Sanctuary and Ritual in Meditation

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Two appealing aspects of meditation are its portability and affordability. Not only can you do it anywhere, anytime, but also it’s free! There are few things in life for which you can say the same, no? That said, it’s beneficial to set up an area of your home or a room devoted to your practice.

For my own practice, I have a comfortable chair and soft, warm blanket in a quiet, clutter-free corner of my bedroom. A small table is situated next to it and contains a few items, such as books, journals, pens, a candle, meditation bell, a shell from the beach and a few other pretty little decorative pieces that spark joy. When I go to this space, my body and mind automatically relax, in preparation for meditation. This is no accident. It turns out, creating a space and ritual for meditation elicits a meditative state.

From the act of walking into your dedicated space and being seated on a meditation cushion or blanket, the same chair or place on the sofa to something as simple as lighting a candle or ringing a meditation bell, you’ve taught yourself a form of environmental conditioning. I recently read about this phenomenon in my meditation teacher training materials and am surprised I never before thought of the connection. Think of it as a pavlovian response of sorts, but rather than being hungry because of the dinner bell, you are instantly relaxed due to the meditation bell (or cushion or candle, etc.). The beauty of this is again, the portability. Even when traveling or seated at your desk at work, you can evoke the sense of relaxation by simply lighting a candle or ringing that bell.

This of course doesn’t replace your meditation practice, rather it enhances it and allows you to enter the meditative state more quickly, thereby deepening your practice. The fact that you then can trigger the relaxation elsewhere with your candle, music, bell or what have you is a bonus.

Do you have a meditation space or ritual? Please share it in the comments.

 

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Planting the Seeds: Body Scan Meditation 

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The first time I meditated, I was in seventh grade. My mom taught me a body scan meditation, because I was having trouble getting to sleep and she thought it would help me relax. She learned it at a one-off meditation class. While Mom never became a meditator, she did often employ this technique as a way to fall asleep. Little did she know she was planting the seed for what is now going on a 20-something year pursuit for me, culminating in meditation teacher training and a passion for meditation. Thanks, Mom!

The body scan meditation is perfect for beginners and longtime practitioners. It is simple and feels like reclining on the beach listening to gentle waves rolling and lapping at the shore. Aaaahhhh.

Whether you opt for three, five, 10 or 40 minutes, you are sure to see the benefits. It’s also a great way to begin a meditation session, as it get’s you mentally and physically prepared.

Click here for three free body scan meditations by Elisha Goldstein published on the Mindful.Org site.

Connecting with your body in this way is not only relaxing, but helps identify areas that might need a little TLC, such as gentle stretching or even a doctor’s visit. At the very least, you’ll come away feeling relaxed and refreshed. Enjoy this little mini-vacation.

Meditation and Addiction

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One of the many reasons I wanted to learn how to teach meditation is that in recent years, studies have shown how beneficial it is for addiction recovery. For example, from the Headspace Meditation for Addiction website, “Neuroscientists found that after just five 20 minute sessions of a mindfulness meditation technique, people had increased blood flow to an area of the brain vital to self-control, the anterior cingulate cortex. After 11 hours of practice, they found actual physical changes in the brain around this area.” As the child of an addict and someone who, like many, has friends and loved ones who are addicts or recovering addicts, this connection between meditation and addiction is a personal one.

This point was driven home when this morning, a person with whom I’m very close and love very much called to admit to me that he is an addict. It took so much courage for him to share this burden. While I already knew about his problem, I’m grateful and humbled that he trusted me with something so personal. In that moment, I let him know how much I love him; that I do not judge him; and that I will support him on and off the wagon. Love the addict; hate the addiction, as they say.

This person and I watched helplessly for years as my mother fell deeper and deeper into addiction, until ultimately she died from an accidental overdose. She was 53. He promised me he wasn’t going to let that happen to him. Thankfully, now his addiction is out in the open and he can get the love and support he needs to fight it. My hope is that in addition to whatever therapy and recovery program he choses, he will incorporate meditation. While I’m not yet in the position to teach him, I offered to send him some resources. One of which is the link to the above referenced Meditation for Addiction website from Headspace. It’s of course up to him now whether or not to use meditation and any other form of treatment. This is the part where I continue to offer love and support. The important thing is that he gets clean. Period.

If you are reading this and you are an addict, please get help. Consider trying meditation — it’s free and it works. But no matter what, just get help.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’m in the middle of Sharon Salzberg‘s Real Happiness Meditation Challenge. Today’s meditation was “sensation meditation.” As is often the case, it ended up being apropos to the conversation I had earlier in the morning, because much of the session dealt with not only pleasant and neutral physical sensations, but also awareness of pain sensations and my loved one also has chronic pain, which is what lead him to an addiction to prescription pain pills. (Note: Meditation also helps with chronic pain.) A quote provided below the meditation audio said, “Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves.” I hope he begins to see that the story he has been telling himself — that he’s undeserving of happiness, love, peace and sobriety — is not what’s really happening. He’s deserving of all of it and so much more. We all are. I dedicated my meditation today to him and all addicts. May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.

 

Metta Gras: When Meditation Meets Mardi Gras

Metta Gras is a celebration of embracing the decadence of meditation.

Metta Gras is a celebration of embracing the decadence of meditation.

Welcome to the latest incarnation of my blog. Over the years, it has morphed from an etiquette blog, to a lifestyle blog and now into a blog devoted to mindfulness and meditation. I decided to call it Metta Gras, after a post I did on the Sharon Salzberg website during her Real Happiness Meditation Challenge. As you will learn in the post, published below, the challenge has been a rewarding experience, the result of which (so far) has been allowing myself to sign up for a meditation teacher training course. To me, using the phrase Metta Gras as the title speaks to the idea that meditation, far from being a form of denial, is really an indulgence. Much like Mardi Gras being a time to overindulgence in eating, drinking and general merriment, meditation a time to binge on awareness, peace and food for your mind, body and soul. Also, I live in New Orleans, so it seemed like a fun way to give a shoutout to my beloved city. My hope is that by sharing my love of mindfulness and mediation, and the adventure of training to become a meditation teacher, I’ll inspire a few of you to start your own practice. Happy Metta Gras. Enjoy the decadence!

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THIS POST ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON SHARON SALZBERG’S WEBSITE ON FEB. 6, 2016

It’s Carnival season in New Orleans and I live on the parade route. Well, 30 yards from it right off of St. Charles Avenue. It’s safe to say Mardi Gras probably isn’t conducive to meditation. In fact, that thought crossed my mind when I signed up for the Real Happiness Challenge — that it coincided with Carnival, which contrary to what some people may have been lead to believe isn’t just one crazy weekend. It actually lasts about a month. The other day, some friends in Mobile, Alabama — the birthplace of Carnival in the United States — reminded me of this dichotomy, commenting on my Facebook post of the day about the meditation challenge. One friend wrote, “How you will be able to meditate this weekend, I don’t know! Get your party boots on instead.” To which I replied, “The beautiful thing is, I can do both!” To which he replied,”All earthy things are to be abandoned and decadence will reign.” Will his prophesy come true? I have enough humility to admit, that it might and to know my response about doing both was more of a hopeful remark than a definitive statement, because the weekend before Fat Tuesday is the loudest, rowdiest and most parade-filled with the parades beginning at 8 a.m. on some mornings and lasting well into the night. Which means in the coming days, I will likely be meditating with the sound of brass bands and cheering crowds in the background no matter what time I sit. The “hearing” meditation will be a helpful one on those days, no? In a way, rather than being the worst time to grow my meditation practice, I think it’s the perfect time. Instead of fighting between meditation and Mardi Gras, I’m going to embrace the two and look for balance. I’m calling it, Metta Gras. (Pop over to my Instagram page to see photos of the more Mardi Gras fun.)

This morning as I sat, I heard the sound of revealers arriving to set up camp on the parade route; sirens from the police cars clearing the streets; and the ubiquitous honk, honk of the vendors as they rolled their carts up the street stacked to the gills with plush toys, boas and other Mardi Gras goodies. Rather than resist and attempt to push those noises out of my mind, I allowed them in and let go as Sharon Salzberg’s voice encouraged me to find balance in the breath. Yes, the Day 6 meditation was on Balance. How fitting, that it should arrive on the same day as the start of the early parades.

Six days into the challenge — and in the final week of Mardi Gras — I find myself feeling more balanced, joyful and serene than ever. Each morning, I look forward to the day’s email from Salzberg and with excitement as I open it to discover the new meditation. In addition to respite from the Mardi Gras madness, this week brought about the courage and conviction register for a 160-hour meditation teacher immersion program through the non-profit, The Mindfulness Center in Bethesda, Maryland, co-sponsored by the National Association of Social Workers.   

I’ve secretly wanted to do this for years and am excited to deepen my practice, experience and knowledge and to learn how to share meditation with others. With a first week like that, it’s exciting to think what’s in store for the coming weeks as I continue to sit. I’m looking forward to coming down from Carnival with this challenge, though I envision it being more of a gentle plop, rather than a crash landing, since I’ve been able to stay grounded through the parties, parades, balls and booze.
While the sense of tranquility and balance brought about via continuous meditation during one of the wildest, city-wide parties in the world doesn’t surprise me, the enjoyment of the sense of community I’m experiencing with the challenge isn’t something I expected. Checking in each day with my fellow meditators — clocking in at more than 13,000 at this point — via social media and here on Salzberg’s blog, is also something I look forward to each day. It’s fun having compatriots, especially after so many years of practicing and studying meditation alone in my own little world. Thanks everyone and Salzberg for opening me up to this wonderful group of diverse, but like-minded individuals.  As I step back into the world today — most likely wearing a brightly colored wig, because New Orleans — to dance in the streets, catch beads and imbibe, I do so with balance and that sense of awareness gained through meditation, which allows me to live completely in the moment. It’s not depravation to meditate during Mardi Gras; it’s decadent. My friend’s prophesy did come true. Happy Metta Gras! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a parade to catch. Laissez le bon temps rouler!

 

Bon Vivanting at MyNewOrleans.Com

Visit the Bon Vivant blog or the Let Them Eat Cake blog at MyNewOrleans.Com.

Visit the Bon Vivant blog or the Let Them Eat Cake blog at MyNewOrleans.Com.

These days, the style bloggery is happening at MyNewOrleans.Com. In addition to my weekly Bon Vivant blog, which focuses on living well and finding ways to make life more artful, I also contribute to and edit the official daily wedding blog of New Orleans Bride Magazine, Let Them Eat Cake.

Be sure to check the News and Events page on this site for the latest public talks, media appearances and segments and any other relevant scoop.

Also, don’t forget to visit the Photography page for new images in my various fine art photography series and visit the Bon Vivant NOLA store online to buy photos and more.

Thanks for stopping by!