He turned 78 last Saturday and still says he meditates for three hours every day, starting at 4 am. He says he is just a simple monk and that kindness is his religion, calling for love and compassion to promote world peace. When we met with the Dalai Lama he was standing on his veranda overlooking the beautiful Himalayan Mountain range, smiling and waving for us to come. We went to bow as is the tradition but he lifted us, took our hands, and said: “We are all equal here.”
We really didn’t know what to expect as he walked us into his sitting room. We imagined this spiritual leader to millions would be a serene Buddha-like figure sitting on a throne, yet he sat between us on his couch, still holding our hands, for forty-five minutes. He was the most ordinary person we ever hung out with. The world’s greatest meditator was simple and unassuming, he felt like our best friend, and he laughed a lot.
Just by sitting with the Dalai Lama we realized the effect of his years of meditation, as his very presence emanated all those qualities that meditators seek, such as inner peace, loving kindness, authenticity and mindful awareness. This is particularly seen in his devotion to ahimsa, non-injury and his policy of non-violence, which is why he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Research, such as that conducted by neuroscientist Richie Davidson, a friend of the Dalai Lama’s, at Wisconsin University, and shared in our book Be The Change, proves how meditation actually develops the part of our brain that increases compassion and loving kindness. ”By training the mind, we can actually change the brain toward greater contentment,” says Dr. Davidson in Be The Change, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World. “There is certainly evidence to show that meditation practices designed to cultivate compassion and loving kindness change the brain in many positive ways.”
However, the mind desires endless entertainment and much prefers being distracted than facing the constant dramas racing around inside it. The idea of sitting still and watching our breath can appear boring, meaningless, even a time-waster, and not at all fun or creative. Yet meditation invites an undoing of what isn’t and a revealing what is; we don’t become someone else, rather we become more who we really are, which is far from boring! It is about being fully present in this moment, no matter what we are doing: if washing the dishes, then let any thoughts and distractions dissolve into the soap bubbles; when eating, be aware of every bite, taste and texture.
As the Dalai Lama wrote in the foreword to our book: “I strongly recommend anyone interested in meditation not to simply read what these people have to say, but to try it out. If you like it and it’s useful to you, keep it up. Treat this book as you would a cookery book. You wouldn’t merely read recipes with approval, you’d try them out. Some you’d like and would use again. Like cookery, meditation only makes sense if you put it into effect.”
A regular practice of meditation can produce discernable changes in the brain in a matter of just six to eight weeks. To feel the difference in yourself try the practice below.
Weed Pulling Meditation
Find a comfortable and upright place to sit. Take a few deep breaths, then watch the flow of your breath as it enters and leaves.
Now bring your focus to your heart, and as you breathe in feel as if your heart is opening and softening; as you breathe out, release any tension or resistance. Sit here for a few minutes.
Now visualize yourself walking in a beautiful but overgrown garden. All sorts of colorful flowers surround you, but among them are numerous weeds.
You find a place to sit amidst the plants and mindfully begin to remove the weeds. Each one represents a negative aspect of yourself or your life. Name it as you remove it, and watch it leave your mind as you discard.
The more weeds you remove the lighter you feel, as if a weight is being removed from you. As you do this, the flowers are growing stronger and brighter.
Stay here as long as you like. You may not have time to pull up all the weeds, so before you leave promise that you will be back again to remove some more.
When you are ready, silently repeat three times, “May I be happy, may my mind be like a beautiful garden.” Take a deep breath and let it go. Then fill the rest of your day with kindness and smiles.