AFTER a serious accident and two life-threatening illnesses in quick succession, I realized that the way I was living my busy life was not working. Fortunately, my son took me to a meditation retreat where I learned to slow down.
I was on the right track. A growing body of science indicates that meditation reduces stress. In a ground-breaking study reported in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine July/August 2003, researchers compared the brain waves of people who had learned how to meditate, with the brain waves of a control group. The study found that the meditators showed a pronounced shift in activity to the left frontal lobe. As a result, they were calmer and happier than before. Since then, research has shown that meditation has many benefits for brain activity. For example, it’s believed to improve learning, memory and the regulation of emotions.
According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation may also be useful for medical conditions. With the caveat that some researchers remain skeptical, the clinic’s website states that a growing body of scientific research suggests that meditation may help such conditions as allergies, asthma, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and can help relieve symptoms in people who suffer from chronic pain.
Meditation generally involves sitting quietly while focusing on one’s breath, a word, or a phrase. Meditators also practise when walking, standing or lying down. According to Janice Walker, a long-time meditator, what is important is that one practises mindfully with full awareness of the breath. “Meditators learn to pause, to touch stillness, to become peaceful and to live in the present moment,” she says.
Meditation is, at its essence, a spiritual practice and this is what it has become for me. I am learning how to be more understanding and generous.
Jennifer Solley, also a regular practitioner, says that because of meditating she is now more able to live with compassion, peace, love and joy. This has a profound effect on both herself and others in her life.
While meditation is a solitary activity, many people find it difficult to maintain a meditation practice alone and joining a meditation group can help. There are many traditions and countless meditation groups. I am now part of the North Shore Mindfulness Practice Community, which meets every Tuesday evening. The group practises in the Buddhist tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has developed a meditation practice that is easy to follow.
For members of the public who would like to learn more about this approach to meditation, the group is offering a public talk entitled, Quieting the Mind, by Eileen Kiera, a senior teacher in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh who has led retreats throughout North America. The talk is on Friday, April 5 from 7 to 9 p.m. There is a suggested donation of $10.
For those who would like to explore this practice further, Kiera will lead a Day of Mindfulness and Meditation on Saturday, April 6 from 10 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m. The day will include walking, sitting, and eating meditation. The fee for this event is $40-$60 on a sliding scale. It is necessary to register by calling 604-980-4310.
Both events will take place at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, 885 22nd St, West Vancouver (close to Marine Drive). No one will be turned away because of inability to pay.
Penny Handford is a consultant in private practice working with non-profit social service agencies and communities. She is a member of the Care Taking Team for the North Shore Mindfulness Practice Community.