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This experience left me with a lingering respect for and curiosity about meditation.


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A book by David D. Burns about anxiety recently reawakened this curiosity. Besides that, Burns himself drew some parallels with Buddhism in his discussions of fear. So I decided to look into it.


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  • I was surprised by what I found. Instead, you just try to focus on your breath. You breathe in, breathe out, and try to keep your attention on the present moment. My mind is like a boiling, bubbling cauldron. Memories randomly appear; fearful fantasies flash into being; my to-do list nags me; an itch on my head irritates; my leg is falling asleep; a sound triggers an association; a smell makes me think of food; and spasms of impatience surge through me as the time wears on. Just sitting there noticing what happens in my head, and letting it all pass through me, has been tremendously interesting.

    I realize that my very brain is not totally under my control. Things are always happening in there, constantly, spontaneously, which draw my attention from the moment; and it takes effort not to get sucked in. You can make anything your object of meditation. You can focus on sounds, sights, tactile sensations, or the taste of an apple. You can focus on fear, anger, sadness, joy, on fantasies or memories. Anything in your life can be the object of meditation, as long as you use it as an opportunity to reconnect with the present moment.

    Meditation gives you the self-awareness—not through conceptual discussion, but first-hand experience—to learn what your mind is doing and how to interrupt your habitual patterns. What I find especially appealing is the philosophy. Through the attempt to reconnect with the moment, you realize how much of your experience is transformed by the conceptual overlay you put on top of it.

    Our heads are full of judgments, opinions, beliefs. We are constantly telling stories about our lives, with ourselves as the protagonist. Have you ever had an experience like this?

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    When I was in college, I accepted a job doing surveys over the phone. But I was extremely nervous about it. I imagined respondent after respondent yelling at me, hanging up on me, and my manager angry at me and chastising me, and me having a breakdown and getting fired. But when I finally did make myself go, shivering with fear, and when I finally made myself call, my voice quaking, I realized that I could do it.

    What seemed impossible in my imagination was easy in reality. In fact, I ended up loving that job.

    How to Meditate Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind

    And the present moment is so different, and so much richer, than all the wild fantasies in our minds. My hunch is that we evolved our novelistic imagination as a way of avoiding danger by running scenarios. She is practical, encouraging, and inspiring. I encourage anyone whose curious to try it. Meditation is not about believing certain things. View all 20 comments. This is a book to come back to time and time again. Best digested in small doses I usually start out slow and then get pulled in and read it all at once.

    I'm sure I'll be back to read this again the next time I'm looking for help or inspiration.

    Jan 02, Clara rated it really liked it. This is a solid foundational too for someone who is learning to meditate. The five discs include actual meditation sessions in real time, which feature guidance by Pema during the meditations. Even if you're not a novice meditator, you'll find useful advice and new information. I found the last two discs to be the most helpful because meditations increased in sophistication, Pema seemed to integrate more dharma teachings into the meditation instruction.

    Pema is specific and very clear both in her This is a solid foundational too for someone who is learning to meditate. Pema is specific and very clear both in her instructions and discussing the bigger picture of Buddhist meditation. For example, new meditators may be surprised to learn that Buddhist meditation is not about achieving a state of bliss, or emptying the mind of thoughts, or complete relaxation. As usual, Pema takes her subject, but not herself, seriously.

    And by using her own experiences, both her struggles with meditation and the ways she's worked through them, make the learning more intimate and personal. This book is deep yet so simple. It explains in comfortable detail how you can rewire your mind through the practice of meditation. The author is a practitioner of Buddishm but it is easy to look past that or even embrace it to understand the message. Somehow I had always confused relaxation and meditation but now I see that they are two different things entirely.

    Become enlightened. I really liked the meditation exercises and how Pema Chodron reinforces being gentle and loving to yourself. This ran hot and cold for me. On one hand, while I appreciate that Chodron provided guidance on some of the more basic "how to meditate" practices, I didn't always agree. I've only just begun my meditation practice, however, but I am also looser about it and feel pretty secure in there being no one right way to meditate. What really landed with me was her discussion of how to handle emotions while meditating. I tried reading one short chapter a day almost all chapters are very short until my life got topsy-turvy with this move, and then I realized it might be better if I read through it once to get the gist and then return to the chapters I need.

    Sounds True - How to Meditate with Pema Chödrön

    Many chapters, but not all, provide exercises on how to hone your practice--I wish those were a little more consistent, but they do provide an example of how to structure your meditation when you need it. So, in the end, I was glad I read this, but I'm not necessarily going to let it lock me in. View 2 comments. I first read up on and tried meditation in the '90s during grad school. And I now know that I did what many beginners do - I quit after a particularly glorious experience that I was unprepared for.

    The vast majority of meditation guides instruct on the proper posture and focus on breathing. As far as I can tell, there's much more diversity in direction as meditation has been secularized into a Western self-help method of dealing with modern stress.

    Does Meditation Really Affect Your Brain?

    I'm physically unable to hold anything like the traditional meditation posture. And as one who breathes with a trach and ventilator, much of the typical instruction about focusing on the breath is impossible or leads me directly back to my greatest source of anxiety. For example, instructions to focus on the breath leaving the nostrils, the centering sensation of a long exhale, or the feeling of breath in the belly are senseless and alien to my present physical self. And as a beginner, asking me to turn my attention to my biggest anxiety?

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    Not helpful. Breathing is a focus because of its impermanence and changeability, not because you can regulate it into something calming. Then she introduces sound, emotion, tasks, and any sensation as a possible focus for meditation practice. Her gentle guidance doesn't just begrudgingly note you could use a chair or lie down if the traditional posture is difficult, as so many guides do. She shows how meditation is, in each moment, working with what your reality is.

    Got anxiety? Try looking at it. Or gently move on. Focusing on breath doesn't work in your practice? Try sound. Even if a meditation practice isn't a goal, I recommend this book for the versatility of approach to self-awareness. Dec 26, Teesa rated it it was amazing. I quote "We meditate in order to remove the root of suffering.

    Getting to the root of suffering begins with the returning to the present moment, with coming back to the breath. This is where expansion can occur.