Impermanence, Looking Deeply

In the blog category “Guided  Meditations”, I will provide detailed explanations for all the guided meditation tracks that I will place in the Resources section of this website. These blog posts will be hyperlinked from the “Guided Meditations” page under “Resources” menu option where these meditation tracks in mp3 format will be placed for streaming or for downloading.

Buddhist doctrines state that there are three basic facts of all existence:

Impermanence or Change
Suffering or Unsatisfactoriness
Not-self or Insubstantiality

Within these three facts, it is very easy to understand why impermanence or change is an essential characteristic of all existence. We cannot say of anything, animate or inanimate, organic or inorganic, that lasts forever. The meditation entitled “Impermanence Looking Deeply”, as it appears in Chapter V of “The Blooming of a Lotus” by Thich Nhat Hanh, helps us acknowledge this essential characteristic. It leads us to a deeper view of life.

It is important to understand that impermanence is not a negative aspect of life. It is the very basis of life. If what exists were not impermanent, no life could continue. This form of meditation will also help us look after our own bodies and minds because they will lose their flexibility and agility as we grow older. Thay describes in the book, “When we accept that all things are impermanent, we will not be incapacitated by suffering when things decay and die. We can remain peaceful and content in the face of change, prosperity and decline, success and failure”.

In this meditation, the in-breath is to touch a certain part of the body: eyes, ears, heart, lungs, and so on. The out-breath acknowledges its impermanence. In the third last verse in this meditation, we become aware of the planet Earth and acknowledge its impermanence. In the last verse of this meditation, we become aware of governments and acknowledge its impermanence as well. In these days of political partisanship and bitter divisiveness, it helps to acknowledge its impermanence too.

This meditation track is available in the “Guided Meditation” page that can be accessed from the “References” menu option. Please feel free to either stream these exercises or click on the “Download” button to download the mp3 files to your computers.

May you be happy !!!
May you be peaceful !!!
May you live with ease !!!

 

If you would like to share your experience, ask questions or provide helpful suggestions on this or any other blog post, then please fill out the contact form below. In a blog category entitled “Website content feedback” I will publish my answers to your questions as well as your suggestions wherever appropriate. I will be also delighted to publish your experience, if you would like me to do so. Thank you !!!

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Chasing Daylight by Eugene O’Kelly – Book Review

 

Chasing Daylight is the honest, touching and inspirational memoir of former KPMG CEO Eugene O’Kelly. The memoir was completed in three and a half months between his diagnosis of terminal brain cancer and his death in September 2005. It was published in 2006. It’s haunting yet extraordinarily hopeful voice reminds us to embrace the fragile, fleeting moments of our lives within the brief time we have with our family, our friends, and even ourselves.

This blog post has three sections. The first section is the actual review of the book. The second section describes my idea and vision of keeping key messages of this book alive and to implement them in our lives by forming a virtual “Perfect Moments” community. The third section links the relevance of key messages of this book to the practice of mindfulness meditation.

Book Review

The book begins with two very powerful and shocking statements. “I was blessed. I was told I had three months to live”. This was in May 2005 and was in response to the devastating diagnosis that he had an aggressive form of primary brain tumor. His reasoned that he was able to approach the end of his life while still mentally lucid, somewhat physically fit and with his loved ones near to him. His sensibilities about work, accomplishments, consistency and continuity coupled by his drive to “win” at everything drove him to be as methodical as possible during his last few months after his diagnosis. He hoped to make this period the best three months of his life and a positive experience for those around him.

Eugene and his wife Corinne loved to play golf late in the day when the course tended to be emptier. He described how the sun being lower in the sky cast long shadows of the trees on the course. They felt that they were not just playing golf but chasing daylight as they were trying to grab as much time as they could before night set in. This was the inspiration for the title of the book.

He talked about the devastating effects that the diagnosis of Grade IV astrocytoma would have on him. Astrocytomas are tumors that arise from astrocytes—star-shaped cells that make up the “glue-like” or supportive tissue of the brain. He suffered seizures, major vision loss, had difficulty performing basic physical movements and eventually facial paralysis as the brain tumor grew into aggressive cancer.

One of the many profound moments in the book comes about through a conversation that Eugene had with Cardinal Egan, head of the New York Archdiocese. Eugene told Cardinal Egan “I feel a responsibility to die with as much consciousness as I possibly can” to which the Cardinal replied “To those whom much is given, much is expected. Raise yourself to the highest degree of consciousness”.

While going through such painful physical and mental hardships, sitting at a dining room table, Eugene made a to-do list for his final days. It included four major ones:

“Unwind” relationships
Simplify
Live in the moment
Create (but also be open to) great moments, “perfect moments”

He wanted to unwind and close-out relationships with family members, friends, business associates because it would bring him and these people more pleasure than unhappiness; while he could still do it.

Perfect Moments to Eugene meant surprise little gifts of a moment or an hour or an afternoon where time came close to standing still. This was his way of getting to consciousness by being grounded in the present moment. When unwinding his relationships, he tried to incorporate elements of Perfect Moments as well. These became opportunities to create something special in the moment, something that had not existed before.

He candidly told stories of many unwindings and many Perfect Moments he was experiencing even while his faculties were declining steadily. He also mentioned the difficulties he encountered while trying to stay in the present moment because of his inability to focus and also because of his life-long habits of planning and thinking about the future.

The last chapter of the book was written by his wife Corrine, his “Sherpa”.  She told the profoundly moving story of his last few days on Earth. Despite his steadily declining faculties, he was in good spirits and mentioned to her that he had lived a good life. He thanked her for her insights into death and dying that helped him transcend his fear. He said that he was in a good place and felt supported on the other side. He passed away peacefully on September 10, 2005.

This book is an amazing confirmation of what it means to be human. We all live our lives trying to pursue happiness in various forms, i.e. success, wealth, adventures, etc.  However, we tend to get lost in them and never realize that one day all the objects that brought us happiness will be taken away from us. We never live our lives fully acknowledging that one day we will cease to exist. As a result, we get wound up in the messiness of our lives and our relationships. When the day of reckoning finally arrives, we are unable to unwind out of them and therefore find ourselves restless, fearful and unable to be at peace.

I teared up a few times while reading this book. It made me reflect on our joint experience of shared humanity. I was inspired to keep the key messages of this book alive and to implement them in our lives by forming a virtual “Perfect Moments” community.

“Perfect Moments” community

“Perfect Moments” concept as described by Eugene has the same elements of “peak experiences” concept as developed by Abraham Maslow, one of the earliest American psychologists to focus attention on happiness and happy individuals. According to Maslow, peak experiences are “rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter.” They can range from simple activities to intense events; however, it is not necessarily about what the activity is, but the ecstatic, blissful feeling that is being experienced during these moments. A unique aspect of “peak experiences” and “Perfect Moments” is that it possible to cultivate them deliberately and consciously. Eugene marveled at the many Perfect Moments he was experiencing. He was getting better at it. In fact, he was entertaining the possibility of experiencing Perfect Days, string of Perfect Moments lasting a whole day.

The four major items in Eugene’s list (i.e. Unwind relationships, Simplify, Live in the moment and Create perfect moments) actually inform and impress one another. For example, unwinding a difficult relationship may lead us to some degree of ease, freedom and simplicity as we might become free of its residual negative emotions like anger, hurt, resentment, etc. that may be plaguing us. This new sense of freedom may allow us to live and be in the present moment thereby increasing the chances of us experiencing Perfect Moments.

The subtitle of Chasing Daylight is “How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life”. We can use this opportunity to transform our lives in the face of our own forthcoming deaths.

I envision the community to comprise of like-minded individuals who will:

  1. Read Chasing Daylight
  2. Agree on the importance and urgency of transforming our lives while we still can
  3. Explore and reflect on the merits of unwinding relationships, simplifying lives, learning to live in the moment and creating Perfect Moments
  4. Share with the community our unique experiences to whatever extent we feel comfortable, so as to inspire similar actions/experiences in others
  5. Learn lessons from the community to implement in our own lives
  6. Interact with community members in a polite and non-judgmental manner

To begin this community, I will leverage a section of Summit Mindfulness website to save all its learnings and experiences. If the community grows and we collectively feel the need to store and present vast amount of information differently, then can create another repository. It is not necessary for participants in the Perfect Moments community to have prior exposure nor experience in the practice of mindfulness meditation.

Relevance to mindfulness meditation

In this section, I want to explain how the key messages of Chasing Daylight are relevant to the practice of mindfulness meditation.

Three main insights accrue from the practice of mindfulness meditation. They are also known as the three characteristics of existence of conditioned phenomena.

The first insight is Impermanence.  Everything is in a state of change or flux, all living beings change over time, all circumstances change, nothing is permanent. However, our minds try to project a sense of permanence in all its activities. When we get caught up in trying to achieve permanent results, we inevitably suffer. Mindfulness meditation brings us face to face with this insight whenever we turn our attention inwards by focusing on our breath, bodily sensations, feeling tones, thoughts or mind states.

The second insight is on the inherently unsatisfactory nature of all experiences. It means dissatisfaction, disease, stress and/or suffering. Nothing in the physical world can bring permanent satisfaction. Some of it is due to the fact that everything changes.

The third insight is on the “not self” aspect of all experience. We take the outermost or shallow sense of self as our true self. We see ourselves as separate and do not identify ourselves with the whole, or a part of the universe or other people.

One of the many benefits of mindfulness meditation is that shifts our perspective and allows us to identify with the witnessing aspect of consciousness rather than identify with whatever is happening in our bodies and mind. Eugene’s narrative in Chasing Daylight is a beautiful affirmation of what it means to live with this perspective. It opens us up to moments and experiences that are sublime and not dependent on outward conditions.

If you are interested in participating in this community, then please message me:
Al (AT) SummitMindfulness (DOT) com

Thank you.

************************************************************************************************

The fear of death follows from the fear of life.
A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.

–Mark Twain

Normally we do not like to think about death.
We would rather think about life.
Why reflect on death?
When you start preparing for death you soon realize
that you must look into your life now… and come to face the truth of your self.
Death is like a mirror in which the true meaning of life is reflected.

–Sogyal Rinpoche

As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.

–Leonardo da Vinci

“The meaning of life is that it ends” 

–Franz Kafka

Posted in Book Review Tagged with:

Calming the breath and the body

In the blog category “Guided Meditations”, I will provide detailed explanations for all the guided meditation tracks that I will place in the Resources section of this website. These blog posts will be hyperlinked from the “Guided Meditations” page under “Resources” menu option where these meditation tracks in mp3 format will be placed for streaming or for downloading.

While performing mindfulness of breath meditation, we withdraw our attention from distracting thoughts and redirect it to incoming and outgoing breaths. Since our breath is a neutral object, we end up putting less energy into our default emotional states of restlessness, craving, aversion, etc. that drive those thoughts. Over time our mind becomes calmer and our emotional states become more balanced and positive.

A very helpful application of mindfulness of breath meditation is to induce relaxation in the body. While breathing, our exhalations relax the body whereas inhalations energize the body. During exhalations when we gently and consciously relax different parts of the body, we amplify the relaxation experience.

This guided meditation guides us to relax different parts of the body as we exhale. The mindfulness of breath anchors the mind and keeps it focused on the relaxation process. We just need to lie down comfortably and bring our attention to the breath. As we exhale, we feel the relaxing effect of the breath as it leaves the body and relax the body, part by part as guided in the meditation track, beginning at the top of the body and going down till we reach the feet. We then relax the whole body.

Within our normal breathing cycle, a “long breath” is the relatively long space between the end of an exhalation and start of the next inhalation. While performing this exercise, start to relax the body part at the start of exhalation and continue till the “long breath” portion is completed. It is very important to note that the breath should not be manipulated in any way. We should work with the breath as it comes in and goes out on its own.

Finally, please perform this technique in a safe area where you will not be disturbed nor will you disturb others. Do not do this while driving or operating heavy machinery.

If you would like to share your experience, ask questions or provide helpful suggestions on this or any other blog post, then please fill out the contact form below. In a blog category entitled “Website content feedback” I will publish my answers to your questions as well as your suggestions wherever appropriate. I will be also delighted to publish your experience, if you would like me to do so. Thank you !!!

Posted in Guided Meditations Tagged with:

Counting on Mindfulness

In the blog category “Mindfulness Meditation techniques”, I will list various techniques that will help practitioners of this form of meditation. Over a period of years, I have compiled a variety of such techniques and formed a virtual toolkit from which I draw upon on a regular basis.

In my previous blog post, I explored the functions of mindfulness and concentration. I described how they interacted and supported one another. There is a wonderful meditation technique that combines these two functions very effectively.

Before I get to the actual technique, it is important to understand the concepts of “long breath” and “short breath” as they pertain to our breathing cycles.

Anatomy of breath – long breaths and short breaths

Please review the diagram above.

Within our normal breathing cycle, a “long breath” is the relatively long space between an exhalation and the next inhalation. On the other hand, a “short breath” is the relatively short space between an inhalation and subsequent exhalation. Long breaths, and by extension, exhalations, promote relaxation of the body. Short breaths, and by extension, inhalations, energize the body. The meditation technique involves counting breaths and placing the counts on long breaths as displayed in the diagram above. It is very important to note that the breath should not be manipulated in any way. You should work with the breath as it comes in and goes out on its own.

There is a twist in the way breaths are counted. Instead of counting the breaths in a neat sequence, they need to be counted in a pattern displayed below. The pattern starts from top to bottom and from left to right, as displayed below. You need not repeat the numbers as “1 hyphen 1”, “1 hyphen 2” or “1 dash 1”, “1 dash 2”, etc. You can simply repeat the numbers as “11”, “12” and so on.

Depending on how relaxed you are during the time of this exercise, you may spend anywhere between 3 to 7 minutes to complete one round of counting, i.e. from 1-1 to 10-10. The more relaxed you are, the more difficult it might become due to the time lag between each breath.

It is important to do the count at every long breath in the pattern displayed above. If you miss a count during a long breath, then start all over again. Also, you should count only once and move up the pattern during each long breath.

I love this technique because the effort involves both mindfulness and concentration in an even and delicate balance. If you are really good at this exercise, then try doing two rounds one after the other. In other words, do one round from 1-1 to 10-10 and then repeat it all over again. It is important to not force yourself to do this exercise. You should be as relaxed as possible while performing this meditation because the breath should come in and go out on its own. Tightness or anxiety will speed up the breath but it will work against you.

Finally, please perform this technique in a safe area where you will not be disturbed nor will you disturb others. Do not do this while driving or operating heavy machinery.

 

Good luck and have fun !!!

If you would like to share your experience, ask questions or provide helpful suggestions on this or any other blog post, then please fill out the contact form below. In a blog category entitled “Website content feedback” I will publish my answers to your questions as well as your suggestions wherever appropriate. I will be also delighted to publish your experience, if you would like me to do so. Thank you !!!

 

Posted in Mindfulness Meditation techniques Tagged with:

Mindfulness and Concentration

In the blog category “Mindfulness Concepts”, I will elaborate on the many ideas, concepts and insights that form the basis of the amazing practice of mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation involves a very delicate balancing act. The practice involves cultivating two separate qualities of the mind – mindfulness and concentration. Ideally these two work together as a team. Therefore, it is important to cultivate them side-by-side and in a balanced manner. If one of these qualities or skills is strengthened at the expense of the other, the balance of mind is lost and the utility of the practice is greatly diminished.

Concentration and mindfulness are distinctly different functions of the mind involving different skills. They each have their role to play in meditation, and the relationship between them is definite and delicate. Concentration is often called one-pointedness of mind. It consists of almost forcing the mind to remain on one static object. It can be developed by sheer unremitting willpower. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a delicate function leading to refined sensibilities. We can never force mindfulness. In order to gain utmost benefits from mindfulness meditation practice, it is important to cultivate an attitude of patience, gentleness and kindness towards ourselves.

To illustrate with an example, suppose we engage in mindfulness of breath meditation. The object of the practice is to be mindful of the breath as it comes in and goes out. We do this in a relaxed, calm and gentle manner. When we notice that your mind has wandered off, we gently bring it back to the breath. Mindfulness is the sensitive function that observes these changes. Concentration, however, provides the power that keeps the attention pinned down to the breath. It keeps our mind focused on the breath. When our mind does wanders off, mindfulness reminds us of the wandering. When we realize that our mind has wandered off, we are already being mindful. We can bring the attention back to the breath. This can happen many times during the course of a single sitting practice.

There is another difference between these two functions. Concentration is an exclusive function. It settles down on one object and ignores everything else. In an environment full of distractions, it can be really difficult to maintain concentration on an chosen object. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is an all-encompassing and inclusive function. It can be performed quite well within an environment full of distractions as the distractions themselves can be observed and the attention brought back to the object of practice. Mindfulness function comes with its own difficulties. To begin with, our wandering quality of mind is a deeply seated habit pattern that cannot be overcome by just a few hours of mindfulness practice. Some degree of effort, consistency and patience is definitely required for this practice.

However, the importance of mindfulness is that it is the only function that can examine the mechanics of self-centeredness and the suffering that results from it. Mindfulness can make us free of suffering. In a state of mindfulness, we see ourselves exactly as we are. We see your own selfish behavior. We see our own suffering and we see how we create that suffering. We see how we hurt others. Mindfulness leads to wisdom. Concentration can help us maintain mindfulness but concentration by itself cannot help us become free of our suffering.

If you would like to share your experience, ask questions or provide helpful suggestions on this or any other blog post, then please fill out the contact form below. In a blog category entitled “Website content feedback” I will publish my answers to your questions as well as your suggestions and experiences wherever appropriate after receiving your permission to do so. Thank you !!!

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Mindfulness and Equanimity

In the blog category “Mindfulness Concepts”, I will elaborate on the many ideas, concepts and insights that form the basis of the amazing practice of mindfulness meditation.

Equanimity is a state of mind that is characterized by mental calmness, composure, and peace of mind in difficult situations. For most of us, these are elusive qualities. However, we can begin to develop equanimity by practicing mindfulness meditation. When we practice mindfulness, either formally or informally, we learn to observe our emotions in a non-reactive manner and to stay detached from them. We realize that our default state of mind magnifies our emotions in the midst of difficult situations thereby creating an entire additional layer of pain and suffering. Equanimity allows us to cut through that entire layer thereby allowing us to directly deal with such situations.

I had a recent experience that highlighted to me the real nature and benefits of having an equanimous mind. A few weeks prior to my writing this blog piece, I had been wrecked with a form of viral infection. I was advised to not go to work as I had fever and was coughing/sneezing all the time. At the peak of my infection, my body felt so weak in the morning that I was unable to get out of bed. I rested for a few hours and then attempted to get out. I had to exert a ton of effort just to carry out minor physical tasks.

Even after seeing a doctor and taking some medications that day, my whole body was aching that night when I went to bed. I kept tossing and turning, unable to sleep. At some point in time I looked at the clock and found that it was 02:00 a.m. in the morning. Not having slept a wink till that time, I was feeling worse than ever before. I realized that even though my body was aching, my mind need not suffer. I could cultivate an equanimous mind even though my body was feeling unwell. I made a conscious switch and turned my mind into an equanimous state. This state of mind was characterized by a combination of accepting reality as-is, letting go of the need to be comfortable all the time and being kind to oneself. Almost immediately, my mind stopped magnifying the physical troubles I was having. It rested. Very soon, there was no anxiety in my mind about not being able to sleep till that time. After a while my body also rested and I fell asleep. I woke up quite late the next morning and was feeling a little better. However, there were no lingering aftereffects of disturbed sleep the night before.

I have also practiced this switch on other occasions when in the midst of day-to-day activities. Sometimes I do find an undercurrent of anxiety or stress even though the overall situation is not difficult in any way. Making a switch to an equanimous state of mind sometimes brings about a sense of openness and rest that lingers on for an hour or two. The practice of mindfulness meditation is very helpful because it is the precisely this quality of mindfulness that enables me to detect and notice the undercurrent of anxiety or stress in most situations.

Have you had similar experiences? Do you think this practice of mindfulness and equanimity can be helpful to you? I would love to hear about your experiences. If you would like to share your experience, ask questions or provide helpful suggestions on this or any other blog post, then please fill out the contact form below. In a blog category entitled “Website content feedback” I will publish my answers to your questions as well as your suggestions and experiences wherever appropriate after receiving your permission to do so. Thank you !!!

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The Buddha’s Book of Sleep by Joseph Emet – Book Review

In the blog category “Book Reviews”, I will review many classic books written by teachers and practitioners of mindfulness meditation. I have been reading such books for more than 2 decades now. I will systematically review these books, one by one, so that it may help readers of this blog make informed decision about purchasing them and learning from them.

In 2006, a broad-based study on sleep disorders was sponsored and published by the Institute of Medicine. Their findings were published in a book entitled “Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem”. The study revealed that an estimated 50-70 million US adults had sleep or wakefulness disorder leading to a staggering social cost borne by society at large. In light of these facts and statistics, the book entitled “Buddha’s Book of Sleep” written by Joseph Emet and published in 2012 is very pertinent. This book has the double mission of helping people to sleep better and also to serve as an introduction to mindfulness practice.

Joseph Emet trained with the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village in France. He was made a Dharma teacher in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition. He is the founder of Mindfulness Meditation Centre in Montreal, Canada. He has written four other books including “Buddha’s Book of Meditation” and “Buddha’s Book of Stress Reduction”.

“Buddha’s Book of Sleep” is divided into two sections. The first section entitled “Mindfulness Meditation Training and its relevance for better sleep” explains why mindfulness meditation is appropriate for dealing with sleeping problems. He describes how mindfulness practice can be an exciting path of self-discovery as new insights unfold continuously. He talks about the discoveries we can make of our own minds and realize that in our busy minds thoughts (mostly negative) come and go automatically of their own accord. This leads to much anxiety that turns into sleeplessness. Furthermore, worrying about sleep becomes counterproductive to sleep. He describes how mindfulness practice does not make worrisome thoughts and feelings disappear but that it teaches us to put some distance between ourselves and our thoughts. We stop identifying with them as a result of which they lose their power and grip over us.

In a chapter entitled “Here and Now” Joseph lists some simple but powerful tips and techniques that we can employ during times when we are unable to fall asleep. In a chapter entitled “Meditation and Action” he lists some principles and precepts that are revealed to us through our mindfulness practice. These principles and precepts have the potential to fundamentally alter our outlook on life and allow us to deal with adverse situations skillfully as and when they arise during daytime. When it is time to go to bed, we are therefore not bothered by them thereby allowing us to sleep better.

Having set the stage for the usefulness of mindfulness meditation in the first section, Joseph goes on to the second section entitled “Guided Meditation Exercises” where he describes seven specific exercises to do at bedtime, in the early hours of morning or anytime we face sleeping problems. These exercises contain beautifully written affirmations (like the ones listed below) that can be used for meditation and reflection prior to going to bed or even during the times when we are having difficulty falling asleep.

“Like a swing, my breath slows down at each end.
I follow it all the way as it slows down, and starts again

“A river of thoughts and feelings is flowing, but I am not drowning in it”

“I count my blessings and send waves of contentment to every part of my body.
My body is a miracle”

I have had my share of sleeping problems. I was able to successfully resolve them by using a toolset comprising of mindfulness meditation techniques and relaxation techniques. One such tool was Joseph Emet’s guided meditation exercises. I recorded his affirmations in my own voice on my iPhone, introduced short periods of silence between successive verses and created seven tracks. I then played selected tracks when I found it difficult to fall asleep. The results were nothing short of a miracle. Hearing the affirmations brought an immediate sense of relief and peace to my mind as well as relaxation to my body. My natural sleep cycle immediately took over and put me to sleep. I woke up feeling fresh and well rested the next morning.

I highly recommend that you purchase this book and try out Joseph Emet’s guided meditation exercises if you have sleep problems. I am sure you will not regret this purchase. The “Buddha’s Book of Sleep” is a short book comprising of 135 pages written in style that is very easy to understand. In fact, Jospeh’s style of writing is very similar to the writing style of Thich Nhat Hanh. You will not fail to notice the heart element and the space of deep understanding and wisdom that is the source of this book’s contents.

This book is available in many local bookstores as well as on Amazon. Check out the website of Joseph Emet’s Mindfulness Meditation Centre to learn more about his other offerings.

If you have any questions on this book or if you would like to seek clarification on some of its contents or if you have your own suggestions to offer me, then please do so by filing out the contact form below. In a blog category entitled “Website content feedback” I will publish my answers to your questions as well as your suggestions wherever appropriate. Thank you !!!

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Observe the Talking of Soul with Itself

In the blog category “Mindfulness Meditation techniques”, I will list various techniques that will help practitioners of this form of meditation. Over a period of years, I have compiled a variety of such techniques and formed a virtual toolkit from which I draw upon on a regular basis.

In an earlier blog post, I described the technique of “mental noting”. It is a simple method in which we use thinking to stay in the present rather than get carried away by it into the past or future. This is the practice of using a simple note to calmly name what we are experiencing. In this post, I am going to introduce an even easier technique to practice.

The title of this blog post comes from a quote of Plato. He said that thinking was the talking of the soul with itself. According to him, thoughts were dynamic. Thoughts were power, force and cause of all things. You can see for yourself the nature of thoughts with this simple mindfulness technique.

Take a few minutes to just sit comfortably and not do anything while keeping your eyes gently closed or gently opened. Focus on your breath as it comes in and goes out for a few minutes. Then, gently turn your attention to the flow of thoughts inside your mind. Whenever you notice a thought or a swarm of thoughts, gently label them as “thinking”. In other words, you are not noting and labeling the thoughts as falling into the categories of remembering, judging, planning, believing, worrying, fantasizing, etc. You are simply noting the fact that thoughts have arisen. As soon as you note “thinking”, chances are that the thoughts will pass away only to be replaced by the arising of other thoughts. Whenever you notice a movement in your mind, you are labeling it as “thinking”.

You will soon realize that there are very few moments when there are no thoughts arising. You will also notice the “not self” nature of the thoughts. In other words, there is nobody behind the curtain of your mind that is generating them. They seem to arise on their own accord and seem to be very conditioned on your past memories and future aspirations. You will also notice that they are impermanent and do not last very long. As soon as you label them, they seem to vanish only to be replaced by other thoughts.

Coming back to Plato, it will become clear that if thinking is indeed the talking of soul with itself, then such talk is obscured by the swarm of thoughts that either rehash the past or are preoccupied by the future. The problem is compounded when we consider these thoughts to be real. This mindfulness meditation technique allows us to stay present by observing the flow of these thoughts and not getting carried away by them. Perhaps in this way, we will remain open and receptive to hearing the soul talking with itself.

If you would like to share your experience, ask questions or provide helpful suggestions on this or any other blog post, then please fill out the contact form below. In a blog category entitled “Website content feedback” I will publish my answers to your questions as well as your suggestions wherever appropriate. I will be also delighted to publish your experience, if you would like me to do so. Thank you !!!

Posted in Mindfulness Meditation techniques Tagged with:

Living on a Prayer (Mindfully)

In the blog category “Mindfulness Meditation techniques”, I will list various techniques that will help practitioners of this form of meditation. Over a period of years, I have compiled a variety of such techniques and formed a virtual toolkit from which I draw upon on a regular basis.

Buddhist prayer beads or rosary beads are traditional tools used in the practice of meditation or reflection. They have been used for meditation and recitation of chants for thousands of years in the Chinese, Buddhist, Hindu, Indian and Tibetan culture. Different designs of prayers beads are also used in Christianity and Islam. Some prayer beads have decorative tassels on them. The idea is that you start with the bead adjacent to the tassel. Once you finish your unit of practice, you turn the bead up (or down) and move to the next one. You repeat this cycle till you make a complete round. Most prayer beads used in the Buddhist tradition have 108 beads.

buddhist_mala_beads_in_nuns_hand from Wikimedia Commons

The mindfulness meditation technique goes like this: Take the prayer bead. Sit in a relaxed but erect posture. Keep your eyes open or closed. Turn your attention to your breath and watch every inhalation and exhalation. Start with the bead adjacent and below the tassel. Every time you exhale, move a bead up, thereby making the tassel move away from your fingers. Continue this meditation and this action. From time to time, your attention will wander enough for you to lose track of your breath and/or the turning of the bead. When you notice that your mind has wandered off, gently bring it back to the breath and to the physical action of turning the beads. If your eyes are closed, when you turn the last bead, you will encounter the tassel again. This will be a sign for you to stop the meditation session.

Since there are 108 beads, you will likely take about 10 minutes to finish this practice. The beauty of this practice is that you are now adding a physical action to the mindfulness of breath meditation in a very unique way. This is one way that countless people have meditated for thousands of years in many different traditions and in many different parts of the world.

If you would like to share your experience, ask questions or provide helpful suggestions on this or any other blog post, then please fill out the contact form below. In a blog category entitled “Website content feedback” I will publish my answers to your questions as well as your suggestions wherever appropriate. I will be also delighted to publish your experience, if you would like me to do so. Thank you !!!

 

Posted in Mindfulness Meditation techniques Tagged with:

Guided vs Unguided Practice of Mindfulness Meditation

In the blog category “Executive Mindfulness Coaching”, I will list some questions I have received from my clients. I will list their answers and will elaborate on them so that they are helpful to other practitioners of mindfulness meditation as well.

I was asked a question about the usage of guided vs. unguided mindfulness meditations and if it was better to use guided meditations every time.

I would like to clarify the distinctions between guided and unguided meditations. When we are starting to learn mindfulness meditation, it is very helpful to do guided meditations as they act like training wheels for our practice. There are a variety of guided meditations available from different teachers that we can use. We should try them out and see which ones work better for us. Some of them have a lot of guidance and others have minimal guidance.

Once we get some degree of practice, then we should try doing some unguided meditations. These are practices where we set aside some time (say 15 minutes) for this practice. We start out by creating an intention of staying alert and aware for the practice. We cultivate an attitude of patience, gentleness and kindness towards ourselves. Then we begin the practice by focusing on our chosen object of meditation for the allotted time.

It is helpful to do these structured but unguided meditations from time to time because we can gauge our comfort level and ability to stay focused with the practice. The ultimate goal of mindfulness meditation is not to be mindful when we are doing our practice with our eyes closed most of the time. Rather; it is to cultivate clear, stable and non-judgmental awareness when we are engaged with the world with our eyes wide open. As we become more adept with this practice, it will help us bring calm and clarity in our lives thereby allowing us to live our lives with ease.

Only we can judge for ourselves if we are comfortable doing mindfulness meditation on our own without any guidance. During our unguided practice, if we find our minds wandering from thoughts to thoughts and are unable to anchor ourselves, then we should stop and try a guided practice.

As part of my mindfulness coaching sessions, I introduce my clients to many different “portals” that are available to us for our practice. I introduce them to a variety of techniques that focus on different aspects of mindfulness practice. You can click on the “Contact Us” menu option to start the engagement process and to see how I can help you.

Posted in Executive Mindfulness Coaching Tagged with:

Mindfulness of Feeling Tones

In the blog category “Guided Meditations”, I will provide detailed explanations for all the guided meditation tracks that I will place in the Resources section of this website. These blog posts will be hyperlinked from the “Guided Meditations” page under “Resources” menu option where these meditation tracks in mp3 format will be placed for streaming or for downloading.

Mindfulness of feeling tones is a very powerful application within the broad domain of mindfulness practice. There are three basic components to any emotion that arises within us: i) the thoughts or the stories behind the emotion ii) the physical sensations that reflect how the emotion manifests itself in the body and iii) the emotional moods or feeling tones in the mind. Feeling tones can be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. It is the feeling tone keeps us hooked into our conditioning behavior of craving and aversion. We like whatever has a pleasant feeling tone, dislike whatever has an unpleasant feeling tone and are unaware of anything that has a neutral feeling tone. Consequently, we take actions based on our likes and dislikes. Feeling tones can become a linchpin for transformation because our actions are most often based on them rather than on the emotions directly.

In this guided meditation, I ask that we focus our attention on feeling tones that arise within us all the time. We bring our awareness to just the feeling tones by ignoring body sensations, sights and sounds. We only use our breath as an anchor for this practice. This is an important step because we are isolating feeling tones from the mass of mental phenomena that arise within us all the time on a moment to moment basis. We focus on the feeling tone of moment-to-moment experience and label them as pleasant or unpleasant or neutral and observe with detachment.

As soon as an emotion arises that has a pleasant feeling tone (for example, thought of a delicious meal that we plan to have after your meditation, planning for our next vacation, etc.), we will sense a gathering of energy in the body as it prepares to take action based solely on the pleasant feeling tone. This is the automatic reaction that follows the observance of a pleasant feeling tone. We just observe this phenomenon and see how soon it subsides by not taking any action.

In a similar way, as soon as an emotion arises that has an unpleasant feeling tone (for example, anxiety provoking thought of our next day at work, past memory of an action that hurt us, etc.), we will sense a gathering of energy in the body as it prepares to take action based solely on the unpleasant feeling tone. This is again an automatic reaction that follows the observance of an unpleasant feeling tone. In this case too, we just observe this phenomenon and see how soon it subsides by not taking any action.

A key insight that comes from this practice is that when we have a bad experience, we suffer. However, bad experience should not equate to suffering. It can be contained to just that experience and not be built into something much larger than what it actually is. Also, when we experience an unpleasant feeling tone, in our default state of mind, we quickly take action that overlays the underlying unpleasant feeling tone with something pleasant. The pleasant overlay could be in the form of an ice cream, alcohol, drug, cigarette, food, etc. After a couple of times, this action-reaction pattern can become automatic thereby leading to addiction behavior. Mindfulness of feeling tones can help us experience the genesis of addictive behavior and can give us some space within which we can take skillful actions and refrain from unskillful ones.

The total duration of this guided meditation is 16:18 minutes. There are three blocks of silence, each lasting for about 3 minutes.

Towards the beginning of this meditation, I request that we intentionally cultivate an attitude of patience, gentleness and kindness towards ourselves before we begin these exercises. It is very important that mindfulness meditations be accompanied by a sense of openness otherwise their effectiveness may be diminished. Towards the ending of this meditation, I request that we dedicate the merits of this practice to ourselves as well as to all others by affirming these statements:

“May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I live with ease.
May all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings live with ease”

At the end of the day, we are practicing mindfulness meditation not just for ourselves but also for all others.

If you would like to share your experience, ask questions or provide helpful suggestions on this or any other blog post, then please fill out the contact form below. In a blog category entitled “Website content feedback” I will publish my answers to your questions as well as your suggestions wherever appropriate. I will be also delighted to publish your experience, if you would like me to do so. Thank you !!!

Posted in Guided Meditations Tagged with:

My Journey into Health and Well-Being

In the blog category “General Health and Well-Being”, I will focus on the specific health benefits that accrue from the practice of mindfulness meditation. From time to time, I will take brief detours into other areas of health and healing as well.

Left - Nov 2011. Right outside the gates of University of Florida in Gainesville, FL. Right - July 2016. At Weight Watchers store in Beaverton, OR with leader Kathy Cunningham.

Left – Nov 2011. Right outside the gates of University of Florida in Gainesville, FL.
Right – July 2016. At Weight Watchers store in Beaverton, OR with leader Kathy Cunningham.

July 12, 2016 was a very significant and momentous day for me. It was on this day that I shed all excess weight of over 26 pounds from my body and achieved my ideal weight after 5 years of continuous effort. On this day, I became a Weight Watchers’ Lifetime Member. On this journey, I learnt much about my own body and mind. In this article I want to list four major activities that helped me enormously in this journey.

1.Mindfulness of feeling tones: Mindfulness of feeling tones is a very powerful application within the broad domain of mindfulness practice. There are three basic components to any emotion that arises within us: i) the thoughts or the stories behind the emotion ii) the physical sensations that reflect how the emotion manifests itself in the body and iii) the emotional mood or feeling tone in the mind. Feeling tones can be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. It is the feeling tone keeps us hooked into our conditioning behavior of craving and aversion. We like whatever has a pleasant feeling tone, dislike whatever has an unpleasant feeling tone and are unaware of anything that has a neutral feeling tone.

Feeling tones can become a linchpin for transformation because our actions are most often based on them rather than on the emotions directly. I used to think that tater tots and grilled cheese sandwiches were mankind’s greatest inventions. I used to get cravings to eat these kinds of food throughout the day. The cravings for such food had a very strong pleasant feeling tones attached to them. Instead of giving in to these cravings, I just stayed with them mindfully. Very soon, they would subside and take the craving away. I was therefore able to ride out these emotions till the time came when they no longer had any hold over me.

Cultivating this habit of being mindful towards feeling tones can go a long way in becoming free from any addiction.

2.Mindful Running: I started my weight loss journey in 2012 when I realized that I was unable to keep up with my children as they ran around the house in a perpetual state of playfulness. I would have to lie down on the couch for a few minutes just to catch my breath and to recover from the little time I spent playing with them. I then embarked on a running exercise with the ultimate goal of participating in a formal 5k race. I would practice on my own and started by running a mile and then gradually increased the distance till I was able to run 3 miles.

During my practices, I experienced a break-through that made the whole running experience richer. I was under physical stress, my heart was pounding, my legs and sides were hurting. Instead of panicking and having alarming thoughts arising due to the sheer sense of discomfort; from time to time, I would lean into it and accept this experience. This was very similar to leaning in to an unpleasant feeling tone experience and watching it go away by itself. The act of leaning in ended the psychological suffering and I was faced with just the physical suffering that was much easier to manage even as I continued to run.

It was also very entertaining for me to observe my mind when I embarked on this practice of 5k run. My mind would fight feverishly to end the physical suffering. During a run once, I saw a maple leaf on the ground. My mind immediately linked the maple leaf to the Canadian flag and then to the fact that Canadian people were very peaceful and therefore I should stop the violent act of running and start being peaceful. I smiled but kept on running.

3.Intermittent Fasting: Having grown up in an austere religion of Jainism in India, I was very much used to the practice of fasting on a regular basis as advocated by its vast religious practices. Today, Intermittent Fasting is an umbrella term for various diets that cycle between a period of fasting and non-fasting. Current studies have shown that fasting turns on autophagy, which is the process by which cells recycle waste material, eliminate or downregulate wasteful processes, and repair themselves. Autophagy is important because it has shown to reduce the negative effects of aging and to reduce the incidence and progression of aging-related diseases. It turns out that short-term or intermittent fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy.

Sometime in 2014, I restarted the practice of fasting by not eating any solid foods for a period of 14-18 hours once a month. Initially those fasting days were tough but they became easier and easier to manage. When it came to weight-loss efforts, Intermittent Fasting gave me the capacity to withstand the pangs of desire I had to consume rich, processed foods all the time.

All of these efforts were great. They helped me lose weight but I got stalled when I had to lose the last 5 pounds. I got used to my diet and strength training regimen and was in this rut for nearly two years. I desperately needed a breakthrough and it came in the form of CrossFit.

4.CrossFit: CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program consisting of a mix of aerobic exercise, calisthenics and weightlifting. The program comprises of hour-long classes at gyms led by coaches who make sure that participants do the exercises in correct forms and movements. They are present to motivate participants to push themselves beyond their comfort zones. These classes are an amazing experience for me as I usually work out with professional athletes, professional sports people and ex- military personnel. The last time I was engaged in a form of physical activity with such a group of men and women was over 20 years ago. The activity was Spelling Bee.

CrossFit made me realize that I was capable of performing so much more physical exercise and effort than what I usually expended. This was the breakthrough that I was seeking. As the level of physical effort increased, I automatically shed the excess weight and was finally able to lose that last 5 pounds. I want to point out that compared to the other people working out with me in my CrossFit classes, I used baby weights. However, the common trait I shared with them was that we were all trying to push our limits of physical endurance and stamina.

 

At the end of the day, our weight is not the only barometer of good health. However, we can leverage it to inculcate habits that lead to our overall sense of good health and well-being. We can then protect the most valuable asset we possess. Creating an overall health maintenance strategy that comprise of diet, exercise and meditation will allow us to add life to our years and years to our life.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that I am not a qualified health professional. I am stating certain modalities like intermittent Fasting, CrossFit, etc. and sharing my experience because they have helped me enormously in improving my overall health. Please do your own research and talk with your doctor before starting these practices.

 

If you would like to share your experience, ask questions or provide helpful suggestions on this or any other blog post, then please fill out the contact form below. In a blog category entitled “Website content feedback” I will publish my answers to your questions as well as your suggestions wherever appropriate. I will be also delighted to publish your experience, if you would like me to do so. Thank you !!!

Posted in General Health and Well-Being Tagged with:

Looking Deeply, Release (Anger)

In the blog category “Guided Meditations”, I will provide detailed explanations for all the guided meditation tracks that I will place in the Resources section of this website. These blog posts will be hyperlinked from the “Guided Meditations” page under “Resources” menu option where these meditation tracks in mp3 format will be placed for streaming or for downloading.

The meditation entitled “Looking Deeply, Release” appears in chapter IV of the book “The Blooming of a Lotus” by Thich Nhat Hanh. This conscious breathing meditation can be used to be in touch with all the feelings that create anger and to then transform the seeds that create anger within us. The in-breath is to experience a certain feeling that generates anger. The out-breath smiles and cultivates compassion to that feeling.

When we experience anger due to the actions of others; they end up creating knots in our consciousness. These knots tie us up and obstruct our freedom. Our default method of dealing with such situations is to seek revenge on others in the hope that the knots that are created in their consciousness by our actions of revenge will somehow loosen the knots that are in our consciousness. However, it seldom works that way. What does happen is that the knots in our consciousness grow stronger, they gain power to dictate our behavior and our suffering continues.

There is now ample research that has shown that the physical effects of anger on our body can be long lasting. Some studies have shown a connection between anger and high blood pressure, depression and heart disease leading to more chances of occurrences of heart attack.

The practice of mindfulness meditation can help us realize the fact that the root cause of our suffering is the presence of the seeds of anger within us. We can gently remove such seeds by the practice of mindfulness and conscious breathing after which we can experience transformation and healing. With these seeds removed, there will be a dissipation of anger within us. The other people who caused the original experience of anger within us will no longer dictate our default reaction to seek revenge thereby leading to transformation and healing within us.

Towards the beginning of this meditation, I request that we intentionally cultivate an attitude of patience, gentleness and kindness towards ourselves before we begin these exercises. It is very important that mindfulness meditations be accompanied by a sense of openness otherwise their effectiveness may be diminished. Towards the ending of this meditation, I request that we dedicate the merits of this practice to ourselves as well as to all others by affirming these statements:

“May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I live with ease.
May all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings live with ease”

At the end of the day, we are practicing mindfulness meditation not just for ourselves but also for all others.

If you would like to share your experience, ask questions or provide helpful suggestions on this or any other blog post, then please fill out the contact form below. In a blog category entitled “Website content feedback” I will publish my answers to your questions as well as your suggestions wherever appropriate. I will be also delighted to publish your experience, if you would like me to do so. Thank you !!!

Posted in Guided Meditations Tagged with:

Body Scan Meditation

In the blog category “Guided Meditations”, I will provide detailed explanations for all the guided meditation tracks that I will place in the Resources section of this website. These blog posts will be hyperlinked from the “Guided Meditations” page under “Resources” menu option where these meditation tracks in mp3 format will be placed for streaming or for downloading.

The body scan meditation has proven to be an extremely powerful and healing form of mindfulness meditation. It involves systematically sweeping through the body with the mind; bringing a gentle, kind and openhearted attention to its various regions in order to observe any sensations that are present. One of the core insights underlying this practice is that the body is always in the present moment. It is the mind that is constantly flitting back and forth between the past and the future. Therefore; by anchoring our attention to the body, we find ourselves in the present moment. We also realize that none of the sensations in our body are permanent. Rather, they arise and fall away constantly. It is our minds that create stories and projections based on these sensations. Depending on the nature of these sensations, we react by craving or aversion and try to either prolong pleasant sensations or to shut unpleasant sensations down. Body scan meditation practice gives us a choice to simply be one with whatever is arising instead of reacting to them.

In this guided meditation that lasts for 15:15 minutes, you will be guided to do scan your body, part by part, from head to feet and then back up to the head. You start by moving awareness to the forehead, eyes, ears, nose, cheeks, jaw, tongue. Then move down to the neck, shoulders, biceps, forearms, hands. Move awareness down to the upper back, chest, middle back, lower back, abdomen. Finally, move down to the hips, thighs, knees, shins, calves and feet. You will then be guided to move back up from the feet to the head. Focus your awareness on the body part and feel any sensations that might be present there. Feel and acknowledge physical sensations like tingling, burning, pounding, tightness, looseness, softness, roughness, burning, numbness, dryness, vibrating, cool, warm, aching, dense, itchy, pulsing, etc.

Towards the beginning of this meditation, as I do in all my guided meditations, I request that we intentionally cultivate an attitude of patience, gentleness and kindness towards ourselves before we begin these exercises. It is very important that mindfulness meditations be accompanied by a sense of openness otherwise their effectiveness may be diminished. Towards the ending, I request that we dedicate the merits of this practice to ourselves as well as to all others by affirming these statements:

“May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I live with ease.
May all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings live with ease”

At the end of the day, we are practicing mindfulness meditation not just for ourselves but also for all others.

If you would like to share your experience, ask questions or provide helpful suggestions on this or any other blog post, then please fill out the contact form below. In a blog category entitled “Website content feedback” I will publish my answers to your questions as well as your suggestions wherever appropriate. I will be also delighted to publish your experience, if you would like me to do so. Thank you !!!

Posted in Guided Meditations Tagged with:

Looking Deeply, Healing # 1

In the blog category “Guided Meditations”, I will provide detailed explanations for all the guided meditation tracks that I will place in the Resources section of this website. These blog posts will be hyperlinked from the “Guided Meditations” page under “Resources” menu option where these meditation tracks in mp3 format will be placed for streaming or for downloading.

Mindfulness of feeling tones is a very powerful application within the broad domain of mindfulness practice. There are three basic components to any emotion that arises within us: thoughts (or the story) behind the emotion, physical sensations that reflect how the emotion manifests itself in the body and the emotional mood or feeling tone in the mind. Feeling tone can be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. It is the feeling tone keeps us hooked into our conditioning behavior of craving and aversion. We like whatever has a pleasant feeling tone, dislike whatever has an unpleasant feeling tone and are unaware of anything that has a neutral feeling tone.

Feeling tones can become a linchpin for transformation because our actions are most often based on them rather than on the emotions directly. The guided meditation entitled “Looking Deeply, Healing” (#1) as it appears in chapter IV of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Blooming of a Lotus” is based on conscious breathing where we train ourselves to acknowledge and smile at a variety of feelings that generate any one of the three feeling tones.

I would like to clarify the meaning of some of the terms that I am using here. “Feelings” as used in this meditation are synonymous with emotions. “Feeling tones” are different from “feelings” in the sense that there are only three feeling tones that underlie all the vast ranges of “feelings” or emotions that we experience. The main insight to be gleaned from the overall practice of mindfulness is that since the feelings or emotions are impermanent, their feeling tones are also impermanent. Therefore, there is no need to “act” on unpleasant feeling tones. Just by observing and being with them for relatively short period of time, they go away by themselves.

“Feelings” of fear, anxiety, anger, jealousy, etc. are often unpleasant or painful. The steady practice of mindfulness will help us acknowledge the painful feelings whenever it appears. In this way, we avoid being drowned by waves of the secondary feelings that our minds create in response to the primary feeling of pain. Once the mass of secondary feelings is gone, it is relatively easier to deal with the primary feeling of pain.

In this meditation, we are training our minds to smile to unpleasant feeling tones that are generated by feelings of pain, fear, insecurity, sadness, anger, jealousy, attachment, etc. We are also acknowledging and looking deeply at pleasant feelings.

Towards the beginning of this meditation, I request that we intentionally cultivate an attitude of patience, gentleness and kindness towards ourselves before we begin these exercises. It is very important that mindfulness meditations be accompanied by a sense of openness otherwise their effectiveness may be diminished. Towards the ending of this meditation, I request that we dedicate the merits of this practice to ourselves as well as to all others by affirming these statements:

“May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I live with ease.
May all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings live with ease”

At the end of the day, we are practicing mindfulness meditation not just for ourselves but also for all others.

If you would like to share your experience, ask questions or provide helpful suggestions on this or any other blog post, then please fill out the contact form below. In a blog category entitled “Website content feedback” I will publish my answers to your questions as well as your suggestions wherever appropriate. I will be also delighted to publish your experience, if you would like me to do so. Thank you !!!

Posted in Guided Meditations Tagged with:

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