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This is an interview soon to be published in PULSE Magazine, a local publication in Naples.
PULSE: What is your definition of Meditation?
LAURIE: Well, the dictionary defines meditation as deep thinking or reflection. But this is a bit misleading. In Zen, our focus is more on feeling than on thinking. We don’t necessarily try to stop thinking. But we try to shift our awareness more toward direct experience of the moment. Feeling our bodies and our surroundings through the senses is a more direct way of being in the world. I could think and think about the taste of an orange, or I could bite into it.
P: Who is meditation for?
L: I’d love to say that meditation is for everyone, but years of trying to convince others of this has proven me wrong. In my experience, anyone can benefit from meditation. But first, they must be willing and highly motivated. For most, things have to get pretty bad before they’ll commit to a practice like this. Like anything worthwhile, it takes lots of discipline. If a person doesn’t see a deep need for it, they’re not likely to commit the time and patience to see meditation work for them.
P: What do you see as meditation's place in the modern world?
L: Our society is very high paced. We’re also very disconnected. We’re more likely to shoot off a dozen emails then spend 10 minutes of direct contact with another person. Meditation offers a remedy. Just 10 minutes of sitting still and reconnecting with yourself can have a deep impact on the overall tone of your day. On a grander scale, communities of meditators can have a huge impact on their larger communities. Feelings of peace, happiness, and overall well-being are contagious. I’ve seen this first-hand.
P: What are some of the myths and misconceptions around Meditation?
L: One of the most common misconceptions I come across is that meditation will stop your thinking. This is not the aim of Zen. We’re simply trying to see thinking for what it is, normal mental activity. When left alone, thoughts will come and go. But our normal way is latching on. We feel like our thoughts define us. So we hold on to them, run with them, get carried away. In Zen, we practice to allow thoughts to come and go. It’s no problem at all because they’re not who we are.
Another misconception is that meditation is an escape mechanism, some sort of magical portal to another dimension. Maybe some methods of meditation have this aim. But Zen is very practical. We’re not trying to run away, in fact we practice to awaken to every moment exactly as it is. We practice to experience directly, as intimately as possible, what’s right in front of us.
P: If meditation is, at its core, about pushing away the outside world and turning the mind inward, why go to a group setting to do it? What do you “do” for clients to help them in the process?
L: In Buddhism, we value “The Three Jewels.” Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Buddha is the Awakened One. Buddhists believe all sentient beings possess the seed of Enlightenment. The Dharma is the teachings of the Buddha, also translated as Truth or The Way. Sangha is a community of practitioners. Without other people to share the experience with, meditation becomes much more difficult. For most it’s easier to commit to something when you’re accountable to other people. Even those that are highly motivated might get stuck without the guidance of a teacher. Awakening is a continual process that never ends. Other people act as mirrors. They can show you where you might be stuck, or where you might be on the right track. As a teacher, it’s my job to see a student as clearly as possible. They might be attached to some practice that isn’t really helping them, or they might just be lost. I can work with them to find tools that will jumpstart their practice, or simply verify what they’re experiencing.
P: What are some of the challenges newcomers can expect? How do you overcome these hurdles?
L: People have a lot of ideas about meditation. Sometimes, beginners are looking for overnight results. For some, that actually happens. But for many, it can be difficult to stick with it long enough to feel the benefits. This is where Sangha comes in. It can be very motivating to be surrounded by grounded, happy people, to see the results of years of meditation in others. For me there was a hump. After I got over that hump, there was no question of whether or not I wanted to meditate. It just became something I do every day. No big deal (and a very big deal).
P: This issue of Pulse is focused on Health & Wellness. What's the role of meditation in a person's health & wellbeing?
L: There have been numerous studies on the health benefits of meditation. I won’t cite them, but I will say that I’m an incredibly healthy, happy young woman. I can’t remember the last time I had a cold. I rarely feel stressed, and I’ve noticed the same effects on other long-time meditators.
P: Anything else you'd like to add?
L: If you’ve ever thought about trying meditation, my feeling is that you should just do it. It certainly can’t hurt anything, and you’ve got the entire universe to gain. The guidance of an experienced teacher and a supportive community can provide the perfect opportunity.
P: Where can people go to learn more about your program?
L: Our group is called Open Mind Zen Naples. We are an affiliate of my teacher’s Zen Center in Melbourne, FL. Our website is www.openmindzennaples.com.