Why You Should Pay Spiritual Teachers Well

At some point, I don’t know where or when, I picked up the idea that spiritual teachers should teach for free, that if a spiritual teacher charged money, then it was no longer spiritual. Like I said, I don’t know where this idea came from, but it seems to be a prevalent one in this society. And it’s wrong.

Spiritual teachers teach freedom. They don’t teach for free.

In the old days, students paid for their spiritual education with food, clothing, or lodging for the teacher without the teacher having to ask. In other words, it was common knowledge that they were to take care of the spiritual teacher’s physical needs.

In The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (Atthakanagara Sutta: Sutta 52) we read:

“Venerable sir, these sectarians will seek a teacher’s fee for their teachers; why shouldn’t I make an offering to the venerable Ananda?”
Then the householder Dasama of Atthakanagara assembled the Sangha of bhikkhus from from Pataliputta and Vasali, and with his own hands he served and satisfied them with various kinds of good food. He presented a pair of cloths to each bhikkhu, and he presented a triple robe to the venerable Ananda, and he had a dwelling worth five hundred built for the venerable Ananda.

Somehow, this concept has been lost. Perhaps people think spiritual teachers do not eat? And they all run around naked? And sleep in the street? Maybe they forgot these things can be taken care of easily with money. I don’t know.

If we consider advanced spiritual teachers, there is nothing holding them here — other than their students. The teacher’s ego is just a sliver allowing human interaction, and even that is known to be an illusion for the benefit of the student. In meditation, the heart slows and the breath stops. What is there to bring the teacher back from the sublime state beyond thought and words, beyond the body?

Even the cries and pleas of the people who are suffering is known to be an illusion. But when a student calls to the teacher and says, “please stay, please teach me, I will support your body if you will support my practice,” then the teacher pauses. This willingness to give in exchange for spiritual teachings is a vital first step towards Liberation.River-danube-65965_1280

Yes, the river of Enlightenment flows freely – anyone can reach down to drink. To drink directly from a river, you must first be aware of the river, and then be able to reach down the side of the bank with your hands. Even then, you’ll only get a few sips at a time. (Of course, you could jump in the river, but those rare individuals have already traveled the Path.)

What a benefit to meet someone on the river of Enlightenment who has a cup, and can reach down, fill the cup and hand it to you! Isn’t that worth payment?

There’s no need for them to stay in one place, handing out their cup to passersby. They see the river, and know anyone can reach down into it. But if someone offers to take care of them, so they can offer the cup to those who are thirsty, then they will stay as long as it benefits the one taking care of them.

Now we can talk about how some teachers have cups that are cleaner, or more pure, than others, but that’s an entirely different topic. There is no doubt some teachers are more adept at sharing spiritual truth and some are more adept at marketing. However, it’s up to each student to use their discrimination to find the best cup for them.

The point remains, when you pay your spiritual teacher well, it inspires them to stay and teach the Path of Freedom. More importantly, it benefits the student. Remember, the teacher has all they need. For the body to fall away is of little consequence to the teacher, but has great ramifications for the students.

Initially, by paying the teacher, the student learns to give in exchange for something of perceived value. It’s a simple transaction, like buying a meal to nourish your body. If the student puts the teachings into practice, they begin to see there is much more going on.

Purchasing a meal provides more benefit than your own nourishment: It allows the waiter, the cook, and the restaurant owner to earn a living. It allows the delivery truck, the farmer and everyone in between to pay their bills. The simple act of buying your food creates a cascade effect that affects hundreds, if not thousands of lives. The same is true when you pay your spiritual teacher.

By supporting your teacher, the teachings and energy they transmit to you ripples through you into this world. They are able to reach thousands, if not millions, of suffering people and give them a glimpse of freedom through the words, actions, and power they share simply by living here.

And if you pay the Teacher well, then they can conserve the energy they would have spent purifying their food, clothing, and shelter by being able to provide for their physical needs with things that are not as abrasive. (If you’re not sure what I mean, spend a few nights in a run-down motel in the rough part of a city, and then visit a 5-star resort. Then compare your energy levels, how you feel mentally, physically, and what you feel capable of doing.) This extra energy can then be used to benefit the students in an even greater capacity.

In short, if you’re ready to make leaps and bounds in your spiritual practice, and not just skate by from day to day, then drop the wrong view that spiritual teachers teach for free.

Remember the truth: Spiritual Teachers teach Freedom, and you should pay them well.

 

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Jenna

 

Improve Your Brain in 2 Weeks

The benefits of meditation are best discovered through personal experience. When done correctly, meditation brings clarity, joy, and peace. Through consistent practice, the mind becomes stronger and we are able to handle the constant changes life brings with greater ease and grace.

man-meditating-481796_1280The studies have shown these positive effects can be experienced in just two weeks with a small investment of as little as five minutes a day. Western science is proving what practitioners have known since ancient times: Meditation reduces the cognitive decline that occurs with aging, it decreases stress, and it helps us process information at a faster rate. The daily practice of meditation also activates the parts of the brain associated with learning, memory, and emotional regulation. In essence meditation helps us become smarter and happier, and keeps both our brain and our relationships with ourselves and others healthy.woman-meditating-596415_1280

While I would suggest you explore meditation and find the truth of these claims through your own practice, sometimes it inspires us to read about others. If you’re still on the fence about investing time into meditation, or perhaps you’re simply having a rough day, these 8 articles and studies can help remind you of the power behind sitting in silent mind.

Although the research is still in its infancy, there are thousands of studies being done about how meditation affects the brain and our sense of well-being. Here are just a few samples of what’s been published.

Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation

Pagnoni G., Cekic M.

These findings suggest that the regular practice of meditation may have neuroprotective effects and reduce the cognitive decline associated with normal aging. Read the study:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17655980

 

Eight weeks to a better brain

By Sue McGreevey

The Harvard Gazette reports on a meditation study that shows meditation appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress after only eight weeks. Read the article:
http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/01/eight-weeks-to-a-better-brain/

 

Evidence builds that meditation strengthens the brain, UCLA researchers say

By Mark Wheeler

Research suggests that meditation strengthens the connections between brain cells, allows the brain to process information faster and increases the ability to adapt to environmental changes. Read the article:
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/evidence-builds-that-meditation-230237

 

Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering

Michael D. Mrazek, Michael S. Franklin, Dawa Tarchin Phillips, Benjamin Baird, Jonathan W. Schooler

After a two week study, results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with wide-reaching consequences. Read the study:
http://pss.sagepub.com/content/24/5/776

 

The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter

Eileen Luders, Arthur W. Toga, Natasha Lepore, and Christian Gaser

Although the systematic study of meditation is still in its infancy, research has provided evidence for meditation-induced improvements in psychological and physiological well-being. Moreover, meditation practice has been shown not only to benefit higher-order cognitive functions but also to alter brain activity. Read the study:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184843/

 

Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density

Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazara

The results suggest that participation in meditation is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking. Read the study:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/

 

Change in Brainstem Gray Matter Concentration Following a Mindfulness-Based Intervention is Correlated with Improvement in Psychological Well-Being

Omar Singleton, Britta K. Hölzel, Mark Vangel, Narayan Brach, James Carmody, and Sara W. Lazar

A follow up of the above study, showed individuals can improve their levels of psychological well-being (PWB) through utilization of psychological interventions, including the practice of mindfulness meditation, which is defined as the non-judgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.  Read the study:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3927233/

 

Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy

Eileen Luders, Nicolas Cherbuin and Florian Kurth

The findings of this study seem to suggest less age-related gray matter atrophy in long-term meditation practitioners. Read the study:
http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551/full

RetrainYourBrain mindset-743167_1280

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Jenna

 

Morning Smile

Every night my body turns and turns and turns, hunting for a comfortable position. Exhaustion finally takes over, and I drift off to sleep… for about twenty minutes. Then the turning begins again. At dawn, the sunlight wakes me from my half-asleep, somewhat restful state. And I smile.sun-32198_1280-smile

It’s not every morning that I want to smile, but I smile anyway. I have learned I cannot control my body, but I can control my mind. This knowledge has freed me from suffering. Especially on the tough days when I really want to wallow, if I plaster a smile on my face when the light hits my eyes, everything shifts.

My body will hurt; it’s been this way for nearly 20 years, so I don’t expect it to stop, although I would welcome the absence of pain. Even when the pain is intense, the smile opens the mind to so much more than the physical experience of tired and sore bodies. While physical pain is part of my world, so is the absence of suffering.

The smile may leave my face after I climb out of bed, but it remains inside me. I feel the bliss of eternity wash through me throughout the day, and the world looks beautiful.

In my book, Peace with Pain, there’s a chapter called Smile Before Sleeping. It’s a great technique to learn mindfulness. But now I want to encourage you to Smile Upon Waking and notice how your world changes.

Smiling gets easier the more you do it. Your face remembers how wonderful it feels, to stretch your lips and raise your cheeks. With continued practice, smiling becomes a powerful habit. Then the smile appears even when you are distracted.

Of course, it helps to meditate every day as well. Even a few minutes of silence can melt years of conditioning that was built on misery. While you are meditating, you may notice the smile appearing spontaneously. These are my favorite types of smiles, when the mind stops and the facial muscle cannot help but express the Joy beyond thought.

At whatever stage you’re at, starting your day with a morning smile can transform your whole world. Don’t take my word for it, try it, right now.

 

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Jenna

 

Date with a Giant

When we planned the retreat to Lake Tahoe, a few of us decided to drive there from Southern California. As plans came together, I kept getting a quiet yet persistent nudge that I needed to make a stop along the way. I examined a map and felt the call clearly: I needed to see a Giant.

Fortunately, the students who drove me were willing to indulge me in a 3-hour detour on the way home from Lake Tahoe. We took a left in Fresno and climbed the mountains into Sequoia National Park. Following the signs, we made our way to Grants Grove.

The Giants towered above us, but I did not see my Giant. It felt wonderful to be surrounded by my ancient friends in the crisp late-afternoon air. We sauntered along the walkway, until we came to a small path that led away from the crowd of tourists.

We followed it up a hill to a clearing where a log stretched out like a bench, inviting us to sit in meditation. As we sat in silence, the sounds of the children playing and squealing below faded away. I gazed at the hillside across from us. A wavy light appeared, covering the hillside, as if I was looking through a pool of water that had been touched. Ripples flowed out from the center, revealing a door into another world.

After the meditation, I asked the two students what they had seen. One of them could only smile. The other said, “I saw a dimension.”

“Yes,” I replied. “But what did it look like?”

She described the ripples of light, exactly as I had witnessed.

It’s always fun to have confirmation of our experiences in the non-physical world. For a moment I thought we had found what we needed to see, but then I felt that same quiet calling from my ancient Giant friend.

GrantGrove1We headed back to the main trail and it split. An unmistakable force pulled me to the left. As we rounded a corner, I instantly recognized my Giant. On the surface, he looks like all the other Giant Sequoias, but I could feel him calling for a hug.

I turned off the main path and headed toward the Giant. One my students, stunned by my sudden speed, stopped to snap a few pictures. The pictures revealed a shower of light pouring down on me and my ancient friend.GrantGrove3

As soon as I hugged the tiny part of the tree I could get my arms around, I felt power surge through me. Exquisite love and renewal is the only way I can attempt to describe it. Weeks later, I still feel it.

Gifts from Mother Earth and Eternity are given freely; however we need to be open and receptive to their call. The next time you feel that gentle tug, that inspiration to go somewhere, even if it’s a little out of your way, I highly recommend you follow it.

You can read about our adventures in Lake Tahoe in my previous post, Retreat and Return.

 

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Jenna

Retreat and Return

As practitioners who live and work in the world, it is important for us to take time to retreat. This month a small group of eight made the journey to Lake Tahoe where we shared a retreat house. As the excitement from the day of travel through freezing rain and snow dissipated, we settled into our rooms before cooking dinner together. The outside world of our individual lives and cares were all left behind. After dinner, we entered into meditation and let the light do with us whatever it would. This is what retreat is all about: the letting go of the old so the new can blossom.

During times of retreat, a clearing away occurs. By stepping away from the worlds we have worked so hard to create, we free ourselves from the attachments that can bind us in misery. We step into retreat knowing we will eventually return, yet we do not know exactly who we will be when we get back. That is part of the mystery of self-discovery.

The first morning at the house brought with it snow, rain, and Stellar Jays enjoying the Jays20150515_083816peanuts on the deck offered by one of the members of the retreat house. The inclement weather caused our retreat leader to throw out the itinerary – morning yoga on the lawn didn’t sound inviting under the cold rainy skies – so we improvised by meditating in the warmth of the great room and watching the continuation of the Stellar Jay peanut competition. In the afternoon, we donned our warmest raincoats and headed out to see the majestic lake.

dirtpathP1030539We made a brief stop and map check at Bliss State Park before finding Inspiration Point. The beauty of the lake made us smile as the wind ripped through us. A dirt path across the street beckoned, so we wandered beneath the pines. Small, wet snowflakes fell and I felt a warm hug from the mountain earth. At one point we came to a cross-road with a sign: Desolation or Crystal Lake. Turing away from Desolation, we opted for Crystal Lake. The path became rocky and steep, so we stopped for one last picture before heading back to the warmth of the retreat house and another huge and delicious group meal.

The weather cleared the next day, allowing us to walk on a rocky beach along the gentle lapping shore of Lake Tahoe. Although an occasional car would speed by, there was an incredible stillness permeating the area. A pair of geese Geese20150516_135709swimming raced by us as we took pictures of the ever-changing clouds and ripples on the water. We were reminded of Rama’s talk on Magic that he recorded in Lake Tahoe and how he considered geese the symbol of the Seeker.

Although our activities were simple and ordinary on the surface and we ate a ton of food, throughout the retreat each one of us opened to the immensity of Eternity. I felt our bond as seekers within our Lineage grow deeper; a sense of support and community filled my heart with joy. I also felt great freedom and peace knowing all of my brothers and sisters on the path are moving towards Light at their own pace and in their own way.

On my return to the world, endless waves of gratitude pour through me. I am thankful for this body and the ability to practice meditation, for the teachers I have met along the way, and for the company of the holy who shared their weekend with me in retreat.

 

Need to Retreat? Dharma Center plans a variety of retreats for members. Group Retreats are a fun time of community and sharing, and an opportunity for powerful transformation. Please visit www.DharmaCenter.com to learn more about the benefits of Membership.

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Jenna

Two Techniques for Silence

My elbow has not quite healed, so instead of writing, I’ve taken a clip from my class on Saturday and turned it into a short video for you. (In case you’re wondering, apparently I have tennis elbow, even though I don’t play tennis. Well, occasionally, I’ll play Wii tennis, but I haven’t in quite a while. The elbow is much better, but not done healing yet.)

Enjoy!

 

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Iridescent Sand

Whether I am sitting on boulders overlooking the valley, on a cliff above the badlands, or JennaDesertViewTowerin a sandy wash, I love the desert. There is a certain type of power in the desert that cuts through the clutter of the mind and dissolves everything. Perhaps it is the harsh environment, where the sun can burn unprotected skin within minutes and the wind can dehydrate you before you realize you are thirsty, that keeps the human aura at bay. For most people, the desert is not the first choice of vacation destinations. But for those of us who seek silence and unity with God, the desert is the perfect place.

Before you run off to visit the cacti and sand, know the desert is a dangerous place. It’s very easy to get lost, as much of the terrain looks the same and each hill looks closer than it actually is. There are creatures out there who have made this challenging environment their home, and they will defend it if they feel threatened. And of course there are different types of energy found in this desolate place. Some areas will make you feel very open and empowered, while others will drain the life out of you. A journey to the desert is not to be taken as a causal romp. As with any adventure into Power, it is best to find a qualified guide who will take you to the places that will provide the most benefit for your current state.

Desert Road - IMG_1685A group of us from Dharma Center traveled to the desert this past weekend. We went out Friday evening before sunset and experienced a wonderful general cleansing while sitting above the badlands. As the light of the sun disappeared, a black void emerged at the edge of the cliff. Even with powerful flashlights, all light was swallowed up by the darkness. In silence we sat enveloped by the deep desert night. Stars dotted the sky, becoming thicker and thicker as the night progressed. Wind washed through us, clearing away all of the internal debris that comes from living in a city.

On Saturday night, we entered the sandy wash shortly after sunset. In our 4-wheel Jeeps, we drove a mile or two in, away from the road and from the last remnants of civilization. Then we walked until Lakshmi, our leader for the evening, found the just right spot for meditation. We sat in stillness as the sky grew completely dark. A bright planet danced for us while we watched the sky with silent minds. After meditation, we ate our sandwiches; food always seems to taste better in the middle of nowhere. We digested for a while, and then moved on to a new place to sit.

As we walked under the star-filled sky, I noticed how bright the sand was shining. It seemed strange; the only other time I had seen it this bright in the Gorge was during a full moon. Once we sat down again, I scanned the sky, searching for the moon that must be casting the light, but there was no moon that evening. The only source of light was the stars hanging in the sky. We dissolved into meditation once again. I watched as the others in our group seemed to disappear and meld with the desert landscape. A small shooting star raced by, followed by a brighter meteor that left a wide streak of silver.

When we began talking, I asked the others if they noticed how iridescent the sand was. They said it seemed bright, but didn’t think much about it, even though we didn’t need our flashlights to see our backpacks and the ground as we normally did on a moonless night. We spoke about our questions for Eternity, and some found answers. My question for Rama, my teacher, was: how could I see him or God? The quiet knowing in my mind reminded me I see the Divine in every set of eyes I encounter. I whined about how I still missed Rama’s physical form, while knowing at the same time how ridiculous my whining was because in truth we are united. How could I possibly miss something that is always here?

We entered into silent meditation once again, and once again the world around us dissolved. As I sat in the stillness with open eyes, a golden mist surrounded us. Immediately I recognized it. The same thick, golden light emanated from Rama each time we sat with him. Not only did it look the same, it felt the same. Instantly I was viscerally transported into the presence of the Divine. My wish fulfilled. The feeling remains with me even now.

Eventually, the meditation ended and the golden light dissipated. However, even when it was time to leave, we walked on iridescent sand, glowing with its own light.

 

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Why Meditate?

Things rarely go the way we plan. Last week the weather forecast called for a calm, wind-free day. So a friend of mine and I went to beautiful Coronado beach to make a short video called “Why Meditate” for you.JennaonBeach

Once we started filming, the wind kicked up. Although the background is gorgeous, all you can hear on the soundtrack is the wind racing across the microphone. The next day, we tried again at Dharma Center. In two takes, it seemed like we had a great video. I uploaded it to the computer and discovered at some point the camera tilted, so viewers have a wonderful shot of my nostrils. So rather than post a video of me talking down my nose while you look up it, I’m writing instead. Don’t worry, we’ll try the video again, because as you know, three times is a charm!

Let me get right into it: Why Meditate?

If you’re like most people, you’re very busy. You have a huge pile of things you need to do just to maintain your life. And then you have another long list, perhaps tucked away, of fun things you want to explore in this big magnificent world. Between the two, who has time to sit and do nothing?

The truth is, most people don’t have time to meditate. However, the successful people, those who are at the top of their field, have made time to do some type of meditation. They may not call it that, but at some point each and every day, they stop and let their mind rest in silence.

Meditation allows us to access the eternal part of our being, completely changing our perspective. Sitting in silence lets us experience unreasonable joy and a peace deeper than anything we can imagine. This time spent with our true self recharges and refreshes us and lets us find the play of existence.

Besides these ephemeral and difficult to describe states, even just the practice of learning how to meditate brings wonderful benefits to our lives. Our ability to focus and concentrate improves, along with our memory and ability to learn new things. There is an increase in our sense of well-being, self-esteem, and our overall awareness. And it gives us what every extremely busy person needs most: meditation decreases anxiety and stress.

Ancient yogis and yoginis have known about all of the benefits of meditation for thousands of years. In our modern world, we don’t want to take someone’s word for it; we want scientific studies. If you’re not ready to devote time each day to sit in meditation, then peruse a few of the articles below and perhaps that will inspire you to give this most excellent gift of meditation to yourself.

When you’re ready to learn more, come find me or another teacher at Dharma Center.

Here’s just a few of the articles that point to the studies that have been done:

Forbes: 7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change the Brain by Alice G. Walton

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/

Harvard Gazette: Eight Weeks to a Better Brain by Sue McGreevey

http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/01/eight-weeks-to-a-better-brain/

Huffington Post: The Daily Habit of these Outrageously Successful People by Carolyn Gregoire

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/05/business-meditation-executives-meditate_n_3528731.html

Body Mind Soul Spirit: This Buddhist Monk Shows Unheard of Brain Activity During Meditation by Rachel Nuwer

http://www.bodymindsoulspirit.com/this-buddhist-monk-shows-unheard-of-brain-activity-during-meditation/

If you are not in San Diego, you can learn how to start your own meditation and mindfulness practice from my book, “Peace with Pain: Your Guide to Life in a Malfunctioning Body,” available in paperback and Kindle.

 

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