Does Meditation Change anything that we do?

Why does a sitting meditation practise help us to develop?
By Diane Musho-Hamilton

 

How does the practice of sitting meditation contribute to being able to DO something differently. Mediation helps to unwind the nervous system, develop focused attention, and relax the tight grip of self-identification. But while It may support individual well-being, it is hard to see how in the middle of a tense or confusing meeting, the practice will help us act in a fresh way that makes a difference to others.

In Chinese, there are two hexagrams that represent the word Zen. The first means to “realize;” the second or “manifest” or “enact.” The practice of zazen, or just sitting, suspends the powerful discriminating mind – the analytic function that divides this from that, black from white, up from down, good from bad. Instead, sitting deeply embodied, present, and still, one recognizes or “realizes” the inseparability of all things. It becomes abundantly clear that everything is, indeed, one seamless whole, and all parts arise in relation to this wholeness. This is referred to in the tradition as wisdom.

We can think about this, but we must experience it; we must feel this complete continuity in our own body. A facilitator steeped in meditative discipline is fully present to this wholeness, fully aware in here and now, and foregoes the deep habit of judging everything that happens as good or bad, right or wrong. Instead, we allow the space for what IS to actually happen.

This produces an ability to include more in awareness; to attune (if you will) to our own feelings and thoughts, to the felt experience of the participants, to the vision of their goals and aspirations, as well as the burden of their obstacles, unspoken issues, and power struggles. Everything is revealed as it is, and our open, spacious awareness gives room for it all to be here. In a facilitator, this capacity is quite relieving to participants. To be in the company of someone who is at ease with how things are, and isn’t compulsively editing out parts of their experience or denying the more unpleasant aspects paves the way for ease, efficiency, and creativity in the group.

Moreover, the capacity to be at ease with whatever arises is what underlies mastery. Most of the time, in learning how to work with challenges like conflict and emotionality, we must discover how to relate to these experiences differently. It isn’t about making them go away. Yes, methods for negotiating or skills for soothing a heated moment are important. But our ability to use those skills well depends first on our ability to stay present to the challenging situation, to name it, and to make it explicit to others. If we practice an openness, curiosity and willingness to be with even the most uncomfortable of situations, we can respond from a place of choice and creativity. This is the source of true mastery.

Compassion
Wisdom changes how we see and compassion addresses how we respond. The facilitator’s awareness functions as an instrument of wholeness, and their actions are a form of compassion. After all, what is compassion except a warm, sensitive, and generous response to things as they are? Meditation gives a nimbleness, curiosity, and flexibility in the mind, and the heart naturally turns towards the well being of others. Our communications will naturally reflect this disposition. We are able to reflect and reshape meaning in our words, or take actions that maintain or restore harmony and balance in group dynamics. Because a facilitator is willing to be truthful and present with everything, that includes being open to the feedback that inevitably results from our communications and actions. The Tibetan meditation master, Choygram Trungpa Rinpoche advised, “Be yourself — the world will give you feedback.” This is invaluable for a facilitator because the immediate feedback is always instructing us on what to do next.

Freedom
Finally, without corrosive, habitual judgements in the mind, the meditative facilitator embodies freedom of expression and movement. We can actually be straightforward, saying things that, perhaps, others might not. Mindfulness teaches us to simplify our message, to be straightforward and immediate in our contact with others. Usually we discover this messaging has more impact. We can behave spontaneously, taking risks, changing the plan, trying out new approaches to problem solving. We can occasionally place a challenge to our groups, asking them to do more or differently and even better.

It is also true that the practice of sitting involves the practice of allowing things to come and to go more readily. This is a great source of freedom. It is essential when working with groups to keep letting go of our ideas about what should have happened, and instead, allow for what IS happening. This ability to let go enables a facilitator to be light on their feet in the service of the group.

When we talk about the value of presence for engaging with complex challenges in our world (and facilitation is certainly a complex challenge), we are speaking about the source of our creativity and skillfull means. When standing up in front of a room, let alone stepping out our door each morning, anything can happen. From the meditative perspective, preparedness isn’t about acquisition. Rather, what prepares us to act is the practice of relinquishing what obstructs our ability to engage clearly, wisely, and compassionately.

By Diane Musho Hamilton, Zen Practioner

The Gut/Brain Connection

There are 100 trillion bacteria, and about 1 quadrillion viruses in your body. In fact we are actually a walking ‘microbe’  These cells outnumber your cells to 10-1.

When they are balanced and nourished they will maintain or restore both physical and mental health. A lack of specific micrbiome has been associated with many physical and mental diseases.

Genetics

After Watson and Crick discovered DNA, the Human Genome Project (HGP) was formed and science was expected to find gene based remedies to health concerns. Recently it has been discovered that our genetic make-up plays only a smaller role in our health. After ‘epigenetic’ based science becoming more popular, I was interested to know what else we could do with the new discoveries in science and genetics.

Genes are only responsible for 10 % of diseases. The remaining 90% are coming from environmental factors and the microbiome is now being seen as one of the most important factors in health.

One dose of antibiotics can disrupt a microbiome and thereby alter your gut health and the strength of your immune system.

Your genes are actually being turned on and off by your microbiome. So your genes are like a library, you have all of the genetic potential to express things like cancer etc but these genes are turned on or off by your environment (chemical exposures) and this includes your 21st century lifestyle and of course diet!

The gut flora is affected by processed foods, antibiotics, pesticides etc. Unfortunately, if you are not buying a cleanser for your fruit of veg and not buying organic you are contributing further to your health destiny. If you are not buying organic then I would recommend buying a cleanser for your produce. Please ask at your next visit and I can give you a couple of options.

Gut bacteria can influence your weight.

The bacteria appear to influence health and disease in two important ways. Some can be good and some can be bad.

When they’re lacking, you end up losing this protection, which allows the disease process to set in.

For example, by eradicating four species of bacteria (Lactobacillus, Allobaculum, Rikenelleceae, and Candidatus arthromitus), researchers were able to trigger metabolic changes in lab animals that led to obesity.

As time goes on, it seems increasingly reasonable to think that obesity is largely influenced by gut bacteria. This in no way changes the fact that certain foods will make you pack on the pounds, the bacteria just play a major role in facilitating that process.

The foods known to produce metabolic dysfunction and insulin resistance (such as processed foods, fructose/sugar, and artificial sweeteners) also decimate beneficial gut bacteria, and it may well be that this is a key mechanism by which these foods promote obesity.

Chemicals may also contribute to your weight problem by way of your gut microbiome.

For example, a study published in the July issue of Environmental Health Perspectives found that persistent organic pollutants (POPs) found in food altered the gut microbiome in mice, thereby contributing to the development of obesity and metabolic dysfunction.

Another study found that one microbe called Akkermansia muciniphila helps ward off obesity, diabetes, and heart disease by lowering blood sugar, improving insulin resistance, and promoting a healthier distribution of body fat.

A. muciniphila is associated with a fibre-rich diet, and fibrehas long been recognized for its beneficial effects on health and weight. It’s still not known whether A. muciniphila produces these effects all on its own, or whether it helps promote other beneficial bacteria, however.

According to the authors:

“Our findings demonstrate the need for further investigation to ascertain the therapeutic applicability of A. muciniphila in the treatment of insulin resistance.

A. muciniphila may be identified as a diagnostic or prognostic tool to predict the potential success of dietary interventions.”

Fiber-Digesting Bacteria Also Influence Your Immune Function

Previous research has also shown that gut microbes specializing in fermenting soluble fibre play an important role in preventing inflammatory disorders, as they help calibrate your immune system.

Specifically, the byproducts of this fermenting activity help nourish the cells lining your colon, thereby preventing leaky gut — a condition in which toxins are allowed to migrate from your gut into your blood stream.

The inflammatory response actually starts in your gut and then travels to your brain, which subsequently sends signals to the rest of your body in a complex feedback loop.

So in order to address chronic inflammation and inflammatory diseases, it’s important to nourish your gut flora with the right foods. Examples include traditionally fermented foods and raw foods, and especially those high in fibre.

Sugar, on the other hand, feeds fungi that produce yeast infections and sinusitis. Researchers have also linked high-sugar diets to memory – and learning impairments, courtesy of altered gut bacteria.9,10 According to lead author Dr. Kathy Magnusson 2016

“We’ve known for a while that too much fat and sugar are not good for you. This work suggests that fat and sugar are altering your healthy bacterial systems, and that’s one of the reasons those foods aren’t good for you. It’s not just the food that could be influencing your brain, but an interaction between the food and microbial changes.” Dr.Mercola.2016

Fibre and Fermented Foods Are Key Components of a Healthy Diet

While it’s virtually impossible to determine the composition of an ideal microbiome, seeing how our gut flora is as individual as our finger print, what we do know is that a healthy diet is key for optimizing your individual microbiome. We’ve also come to realize that fermented foods and foods high in fibre are very important components of a healthy diet, as these foods help nourish a wide variety of beneficial bacteria.

Such foods have been part of the human diet since ancient times, and replacing them with chemically altered and “sterilized” processed foods has led to many of our current health problems. Traditional sauerkraut, for example, has been identified as a heart-healthy superfood. As reported by The Epoch Times.

“Research in the medical journal Food and Function found that unpasteurized sauerkraut contained a potent probiotic known as wild lactobacillus plantarum FC225, to which many of sauerkraut’s heart-healing abilities could be attributed. Upon investigation, the scientists conducting the study found that the probiotic-rich sauerkraut helped in the following ways:

• Reduced cholesterol levels

• Reduced triglyceride levels

• Significantly increased levels of two powerful antioxidants known as superoxide disumutase (SOD) and glutathione