Meditation groups host special teaching event

Ed. Note- This is from a local paper, The Cape Cod Times. It is about this weekends “Change Your Mind Day” event, the first of it’s kind here on Cape Cod.

The pace of modern living leaves many of us feeling hurried and harried, and there is nothing healthy about stress or anxiety. It makes sense that a calming practice like meditation would help defuse stress. The medical community regularly recommends that patients try mind-body practices to aid with healthy living, and physicians such as Dr. Herbert Benson at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston are actually proving that meditation not only lowers blood pressure, heart rate and respiration, but also changes the body at the level of cellular activity, meaning it may help slow down the aging process.

If you would like to try meditation but aren’t sure how to begin, “Change Your Mind Day,” from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday on the Hyannis Village Green, offers the perfect opportunity to find a meditative practice suited to your temperament.

Nine meditation groups will be represented from across the Cape, with tables set up so people can pick up information and talk to the teachers. There will also be a talk by a different teacher on the hour all day long and there will be ongoing silent meditations all day, consisting of 20 minutes of sitting and then a time for questions and answers.

For newcomers, there will be 20-minute guided meditations to teach people how to sit and hold their body and to gently remind them to keep their focus on their breath. If the mind wanders, the idea is to simply bring it back to focusing on the breath without judging yourself for straying.

“Change Your Mind Day” was originated in 1993 by Tricycle magazine as a day of free meditation instruction for everybody. The goal was to introduce meditation thought and practice to the public.

This is the first time the event has been staged on Cape Cod, but organizer Annette Miller, who has been practicing meditation for 27 years, says there are a wide variety of meditation groups on the Cape that offer everything from several different types of Zen to insight meditation to contemplative prayer. The practice of mindfulness is what unites them all.

“We need to find a wiser way to cope with the conflict, stress, fear and exhaustion that is so common in our life,” she says. “And this is a way of coping with that, of finding mindfulness and understanding. To me it’s understanding how your mind works. Mindfulness creates a space where you are more open to other people’s opinions and judgments.”

Miller says people don’t realize how much time they spend living in the future or the past, rather than the present moment. Twenty minutes of daily meditation help her experience what it feels like to be totally in the present, and that feeling spills out into everyday life and allows her to see clearly and then have the freedom to choose how to respond, rather than just react.

“Meditation is a method to cultivate bare attention and the intention is to be present with the experience whatever it is, as is arises, without trying to analyze it, understand it or change it,” Miller says.

Jim Calvin has been following those principles for 20 years, ever since he began studying with the Kwan Um School of Zen, which was started by Zen master Seung Sahn and has headquarters in Providence, R.I. Calvin was ordained as a teacher in 2000 and became a Bodhisattva teacher in 2007, and he says his school emphasizes mindfulness and compassion for all beings. He teaches at the Cape Cod Zen Center in South Yarmouth. For “Change Your Mind Day” Calvin will talk about what the words “change your mind” actually mean.

“It sounds simple, like do I want vanilla ice cream or chocolate ice cream, but it’s not that kind of change your mind,” Calvin says. “It’s change your mind all in capital letters, like change your thinking, change the way you see the world, change how you therefore react to the world. Everything is OK, everything is complete, everything is what it is and when you get that, not intellectually but in your gut, so to speak, then the world is just fine. Essentially nothing worries me; there’s nothing I’m afraid of.”

James Kershner says meditation also has helped him overcome fears. He first discovered meditation in the 1960s but it wasn’t until 2000 that he began practicing regularly. In 1996, he founded a meditation group called the Cape Sangha. His group meets weekly in Hyannis to practice mindfulness meditation in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher and author, but Kershner says most people practice a mix of traditions.

“In Asia, meditators tend to follow one particular spiritual path, but in America we’ve seen the birth of what I would call American Buddhism, which is a mix of the best from all the different teachers, because we have teachers here from all the Asian traditions, plus homegrown American teachers and the self-help gurus are in the mix too,” he says. “So in America we benefit from all the different teachers and people tend to choose what works for them.”

For “Change Your Mind Day,” Kershner will give a talk about meditation and mindfulness, then he will lead a walking meditation where you just focus on your footsteps as you walk.

“Practicing meditation has definitely changed my life for the better,” Kershner says. “I’m more calm and peaceful and a lot healthier than I used to be. It’s really easy. People are afraid meditation takes a lot of training, but you can learn to do it in five minutes. It’s very simple.”

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