on the road.

So I wasn’t an enthusiastic biker.  My desire to save money outweighed my fear of the road.

I had a heavy duty basket put on the front of my bike, and two saddle bag baskets installed on the rear.  The saddlebags are good for lighter weight, more voluminous stuff. The front basket can haul an amazing amount of weight, at least 50 and maybe even 100 pounds.  The mitigating factor is my ability to hold it steady on the road.

At first I used the bike for short trips to the grocery.  Gradually I became more confident and began to take longer trips.  I just tried to keep the pedals moving.  I began to enjoy it.

About the only time I take the car now is if I have a passenger, I’m pressed for time, or severe weather.  Otherwise I’m biking – joyfully.

I have gradually realized many benefits from riding the bike.  I don’t just ride the bike for exercise; I’m always trying to get somewhere, either run an errand, go to work, or visit someone.

That is, I’m accomplishing transportation I would otherwise need my car for, as well as getting exercise.  And that’s nearly every day.  I mean, how often do you go a day without getting into the car?

Meditation and Emotional Affect

Affect is that term psychologists use when the rest of us would use words like attitude, outlook, or mood – a positive or negative disposition.

How’s your affect?  For years mine was passionate, anxious, and irritable.  I complained, criticized, and always expected the worst.

But now I am seldom anxious, accept myself where I am, and expect to bless and be blessed.  What happened?

Well I saw some good therapists, gradually became more self aware, accepted who I was, and began to meditate; more or less in that order.

But what I believe has had the greatest impact on my emotional state is meditation.  For years I was on medication for anxiety.  Now my only prescription is roughly ten minutes of meditation, three times per day.

The fruit of this meditation has been equanimity.  It didn’t happen all at once.  But with regular practice over the course of maybe 60 days, noticeable changes began to take place.

Moreover the meditation itself has been a process of experimentation, observation, and modification.  As you probably know, there are a myriad of ways to meditate.  Some work better for me than others.  I’ve tried:

  1. transcendental meditation,
  2. observation of the breath,
  3. various kinds of pranayama or yogic breathing,
  4. Chanting via kriya yoga.

The last has worked best for me; surprisingly so.  If my therapist had not assigned it for homework, I never would have tried chanting.  But chanting may not work best for you.  And there are many modes of meditation I still haven’t tried.

The empirical evidence is growing of the many positive benefits of meditation.  Moreover there is also growing evidence that positive affect leads to a higher quality of life in general.

I encourage you to try some sort of meditation, and to keep trying and experimenting until you find a method that works for you.  Especially if you, like me, suspect yourself of having a negative disposition.

Serenity through Practice

It occurs to me that what this blog is all about is maintaining equanimity in the face of an increasingly chaotic world.  That’s what practice inevitably leads to: a sense of certainty and security that stems from knowing what this day will bring: that is, our practice.

I guess that may not seem like much comfort to someone who may be about to lose their job.  But perhaps we place too much of our happiness in a position contingent upon job outcomes, or job status.

Not that we shouldn’t expect happiness from our work, but that it is rather only a part of our happiness, and our happiness needn’t come to an end just because our job does.

I think you can draw a link between equanimity and certainty of practice.  Maybe the equanimity comes directly from meditation, but I suspect it comes as well from the expectation that, whatever else happens today, I can rest in the knowledge that I Will Do My Practice – and that’s powerful.

It grows in power as we grow in our practice.  As our daisy-chain of days practiced lengthens, so does our expectation of doing the practice and our confidence from having done the practice.

What make the Five Tibetans so powerful for me are not their rigor, not that they make me physically powerful, but rather their very simplicity and ease of accomplishment.  I know that as sure as the sun rises, I can rise to do the rites; and therein lays their power.  They are rigorous enough to keep me healthy, and short and simple enough for me to consistently do them every day.

To the extent that I can develop such a practice in each domain of my life, to that extent I will have an expectation of accomplishment: that the house is neat and clean from having a place for everything, and everything in its place; of emotional equipoise that comes from meditation; of health from yoga and bike riding; of financial health from budgeting, saving, and investing; of mental health from reading, writing, and model building; of spiritual health from reading scripture, prayer, worship, and fellowship; of social health from broadening and deepening connections.

These expectations are what serenity is made of.