Displaying 37 - 45 of 45 entries.

How Mindfulness Meditation Improves Your Mental Capabilities

  • Posted on May 15, 2012 at 11:20 pm

By Charles A. Francis

In last week’s post, I talked about some of the health benefits of practicing mindfulness meditation. Believe it or not, I was only scratching the surface. As researchers continue to study the effects of the practice, it is becoming apparent that there are many more benefits of mindfulness meditation. In this article, we’re going to examine how the practice can improve our mental capabilities.

As we saw in last week’s post, high levels of stress can impede our body’s ability to function properly. Essentially, our body is not capable of coping very well with extended periods of stress. It also has a similar effect on the mind.

Stress Management Through Mindfulness Meditation

  • Posted on May 10, 2012 at 1:01 am

By Charles A. Francis

When I first began my mindfulness meditation practice, my primary purpose was to use it for stress management, and I figured that there were some health benefits associated with the practice. But I wasn’t sure exactly what they were.

When I started doing the research for my book, I realized that scientists had been busy over the last 10-15 years studying the health benefits of mindfulness meditation. Coincidentally, they were primarily interested in finding out how mindfulness meditation could be used for stress management.

Rising Stress Levels

The World Health Organization describes stress as “the health epidemic of the 21st century.” It is at the root of more than 70% of all visits to the family doctor. Elevated stress levels can have a variety of harmful effects on the body. It can lead to headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, depression, anxiety, and even skin conditions. In extreme cases, stress can result in heart disease and stroke.

Stress can also be harmful when we engage in unwholesome ways of relieving it, such as the use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. These substances only address the symptoms, and not the root causes of the stress.

If we want to deal with stress in a healthy manner, we need to do 2 things:

  • Give our mind and body time to relax.
  • Redefine our views about our needs.

Giving Our Mind and Body Time to Relax

When we are agitated, it is difficult for us to sit quietly and relax. We usually try to drown out the noise in our head with more noise. We often feel that we’re being unproductive if we’re sitting idle doing nothing. This only exacerbates the problem.

If we want to reduce the stress in our life, we need to be courageous and break the cycle of constant agitation. Even if it’s just 5 minutes of sitting still, it will have a tremendous impact if you constantly have your foot on the accelerator. By stopping and allowing your mind to settle down, you’ll be able to think clearly and more objectively. It will probably be the most productive 5 minutes of your day.

Redefining Our Views About Our Needs

Much of our stress comes from worrying about not getting, or losing, the things we think we need to survive or be happy. We often worry about losing our material wealth, and ending up on the streets with nothing to eat. Though this may be a reality for some people, it is not for most of us. In the worst-case scenario, we can go to one of the many homeless shelters available. There we can receive the food and shelter we need to survive.

Many of us grow up with certain ideas of what will bring us happiness. In the United States, the land of opportunity, this means having a successful career, a beautiful family, and a nice home and automobile. When we finally achieve all these things, then we begin worrying about losing them. In time, we realize that life was much simpler and less stressful when we didn’t have all the material belongings and accomplishments. If we are going to be free of stress and worry, then we need to redefine our views about what will truly bring us peace and serenity, and rearrange our priorities.

Stress Management with Mindfulness Meditation

One of the main areas where the research on mindfulness meditation is being applied is in the treatment of psychological disorders—stress related disorders in particular. Research has consistently shown that mindfulness meditation reduces stress and negative mood states, and improves mental and emotional well-being. It does this by reducing the levels of cortisol, the main stress hormone. They found that patients who meditate are more serene, so they don’t experience stress-related disorders.

Psychologists are now recommending mindfulness meditation to their patients for stress management. In addition, many business organizations have incorporated the practice into their health and wellness programs to curb their rising expenditures in health care.

Those of you who have some experience with meditation know how well it works in helping your mind and body settle down. The challenge for many of us is to remain consistent and committed to practicing on a regular basis. One of the things that helps me is to remember that by being relaxed and focused, I can be more effective and productive in all my activities.

My meditation practice has also helped me change my views about what truly brings me happiness. I am fully aware that material wealth does not lead to inner peace. Only my spiritual development brings me long-term serenity. This realization has enabled me to redefine my priorities, and put my meditation practice near the top.

Now that the health benefits of mindfulness meditation have been confirmed, more people are using the practice for stress management and to avoid the negative health consequences associated with stress.

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How to Deal with Difficult People Mindfully, Part 2

  • Posted on May 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm

By Charles Francis

Most of us find it challenging dealing with difficult people in a healthy manner. Our most common reactions are to either become defensive, or go on the offensive. However, these reactions seldom make the situations any better. In fact, the usually make things worse.

In last week’s post, we learned that we have some valuable tools that can diffuse many of these volatile interactions and help cultivate some understanding and healing. We talked about how deep listening can send the clear message to another person that we have no intentions of harming them. In this post, I’ll share with you how I learned to practice mindful speech, and how we can use it to promote peace and harmony with everyone we engage.

For most of my life, I never paid much attention to the effect my words had on other people in my interactions with them. I usually spoke as a reaction to someone addressing me. I never thought about how my words would be received. Very often, what I said and what the other person heard were two entirely different things. Part of it was because of their preconceived ideas about me and the situation. But the difference was also due to my choice of words. They didn’t always communicate the meaning I intended.

My first big lesson in mindful speech came at a retreat. At the orientation, we were told that we would be practicing noble silence for the next 4 days. My immediate reaction was one of panic. I was surprised at this, because my intellect told me that it wouldn’t harm me to go a few days without speaking, but emotionally I felt very vulnerable.

During those 4 days, I could communicate by writing on a notepad. Since it wasn’t feasible to write out a long conversation, I had to choose my words carefully. This is when I began to think about how best to communicate my message. In other words, I wanted to make sure the other person understood exactly what I meant.

It soon became clear that I used my speech for things other than communication. I used it to get what I wanted, and all the superfluous conversation was intended to manipulate people to that end. And since I was primarily interested in satisfying my own needs, I was not so concerned about the other person’s well-being. I may have told myself that I was, but the truth of the matter was that my own wants and desires always came first. I viewed situations in terms of what I was going to get out of them.

What I learned about myself was that my intentions were not as noble as I thought. If I truly wanted to be the enlightened person I thought I was, then I needed to be more mindful of my speech. That is, I needed to choose words that nurtured healing and understanding.

From that point, I began to think before I spoke. I paid particular attention to how my words might be interpreted. One thing I noticed that I did in the past was poke fun at other people. It may have seemed like harmless fun, but it kept people on the defensive when they were around me. That is, they were always on guard and never at ease.

Now, when I’m around other people I try to use words of encouragement to help uplift their spirits. I try to show sincere interest in the things going on in their lives. Not only does it help the other person, but it also helps me because they become more open and provide me with the spiritual nourishment that helps me grow.

Tips for Practicing Mindful Speech

Mindful speech is a tool that takes some effort to develop. However, the rewards to everyone involved are immeasurable. Here are some tips I recommend for practicing mindful speech:

  • Think before you speak. Try to avoid reacting to someone else’s words. Think about how your words will be received.
  • Resist the temptation to engage in a power struggle. It’s not necessary to always be right. If their words are abrasive, then we can easily be drawn into a power struggle.
  • Try to be forgiving, understanding, and compassionate. If we continue to see the wounded person, then it’s easier to be compassionate and understanding of their shortcomings.
  • Choose words that promote trust. These can convey concern for the other person’s well-being.
  • Use words of encouragement. These can promote sincerity, harmony, and healing. Express some enthusiasm for others’ accomplishments, no matter how small they may be.

Though I still consider myself to be learning how to practice mindful speech, my interactions with people are much more enjoyable—whether they are with loved ones or with strangers. You too can enjoy these rewards if you stay committed to your meditation practice, and learn to observe you actions with a mindful eye.

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How to Deal with Difficult People Mindfully, Part 1

  • Posted on April 25, 2012 at 3:19 pm

By Charles Francis

We all have difficult people in our lives—some almost impossible to get along with. It seems like almost every time we engage them, we end up getting caught in a power struggle, which can often escalate into volatile situations. Though it is indeed a challenge to turn these relationships around, we can at least make the situations significantly better.

They Are Wounded People

The first thing we need to remember is that difficult people are that way for a reason. They are often angry at the world because they feel hurt and victimized by the general population, so they take out their anger on everyone they encounter.

Sometimes, they are angry with people from whom they can no longer get justice, such as a parent or sibling who may have victimized them when they were a child. For them, it takes a great deal of work to heal these wounds. We sometimes make things worse by touching those wounds that have not yet healed. When we do this, we usually get a negative reaction.

How Can We Make Things Better?

Though we may not be able to cure difficult people of their emotional afflictions, we can certainly not aggravate the situation. The first thing we need is a great deal of compassion. We need to look behind their wall of defense and see the wounded child looking for respite from the pain and suffering. Once we can see the wounded child in them, it is much easier for us to behave in a more kind and gentle manner. One powerful tool at our disposal is deep listening.

Deep Listening

The power of deep listening never ceases to amaze me. Oftentimes, people who are deeply wounded feel like nobody listens to them. The message they get is that others don’t think they are worthwhile. We can turn that around. By listening to them, we send them the clear message that someone thinks what they have to say is important, and therefore, they too are important. We can sometimes turn an adversary into a friend.

Practicing deep listening takes a great deal of patience. At first, the other person will try everything they can to engage us in a power struggle. We must be mindful of this and resist the temptation to strike back as a response to their harsh words.

The next thing to do is listen to their concerns with genuine interest. They will often be surprised that someone is truly interested in their concerns. When they realize that, their demeanor will usually change. They often become less abrasive.

When we engage difficult people, we sometimes become drawn into a power struggle or volatile situation. We can diffuse these situations by remaining calm and listening deeply to their concerns. When we do this, they will sometimes realize that we are not out to inflict more pain and suffering on them, and are genuinely concerned for their well-being.

Deep listening is one of the tools at our disposal for dealing with difficult people. In Part 2 of this series of articles, we will talk about another useful tool—mindful speech.

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Meditation and the Busy Woman

  • Posted on April 18, 2012 at 1:33 pm

By Mary Sovran

The average woman today is so busy taking care of everyone else in her family, that she doesn’t have much time to pursue her own interests. At the end of the day, she is exhausted. Fitting in meditation would seem like an impossible task.

If a woman stays at home and has children, she is busy with their schedules. In the morning, she is getting them dressed and ready for school, making lunches, etc. Then the obligations of the day begin with, laundry, cleaning, and other chores. She has to decide what to make for dinner and attend to that. When the kids get home it’s snacks, helping them with homework and cleaning up after dinner.

If she holds down a job, she has all of the above obligations plus getting to work and performing at her best all day. Most women learn to multitask out of necessity. It’s no wonder she feels anxious and frustrated, and yet she expects perfection from herself.

After her busy day, she and her partner may have a moment for conversation before the bedtime routine begins. Hopefully there may be time before bed to relax a little.

Even if she hasn’t any children at home, or a job, she is probably still very busy with volunteer work, church activities, taking care of her home and pets, and a social life. However, she can still find the time to meditate if she schedules it in.

Many women in our society put themselves and their needs last on their list of priorities. They feel that their children, partner, and household duties come first before they can consider time for their own pursuits. This is a mistake because if she doesn’t take care of herself and value her own needs, it will lessen her ability to care for the people she loves.

Your meditation practice will change the whole atmosphere in your home. It will make a big difference in the way you treat your family members. It will help you to be calmer in dealing with everyday problems. You’ll be kind, appreciative, loving, patient, slower to anger, and less critical. There will be less tension, and family members will be more relaxed and open to discussing problems.

If you value your personal time, you can fit meditation into your day somehow. It doesn’t require a lot of time. You might set the alarm clock a half hour earlier than usual, or you could find a quiet spot to be alone for 30 minutes just before bed. I do my sitting meditation in the morning as soon as I finish my breakfast and before I get started with my daily activities. I try to fit my writing meditation in after lunch or just before dinner when I have a few minutes.

The combination of daily sitting and writing meditation has made a tremendous difference in the quality of my life, and I know that it would do the same for you. Now, just going to the grocery store has become an enjoyable experience. Instead of being frustrated with a long line at the cash register, I talk with people including the cashier. Some of them have even become my friends.

In the past, simply driving to and from the store could be infuriating if I got behind a person driving 20 miles per hour. Now I have compassion for the driver and realize that there has to be a reason for this low speed.

While it may seem impossible for the busy woman to fit meditation into her schedule, it can be done. The time and effort involved is well worth the trouble.
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How Mindfulness Meditation Can Help Us Forgive Ourselves

  • Posted on April 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm

We’ve all done things we’re not proud of. Some of us have even done things we’re downright ashamed of. The feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse can be major obstacles to our spiritual development. The good news is that through the practice of mindfulness meditation, we can learn to forgive ourselves and to let go of the painful emotions associated with the memories of our unwholesome acts.

When I was a young man, I was so socially inept that I apologized in advance for any insensitive remark that I might make. In time, I realized that it was safer for me to just not talk and avoid the embarrassment. The problem with this approach was that I alienated myself from people, and as a result, I grew weak spiritually.

As you know, forgiving ourselves is not easy. Have you ever tried just telling yourself to forgive yourself for the things you’ve done? It doesn’t work too well, does it? That’s because forgiving ourselves takes a great deal of spiritual strength.

In my experience on the path to spiritual development, I’ve seen a direct correlation between how strong I am spiritually and how much I can forgive myself for my unwholesome behavior. That is because with a higher self-esteem, I can accept the fact that I am human, and therefore, fallible.

I am also now more mindful of my actions. I am much more aware of my thoughts and actions, and how they can bring either harmony or discord. I have found that by being kind and loving I bring greater harmony in my life, and in the lives of those around me.

Of course, most of this is the result of my meditation practice. Mindfulness meditation has enabled me to be at peace with myself, and with the people in my life, both past and present. I finally have the strength and courage to forgive myself. I can also forgive those who have harmed me.

I realize that some of us may have experienced more traumatic events that require professional help to overcome. Though meditation alone may not be enough, we still need the spiritual strength we get from mindfulness meditation to heal these wounds and be free of them.

It is a wonderful feeling to finally be free of all the guilt, shame and remorse from my past. And helping other people find the same freedom truly enriches my life and gives me the spiritual nourishment that keeps me growing.
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Learning How to Love Ourselves

  • Posted on April 3, 2012 at 10:07 pm

In last week’s post, we talked about some of the difficulties many of us have in loving ourselves. As one commenter noted, our actions often revolve around other people’s expectations. That is, we try to meet those expectations in order to gain their approval. This doesn’t leave much time for taking care of ourselves.

Those of us who have been on a spiritual path for any length of time know how much work is involved in changing our views, thoughts, and behavior. With some experience, we sometimes learn what works, and what doesn’t work. Unfortunately, by the time we learn what does indeed work, we’ve already put in a lot of time in effort.

In this post, I’m going to share with you a very powerful and effective exercise I recently discovered, which can change a lifetime of unwholesome habits in a just short period of time. That exercise is called writing meditation.

Now, this writing meditation is not the same as others you may have encountered. Most of the others revolve around some form of free-style writing of what is on your mind at the time. This writing meditation is nothing like that. In fact, it is much simpler.

In our writing meditation, all you do is copy by hand in a notebook the affirmations that were developed for a specific purpose. The loving-kindness meditation works extremely well for changing our attitudes about other people. Through the meditation, we become more loving and compassionate toward everyone we encounter, or have encountered in the past. The writing meditation has a wide range of benefits:

  • Heals the wounds from the past. As we become more loving and understanding, we’re able to forgive those who have harmed us, including ourselves.
  • Become more outgoing. Our new attitudes about other people will manifest themselves in our interactions with them. We become more sociable and outgoing.
  • Enhances our spiritual development. As we engage more people in a positive manner, we receive the spiritual nourishment we need to grow.
  • Helps us sleep better at night. When done before bed, the exercise will quickly calm down your mind after a hectic day of activities.
  • Learn to love ourselves. The writing meditation will transform our attitudes about ourselves. We’ll finally realize that we are just as deserving of our love as anyone else.

Probably the most amazing thing about this writing meditation is that you will realize these effects without any conscious effort. The only effort involved is in doing the writing meditation for 10 to 15 minutes a day.

The reason this writing works so well is because it literally imprints in your mind the ideals of unconditional love. I’ve found that writing it out by hand is much more effective than simply reciting or listening to the loving-kindness meditation.

Try the exercise for a few days, and share your results with us. You can download the loving-kindness writing meditation with instructions at:

Loving-kindness writing meditation

You’ll see for yourself that it only takes a few days before you start to see noticeable results. I’m sure it will help you learn to love yourself more, and others also.

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Why Do We Have Difficulty Loving Ourselves?

  • Posted on March 27, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Last night at our sangha (meditation group), the facilitator brought up the topic of loving ourselves. Sometimes, the topic doesn’t generate very much discussion, but this one sure did.

Several people shared about the difficulties they’ve had loving themselves, and why. Most of the comments revolved around our upbringing and how we were taught to always put other people before ourselves. Otherwise, we were labeled as being selfish and uncaring.

Though I’ve heard similar comments before, I could see that some people were deeply affected by the discussion. It reminded me of how much our society reinforces the notion of placing other people before ourselves. Though it is changing, there are still many people who grew up in a time when we were expected to put ourselves last on our list of priorities. Our families always came first. While this sentiment is noble, how can we take good care of other people if we are spiritually weak?

There is an old story about a man and his daughter. His wife had died years earlier, and the two of them performed an acrobatic act to make a living. The father one day said to his daughter, “We need to look out for each other while performing, so that we don’t make a mistake, get hurt, and jeopardize our livelihood.”

The daughter thought about the father’s comments, and in her wisdom she said to him, “Wouldn’t it be better if we each took good care of ourselves and made sure that we performed our act correctly? That way, we would be taking good care of both of us.”

We’ve all heard the adage; “We can’t love other people until we’re able to love ourselves.” Since most of the people I associate with are on a spiritual path, I see this sentiment in action every day. People who’ve neglected themselves their entire lives are beginning to take good care of themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I was fortunate to have begun a spiritual path at a young age, so I’ve made considerable progress toward loving myself. I know that by taking good care of myself, I can be of better service to others. Though I don’t forget that other people still struggle with loving themselves, I don’t always see how deeply they’re affected.

Whenever I see how deeply some people suffer from having difficulty loving themselves, it is a stark reminder of how important our work is here at the Mindfulness Meditation Institute. There is still a lot of suffering to overcome.

Four Reasons Why Beginners Have a Hard Time Learning How to Meditate Properly

  • Posted on March 21, 2012 at 12:56 am

In the beginning of my meditation practice, I had such a hard time learning how to meditate. Each time I asked someone how to do it, I got a different answer—and a vague one at that. Then I turned to meditation books—and they weren’t much help either because they didn’t give clear instructions. At first I thought it was just me, and I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I didn’t get it.

Years later when I finally figured out how to meditate, I realized that I wasn’t the only one having a hard time. Today, almost everyone I talk to about meditation has had the same experience. I’ve identified 4 main reasons why people have trouble learning how to meditate:

1) Few people truly understand meditation. It’s hard to find someone who truly understands how to meditate properly and can explain it clearly. Since I got a different answer each time I asked someone about meditation, it became obvious that none of them had a firm grasp of the practice.

2) Most books are confusing. To this day, I have not found a book that does a good job at explaining the actual meditation techniques. They usually overwhelm you with so much information that you end up more confused than before. Some books even use a lot of cryptic language that makes it even more confusing.

3) So many different forms. With so many different forms of meditation, it’s hard to tell which ones really work. Since they vary in their approach, so does their effectiveness. And since most books don’t explain them very well, it makes it even harder to tell the difference.

4) Trying all of them. When confronted with too many choices, we either try as many as we can, or none at all. Either way, we get nowhere. If we’re always trying different forms of meditation, we never become proficient in any one of them. It’s like trying to learn how to play a different musical instrument every week. You’ll never learn to play music that way, so why would you expect to learn how to meditate using the same approach?

It clearly makes more sense to choose a well-established form of meditation and practice it until you become proficient with it. Then you’ll have a basis for evaluating other forms.

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