When Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced transcendental meditation to the United States in the 1960s, it seemed like a cultish thing to do. But attitudes have changed. These days, the 2,500-year-old Buddhist practice is downright mainstream.
The journey can begin wherever you are whenever you want. Anyone of any age and any faith—or none at all—is welcome. The inward trek promises personal transformation and the promise of enlightenment, but it takes patience and discipline.
It’s good to have a guru, and there are many in Delaware sharing their wisdom with both the newcomer and sage.
“What many people don’t realize is that they’ve probably experienced some form of meditation already, whether they’ve practiced it formally or not,” says Keren Portia, meditation instructor at Yoga U in North Wilmington.
As notes flow unconsciously through a musician’s fingertips, for instance, he may lose track of time. For him, that’s meditation. A runner may find her breathing, heartbeat and footsteps form a cadence that erases everyday cares. For her, that’s also meditation.
However one decides to practice meditation, the goal is always the same: to quiet the mind and find the peaceful spaces between thoughts. We can’t stop the thoughts, but we can alter our responses to them.
“When you can quiet your rational mind, you can get to the higher mind, if you create space for it,” Portia says. “Some people call it intuition. Others believe it’s where God speaks to them. But no matter what your belief system or word for it is, meditation is how we get there.”
Clinically documented benefits of consistent meditation are many: better concentration and focus, better health and a better overall sense of well-being. Research also shows better immune system functioning, lower blood pressure and other physiological benefits.
Results of research at the University of Pennsylvania last year show that 30 minutes of meditation a day can improve one’s ability to quickly and accurately move and focus attention (called orienting), which has positive implications for performance and learning in the workplace. Penn offers an eight-week Public Stress Management course at five locations in the Philadelphia area, including the First Unitarian Church of Wilmington.
“One of the most important results of practicing meditation for me was the loss of fear,” says instructor Hardy Hoegger of Arden.
Hoegger appears much younger than his 83 years. He began his practice of meditation more than 30 years ago while a research chemist for DuPont. He found it had a significant effect on his performance at work and in general.
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“I had palpitations every time I had a confrontation with a supervisor,” Hoegger says. “I had sleep loss and fear of not being good enough. Through meditation and yoga, I found I no longer had fear, which gave me the self-assurance to take the various impacts of life much more lightly.”
Hoegger, who teaches a meditation course at the University of Delaware’s Academy of Lifelong Learning, believes that fear keeps people away from self-improvement processes such as, ironically, meditation.
“The Buddha taught that our thinking is very repetitive and based in fear and desire,” says Nick Edge of Edge Construction, a 20-year meditation practitioner and an instructor with the Insight Meditation Community in Lewes. “Meditation is the tool that starts to break that down.”
There are two main components to meditation: concentration (on the breath, an object or a sound) and mindfulness (when we assume the role of the observer of our own thoughts). The mind will wander. That’s to be expected. With practice comes better control.
There are some wonderful books on the topic but the abundance of information can be overwhelming. A teacher can help individuals determine which type of meditation best suits them.
“If they’re more auditory, they may be inclined to use chanting, to start with a prayer and say it over and over, or to use mantra meditation,” says Neil Miesel, co-founder of The Awareness Center in Newark. “If they’re more kinesthetically oriented, we work with body sensations and getting in touch with the breath moving through the body. And when people have physical challenges, we help them to meditate on the part of the body that is experiencing pain.”
Restless types may find that walking meditation is the way to go. Many groups intersperse walking with sitting mediations. Using a labyrinth like that at the Delaware Art Museum can be very helpful in finding focus.
When starting, “begin with a mindfulness-awareness practice, because that is one in which you begin to work directly with mental and emotional activity of the mind,” says Alison Driscoll, meditation guru with Empowered Yoga in Wilmington. “It’s the most simple and profound. You need only your body and breath.”
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As with yoga, breathing is key.
“Mind and breath are interconnected,” says Michael Fischman, president of The Art of Living Foundation. “It’s the connection between the inner world of silence and the outer world of activity.”
Fischman moved to Los Angeles many years ago with the hope of becoming an actor. “The first thing they taught me in acting class was how to breathe,” he says. “Every emotion has a corresponding rhythm to the breath. For example, you have a long exhalation when you’re sad and a long inhalation when you feel love. By learning to control the breath, you can learn to control the emotion.”
Participants in the Art of Living course learn a breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya, which enables them to reach a deep state of meditation quickly and easily. The course is offered at the First Unitarian Church of Wilmington.
There’s a reason it’s called the “practice” of meditation. It takes effort over time to get good.
“We are used to instant gratification,” Driscoll says. “Meditation is more like beginning an exercise program. You’re not going to see immediate results. The long-term effects come from regular practice.”
It’s difficult to be still, though, because many of us have what is referred to as a “monkey mind” that jumps from thought to thought.
“We feel that we need to make an effort because we’re used to doing it, but to strive in meditation is counterproductive,” Driscoll says. “The key is to relax and just explore our sense of being human so we begin to notice what’s happening in the mind without having to do anything. It’s about being right here, right now, in the present moment.”
Page 4: Where to Learn and Practice
Where to Learn and Practice
Academy of Lifelong Learning
115 Arsht Hall
2800 Pennsylvania Ave.
This course explores the practice of about a dozen meditation forms to help individuals determine which best suits their needs. A session is offered each semester. Classes are limited to 50 people. Sitting on the floor is not required.
The Awareness Center
280 E. Main St., Suite 109
Free meditation sessions are held Sundays 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and Wednesdays from 4:30 p.m. to 5:25 p.m. Introduction and instruction is available by request.
2000 Pennsylvania Ave., Suite 208
Sessions are usually held on Fridays from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. They are available on a drop-in basis. A $10 donation is encouraged. Call for summer dates and times.
First Unitarian Church of Wilmington
730 Halstead Road
Offers The Art of Living courses (us.artofliving.org), which use the breathing technique of Sudarshan Kriya to focus the mind, and the University of Pennsylvania’s eight-week public stress management course.
Insight Meditation Community
Hosted by Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church
212 Second St., Lewes, 645-8479
Free meditation sessions are held Mondays at 4 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5 p.m. Introduction and instruction is available to newcomers. Donations or “dana” accepted. Six teaching events and three to four retreats are offered each year.
The Penn Program for Stress Management
University of Pennsylvania Health System
3930 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, (800) 789-7366
An eight-week public stress management course is offered three times a year (fall, winter and spring) in five locations, including the First Unitarian Church of Wilmington.