Visualizing an Excellent Life

Can meditation speed me on my way to an excellent life?

Two friends and I spent several weeks reading and discussing Mastery of the Mind East and West a few years ago.  In it Dan Brown contrasts peak performance with a continuous way of being in the world.

He identifies seven factors of enlightenment from the Buddhist literature: mindfulness, intelligence, balanced energy, light-heartedness, sustained concentration, calmness of mind, and equanimity (non-reactivity).  These were considered prerequisite to making progress in meditation.

When one of these factors is absent, he says the Buddhists visualize a deity or Buddha embodying the virtues the practitioner wants to possess.  The examples he gives here weren’t very clear to me, so I looked for others on the web, and found some on this website.

Now regardless of your religious predilections, it’s hard to argue with the intended outcome: radiating wisdom and compassion in all directions, transforming all sentient beings into enlightened ones, all environments into pure lands.

In other words envision your ideal self, blessing those around you, even nature itself.

Perhaps you’re uncomfortable with the particulars of the visualizations given.  Alter them enough to fit your own faith.

Sometimes I think we are all pursued by the same god, but we don’t see god the same way, or hear god the same way, or feel god the same way.

We don’t see paintings the same way, or hear a poem the same way, or feel music the same way, even when we speak the same language or live in the same culture.

We get so caught up in right and wrong that we don’t listen to one another, or learn from one another.

I suspect the Buddhists have something powerful to teach me here.  I haven’t put this practice to the test, but I’m going to.

Practice with Focus

I’ve been working my way through the “Wheel of Excellence,” and today I want to talk about focus.

Here is some of what Terry Orlick says about focus:

Focusing is the single most important mental skill associated with performance excellence. Focusing refers to the ability to concentrate totally on what you are doing, seeing, reading, hearing, learning, feeling, observing   or experiencing while you are engaged in the activity or performance.

Where your focus goes, everything else follows. Focus leads activation, anxiety, relaxation, learning, mental readiness, personal growth and performance excellence. Let it lead wisely.

I feel like I’ve been distracted most of my life.  When I was studying for the actuarial exams, I would frequently get up from the study room to get a cup of coffee, or use the restroom.  But I would notice a certain few who never got up the entire time they were in there.  Those few generally did well on the exams.

Oftentimes it seems like we want to be distracted from our practice.  Even while we practice we watch TV, or listen to music, or an audio book, etc.

Notice that focus is most important for performance excellence:  the execution of the practiced goal for before a live audience: running a race, taking a test, playing a recital, etc.

Again, while taking the actuarial exams, I can remember reading that you should take practice exams under conditions as nearly the same as those you will be tested under as possible.

You want a rhythm and ritual to your practice, by which you can gather your focus and minimize distractions at game time.

The regular practice of three kriyas from Kundalini Yoga has helped me focus: Ganpati Kriya, Radiant Body Kriya, and Kirtan Kriya.  These all involve chanting, and certain mudras of the fingers.  The first takes 11 minutes (first thing in the morning), the second about 40 minutes (midday), and the third about 30 minutes (evening).  They have given my emotions some ballast, and have improved both my patience and my ability to concentrate.

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?

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.