September 5 was my 39th wedding anniversary so Teresa put a air ticket in my hand and we headed off to Boca Raton, Florida, to spend a week together. I owed it to Teresa because I had been isolated (in mind and body, at least) for a month doing my yoga teacher training at Thrive Yoga. Now Teresa got her chance to get my exclusive attention.
Of course, there were other complications. The week before, I came down with acute bronchitis, which kept me pretty debilitated and hoarse for most of a week. I had to give up yoga classes. Even when I was in Florida, my breathing was wheezing whenever I did anything too strenuous. I had to be careful doing my restorative practice in the evening because I felt the phlegm bubbling in my chest when I was laying down, and it would frequently provoke coughing. Luckily, I was still able to walk around so that was our main activity in Boca Raton. There were lots of jellyfish just off the shore, which discouraged us from spending a lot of time in the water. On our last day, the winds and tides seemed to clear waters of the jellyfish so we could spend more time swimming. Continue reading An anniversary, illness, injury and spiritual practice→
Tara Brach is a psychologist and teacher on Buddhist meditation. She is the founder and senior teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, a spiritual community that practices Vipassana meditation.
The Washington PostMeditation guru Tara Brach is calm eye of Washington’s stress-filled storm
Listening that night would be far more than the 300 people in the room. Brach’s talks are downloaded free nearly 200,000 times each month by people in more than 150 countries. Strangers write from around the world to say her words have saved them from committing suicide or relapsing into drugs. Government contractors who parachute into the District plan trips around her class. One devotee last year gave her newborn son the middle name Brach.
What am I reading now? Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves by Sharon Begley (Ballantine Books, 2007). Although this title might sound like one of those self-improvement guides that offers to trim the thighs or make you a cool million in a weekend, it is actually a really deep piece of scientific writing. Begley, whom I used to know decades ago when she worked for Newsweek, is the science columnist for The Wall Street Journal. She has tapped into a fascinating story of pioneering research by neuroscientists and psychologists about what we understand as the human brain. But she also joins this narrative with the strange marriage with Buddhism as personified by the Dalai Lama. The nerds meet the holy man.
The sanctuary of this union is a place called the Mind and Life Institute, which actually holds the copyright on the book — so Begley is part of a larger enterprise. It’s also curious why the scientists who need to draw the Dalai Lama into the discussion. But I haven’t really gotten that far in the book.
This whole groundswell of enthusiasm for Buddhism, mindfulness and meditation is sweeping into the business of tending to the mind. If Freud once laid down the law for understanding the contradictions of the human mind, now it’s a spiritual practice without a supreme being. I’ve mentioned before that I like the idea that Buddha developed a sophisticated set of psychological protocols for relieving with human suffering.
What got me started into the book is that the transformation of human spirit can be manifested by remolding mental habits, but also actually alterations of physical manifestations, like spawning neurons and a thriving hippocampus. As someone who has felt the undertow of depression and literally sensed the physical change that it brought on me, the idea that I can take action to heal myself is an uplifting lesson at this stage of my life.