Harnessing the Power of Love and Good
Does it sometimes feel like the entire world is having a collective nervous breakdown?
You’re not alone if you’ve thought that recently. Lori Lowe of Guilford not only agrees, she has an idea about how to make it better.
“Now more than ever we need to clarify our own thoughts before we can respond to the thoughts of others. It’s really a time where we need to harness our power of love and goodness so that we can react in such a way that is positive and facilitates change,” she says. “Meditation has been around for thousands of years and it’s great to see it go mainstream. I also believe that if we got meditation to reach a tipping point, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s expression, we could experience real change and healing in the world.”
To that end, Lowe is starting up a guided group meditation in her hometown of Guilford, a simple 30-minute session, two to three days a week, free. She currently looking for a place on the Guilford Green to start up this practice. An actress since age nine, she has incorporated mindfulness into her company, mindfulactor.com, along with sensory exercises and improv to help her students “take a creative leap into the imaginary world of play and the life of the character.”
She’s not alone. Sara Drought Nebel, an artist from Madison, likewise has incorporated meditation and mindfulness into her art classes at Just Plain Art, including a series starting up in March.
They are among a wide range of mindfulness and meditation guides and teachers along the shoreline who agree that the benefits of a regular practice are more valuable now than ever.
Khentrul Lodrö T’hayé Rinpoche will visit Water’s Edge in Westbrook on Saturday and Sunday, Feb 18 and 19 for two days of public teaching. He meets regularly with the Katog Vajra Ling, a Connecticut meditation group studying Tibetan Buddhism under his guidance at the Sangha Center, 19 Fair Street, in Guilford. He feels the need is greater for mindfulness and meditation because, “now, in comparison to previous eras, we have more concepts.”
“Our minds are bombarded with them relentlessly like waves on the surface of the ocean,” Rinpoche said through his interpreter, Paloma Lopez Landry. “This causes us human beings to suffer enormously. So, now more than ever, these kind of practices such as mindfulness are indispensable tools for those who wish to experience happiness and peace.”
Alan Franzi, a yoga practitioner and therapist at the Shoreline Center for Wholistic Health, teaches classes along the shoreline from New Haven to Guilford. He points to the ubiquity of digital technology as an exacerbating factor when it comes to stress and unhappiness.
“It is true that people of every generation have had challenges managing their busy and stressful lives. However, I believe the advent of digital technology with the ensuing demand by employers, families, and all other facets of society to be connected and accessible 24/7 is creating incredible challenges to our physical and mental wellbeing,” he says. “Unplugging from all this distraction and stress is more difficult than ever. Without a way to routinely return to baseline of calm and relaxation our systems are always on high alert. I believe this makes the need for simple, powerful, and easily accessible techniques such as mindfulness practices more important than ever.”
Christine Ucich, the owner and lead instructor at One World Wellness in East Haven, says she thinks mindfulness and meditation is becoming more accepted in part due to “a larger cultural or paradigm shift away from the western religious/philosophical world-view rooted in the Greek tradition of purely mental inquiry into rational thought (i think; therefore i am) and the Judeo-Christian tradition of cultivating the spirit mainly for existence in an afterlife sometime in the future, not here in the body in the present moment.”
She feels that those traditions do not have much interest in the body and in fact, sometimes express a disdainful attitude toward it as having a sinful nature.
“People have a need to connect once more with the body and with nature. We see this in many forms now in our present society as a way of healing this body/mind split,” she says. “In my classes, I always remind people to take the mind and put it in the belly! I’m trying to get them out of their heads and into pure present time awareness of the body and breath. This is the essence of mindfulness.”
The benefits of mindfulness and meditation are many, those guides and experts say.
The majority of people who participate in my meditation classes want to decrease their anxiety and worry,” says Liz Hale-Rose, who teaches at the Essex Wellness Center in Essex, Fitness on the Water in Essex and Westbrook, and at Water’s Edge in Westbrook. “As they learn about the interplay between mind and body, they are able to mobilize their own inner resources for healing. Participants have been pleased that after only a few weeks of regular practice, they notice a decrease in ruminative worrying, self-critical thinking and muscle tension. When worry and self-critical thoughts are present, they get less caught up in them. Participants also report being more aware of positive/pleasant moments in their life, and with that, increased gratitude.”
Jerry Silbert M.D. of Guilford, who often teaches at the Mercy Center in Madison, says he once tried an experiment on himself when he was in the recovery room after a surgical procedure.
“I was curious to see what would happen to my blood pressure and heart rate when I meditated. I meditated on the sensations of my breathing while looking at the monitor that was recording my blood pressure and heart rate. Sure enough, my blood pressure and heart rate decreased by several points within about 30 seconds,” he says.
He says mindfulness can help stress in a variety of ways.
“The practice of mindfulness helps us to gain insights into the workings of our minds, to understand our hot buttons that trigger stressful feelings. Mindfulness helps us to become more resilient and flexible in our ability to reframe our thinking and let go of disturbing thoughts and feelings,” he says. “It helps us learn how to increase our positive states of mind, and how to reduce our negative states of mind, and how we can become more responsive and less reactive. At the Mind Body Institute at Harvard studies have shown that meditation also showed a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol.”
Other benefits can include decreases in blood pressure and heart rate, and positive effects on the immune system.
“More recent studies using PET scans and MRI have shown that in experienced meditators there were physical and functional changes in the regions of the brain associated with decision making and emotions,” Silbert says. “Gaining insights into ourselves, we also become more understanding of others, more open minded, and more receptive to new ideas. We begin to notice our own judgments as well as the ability to examine and question them. We can become kinder and more compassionate. This can help make us more discerning and responsive rather than reacting impulsively to difficult situations.”
Simple, Not Easy
So how do you do it? As one of my favorite yoga teachers likes to say, it’s simple but it’s not easy.
The key is to do it, rather than just reading about how to do it. And then you have to do it again, and again, and again until it’s a routine.
Ucich says, particularly for beginners, or for people who have trouble sticking with a routine, “practicing on one’s own is very difficult.”
“Find a group or center that has regular weekly practice classes and then go there consistently,” she says. “After a while, home practice will be much easier. Also group energy is just more powerful than one individual. It feels differently when practicing with other people. And there is the support of a community, which may keep people coming back.”
Drought Nebel also ascribes to the power of a like-minded tribe.
“Start by taking a class that interests you, learn meditation, and walk in nature regularly. Once you start to be aware, the difference it makes in your life will guide you to seek out more,” she says.
Franzi says starting a practice can initially seem overwhelming, particularly for those experiencing high levels of stress.
“Take some time and look to see what you want to get from meditation based on your specific needs. If you have medical or psychiatric issues, let your clinicians and doctors know your plans to add meditation to your lifestyle. Just as important is to find a teacher with clinical expertise in using mediation to help specific to your concerns,” he says, adding that there are online resources to get started, which can be “a great way to dip your toes in the water.”
“With that said I believe for most the guidance of a teacher and the support of a group can be very helpful. Practitioners often use an expression that ‘community over will power’ that highlights this essential point. In the beginning, learning what meditation is, finding the right kind of meditation, Yoga or other self-care practice, and building the proper habits can be enhanced when you can work with those who have gone through the process,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to interview your teachers to see how comfortable you are that their approach will be a good fit for you.”
He adds, “Enjoy all of this. The beginning of this process of discovery that you can take control of your own life, health and happiness can be extremely exciting and gratifying.”
Hale-Rose says “mindfulness is the intention to pay kind, careful attention to each and every moment, non-judgmentally.”
She gives this as an example of a basic instruction she might provide in class:
“Allowing the breath to fall into its natural rhythm. Feeling the physical sensations of the breath in the muscles of the abdominal wall that are occurring right here, right now. There is no need to make the breath deep or special in any way. Tuning into the physical sensation of the breath as the body breathes itself. Each time your attention wanders off of the breath and onto thinking, simply return your attention to the physical sensations of the breath as an act of kindness to yourself.”
She says this is a practice of being open to and receiving the breath as it occurs in the body.
“When we notice our attention has wandered from the breath, we have the opportunity to relate to ourselves with kindness and patience by accepting our mind-wandering and returning our attention to the breath without judging or criticizing ourselves in any way. Notice the instruction is not to stop your thoughts or your mind from wandering,” she says.
“Nor are you instructed to relax. Relaxation is the common effect of mindfulness meditation, but it is not the goal. Really! There is no instruction to reach any particular goal whatsoever except to be as aware of our experience in the moment as we can.
“We cannot force ourselves to be non-judgmental. But we can gently begin to incline our mind toward receptivity, acceptance, and open-mindedness by not judging ourselves when judgment is present. Judgment, skepticism and mind-wandering in and of themselves are not problems. We can simply be aware of their presence in our minds by mentally noting ‘judgment is here’ or ‘skepticism is here.’
“Meditation is an opportunity to cultivate receptivity, acceptance, and open-mindedness and they will increasingly arise during our practice and in our day-to-day lives. I think it is very empowering to know that these qualities are also skills that increase with mindfulness practice.”
For more information:
Lori Lowe: www.MindfulActor.com
Sara Drought Nebel: justplainart.com/biography
Alan Franzi: www.creativeedgeyoga.com
Christine Ucich: www.oneworld-wellness.com/about.html
Liz Hale-Rose: essexwellnessctr.com
Khentrul Lodrö T’hayé Rinpoche: katogcholing.com
Jerry Silbert: email, email@example.com or visit www.MercyByTheSea.org for upcoming programs