Meditation

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“Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality” – Thich Nhat Hanh

I t is with profound respect and deep appreciation for the timeless wisdom of the contemplative traditions I have been blessed to study and practice over the years, that I offer my support and guidance to groups and individuals in the introduction and development of meditation practice.

What is Meditation?

A path to inner peace and well-being

The term meditation encompasses a wide range of contemplative practices know and common in numerous spiritual and religious traditions throughout the world.

In essence, meditation refers to a wide spectrum of practices designed to promote a greater sense of self-knowledge, connection to life, to reality, to the divine, and our true nature. Over many centuries, and within different spiritual traditions, many different forms of meditation have been developed to address different aspects of the human condition. Historically, meditation has been a practice devoted to the path of awakening, self- realization, liberation, and enlightenment – the attainment of a state of consciousness that alleviates and eventually removes the fundamental challenges to a happier, freer and more dignifying human existence.

Some Historical Perspective

The practice of meditation dates back thousands of years originating in India around 1500 BCE within the early forms of Hinduism (the Vedas) and the expanded to the rest of Asia during the 6th and 5th century BCE through Taoism and Buddhism. Early records of a more systematic approach to meditative practice date back to the 1st  century BCE within the Buddhist tradition (the Pali Canon). The Silk Road helped the spread of these practices from India throughout the East, first in China in the 6th century (with Cha’n), then in Japan in the 8thcentury (with Zen) and then to the rest of South East Asia.

In the West, meditation practices appear first in Ancient Greece around 20 BCE, and later more formally in the 3rd century. There is evidence of meditative practices in early Judaism with greater expansion in the Middle Ages, especially within the Kabbalah tradition.  In Islam different meditative practices were adopted around the 11th and 12th century especially within the mystic Sufi tradition. In Christianity, the first signs of meditation practices appear during the 5th century with major expansion between the 12th and 15th century among Benedictine monks with the Lectio Divina (Divine reading) and later further developed by Christian saints in the 16th century.

Begging in the 18th century, Buddhism especially became of interest to many Europen philosophers and intellectuals. In the 1890 more modern schools of Yoga also became of interest in the West, and Transcendental Meditation (TM) made its first appearance in the 1960’s with different forms of Yoga. In the US, meditation arrives with the first waves of Asian immigrants in the late 1800’s but it is not until the mid-1900’s that meditation begins to move out of religious circles and more into the mainstream. Swami Vivekananda and Yogananda popularized Transcendental Meditation, and Japanese Buddist teachers like Suzuki Roshi popularized Zen meditation.

Especially within the last 20 years, meditation has moved even more into the mainstream thanks to the evolving methodologies for teaching it, thanks to the advancements in neuroscience research about its benefits, thanks to it applications in important areas of human development like psychology and health care, and thanks to the sprouting of meditation centers and meditation classes, the publication of many books and articles, and appearances by renowned teachers in mainstream media.

Although each spiritual tradition has originally used meditation as a practice for the cultivation of spiritual life, today meditation has successfully moved out of religious circle into secular settings to a great extent. As we continue to evolve the practice of meditation and its integration into modern lifestyles, it is important to remember that the central themes of the practice must be preserved in order to guarantee its longstanding integrity and highest purpose: to reduce human suffering and develop more kindness, compassion, empathy, and awareness, for our benefit and for the benefit of all living beings.


Why Meditation?

Because meditation is perhaps the most influential benefit to our well-being!

Meditation in general and mindfulness meditation, in particular, is finally being recognized for the major beneficial role it plays in our mental, physical, and emotional health and well-being.

Although its origins are ancient and rooted in Eastern spiritual traditions, today meditation finds many different applications beyond the traditional boundaries of spiritual practice and into the realm of modern everyday life. Its well-researched benefits are now integrated into many areas of our lives from psychology and medicine, to education and business, to law and sports, to the military and yes, even in politics!

The recent advancements in neuroscience and its revolutionary research studies on the impact of meditation on our brain, mind, and body now clearly demonstrate that regular meditation practice improves our overall well-being in a wide variety of ways. Studies now show how meditation helps change the structure of our brain, the function of our mind, the health of our body, the quality of our relationship and emotional health, by providing lasting changes that benefit our overall well-being and the way we feel and experience ourselves and our lives.

Emotionally this means that through regular meditation practice we improve our capacity to recognize our emotional state, respond to our emotional challenges, expand our awareness of the nature of our emotions and how they impact our lives. Mediation changes the relationship we have with ourselves and our emotional life by helping us befriend our emotions and allowing us to regulate and relate to them with more responsiveness and less reactivity. Being more mindful and aware helps us experience our lives with more ease, more openness, and less discontent.

Mentally, meditation provides the type of support our mind needs to cope with the many pressures and stressors our modern lifestyle imposes. Meditation helps us re-balance and thrive in today’s overstimulating, stressful and frantic lifestyle quieting the mind and allowing it to experience openness and tranquility. While in meditation we nourish and restore the natural balance so essential to our well-being. When not in meditation, we reap the benefits of having cultivated a more peaceful, open, and fluid mind.

Neurologically speaking,  a wide variety of evidence-based research has proven that repetitive practice of mindfulness meditation literally helps the growth of new synapses in the brain, strengthens existing ones, and helps produce new brain tissue. In essence, meditation helps thicken areas of the brain, primarily the prefrontal cortex area, (the area responsible for: emotional balance, body regulation, empathy, insight, intuition, morality and attuned communication) hence helping us develop a greater capacity to respond to life challenges and joys.

Physically, meditation provides the much-needed sense of well-being, relaxation and cellular rejuvenation that our body needs in order to re-balance, heal and recover from our daily pressures and demands. Meditation is like a soothing bath for our nervous system, for our organs, and our cells. Additionally, meditation helps us connect with our body and appreciate its deep intelligence.

Spiritually, meditation reconnects us to the sacred essence of life, to the ground of being, to the spacious openness and peacefulness that is our true nature. In many spiritual and religious traditions, meditation is also a conduit to the source of all life, to God, and the Devine in its many manifestations. Through meditation, we expand and deepen our sense of wholeness, inner peace, oneness with the universe, the divine, and to being itself. And historically, meditation has been regarded as the path to self-realization, to awakening and enlightenment – the process of realizing the true essence of our human nature.


Why Mindfulness Meditation?

Because Mindfulness Meditation is particularly different and beneficial!

It is important to point out that the history of meditative practice dates back thousands of years, hence rich in variety, approaches, and styles.  Mindfulness meditation is different from most other meditation practices in that it trains us to skillfully develop a greater sense of attention, insight, and appreciation for the present moment experience – the only real moment in which we are alive!

We spend most of our life not really being aware of the present moment experience. We are very distracted and pressed by our frantic lifestyles that we lose connection with our humanity and sense of balance, well-being, and openness to life.  We live most of our days on auto-pilot, not really aware of the richness and beauty of every moment we have. This mindlessness of the moment,  being habitually distracted, causes us much unhappiness, a sense of lack of true joy and fulfillment, and a disconnection from our nature as human Beings.  We are lost in our busyness and have forgotten how to be human, and fully connect with life.

Mindfulness meditation, in helping us bring full attention to the present moment, helps us reclaim our lives. It increases our capacity to be aware and in tune with our experiences, our feelings and emotions, our body, our mind and spirit. With mindfulness, we learn how to reconnect with ourselves, with life, and our humanity.

Since our lives are lived only in the present, by not being aware of the present moment, we are not really aware of our lives. It is only when we become more aware of our experiences that we really see what is happening in our selves, in our lives, and in our relationships, and the world at large. Mindfulness helps us wake up to the reality of our lives. Because of this gained sense of awareness, we can then address, respond, and when needed, redirect ourselves to a happier, more grounded and joyous life journey.

Mindfulness meditation is also particularly different in that it actually redesigns the landscape of our brain, our mind, and body with each practice. Since we now know that the brain continues to grow and change with experience over time, the type of experiences we chose determine the quality and type of changes our brain, mind, and body can make.

The key element of intentionally paying attention to our experience, which is central to mindfulness practice, is what helps the brain grow new synapses thus enriching brain potentiality and improving our overall well-being. By directly affecting the prefrontal lobes of the brain, mindfulness meditation helps increase the modulation of emotions, insight, self-reference, fear, stress, intuition and pain management, hence impacting positively our sense of physical, emotional, relational and mental well-being.

Changing our brain structure and function to improve our quality of life is not a fantasy. Mindfulness meditation is one of the keys!


Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

Regular and committed mindfulness meditation practice can provide the following well-being benefits:

  • improved concentration and focus
  • reduced emotional reactivity
  • increased sense of awareness
  • reduced mental and physical stress
  • greater immune response
  • increased cognitive abilities
  • increased rate of healing
  • greater empathy
  • improved memory
  • better pain management and sensitivity
  • a greater sense of physical and mental well-being
  • inner-peace and happiness

Although these are well-documented benefits derived from mindfulness meditation practice, the key element for their success is practice.

Regular daily practice, especially if supported by an experienced teacher, is necessary in order to begin reaping the life-changing benefits this ancient and wise practice has to offer.


My Meditation Journey

My spiritual journey dates back to my childhood thanks to the amazing blessing of being born to parents who devoted their entire lives to spiritual service, and who nourished my young searching spirit with love and care. In my late teens, inspired by the reading of the Tao Te Ching and by the practice of a mystic style of Kung Fu, I became interested in meditation and began experimenting with it after a series of spontaneous meditative states which I cultivated intuitively for years.

After moving to California in 1986, I continued practicing and studying without a formal teacher. In 2003, moved by a growing desire to deepen my spiritual journey, I embarked on a committed path of formal training and practice of Buddhism in the Zen tradition, taking vows as a layperson. Subsequently, I also studied in the Tibetan (Vajrayana) tradition and Vipassana tradition, specifically in Mindfulness meditation with a variety of Western and Easter teachers.

Over the last fifteen years, I have maintained a regular meditation practice, participated in many multi-day and week-long meditation retreats (both silent and not), Dharma study intensives, and meditation training workshops, and maintained an ongoing connection with Eastern and Western teachers.

Moved by the deep impact of meditation practice in my life, I started teaching meditation in 2010 with the support and encouragement of my teacher Peter Fenner.

I am a Certified Mindfulness Teacher through the Mindfulness Training Institute and currently completing the very first two-year-long Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program taught by Jack Kornfeld and Tara Brach, with graduation in February 2019.


Gratitude

My infinite gratitude for the blessing of Dharma and meditation guidance goes to Peter Fenner, Rupert Spira, and Ken Bradford  (in the Nondual Wisdom traditions). To Jian Hu Shifu (in the Ch’an (Zen) tradition). To Anam Thubten Rinpoche (in the Vajrayana tradition). And to Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Mark Coleman, Martin Aylward, Trudy Goodman, and James Baraz (in the Vipassana/Insight tradition).

About Andrea

I am a meditation teacher, nondual coach and facilitator, workshop/retreat leader, as well as offer meditation guidance.