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

“Let Go, Let God”: Words of Wisdom amid a CrisisRecovery Greeting Card - Let Go Let God | RecoveryShopBy: Forrest Rivers

Like many people, when the outbreak of COVID-19 reached North America I found myself glued to my computer following the latest news about the terrible virus. Many questions from the media’s early coverage soon arose in my mind:

  • Was the crisis being overblown by money hungry corporate news outlets seeking to turn record profits?
  • Have I already contracted the virus?
  • Will my elderly parents avoid getting sick?
  • Are world leaders really doing all they can to protect us from the pandemic?
  • Should we even look to our governments to protect us or would we better off shifting that responsibility to individuals, families and communities?
  • How can I help to alleviate suffering for other people during this time?

 

The questions went on and on and on. Consequently, From the second week of March (the start of social distancing) right on through the first week of May, I spent countless hours reading everything on the web related to COVID-19 to gain a deeper understanding of this historic and consciousness altering event. After many weeks of having near anxiety attacks brought upon by “news binging”, I finally realized that like millions of other people, I had become consumed by the endless emotion train of confusion, fear, paranoia and genuine sadness for the fate of humanity. On the one hand, it is only natural for us all to want to know every developing detail about the pandemic and its cascading effects upon society. After all, we are presently facing our generation’s greatest existential, public health and economic crises’ all at once! On the other hand, such heavy preoccupation with COVID-19 related news also has the unsettling tendency to pull us away from the present moment.

Every minute we spend obsessively surfing the web is a minute we waste living HERE NOW. Is it wise for our own and our loved ones’ safety to keep an eye on the latest developments? Absolutely! However, there is a balance that must be maintained. From a spiritual standpoint, it may be more beneficial for us to focus our awareness on soulfully rich activities that increase our overall sense of well-being. Establishing daily routines built around positive and uplifting practices like meditation, nature walks and creative expression can go a long way in cultivating a peace within ourselves that can effortlessly be shared with those who are suffering in these times. My old meditation teacher, Dave Smith, used to have an awesome saying that helped his students let go of their anxious and fear-based thoughts during challenging life events: “this is how it is now.” Simple, yet profound. Far from asking us to close our hearts in response to this crisis, such a statement invites us to fully open our hearts through truly surrendering to what is…. even if what we find is discomfort. For that emotion, too, shall past.

Sitting in front of the computer or television set day after day reading every little tidbit of news on COVID 19 will only fill us with anxiety and make us unable to respond consciously to this crisis.  When I sat down to write this piece, I became aware of my own hypocrisy on this point.  So, I made the choice to begin each morning with a 30-minute meditation rather than pick up my computer and work myself up into a frenzy over the latest frightening news. For me, this was an empowering decision as it showed that I can in fact control my mind (I was beginning to doubt myself!) and find some semblance of inner peace amid a fearful climate of sickness and poverty. If I can empower myself, then you can certainly do it too! Maybe, in addition to my beloved meditation teacher’s mantra we can also adopt a second one that is just as relevant to the times we live in…. “Let Go, Let God”.

Mindful Musings

LSD Guru Tim Leary Interview

“An Ode to Leary”

By: Forrest Rivers

Slow down,

Breathe

Quiet your mind

And Meditate

The world is consumed

By madness….

But you don’t have to

Participate

In the senseless drama

That originates

From our worship of ego

For a wise man once said:

TURN ON

TUNE IN

DROP OUT!

But turn on to what?

Tune in to who

And drop out from Where?

TURN ON:

To living spirit

And the most high

TUNE IN:

To Mother Nature

And heed her signs

DROP OUT:

From this illusion that hides

The Unity of Creation.

Mindful Musings

The Smoky Mountains vs. the "Smokey Mountains”: Who's Right?

“A Faithful Silence”

By: Forrest Rivers

It is a beautiful day outside and you decide to hike to the top of a glorious mountain. When you arrive at the trailhead, your mind is anxious and your thoughts wander in every direction away from the present—the here and now. For the first 20 minutes of your walk, you are totally consumed by reflections upon the past and possibilities for the future. In your restless mind of untamed thoughts, emotions and impressions you replay your countless dramas from yesterday and make big plans for what you will accomplish tomorrow. Such worries over relationship troubles, workplace dramas and recent personal failures coalesce with wild imaginings of your hopes and dreams yet to be fulfilled. At this phase of your journey, you are feeling anxious and alienated from your inner self.

You continue walking along the trail in this uncomfortable and distracted state until the miraculous happens. Your mind begins to quiet and your heart tunes in to the glory of your natural surroundings. You then start to notice those wondrous happenings that you took for granted only moments ago. On your way up to the rarefied peak, you are swept away by the harmonious songs of the Earth. Through a new pair of eyes, the first thing you realize is how the warm life-giving rays of the sun stir all living creatures into action. As a child of the sun, you begin to feel an indescribable kinship with all beings of the forest. You then quiet down even more and tune in to the heavenly sounds of swaying tree tops and the whispering wind. You then smell the sweet aroma of spring’s blooming flowers and hear the faint sound of flowing water off in the distance. It is at this point, that you have entered into a natural and sacred space that has been called Zen, Oneness and Satchitananda by mystics across various faiths.

As you bask in the wonder of this heightened state of awareness, your body feels light as air and your vital energies come into balance. As the top draws near, you hardly recognize the being that has become, but yet, who has always been. Arriving at the mountain top, you now feel an overwhelming sense of love and appreciation for the perspective of the Eagle. Standing at the summit of a rocky abyss, you recognize the soft grooves etched into the great blue hills. You then feel wildly comforted by the vast jungle forests that rests upon the surrounding mountain tops and stretch as far as your eyes can see. Looking out at the vast expanse of glorious Earth, you begin to understand just how inconsequential you are in the grand scheme of things. However, somewhere inside you know that in being nothing you are indeed everything. You then walk back down the mountain in a faithful silence.

Mindful Musings

“Choose Faith, Not Belief In these Troubled Times”

By: Forrest Rivers

Faith is a beautiful thing. It can be compared to a budding flower, intuitively growing into its purpose to inspire and give life. However, this inspiring quality is too often confused with belief.

Faith and belief are not the same thing. Belief says: Through my rational mind, I think all things might be one. Or, in the future, I think I will succeed as an artist. Faith says: Within my soul, I feel all things are one. Or, I know I am already a successful artist … the world just hasn’t yet found out.

Belief thinks. Faith knows. Belief is fleeting, and can easily be broken down at the first sign of personal adversity or crisis. Hence, this popular phrase following a trying life circumstance: “I don’t know what to believe in anymore.”

The reason why belief is so fragile is because it is a projection of the mind’s ego. One of the defining characteristics of the ego-mind is that it views the world through the lens of separation. And because it sees itself as separate from the one unified consciousness, its thoughts are not truly rooted in anything but its own delusions of how it ‘thinks’ the world is.

This lack of intuitive knowing may also explain why belief often produces intense religious and political dogmas. In the absence of a deeper understanding, one begins to question the certainty of their own convictions and sets out to convert others to validate their ‘truth’ for them.

In contrast to belief is faith. Faith is the conquering of fear through inner surrender. It is born through one’s intuitive knowing and is strengthened through heartfelt prayer and meditation. Faith also finds its expression through participation in authentic acts of love and kindness.

Faith is firmly rooted in one’s own direct experience and soulful reflection. Another inspiring aspect of faith is that it takes on an eternal quality of higher truth that needs not be spoken to convert would-be believers.

For a person of faith, it is enough to know, for example, that Jesus and Krishna are sons of God in the respective Christian and Hindu traditions. Similarly, it is enough for those from Native American traditions to know (through direct experience) that in both form and spirit, the Earth is a perfect expression of divine awareness. With faith, one has no desire to convert others, for what is known can only be arrived at within.

The desire to inspire others through sharing wisdom and baring one’s soul is a hallmark of faith. The desire to control another’s thoughts is a hallmark of belief. The former is the source of inspiration for the sincerest artists, counsellors and spiritual seekers. The latter is too often the motivation for politicians, religious leaders and captains of industry. Faith heals and unites. Belief injures and divides.

These exceptional times that we find ourselves in have been mostly defined by our attachments to extreme belief. For example, amid the devastating backdrop of the COVID-19 health crisis, there is an alarming number of people who strongly believe that this pandemic is grossly overblown, despite medical evidence showing how horrifying this illness really is.

  Faith vs. belief


woman with surgical mask in front of laptop

Until recently, I used to be one of those people who believed that this pandemic was overblown, in order for political elites to control the people in their quest for total tyranny. But then I began hearing direct encounters from doctors (including from my own physician sister, who works in the ER) who have witnessed, firsthand, the destructive impact of the virus.

Another manifestation of extreme belief that has emerged in these times is the view that this pandemic and the ensuing economic collapse are signs that the apocalypse has arrived. Internet posts on this very topic have rapidly multiplied over the past six weeks, while the world has been in shutdown.

Of course, the negative consequences of current belief systems are there for us all to see. A particularly strong example is that of the current anti-shutdown protests in America. These protesters are demanding an immediate end to the shutdowns, even though virus cases are on the rise.

Fortunately, bubbling just below the surface is a faith-based perspective that transcends the realm of belief altogether. Viewed from this vantage point, many people of faith are increasingly coming to see this pandemic through a lens of greater awareness.

This expression of faith regards COVID-19 and all the challenges it presents as humanity’s golden opportunity to move beyond the state of ego-consciousness we have been in. Such a perspective extends beyond all divisive political, religious and societal dogmas, because it has everything to do with our own collective spiritual evolution as one human family.

Remember: Belief injures and divides. Faith heals and unites. Let faith be your guide in these troubled times!

******This article was originally published on themindfulword.org

 

Mindful Musings

“Five ways to Inwardly Evolve in these Troubled Times”

By: Forrest Rivers

The world is in a panic about the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to this still-emerging global outbreak, schools and universities have either shut down or have been forced to shift to remote classes, government buildings have been shuttered, restaurants and bars have been closed indefinitely and many billions of people have been forced to self-quarantine amid an increasingly chaotic environment that has some questioning if we are witnessing the wide-scale collapse of our social orders.

There is no doubt that the human health threat of the Coronavirus is both real and alarming.

Perhaps just as concerning is the negative economic impact on the poor from all the forced closures and hits that the service industry has already endured. Adding to all the turmoil is a general climate of fear that has found its collective expression in panic-buying at grocery stores, massive unrest in global financial markets and extreme totalitarian measures being taken by governments around the world to contain the virus.

Fortunately, for us all, there are glimmers of hope that have emerged from this pandemic. If we can allow ourselves to be with what is, our response can provide us with ample and profound opportunities for spiritual growth.

5 ways to inwardly evolve in these troubled times


homeless person

Meaningfully contemplate death

A hallmark of any global pandemic is the media’s emphasis on the number of dead and dying. Undoubtably, the repetition of mounting death tolls from the disease can produce deep anxiety and fear among the global public. However, if we shift our perspective just a bit, the existential threat this virus now represents provides us all with a wonderful opportunity to confront our own fears of death.

Why is confronting this intrinsic fear so important? Many seekers within the Buddhist tradition believe that making peace with the inevitability of our own death is among the highest spiritual practices we can pursue. When we transcend our own fear of death, we unlock the sacred gate to live more freely and fully in the present moment. When we live more freely and fully, we follow our dharma and all of humanity benefits. This virus provides ample opportunity for such reflection.

Serve the elderly and the poor

Unquestionably, the rapid spread and fallout from COVID-19 presents a direct threat to the welfare of all global citizens. However, two very large demographics are at an especially heightened risk. Elderly people (those above 60 years old) and poor people are facing particularly difficult times. Due to their advancing age and weaker immune systems, the elderly are at a much higher risk of dying from this infection.

On the other hand, highly restrictive lockdown protocols by world governments have ground the world’s economy to a halt. It is the poor and working classes who have faced the brunt of economic shutdowns to contain the virus. Bartenders, restaurant and retail workers, flight attendants, custodial staff, small business owners and even many teachers are paying the price of our governments’ health measures through a wave of massive job layoffs and frightening financial insecurity that hasn’t been seen since the start of the Great Depression in 1929.

Now is a great time to rediscover our compassion as one people, and step up to alleviate the suffering of all those who are most vulnerable among us. Krishna, a God incarnate within the Hindu tradition, once counselled his beloved devotee, Arjuna, that karma Yoga (the spirit of selfless service) is among the surest paths to personal truth and enlightenment. Today, service to those who are vulnerable is imperative.

Reconnect with nature and art

In governments’ attempts to control the spread of COVID-19, the world has been advised to avoid large crowds and gatherings, stand six feet away from other people and self-quarantine at the immediate onset of symptoms.

In places like Italy and China (are Canada and the U.S. next?) citizens have even been forced by the military to remain confined in their homes, with the exception of trips to grocery stores or pharmacies. While social distancing is far from ideal (due to greater isolation and increased cases of depression), the time alone and away from work may wind up providing us with ample time to reconnect with the natural world and explore our creative outlets.

As a regular hiker and lover of the Earth, I have noticed how many more people have taken advantage of this forced period of isolation to take to the woods and explore the beauty of nature. As the capitalist machine grinds to a halt, wouldn’t it be wonderful if our Earth Mother emerges once more in the forefront of our awareness?

Social distancing also provides an ideal environment for self-reflection and the exploration of a plethora of creative outlets. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if the enforced solitude caused by this pandemic winds up breeding a renaissance of creative expression, the likes of which we have not seen since the hippie counterculture of the 1960s.

Recognize humanity’s sense of oneness

Since the turn of the new millennium, it seems like the human race has been deeply embroiled in sectarian conflicts, and has been hopelessly divided by ethnic, racial, religious, national and political divisions.

Much of humanity has forgotten that there is far more that unites us than that which separates us. As the wise Ram Dass once noted, “we are here to awaken from the illusion of separateness.” The universal threat that COVID-19 presents to all human beings gives us a rare and beautiful opportunity to see past our superficial differences.

The existential fear this virus provokes is a powerful emotion that we all now share, regardless of what corner of the world we reside in. With this basic understanding comes a higher spiritual realization that we all share in one another’s suffering and joy, and that we are all tied together in a vast cosmic web.

This crisis may very well help us recover our sense of common humanity. If we can learn to adopt this perspective throughout these tumultuous times, the odds are good that we can also begin to identify and redress the very serious societal injustices that exist within our cultures when the scourge does finally pass.

Start a meditation practice

The anxiety that people, particularly the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, are feeling from this pandemic is understandable. However, what if the anxiety that many are rightfully feeling can be channelled into more positive ends that promote lasting and meaningful spiritual growth?

Enter the ancient Eastern practice of meditation. The extreme existential fear that we are now facing may inevitably lead many people to look within and seek some semblance of inner peace, amid the onslaught of a panic-driven media. The times are ripe for all of us to establish a daily meditation practice of stilling our minds, opening our hearts and surrendering to the present moment.

Further, the unique conditions of self-quarantining, coupled with a high-anxiety environment and unprecedented access to online meditation resources lends itself to the emergence of a ‘meditation evolution’ among the world’s populace.

A profound and inspiring movement towards inner peace and enlightenment could be one remarkable outcome of these trying times. And meditation could very well be the channel by which many seekers ascend into the higher states of planetary consciousness.