Posts Tagged ‘Meditation’

As we all got to read this week, the Harper government canceled all non-Christian chaplain positions in federal penitentiaries. Having been involved in the Federal system by bringing meditation to inmates in medium security penitentiaries, I am extremely saddened by this move by Harper and his goons and their continuous crusade to cut all social programs that help those in greatest need. I have seen first hand the benefits bringing meditation and other religious perspectives in penitentiaries, helping inmates make peace with their troubled past and their long healing process that they face. I have been trying to get back in federal penitentiaries since Harper has been elected with a majority government and keep being met with obstacle after obstacle with cut after cut in programs to insure that inmates are denied basic human rights in terms of faith, something that Harper might believe is still respected if they have access to Christian guidance (but tell me how a Buddhist is to get guidance in meditation from someone who believes that the inmate will be going to hell seeing as how he doesn’t follow the teaching of HIS lord and saviour?). Before I continue, I think that it is best that I take a few minutes to explain the Canadian penitentiary system, its history more specifically.

The penitentiary was first introduced by the Philadelphia Quakers in 1789 as a more humane alternative to the harsh punishments of the time. The Quakers believed that a sentence of imprisonment, served under conditions of isolation, with opportunities for work and religious contemplation, would render the offender “penitent” and reformed. In New York, the penitentiary sentence was adopted out of a belief that work and training would lead to a reduction in the crime rate. The idea of sentencing offenders to long terms of imprisonment spread next to England as an alternative to exiling offenders to the colonies. Imprisonment as we know it in Canada today dates back to the building of the Kingston Penitentiary in 1835. For more than 30 years, Kingston Penitentiary was operated as a provincial jail until the passage of the British North America Act (1867) established federal and provincial responsibilities for justice.

With passage of the first Penitentiary Act (1868), Kingston and two other pre-Confederation prisons in St. John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia were brought under federal jurisdiction, creating a federal penitentiary system “for the establishment, maintenance and management of penitentiaries for offenders sentenced to two years or more.” Construction of federal institutions started in 1873 with St. Vincent de Paul (now Laval Institution). Three more institutions followed: Manitoba Penitentiary (now Stony Mountain Institution) opened in 1877, British Columbia Penitentiary a year later, and Dorchester Penitentiary (New Brunswick) in 1880. All were maximum-security institutions, administered by a strict regime—productive labour during the day, solitary confinement during leisure time. A rule of silence was enforced at all times. Parole did not exist, although inmates could have three days a month remitted from their sentence for good conduct.

In the Depression years of the 1930s, a rash of inmate strikes and riots focussed attention on penal philosophy and management style and lead to the formation of the Archambault Royal Commission of Inquiry. With its emphasis on crime prevention and the rehabilitation of offenders, the Commission’s 1928 report was  a landmark in Canadian corrections and much of its philosophy remains influential today. Among the Commission’s recommendations was the complete revision of penitentiary regulations to provide “strict but humane discipline and the reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners.” In many ways, the Archambault report reflected a society that had become less concerned with retribution and more with rehabilitation. But the priorities of a nation at war superseded penal reform, and few of the Archambault report’s recommendations were implemented.

Following World War II, rising prison populations, overcrowding, and prison disturbances spurred the creation in 1953 of the Fauteaux Committee for another investigation into the correctional system. The Fauteaux Committee envisaged a new type of prison that would not merely be a facility for custody, but also a place of “worthwhile and creative activity” with programs focussing on the attempt to change the basic behaviour, attitudes and patterns of inmates. The nature of prisons had to change in order to make these programs work and to provide opportunities for vocational training, pre-release and after-care programs. Most importantly, prisons needed more and better-trained professional staff in such fields as social work, psychology, psychiatry, criminology and law.

The recommendations of the Fauteaux Committee initiated a new era of legislative and institutional reform and expansion. During this time:

  • The National Parole Board was established as an independent body to exercise authority over the parole of inmates.
  • The Penitentiary Act was amended (1961) to establish new procedures for the operation of penitentiaries and other reforms.
  • A plan (1963) to construct 10 new penitentiaries across Canada that reflected the Fauteaux Committee’s vision for Canada’s prisons was implemented.

In 1976, continuing deficiencies in the correctional system were manifested in a series of disturbances that lead to a new approach in the management of Canadian correction institutions. The new approach was based on the belief that many of the abuses in the system would not take place if proper public accountability existed and public involvement in correctional policy development was sought. Consequently, access to penitentiaries by outside groups was expanded and citizens’ advisory committees were established.

This brief history is brought to us by Corrections Canada, which obviously makes us believe that inmates are treated well and that they only have the inmates health and well-being in mind. I must disagree with this perception, I have seen inmates be denied help and treated with less than humane techniques. One of the most blatant inhumane techniques that I must speak out against is the isolation treatment that is still status quo in all Canadian penitentiaries, as a form of rehabilitation and which takes no consideration of the actual damage that it does to the people who are victims to this “treatment”.

Here are some quick facts about Solitary Confinement, it exists in many penitentiaries under different names: isolation, control units, supermax prisons, the hole, SHUs, administrative segregation, maximum security or permanent lockdown. Inmates can be placed in these units for many reasons; as punishment, while they are under investigation, as a mechanism for behavior modification, when suspected of gang involvement, as retribution for political activism or to fill expensive, empty beds, to name but a few. Although conditions vary from penitentiary to penitentiary and other institutions, systematic policies and conditions of control and oppression used in isolation and segregation include:

  • confinement behind a solid steel door for 23 hours a day
  • limited contact with other human beings
  • infrequent phone calls and rare non-contact family visits
  • extremely limited access to rehabilitative or educational programming
  • grossly inadequate medical and mental health treatment
  • restricted reading material and personal property
  • physical torture such as hog-tying, restraint chairs, and forced cell extraction
  • mental torture such as sensory deprivation, permanent bright lighting, extreme temperatures, and forced insomnia
  • sexual intimidation and violence

Beginning in the early 1970s, prison and jail administrators at the federal level have relied increasingly on isolation and segregation to control men, women and youth in their custody. In 1985 there were a handful of control units across the United States (could not find stats for Canada in regards to this, but it should be similar with population taken into consideration). Today an estimated 44 states have supermax facilities confining more than 30,000 people. Prisoners are often confined for months or even years, with some spending more than 25 years in segregated prison settings. As with the overall prison population, people of color are disproportionately represented in isolation units.

Increasingly isolation units house the mentally ill who struggle to conform to prison rules. An independent investigation from 2006 reported that as many as 64% of prisoners in SHUs were mentally ill, a much higher percentage than is reported by states for their general prison populations. Contrary to the perception that control units house “the worst of the worst’, it is often the most vulnerable prisoners, not the most violent who end up in extended isolation. The AFSC Healing Justice staff worked with 60 Minutes on the production of The Death of Timothy Souders, a riveting testimony. Numerous studies have documented the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners giving them the name; Special Housing Unit Syndrome or SHU Syndrome. Some of the many SHU Syndrome symptoms include:

  • visual and auditory hallucinations
  • hypersensitivity to noise and touch
  • insomnia and paranoia
  • uncontrollable feelings of rage and fear
  • distortions of time and perception
  • increased risk of suicide
  • PTSD

If one is not mentally ill when entering an isolation unit, by the time they are released their mental health has been severely compromised. Many prisoners are released directly to the streets after spending years in isolation. Because of this, long-term solitary confinement goes beyond a problem of prison conditions, to pose a formidable public safety and community health problem.

Prison isolation fits the definition of torture as stated in several international human rights treaties, and thus constitutes a violation of human rights law. For example, the U.N. Convention Against Torture defines torture as any state-sanctioned act “by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” for information, punishment, intimidation, or for a reason based on discrimination. For all these reasons – for the safety of our communities, to respect our responsibility to follow international human rights law, to take a stand against torture wherever it occurs, and for the sake of our common humanity – prison isolation and segregation must end.

Just like Segregation is a violation of human rights I believe that this last cut is yet another attack towards inmate rehabilitation and helping to assure that they will be able to integrate into society when they have finished their sentence. The contracts were cut after Toews suspended plans to hire a Wiccan prison chaplain in B.C. and ordered a review of the entire program last month. “Upon reviewing the program, it was determined that changes were necessary so that this program supports the freedom of religion of inmates while respecting taxpayers’ dollars,” said Bergen.

But Liberal justice and human rights critic Irwin Cotler responded that “requiring inmates of other faiths to turn to Christian chaplains for religious guidance is clearly discriminatory.” “The Minister of Public Safety says that he is ‘not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status’ – but by providing funding for Christian chaplains only, he is doing precisely that,” said Cotler. In question period NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar questioned how much money the government was saving by cutting 100 part-time positions. “This is not a costly program. The minister has no justification for cutting it,” said Dewar. The total cost of the chaplain program, including full-time and part-time positions, is about $6.4 million a year. The part-time contracts represent approximately $1.3 million of that total, the Public Safety Ministry said on Friday morning.

Outside of parliament the cuts also spark strong reactions from religious leaders. David Koschitzky, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said access to appropriate religious counselling in prison was key to many inmates’ rehabilitation. “It is no stretch to say that chaplains are at the forefront of the rehabilitation process, and work every day to ensure that inmates awaiting release have the tools they need to avoid re-offending,” said Koschitzky. “While this is a matter of protecting freedom of religion, there is also an important aspect of public safety at stake in this decision.” Sikh and Muslim leaders have also called the program’s cancellation discriminatory.

I find that Canada needs to review its whole penitentiary system and its programs for rehabilitation, we should be leading the way in more  humane and efficient way to assure that people first of all are not placed in penitentiaries, by creating a more equal and just society; and also assuring that inmates are just stored in federal penitentiaries like unwanted furniture for a selected period of time. Let us not forget that there is also a huge homelessness crisis happening all over the world, in Montreal alone there are about 30 000 homeless people for a city population of about 1.8 million (don’t try to tell me that we don’t have to do anything about this), which makes certain people turn towards a life a crime when they are simply desperate and out of ideas… I will talk about the homelessness crisis next time… But for now. talk to your MPs or even Stephen Harper if he is willing to listen, we need to take care of your citizens and assure that they have the best chance to redeem themselves and become a productive member of society again… Lets show the world that we can be a society that is compassionate and open-minded, who are we to judge what spiritual guidance one needs?

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Bodhi Day is a Buddhist holiday commemorating the day that the Buddha achieved enlightenment, which is translated as Bodhi in Sanskrit or Pali.  Bodhi Day is always celebrated on the 8th day of the 12th lunar month, this is what is believed was the day that Siddhartha Gautama while sitting under the Bodhi tree became the Buddha. Sid, who was born in a very noble and privileged Hindu family, left his material comforts in the search for answers to the problem of suffering, specifically old age, sickness and death. He thus sought bodhi through meditation, self-mortification, and practicing other austerities.

After several years of intense practice, he realized that bodhi was to be found through meditation, but through a Middle Way, away from the extremes of self-mortification and self-indulgence. The story goes that he meditated in Bodh Gaya (I am sure that you have all heard of the famous Bodhi Tree that is supposed to have been grown from an original branch of the tree that rested atop of the Buddha, it is one of the main pilgrimage sites for Buddhists from all over the world) under a peepal tree (a species of Banyan fig), now famously known as the Bodhi tree, and resolved to continue meditating until he achieved bodhi (enlightenment). It is believed that after 49 days of continuous meditation, Gautama achieved bodhi (enlightenment) at the age of 35. Since then he was known as the Buddha (‘enlightened one’). In other words, he kicked Mara’s ass and was freed from the shackles of suffering.

In Buddhism, Māra is the demon that tempted Siddhartha Gautama by trying to seduce him with the vision of beautiful women who, in various legends, are often said to be Mara’s daughters. In Buddhist cosmology, Mara personifies unwholesome impulses, unskilfulness, the “death” of the spiritual life. He is a tempter, distracting humans from practicing the spiritual life by making the mundane alluring or the negative seem positive. We have all wrestled with Mara at one point in our lives, I know that I do it on a daily basis, I just keep working on not giving Mara too much power in my life and how I act within the world. I am sure that everyone that has attempted to sit and meditate has tasted the allure of what Mara has thrown at them, the important part and what I try to do every time is simply to say “I see you Mara” and keep on keeping on.

People usually celebrate and commemorate this day with meditation, studying the Dharma, chanting sutras (Buddhist texts) or by doing kind acts towards others. I find that all these activities are all great ways to commemorate this moment, I also find that it is a great time to reflect on what has brought us to this practice and what keeps us going on this path… So why not take some time today to sit and meditate on our practice and how we are progressing on the path. I know that I like to check in on my practice at least once a year and I can’t think of a better time than now. So take a moment to reflect and renew your effort towards your practice and the path that you have chosen, if you do not practice meditation or the dharma, there isn’t a better time than now to start!

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A little while back I had the privilege to guide my co-workers in some meditation and giving some ideas on how to bring mindfulness to their day-to-day life. I had a discussion afterwards at work with my director who told me that what I had said made her realize that she has never really been “in the moment” in her entire life, except when she was on vacation. This statement stuck with me, I find that this is a reality for a lot of people. We are so busy in our day-to-day lives that it is only when we are on vacation, where we make the conditions possible, to really enjoy the moment as it is happening. Unfortunately, vacation time is a privilege that a lot of people can’t even enjoy and for the rest of us it is a very limited time out of every year. Meditation practice is meant to be taken out into the world, not just when the house is quiet and we go sit on a cushion or that we are sipping a drink on a beach somewhere warm. Take a second to think about this, during your normal day do you make an effort to be present in the moment as it is happening? More specifically, at work, are you really bringing mindfulness to your moment to moment experience?

You know what, screw that, how do you feel right now? Are you happy, depressed, anxious, excited? What is true about this moment for you? Don’t judge anything, just be in touch with and aware of the present moment.  Are you there now? And where exactly are you? If you’re clearing your mind of the past and the future, the place you are at now is a state that is often referred to as mindfulness.  It’s a calming place. A place that offers quiet serenity. It’s been proven that getting yourself into a state of mindfulness can reduce stress, depression and anxiety.  And it’s been proven at numerous organizations across the globe to increase creativity, innovation, and yes…productivity. In fact organizations like eBay and Facebook have entire programs focused on improving mindfulness in the workplace. Having a program like this in my workplace is a dream of mine, but it is not easy to bring something like this into an organization. Let’s be honest, it is pretty much impossible to bring mindful practices to an entire organization. Putting aside organization-wide mindfulness, there are simple things you can do each day to bring mindfulness to your workday to give yourself a break from the fast-paced day-to-day meetings and deadlines. So try these out at work and see how it goes!

1- Breathe! Try to find a quiet place, or if you are so lucky, close your office door. Sit upright, close your eyes and slowly inhale and exhale through your nose. Take deep breaths. Feel your chest expand and contract with each breath. Allow whatever thoughts come into your mind to just come and go.  If you find your thoughts are focusing on events of the day (either past or present), come back to focusing on just your breath. Don’t judge your thoughts. Just let them flow. Observe the sounds and smells and sensations around you. Make your breathing the foreground. Try this for about five minutes, then open your eyes and allow your gaze to lengthen to take in the sights around you with a wider awareness.

2- Smooth Transitions. In a normal workday we constantly change contexts. We go from a meeting, to writing a report at extreme speed, back into a meeting, catching up on e-mails etc. Many times when we make the transition from one mode of work to another, we bring the former mode of work to the next mode. For example, we walk into a meeting still contemplating an email that we read just before leaving our desk, our mind is not fully present at the meeting. Give yourself some time to transition between modes. In the transition time, acknowledge that you are making a transition now. Come to a natural end of one activity and know you are moving to a different activity. Recognize the pause between the activities. Think about how you feel right now during this pause? Are you anxious, excited, nervous? Don’t judge yourself.  Just recognize how you feel. Then enter your next activity feeling fully aware and awake in the present moment.

3- The Bow. If your co-workers are up for it, try this out! This can be a very powerful exercise. When a meeting is about to start, sit in your chair with your eyes open, sitting with your back straight and your hands on your thighs. Feel your feet on the floor, your butt and back on the chair. Feel the desire to learn, to experience, to be awake. Then relax and feel the vulnerability of yourself. Feel the gentleness that comes from this vulnerability. Finally lean forward into a slight bow and feel the bow as a sense of a gift flowing to others in your meeting or others outside of the room. The entire bow takes less than a minute and really sets a calming mind and opens you up to a willingness to share and help others.

4- Observe and React with Serenity. When drama happens at work, and it will happen, it is hard to observe without being drawn into this drama. If by chance you get drawn into the drama, and it will happen because we are all human after all, stay present in the moment. It is important that you don’t draw on old opinions or anger, don’t get caught in dreams of how the outcome will be, stay in the moment and try to act with as much serenity that you can muster. React to the present moment with serenity and not all the other stories that arise.

5- Falter and Learn. It is important to remember that we are all human and we all screw up on a daily basis. I am sure that we can all think of a handful of events where we were not mindful today, and it will happen tomorrow. If you lose patience, or find yourself drawn into an office drama, or if you can’t relax or make smooth transitions, don’t judge the experience as bad. Look at it as a learning experience.  What was true about the moment that caused you to react the way you did? Did your reaction work for you? If not, try not to react that way again in the future.

6- Look out the Window. So many of us work in cubicle farms or other office formats that do not give you access to a window. We are caught in an environment of artificial light, neon bulbs buzzing over us, air conditioning, and a natural lack of the natural world. If you can, take a break from this artificial world by taking a quick walk outside to connect with a more natural world. Even if you are downtown in a large city, outside always helps us connect to a more natural world. If you are not able to do that, look out a window. It’s a proven fact that looking out a window into a natural setting reduces stress and anxiety. So give it a try.  Find a window and peer out.  Maybe you’ll find a tree and really connect with it. Look at the trunk, the branches, the leaves, how it moves in the breeze. Five minutes of this and you’ll be refreshed and awake.

7- Smile and Laugh. There is an old saying that happiness is contagious. Too often we bring our “work personas” to the office with us, usually these personas don’t laugh or smile, or show any joy. I think that our work life would be better off if everyone brought their “true selves” to work, and smile and laugh and share joy with the people around us. The contagious nature of joy and happiness is tough to suppress and it can do wonders for people who are stressed, depressed, or anxious.

8- Mindful Clock. This is not really a practice, but more a tool that you can use to bring mindfulness to your day. Set up a timer on your computer, cell phone, e-mail account (for all you Outlook users), etc. It can be a simple chime that rings throughout the day to remind you to relax. I have been setting a reminder for me to remind me to take a few minutes of breathing every couple of hours, to go on a smoke break and connect with people who I share the office with, it could also be to look out a window, whatever helps you relax.

I hope that this will help you bring some joy and happiness at work, being mindful doesn’t have to be a privileged moment that you have on your meditation cushion, it can be accessed everywhere, even work!  We no longer have to wait for our vacations to be able to appreciate our moment to moment experiences. There is no such thing as a dull moment, there is always something happening and you are missing it! Life can give you so much, you just have to look around and let it seep in! See you at the rat race with a smile on my face!

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Can we all agree that we live in samsara (usually translated as “flowing through”, you know birth, death, rebirth, death, etc.), this life is one of suffering or at least that it is unsatisfactory? I can definitely relate to this lately, one of the teachings and practices that comes to mind with this is the one of acceptance. Acceptance is something that we work with our meditation practice, learning to accept the moment as it is, to let go of our need for it to be any different from how it is right now. “It is what it is” has been my motto for a long time, and has actually helped me out a lot. I have suffered so much in my life because I always tried to control my life and the events that I lived, of course, life never really works out like we have planned (and that’s Ok) and we suffer because we believe that we have somehow failed. Letting go of this idea of control allows us to better see and be more receptive to the gifts that come to us.

Tara Brach, author of the fantastic book “Radical Acceptance: Embracing You Life with the Heart of a Buddha”, examines this idea of acceptance and how it relates to our life. She says that this letting go of our need for control is an important step: “When we put down ideas of what life should be like, we are free to wholeheartedly say yes to our life as it is.” It is only when we are able to understand the great grace that has fallen upon us that we can truly feel compassion for others. This understanding does not happen with our heads, but with our hearts. She says, and reminds us in a way, that we are all interconnected, worthy of grace, and responsible for each other. This exercise of acceptance is also about us learning to accept who we are and to learn to love ourselves the way that we are, not to be trapped in self-judgements and criticism.

For many of us, feelings of deficiency are right around the corner. It doesn’t take much–just hearing of someone else’s accomplishments, being criticized, getting into an argument, making a mistake at work–to make us feel that we are not okay. Beginning to understand how our lives have become ensnared in this trance of unworthiness is our first step toward reconnecting with who we really are and what it means to live fully.

“Believing that something is wrong with us is a deep and tenacious suffering,” Tara Brach shows that this suffering emerges in crippling self-judgments and conflicts in our relationships, in addictions and perfectionism, in loneliness and overwork–all the forces that keep our lives constricted and unfulfilled. So how do we escape this cycle of suffering? Is there a way to transform these feelings of unworthiness with awareness, this is a practice that can begin with these tree steps (courtesy of tiny buddha):

1- Find Solutions Instead of Complaining:

Complaining has never solved anything, negative people just seem to drag everyone’s energy around them. Some people think that it makes them feel better, but in all reality it just keeps us down, it is not going to change anything if you complain, especially for the better. Use this energy more wisely, find a solution. You can complain about a leaky roof on your house, but unless you get up and do something about it, you are stuck in that situation. So next time you feel like complaining, why not ask yourself instead “What can I do to solve the problem?” and if you are not able to solve it, then focus to see where you could use your energy more positively.

2- Practice Letting Go:

How should we react to devastating changes or losses in our lives? There is the all too common reaction, the one where we hang on to how things were and refusing to accept what is happening, I find that the most common for me has been the loss of friends that have passed away and the end of romantic relationships. If you are not able to accept life the way that it is then you have a big problem, because you cannot change what has already happened. You will be unhappy if you continually resist the flow of life. The second option is to bite the bullet and accept life the way that it is. That takes courage but the process will empower you enormously. The ability to let go of things in everyday life makes for happiness and ease. You can even laugh when you miss a bus that’s departed five minutes early. Start off by letting go of the small things, like stepping on a piece of gum or not being able to find that cd you want to listen to, and you will see that with time and practice you will be able to let go of most mishaps in your life.

3- Let Beauty In:

If you are always focusing on what is missing in your life, it is hard to notice and appreciate what is already right in front of you. Take a minute to look around you, there is beauty all around you, we live on a pretty rad planet. There are beaches, mountains, trees, birds flying in the sky, music, awesome food (one of my favourites are burritos), friendships, love, etc. There is so much to live for, even during the really hard times when we are blinded by an even that is causing us pain. Open up to what is beautiful and important in life, in fear of sounding like a hippie, have you ever taken the time to look at a flower and enjoy its fragile beauty? We spend some much time with the blinds closed, closed off from life and its simple moments and pleasures, like the old saying “Been there done that” kind of attitude. Every experience is new, and it’s up to you how complete or lacking it seems. Take the curiosity of child and open up and explore life as if it was your first day out in the world, regardless of what you have had and lost. It is your choice to what you focus on, what is your choice?

Acceptance, I tend to even think that it is radical acceptance, is a way to approach life with a new outlook and to help us appreciate what we are living. No matter how hard we try, life will always be the way that it is during all its moments, how are you willing to meet it?

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I was very happy to learn this week that Adam Yauch, of Beastie Boys fame who had been battling cancer for the past two years, has fully recovered from the disease. Pitchfork posted this on their website on the 7th of January to announce Yauch’s victory over the cancer:

Back in 2009, as the Beastie Boys were gearing up to release their album Hot Sauce Committee Part 1, member Adam Yauch, aka MCA, was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in a parotid (salivary) gland. The group canceled their plans, and Yauch threw himself into the recovery process. But now the BBC reports that fellow Beastie  Michael Diamond, better known as Mike D, revealed in an  interview with BBC radio host Zane Lowe that Yauch is now cancer-free.

Anyone that grew up in the 90s know the Beastie Boys well, I was a teenager that was exposed to classic albums like Ill Communications and Paul’s Boutique. These three boys from the 5 boroughs seemed at first glance like shenanigans set to a good beat, but with the release of Ill Communications we were exposed to a Beastie Boys that had more depth than just loud beats and silly lyrics. This record contained the songs “Bodhisattva Vow” and “Shambala”, Adam Yauch was becoming more vocal about his Buddhist practice. They also co-organized the Free Tibet Concerts with the Milarepa Fund to help bring awareness of the Free Tibet Movement. Yauch was one of the first Buddhist celebrities that our generation could relate to, not that the Dalai Lama or Richard Gere did not do good work, but Yauch seemed like someone who understood the world that we were growing up in, he was cool on all levels!

Last spring Yauch requested some cancer smashing vibes if we were into it, here is the e-mail, you may have received it and taken part:

a few friends and I are meditating at the same time twice a day. 9:30am and 6:30pm eastern standard time, for about an hour and half.

we are picturing smashing apart all of the cancer cells in the world.

we are visualizing taking the energy away from the cancer, and then sending it back at the cancer as lightning bolts that will break apart the DNA and RNA of the cells. if you have the time, please join us in whipping up this lightning storm. mind over matter……

if you prefer to sit then sit, but if you are not used to meditating, or sitting quietly doesn’t sound like fun, put on some music and dance while you do the visualization, and if you want to do it at some other time, or picture curing some other illness that’s fine too. yoko will be joining the meditation by visualizing all of us dancing with joy to celebrate the world without cancer. all variations are welcome. this is really just being done with a wish for all beings to be cured of all illnesses and to find true lasting happiness. I’ll also be saying prayers for the earthquake victims in Tibet, so join in on that if you can too. please feel free to pass this onto anyone who you think may find it interesting.

with all my love, adam yauch

This must have worked, seeing as how the BBC and Pitchfork are declaring that his fight is over and he is now cancer-free. I find this is so wonderful and really makes you realize that there are so many different ways for us to fight illness, and meditation is one of them. When I received this call last spring, my own father was fighting cancer, I decided to sit on the cushion at the said time and sent cancer smashing vibes for Adam and my father. I was filled with hope knowing that I was not the only one focusing on a world without cancer, modern diseases like cancer, AIDS, physiological conditions caused by the stress and strain of modern life, which have complicated symptoms and are harder and harder to treat, could be examined with ancient wisdom and techniques as their cure.

We can find in Buddhism various principles and practices that can be used to bring peace and happiness to the mind and help maintain good health to the body. Meditation has brought beneficial effects to many people who practice it regularly. Modern doctors admit that the mind can control the body’s performance, the mind can also be an important cause of sickness in the body and can be what provides the cure. Learning how to meditate can develop both the body and the mind, which brings improvements to the health at the same time. Usually cancer is treated with radiation and surgery, but there are some that believe that it can also be treated holistically. In Thailand, Dr. Sathit Intharakamhaeng, emphasises on our understanding on how nature works in our lives, which includes maintaining a correct diet. There is also an importance that is placed on our mental processes and learning how to meditate.

“Actually, living a holistic life doesn’t only mean eating a natural diet. It also means changing and correcting your lifestyle by learning how to meditate, learning how to reduce stress in everyday life …”

This is based on the Buddhist teaching that rust, which comes from iron, can corrode and destroy that same iron. Human minds are the same. If we learn to meditate and have minds that produce positive thoughts then our bodies will become stronger and healthier. If our minds produce negative thoughts, like the rust on iron, this will be a danger to us. If a cancer patient has negative thoughts, eventually these thoughts will be like the rust that erodes the iron, death will then destroy the patient even quicker seeing as how these thoughts are one of the causes of this cancer. This sense of imbalance of body and mind can be an important cause of illness and the spread of disease.

So stay positive people, cultivate positive thoughts and maintain your daily meditation practice. It may just save your life! Adam Yauch battled hard, cultivating compassion and positive thoughts with the help of practitioners all over the world and came out cancer free! I think that this is a great anecdote for the old saying of mind over matter! We can change our reality, and this is a good example of such effort!

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I don’t know if all of you that read this blog have a meditation practice, but we all come to this practice for a reason. I have yet to meet someone who decided to take on this practice and their life was going great and were in search of a new activity. We usually come to this because we need a change, we become aware of our suffering and make the decision to make a change to free ourselves from this suffering. I am starting my meditation group at a new venue tonight, moments like this always make me reflect on why exactly I came to this practice and what are the benefits that I have gotten from sitting on a cushion observing my breath. Take a moment to reflect on what brought you to this practice, I know that my path to the cushion was long and full of bumps in the road, the important thing is that I did eventually make my way to the cushion and have been able to see direct benefits in my day-to-day life thanks to my meditation practice. I was a “clinger” that’s for sure, I would hang on to feelings of hurt and not able to let go of good moments in my life, I would be lost most often in fantasy and wanting my life to be a certain way. My mind was in a terrible state of disorder, my attention was never steady at all. I finally realized that I was the cause of my suffering and it was not everything else, I was tired of blaming all my shortcomings and disappointments on others. I also realized that I had a very unhealthy image of myself, my mind was on a continual pattern of judgement and that I would always believe my judgments as absolute truth.

I think that we can all see ourselves in this a little, we will always remember the cause of our determination to free ourselves from suffering. I also believe that everyone that has developed a dedicated practice has seen benefits to this practice in their day-to-day affairs. Even the smallest changes can be seen as a victory in our fight to go against the stream. My moments on the cushion have become a time that I cherish in my day, it is a time to look inward and learn to know ourselves on a deeper level, to truly understand ourselves and the world around us. Even if I have been living a horrible day, my 6-7 hours of unhappiness will soon be forgotten by my twenty minutes of happiness on the cushion, realizing that this unhappiness is nothing more than a mood that changes all the time. The teaching of impermanence has taught me not to cling to pleasant mind states and do my best not to push away out of aversion the not so pleasant ones. This idea of accepting the moment as it is has been possible thanks to the notion that every moment will pass, and having experienced moments of total contentment (being at ease) have given me the motivation to continue with this practice. We all have benefits that are particular to us, this practice is different for everyone, it is extremely personal and beneficial to the one that does it. There are however, general basic benefits that can apply to everyone with time.

The benefits of meditation are many, and can bring about feelings of confidence and self-control, increased concentration, better relationships and reduced stress levels to name just a few. Once you have found your own inner stillness, through regular meditation, you will be able to access it over and over again and with ease. This brings with it many far-reaching and profound benefits, I know that this new access to stillness has helped me act more skillfully in day-to-day situation where I would have reacted with anger in the past. Some changes can occur quickly, while others may take time and practice, but we must remember that on the path of meditation there is no destination, it is all about the journey.

Discovering your own inner stillness will have a ripple effect on the rest of your life, bringing surprise benefits as well as some that are more predictable, such as better health and a longer attention span.

People who have developed a regular practice will say they have developed a feeling of greater emotional equilibrium. In psychoanalytic terms this means that meditators will involve their egos less in everyday situations. In other words, with this loss of ego, one of the results of meditation should be a feeling of compassion – which is much easier when your ego is dissolved. Self control, in turn, increases self-confidence and a person’s sense of certainty. Thus, meditation makes you a ‘nicer’ person. Regular practice will make your mind much sharper and quicker, the ability to concentrate is hugely enhanced, so you will be much more efficient seeing as how tasks take less time and feel easier to accomplish. When you decide to do something, you will be able to just do it, instead of wasting time agonizing about how you don’t want to do it.

Benefits of Meditation =

  • Confidence and self-control
  • Improved concentration
  • Inner certainty
  • Ability to focus and work efficiently
  • Ability to let go of negative emotions such as anger and paranoia
  • Improved posture
  • Greater enjoyment of the physical
  • Better personal relationships
  • Improved health

Some scientific research had been done on meditation in the 1960’s (I know that this might be a little outdated, but I still believe that this would hold true today) and some of the benefits that were mentioned were: lower blood pressure, alleviation of some pain, increased levels of the sleep hormone melatonin and lower stress levels. It has also been mentioned as a tool to help people quit hard drugs, alcohol, and smoking; this has been proven with people in my life and I have also been noticing that it is getting attention from the bigger media outlets now.

There have been some people, people that suffer from severe depression or psychotic illnesses, became worse once they began a meditation practice. These cases are rare, but it can happen, meditation is not this perfect remedy to solve all our problems and free us from suffering immediately. It can be really hard at times and be one of the scariest things that you will experience, the scariest thing is sometimes our own mind. I have been in the darkest parts of my mind and it has always been worth it, I feel the benefits of my practice everyday and would never give up on the path now. This is a hard practice, I mean the shit’s hard sometimes, but the benefits always outweight whatever problems or bumps you may experience on the cushion or in life!

The benefits of meditation are obvious, for me, the biggest has been that I am more involved in society to help create positive change, my practice has been the greatest gift I have ever received and now all I want to do is share it with everyone else. I try to walk through this life with compassion and kindness to all beings, no matter how difficult it may be. I believe that change is possible, through kindness and compassion, this change will happen! I will leave you all with an amazing quote from Raghunath Cappo (ex-singer of Youth of Today and Shelter and all around positive rad dude!),

“If we scream for change we must be willing to make that change.”

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This weekend I had the pleasure of doing a one day retreat with prisoners in northern Quebec, an experience that always seems to have a deep effect on me. I have always believed in the transformative power of meditation and have found that one of the places where it is most needed is in penitentiaries. Sometimes it takes the darkest places of human experience to really see what this practice can do. Many of you may be asking yourselves “What good can this do to people who may never be able to reintegrate into society, and for those who will, can this actually bring anything to them?”. I can say that this can have a positive impact on inmates and how they conduct themselves. It has also been proven that inmates that develop a meditation practice while inside have a greater chance of not being incarcerated once they leave. I often get teary eyed when the inmates thank me for coming and showing that someone actually cares about them on the outside, the gratitude that they express is very touching and sincere.

The inmates get to go through an extensive process of understanding how their childhood traumas and abuses shaped their past and the choices they made. The practice demands that they not only admit guilt to the crime that they came to prison for, but that they also hold themselves accountable for the impact that their crime had on their victims, on the victim’s families, on their own families, and on themselves. When one is meditating and looking inward, they are forced to look directly at their fears, ignorance, and how they have arrived to where they are in their lives now. Through this rigorous self-growth process, the inmates begin to understand how to recognize their own emotional states and how to take steps towards self-forgiveness. This step of self-forgiveness is crucial in being able to create an inner change that will bring them towards the freedom that we are all trying to achieve. I was able to witness this with certain inmates this weekend, they are working towards their self-forgiveness in the hopes of finding some freedom even though they are behind bars. There is a program in the United States that takes this even further, the Insight Prison Project will eventually bring about a panel where the inmate will be able to meet the victim’s family to allow them to explain their past, how they feel about the crime that was committed and hopefully allow an open and honest dialogue. Forgiveness is not a requisite, but some of the victim’s family will be able to forgive once they were able to discuss with them.

It is really inspiring to hear the inmates talk and witness with open hearts, many of them even talk about how they want to be able to get out to give back to society. The sense of service is very strong with them, a side-effect of compassion and the practice. The most common service among the inmates is working with youth to be able to help them not commit the same mistakes that they did in the past. Many of them will also tell me that if they had been exposed to this practice when they were thirteen, they would not be here today. I believe that people can and do change their lives for the better, this is most obvious and clear when I am inside different penitentiaries. It is really incredible how a solid and dedicated meditation can impact someone, it holds someone accountable for their crimes, and gives him the skills necessary to understand the choices he made, and how it teaches him the ability of witnessing himself so that he can make new and different choices now and in the future. These skills will be crucial for their re-integration back into society when they get out, something that is unfortunately not taught normally in penitentiaries.It is always hard to leave these men at the end of the day, or even the evening meditations that I do here also, I feel their open-heartedness, their willingness to learn and grow and change. I feel their sincerity and their love for each other and for me.

There are so many broken lives – lives broken by poverty, drugs, despair, mental illness, and so on. I endeavor to be of service… to help bring opportunities for healing to more of these broken lives.When it was time for them to return to their quarters, the guard checked us out. I walked out to the car noticing how free I was to go where I pleased. I turned around and took one last look at the penitentiary. As I drive through the Laurentians, I think to myself, ‘I just shook hands and hugged men who have committed murder!’ I thought this more during my first visits inside a prison, but you know, not once do I think of those men as murderers when I am with them. All day long, I felt so connected with everyone at the heart level, and I appreciated our shared humanity. These experiences and days are one of the greatest gifts of the dharma for me, to share my humanity with people who have been put aside by most of society and forever judged, to simply realize that we are all human and striving for the same thing: freedom.


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