Mindful Musings

“The Power of Loving Kindness”

By: Forrest Rivers

Home 2018 - Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation

Two of the primary purposes of meditation is to learn to let go and to recognize one’s interconnection to all things. During this period of mass sickness and poverty, Metta is a profound meditation technique that at once achieves both goals. Metta roughly translates to “benevolence” or “loving Kindness” in Pali, and comes to us from the Buddhist tradition. The purpose of this exercise is to focus on cultivating and sending feelings of goodwill to all beings. I was first introduced to it at my first group meditation I ever attended. The session was led by an inspiring dharma teacher named Dave Smith. Smith, who has made it his life’s work to aid in the recovery of those with substance abuse issues, led us through a 20-minute Metta practice. In that first sitting, we were asked to imagine sending rays of love to all sentient beings. This guided meditation so moved my spirit and opened my heart that I began attending Dave’s Sunday evening session each week.

Looking back now on that fateful day in early 2013, I am amazed at how completely this simple yet meaningful practice touched my soul. After seven years of reflection on the power of Metta practice, I have come to realize why it is so impactful: loving kindness meditations simultaneously quiet our restless minds and open up our wayward hearts. In these times of fear and uncertainty, what could be more inspiring than sending our deepest wishes of love and goodwill to the planet when we wake up in the morning or go to bed at night?

Through the ages, it has been said by more than a few sages that meditation is the highest form of prayer because it breaks down the separation between the external world and our own soul’s inner yearning for peace and oneness. If it feels right for you, you might find the following COVID-19 adapted Metta practice helpful:

“Find a comfortable position either sitting cross-legged or on the floor or seated up right on a chair of your choosing. Then, slowly close your eyes and bring your awareness to the center of your heart as you begin to inhale and exhale long deep breaths. As you deeply breathe in and out, imagine filling your heart with pink or green light(colors of love) on the in breath and then imagine sending that same light out to the world from your heart on the out breath as you repeat these words to yourself: may all beings be free, may all beings find peace and may all beings be blessed with good health as this pandemic passes like the seasons.” Try this practice for 15-20 minutes. But by all means, feel free to do it for shorter or longer intervals than what I suggest if it feels more comfortable for you”.

Metta meditation has the power to heal our minds and hearts. Remarkably, too, it could also heal the whole world in a time when we are in desperate need of healing. Two studies on the power of loving kindness were conducted in Jerusalem and in Lebanon in the 1980s. In both studies, Scientific researchers found overwhelming evidence of a powerful link between the practice of mass metta(loving kindness) meditation circles and lower incidences of war. As originally reported and published in the academic journal of Conflict Resolution (1988), during days of high attendance at a peace meditation held in Jerusalem, war deaths in neighboring Lebanon decreased by 76 percent. On those days of intention filled Metta Practice, crime and traffic tickets in the near vicinity went down as well. Incredibly, the exact same study was replicated again (with even stricter controls) and produced the same results as reported in the academic journal of Social Behavior and Personality (2005).

If Metta meditation practice can bring peace to a war-torn people imagine what it could accomplish in terms of alleviating all suffering related to COVID-19! When love meets prayer full intentions the possibilities for the evolution of human consciousness are endless. However, one question does arise: how can one go about starting a meditation or prayer circle during a time that requires social distancing? Max Reif, an inspiring writer for the conscious writing collective, the Mindfulword,org, may have the answer. In one of his many thoughtful articles written for this online publication, Reif relates how he has learned to tap into virtual online spiritual communities through Zoom(the interactive web interface program that has soared in popularity during the crisis) to cultivate the feelings of loving kindness:

In Reif’s Words:

“I rise, as often as possible, at 5 a.m. At 6:30, I attend “Virtual Morning Arti,” an international Zoom gathering of Meher Baba devotees. We recite prayers, sing two spiritual anthems and then spend an hour sharing whatever songs, poems, messages or anecdotes people are inspired to contribute. This event often leads me to great heights of joy! While the external world continues its hard slog, my internal world is brought to a point of shining—more than before the pandemic I think.”

Maybe, we can all follow Reif’s example. Is it really a stretch for our imaginations to envision meditation circles popping up all over the world through virtual connections? I don’t think so. Besides spreading some much needed peace and love right now, the emergence of such gatherings(even if they are only virtual) will also inspire hope…..the true motor of the human experience.

 

Mindful Musings

“The Power of  Loving Kindness”

Meditation Circle|VC Reporter | Times Media Group

Two of the primary purposes of meditation is to learn to let go and to intuitively recognize one’s interconnection to all beings. During this period of mass sickness and poverty, Metta practice is a profoundly remarkable meditation exercise that at once achieves both goals. Metta roughly translates to “benevolence” or “loving Kindness in Pali”, and comes to us from the Buddhist tradition. The purpose of this practice is to focus on cultivating and sending feelings of goodwill to all beings. I was first introduced to this practice at my first group meditation I ever attended back in 2013. The session was led by an inspiring dharma teacher named Dave Smith. Smith, who has made it his life’s work to aid in the recovery of those with substance abuse  issues, led us through a 20 minute Metta practice in which we pictured sending rays of love to all sentient beings.

This guided meditation so moved my spirit and opened my heart that I began       attending Dave’s Sunday evening session each week. Looking back now on that fateful day in early 2013, I am amazed at how completely this simple yet meaningful practice touched my soul. After seven years of reflection on the power of Metta practice, I have come to realize why it is so impactful: loving kindness meditations simultaneously quiet our restless minds and open up our wayward hearts. In these times of existential fear and uncertainty, what could be more inspiring than sending our deepest wishes of love and goodwill to the planet when we wake up in the morning or go to bed at night?

Through the ages, it has been said by more than a few sages that meditation is the highest form of prayer because it breaks down the separation between the external world and our own soul’s inner yearning for peace and oneness. If it feels right for you, you might find the following COVID-19 adapted Metta practice helpful:

“Find a comfortable position either sitting cross-legged or on the floor or seated up right on a chair of your choosing. Then, slowly close your eyes and bring your awareness to the center of your heart and you begin to inhale and exhale long deep breaths. As you deeply breathe in and out, imagine filling your heart with pink or green light(colors of love) on the in breath and then on imagine sending that same light out to the world from your heart on the out breath as you repeat these words to yourself: may all beings be free, may all beings find peace and may all beings be blessed with good health and good fortune as this pandemic passes like the seasons.”

Try this practice for 15-20 minutes. But by all means, feel free to do it for shorter or longer intervals than what I suggest if it feels more comfortable for you.

Meditation has the power to heal our minds and hearts. Remarkably, too, it could also heal the whole world in a time when we are in desperate need of healing. In his book titled: The Hidden Messages in water, Japanese author and scientist Masaru Emoto showed how our human consciousness can affect the molecular structure of water. In his study, Emoto filled two glasses full with water from the exact same source. He and his assistants then repeated positive words and affirmations in a loving tone to one glass and repeated negative words and affirmations to the other glass for a period of time. Emoto then analyzed the water under a microscope and found that the glass of water that had received positive reinforcement appeared perfectly clear and highly crystallized. In contrast, he found that the glass of water that had received negative reinforcements appeared murky and polluted. Incredible results indeed!

In similar but much earlier studies conducted in Jerusalem and in Lebanon in the 1980s , scientific researchers found overwhelming evidence of a powerful link between the practice of Metta prayer circles and lower incidences of war. As originally reported and published in the academic journal of Conflict Resolution (1988), during days of high attendance at a peace mass meditation held in Jerusalem, war deaths in neighboring Lebanon decreased by 76 percent. On those days of intention filled Metta Practice, crime and traffic tickets in the near vicinity went down as well. Incredibly, the exact same study was replicated again (with even stricter controls) and produced the same results as reported in the academic journal of Social Behavior and Personality (2005).

If Metta practice can bring peace to a war-torn people imagine what it could accomplish in terms of alleviating all suffering related to COVID-19! When love meets prayerful intentions the possibilities for the evolution of human consciousness are endless!

Mindful Musings

A Meditation on Freedom During COVID-19

By: Forrest RiversSo What IS Spiritual Freedom? — Spirit Quest with LindaAs the United States begins relaxing stay at home orders it has made me reflect on the meaning of freedom in the age of COVID-19. During this period of self-quarantining and social distancing, freedom has come to mean many different things to people.

For the mostly conservative anti-shutdown protesters in the United States (and to a much lesser extent in Great Britain and Germany) freedom has meant the right to work and operate one’s own business without undue interference by government. For these protesters, it has also implied the liberty to make one’s own personal decisions free of state tyranny. Yet, for other folks, freedom has come to mean something different. For many liberal urbanites and senior citizens freedom has come to be seen as the right to be protected from the threats posed by others’ irresponsible actions. In the context of this pandemic, some shoppers’ insistence on not wearing face coverings in crowded public places is an example of such a threat.

Medical workers on the front line of fighting the virus have also arrived at their own unique understanding of freedom. My sister, who is an ER doctor, has expressed to me that she and other medical workers would just like the freedom to be able to perform their (very vital) jobs without encountering societal road blocks along the way. A prime example of such a road block, is the US Government’s colossal failure to provide an adequate number of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing kits for hospitals.

In an inspiring development, a growing number of spiritual seekers, too, are coming to their own profound realization of freedom. In the context of the times, seekers of truth are regarding freedom as something that extends beyond the individual AND as one’s conscious choice to use their free will to alleviate the suffering of all beings. Such an understanding of freedom is akin, in a Christian sense, to being our brother’s keeper. And, in a Buddhist sense, rising to the level of becoming a Bodhisattva or one who devotes their life to service. This perception of freedom has everything to do with right intentions and challenges us to step outside ourselves and to flow with the great river of life. In the end, this acknowledgement of the interrelation of all things (oneness) is possibly the highest truth that mystics of every faith have discovered. Very fortunately for humanity, it appears that more people are beginning to understand that true freedom springs from an awareness that we are all connected. Below, are two powerful examples of this kind of freedom in action:

Example 1: My friend Jamie

For as long as I have known him, Jamie has been passionately devoted to the path of spirit and spreading the light of love. Recently, he began a live stream on Reddit centered on the themes of positivity and personal self-improvement. In just a few months, his platform has drawn up to 500 people at once from across the world. However, it is not the number of participants that matter in this story, but how Jamie has chosen to use his vehicle of expression to uplift others in this anxiety filled time. Recently, Jamie related a touching story to me about how he has been coaching (in his terms) one of his live stream participants through a difficult period of depression and sadness. Most significantly, Jamie revealed how this individual has been finding peace and comfort through their correspondences online. Incredibly enough, this participant lives in Australia! Jamie’s inspiring story is a testament to the fact that the vibrations of love can literally transcend the barriers of both time and space!

Example 2: My friend Austin

Austin has to be one of the kindest souls I have met in my life. And, as an inspiring musician, he has always succeeded in moving others to God through his creativity. During the thick of the stay at home orders, Austin could sense that his neighbors were feeling a little down from this extended period of isolation. So, he took out his guitar and started playing soulful melodies daily with the intention to uplift everyone around him. Austin brought so much joy to the people around him, that he received humbling letters of gratitude from some of his neighbors for spreading peace and love during an otherwise dark time for many.

The examples of Jamie and Austin are powerful reminders that you can still (responsibly) respect social distancing guidelines while positively impacting other beings through your freedom of choice to acknowledge the cosmic threads that tie us all together. In these unprecedented times of suffering and hardship, shift your perspective of freedom from what is good for you to what is also good for all your brothers in sisters!

Mindful Musings

“Some Thoughts on Zen”Zen Buddhism | Classification Wiki | Fandom

By: Forrest Rivers

Zen appears to have everything to do with being in tune to “What is”. It seems, that “what is” can only be understood through intuitive direct experience.  Immersed within one’s deeply personal and profound spiritual exploration, is the unspoken acknowledgement that we are all but flowing waves in an eternal ocean of being. There is no this or that…no concept of the creator or created. We are all already THAT. From the mystic’s vantage point, dualistic language is merely a conceptual tool we use to try and give expression to the clearly conscious and in graspable flow of life force energy that is at the source of everything in this universe.

True divinity, or awareness of the underlying reality, is found not though intellectual reasoning but through our own harmonic flow with the mysterious oneness that defines our essence. What Zen appears to strive for in practice, if it can even be said to strive after anything at all, is the abandonment of all rational approaches in knowing that supreme state of being. In learning to be present with “what is”, one transcends all concepts of “reality” and just knows like a wolf knows to howl, that they are a part of the indescribable and conscious whole.

Mindful Musings

                    “Death is a Passage not the End”What Does the Bible Say About Death? 10 Important Things to Know Over the years, it has become as good as living truth to me that we are more than our bodies. When we die, I have no doubt that some essence of who we are transcends the act of death and the flesh of the body. Of course, exactly where we go remains one of the greatest existential mysteries. Similar to both the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs on Reincarnation, I intuitively feel that each of us has taken countless births as males and females, as rich and poor, as oppressor and oppressed and even as faithful lover and duplicitous cheater. It is even possible, as Tibetan Buddhists believe, that we have even taken animal form in our previous incarnations!

Perhaps, the Universe’s grand intention for reincarnation is for us all to steadily build toward full awareness of who we truly are through the many experiences lived and lessons learned from each incarnation. Buddhists might call this awareness “nirvana”, Hindu’s “self-realization” and Christian mystics “infinite bliss”, but the same idea is implied. Through each passing incarnation we move closer and closer to realizing our total union with the One, God, Tao, the Universal Mind. It is true, that hardliner materialist scientists cling to the notion that when our bodies die we in fact die too. However, isn’t it at least a little bit ironic that the very cycles in which they study can easily be summoned to rebuttal such closed ways of interpreting our being?

After all, the seasons undergo an eternal cycle of birth, death and re-birth. The sun and moon partake in both an exquisite and cyclical dance of cosmic positioning. And, as theoretical physicists are just beginning to prove through reason and what sages have long known through meditation, the cosmos itself is constantly expanding, then imploding only to expand again. If we are truly one with all that is and comprised of the same universal matter why would our experience deviate from that same deeply profound and eternal law found everywhere else in our known Universe?

 

Mindful Musings

“Timeless Truths”

By: Forrest Rivers

The African drum beats
With great rhythm
Kirtan echoes
Through temples of love
Sufi dancers swirl
With ecstatic delight
Gnostic monks pray before
Their savior on the cross
Bodhisattva’s sit cross-legged
Under the tree of life

The names for ONE
May vary
But the range of expressions
Gives light to
The timeless truths
Of our being.

The Power of Kirtan | KripaluKrishna Das leading a Kirtan chant with fellow spiritual seekers

 

Mindful Musings

Transcending Duality in the Time of COVID-19

By: Forrest Rivers

For a long time now, Americans have been hopelessly divided by politics, religion, wealth, geography and race. Liberals vs conservatives, religious fundamentalists vs atheists, rich vs poor, urban dwellers vs rural farmers, the white race vs just about every other racial minority group. So, is it really a surprise that this division has spilled over into peoples’ reactions to COVID-19? Combine a terrifying public health crisis with a catastrophic economic collapse and you have the recipe for social conflict. In context of the public’s reaction to the pandemic, there are two groups who have emerged in opposition to one another. On the one hand, are those people who contend (through citing medical evidence) that this virus is absolutely one of the greatest existential threats that we have faced in over a hundred years. Not surprisingly, they believe that state governments should be doing everything that is in their power to protect citizens from the pandemic—- even if it means resigning countless millions to dire poverty through mandated shutdowns and handing state governments temporary authoritarian powers to do so. On the other hand, are those who believe that COVID-19 has been badly “overblown” by media outlets who have an incentive to engineer a climate of fear in order to rack in record corporate profits. People with this belief hold that millions of hard-working Americans were needlessly laid off from their jobs and that the shutdowns should end immediately—- even if it comes at the cost of a massive spike in deaths among America’s most vulnerable. Can you see the flaws in both lines of thinking?

The “pro shutdown” people should be commended for prioritizing the sanctity of human life above all other concerns including the economy. However, the means with which those in power (with this belief) have acted has wound up inflicting mass suffering for many through a shocking wave of job layoffs, food insecurity and long-term financial ruin. Handing state governments extraordinary powers to manage this crisis, can also be perceived as a dangerous threat to our freedom and essential liberties. In contrast, the “anti-shutdown” people should be commended for bringing to light the massive economic hardships that have fallen on countless millions of people. However, their perspective can easily be taken as excessively callous and selfish because it sacrifices the priority of saving countless human lives to that of naked economic and political self-interest.

What can be done to ease the division that is now tearing this country apart amid a crisis? Fortunately, we can turn to the East for answers. All of the major eastern traditions (in particular Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism) teach that one of the spiritual teacher’s most important roles is to help all seekers intuitively recognize that all pairs of seeming opposites are connected as one. For example, day is only day because there is night. We only recognize wisdom because ignorance exists. And, the warmth of summer is only blissfully enjoyed because the cold of winter is faithfully endured. To put it another way, eastern faiths espouse this eternal truth: that the true and underlying nature of reality lies beyond all dualisms.

In Zen Buddhism, when a student comes before a Roshi(a great master), they are given a type of spiritual riddle, or Koan, to solve that is designed to break the mind from its restless stream of rational dualistic thoughts. In the Upanishads, a collection of mystical Hindu teachings, each passage exalts the seeker who, through years of meditation and the spirit of service, are able to finally see beyond all dualisms and experience the boundless essence of Brahman, or God, itself. In the Tao Te Ching, an inspiring text of Taoist philosophy, its sage-author, Lao Tzu, even goes as far to say that all seeming opposites give birth to each other:

“When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises

When it knows good as good, evil arises

Thus, being and non-being produce each other

Difficult and easy bring about each other

Long and short reveal each other

High and low support each other

Music and voice harmonize each other

Front and back follow each other.”

Seeing the inherent unity within all seeming opposites is the key in learning how not to cast judgement on another person’s beliefs or opinions. It is also the secret, then, to promoting peaceful dialogue and co-habitation. In today’s divisive environment, is it truly possible, though, to live in accordance with this valuable and ancient wisdom? Do most Americans even desire to give up their stubborn dualistic beliefs in the interest of peaceful dialogue and co-habitation? I hold on to faith that the answer to both questions is yes. Deep down, I truly feel that all people desire peace and unity with all others. It is only our ignorance (which we all have in something) that holds us back from breaking through the division.

For example, many of the people in support of the shutdowns tend to reside in more urban areas, lean more liberal politically and work in higher paying white-collar jobs. Not surprisingly, these people have more favorable views of the shutdowns. Why? Because due to their dense populations, urban areas have suffered far higher casualties (so far) from the virus and it is much easier to transition white-collar occupations to remote work amid the shutdowns. Of course, white- collar workers have faced many inconveniences and some have even been laid off from their jobs, but the overall economic impact on this group has been negligible compared to the struggles faced in blue-collar occupations. Short of being raised in a working-class family or having lived in the countryside, what does a liberal, white-collar urbanite truly know about the very real economic struggles now being felt by more conservative and rural laborers? From the latter’s point of view, they are watching their multi-generational farms and businesses shut down and livelihoods dissolve in response to a crises(mostly) taking place a far distance from where they live in cities. Further complicating matters, from this perspective, is that the strictest shut down measures have been ordered by other liberal, wealthy urbanites. Flipping the script, what can a more conservative, rural blue-collar worker truly know about the extent of mass-suffering being felt in urban areas like New York City where the death toll from COVID-19 is so high that morgues are literally unable to store all the bodies? If such a person visited a city for even two days and talked to family members and hospital workers (like my sister who is an ER doctor) who watched a loved one or patient die from the disease, would they still think that the media’s response to this virus is being “overblown” and demand the immediate openings of state economies?

In these troubled times, we must transcend our dualistic way of seeing the world and incorporate the wisdom of Eastern traditions into our day to day lives. This means, that we also need to learn more about the “other perspective,” and see that our ways of seeing the world are really not that different. After all, is it really difficult to imagine that if this crisis goes on long enough that people in rural areas won’t soon be facing a serious death toll from the virus as well? Is it really difficult to imagine, that if we are forced to endure another round of shutdowns that white-collar workers won’t soon be facing mass unemployment, too, under increasingly extreme orders taken by governments?  In fact, if we really broaden our minds and sharpen our awareness we may find that all beliefs we harbor on this virus wind up folding upon each other in the end…. just as Lao Tzu said of all seeming opposites. Regardless of our personal opinions on the virus, we are all having to collectively confront our fears of death and poverty as well as accept our loss of control. It seems to me that we have much to find common ground upon. Finding common ground is the easy part. The harder part is choosing to let go of our egoistic conditioning that sees things as black and white. The Choice is yours!