The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration, and Meditation - Introduction

Ancient Skills for Modern Minds, Revised Edition


304 pages, 6 x 9 inches


ISBN 9780861713493

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eBook Bundle (PDF, epub, mobi)


ISBN 9780861719693

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Awakening Our Full Potential

A human being is part of the whole called by us “universe,“ a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty…. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.
—Albert Einstein

In each of our lives there have been times when we have experienced a deeper sense of connectedness, wholeness, and belonging than we ordinarily find. Most likely those extraordinary moments of deeper wisdom, love, and aliveness came unexpectedly. Pause for a moment to recall those special moments when you were most fully and joyfully alive…when you felt the exhilaration of performing at your best…when you allowed your heart to open to tenderly love and be loved…when you were in the flow and felt in perfect harmony with the world in which you live. Recall those quintessential moments in your life and work that stand out and sparkle…those times when you really helped someone or when you really allowed someone to care for you. If we examine the qualities of our minds during these special times we will probably find that our attention was wholly focused on what was happening and that our mind and body were operating as one. Remembering and appreciating such special moments in our lives serves to remind us of what is possible.

But why are these moments so rare? Generally speaking, our attention is quite scattered—we are lost in our thoughts and only superficially in touch with the reality and intensity of our inner and outer experiences. Our minds are so infrequently calm and clear enough to discern the play of inspiration and revelation that are a natural, though very subtle, part of our lives. How many valuable insights and breakthrough ideas have we missed because the noise level in our mind-body was simply too high to discern these sublime whispers that are an ongoing function of our human life?

Similarly, we all too often wait until the whispers of tension in our bodies, our relationships, and our world become heart-wrenching screams of pain before we wake up and fully acknowledge them or attempt to restore harmony and balance. How many moments of struggle, pain, and grief— how many billions of dollars in wasted time, energy, and resources—would be saved if we, as individuals and organizations, devoted more attention to refining and developing our capabilities for inner awareness and enhanced mental development? Though our bodies are really not very different from those of our ancestors, we live in a dramatically different and infinitely more complex and demanding world. In a single day we may be challenged to respond to more information and make more decisions than one of our ancestors faced in years. Given the accelerating rate of change and uncertainty, the immensity of personal and global crises, and the staggering variety of choices and decisions that are a part of our daily life, is it any wonder that we often feel overwhelmed and frustrated?

With so may people needlessly suffering and dying from preventable stress-related diseases, millions of people are searching for wiser, kinder, and less self-destructive ways of living in today’s world. When we consider the enormous costs incurred by our bodies, our minds, our relationships, and our environment, it is no surprise that so many people are seeking to increase their resilience, deepen their wisdom, and get in touch with life-affirming forces. It is no shock that skills in relaxation, concentration, and meditation are being more widely embraced as vital for enhancing the quality of our health, work, relationships, and peace of mind.

 Developing the Mind

The greatest revolution in our generation is the discovery that human beings by changing the inner attitudes of their minds can change the outer aspects of their lives.
—William James

While many people regard the state of their mind as an unalterable condition, the world’s ancient contemplative traditions and modern cognitive sciences have demonstrated that through proper training and discipline, we can radically enhance the quality of our attention, emotional intelligence, creativity, and intuitive intelligence. The development of these and other mental capabilities offers an advantage for increasing our resilience, health, vitality, effectiveness, and well-being in complex times like these.

Through training, individuals are capable not only of improving their health, but of enhancing creativity and creative problem-solving, extending the length and quality of their lives, awakening greater empathy and compassion, and expanding the scope of their contribution to the world. The multiple and complex dilemmas of modern life represent a need, and the inner sciences of mind-body development offer a variety of profoundly practical and compassionate solutions. Once learned, these inner skills are generative, self-reinforcing, inexpensive, portable, reliable, easily valuable, diffusible, and value-adding in virtually every personal and professional situation.

We don’t understand the operations of our minds and hence we don’t operate them very well.
Charles Tart

To accomplish the inner work we must rely upon the primary tool of our own body-mind. This is a universal tool of infinite potential. With it we create and guide the use of all other tools. Yet, growing up, in school or on the job, few of us have learned even the most basic skills to ensure its optimal performance, maintenance, and fine-tuning.

Consider, did our parents, teachers, health care providers, or clergy ever teach you techniques to let go of stress and tension, to harness and focus the power of your mind, or to gain deep insight through meditation? Did they themselves practice or even appreciate the value of these skills? Most likely not. Lacking such fundamental human training, we in modern times, have much to learn from the traditional inner sciences of mind.

In this century, human knowledge is extremely expanded and developed but this is mainly knowledge of the external world…. We spend a large amount of the best human brain power looking outside—too much, and it seems we do not spend adequate effort to look within, to think inwardly…. Perhaps now that the Western sciences have reached down into the atom and out into the cosmos finally to realize the extreme vulnerability of all life and value, it is becoming credible, even obvious, that the Inner Science is of supreme importance. Certainly physics designed the bombs, biology the germ warfare, chemistry the nerve gas and so on, but it will be the unhealthy emotions of individuals that will trigger these horrors. These emotions can only be controlled, reshaped, and rechanneled, by technologies developed from successful Inner Science.
The Dalai Lama

Tools for Inner Work

For simplicity of presentation in this book, we have organized the sequence of training into three progressively more encompassing domains: dynamic relaxation, concentration, and meditation.

By mastering the art of dynamic relaxation we learn to recognize and reduce unproductive tensions, anxieties, and struggles in our inner world and in our outer lives. By learning to free ourselves from the burden of accumulated tensions and inner conflicts, we are better equipped to think more clearly, reduce distress, increase our efficiency and productivity, and generally enhance our well-being.

Mastering the inner art of concentration we learn to harness and direct the power of the mind. Transforming the chaotic agitation of our ordinary thinking into a focused beam of awareness, we are able to direct our attention wholeheartedly and productively toward whatever we do. Free from agitation and dullness, our mind grows more peaceful and more powerful. Concentration builds a coherence of mind like a laser beam of attention capable of penetrating the profound subtleties of our life and the world in which we live.

A successful practice of the powerful methods of meditation will be greatly enhanced by having learned to quiet the noise in the body through relaxation and to build power and peace of mind through concentration. Approached in this way, meditation techniques enable us to awaken the insight necessary to consciously recognize and transform the harmful or unproductive patterns of our lives, and to consciously strengthen the mind’s potential for wisdom, compassion, and creativity. And as this happens, our appreciation for the true nature and potential of ourselves and others grows; inner and outer conflicts diminish; and we become more joyful and more empowered in helping others and the world.

Finally, this book contains a fourth section that offers some additional perspectives and strategies for integrating the fine arts of relaxation, concentration, and meditation into your daily life, work, and relationships.

Relaxation, Peak Performance, and Beyond

This book is a mental-fitness manual for everyone interested in learning methods to enhance their health and performance, master stress, and deepen their appreciation of life. This is also a handbook for those who wish to understand and master these skills in order to teach them to others or to equip themselves to make a greater contribution to the world. Whatever your motivation, you will find that the ideas and techniques in this collection have been presented with an emphasis on their practical applications in our busy lives, while preserving a sense of the depth and sacredness associated with these traditional inner arts. We suggest that you explore these ideas with your intellect, contemplate their meaning and value in your heart, and test and confirm their profound practicality in the laboratory of your daily life and the playing fields of your work and relationships.

If you are primarily interested in physical relaxation or in learning to stay centered, calm, and focused amid chaos, you will find many of these techniques highly effective. If exploring the nature and potential of your mind-body is important to you, these methods will help ripen your understanding. If improving your mental and physical performance, or building healthier and more harmonious relationships, is of significance to you, there are many strategies that will help you in these arenas as well. And if you approach this inquiry with a heartfelt sense of devotion, a sincere yearning to deepen your spiritual insight and empower yourself to be of greater service to others, many of these methods will serve as a vehicle of transformation, opening doors to new dimensions of wisdom, love, and inner strength.

Field Tested

This book contains a distillation of over a hundred methods that we have found personally and professionally effective in our work with thousands of people over the past thirty years. During that time we have had the rare opportunity to train closely with many respected masters and researchers of the inner arts and sciences. From these remarkable men and women we have learned thousands of effective techniques for developing the full potential of the human mind-body. In many cases these methods have been practiced, cherished, and preserved by generations of people with inspiring results for millennia.

The contemporary renaissance of interest in matters of mental health and fitness, spirit, and consciousness has brought these methods of relaxation, concentration, and meditation out of isolated caves, remote monasteries, and foreign cultures and into the research institutions and mainstream of our modern lives. They have been scientifically studied and demonstrated to be effective at enhancing health and optimizing mental and physical performance. They are also effective antidotes to the epidemic of stress-related diseases, anxiety, hostility, dysfunctional behavior, and existential yearnings that plague so many in our complex and rapidly changing world.

For more than three decades we have relied upon these inner arts and disciplines as primary tools in our work. We’ve worked in many capacities: as mental fitness coaches for athletes and corporate peak performers; researchers investigating the nature of human consciousness; psychophysical therapists directing clinical programs in numerous medical centers, faculty members in graduate programs in medicine, psychology of consciousness, holistic health, leadership and organization design; counselors for people facing terminal illness or grieving the loss of a loved one; teachers of the contemplative arts and sciences; and as guides to many people around the globe seeking to increase their vitality and resilience. It has always been our goal to help people live and work in a more integrated, authentic, and deeply spirited way, thereby making a greater contribution to their world.

How to Get the Most from This Book

The challenges of millennia and the inspiration of the human spirit have given rise to thousands of techniques of relaxation, concentration, and meditation. Over the past twenty years we have learned, practiced, and taught others many of these methods. In the pages that follow you will find the distillation of those methods that we have found most widely effective.

We suggest that you consider this book as an investment portfolio offering you a wide range of options. Your return will depend largely upon the sincerity and continuity of your investment of attention and aspiration. Though these methods are priceless you must make a personal investment in them in order call forth the power of which these words are merely shadows. The greater your personal investment in taking these principles and techniques to heart, the greater will be your return and the more you will have to offer to the world.

There are three steps in mastering these techniques. Reading or hearing about them is the first step. Contemplating and thinking about their meaning, value, and application in your daily life is the second step. Taking the meaning and value to heart and directly applying this to your life is the third step. All of these steps are important in discovering the power and profundity of each technique. Though benefits may be immediately apparent, the real fruits of these methods will only emerge gradually as you cultivate them with sustained effort. As your practice deepens, the fruits will grow sweeter, and your appreciation of life will grow.

How long will it take to master a technique? How long would it take you to learn to master the flute or a foreign language? The key to all learning is commitment and discipline. While books, tapes, and teachers are invaluable, ultimately it is your own diligence that will assure your success. Have faith in your abilities to use these techniques. Let the difficulties and uncertainties in your life—and the beauty—provide a continual reminder of the vital importance of practicing these skills.

This book is arranged in five sections: Relaxation, Concentration, Meditation, Wisdom in Daily Life, and Meditation in the World of Work. Each of the first three sections has an introduction to the ideas and methods, a description of the guidelines for using these methods, and then the methods themselves.

We suggest that you first read the introduction and guidelines for each section. As you read, note those ideas and exercises that seem to speak most directly to you. Once you have identified them, begin to put them into practice by reading them slowly and thoughtfully. Proceed step by step to get the feeling behind the words. You may find it helpful to have a friend read the exercise to you, or to record it in your own voice to replay it at your leisure. Or you may feel inspired to change our terminology to better suit your own style or beliefs. As your familiarity with a technique grows, you will learn to progress through its various stages without needing to read or listen to the instructions. Though at first you may mentally talk yourself through an exercise, gradually cultivate the skill to move through the method as a progression of silent shifts in awareness, a series of mental images or feelings rather than mere words and concepts.

The following chart will help you to identify the techniques in this book that will speak most directly to your needs and interests.

If you are interested in…experiment with techniques on these pages

  • Flow state, peak performance, and achieving breakthrough…29, 55, 68, 101, 113, 129, 131, 134, 151, 171, 173, 180, 182, 222
  • Enhancing creativity, innovative thinking, and intuition…29, 41, 55, 64, 98, 101, 104, 108, 111, 122, 124, 127, 129, 136, 138, 144, 154, 168, 173, 180, 190, 193, 212
  • Self-empowerment…27, 35, 64, 73, 82, 96, 104, 108, 111, 113, 117, 119, 122, 124, 134, 147, 155, 157, 164, 171, 203, 208, 223, 230
  • Mastering attention…29, 53, 55, 57, 59, 61, 62, 64, 66, 68, 71, 73, 96, 98, 101, 104, 108, 111, 113, 115, 119, 124, 138, 142, 157, 164, 168, 171, 173, 190, 193, 230
  • Mastering muscular distress (such as headaches, muscle pain, aches, tics)…27, 29, 33, 35, 36, 39, 41, 44, 61, 62, 142, 217
  • Mastering mental distress (such as anxiety, worry, intrusive or repetitive thoughts)…29, 36, 39, 62, 64, 104, 108, 111, 113, 124, 134, 164
  • Mastering emotional and autonomic distress (hypertension, migraine headache, eating disorders, addictive behaviors, etc.)…36, 55, 62, 64, 96, 111, 113, 138, 144, 147, 151, 154, 157, 171
  • Opening the heart: awakening love and compassion…29, 111, 113, 144, 147, 151, 154, 157, 164, 166, 168, 171, 173, 175, 177, 180, 182, 190
  • Strategies for working with pain and enhancing healing…27, 29, 33, 35, 36, 39, 55, 101, 111, 113, 134, 136, 138, 142, 144, 151, 157, 171, 217
  • Tapping the life-giving forces of the human spirit…29, 55, 59, 96, 98, 124, 138, 144, 157, 168, 171, 173, 182, 186, 243, 249, 259, 265, 267
  • Living in Dynamic Balance…29, 53, 59, 61, 62, 68, 73, 111, 113, 127, 136, 138, 143, 144, 147, 151, 157, 164, 166, 168, 171, 173, 180, 190, 195, 203, 220, 259