My lovely sister invited me to join a three-part meditation class held by Rabbi Ted Falcon, PhD at the Unity of Bellevue church. The focus is how to integrate meditation in your life (which is perfect for me, since that is one of my New Year’s resolutions that I am currently failing at). The first session was last night, and the next to will be held the next two Wednesdays of January.
Rabbi Ted Falcon, PhD, has been a student and teacher of meditation and Kabbalah for more than forty years, and explores the frontiers of interfaith spirituality. The great thing is that his classes are for anyone from newbies to the well-practiced, and it doesn’t matter your religious beliefs or background. Meditation is really something that most religions work into practice. But it isn’t only for the religious or spiritual—meditation has scientifically proven health benefits.
Dr. Falcon began by mentioning Dr. Herbert Benson, professor, author, cardiologist, and founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute. In 1975, Dr. Benson coined the phrase “Relaxation Response.” The response is defined as “your personal ability to encourage your body to release chemicals and brain signals that make your muscles and organs slow down and increase blood flow to the brain”—a.k.a. meditation. He was the first to scientifically prove that “Relaxation Response” can be an effective treatment for a wide range of stress-related disorders and promote better health with the ability to reduce blood pressure levels and resting heart rate.
When high levels of stress hormones are often released, they can contribute to a number of stress-related medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, GI diseases, adrenal fatigue, and more. Dr. Benson describes the “Relaxation Response” as a physical state of deep relaxation which engages the parasympathetic nervous system. Research has shown that regular practice of the “Relaxation Response” can help any health problem that is caused or worsened by chronic stress such as fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal ailments, insomnia, hypertension, anxiety disorders, and others. It has also shown that those who commonly practice meditation can more quickly recover from a stressful situation than those who do not commonly practice—exactly like those who exercise more often can recover much faster from a hard workout!
According to Dr. Benson and Dr. Falcon, one of the most valuable things we can do in life is to learn deep relaxation and make an effort to spend some time every day quieting our minds in order to create inner peace, and ultimately better health.
Some of you may think that you have never meditated before. However, if you have focused in on something for so long that everything else is blocked out of your mind—which can even happen during your sport (I find that I go into a meditative state when I’m riding my bicycle on a unoccupied bike path)—then you have indeed meditated. It is natural, and we do it all the time. Daydreaming is even a form of meditation.
Taking an interest in practiced meditation is really an interest in how our mind works, and the process of our perception. In our culture, we are trained to focus on our perception of the inner and outer world, instead of consciousness itself. Anything we think or see becomes an object of our consciousness. Dr. Falcon asked us to beg the question, what is our consciousness like before it holds on object? Meditation allows us to meet the functioning of our Ego. The difficulty that everyone faces when first starting meditation is trying to tune out the rambling voice in our heads. It sometimes seems like our minds are racing, but Dr. Falcon explains that our mind is actually slowing down enough to perceive what we are doing all the time, of which we aren’t aware. Usually our mind works faster than the speed of thought.
Dr. Falcon tells us to become an observer of the voice, and move into being a witness to our consciousness. Get out of the mind and body, but observe how it feels. One of the goals of meditation is to take some control over the voice, which is constantly judging ourselves and others. We must accept ourselves as we are in the moment. Interestingly enough, Dr. Falcon explained that accepting ourselves as we are actually allows us to change. By not accepting ourselves, we are constantly in the state of discontent, inhibiting the possibility of movement or growth.
A great example of this is weight loss. When we are uncomfortable with the way we look, usually we attempt dieting. However, being sad makes us turn to comfort foods, which of course prevents losing weight. When we accept ourselves how we are, however, it is much easier to shed the weight, because we don’t turn to those foods. It is the same with love. If we are unable to love ourselves, we are unable to love others. Meditation allows for a greater love of ourselves, and therefore a greater capacity to love.
So how do you start meditating? Dr. Falcon led us through two different meditations. He recommends that, during any practice, you keep a journal and pen next to you so you can record any significant thoughts that come to mind during the meditation, and then return to your practice. If you don’t write them down, they will keep repeating through your head throughout the meditation.
The first meditation, using counting:
- Get into a comfortable position, preferably sitting or laying face up on a comfortable surface.
- Close your eyes, and begin to notice your breath. Also notice how your body feels. Start contemplating how your feet feel for several breaths, and then your ankles for several more breaths, your knees, etc. Work your way up the body, all the way to your forehead.
- Contemplate how it feels to be where you are for several breaths.
- After awhile, begin to inhale and exhale more slowly, in longer breaths. On the exhale, count “one” in your head. On the next exhale, count to “two,” and so on until you reach “ten.” Then start back at “one.” What you may notice is that you will get half way to ten, and your mind will start wandering. If this is the case, then start back at one, and focus on getting up to ten. Do this five-ten times.
- Come back to your body for several breaths and notice how you feel in this moment. Do not move right away. Slowly open your eyes, and sit until you feel ready to move.
The second meditation, with a focus on the heart:
- Get into a comfortable position, preferably sitting.
- Close your eyes, and begin to notice your breath. Notice how you feel in this moment, and understand that this is exactly the way you should feel, the way you should look, and where you should be in this moment.
- Imagine that you are meeting yourself, and tell yourself, “I love you.” Open up your heart to yourself, and repeat the words in your head.
- Imagine that you are giving yourself a hug. Let this image and the words “I love you” live in your mind. Allow yourself to love you in the deepest possible love you can fathom.
- When you are ready, come back to your body for several breaths and notice how you feel in this moment. Do not move right away. Slowly open your eyes, and sit until you feel ready to move.
Both of these meditation evoked different emotions and feelings for me. Dr. Falcon gave us the task of meditating daily and keeping a journal, noting any thoughts during the meditation, as well as how we felt afterword, how it affected our day, etc. The biggest issue for me is finding the time where I can find a quiet space alone. The key that Dr. Falcon mentioned is to meditate whenever it occurs to you to do so. If you are at work, perhaps take a break in your car. If you are at the gym, perhaps retreat to the sauna. He even recommends doing the breath counting when you are standing in line, as a way to make it a habit and help form a “default setting.” This is perfect, since I’m sure all of us can attest that standing in line can sometimes evoke feelings of impatience and stress.
I feel a future challenge coming soon…
If you would like to learn more about Rabbi Ted Falcon, PhD, visit his website at http://www.rabbitedfalcon.com/. If you live in the area, feel free to come to the next two classes, 1/21 and 1/28 from 7:00-8:00 pm at the Unity of Bellevue Church! The suggested offering is only $15 per session.
Falcon, Ted. (Jan 14, 2015.) How to Make Your Meditation a Way of Life. A 3-Class Session with Rabbi Ted. Class conducted from Unity of Bellevue Church, Bellevue.
Mitchell, Marilyn. “Dr. Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response.” (Mar 29, 2013.) Psychology Today. Retrieved Jan 15, 2015 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/heart-and-soul-healing/201303/dr-herbert-benson-s-relaxation-response.