Loving Kindness Meditation, Step 1

Meditation

In our previous article Surfing Meditation, we broached the topics of surfing and meditation and the soothing effects they can have on a person.  In another post on Square Breathing, we demonstrated a simple meditation that can be used to calm oneself through using the breath.  Today, we begin a 5 part series on Loving Kindness Meditation.

The Loving Kindness Meditation is based on the Buddhist notion that all beings desire to be happy.  This commonality can unite people through their differing points of view, experiences, and belief systems.  The Loving Kindness Meditation can be thought of as practicing love, and then sharing that love with all around you.  Family, friends, strangers, and even those we “dislike” can all benefit from our love.  As a meditation, it is, in our opinion, one of the most calming and peaceful.  As a daily practice in life however, it is one of the most challenging (yet rewarding) as it involves an active control over our reactions and judgments of other people, and oftentimes unrequited compassion and love.

But why would one wish to practice love?  Isn’t that a little “artificial”?

It is much like anything else in life: if we leave something up to chance and randomness, we’ll never be really great at it.  Once in a while we’ll “fall in love” with someone, and they may or may not love us back.  We’ll love our families, our friends.  Some of us may even learn to love ourselves!  In this unpracticed fashion, love is purely environmental and a reaction to particular, perfect conditions.  With practiced love resulting from the Loving Kindness Meditation, it is a creation resulting from an unshakable internal state.  It is like the difference between the following two surfing situations:

  • Bobbing around in a random place on the water, hoping that not only a stellar wave will happen to come by, but with little to no prior experience, one will be able to catch it and ride it like a pro.
  • Setting up regularly at a known surf spot, with good, consistent sets, and practicing not only catching and riding waves as often as possible, but also sharing them with others thanks to the feeling of abundance.

In summary, if we leave the ability to love to chance, then we only end up loving a very few around us; the easy ones to love.  By consciously practicing love through a Loving Kindness Meditation, we more easily have love for all around us, from the “unlovable” to the ones we already care about very deeply.

Spontaneous love is unpredictable and rare.  Created love is consistent and abundant.

The steps of a Loving Kindness Meditation involve creating love inwards, then progressively moving outwards to different levels of relationships.  These steps are loving:

  1. Your self;
  2. A friend, love, or family member you feel great love for;
  3. A larger group of friends or family you feel love for;
  4. A person you have difficulty loving; and
  5. All persons you encounter.

Traditionally, Loving Kindness Meditations step through all 5 (sometimes 4) tiers in one sitting.  We decided to break this meditation in smaller, composite parts, which will allow the “meditatee” to build focus and a strong foundation of love.  Our first meditation involves Step 1: Loving our Selves.

Appreciating and having compassion for self is the most important step.  As Lucille Ball said, “I have an everyday religion that works for me.  Love yourself first, and everything else falls into line.”  In order to share abundant love with others, we must first build a strong foundation of patience and empathy towards our selves.

With this vision of a strong foundation of love in mind, listen to the guided meditation below.  While listening, keep your breath slow and calm, and repeat the words after they are spoken.  Most important is to truly feel the words and their meanings.  Embody love!  Feel patience  and compassion!  Do not repeat them emptily! (Though if you do, worry not:  Simply have the patience and compassion with yourself to just try again).  Repeat this meditation for as many days as is needed until you feel you have a solid foundation of love and compassion for yourself.

Put your heart and soul into the meditation, and with that, stoke the love within you.

Loving Kindness Audio Meditation Step 1: Loving Yourself

Photo by h.koppdelaney @flickr

Surfing Meditation

 

A friend recently asked me what it was about surfing that relates to Buddhism. In the ensuing expansive explanation, I shared with him the peace and quiet it brings. Upon further discussion, I realized that it may be valuable to share a portion of our upcoming book, Dharma in Every Wave, on this blog…

It’s raining cold pebbles of ice and rain. The piercing offshore wind resonates in my ears as I make my way down the beach from the gravel parking lot. Clutching my board tightly, my right hand echoes the anticipation of my heart and mind as I watch a six foot right crash in the distance. Through the wintery grey and the spray of the waves, I scope my paddle out line of least resistance. I know this beach somewhat, and the general area which can pull me sideways into the oncoming waves. I must be conscious, I must be mindful, and not get distracted by the environment.

Breathing deeply while stretching my back and shoulders, I become aware of the havoc that the cold is playing on my flexibility. Doubt begins to enter my mind. I make room for it, thinking of the warmth and comfort I have left to come here.

My left foot makes that familiar splash as I start to enter the vastness of the ocean which awaits me with gifts of cold, pain, and exhilaration. The wind is howling now, and the rain is hard and piercing, attacking me from below as it forms a barrier off of the embracing sea.

The noise and the harshness of the elements tell me that I do not belong here; and I listen, wondering more and more why I am doing this. I ask out loud if the piercing howl of the wind will cease. I curse the weather as it attacks me. Surely, if I was not wrapped in the protection of the wetsuit, I would have never considered the adventure of the early morning Canadian West Coast beach.

The waves make themselves known to me. A set starts rolling in while I am at that place; too shallow to dive, too deep to guard my face. The water engulfs me, finding every possible way into my core, stopping my breath and stealing the little heat I so preciously guard.

It is at this point that I realize I am alone, and all is noise.

There is no one else here on this beach. No friends to save me if anything goes wrong. No strangers to paddle out if I am not vigilant. I stole out of the hostel I am staying at before first light. Success depends entirely on me, and the doubt is louder and stronger than ever.

I push on, knowing that this noise and distraction is part of my journey to catch the seemingly un-catchable. That moment where you harness the power of the universe under your feet, and tune into the flow of the chaos.

Once the set has passed, I lift myself onto my trusted board and start to paddle, pushing the small feeling of security and self further out and away from the safety and stability of the beach.

Through the rain, wind, and foam, the crest of a giant begins to form. Its thick and dark walls are outlined by the endless shower from above and the sideways spray of water carried by the wind. Choosing not to move backward, I paddle forth towards the uncaring water. As the darkness towers over me, I lift my knee onto my board and clutch the rails of my brazilian beauty. She has seen warmer waters, and I frequently hear her asking me to return her to southern seas. I take a deep breath, push her nose down, and I breathe out. My face embraces the darkness.

I am alone. And all is quiet.

The rain is gone. The wind has stopped. My face, still cold and tight, is somehow calm. I continue to breathe out as I push with my shoulders. For this brief moment in time, all is peaceful. Though surrounded by waters that could eventually cause hypothermia, I have forgotten the cold that was piercing my chest. The uncaring noise of the world is gone, the doubt has washed away, and my mind suddenly feels at peace. My body relaxes into the movement as I follow the momentum of my actions. I feel loose, flexible, strong.

I look up, and can see the faint glimmer of the sun through the surface of the sea. Every time I dive, I return to a different place. Sometimes forward, sometimes back, but always more experienced.

This previous story describes a time when I first realized the power of meditation, and the connection to surfing. As I continued to paddle out that day, I began connecting my love for surf and the actions contained within it to the peace and calm I was acquiring through the studies and meditations Buddhism was bringing me. The rain, the wind, the cold, are all noise that cast doubt in my mind and form a barrier between my true self and my surfing practice. Life casts the same metaphors of noise; distractions such as television, financial woes, self-imposed judgments and internal feelings of external obligations all create states of mind that prevent my true self from being fully expressed.

Meditation, much like diving under a wave as described above, allows me to quiet the busy, day-to-day noise and concerns, and focus on the true strength contained within myself. The thoughts and distractions wash away as I focus on my body, breath, and universal connection. I become relaxed, and am reminded that the mind holds the power with which I can create the internal reactions to external situations. A daily meditation practice allows for more peace, and I must be vigilant in making time for it. Curiously, the more time I make for meditation, the more relaxed I am in the other moments of the day, as if time has been created out of nothing.

Those who have never meditated may feel unsure about what needs to be done. Is there anything to study? Must it be done in any one specific manner? No. There are many ways to meditate, some involve sitting and breathing, some involve sports (such as above), some involve yoga, but all contribute to calmer places within. It is in these moments of internal flow that we let go of our past and future concerns, and focus only on the present moment.

In the near future, we here at Dharma in Every Wave shall be creating some step-by-step meditations to follow and share. These will be audio and written guides, and build successively on one another. If you have never meditated before, by starting with these simple meditations, not only will you feel more at peace, but you will also notice that a daily, consistent practice benefits your mental health and productivity.

The Power of Desire

My best hand sketch!

We’ve all been there: That feeling to have something we don’t, or be with someone whom we aren’t.  That longing look, thinking “If only I had that/him/her, I would be happy!  I would be complete.  I would be better.”

Surprisingly, I have them.  I have them often.  Here’s one recount.

I wasn’t catching many waves (yes, we ALWAYS say that… but this time seemed lower than average!).  I was tired, my board felt all wrong, and I was constantly setting in the wrong spot.  It’s not that I was chasing the perfect wave… I was chasing ANY wave.

So I packed it all in.  The Situation was victorious over me, and I thought it better to bow out and head for the little coffee shop I like.  As I grabbed my coffee and walked out into the lot, I spied the surf shop across the way.  I never really made time for shops, but since the day was still relatively young, I figured I’d head in, grab some wax, and chat up whomever was interested in recounting surf stories.

As I wandered around, I ended up eyeing some new boards and thought it would be a harmless venture to check them out.  As I ran my fingers lightly on the smooth decks and perfect graphics, my eyes settled on a 6 foot thruster.  The graphic was simple and eye catching: 3 pencilled, wavy lines of different shades of blue ran the board lengthwise.  Looking at the board sideways, they resembled 3 cross sections of swells… bo doubt what the artist had in mind.  It was a real beauty… far better than the yellow beater I had picked up in Costa Rica years before.  As I picked her up to check the rocker and rails, I realized another thing: the board was epoxy.  Lighter and stronger than mine, I immediately felt that I would be a better surfer with her under my feet.

I liked the board.  I wanted the board.

I continued comparing this new beauty to my old rugged princess, crammed unforgiveingly in my truck.  Mine was pressure dinged, cracked, gouged, and pummelled.  The visible repairs, the faded yellow, the old footpad: This board was the obvious cause of my poor performance earlier that day.  I quickly became unsatisfied with my ride… a thought which had never entered my mind before.  As if that suffering wasn’t enough, I then began to imagine how brilliant of a surfer I could become with this new epoxy beauty guiding me to the best waves.  I would be unstoppable; immediately consistent and world class!  In my mind’s eye, the sun was shining, the swell was like clockwork, and I was catching every wave with ease.

All thanks to the new board I could purchase.

As I blinked my self back into the present, my eyes focused on the $650 price tag and I swallowed deeply.  I then let out a sigh as I contemplated how I could afford this.  I couldn’t without repercussions… either giving up some food entirely for a little while, or pulling out the credit card and creating some debt.  Either option was not favourable.

At that moment, a general sense of lack and inadequacy started making its way into my mind as I wondered where my savings were, why I couldn’t afford the board, why wasn’t I earning more money, and why had I chosen the career path I was on?

Lack.  Self doubt.  Negative criticism.  Self induced suffering.  ALl form a surfboard, and a price tag?

I smiled as I caught myself.  I eyed the board once again, and thanked it for the lesson.  I walked out to my truck, and admired my beat-up Costa Rican beauty.

Life is a wonderful lesson.

Impermanence and the Beach

Mussels living through the change

Throughout the world, sandy beaches are amazing canvases of human art.  Sandcastles are created that amaze and inspire.  Words of love, names and dates are carved into the beach, creating memories of fantastic times that bring smiles to our faces.

Then as the ocean takes its place, the beaches are constantly changed and recreated.  Beaches grow shallow, grow deep, create pools and disappear altogether, all victim to the cycle of the oceans.  Sandcastles are wiped out and names fade into the sea.  We understand that these things are there just for a limited time.  No one frets about the name that was washed out to the ocean.

And yet, often we do not relate this understanding of beaches into the cycles of our lives.  As humans, we become attached to states, people and events.  We forget that all things are impermanent. In turn, we create the suffering that permeates our lives.  We are afraid of change and try to hold onto things long past their due date.  Unlike the acceptance of storms that we know will recreate shores around the world, we disregard the cycles of our lives.

Love & Need: Are they the same?

HoldHands

As the yearly “day of romance” makes its way into our lives, and we each think about the card, the gift, or the act we are going to do which we would not usually do, I thought it apt to take a moment and reflect on Love & Need.

Love & Need 
These are different words with entirely different meanings, but are often mashed together to represent the same thing.  I Love you so much, I need you to be happy!” is the theme of many songs, poems and movies.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Love is described as “unselfish loyal concern for the good of another”.  The key word here is unselfish.  This is synonymous with the words “if you love something, let it go”.  If you truly love, then no matter another’s actions of reciprocity towards you, you continue to act benevolently towards them.  You are looking out for their best interest out of a genuine caring.

Need is described as “a lack of something requisite, desirable, or useful” or “a condition requiring supply or relief”.  This is akin to a child needing its parents to survive, or a seed needing water to sprout.  Need is a taking, a necessity to survive or to progress.

So why is it that “I need you” is a common statement between loving couples, looking for serenity in each others’ arms?  Why is it that our love for others is almost always dependant on reciprocity, as opposed to genuine love?  With time, the “love” that we feel for another drops away with their looks, changed attitudes, or lack of spent time together.  Sometimes, if we do not obtain the affections we were used to receiving from the other, this love even turns to anger and frustration.  Was this ever “love”?  I would assert that it was not.  It was a need.  We were attached to a feeling, a state.  With time, that state changed, and with it, our “love” for another.

“I need you” implies that the person requires another for fulfillment and happiness.  But why do we say “I need you” in the first place?  It could be that we say it out of fear – fear of being alone, fear of being unfulfilled.  And when we enter into relationships out of fear, confusing “need” for “love”, it really is just a matter of time before fear creeps in again.  Fear of being left, fear of infidelity, fear of judgment.  Fear of being left alone again.

What must be done, in order to truly love others, is to realize that we are each fulfilled with our own selves.  We must make the mindful step to become aware that we are each whole, complete, and perfect.  No one else in the world can do that for us – we must accomplish this on our own.  But how can we do this?  One step is mindfulness.  Becoming mindful of our thoughts of need and self-worth allows us to nip them in the bud, before they become core beliefs.  As soon as an idea of low self-worth or doubt comes into our mind, we can thank them for the viewpoint, remember that we made that up, and continue on with what our best selves would do.

But what if the beliefs of need and low self-worth are already habitual, engrained in our core belief systems?  It is comforting to know that they probably are.  Comforting?  Yes, as it provides us with the insight that everyone is the same as us!  But that is a topic for another time.

So how do we begin to examine our core beliefs?  Well, one first step is indeed to be mindful – this will help us to notice our beliefs.  Another powerful step is to spend time examining where these core beliefs stem from.  After all, beliefs don’t just appear!  They are formed from prior experiences, and our reactions to those experiences.  A major benefit, though emotionally charged and perhaps initially difficult, can come from a simple exercise.  In the spirit of true romance and learning about your partner, you could even do this together, examining your beliefs and having an open-hearted discussion about them.

Core Belief Exercise
Take a piece of paper, a pen, and write down your beliefs about yourself, your self worth, and why you “need” someone to feel happy.  Then, trace back in time to the earliest possible memory you have of thinking that thought.  The thought most likely occurred in reaction to an event.

The event could be of great significance and trauma, or could be something that someone said in passing, not really thinking it could be interpreted in such a powerful way.  Luckily, that event happened a long time ago, and holds no true physical power over you anymore.

If you find yourself becoming upset, remember that it was simply an event.  Something that happened, and the event itself holds no power over you.  Write the event down, as detailed as possible.  Then,  what you thought, felt, and what belief you created about yourself.

It is these thoughts and beliefs you created that hold the real power over you.  Not the events, but the beliefs created by the reaction to the events.  You can then examine the beliefs you created, and begin to let them go.

This may be difficult for some of us, as events of all kinds can hold different emotional charges.  The method, and premise, however, of confronting the past and seeing it simply as an event, and a lifelong reaction to that event, holds the key to releasing the Suffering that is created by this core belief.  Once we see where the core belief comes from, we can start to be more mindful in our lives for when it tries to creep into our minds and make us feel less complete than what we really are.

Another step to aid us on our path of love without need, is to adopt a daily practice of loving kindness meditation.  A loving kindness meditation can help us to move forward in the path of self-love, and in the process, develop true love for others.  People we never thought we could care about: the person that stole, the former intimate partner, even the step-parent!  In time, this daily meditation of Loving-Kindness shall also help to develop your mindfulness, become more cognizant of the thoughts and feelings you create within yourself.  Following is a link to a wonderful Loving Kindness meditation from Buddhanet.  Please take some time to sit back and enjoy it!

So in summary:
  1. Be more mindful
  2. Complete the core belief exercise.  Bonus if you complete it with your partner!
  3. Follow a daily Loving Kindness meditation
These steps will surely help you enter your relationships with Love, as opposed to filling a Need.

Happy Valentines Day!  Enjoy life and each other!

What did you learn in 2012, what will you do this year?

Vancouver shot on a summer early morning rendez-vouz on the beach

As we move into 2013, it can help for us to take a moment, breathe, see how far we have come, where we are, and what we would like to see happen moving forward.  This awareness of self helps to keep things in perspective, allow you to give thanks for what you have created and received, and form a roadmap of intention.

Though not necessarily a Buddhist practice or philosophy, I have found that asking some key questions at this time of year have helped me reach the point where I am now.  I recommend taking the time to do this, as it is amazing what you will see in your life, and more importantly, where you want to go.  Not all who wander are lost, but a path and map can certainly bring clarity and focus.

Following are thoughts from Aiden and Jean-Michel. Post your learnings in the comments!

What did I learn in 2012?

We use this question to look back, and analyze situations that, at the time may have been emotional, but now, we can clearly see the lessons they provided.  Some key things we learned are:

Aiden

  • The most important thing in life is having motivation and the energy to act. Both come in various forms, so experiment, observe and pursue each ferociously.
  • Love isn’t an emotion, an ideal or an act. It’s a willingness to be 100% independent and to allow the one you love to be the same. Anything else in a relationship is attachment.
  • The world will open its windows to you and everything will be different than expected.
  • Keystone behaviours exist: simple acts that have wide reaching effects on diverse areas of your life. Meditation is one of mine.
  • A single idea can change your life.  It’s near impossible to know which idea will change your life. It’s important to record, express and cultivate each idea that is genuine to your desires.
  • You will achieve your goals. It’s important to recognize when this happens, acknowledge your progress and reframe your goal structures to achieve higher levels of success and personal growth.

Jean-Michel

  • I have the ability to help and contribute to others and society.  Despite it not being a career or a central focus in life, try on that by giving back to society, it will shift the focus of life from you and your problems, to kindness and contribution.
  • I can excel in my career.  So can you.  I love my career, and I love the interactions I have the opportunity to engage in.  I arrived in this place by never settling for something that I knew was not what I wanted.  Don’t give up on your dreams, they’re closer than you might think.
  • My friends and family care for and love me.  Often, it is easy to forget that others are there for you, especially when you are lost in your day to day challenges.  Touch base, call someone you care about.  They’ll be happy to hear from you.
  • Love and Connection with others is created; it does not exist on its own.  This is a topic on which I could write several posts.  Just remember that taking others for granted, and not putting effort into a relationship or friendship, and holding onto negative events and emotions is thought of the easy thing to do, but ultimately, it is much harder on your life.  Put the effort in to connect with people, and love them for who they are.
  • If not vigilant, I can be ruled by my emotions.  Mindfulness and meditation are the cornerstone to my vigilance.
  • I have much to learn in terms of intimate relationships with women.  I am always humbled and often, frustrated, in my intimate relationships.  Every time I think I have things figured out, I realize, I don’t!  Remember that relationships take 2 people, and that loving and caring for someone else means being happy for them, no matter what they decide to do or say.  Love is independence, “need”, as in when we say “i need you to be happy” is attachment, one of the roots of suffering.  Love someone and be ahoy for them, even if they don’t wish to be with you.

What is my new purpose and passion, going forward?

I routinely ask myself this question.  It gives me an underlying drive to the things that I do, and a statement that I can refer to when I feel that I am getting ruled by emotions.  If you align your actions and goals to your passion and purpose, you will be happy.

Aiden

To contribute value to the world every day. To delve deeper into the human psyche and help people understand who they are, why they are and how they can become more of the person they want to be.

Jean-Michel

My purpose in life is to create peace and freedom wherever I can.  I do this be being a clearing, listening to what is important to others, and making a difference wherever I am.

What do I want to move forward in for 2013?

This guiding question helps set the tone for things I wish to accomplish, and helps me eliminate the things that may be a waste of time.  Be vigilant in your salvation!  Be vigilant in your life’s pursuits, as no one else shall pursue them for you.

Aiden

  • Create an inspiring environment around me that cultivates value and creativity.
  • Allow myself to relax and truly enjoy a portion of each day.
  • Focus on big wins for my career: self publish my first book, publish my research on brain networks in renown science journals and collaborate with international research labs.

Jean-Michel

  • Bring a new standard of excellence to my new career (I received a promotion)
  • Write daily, and complete 75% of Aiden and I’s book.
  • Meditate daily, and attend weekly group dharma talks and meditation sessions.
  • Bring a higher level of health and fitness to my physical body.
  • Contribute to a cause I believe in by using the technical and organizational skills I have.  To start, I am donating a surfboard I shaped to an environmental cause.
Now that you have read about us; tell us about you!  Or, if unwilling to share on such a public forum, take a 1/2 hour and write them for yourself.  Share with someone you love, even share with a stranger!  Bring these ideas into the world and help others to create their lives and see that they can make a difference for themselves.

Thank you, and best of luck in 2013!

Vancouver shot on a summer early morning rendez-vouz on the beach

Famine, Affluence, and Morality

BabyFoot

I have had a wonderful Christmas; less focused on the material gifts of consumer society than ever before, I have been able to enjoy the gift of giving to those that need.  Also, I have been able to partake in the joy of my best-friend having a child born on the 26th of December.  “little Baseball Face” we have nicknamed him, much to the dismay of his parents. This child is lucky to have been born in Canada, and have access to the wonders of modern medicine, which all but ensured his and his mothers’ health.  I am thankful; actually, we all are.

This realization of our luck  also brings about the thought of millions of other newborn children and mothers not having access to the same basic medical care.  At this time of holiday gift buying and sharing, this thought raises an important ethical issue.  As Peter Singer essentially asked in his essay entitled Famine, Affluence and Morality: “Isn’t there a question of what we should be spending our money on?”  I will structure the argument much the same way Peter Singer asked this question in the documentary An Examined Life.

Imagine the $200 shoes and $150 pair of new pants you just received for Christmas (or any other expensive clothing).  You have been wearing them at a party, and have left on foot to return home.  You come across a shallow pond, and as you walk past it you notice a small child drowning in the pond.  You look around and cannot see any other people, and realize that you are the person that must save this child.  The pond is shallow enough that it would not present any danger to you, so what would you do?  Most likely, you would not waste a moments thought and wade into the pond, saving the child, and in turn, ruining the expensive new shoes and pants you received for Christmas.  The financial value of the clothes would not even enter into the decision to save the child or not.

It is at this point that Peter Singer would agree with you and your decision, and yet mention, that for the price of the flashy new clothes you received for Christmas (or the iPad, or jacket, or ski ticket) Oxfam, Unicef, or Worldvision, could save a child, or many children, in a poor country where children are currently dying because they cannot receive basic medical care for very basic diseases.

The thrust of Peter Singers’ argument is that if we possess the financial ability to reduce suffering in the world, then it is immoral not to do so.  There should be no differentiation between the child drowning in the pool, and a Guatemalan child, or an Ethiopian, or any other child on this great Earth of ours.

Now, this is not meant to take away from Christmas or the joy around us; it is simply a reminder that there are those who have not, and we must remember to make a difference where we can, when we can.  It is never too late to start helping.  I am thankful to be here in this world, and I am thankful that little baseball face is happy and healthy.

What is the bigger purpose?

PeopleSilhouettes

 

This is a small piece of a larger question, and I share it tonight because it hit me about an hour ago

There is this old tale of a monk, who is traveling the lands when he comes across a rock quarry.  A tired, frustrated man is chipping away at a large boulder with less than no enthusiasm, all the while cursing the lot he has been given.

Curious, the monk approaches him and asks him what he is sculpting.

Annoyed, and staring in disbelief at the audacity of someone asking him such a silly question, the man snaps “what does it look like? A boulder!”. He stares coldly at the monk, then continues his stone chipping.

The monk turns and continues to walk, slowly realizing he is in a rock quarry, and that there are many more stone workers like the first, all around him.  They too, are cursing their lots, looking tired and irritated, all chipping away at boulders.

As the monk slowly walks through the quarry, he sees the large rocks at various stages of completion.  It seems that they are being shaped into large cylinders.  But for what?  Every time the monk asks a sculptor what they’re for, he gets a snappy remark, or ignored altogether.  No one seems happy with their work.  No one is satisfied.

It is on his way out of the quarry that the monk notices someone a little different.  This man is sculpting the rock, same as all the others; but there is something different about his manner.  He is smiling, and humming to himself.  He is playing with his chisel, and, focused yet easy, striking with purpose.  He seems light.

The monk approaches this scupltor, and again asks him what he is doing

“Me, well I am building a temple! It will be the most beautiful work of art you have ever seen!”

What’s the point? I thought of this tonight, while I was slowly scratching some adhesive off of a surfboard I am finishing. (note, do not use cheap tape!)

After 2 hours of slowly scratching the tape off, and taking care not to damage the top deck, I had become so largely annoyed with the detail and tediousness of this task, that I had forgotten the goal of the task: that I was building something custom, one of a kind, and beautiful.  It was then that I remembered the story of the monk, and concurrently realized that it is too easy to get lost in the details of our lives and our self importance.  We often forget that we are here for the great good of making a difference for other people in our lives, and shut ourselves off from the joy and the passion of the greater world we are contributing to.

Take a moment to step back, and think about the difference you have made to someone’s life, through a smile, contribution, or kind comment.  Even how your job, as tedious and fruitless as it may sometimes seem, is contributing to a larger cathedral in the world, which brings opportunities and prosperity to those associated with it.

The Happiest Man in the World

Buddha

Matthieu Ricard isn’t your ordinary person. An ex-geneticist who earned his PhD at the Institut Pasteur in Paris in 1972, he renounced the academic life and spent more than three decades training his mind so that we can better understand how to cultivate happiness.

And the results from the latest study of Ricard’s brain are staggering.

Looking at the intrinsic brain activity while meditating on compassion, scientists at the University of Wisconsin have observed the highest levels of gamma waves ever recorded in the neuroscience literature from Ricard’s brain. The study also looked at brain activity of over 100 advanced meditators, many of whom had more than 50,000 rounds of meditation experience. But none were able to reach the level produced by Ricard.

Gamma waves play a vital role in cognitive functioning. Their propagation through the brain acts as a type of neuronal synchronizer, binding together distributed networks and focusing them towards an object of attention. Scientist have proposed that gamma waves are able to resolve the ‘binding problem’ of neuroscience – how sensory information processed in sensory-specific areas of the brain are unified into a single conscious experience. Their role in consciousness is so critical, that if gamma waves stop emitting from an area of the brain called the thalamus, conscious awareness is lost and the person slips into a deep coma.

For Ricard, this implies that he is able to focus and coordinate the endogenous signals of his brain towards a single concept, percept or conscious experience. Whether concentrating on compassion or happiness, it is hard to imagine that in such a state anything but the object of focus is able to enter Ricard’s awareness.

The study also found an extreme asymmetry between brain activity originating from his left prefrontal cortex compared to his right. This asymmetry has been shown to correlate with positive emotions, while it’s counterpart – stronger activity in the right prefrontal cortex – is related to negative emotions. Putting this finding together with the high levels of gamma waves, it suggests that Ricard is able to generate such a focused state of compassion that his brain responds by producing an extreme level of positive emotions.

Despite these results, Ricard says that he is not unique. He teaches that similar levels of compassion can be obtained by anyone willing to take the time and effort. Ricard attributes his incredible abilities to neuroplasticity due to meditation training and is working with scientists around the globe to show how the brain changes its structure and function in response to meditation.

While Ricard’s place as the world’s happiest man is fascinating, the bigger take away from the University of Wisconsin study is that long-term experience with meditation is not necessary to induce neuroplasticity. The scientists found that as little as twenty minutes a day for three weeks can start to reshape the patterns of the brain and increase levels of positive emotions.

The question is – what are you going to do with the next twenty minutes of your day?