Posts Tagged ‘Zen’

A Wake-Up Haiku

May 31, 2012

A koan is an unsolvable riddle meant to stop a Zen meditator’s analytical mind from thinking, and hopefully transition into a state of no-thought, the state of transcendence. There is a classic Zen koan meant to do just that, which asks the question: What is the sound of one hand clapping? Here is one tongue-in-cheek answer meant to enlighten or wake you up.

A Wake-Up Haiku

Solve this Zen koan:
The sound of one hand clapping?
A slap in the face!

© Ken Chawkin, May 30, 2012, Fairfield, Iowa

Luckily there is a simpler way—the effortless practice of Transcendental Meditation, which allows the conscious thinking mind to transcend. With the help of a mantra, a specific harmonious suitable meaningless thought-sound, together with step-by-step instructions from a qualified TM teacher, the mind naturally, effortlessly settles down to lesser and lesser states of mental activity, to the least excited state of awareness, when the thought drops off, leaving the mind without an object of attention, yet deeply restful and alert, fully awake inside. This inner unbounded wakefulness is the basis for all clarity, energy, and creativity after meditation.

TM allows the mind to experience its own essential nature beyond thought—transcendental consciousness or pure awareness, called turiya in Sanskrit, a 4th major state of consciousness at the basis of the other 3 relative states of consciousness—waking, dreaming and sleeping. With regular practice, over time, a natural integration occurs in the nervous system as it unfolds its inherent ability to live the two states simultaneously—a 5th style of functioning called Cosmic Consciousness. With continued practice, utilizing advanced techniques, including the TM-Sidhi program, the evolution of even two more states of consciousness develop—a 6th, God Consciousness, a refined experience of the 5th; and ultimately a 7th, Unity Consciousness, where the individual is truly universal.

Related posts: Words—a poem on the nature of words and mindUpon waking uP by Ken Chawkin | Are all meditation techniques the same?John Hagelin — “Only Higher Consciousness Can Transform Our World” — Beyond Awakening Blog and THP: How Meditation Techniques Compare.

A Haiku on The Heart of Haiku

December 18, 2011

This week I discovered and posted the Interview from FROGPOND with Jane Hirshfield on The Heart of Haiku. I had read Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry by Jane Hirshfield, a classic collection of essays about the mysterious ways poetry comes to us, and had thoroughly enjoyed it. So this first Kindle Single by Jane on haiku looked very enticing.

On Friday night, after reading a free sample of The Heart of Haiku, named “Best Kindle Single of 2011,” I decided to purchase this 29-page essay about the life and poetry of Matsuo Bashō, recognized as the master of concise, compelling Japanese haiku. I downloaded the free App from Amazon, then bought the $0.99 Kindle Single. It loaded instantly. I signed in, and started reading. It was that simple.

Saturday I took my computer with me when I went to visit my friend Sali. I explained what I had done, showed her what the essay looked like in the Kindle Cloud Reader on my computer, how it allowed me to select the look of the page, (I chose Sepia), change the size of the font and length of the lines, highlight and make notes. I continued reading, aloud to Sali, where I had left off at home. We were fascinated!

Bashō had discovered the earlier Chinese and Japanese poets, wrote renga, tanka, and haiku, became a poet and teacher, studied Zen and Taoism, indulged his senses, then lived like a monk roaming the countryside. We appreciated the beauty, simplicity and depth of his poetry, and the skill of Jane Hirshfield’s erudite explanations, herself a poet, teacher, and practitioner of Zen. It seemed appropriate for her to explain where Bashō was coming from. Hirshfield had collaborated with Mariko Aratani, her co-translator for the classical-era tanka poets in The Ink Dark Moon.

It was dinner time and the other residents were already eating their meal. An aide brought in Sali’s tray, but we were enjoying the story so much I just kept on reading and lost track of the time. I happened to mention that and realized I was speaking out what could easily become a haiku. Sali has that effect on me; she’s my muse! So here’s the haiku on reading The Heart of Haiku to Sali.

A Haiku on The Heart of Haiku

We forgot to eat
Reading The Heart of Haiku
It can fill you up

Also see the excellent Poetry Foundation biography on Jane Hirshfield, including poems, articles and more; Pirene’s Fountain: Jane Hirshfield on Poetic Craft; and What Rainer Maria Rilke inscribed on the copy of The Duino Elegies he gave his Polish translator. You can find some of my own haiku and tanka under My Poems.

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THP: How Meditation Techniques Compare

September 23, 2010

Posted: September 22, 2010 04:50 PM

How Meditation Techniques Compare — Zen, Mindfulness, Transcendental Meditation and more

Meditation shopping? Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Yet millions of Americans are seeking tools to turn within. As a nation we’ve tried to fix our problems with everything from psychotherapy and Prozac to positive thinking and politics. Now people everywhere are ready to close their eyes and take a dive — not to escape, but to more fully be.

Having lectured on meditation for 25 years, I find that audiences no longer need to be convinced of meditation’s practical benefits. But people do often ask, “Aren’t all meditation techniques basically the same?”

Experts in the venerated traditions of meditation have always marveled at the mind’s subtlety, appreciating its keen responsiveness and sensitivity to different mental procedures. Great master teachers of meditation have recognized that the various techniques engage the mind in different ways and naturally produce different results. With advancements in neurophysiology, scientists are now identifying distinctions among varieties of meditation practices.

The Myth of the Relaxation Response

The old “scientific” myth that meditation practices all induce the same, general state of physiological rest — called the “relaxation response” — has been overturned. Though many practices provide relaxation, decades of research show that not all techniques produce the same physiological, psychological or behavioral effects.1

Recently a doctor came to me for meditation instruction. He had learned a “relaxation response” technique in a class on integrative medicine during his training at Harvard. He was attracted to meditation by the promise of deeper insight into consciousness — access to the mind’s hidden, transcendent potentialities. He enjoyed the relaxation technique but yearned for deeper experience and understanding.

Reviewing the science journals, the doctor arrived at the same conclusion reached by leading meditation researchers: the “relaxation” model was based on inconclusive evidence and had never been substantiated. Hundreds of published studies on meditation techniques show varying effects from different practices — ranging from measures of rest much deeper than the “relaxation response” to physiological states no different from sliding back into your easy chair.

The emerging paradigm: three major categories of meditation

Meditation labs have sprung up at universities across the country–places such as Yale, UCLA, University of Oregon, UW Madison and Maharishi University of Management. Their contributions have helped researchers identify three major categories of techniques, classified according to EEG measurements and the type of cognitive processing or mental activity involved:

  • Controlled focus: Classic examples of concentration or controlled focus are found in the revered traditions of Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Qiqong, Yoga and Vedanta, though many methods involve attempts to control or direct the mind. Attention is focused on an object of meditation–such as one’s breath, an idea or image, or an emotion. Brain waves recorded during these practices are typically in the gamma frequency (20-50 Hz), seen whenever you concentrate or during “active” cognitive processing.2
  • Open monitoring: These mindfulness type practices, common in Vipassana and Zazen, involve watching or actively paying attention to experiences–without judging, reacting or holding on. Open monitoring gives rise to frontal theta (4-8 Hz), an EEG pattern commonly seen during memory tasks or reflection on mental concepts.3
  • Automatic self-transcending: This category describes practices designed to go beyond their own mental activity–enabling the mind to spontaneously transcend the process of meditation itself. Whereas concentration and open monitoring require degrees of effort or directed focus to sustain the activity of meditation, this approach is effortless because there is no attempt to direct attention–no controlled cognitive processing. An example is the Transcendental Meditation technique. The EEG pattern of this category is frontal alpha coherence, associated with a distinct state of relaxed inner wakefulness.4

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Some techniques may fall under more than one category: Guided meditation is controlled focus if the instruction is, “Hold attention on your breath.” But if the instructor says, “Now just watch your thoughts, letting them come and go,” then you’re probably doing open monitoring–and your EEG would say for sure.

Different practices, different results

Without the scientific research (or until we have a cell phone app for measuring our EEG and biochemistry), meditative states and their effects remain subjective. Brain research, along with findings on psychological and behavioral effects, gives a more objective framework for health professionals or anyone to determine which meditation technique might be most beneficial for a given purpose.

For example, research suggests that concentration techniques may improve focusing ability. A study on advanced Buddhist monks–some of whom had logged more 10,000 hours of meditation — found that concentrating on “loving kindness and compassion” increased those feelings and produced synchronous gamma activity in the left prefrontal cortex — indicating more powerful focus.

The effect of open monitoring or non-judgmental observation is said to increase even-mindedness in daily life; studies on mindfulness-type practices indicate better pain management and reduction of “negative rumination.”

For relief from stress, research suggests that an automatic self-transcending technique might serve you better than a practice that keeps the mind engaged in continuous mental effort. Because of the natural mind/body relationship, the more deeply settled the mind, the more deeply rested is the body. Studies show that the deep rest of “transcending” calms the sympathetic nervous system and restores physiological balance — lowering high blood pressure, alleviating chronic anxiety and reducing stress hormones such as cortisol.

More research is needed to verify benefits of controlled focus, but there are numerous studies on mindfulness practices and automatic self-transcending, with over 600 studies on the Transcendental Meditation technique alone.

As meditation becomes a new frontier of scientific research, more and more people are becoming aware of the mind’s enormous potential for impacting health and wellbeing. I find that most meditators are no longer concerned that a technique might come from the East or have roots in a spiritual tradition–their main concern is that the practice works, and science can help remove the guesswork.

Americans are opting for meditation to counterbalance a life that’s been plugged in, outer directed and over stimulated, and we’re turning to something as simple as our own inner silence.

Whether you’re an athlete aiming for the “zone,” an executive striving for peak performance or a harried mother needing some serenity, a reliable meditation practice can be your best friend.

1. Orme-Johnson, Walton, 1998. American Journal of Health Promotion 2(5), 297-299.
2. Lutz, Greischar, Rawlings, Ricard, Davidson, 2004. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 101,16369-73.
3. Cahn, Delorme, & Polich, 2010. Cognitive Processing 2010 11(1):39-56.
4. Travis et al, 2010. Cognitive Processing 11(1), 21-30.

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Also see: THP: Keeping Your Prefrontal Cortex Online: Neuroplasticity, Stress and Meditation

And: Are all meditation techniques the same?

See this article and infographic on Three Categories of Meditation.


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