How do we do it?
Today’s societal structure operates in such a way that is systematically designed to prevent individuals from reaching deep, intimate levels of thought. By participating in society’s game, a majority of individuals are forced to agree to many terms that ultimately shape their reality, limit their consciousness, and separate them from their families. The 40-hour work week, for example was proposed by Henry Ford in 1914 as a means for maintaining optimal productivity. However, more than 100 years later, many individuals are still bound to a 40-hour work week, and for good reason. It is my belief that the standard working model is set in place to subversively destroy families throughout America.
Whether individuals choose to acknowledge their reality or not, the simple truth is that a professional career is quite possibly one of the most important aspects of an individual’s life. A career provides you varying degrees of financial freedom, allows you to take part in leisure time, when permitted, and provides food, heat, and shelter for your family. However, the costs associated with acquiring a fruitful career, although intangible, are rather significant. For example, agreeing to a 40-hour work week ensures that you will spend a majority of your life away from your loved ones, while your children are told what to think and believe by complete strangers. Wives and husbands become estranged over time, as they begin to spend more time at their workplace than they do with their significant other. This can cause individuals to become closer with their coworkers than their significant other, leading to a lost connection that was once present, or in some cases, infidelity. Worse yet, many individuals take their work home with them, whether mentally or physically, preventing said individuals from being able to have any sense of clarity or deep thought, as they are often too busy thinking about what they will have to tend to at their workplace the following day. While the 40-hour work week is just a small piece to society’s game, the latest and greatest technology ensures that we spend as little time with our families as possible while away from the workplace.
Although some choose to limit their technology use, it is no secret that a majority of individuals indulge in various mediums of technology throughout the day. For example, social media ensures that individuals remain separated from their friends and family while portraying a false sense of interconnection. Constantly scrolling through various news feeds of superficial content ensures that many individuals remain in a constant state of discontent, causing said individuals to continue an unsustainable rate of consumption as a means of filling an empty void in their lives. And the constant consumption of new products and technology ensures that a majority of individuals will have to remain dependent on their 40-hour work week in order to continue living a lifestyle that is simply designed to feed the ego.
To no fault of your own, these needless wants are instilled in almost all individuals at a very young age through varying mediums of entertainment. Children are highly impressionable by nature, and as such, they tend to mimic the wants of their peers as a means of fitting in. But where do these wants stem from? It is my belief that television and other forms of media are simply vessels for instilling superficiality in young children under the guise of entertainment. Not only does television ensure that families around the country remain detached from their family members through simple distractions, it also shows children a false sense of reality where many individuals live lifestyles that, for most Americans, is simply unobtainable. Not to mention, the little amount of time left at the end of the day to spend with one’s family is often instead spent in silence whilst staring at a plastic screen projecting various images. This perverse method of selling products and lavish lifestyles via entertainment causes many children to ask more from their parents so that they may fit into their current social circles while looking more desirable to outsiders. However, if parents succumb to the superficial wants of their children, and most parents do, then they will be required to work longer hours or make financial sacrifices that will affect their family’s quality of life. The result is more time spent at work away from one’s family, which will ultimately contribute to a growing resentment that many children develop towards their parents once they begin to feel neglected. This is one of the many ways that televisions are used by the state to infiltrate the homes of families throughout the country in order to begin shaping the reality of children.
Although these traps are purposefully set in place at every turn to cause conflict within families, they can be minimized rather easily with a few simple lifestyle changes. Instead of choosing to watch TV when returning from work, consider reading a book or reflecting on where you are currently in life. Instead of choosing to use social media as a way to satisfy your ego, consider getting rid of social media altogether while committing yourself to strengthening the relationships around you in real life that you care about most. Instead of thinking about what your next day at work brings while at home, consider basking in the present moment where you can give all of your love and attention to your family. Tribal societies are an incredible example of how families can strengthen their bond without the need of material possessions.
When considering life during tribal times, hunting, gathering, and thinking were quite possibly the most prominent activities in day-to-day life. With no technology to distract from furthering an individual’s interpersonal development, many in tribal societies more than likely spent a good portion of their time talking with family members and reaching deeper levels of consciousness that is nearly impossible for many individuals in modern times. In fact, in today’s society, you would be hard pressed to find a large group of people that have been able to prioritize the things that are most important in their lives. This is because with so much outside stimuli imposed at any given moment, and so little time to reflect on one’s own life, society’s game has reduced individuals to their economic worth, preventing said individuals from taking extended periods of time to sit and think.
We are only here for a brief period of time, and instead of spending said time with family and loved ones, we choose to chase superficial materials that we think will bring us joy and comfort. The only joy and comfort that can be found in this life is the joy and comfort that comes from family, friends, and a sense of community. Acquiring as many material possessions as possible may provide instant gratification, but none of the materials acquired will be of any value when you reach the end of your life with no sense of family or community. Creating meaningful relationships with loved ones while continuously striving to remove yourself from society’s game is one of the only ways to ensure that you avoid the countless traps set in place that are designed to shape your reality, limit your consciousness, and separate your family.
I wrote this article because I have come to the realization that I was placing too much importance on things that have no real impact on my life. I hope that you may find some grains of truth in this article that can also help you improve your day-to-day life.
What is walking meditation?
In walking meditation we use the experience of walking as our focus. We become mindful of our experience while walking, and try to keep our awareness involved with the experience of walking. Actually, there are several different kinds of walking meditation. We’ll just be looking at one of them in detail, although we’ll touch on the others. Once you’ve mastered one form, you’ll easily be able to pick up the others.
Obviously, there are some differences between walking meditation and sitting meditation. For one thing we keep our eyes open during walking meditation! That difference implies other changes in the way we do the practice. We are not withdrawing our attention from the outside world to the same extent that we do when we are doing the Mindfulness of Breathing or Metta Bhavana (development of lovingkindness) practices.
We have to be aware of things outside of ourselves (objects we might trip over, other people that we might walk into) and there are many other things outside of ourselves that we will be more aware of than when we are doing sitting – especially if we sit inside. These include the wind, the sun, and the rain; and the sounds of nature and of humans and machines.
But one of the biggest differences is that it’s easier, for most people, to be more intensely and more easily aware of their bodies while doing walking meditation, compared to sitting forms of practice. When your body is in motion, it is generally easier to be aware of it compared to when you are sitting still. When we’re sitting still in meditation the sensations that arise in the body are much more subtle and harder to pay attention to than those that arise while we’re walking, This can make walking meditation an intense experience. You can experience your body very intensely, and you can also find intense enjoyment from this practice.
The practice of walking meditation can also be fitted in to the gaps in our lives quite easily. Even walking from the car into the supermarket can be an opportunity for a minute’s walking meditation.
The form of walking meditation we’ll be introducing here is best done outdoors. For your first attempt, you might want to find a park or open space where you will be able to walk for twenty minutes without encountering traffic.
A Beginner’s Guide to Walking Meditation
Meditation is one of the most effective ways to relieve stress, relax our bodies and quiet our busy minds. But with busy work schedules, family responsibilities and other demands in our day-to-day lives, it can be challenging to find time for a regular practice. Walking meditation is an excellent alternative for incorporating a practice into the gaps in our busy lives. It can be performed anytime you’re walking, whether that is from your car to your home, while in nature or during a leisurely evening stroll through your neighborhood.
Unlike other forms of meditation, walking meditation helps us to use physical movement, in addition to mental and emotional experiences, as the basis for developing an overall greater awareness. We can then take that awareness into the rest of our lives.
Walking meditation can be practiced by experienced meditation practitioners and beginners alike, however if you would like to begin by exploring meditation in a more traditional way, please read Meditation 101: a 10 Step Beginner’s Guide.
How to Start Walking Meditation
Find a location to practice
It is best to begin your introduction to walking meditation outdoors where you can walk uninterrupted with fewer distractions. A park is an excellent choice. As you become more comfortable, you can practice walking meditation anywhere that you walk, including busy sidewalks or shopping malls. When choosing a location for your walking meditation practice, be aware of any possible safety concerns such as tripping hazards, obstacles or traffic.
Begin by standing tall. Feel your feet root into the ground beneath you. Elongate your spine as if a thread extending from the top of your crown was pulling your head, neck and back straight up towards the sky. Notice how your weight moves from side to side or front to back as you balance.
Turn your attention to your breath. Breathe silently, yet deeply. Engage your diaphragm and fill your lungs, but do not force your breath. Allow your belly to rise and fall with each inhale and exhale. Notice how your breath affects your body. Does deep breathing help you to stand taller? Does it energize you? Calm you?
Look ahead and begin to walk forward. Don’t rush. Simply walk at a comfortable pace and allow your body to establish a comfortable stride length.
Relax and be aware of your entire body
Begin by drawing your attention to the soles of your feet. Notice how they make contact with the ground as they roll from heel to toe and then travel through the air to stride forward. Notice how your ankles flex, how your calf muscles contract and how your knees bend. Feel the rotation in your hips, the flexion in your lower back. Let your arms swing naturally at your sides, your hands relaxed at the end of your wrists. Feel your shoulders move in their sockets. Release any stress you hold in your jaw, face and forehead. Gaze softly ahead. As you draw awareness to each part of your body, direct your breath to that area and consciously ask it to relax. Imagine your body releasing tension with each breath and movement.
Immerse yourself in your surroundings
Notice the sun on your face, the wind blowing through your hair, the sound of the kids playing nearby or horns honking. If you’re walking indoors, notice the sound of other people talking, the sound of footsteps and the hum of lighting fixtures. Don’t react to these external stimuli, simply notice them.
Draw your attention inward. Are you bored, excited, content, irritated or happy? Acknowledge how you feel and be mindful of this moment. Don’t think to the future or the past. Be present.
There is no right or wrong length of time to practice walking meditation. Your practice may be quite short if you simply walk to the mailbox, or it may be long if you incorporate your practice into a weekend hike through the woods. You decide. When ending your practice, don’t come to an abrupt halt. Simply slow down and come to a natural stop.
Integrate your experience
Take a moment to feel what it’s like to be still again. Stand tall. Notice your surroundings, your body and your emotions. How is this moment different than when you began your walking meditation? Even without judgment or reaction, by simply being aware of your physical, mental and emotional experience throughout your meditation, you have changed.
Remember that walking meditation is unlike other forms of meditation. While it can be a very peaceful practice, it is an active meditation often practiced in locations with many sounds and distractions. Don’t be discouraged if your mind wanders with these distractions. Use the steps outlined in this guide to help focus your awareness. If your mind does become distracted, simply acknowledge those thoughts, then set them aside and continue your meditation. As you become more experienced, it will be easier to maintain your focus.
Be Wary of Hyping Up Meditation, Say Researchers
Even mindfulness-based meditation can have side effects.
Mindfulness has been heralded as practically a body hack that rolls productivity, anti-anxiety, and focus into one, its therapeutic benefits ranging from easing addiction to quieting mood disorders.
Meditation May Trigger Unpleasant Experiences
For some people, meditation may trigger experiences that are unpleasant or even distressing, according to a new study.
But researchers are dousing water on meditation’s glamorization as a miracle cure-all. In a paper published May 24 in the open-access journal PLOS One, psychiatrist Willoughby Britton and her colleagues interviewed Western Buddhist meditation practitioners and found that mindfulness-based meditation can have unintended negative consequences. Practitioners of Buddhist meditative traditions, —like Theravāda, Zen, and Tibetan style — show that using meditation as a psychological therapy is much more complicated than it seems, and can come with long-lasting consequences.
Britton and her fellow researchers conducted interviews with 60 meditation practitioners about their challenging, difficult, distressing, or impairing experiences associated with meditation. These issues spanned seven different areas: cognitive, perceptual, affective, somatic, conative, sense of self, and social.
“Mindfulness meditation programs, in particular, show small improvements in anxiety, depression, and pain with moderate evidence and small improvements in stress/distress and the mental health component of health-related quality of life,” write the researchers. They found no evidence of negative side effects — but most of these studies did not look for negative effects.
“The vast majority (88%) of participants reported that challenging or difficult meditation experiences bled over into daily life or had an impact on their life beyond a meditation retreat or beyond a formal practice session,” they wrote. Seventy-three percent of the subjects told researchers that they experienced moderate to severe impairment in at least one area. These results are especially significant when considering the fact that 60 percent of these people are meditation teachers, not just casual practitioners.
There’s a dark side to meditation that no one talks about
We’ve all heard about the benefits of meditation ad nauseam. Those disciplined enough to practice regularly are rewarded with increased control over the brainwaves known as alpha rhythms, which leads to better focus and may help ease pain. In addition to calming the mind and body, meditation can also reduce the markers of stress in people with anxiety disorders. Rigorous studies have backed health claims such as these to convince therapists, physicians, and corporate gurus to embrace meditation’s potential.
What contemporary and ancient meditators have always known, however, is that while the hype may be warranted, the practice is not all peace, love, and blissful glimpses of unreality. Sitting zazen, gazing at their third eye, a person can encounter extremely unpleasant emotions and physical or mental disturbances.
Zen Buddhism has a word for the warped perceptions that can arise during meditation: makyo, which combines the Japanese words for “devil” and “objective world.” Philip Kapleau, the late American Zen master, once described confronting makyo as “a dredging and cleansing process that releases stressful experiences in deep layers of the mind.”
This demanding and sometimes intensely distressing side of meditation is rarely mentioned in scientific literature.
However, this demanding and sometimes intensely distressing side of meditation is rarely mentioned in scientific literature, says Jared Lindahl, a visiting professor of religious studies at Brown University, who has an interest in neuroscience and Buddhism. Along with Willoughby Britton, a psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown, the two mediators have co-authored a study that documents and creates a taxonomy for the variant phenomenology of meditation. The paper, published in Plos One, is the beginning of an ongoing series of studies. “Just because something is positive and beneficial doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of the broader range of possible effects it might have,” Lindahl says.
To conduct their research, the pair interviewed 60 Western Buddhist meditation practitioners who had all experienced challenging issues during their practice. They included both rookies and meditation teachers, many of whom had accumulated more than 10,000 hours of meditation experience in their lifetime. All belonged to either Theravāda, Zen, or Tibetan traditions.
The researchers identified 59 kinds of unexpected or unwanted experiences, which they classified into seven domains: cognitive, perceptual, affective (related to moods), somatic, conative (related to motivation), sense of self, and social. Among the experiences described to them were feelings of anxiety and fear, involuntary twitching, insomnia, a sense of complete detachment from one’s emotions, hypersensitivity to light or sound, distortion in time and space, nausea, hallucinations, irritability, and the re-experiencing of past traumas. The associated levels of distress and impairment ranged from “mild and transient to severe and lasting,” according to the study. Most would not imagine that these side-effects could be hiding behind the lotus-print curtains of your local meditation center.
However, the survey respondents didn’t necessarily perceive every non-euphoric event as negative. In fact, says Britton, she and Lindahl deliberately avoided the word “adverse” in their study for this reason. Instead, they chose “challenging,” which better captured the meditators’ varied interpretations of their experiences. For instance, a person who came away from a retreat feeling “very expanded and very unified with other people in the world” might have found their oneness with the universe distracting once they returned home. (That’s challenging, not tragic.)
The goal of the study was to look for patterns in the common accounts of unwanted reactions. Who runs into the unexpected hurdles? What are the unique set of factors involved? In which ways do teachers assist students who are struggling? (And do they blame inner demons for the upsets, or maybe something you ate at lunch?) The answers, which still require future research, may one day be relevant to the ways meditation is used as therapy.
The impact of a thermonuclear war in Southeast Asia would be unbearable. It threatens to destabilise the Asian region. I have suggested an alternative way of tackling the problem, based on Buddhist principles of governance and diplomacy.
If you have difficulty accessing the article, I would be happy to send you pdf version.
Don de Silva MAC
An alternative way to deal with North Korea
The impact of a thermonuclear war in Southeast Asia would be unbearable. It threatens to destabilise the Asian region, which has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth over the last 40 years to become a region of economic power.
Instead of a military solution, which would engulf the region, a Dharmic initiative by Asian nations, based on the spiritual traditions — common to many counties in the region — could ease tensions in the area.
Lasting and unsustainable environmental impacts
The genetic and environmental effects of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the use of napalm and Agent Orange in Southeast Asia continues and will continue for generations to come.
Kumgang Gerbirge, North Korea
The “military solution” to deal North Korea is coming to a head. This would be dangerous. It is highly unlikely that a surgical strike would be met with a whimper.
“My country right or wrong” is coming back in fashion. South Korea’s $1.4 trillion economy reaches all parts of the world. How will the entangled global economy and stock markets in Asia and the world respond to a war that engulfs southeast Asia?
Military threats and hostile glares through high-powered binoculars across the Demilitarized Zone and eight years of sanctions haven’t brought North Korea to the negotiating table.
What would move Kim Jong Un? Surely, survival and national security. Also, he appears to have ambitions to improve North Korea’s economy, and his domestic policies have already generated modest growth. Kim’s “Byongjin” includes both nuclear and economic development.
A united diplomatic initiative
A united, diplomatic Asian initiative, led by China, India, Japan, together with representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) could be worth a try.
This would be a new environmental diplomacy to secure the people and environment in the Asian region.
The ASEAN nations consist of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam.
SAARC consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Asian nations have responded positively to environmental diplomacy. I was involved with the the creation of the South Asian Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP), the first ever inter-governmental body in the South Asian region and the precursor to SAARC.
I was also at the creation of the East Asian regional seas programme. Despite all the arguments and conflicts between nations, I have witnessed remarkable feats of diplomacy and unity within Asian nations, reaching across to each other to address shared environmental threats.
Bringing peace to Asia will require strenuous diplomatic efforts of give and take. But it is possible get nations thinking and acting out of their own interests
Pyongyang may be willing to listen to Asian leaders working together, like China and India. Whilst China is working around the clock to diffuse tensions, India has yet to engage in the area.
India and China: Sharing deep common values
Both China and India share deep common values. China has the largest Buddhist population in the world, inspired by the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, a son of India, whose impact is spreading widely across the world.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Attending a Buddhist-Hindu conclave, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi prescribed conflict avoidance as the most effective conflict resolution mechanism.
“Buddha was a great preacher of equality and I would personally call India “Buddhist India”, the Prime Minister is reported to have said.
At the same time, China has the largest population of Buddhists in the world. China Today’s website reports that, among all the religions, the largest is Buddhism. The Chinese government has spent large sums of money to rebuild monastries.
Master Xuecheng, Secretary General of the Buddhist Association of China, suggests: “The root of Dharma lies in the ability to judge and choose. To have wisdom means to know how to choose between what to take and what to forsake.” Sound advice for all, particularly political leaders.
For the rulers of his day, the Buddha enunciated ten clear principles of good governance — the Dasavidha-rajadhamma: Dāna (charity), Sīla (morality) , Pariccāga (altruism), Ājjava (honesty), Maddava (gentleness), Tapa (self controlling), Akkodha (non-anger), Avihimsa (non-violence), Khanti (forbearance) and Avirodhana (uprightness).
The Buddha was also not shy about challenging rulers to tackle economic and social injustice when they moaned to him about unrest and terror in their kingdoms.
Smaller nations are always suspicious of the regional ambitions of big nations. Prime Minsiter Modi during his recent visit to Vietnam adopted a very different tone: “The advent of Buddhism from India to Vietnam and the monuments of Vietnam’s Hindu Cham temples stand testimony to these bonds. Some people came here with the objective of war. We came here with a message of peace which has endured.”
President Xi Jingping
Presently, Chinese President Xi Jingping is working over time to diffuse tensions. China and India, working together, backed by the rest of Asia would have a greater impact.
The time has come for a new form of preventive and mature diplomacy in the Asian region exactly along these lines. The sustainable security of the region, will require bold and daring initiatives of the spirit that would enable a nation like North Korea to arrive at the table.
If Asia wants a long-term strategy to protect is hard earned economic development, where millions have been moved out of poverty, the Asian nations will have to use the diplomatic structures at hand.
Removing threats to economic prosperity
Prosperity in Asia, will have to include the plight and the suffering of the North Korean people. The middle way – between the extremes of isolation and conflict — to diffuse tensions would be to include North Korea.We do not know what is in Kim Jong Un’s mind, but he must know that a nuclear deterrent cannot bring lasting peace and security to North Korea. He will have to address the economic issues of his people.
Rather than threaten war or deepen sanctions, a more value-based productive path from the Asian nations would be to gradually move North Korean down the same road that nearly all have taken: to move millions out of poverty.
Don de Silva
Chief Executive ★ Environment ★ Interfaith★ Mindfulness ★ Life Coach ★ International Development
Don de Silva is a Buddhist Chaplain and formerly with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).