Alternative States

In her book Meditation for Beginners: Techniques for Awareness, Mindfulness & Relaxation (©2002),  Dr. Stephanie Clement muses a bit about altered states of mind:

In the sixties, we thought an altered state of mind was something induced by drugs. Not that drugs are anything new; alcoholic beverages alter one’s consciousness, and they have been around since about the beginning of recorded history or longer. Opiates have been used for both medicinal and recreational purposes since the first century or earlier. Coffee and chocolate alter the brain’s chemistry, and thus the state of consciousness. Some of us are affected by the weather.

With the introduction of Hinduism and Buddhism in the West, we have incorporated some of the basic principles of mind-altering practices into our daily language. We joke about good or bad karma (a Sanskrit term). Whe we say, “Give me space,” oftentimes what we really mean is “Give me both the time and space I need to think.”

Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we alter our minds with television, the Internet, and electronic games. Using technology, we can enter a virtual reality and experience something very like the real deal. We use aromatherapy to soothe our bodies and minds. We use headphones to shut out ambient reality and to create a different one for ourselves. We have dozens of ways to tune in, tune out, and turn on.

Actually, we enter an altered state of consciousness very frequently.



“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'”  ~Isaiah 30:15

I think churches put too much emphasis on the repentance part, not enough on rest, quietness, and trust.


Seated There

Excerpt from The Svetasvatara Upanishad:

Retire to a solitary place, such as a mountain cave or a sacred spot. The place must be protected from the wind and rain, and it must have a smooth, clean floor, free from pebbles and dust. It must not be damp, and it must be free from disturbing noises. It must be pleasing to the eye and quieting to the mind. Seated there, practice meditation and other spiritual practices.

I hope everyone can find such a place.


Excerpted from Invitation to Meditation by Howard Cohn, © 2006:

In reality, you never leave the present moment. You’re always here. You’re never not here. You only imagine that you leave the present moment.

You are anchored to the present moment in three different ways. One, by your body, which contains the five senses. Whenever you feel as if you’ve slipped away from the present moment, allow each of the senses to reconnect with your immediate surroundings. Allow yourself to be immersed in the sights, textures, sounds, scents, and tastes of the present moment. As you do so– again, by simply noticing– you are aware that you are alive in the present moment.

Two, you are anchored here by your breath. With each inhale, and with each exhale, you sink more deeply into the present moment. Inhaling, you expand. Exhaling, you release. Inhaling, you experience the breath. Exhaling, you let it go. Inhaling, you settle into the body’s natural stillness. Exhaling, you gently harmonize your body and mind. Inhaling and exhaling, you are aware that you are alive in the present moment.

Three, you are anchored here by your awareness of your thoughts. Notice them as you would notice the sights and sounds around you. Notice them as you would notice a cloud passing through the sky. Notice that certain emotions may arise with certain thoughts. Don’t stop them. Don’t be afraid of them. Don’t react to them. Just notice them. Let them come and go like changing weather patterns. And in doing so, may you realize that they are just thoughts and emotions– nothing more. And in doing so, may you realize that you are still here– still anchored in the present moment.


In this excerpt from the article “Teaching Mindfulness to Young People” in the September 2016 issue of The Lions Roar, Ofuso Jones-Quartery (aka Born I Music) describes a simple exercise he uses to teach meditation to young people:

“Finger Breathing”

In this exercise, the students hold out their left hand and, with their right pointer finger, trace around each left-hand finger.  Each time they trace upward they breathe in; each time they trace downward the breathe out.  By the time they’ve done the whole left hand they’ve taken five focused breaths, then they trace in reverse to make it ten.  This is something they can practice discreetly by putting their left hands on their laps and tracing and breathing at any point in the day when they need to focus, come back to the moment, or relax.

(extra)Ordinary Moments

Excerpt from “Bowing to Each Other” (Shambhala Sun, November 2015) by Brother Phap Hai:

Recently, a practitioner asked me about the benefits of meditation.  I knew that she was hoping I would talk about dazzling lights, profound insights, or psychic powers.  Perhaps to her disappointment, I shared with her my growing sense of appreciation for the ordinary moments of my life– a cup of tea in the morning, warm sunshine, laughter.  Before, I had taken these things as a given rather than a gift.  Now as I practice more, my experience of them has become richer, deeper, and more meaningful.