Namaste, Dear Heart!
I hope you enjoy practicing this Heart Massage meditation, it’s a simple, profound practice that helps you connect with the one sacred heart beating inside you and come home to the precious gifts the present moment offers. It can be a beautiful daily offering of peace, and its gifts ripple outward to everyone you meet. Please feel free to share it with those you love!
In grace and gratitude,
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Meditation is an act of love …
Stated simply, mindfulness meditation is a practice of training our attention so we can be more aware of what’s happening inside and around us each moment of our lives. Training our attention brings more clarity to our minds, and more insight. As our ability to be more present for our life grows, so does our ability and willingness to more deeply connect with what’s happening and to those around us.
Meditation can help us cultivate equanimity and spaciousness in our minds, intimacy and compassion in our relationships, and a real and lasting happiness in our hearts. Meditation is an act of love for our hearts and the hearts of all those around us.
“Attention is not a concrete object that we can manufacture or reproduce. Attention is cultivated by repeatedly exercising it, just as flexibility is developed by repeated stretching. In meditation, we first exercise attention in a small way, by experiencing the breath – feeling the coming and going of the breath in attention. As attention grows, it becomes stronger and can operate at higher and higher levels of energy. As a result, we become progressively more present in our lives.” Ken McLeod
The Buddha was once asked what he gained from meditation. He replied, “Nothing. However, let me tell you what I’ve lost…anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear of old age & death.” Modern science is finally catching up and can now measure the beneficial results of meditation that meditators throughout the centuries have experienced. Numerous studies have documented the ways meditation physically alters the landscape of the brain – it actually changes the way the brain looks and functions.
One of the most powerful transformations mindfulness meditation offers the brain is breaking down the connection between the “Me” center (medial prefrontal cortex) and the “Fear” center (amygdala, home of the fight/flight response). This is huge! A strong connection between these areas of the brain make us far more likely to assume that when we feel anxious or scared, that there’s something wrong with us (i.e. self-judgment) or we’re unsafe. And it’s also the reason our thoughts get stuck on repetitive “me” loops – as in, there’s something wrong with me, what does this person think of me, why did I do this or that, and so on. Regularly practicing meditation weakens that connection, breaking the cycle of negative thoughts directed at ourselves and also seeing with more clarity that feelings like anxiety, embarrassment, regret, and uncertainty are just that, feelings that come and go, rather than indicators of fundamental character problems or measures of our self worth. As Rebecca Gladding says, “The neural paths that link upsetting feelings and sensations to the Me Center are decreasing” the more we meditate.
So disconnecting the “Me” center from our Fight/Flight response means we can meet challenges – both large and small – as opportunities rather than threats, more calmly and gently offering ourselves (and others!) easier access to our natural ability to solve problems more creatively using our natural wisdom.
AND while it weakens the unhelpful connection the medial prefrontal cortex has with the amygdala, meditation actually strengthens its connection to the lateral prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that helps us see things in a more logical, balanced, and rational way. It’s easy to see how even just these two benefits, working together to reduce emotional reactivity and connecting us with inner calm, clarity, and resourcefulness can bring huge changes in our perspective and how we relate to others and to circumstances we experience in life. Meditation has also been shown to increase our brain’s capacity for empathy and compassion, improve our ability to learn, remember, and focus, and even lower blood pressure, bolster our immune system, and help us get a better night’s sleep.
In mindfulness meditation, we are not trying to stop our thoughts – this would be impossible! Our brains are “thought factories,” thinking is what they do. Rather, we train our attention to become aware that we are thinking, and aware of what thoughts we are having.
“One of the most compassionate and revolutionary breakthroughs we can have is to realize we are not our thoughts.” Tara Brach
We practice noticing thoughts without following them or being swept away by them, or entangled in them. Labeling can be helpful in this process – you notice you’re thinking (“I need to remember such and such at the grocery store later”), mentally note “Thinking,” and then allow it to go on its way. It’s this exercise of noticing when we’ve become lost in thought and gently coming back that trains our attention, our minds, to more consistently and reliably inhabit the present moment. Training the attention in this way we see the natural coming and going of thoughts. We understand more clearly thoughts are real, but not necessarily true. Thoughts are things we have, but not who we are, and therefore we do not need to be limited by them. As the awareness is expanded to include all aspects of our experience, we notice that like thoughts, it is the true nature of everything to come and go- feelings, moods, emotions, sensations.
Understanding the natural law of impermanence opens us up to greater insight, clarity, and awakens our innate capacity to live a life deeply connected to ourselves and the world around us. It can give us confidence, peace, and joy. If we’re having a bad day and feel irritable or frustrated, we can recognize this is a feeling arising in us but that it is not who we are. This feeling too is temporary and like clouds in a windy sky is this emotion is of the nature to come, to be, and to go.
“The emotion is very small and the territory of you is very vast.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Understanding impermanence deepens our relationships to our loved ones and all those around us. When we know that the people we love are impermanent, we will cherish our beloved ones all the more. When we know the nature of each interaction is in impermanent, it teaches us to respect and value every moment and all the precious things around us and inside of us. When we practice mindfulness of impermanence, we become fresher and more loving and more present for those around us. With this practice, impermanence becomes a key that opens the door of reality and of freedom.
As we practice coming home to the Now again and again in small, safe ways on the meditation cushion, we notice our ability to stay more present increases in the rest of life as well. Instead of being derailed by mental chatter, we get better at listening to the people we love. Instead of following a habitual pattern of immediate upset when something doesn’t go as planned, we can more easily uncover space for compassionate response and discover the opportunities present in the middle of a challenge. My teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says often that our appointment with life lies in the Present Moment, and the practice of meditation helps make sure we keep it so we can experience the authentic peace and happiness which is available to us in each and every moment.
For more information on mindfulness meditation, including mini meditations, tips, and research please visit our blog, Live your Practice