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SIMPLE MEDITATION & RELAXATION
By Joel Levey, Michelle Levey
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1999 Michelle Levey and Joel Levey
All rights reserved.
AWAKENING OUR WHOLENESS AND FULL POTENTIAL
A human being is part of the whole called by us "universe," a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts, and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in all of its beauty.... We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humankind is to survive.
In each of our lives there have been times when we have experienced a deeper sense of connectedness, wholeness, and belonging than we ordinarily find. Most likely, those extraordinary moments of deeper wisdom, love, and aliveness came unexpectedly. Pause for a moment to recall those special moments when you were most fully and joyfully alive ... when you felt the exhilaration of performing at your best ... when you allowed your heart to open tenderly to love and be loved ... when you were in the flow and felt in perfect harmony with the world in which you live. Recall those quintessential moments in your life and work that stand out and sparkle ... those times when you really helped someone or when you really allowed someone to care for you ... those times when, for a timeless moment, you glimpsed and understood the awesomeness of creation and your belonging within it.
If we examine the qualities of our aliveness during these special times, we will probably find that our attention was wholly focused on what was happening, and that our mind and body were operating as one. These are the very qualities that are cultivated, matured, and awakened in our lives through the practices of meditation. Remembering and appreciating moments that have allowed us to know and feel life more deeply serves to remind us of what is possible. Such moments of deep recognition awaken within us an aspiration to awaken to the authenticity and fullness of who we truly are, and may further lead us to devote our lives to helping others to do the same.
Through the disciplines of meditation, we intentionally nurture and cultivate sublime qualities of vivid aliveness that are otherwise only glimpsed in moments of grace and peak experience. Generally speaking, our attention is quite scattered and our lives fragmented. Our minds and bodies seem disconnected from each other. We are often lost in our thoughts and only superficially in touch with the reality and intensity of our inner and outer experiences. How often are our minds focused, calm, clear, or open enough to discern the exquisitely profound interplay of inspiration, intuition, and revelation that are a natural, though very subtle, part of our lives? How many valuable insights, breakthrough ideas, and inspirations have danced in our mind, shimmered for a moment in lucid clarity, only to vanish because the noise level in our mindbody was simply too high to discern these subtle and sublime whispers that are an ongoing function of our human life? How many problems might be avoided if we were more grounded in our wholeness and more present—"checked in" rather than "checked out"—and more in touch with ourselves, with others, and with our surroundings?
Though our bodies are really not very different from those of our ancestors, we live in a dramatically different and infinitely more demanding world. In a single day we may be challenged to respond to more information and make more decisions than one of our ancestors faced in a lifetime! Given the accelerating rate of change and uncertainty, the immensity of personal and global crises, and the staggering variety of choices and decisions that are a part of our daily lives, is it any wonder that we often feel overwhelmed and frustrated?
With so many people in our society needlessly suffering and dying of preventable stress-related diseases, is it any wonder that so much attention is being directed to investigating practical alternatives to current ways of living and working that have been so personally and globally destructive? We in modern times have much to learn about self-knowledge and self-mastery.
It is no surprise that so many people are seeking to get in touch with deeper, life-giving forces, and that skills in meditation and relaxation are becoming recognized as vital to our peace of mind and the quality of our health, work, and relationships.
DEVELOPING THE MIND
The greatest revolution in our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.
Our friend Charles Tart, a pioneer in the scientific research of consciousness, once said, "We don't understand the operations of our minds and hence we don't operate them very well." While many people regard the state of their mind as an unalterable "given," our research and experience has demonstrated that "upgrades" in the quality of attention, intelligence, creativity, and other mental capabilities can be dependably achieved through proper training and discipline. Motivated individuals are capable not only of improving their health but of building their "brain power," enhancing creativity, extending the length and quality of their lives, awakening greater empathy and compassion, and expanding the scope of their contribution to the world. While the multiple and complex dilemmas of modern life present multiple challenges and needs, the inner sciences of mindbody development offer a variety of profoundly practical and compassionate solutions. Once "online" and integrated into our lives, these inner skills are generative, self-reinforcing, inexpensive, portable, reliable, easily diffusible and value-adding as they breathe life and vitality into virtually every personal and professional situation.
Regardless of the work we do or the position that we hold, our mindbody is our primary instrument. This is a truly miraculous, mysterious, and universal tool of infinite potential. With it we create and guide the use of all other tools. Yet growing up, in school, or on the job, few of us learned even the most basic skills for assuring its optimal maintenance and fine-tuning.
Consider—did your parents, teachers, health care providers, or clergy ever teach you techniques to let go of stress and tension, to harness and focus the power of your mind, or to gain deep insight through meditation? Did they themselves practice or even know of the value of these profound and useful skills? Most likely not. Lacking an education in even the basics of these skills, most of us have been virtually illiterate when it comes to the inner arts and sciences. Yet times are changing and, due to many factors, interest in these fundamental human disciplines has skyrocketed over the past thirty years.
Faced with the growing complexity of the modern marketplace we are required to think, gather, and process information, evaluate, communicate, and act at increasingly high speeds. When the situational demands—work-related, social, physiological, or psychological—exceed our capabilities to adequately respond, we experience strain and distress. Barely equipped to cope, let alone break through to higher and sustained levels of performance, many people become caught in a downward spiral that depletes their vitality and undermines their health. As a consequence, we are witnessing a growing epidemic of stress-related diseases and a host of related accidents, problems, and liabilities for business and society. The more intense our distress, the poorer the quality of the attention, judgment, creativity, and skill that we bring to our work, and the more mistakes we make. Similarly, the greater our distress level, the more likely it is that we will face conflict in our relationships or develop a life-threatening disease.
According to recent research, as much as 95 percent of disease is stress- and lifestyle-related. Assistant Surgeon General William Fogey told us that two-thirds of all disability and death prior to the age of 65 is preventable—and many researchers would extend this to 85 years. So the good news is that if you really care about the quality of your life and health, you can make a difference!
Every moment of the day our mindbody is providing us with the information and inspiration needed to avert most of our problems. Learning to listen to this subtle stream of inner whispers gives us access to both warning signs and intuitive insights which, properly monitored and taken to heart, can cue us into recognizing the raw material for breakthroughs in creative design and problem-solving, as well as alert us to the early warning signs of accumulating stress or encroaching disease. All too often, however, the sensitive mental and physical circuitry of most individuals is so overloaded that the subtle whispers of insight and revelation that are a natural part of our life are ignored. We wait until the whispers of tension in our bodies, our relationships, and our world have become heart-wrenching screams of pain before we wake up, fully acknowledge them, and take action to restore harmony and balance. So much needless suffering could be avoided if we only learned to listen to the whispers and didn't wait for the screams!
How many moments of struggle, pain, and grief—how many billions of dollars and years of research and development—would be saved if we, as individuals and organizations, devoted more attention to refining and developing our capabilities for being truly present, and for increasing awareness through the inner technologies of mental development?
When we consider the enormous costs and damages incurred by our bodies, our relationships, our businesses, and our environment, or the multitude of valuable insights and breakthrough ideas we have missed because our inner noise level was so high, it may inspire us to learn and practice the skills presented in this book. Can we afford to not listen to the inner warnings and inspirations that may determine the course of our personal, organizational, or global future?
The disciplines of inner transformational work empower us because they are about learning to change the world from the inside out. Gandhi once said, "We must be the change that we want to see in our world." Speaking at Harvard University, the Dalai Lama, one of our most inspiring teachers, said:
In this century, human knowledge is extremely expanded and developed but this is mainly knowledge of the external world.... We spend a large amount of the best human brain power looking outside—too much, and it seems we do not spend adequate effort to look within, to think inwardly.... Perhaps now that the Western sciences have reached down into the atom and out into the cosmos finally to realize the extreme vulnerability of all life and value, it is becoming credible, even obvious, that the Inner Science is of supreme importance. Certainly physics designed the bombs, biology the germ warfare, chemistry the nerve gas, and so on, but it will be the unhealthy emotions of individuals that will trigger these horrors. These emotions can only be controlled, reshaped, and rechanneled by technologies developed from successful Inner Science.
TOOLS FOR INNER WORK
This book is designed as a collection of tools for the inner work of enhancing the quality of the many dimensions of our lives. Learning to quiet the noise in the body through relaxation greatly enhances our successful practice of meditation. By practicing the skills of dynamic relaxation, we learn to master stress and recognize and reduce unproductive tensions and anxieties in our lives. By freeing ourselves from the burden of accumulated tensions and inner conflicts, we are better equipped to rest and renew ourselves, to think more clearly, keep stress from accumulating, increase our efficiency and productivity, and generally enhance our overall well-being.
On this foundation, we can begin to cultivate the disciplines of meditation presented in this book. Here you will find a wide variety of meditation practices inspired by many teachers and traditions. For simplicity, we have organized the sequence of training into five general categories:
Concentration Meditation—the focused mind; Mindfulness Meditation—presence of mind; Reflective Meditation—the inquiring mind; Creative Meditation—the transformative mind; and Heart-centered Meditation—the mind of loving-kindness.
Approached in this way, meditation techniques enable us to build the power and peace of mind needed to awaken insight and understanding. Awakening and embodying wisdom is the true goal of meditation. This awakening is necessary to consciously recognize and transform the harmful or unproductive patterns of our lives, and to consciously strengthen the mind's full potential for wisdom, love, power, and creative compassion. As we develop a deeper understanding, our appreciation for the true nature and potential of ourselves and others grows; inner and outer conflicts diminish; and we become more joyful, creative, and effective in living life, helping others, and stewarding the world.
Quality relationships are both the foundation and the fruit of meditation practice: by reducing the turbulence in our outer lives, we reduce the turbulence and stress in our minds and bodies. When our body is relaxed and our mind is calm and clear, we are better able to live mindfully, think and listen deeply, and awaken greater wisdom and compassion through our meditations, which in turn improve the quality of relationships.
At the end of the book we have included a reference for resources to support your continued inquiry and learning, and to offer additional ideas and strategies for exploring the many streams of these practices. We have also provided an index of the various meditations described in this book so that you may easily find and refer to specific ones.
RELAXATION, PEAK PERFORMANCE, AND BEYOND
This book is a mental-fitness manual for everyone interested in learning methods to enhance their health and performance, master stress, and deepen their appreciation of life. It is also a handbook for those who wish to understand and master these skills in order to teach them to others or to equip themselves to make a greater contribution to the world. Whatever your motivation, you will find that the ideas and techniques in this collection have been presented with an emphasis on their practical applications in our busy, modern lives, while preserving a sense of the depth and sacredness traditionally associated with the inner arts of personal development. We suggest that you ponder these ideas with your intellect, contemplate their meaning and value in your heart, and test and confirm their profound practicality in the laboratory or the playing field of your daily life, work, and relationships.
If you are primarily interested in physical relaxation or in learning to stay centered, calm, and focused amid the chaos of daily life, you will find many of these techniques highly effective. If exploring the nature and potential of your mindbody is important to you, there are methods to ripen that understanding. If improving your mental and physical performance or building healthier and more harmonious relationships is of significance to you, there are many strategies that will help you in these arenas as well. And if you approach this inquiry with a heartfelt sense of devotion, a sincere yearning to deepen your spiritual insight and to awaken within yourself a sense of universal compassion that empowers you to be of greater service to others, many of these methods will serve as a vehicle to transform and open your heart-mind to new dimensions of wisdom, wonder, love, and inner strength.
FIELD-TESTED WISDOM AND METHODS
Over the past thirty years, we have had the rare opportunity to study and practice closely with great teachers from many of the world's religious and contemplative traditions. From these remarkable men and women we have learned thousands of effective techniques for developing the full potential of the human mindbody. In many cases these methods have been practiced, cherished, and preserved with inspiring results for millennia.
Many of these revered masters and respected researchers of the inner arts and sciences encouraged us to carry what they had taught us back into our world. We have treasured what they shared with us and with their guidance and blessings, have shared what we have learned with tens of thousands of people around the globe. Following the examples of many of our teachers, our lives have been blessed with times of travel, teaching, consulting, and service work in the world, and with times of intensive, quiet cloistered retreat. Over the years, we have each spent a total of about three years in intensive silent meditation retreats and have maintained a discipline of a daily meditation practice, both of which have deeply influenced and guided our work in the world.
This book contains a distillation of over a hundred methods that we have found personally and professionally effective. The contemporary renaissance of interest in matters of mental health and fitness, spirit, and consciousness has brought these methods of relaxation and meditation out of caves, monasteries, and remote cultures into medical centers, meeting rooms, research institutions, and the mainstream of modern life. These skillful methods have been scientifically studied and demonstrated to be highly effective for enhancing health and mental and physical performance, awakening creativity, and tapping the life- and vitality-giving forces of our lives. They are also effective antidotes to the epidemic of stress-related diseases, anxiety, hostility, loneliness, depression, dysfunctional behavior, and existential yearning that plague our complex and rapidly changing world.
Excerpted from SIMPLE MEDITATION & RELAXATION by Joel Levey, Michelle Levey. Copyright © 1999 Michelle Levey and Joel Levey. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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