Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Meditation in Public Schools: Pro or Con?

As mindfulness gains popularity and governments begin to study the impact mindfulness has on students, some people may be wondering: is teaching meditation to students a good thing?

In this video from Vox, Liz Scheltens explores how mindfulness is making its way into US schools.

Why Bring Meditation to Schools?

Harvard researcher Sara Lazarstudies how yoga and meditation impact cognitive function. After noticing how her own yoga practice calmed her, she was interested in learning whether it was a placebo response of if meditation could change the brain. She decided to study the brains of people who had never meditated—first with a brain scan before they they participated in an 8-week, 30-minute meditation program.

Lazar noticed changes in different brain regions—in particular, thickness increased in certain areas of the brain related to learning, memory, and emotion regulation (the hippocampus) as well as perspective-taking, empathy, and compassion (the temporoparietal junction).

[Kids] are more likely to take the skills home and teach the parents, to teach people in their community, and that’s how we’ve seen the biggest change we made.

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How to Meet Loss and Pain Without Fear

Mindfulness involves several attitudes of mind that are pivotal to the transformation and liberation of the mind: befriending, compassion, joy and equanimity. These qualities are seen as the foundations of all our development as we embark on a path of mindfulness practice. 

Every one of us can cultivate, train, and naturalize these four qualities, in the same way that attention can be trained and developed. In the face of great distress, though, befriending, compassion, joy, and equanimity can disappear just when they are most needed. Today, we’re going to focus on the second of these qualities: compassion.

What Does It Mean to Grow Our Compassion?

Like all capacities, our capacity for compassion grows when we tend to it and nourish it. We have all experienced moments of compassion when the heart softens in the face of pain, distress, and suffering, and when we can be open to the vulnerability that is part of the human experience. These moments can be close to home—such as when a child in our family is sick, or an elderly relative becomes increasingly frail—or on the world stage, such as when we hear about a devastating natural disaster or an innocent bystander grievously injured in an act of senseless violence. In these moments, the divide between self and other softens, the narratives of criticism and blame fade, and we inhabit, perhaps for a few fleeting moments, a world infused with kindness and compassion.

Compassion is an orientation of mind that recognizes pain and the universality of pain in human experience and the capacity to meet that pain with kindness, empathy, equanimity and patience. Its roots in Latin (compati) are to suffer with. Its affective tone is deep care, connection, and responsiveness. It is not, however, an emotion—rather, compassion is an understanding imbued with intention. The near enemy of compassion is pity, because self and other are separated and there is a sense of “I am looking down on your suffering.” Compassion’s far enemy is the wish to see someone harmed, or outright cruelty.

Compassion is central to all of the great foundational spiritual traditions, including Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. Although it takes different forms, the intention to transcend self-centered concerns and the invitation to respond compassionately to pain and suffering is present in each. What is also present in each tradition is the notion that compassion can be trained and cultivated—that sustained and dedicated practice can educate and re-educate the heart. So, although compassion is deep in our natures—present in us even as infants—education, cultivation, training, and practice can help us bring greater intentionality and a wider ethical framework to our compassionate response.

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Binge-Watching the Stories in Your Head

We are drowning in stories. Ads tell stories. Video games, movies and TV shows, too. A lot of journalism is politically-motivated fiction. And even science is story; authors convince us through compelling narratives, weaving together select findings and literature. We are storytellers. It’s who we are.

I know what it’s like to be totally wrapped up in stories. In my teens and early twenties, I was immersed in them, and to me, they were absolute, unshakeable truth. I debated aggressively with anyone who disagreed with the stories I believed in. I talked at people. I barely listened to anything they had to say, because I was certain they were wrong and I was right.

I had no idea how much I was just parroting whatever I’d heard elsewhere. I was just repeating and regurgitating things with no awareness of just how limited my perspectives were. This pattern continued until I found myself on a mountain in British Columbia on my first silent mindfulness retreat.

Recognizing the Stories We Tell Ourselves

People often think about mindfulness as a relaxation tool, but for me it’s been a vital tool in seeing how the stories in my head have been shaped by others. The more I’ve sat in silence and observed my mind over the past decade, the more I’ve noticed the incredible influence of stories. It was frustrating at first. My mind was constantly thinking, telling incessant half-baked stories about everything. When I tried to pay attention and calm them down, it was completely overwhelming.

Those first few years, I got immediately wrapped up in the desperate need to stop this from happening. I thought the whole point of meditation was to silence my thoughts, and I ended up even more frustrated. Now that I realize the futility of this pursuit, I feel a sense of nostalgia whenever I find myself guiding others who have fallen into this same trap. Stopping your mind from telling stories is like telling a cow not to ‘moo’. Stories are what define us. As Marcus Aurelius put it, “Concrete objects can pull free of the earth more easily than humans can escape humanity.”

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Five Obstacles to Happiness (and How to Overcome Them)

“You’re making Daddy late for work!” I said, standing over my then-three-year-old daughter with the winter coat I was insisting she wear. 

“No! I’m not wearing it!” Celia screamed. My anger surged. Thoughts of “I’m sick of this” and “She’s doing this on purpose” swept through my mind. I was scheduled to conduct a 9 a.m. parent training therapy session, and her resistance would make me late. Ironically, it was on “mindful parenting.”

Mindlessly, I pressed my agenda. Understandably, she pushed back. “NO!!” she yelled, dropping rag-doll-style to the kitchen floor. 

I lost it. Bending down nose to nose with her, I yelled: “Celia! Put on your f&@#ing coat!”

She froze. I jammed the coat onto her, led her to the car, buckled her in, and drove to daycare. My daughter, usually chatty, was notably silent. Me? My cheeks burned red with the shame and self-doubt of a man completely convinced he was a “horrible father.”

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Why It’s So Hard to Let Others Care For You

Both of us have experienced (and, so far, survived) cancer and its treatments multiple times. Evan twice, and Pat three times. On this matter, at least we can invoke authority through experience.

When first diagnosed and in planning treatment one can usually rely upon support from partners, friends and family, as well as the numbness of shell shock, to get through the initial period. Most of us are pretty good for the short-term. Then the routine of hospital visits, coping with side effects and managing daily life sets in and friends and family, and even partners, are often less available, as what was acute usually moves into the chronic. Staying in for the long haul can be tough. It can be helpful to remember this whether you are carer or being cared for.

Although support programs are increasingly available through the hospital and cancer organizations, both of us were very fortunate that key friends stepped in to organize formal care teams. They accompanied us to hospital visits when our partners were working, prepared meals and provided visits and emotional support to both us and our partners.

It seemed allowing others to care for us is sometimes hard to accept. We may view it as a weakness, imagine we are a burden, or not worthy of such attention…

This was extremely helpful but came with varying degrees of resistance. It seemed allowing others to care for us is sometimes hard to accept. We may view it as a weakness, imagine we are a burden, or not worthy of such attention; and yet we often have no trouble caring for those in need; and may even go out of our way to do so. We might well ask, why the double standard? We are so often, sooner or later in the same boat.

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