My interest in meditation goes back decades. I casually dabble in the process. But I suppose, like many people I have been unaware of the broad range of approaches out there. In their new book, Be the Change – How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, Ed and Deb Schapiro wanted to reflect the diversity of viewpoints. Toward that goal, they included the thoughts of more than 100 meditation practitioners from a variety of life settings. As teachers and experts on meditation, the Schapiro's add to their knowledge and present an anecdotal look at the varied experiences of other experts through anecdotal quotes in their voices on meditation.
What is an accepted definition of meditation? In the book's foreword written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he describes meditation as "an important instrument for shaping or transforming our minds" and indicates that there are two types of meditation, analytical) and single pointed (involving resting the mind on that point). Throughout the book, readers will experience a diversity of thinking on the complexly simple practice of meditation.
In my universe as a mental health practitioner, I often recommend meditation to my clients. I consider meditation as both a parallel and an overlapping process with therapy. For example, my traditional starting point with clients is to suggest that if they focus on themselves and change the way they think about people and external events, they will create personal change, which will be expressed through their altered feelings and behaviors. However, I add the caution not to expect to control the direction of the changes outside of themselves. That is, others will respond differently, but not necessarily more favorably to them.
My special focus is with marriages and families. From the beginning when addressing parents' difficulties with their children, I typically inquire of those 'discipline determined' moms and dads as to whether they expect their 'difficult' teenagers to change, without them making adjustments in their approach. Parents, who want therapy to "fix" their child without any personal change on their part often do not return.
And although the strongest path to marriage enrichment and healing is with both partners active in therapy, frequently only one partner is willing or available to attend. I focus on the person in the room becoming who they want to be in the life they want to have. Both they and their partner will decide individually whether to share that vision. I work with clients to shift their focus from what is wrong, to how they envision their best life to be with the changes they are prepared to make.
My favorite section of this book is in Part 2, Chapter 5, Growing Roses out of Compost, which deals with the tough emotions of fear and anger. The authors do an excellent job of exposing how becoming mired in these two emotions alone defeat prospects of happy living,
Here are some key passages I found particularly relevant for healthy living.
• …we hide behind our title, profession, or religion, and become attached to the story the label creates, even introducing ourselves in terms of labels or only relating to others who identify themselves in the same way. Seeing through these illusions and being willing to give up our story is no small step. (Page 7)
• …Victor Frankl (after three years in a concentration camp and destruction of his family)… had been left with only "the last of the human freedoms, to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." (Page 10)
• Many negative emotions arise from the emphasis we place on success and achievement, which is left brain activity. (Page 13) and
• Constantly living in either the past or future limits or capacity to be in the present with what is happening now. (Page 21)
• … in stressed state, we can get irritated or overwhelmed by relatively small events… until we become upset or tense. In a relaxed state, we can view such disturbances for what they are without letting them accumulate or increase our irritation. We stayed balanced and nonjudgmental…(Page 66)
• In… self reflection, we see ourselves more clearly and can embrace ourselves just as we are. Meditation is not a cure-all; it is not going to make all of our difficulties go away… but it does enable us to rest in an inclusive acceptance of who we are. (Page 89)
• One of the greatest gifts meditation gives us is the realization that nothing stays forever, but that everything is impermanent, including emotions we do not like or want to identify with. (Page 104)
• An intimate relationship means that we are willing to let go of our defenses and be seen by another for who we are, including all of our vulnerabilities and weaknesses… intimacy means "into me you see"… (page 113)
• … rather than complaining about what the other person is doing to us, we should look at our own behavior and the effect it is having. (Page 118)
• Within each of us is a very deep longing to connect and to be truly heard… When we can be honest with another person and allow her to be herself, then we can touch a deeper place together. (Page 122 — 123)
• Loving kindness and compassion are such clear outcomes of meditation that they have now become scientifically verifiable. (Page 147)
• … we absolutely have to be at peace with what is, and we should also stand up and protest against injustice. This is the marriage of both passive and active, the coming together of being and doing. (Page 234-235)
• As meditation enables us to enter and abide in parts of the mind we rarely use, it expands us into higher states of awareness and consciousness. (Page 250)
The Schapiro's draw on their own wisdom gained through experience, study practice, and teaching of meditation. By adding numerous anecdotal quotes from experts throughout the book, they provide a broad perspective and a richness expanded beyond what they alone can provide. Yet, while the book provides valuable insights, given my reading style and attention, the format was very distracting. I felt like my attention was often being drawn to a conversation in the next room. However, what seems to be an unnecessary mental zigzag for me may be appreciated by other readers as a unique method of blending perspectives.
The final four chapters are meditation practice sections. The exercises include targeted meditations focusing on specific areas such as clear mind, breath awareness, insight, loving ourselves, forgiveness, daily check-in, and Loving kindness. Be the Change is not a guidebook instructing on how to meditate but rather the what and why of meditation. Curious readers will discover multiple pathways through which they can further pursue meditation. As for me, I plan to investigate available meditation classes.