“You know, Mister Rico,
some answers can
only be found on
During our time at sea, Lua would find her ‘alone space’ on Kalea’s front trampoline early each morning.
She would get up just before daybreak and quietly make her way to the bow to do her unique blend of yoga exercises, where she would always include a few minutes of silent meditation at the end of her exercises.
I think it helped her begin each day with a fresh mind and a renewed connection to herself and to the marvelous, deeply mysterious world she knew she inhabited.
Following her regular morning stretching, exercise and meditation routine that morning, I asked Lua what benefits she derives from meditation.
“Meditation helps me get centered and understand things better — to have a healthier and more intimate and balanced relationship with my mind. It helps me to observe the everyday miracles around me, the plants growing, the sun shining. I find strength and understanding in this heightened awareness. You know, Mister Rico, some answers can only be found on the ‘Inner-net.’ ”
“That’s funny. You know I just had a dream where … oh, never mind.”
Lua hesitated for a moment to see if I would change my mind and tell her about my dream. I didn’t. She then went on to elaborate,
“Dedicating some time each day to meditation is a way of caring for yourself. It helps you move more gracefully through your life, especially during difficult periods. As your mind grows quieter and more spacious, you begin to observe self-defeating thought patterns for what they are.”
She explained that one of the main benefits of meditating is that it keeps sharp, judgmental thoughts from dominating you.
These thoughts naturally float in and out of your brain, but you begin to realize that they are just thoughts. You witness them, without judgement, and then you just let them pass on through.
Being aware of what you’re thinking and experiencing, and then accepting it without judgment, has an extremely strong, calming effect. Then you can open up to other, more positive options.
Congruence between outer and inner life is a vital prerequisite for enduring happiness, Lua insisted.
When I was much younger, fishing used to be the thing that provided a sense of peace and connection with the living world around me, though I haven’t felt that thrilling sensation of some mystery sea creature nibbling at the business end of the monofilament fishing line in quite some time.
Fishing gave me the opportunity of being totally immersed in an activity, completely present, turning back into myself in a quiet, soothing way. I suppose it is a form of meditation — a stilling of the mind — and a silent communion with other levels of Self that are certainly deeper, wider, and more connected than the small surface-level self in everyday society.
These days, riding my bike helps me to clear my mind of clutter and connects me with community and the natural world.
Flying down a hill after investing the energy to get to the top or leaning hard into an exhilarating high-speed turn are just a few of cycling’s many simple pleasures.
Perhaps Desmond Tutu had it right: ‘Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring.’
Bicycling alone, like walking alone, creates space for reflection, for mulling over problems, or even escaping those problems for a short time. I find the activity both meditative and contemplative.
Whether you’re delightfully weaving through traffic jams of sour-faced drivers or out by yourself on a trail, the effect is the same: both body and mind are working smoothly. And when those two things synchronize, other aspects of life tend to fall nicely into place as well.
Repeating a mantra, focusing attention on breathing or pedaling a bicycle over an extended period of time all help to calm the mind and promote relaxation and ‘right thinking.’
For people who tend to make debilitating mountains out of their many molehills of daily stresses and problems, meditation helps flatten the terrain.
Many cyclists are familiar with the value of the alone time experienced on a solitary bike ride and how those precious moments help us reconnect with our intuition and inner wisdom — the source of creativity, compassion, resilience and emotional strength.
I’m sure Jack experienced his martial arts training as a type of moving meditation. He told me that when he is sparring or drilling on forms and techniques, he can’t think of anything else. It clears his mind.
Lua described meditation as a mode of paying attention to your attention — about practicing being completely present in the ‘now.’
It is simply a state of clear, nonjudgemental, and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness — pleasant or unpleasant as they may be.
She claimed that the character of our everyday experiences are largely determined by how we pay attention to the present moment. This, in turn, directly affects the quality of our lives. Though mystics and contemplatives have made this claim for ages, a growing body of scientific knowledge is now affirming it.
“The reality of our lives is always in the present — always in the NOW. Not dwelling on painful past events and not worrying too much about problems that may or may not arise in the future — in other words, letting go of history and mystery — is profoundly liberating. And if one wants to be truly happy in the world, and feel a sense of freedom from that common general feeling of ‘unsatisfactoriness‘ with daily existence and the impermanence of things, there may be no more important truth to understand than that.”
She described meditation as a quieting of the mind that can be deeply restful. The practice makes clear that distraction is the mind’s normal state.
She described it this way,
“Thoughts are like clouds in the sky drifting about, some large and some small, some faster than others, some wispy, some full. The mind, however, is more like the sky itself — clear, bright, constant, and connected to everything else.”
Meditation is a technique for waking up from this recurring trance of discursive thinking. It is a practice that offers a reprieve from the endless cycle of reflexively grasping at what is pleasant and recoiling from what is not.
Meditation sharpens the senses, especially your appreciation of your surroundings. It keeps life fresh by cultivating openness, relaxation and awareness — which especially includes an awareness of one’s chaotic and confused ‘monkey mind’ — very common in today’s restless, noisy world.
In fact, many people believe they are meditating when they are actually just thinking with their eyes closed. Monkey mind is hard to tame.
Lua explained that learning to meditate is just like acquiring any other skill. For example, students will tell you it takes many thousands of repetitions and countless hours to master the forms of Taekwondo or to coax music fluently from the strings of a guitar.
But with practice and persistence, a state of mindfulness becomes a natural habit of attention. The difference between it and monkey-mind thinking becomes increasingly clear over time.
I had read that meditation has many health benefits: it lowers stress levels, improves academic performance, lowers blood pressure, boosts the immune system, reduces depression, helps to regulate blood sugar levels, helps improve memory, helps protect against heart disease, and stabilizes emotions and calms nerves by bringing the entire nervous system into a unified field of coherence.
For those who practice seriously and regularly, meditation means diving deep within, beneath the surface of thought, to the source of thought, to pure consciousness.
There, the conventional sense of ‘self’ drops away — the feeling that we call “I” is revealed as an illusion — and the positive emotions of patience and compassion are nurtured and strengthened.
The experience makes clear that the way we think directly influences our experience of the world.
Different meditation techniques produce long-lasting psychological benefits across many areas: attention, emotion, cognition, and pain perception. And all these correlate with both structural and functional changes in the brain.
The Buddha, it is said, taught mindfulness as the appropriate response to the truth of the general state of ‘unsatisfactoriness‘ all humans feel throughout most of their lives.
It is a technique for achieving equanimity amid the flux by simply being fully aware of the quality of experience in each moment — whether pleasant or not. So when someone tells you to ‘go to hell’ during a heated discussion, you won't be foolish enough to oblige through your own undisciplined emotional reaction.
On one occasion, when we were discussing the connection between prayer and meditation, Lua described the relationship this way,
“Prayer is when you talk to the source of being; meditation is when you listen.”
Many people have learned that relaxation techniques like meditation dramatically decrease the need for healthcare visits and interventions.
With relaxation techniques, patients are better able to care for themselves and manage symptoms without requiring a physician’s intervention. This has great value considering that stress-related disorders are a leading cause of healthcare expenditures, after heart disease and cancer.
Lua counseled that teaching patients how to use relaxation techniques was an excellent way to reduce physicians’ caseloads, lessen the overall burden on the healthcare system, save money, and provide safe and effective non-interventional solutions to physical problems.
I recalled reading that the year 2013 was a breakthrough year in the U.S. for interest in holistic health and mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation.
Celebrity and CEO endorsements of these health-boosting practices continue to grow every year. It’s a trend that will likely continue to gain momentum as more benefits are discovered.
Mindfulness, or ‘clear awareness,’ seems to be part of a much larger trend in mindful living.
Mindfulness can be thought of active attention to what is subjectively real in the present moment. It is a mode of consciousness that is undistracted, accepting, and non-conceptual.
It is not about thinking more clearly about subjective events — thoughts, sensations, moods — but rather about experiencing those events more directly with accepting or rejecting them.
It demands that we pay close attention to the flow of experience in each moment.
Perhaps the appeal of the practices of mindfulness and meditation are emerging as a counter-trend to the rather sudden reality of the overly stimulated, ADD-afflicted, tech-saturated culture that we find ourselves living in — a pendulum that has swung too far in the direction of soul-sapping, dim-witted distractions and too many empty-calorie, sugar-high, escapist entertainments.
Fortunately, practices that were once limited to cults, religions, and spiritual-growth seekers of all stripes are seeping into the mainstream as more people are pursuing a rational approach to spirituality and realizing the profound health benefits of ‘separating the signal from the noise’ for a few moments each day.
The evidence of the value of mindfulness training is everywhere:
A major university released a groundbreaking finding that mindfulness meditation actually alters gene expression in the body.
A notable Internet company offers its employees a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training program. The program founder says that mindfulness can help build compassion, which can be beneficial to not only individuals and community, but also to corporate bottom lines.
Many famous celebrities and CEOs have touted meditation as their secret to success, claiming that meditation helps them create their best work and their best life by boosting creativity and bolstering equanimity.
Creative types depend on clear and focused minds. Many artists, entrepreneurs, writers, and other creative workers turn to meditation as a tool for tapping into their most creative state of mind.
Universities are starting to use meditation to combat freshman-year symptoms with ‘wellness dorms’ dedicated to mindfulness, stress management, and well-being.
Science backs up the idea that mindfulness boosts brain power in a number of ways. Recent studies have linked mindfulness with emotional stability and improved sleep, increased focus and memory, enhanced creativity, and lower stress levels, among a host of other positive health outcomes — all of which can lead to more creative thought.
On the subject, Lua commented on what she described as ‘mainland madness’ in the U.S.,
“Ironically, while touting American exceptionalism, the U.S. is the most obese, medicated, imprisoned, and armed country in the world. I think that if more people took up meditation, especially people in ‘advanced’ economies suffering from chronic Nature-deficit disorder in tech-saturated lifestyles, it could take human society to a higher evolutionary state that leaves behind the ugliness, detachment, and spiritual emptiness that perpetuates poverty, extreme consumerism, widespread depression and loneliness, and endless conflict.”
She informed me that many people who meditate regularly say they experience a form of ‘awakening,’ (in fact, Buddha means ‘awakened one’) which expresses itself as a greater desire to live life to the very fullest — with greater awareness, care, compassion, and desire for knowledge.
They readily abandon the economic treadmill with all of its ‘unsatisfactoriness’ and enjoy a renewed joy in life and also a diminished fear of death.
And they claim that the mind contains vast uncharted expanses that few of us ever bother to discover.
Lua insisted that it was possible to feel at ease in the world, for no reason whatsoever, and if only for a few moments at a time, and thereby not add any more to its suffering out of one’s own fears, restlessness, and confusion.
“But until that higher state of consciousness is broadly experienced — in a sort of civilizational ‘Great Awakening’ — meditation can be a very effective tool to psychologically brace oneself for what are sure to be turbulent transitional times ahead as we rebalance ourselves on this marvelous, but increasingly stressed and noisy planet. Though too many believe that confusion and suffering is all that they will ever know, wisdom and happiness are never far away from anyone.”