In uncertain times, meditation may be the ticket to change your outlook — and your physical health
People cope with stress in many different ways. For some, it’s an after-work cocktail (or six). Others enjoy a long, hot bath in the warm glow of candles. A professional massage might be even better.
Yet so many of us never take the time to relax in any way, leaving us anxious, irritable and often depressed.
Taking a little time each day to unwind and free your mind of all the useless information, petty problems and never-ending to-do lists can not only make you feel better mentally and physically, but many experts believe that some form of meditation can improve your quality of life, and even extend your years on earth while you’re at it.
Meditation in its purest form is growing in popularity as a way of relaxing and opening one’s mind to new possibilities; yoga also has similar meditative benefits.
Brother ChiSing, M.Div., is the spiritual director and founder of Awakening Heart, a Dallas-based spiritual ministry inspired by the universal teachings and practices of the contemporary Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, and his "Order of Interbeing," which is composed of both lay and monastic members worldwide.
Awakening Heart’s meditation group has always had close ties to the LGBT community.
"When we first started our meditation group in Dallas, it was 90 percent LGBT because it was first held at the Cathedral of Hope," says ChiSing. "When we moved to the Unity Church of Dallas, we grew in numbers and we are now one of the largest meditation groups in North Texas, but it became more like 50/50."
According to ChiSing, the "big three" reasons for meditation are 1) real inner peace that lasts; 2) spiritual evolution and enlightenment (to realize who we really are — not the self, but the Self); and 3) to visualize and manifest a better life and a better world of abundance, happiness and harmony where no one is left out.
Referring specifically to the LGBT community, ChiSing believes that "meditation is important because it speeds up an individual’s and a society’s ability to evolve to more inclusive, tolerant and affirmative ways of thinking and acting. There is no need to segregate ourselves. We are fully accepted and appreciated here.
Meditation helps us realize our Oneness, not our separateness. If you want the fundamentalists to treat us better, then teach them to meditate. Meditation will help them, and us, to evolve to higher ways of thinking and acting that are more liberal, progressive and accepting. So, meditation is a revolutionary act of deep activism."
At Awakening Heart, they teach meditation to Buddhists, Christians and Interfaith communities, as well as to non-religious secular audiences.
"Meditation is good for anyone and everyone, regardless of beliefs. It is universally beneficial," ChiSing says.
If people need more motivation than simply spiritual well-being, there are plenty of physical benefits that can be attributed to meditation, as well.
"Stay younger-looking and age slower. I am living proof. I look 10 years younger than my actual age," says ChiSing.
He also lists a host of other benefits, including the ability to lose weight, especially if you practice eating meditation and walking meditation; becoming more attractive because of heightened pheromone production, including oxytocin; an increase in the rate of natural healing properties within the body; a better immune system; healthier skin; less sexual compulsion and more sexual fulfillment; less desire for addictions and more desire for a healthy lifestyle.
Bill Kennedy, who leads a meditation group at Awakening Heart, believes that meditating in a group atmosphere is far more effective than meditating alone, but he does offer up a simple way that anyone can use to slow down and meditate just about anywhere.
"Pause whatever you’re doing and take a deep breath," he says. "Let go of thinking about what you are doing and focus on any physical sensations you are aware of. Scan your body and try to take in all of the sensations you are aware of at once.
Now for three breaths, pay attention to the feeling of the air coming in, and then flowing out. You can feel it in various places — the nostrils, the throat, the belly.
Don’t alter the breathing and just focus on the sensations of it. Then allow your mind or awareness to open up to all that is present in your awareness at this moment. Let thoughts and feelings pass by, aware of them but without getting into them. Enjoy this ‘view’ for the next 30 seconds to a minute. Then, let it go and resume your day."
If you practice yoga, you’re getting meditative benefits that you may not have even pegged as true meditation.
"Physical (Hatha) yoga as we practice it requires your full attention," says Brandon Hartsell, CEO of Sunstone Yoga in Uptown. One of his longtime students put it best. "He said, ‘Brandon, I used to be a runner before Sunstone Yoga. The great thing about running is that I can problem solve when I run. The problem with running is that I can problem solve when I run. When I practice yoga, whatever I was doing or thinking prior has to go away. You just can’t problem solve while you are practicing yoga. For many people who meditate the meditation is about being without thought and rumination. Physical yoga has a similar effect."
Yoga, like meditation, works best when practiced daily. For many people, that’s just not a possibility in their lives right now, but if meditation is of any interest it’s a goal worth pursuing.
"We need the energy of the community in meditation as well," ChiSing says, emphasizing the importance of meditating with other people. "Others need us. Without the attitude of wanting to support others, we will not go very far in our own meditation practice."
"Inner peace is not about individual narcissism. Inner peace is for world peace or it is no peace at all."
Awakening Heart meets at Unity Church of Dallas, 6525 Forest Lane. Awakeningheart.org.
Sunstone Yoga at Uptown Plaza, 2907 Routh St. 214-764-2119, Sunstoneyoga.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 20, 2009.