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About the Author
Michel Pascal is a French writer, meditation teacher, photographer, and director of spiritual documentaries. Before moving to the United States, Pascal lived in the Kopan Monastery in the Himalayas. He has spent over 15 years adapting traditional teachings and practices for students around the world. Pascal lives in Los Angeles. Natalie L. Trent, Ph.D. is an author, scientist, and healer and a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School and Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.
Read an Excerpt
Meditation for Daily Stress
10 Practices for Immediate Well-being
By Michel Pascal, Michael Sand
Abrams BooksCopyright © 2017 Michel Pascal
All rights reserved.
practice 1 meditate like the horizon
Unplug your brain when it is running all time
One of the most devastating symptoms of stress is our inability to stop constantly thinking. Thoughts run through our brains day and night. We are slaves of an infernal machine. Every day, we overextend our cognitive capacity, leaving our minds and bodies overstimulated. The pressure to achieve our goals – whether it is to make more money, to stay connected though our phones and computers, to excel in meetings – gets greater and greater, year after year.
For the past hundred years or so, human exhaustion was mostly physical, due to the demands of manual labor; now our fatigue is mostly psychological and neuronal. Neuroscientists like Dr. Mario Beauregard believe that there is a link between our brains running all the time and degenerate illnesses, like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. In a few years, we may see young people struggling with these illnesses usually associated with old age. Just as we can maltreat a muscle with overwork or an organ with alcohol or drugs, we affect the brain's ability to function if we don't take proper care of it. This is especially true in today's world, where we are constantly facing mental stimulation-we probably spend more time looking at a screen than we do into one another's eyes.
This fatigue, this discomfort, day after day, year after year, becomes a neurochemical addiction: We are fooled into thinking that higher stress levels result in a higher quality of work. However, through neuroscience we now know it is exactly the opposite. When we are stressed, we tire more quickly, our minds become cloudy, and we have reduced access to intuition and a lower ability to synthesize information. Making decisions becomes fearful, difficult, and anxiety-prone. When our brain is running all the time, we are in a state of mental confusion, because we have too many toxins. And we find ourselves unable to separate our situations at work from our private lives.
During a typical workday, we receive an overload of information over eight or nine hours of intense and high activity. When we come back home we need to rest, but instead we keep our brains active. We are unable to stop our overworked brains.
We act in the exact opposite manner of that which would benefit our mind, body, and spirit. Just as we take time to exercise and stretch our bodies, we must take time to release the tensions in the mind. This expansion of neuroplasticity in the brain is essential to our mental health.
We would all like to stop this machine and breathe. We would all like to put a stop to this pattern and we are drawn to meditation, yoga, and other techniques to do so. We have tried these experiences, but when we go back to our workplace, our daily life, the benefits simply disappear.
We are in an emergency situation, and we don't know any practices or teaching that will help us cope. We allow stress to slowly destroy us. We need something that we can do to feel better immediately.
We have no choice but to face our computer and be surrounded by pressure and colleagues engulfed in their own stresses. And on top of this, we are simply exhausted; mentally and physically we feel we are unable to do anything, really. And this feeling of hopelessness is at best devastating, and at worst, lethal. It's time to give your mind a rest and to break the pattern of stress addiction.
Visualization: Meditate Like the Horizon
When our brain is running all the time, what is our fantasy? To unplug. To feel fewer waves of emotion, less "up and down."
We need our brainwaves to register as "flat," to reduce our running thoughts to a flat line.
Pure. Quiet. Uncomplicated.
We can meditate like the horizon.
To visualize a horizon, follow the two steps below.
1. Stabilize your mind. Imagine you are seeing a scan of your thought patterns. See the machine that is used to measure the movement of these thoughts. Perhaps it's similar to the way we see a heartbeat; visualize a machine with a black screen and a green line that moves in sync with your thoughts. Now, see this same green line as horizontal, flat. In this moment, our thoughts have stopped, we focus on this visualization, and we unplug from the chaos around us immediately.
The picture of the horizon is a straight line, with no waves, no jolts, no complications.
It is a relaxing mental picture because of its purity and stability. We know that the geometry of this line structures our mind, and hence, changes our cognitive process. And the change is registered in every one of our cells.
In the Middle Ages, workers built cathedrals with special attention and regard to geometry, particularly sacred geometry. They did not design buildings of worship with only beauty in mind; lines were chosen to mimic the sensation of the horizon. This is also true in the Japanese Zen tradition. The lines of the tatami are used to create a sensation of simplicity and purity, like the horizon, to counteract the jolts of information that agitate the mind. So to visualize the horizontal line, the flat brainwave, allows us to find peace immediately.
2. See beyond our reality. Most of the time, we are inside of our daily stress, like being in the ocean, in the waves, and we can't see the horizon. In this situation our vision, our perception of life, is just waves. Visualizing a horizon helps us experience an expanding reality. Yes, we have our problems and our stress, but we see that there is life beyond this stress. The more we visualize the horizon, the more readily we open our minds to another dimension, to a greater perspective. It is like a dilatation of our consciousness.
I have written the instructions below to mirror the way I guide meditation in person. You will feel all my heart, all the inspiration from my lineage, from the monastery where I studied, and from my masters, like Chepa Dorje Rinpoche. The energy will be transmitted through the guidance, and this is so for each practice in this book. This is the idea of phowa, a Tibetan term for the transmission of energy from teacher to disciple.
Just before reading the guidance, take a deep breath, center yourself, and respect this practice, this time you have taken to take care of yourself. Next, read the guidance. It takes just a few seconds. Then close your eyes for a few seconds and remember what you have read; let it come easily, with little effort. The mind is intelligent: It will choose to remember the right information in a way that resonates with you. The guidance is like a prayer, a mantra, to structure your practice, to be connected with the positive, creative energy and the universe around us.
Exercise 1: Unplug
Begin just as you are, sitting down at your desk,
facing your computer,
or in whatever circumstance you find yourself.
Simply stop what you are doing.
Snap your fingers three times, like the sound of three gongs in a monastery.
This is the start of your practice.
At this time, close your eyes.
Visualize your brain activity as a flat, horizontal line.
When you read these words, "Visualize your brain activity as
a flat, horizontal line,"
you stimulate the picture in your brain,
and you send a message to every cell in your body,
and their energy will become "flat," following suit.
You feel more relaxed and quiet.
Every cell in the body is connected to every emotion.
Movement in your emotions is registered in every cell.
So when you visualize your brain activity as flat,
every cell will feel it.
It will be more effective than looking at a beautiful picture,
a real sensation throughout your body.
See the "screen" of your brainwaves.
A flat brainwave.
A pure line.
If thoughts appear,
you will do ...
Nothing at all.
No attachment to your thoughts.
Just let them come and go,
allow them to move naturally,
as clouds in the sky.
You can choose to see these thoughts as "jolts,"
jolts on the dark screen.
Up and down.
Return once again to the flat line.
This will allow you to unplug once more.
return to the flat line as soon as you can.
You are ready to begin the practice. Start with three snaps, then close your eyes. Take a moment to remember what you have read. Do not worry if you cannot remember each detail. This fixation on details is simply another way for the mind to continue to cycle through its preoccupation with running thoughts. Just close your eyes, take a few seconds to remember what has resonated with you, and begin your visualization.
There is no specific amount of time that you should practice this visualization. Stay with your eyes closed as long as you are comfortable. You will feel naturally when it is time to stop. It is normal to lose your visualization after a few minutes, mostly because our mind is not used to the silence, and we become, well, fed up, for lack of a better expression.
The more you practice, the easier you will feel when your body and your mind need to stop. Sometimes you will practice for just a few seconds, or minutes, or more. It is a la carte. The best discipline is to practice every day, regardless of whether you are at work or at home, on a bus or in a park. Any effort at mindfulness, at slowing down, is important for your freedom and happiness.
Now you can close your eyes and visualize your flat brain activity.
CLOSE YOUR EYES
OPEN YOUR EYES
How do you feel?
Immediately more relaxed. With the brainwave visualization, you have stretched the neuroplasticity of your brain. It's like a muscle after a strenuous effort, so you feel more relaxed.
How are your senses?
Around you, the light may seem brighter. The colors may seem more real. You can touch something with your fingers. The tactile sensation on your fingers is more sensitive, more vivid. Why? Because when you practice with visualization, your inner world becomes quiet, and immediately your senses are heightened.
When you visualize how to stop your brain from running all the time, you are more present to your life. You feel better. It's just that simple.
Would you like to know if your visualization worked? It's simple to determine. If, just after the practice, you see more clearly, you listen more clearly, and your tactile sensation is more vivid, that means your visualization has begun to work very well.
If this has not happened, do not fret. As with all things, practice makes perfect. The cycle of running thoughts is a difficult one to break. Be gentle on yourself and continue to practice.
I urge you not to become discouraged. You are the master of your mind, not its slave.
Continue practicing and your mind will strengthen its capacity to be quiet. As with physical exercise, over time you will become stronger and find these practices easier.
Exercise 2: For Running Thoughts
Exercise 2 is an extension of Exercise 1. The first practice was good, but perhaps you would like to feel a deeper sensation of peace and more control of your mental activity, until you can meditate like the horizon (Exercise 3). After the first practice you may see that your running thoughts rush back into your mind. This is normal. Remember, stress and running thoughts are neurochemical addictions. Just as someone who has recently quit smoking may crave a cigarette, your mind needs to feed off of stressful thoughts. To catch these running thoughts after your first practice, follow the visualization below.
Again, begin by reading the guidance, repeat the three snaps, and then close your eyes and visualize.
Begin by visualizing an active brainwave.
Yes, your running thoughts on the dark screen,
as we described them in Exercise 1. See them on the screen,
but don't judge them.
Do not be angry with yourself.
As you visualize your brain activity,
every thought has its own jolt.
There is an evolution of each thought
visualized as a normal curve
with a beginning (the line ascends) and an ending (the line
returns to flat).
It is a mechanism.
Visualize this jolt.
You will see it clearly.
It is an undulation in your brainwave.
Suddenly you visualize your brainwave as flat. You unplug.
And immediately the jolt will stop.
If another thought comes into your mind, like a new jolt,
mentally focus on it.
Follow its pattern
and, when ready, return to visualizing the flat brainwave
so you unplug this jolt,
this disruptive thought.
CLOSE YOUR EYES
OPEN YOUR EYES
How do you feel? When you open your eyes, see how the colors, the light, the sounds around you are more vivid. Why? Because you have stretched your brain, so your senses are more developed.
You can be proud of yourself. With visualization you have stopped the mechanism of undulation, the high and low. You may think it is only modest progress, but maybe for the first time in your life you have started to recognize and control the process of stressful thinking. You have begun to reverse this dangerous habit. You have consciously taken control of your thoughts.
Yes, it is a modest amount of progress, and it may feel new for you. But this little bit of progress proves that you have started to modify your cognitive activity. It proves an incredibly important point: It is possible to change your thoughts with the power of your own mind. This is not a hollow claim to spiritual enlightenment, but a reality that you can experience. And don't forget that every cell in your body has felt this modification. Every cell has received the signal, the neurochemical message that you are not a slave of your brain, but rather its master. This knowledge can save your life.
Why are we so stressed? Because we think it is impossible to be less stressed. We have accepted stress and its effects as "normal." With this visualization you see how it is easy to make vital changes to your thinking. I hope this gives you hope, like a light at the end of a tunnel. This hope can bring you happiness. It should give you a sensation of freedom. Anytime you like, you can repeat this practice and develop the comfort of quieting your own thoughts.
One more time, OK?
Feel free to organize your practice according to your schedule. Yes, you must practice every day; discipline is the key.
But this discipline must be motivated by your desire to be happy, creative, and relaxed.
Exercise 3: Meditate Like the Horizon
This third exercise asks you to see the brainwave line clearly, like a horizon line, and then to transform this line into the horizon.
So, first, read this guidance, and then take a deep breath, as a sign of respect for yourself and this teaching.
Begin just as you are, sitting down at your desk,
facing your computer,
or in whatever circumstance you find yourself.
In a few seconds, you will close your eyes,
to visualize your flat brainwave.
Immediately you will see this flat line,
a pure line,
no jolts, no thoughts.
A line like the horizon.
Like the horizon on a calm ocean.
Just the horizon.
CLOSE YOUR EYES
OPEN YOUR EYES
How do you feel? As with the previous exercises, you should feel more relaxed and more present to the things around you and the sensations and space inside of you. You realize that at your workplace, in your office, you can feel this peace; you can stretch your brain and experience an expanding reality. It is a revolution. Yes, you can feel space, peace, and stability like the horizon, without effort, just by the power of visualization.
Exercise 4: Practice with Your Eyes open, in Any situation
Do you ever find yourself at work, in a meeting, unable to concentrate on what is happening in the moment? Too many thoughts are crossing through your mind. You would like to practice the horizon visualization, but you can't close your eyes, because there are people around you. This meditation exercise is specifically created for those situations. Spirituality must be very concrete, adaptable, and usable in all circumstances. In my Buddhist lineage, the Nyingma tradition, we have a lot of practices that are done with our eyes open. We developed the capacity to be in a relaxed state, like sleep, but with our eyes open.
In fact, many high lamas have glasses, not because their vision is impaired, but because they hide their eyes during certain practices. Many of these practices allow the lamas to send their pupils backwards, only revealing the whites of their eyes. Naturally, this would scare many people, so glasses are used to protect the lamas and those around them.
We know that we are what we visualize. So you can be what you see and use what you see to meditate like the horizon. You have seen that in the guidance the horizontal line enables you to unplug from your thoughts. So if you can focus on any horizontal line with your eyes open, while you are in a meeting with managers or coworkers, it is possible to have the same results. Remember, sacred geometry can be embraced anywhere, anytime.
Excerpted from Meditation for Daily Stress by Michel Pascal, Michael Sand. Copyright © 2017 Michel Pascal. Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsForeword Dr. Natalie L. Trent, PhD, Harvard University, 7,
Preface: The Discipline of Happiness, 10,
Presentation of the Practices, 26,
practice 1 meditate like the horizon Unplug your brain when it is running all the time, 31,
practice 2 meditate like a dolphin Discover your inner peace in high-stress moments, 49,
practice 3 meditate like the wind in the desert Create more time when you are busy, 67,
practice 4 meditate like the sky See inside yourself, develop intuition, and make the best decisions, 81,
practice 5 meditate like a mountain Feel more grounded when your mood is up and down, 93,
practice 6 meditate like a wave Deal with difficult people and difficult interactions, 107,
practice 7 meditate like the sun Restore energy, send all your love to others, and discover the power of compassion, 125,
practice 8 meditate like a flower Rediscover the blessing of your desk, 143,
practice 9 meditate like a kiss Feel less stress in a romantic relationship, 159,
practice 10 meditate like a broom Clean your mind, 167,
My Path, 172,
The Three Foundations of Meditation: Phowa, Tonglen, and Hesychia, 179,
About the Author, 191,
Los Angeles, CA