22 July 2019

The best answer to stress? Meditation!

Who does not have stress in their life these days?

Meditators! So how does meditation negate stress?

How can you explain it simply to your friends? This week, we go to the heart of meditation and examine why it is so simple and reliable.

And a reminder, Blue Sky Mind is now available, as are the downloads that will guide you personally into the meditations, but first

               Thought for the day

In meditation the mind keeps wandering. 
We keep bringing it back, and it wanders again. 
And we bring it back again, and so it goes on, 
Maybe for months and years, 
Until at last the mind becomes stabilised . . . 

Thoughts go roving around in the head, 
But if we bring them down into the heart, 
That is, the centre of the person, 
They come to rest.

                          Fr Bede Griffiths
River of Compassion: A Christian Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.

Just why is meditation such a reliable antidote to stress and anxiety? 

Now, to be clear, when speaking of meditation, I speak of learning to relax deeply in a physical sense, and then to go beyond the activity of the thinking mind into a deeper stillness.

In fact, real meditation introduces us, or perhaps just makes abundantly clear, that the mind does have two aspects; there is the active thinking mind and the still mind.

The thinking mind is the domain of stress

How we perceive things.

How we interpret things.

How we think determines the stress we may or may not experience.

The still mind is beyond all this.

The still mind is calm and clear. The still mind is highly creative, highly productive, but it is the domain of deep, natural peace.

How then to help the thinking mind let go of stress, to become clear and calm, to become stress free?

First an analogy. If we were interested in the true nature of the sky but had never seen it before; and went outside on a cloudy grey day, we could form the view that the sky was this grey fluffy stuff that filled the space above us.

However, those of us who do have a little more familiarity with the sky know of course that clouds as we call them are only one part of the sky.

There is a second part, a second aspect – all that space that appears to be that big blue canopy we are so familiar with and that is so evident on a cloud-free day.

Those of us that are more familiar with the sky know that clouds come and go, yet the blue canopy is always there.

So even on the cloudiest, stormiest, wildest of days, sooner or later the clouds do clear and there it is.

It was always there of course, that clear blue sky, it is just that sometimes the clouds obscure it from our direct sight.

So, the analogy is good. With our minds, thoughts come and go all the time; they are ever-changing and impermanent. Happy thoughts, stressful thoughts. They come and they go. But sooner or later they will clear, and reveal this deeper stillness, the more fundamental enduring, stable aspect of our mind.

So there is the active and the still mind. Meditation provides a reliable way to go beyond the activity of the thinking mind and directly experience the stillness of the more fundamental or true nature of our mind. And in doing so, meditation offers 3 major benefits: Profound Peace, Natural Balance, and the View.

Profound Peace speaks for itself. There is a natural ease, an inner clarity and confidence that comes with meditation that provides a profoundly effective antidote to stress.

But more, this profound peace, coupled with deep physical relaxation brings Natural Balance to our whole being. Physically our body chemistry and physiology regains its natural balance. It is like meditation resets our factory settings and recalibrates the physiological changes we know accompany adverse stress, and over time becomes our default setting.

So this is how meditation diffuses stress and anxiety – with a return to a natural, healthy balance.

But there is still more! This natural balance flows on to be experienced as emotional balance, mental balance; there is even a deep sense of connectedness and a natural rise of love, compassion and altruism – a spiritual balance.

And perhaps even more profoundly, meditation offers a new perspective. We begin to see the world, and our life, not just from the perspective of the ever-changing “thinking mind”, but also from a more profound vantage point – that of the still mind, the true nature of our mind.

The View is a word that is used to encapsulate how we view the world, how we interpret our life.

What meaning and purpose we experience in this life.

Our View is tied up with our values, our ethics, our habits, and our beliefs.

How we live our life.

Now, our View of course is radically affected by our perspective. For those whose perspective does happen to lead them to think that all they are is just this body, it is easy to imagine how they “over-identify” with their body image and their physical health and in doing so become highly stress-prone.

For those whose perspective or View is such that they conclude life is all about relationships, and in so doing over-identify with their partner or children, or even their community, it is easy to imagine how the ups and downs of life will make them particularly vulnerable to chronic stress.

For those whose View is that life is all about mental reason, and as a consequence over-identify with the rational, logical, scientific aspects of their mind, it is easy to imagine how the mysteries of life, the unexplainable, the new, the challenging makes them significantly prone to stress.

So, one elegant definition of stress is “over-identification with the wrong part of our self”.

Body, emotions and mind are very important, but they are not who we really are. Over-identifying with them will mean we are bound to be stressed, maybe even full on anxious.

When we change our perspective, everything changes.

If we have a problem, as we see it, and we fixate on it, it is like holding an egg to our eye – we can see nothing.

It is a big problem and it obscures everything.

However, if we hold the egg at arms-length, we recognise it for what it is. It is an egg with loads of possibilities, loads of potential.

So meditation introduces us to who we really are, what is in our heart’s essence. And in doing so, meditation offers three great gifts Profound Peace, Natural Balance and the View.

Truly meditation offers a unique pathway to stress free stress-management.


The Book

Hot off the press, Blue Sky Mind is coming into good bookshops now.

If it is not in your favourite bookshop, please ask for it; booksellers often need prompting these days.

Or, you can order the book safely on-line through the Foundation’s webstore - and if you do that, you are highly likely to receive a signed copy... CLICK HERE

The Downloads

Ruth and I have recorded all the meditation exercises in Blue Sky Mind.

We have made them available as downloads as we have had a good deal of feedback that this is what people who use them regularly prefer.

The Blue Sky Mind downloads are intended to both guide you initially into the direct experience of the meditations, then support you in your on-going practice.

To access the downloads,   CLICK HERE

Enjoy :) 

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