Read an Excerpt
100 Daily Meditations for Health, Stress Relief, and Everyday Joy
By Tobin Blake
New World LibraryCopyright © 2012 Tobin Blake
All rights reserved.
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One day when I was first learning meditation, I stood on the rear porch of my father's home overlooking Oregon's looping McKenzie River and watched as the sun faded over the mountains to the west. While I was growing up in Los Angeles, the city felt like a vast, hardened prison from which no escape seemed possible. Back then, my only moments of release came while gazing across the Pacific Ocean, where humans and their works ended, and nature and hers began — toward the freedom of the open horizon.
Likewise, here was the grand McKenzie River, carving its course with no mind for people, time, or obstacles of any type. Set a mountain in front of this river, and it would chew the mountain into a valley. I appreciate that spirit! At the time, I did not realize what enchanted my eye so, but now I know what it was. It was not the beauty of the land, the sweep of the river, or the sunset. It was the freedom of the moment that hooked me. For just one instant, I lost myself to life's flow and experienced a peace unlike any I had felt before.
You have probably had moments like this too, when you have "lost yourself" and perhaps even felt touched by some mysterious, magnetic force that seemed to connect with your own life from somewhere deep within. For most people, these moments are like glimpses through a window that is ordinarily hidden but that serves to remind us that there is far more to life than what we can see, touch, or hear. They are mystical moments that, in a flash, infuse life with meaning and a renewed sense of purpose.
The practice of meditation is the practice of actively making yourself open to this experience and the far more compelling states that can follow, for this common, passing experience is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to inner space. Practiced actively, meditation can lead to states of sublime peace and profound joy that are so powerful, they defy description. Hindus, who have been meditating for thousands of years, refer to these ecstatic meditative states as samadhi. During meditation, you switch your focus from the external world — with its complexity, constant stress, and sense of separation — toward the internal world, which is the opposite in every respect. Through this shift you may discover that just beyond our ordinary human awareness, life is a vast, interconnected network that exists in a state of peaceful union. Essentially, through meditation you learn that you are not a physical being living a temporary life of separation from the rest of the world, but a spirit living an eternal life of union with every living creature in the universe. You are a part of them, and they are a part of you.
This realization is impossible to describe because there is no parallel experience in the world to compare it to, making it doubly difficult to understand intellectually. Deep meditation has been likened to orgasm, but I think this analogy is misleading. Rather, I would say it is akin to the instant immediately preceding the release of orgasm, except that it never ceases to build in intensity and depth, and the experience has a certain purity and innocence that sex does not. After twenty years of devoted meditation, I am still wondering how deep the rabbit hole goes. I am gradually coming to believe that to be in tune with Spirit is to be in tune with an ever-expanding creative impulse to forever let go, to forever give oneself away. As for the sensations this expansive impulse creates, if the mainstream populace suspected the kind of intense joy that meditation can trigger, people would be knocking down the doors of their local meditation center to learn its secrets. It's no wonder that the practice has proved so effective at promoting health and healing. Happiness and peace boost the immune system naturally.
This book is set up to do more than merely introduce you to the practice of meditation on a theoretical level. It has been divided into three sections. Part 1, "Understanding Meditation," will acquaint you with all the essential ABCs of meditative practice, and will help you understand what meditation is and how you can use it to live a happier, healthier life. Part 2, "Developing Your Technique," consists of the first thirty exercises of the hundred-day journey that forms the backbone of this book. This section will give you a thorough, hands-on introduction to the world's major meditative techniques, allowing you to discover the joys of the practice firsthand. There is really no other way to learn meditation. And if you already meditate, the exercises will help you to diversify your practice and take it to the next level.
Although meditation is easy enough in theory, without the right tools it can seem to be just the opposite. Many people who begin meditation give up before realizing all it can offer them. This is because there can be tremendous psychological resistance at first. Many meditation teachings instruct students only in the bare techniques, such as mantra, zazen, mindfulness, and visualization, and offer very little help in overcoming the obstacles to deep meditative states. This book is different. While it does teach the ABCs and techniques, part 3, "Reprogramming the Waterfall," will take you beyond the forms of meditation and help you release your own psychological resistance so that you can develop a deep and lasting meditative practice.
Together, the three sections of this book provide a hands-on experiential journey into the meditative experience, as well as presenting a spiritual mind-training system for living a more conscious, peace-filled life. The system focuses on three primary objectives:
1. Daily practice. This may seem obvious, but you might be surprised by how many people believe they can get something by reading books about meditation without ever actually trying it. Take my word on this point up front — you can't! You do have to meditate, and regularly, to benefit from it. The good news is that the benefits are incredible. In fact, meditation is one of the very best things you can do to improve both your physical and psychological health. It's right up there with quitting smoking. The trick is, just like with exercise, you have to do it. This is an active book that contains one hundred daily meditations to help you take this step. Think of these hundred days as a journey of self-discovery that has been set up not only to get you meditating but also to assist you in rooting out and healing the hurts and fears you have accumulated over many years. Doing so will bring you peace and increase the power of your meditative experiences many times over.
2. Understand and deal with the resistance. To achieve deep meditative states, you will have to uncover the things that hold you back. We all have some resistance to meditation. As you press toward the center of your being, which is the direction of meditation, you will have to work your way through many layers of resistance. This is what makes meditation feel like work — and make no mistake, it is work. It is self-work of the highest order: conscious personal development. By learning how to meditate, you are embarking on a powerful journey of healing unlike anything else in the world. Meditation takes you inward, directly into contact with your core self (spirit) — an experience that is purifying, empowering, and often exhilarating. An incredible power flows from core self, and aligning yourself with it can change your life in an instant. We'll talk more about core self later. For now, you need to know that besides getting you to practice meditation daily, this book is designed to assist you in the process of uncovering the root causes behind your natural resistance to meditation.
3. Reprogram the waterfall. If you already meditate, you are no doubt familiar with the endless stream of thoughts that runs in the background of your mind. This stream of word stuff is so constant that Buddhists call it the "waterfall of thought" because the sound is as steady as the drone of a roaring waterfall — endless and deafening. When you first start meditating, it may even seem as if your thoughts are speeding up; however, this is not the case. You are only becoming more aware of the constant activity of thought. Some people try to force discipline upon their thoughts, but this is rarely successful. You cannot shut down the waterfall of thought stuff. However, you can change its content. Most people's thoughts are substantially composed of negative programming — the products of unhealed guilt, fear, and anger. Such emotions are inherently antithetical to peace, which is the state of meditation. Therefore, negative thoughts make meditation difficult. To deepen your meditations, it is vital to change the background thoughts of your mind to reflect gentleness and other positive emotions. The one hundred meditations that follow are designed to help you begin this process of reprogramming. In a sense, this book is not only about meditation; it is also a course in mind training. Reprogramming your inner dialogue will help you in other ways besides improving your meditative practice. By exchanging a negative waterfall of thought for a positive one, you will see how your whole life can be transformed, for negative thoughts not only interfere with meditative practice but also affect everything in our lives, including our health, happiness, and relationships.
There are many great reasons to meditate. Modern science has been exploring meditation for decades, and what it has found is startling. Some things are obvious: During meditation, blood pressure and heart rate decrease, respiration slows, and alpha wave activity in the brain increases (indicating a peaceful state). In general, stress levels drop, an effect that alone could save consumers billions of dollars in health care costs annually. Some estimates suggest that over 90 percent of doctor visits are linked to unmanaged stress.
Besides the more generic effect of stress relief, it has been discovered that meditation also produces physical changes in the body. In one study, published in the journal NeuroImage, a group of UCLA researchers discovered that the hippocampus and areas within the orbito-frontal cortex of meditators were enlarged, indicating that the brain is physically affected by the practice. Talk about expanding your mind! The cortex is associated with higher human functions like decision making, positive emotion, and memory.
Other recent groundbreaking research delved even deeper into the biological effects of regular meditation. In collaboration with the Genomics Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, researchers at the BensonHenry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital discovered that meditation reaches straight to the root of our biological programming — our genes themselves. They reported significant differences in the expressions of more than 2,200 genes between meditators and nonmeditators. Some of these genes included those responsible for inflammation, the handling of free radicals, and programmed cell death, three killers that act as Father Time's right-hand henchmen when it comes to aging and disease. Herbert Benson, MD, the center's director, said of the findings, "Now we've found how changing the activity of the mind can alter the way basic genetic instructions are implemented." This is a powerful statement. For many years, researchers have pondered meditation's extraordinary healing effects, which were easily detectable through rudimentary experiments. Now we are finally digging below the surface effects of meditation and uncovering some of the deeper causes behind the physical health benefits. Somehow, meditation is reshaping the very building blocks of our bodies.
The horizon of emerging meditation research appears to be no less promising. We are learning more every day. For instance, in an interview on the national radio show Speaking of Faith, Doris Taylor, MD, cited preliminary research into meditation's incredible effect on stem cells. Taylor is a cardiac researcher best known for resurrecting the dead heart of a rat by injecting it with stem cells. These cells are now considered one of the primary keys to aging and disease. Basically, as our stem cells die off, we age, and stress literally destroys these cells. When it comes to slowing aging, then, stem cells are genetic gold. In essence, the younger your stem cells are, the younger, biologically speaking, you are. Meditation may be doing a couple of things here. For one, it slows the process of stem cell aging simply by alleviating stress; however, there appears to be more to the story than that. It turns out that meditation may increase the number of stem cells in the blood. During a preliminary study at the University of Wisconsin, researchers noted a significant spike in the number of stem cells in the bloodstream of an experienced meditator after just fifteen minutes of practice. Mind you, this was not a well-controlled, double-blind study meant for publication, but a casual investigation by a group of curious scientists. That said, the results were stunning. During the interview, Taylor, who was barely able to conceal her excitement, called it "the largest increase [of stem cells] I've ever seen."
This may help explain some of meditation's major impacts on our health. Regular practitioners can expect the following:
A 33 percent decrease in the chance of stroke
A 50 percent decrease in overall cancer rates
A decrease of up to 80 percent in the rate of heart disease — America's number one killer of both men and women
No medication currently on the market shows such remarkable and widespread healing effects, and this is to say nothing of the psychological benefits of the practice. While meditation is clearly good for the body, it's also great for the mind. People who meditate regularly report a greater overall sense of satisfaction with their lives and relationships, and lower incidence and severity of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. This translates to real life as less pain and more joy. Simply put, meditation is the very best of natural medicine, and it has absolutely no negative side effects.
It's rare that anything in this world can offer so much and yet cost so little. In fact, there is no direct cost. To achieve the results that will lead you to a happier, healthier life, all that is needed is consistency. Your practice doesn't need to be perfect. Just do it, every day.
Beyond committing to regular practice, the most helpful attitude is to regard meditation as an unfolding journey that involves expanding your consciousness away from ego-centered awareness and toward Spirit-centered awareness. This is a gentle progression. Have patience and trust the process. During meditation, you close your eyes and turn your attention inward, away from the world and toward the inner landscape of your life, your mind, and ultimately your core self. It is during this sacred communion with your true self, which exists in a state of peace at the center of your being — independent of ego, personality, and your body — that you begin to heal your inner wounds and grow in the most profound sense of the word. In this respect, the journey of meditation is the most sacred journey any of us could make. It is a journey of healing — of coming to peace with the world, our relationships, and ultimately ourselves. By communing with our core self, we are simultaneously connecting with the unfathomable Source energy that is the creative force behind every heart-beat, every breath, and every living atom of the universe.
Pause and reflect on this. Meditation reconnects you consciously with the energy that brought all life into being. Our connection with Source has never been broken. We could not live without it. However, most people are completely unaware that this connection even exists. Meditation can be thought of as an exercise that cleans and polishes your link to Source. This is what makes it such a profound healing practice. Through this ancient, time-honored exercise, you are literally attempting to connect, in full awareness, with the Power that brought all life into existence, both physical and nonphysical — the galaxies and planets; the countless stars that light our night sky; the billions of people, animals, and insects that populate our world and all the others; and every cell that makes up your own body. The magnitude of creation is impossible to grasp from a human perspective, but as you align yourself with Source, its life-giving energy flows through you — healing you at every level and infusing you with a sense of new life and new purpose. This energy is already a part of you. All you need to do is learn how to release the inner blocks that keep you unaware of it.
Excerpted from Everyday Meditation by Tobin Blake. Copyright © 2012 Tobin Blake. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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