MEDITATION IN THE MOUNTAINS – Finding your heart center
Close your eyes and take three deep breaths.
Now take an elevator ride down from your head to your heart.
Imagine you can breathe through your heart.
This is the foundation of Carol Mann’s heart-centered meditation that drew more than 50 people to Inversion’s yoga studio on the eve of Valentine’s Day.
Mann, whose “Cosmic Cafe” radio broadcasts and online audience has grown to 18,000 worldwide, began her free meditation circles last summer. Ever since, she has had a steady group of 30 plus people, from high school boys to 70-year-olds looking to elevate their consciousness from within.
“We are lucky to live in a very conscious town,” Mann said. “The good news is that meditation is thousands of years old. Our souls live in our hearts and are the key to opening up a new world with the knowledge of the past and a hope for the future that comes from love.”
It is only within the last decade or so that the practice of meditation has reached a critical mass in the Tetons with the help of women’s circles, silent retreats, Buddhist teachings, yoga and Native American ceremonies drawn to the energy of this magnetic place.
Daniela Botur brought the crystal sound bowls she learned to play in Tepotzlan, Mexico back to Jackson two years ago and has led dozens of guided meditations including one at the Lakota Nation’s World Peace and Prayer Day last summer.
“When you come together with a common intention and create a sacred space in an environment that is conducive to meditation, crystal sound bowls help bring you into an alpha state,” Botur said.
She was one of five wise women, including Mann, Lyn Dalebout, Nancy Alfs, and Dee Elle who led a solstice celebration at the Old Wilson Schoolhouse on 12/21/12, the day Nostradamus and others said the world was going to end. When my eight-year-old son came home with a sign that said “The world is not going to end,” and told me “we are all going to get smarter,” I was heartened to think that we are shifting as a community. The wise women said the revelation that the world is not flat is like the revelation that meditation will bring to elevate people’s awareness. Perhaps the world is the shape of a heart. We just can’t see those nuances in its surface yet.
In this place some of us are lucky to call home, the water-colored shadows of the Tetons are inspirational on a daily basis.
“The heart allows us to access other dimensions,” Mann said during her meditation. “The beauty of nature is aligning for people. Being in nature is one way to connect with your heart and express unconditional love with kids, pets and nature.”
“From my open human heart, I choose love,” is Mann’s mantra. And I have to say it works to ease the pain of life, even for a fidgety soul like mine, who would rather be in a moving meditation at yoga than sitting criss, cross, applesauce.
Mann’s daughter, Ariel, who is certified in Maui yoga, sees no difference between what she and her mom do.
“The beach in the winter is a nice place to be listening to the waves in the beginning and end of class,” she said, adding that she gets more and more requests for meditation after the traditional resting period called shavasana at the end of her yoga classes. “I always encourage people to take the time to be in stillness because that is where the magic happens.”
But meditating in a group once a week is not going to get you that far, said Dr. David Schlim, a travel medicine doctor who teaches Buddhist principles brought back from 15 years of study with his teacher, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, in Nepal.
Schlim, who recently was in the news offering gratitude to the people who rescued him after he suffered a heart attack on Teton Pass while backcountry skiing, said it was in that moment of suffering that all of his lessons gelled.
“The goal in life is to not be so blindsided by everything that happens,” he said. “I met Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s father who is also a great llama when he was having a massive heart attack. I was amazingly impressed with the fact that he had no fear at all. I finally connected with that when I had a heart attack. I wasn’t really afraid at all. I’ve worked in clinics where I’ve treated 400,000 people and seen how scared they are. I found that practicing meditation, I was able to handle things.”
Schlim said an opportunity like he had to sit down for daily tea, establish a personal relationship with a Buddhist monk and learn about compassion, is rare these days. But finding a personal teacher to guide your practice, recite texts and visualize is the best way to practice meditation, he said. “I spend about an hour and a half reading, reflecting and meditating.”
On most Tuesdays at 6 p.m., he offers a class by donation at the Teton Sangha. He often hears a lot of excuses why people don’t have time to meditate.
“Think about it,” he said. “You always find the time to do the stuff you are most interested in. The idea of this philosophy is to make you genuinely interested. If you get to this point that you want to do it, then it is easy.”
It is the focus of a teenage boy like Jack Hessler who has been to several of Carol Mann’s group meditations that helped me to see there is a real shift going on in this town.
“People get so consumed with materialistic life, they don’t realize we are humans having a divine experience,” he said, “We need to take a step back and look at the big picture.”
He may be laughing while he is waxing poetic about why he meditates, but he gets it.
Whether your teacher is your parent like Hessler and Ariel Mann or your connection to nature like mountain guide and author Tom Turiano, there are thousands of ways to meditate.
“When I’m skinning I focus on my breathing and rhythm. I would say that is an opportune moment,” Turiano said. “I’m not a sitter. In two or three moments when I check in, go inside, and sense what my body’s feeling. To me its about giving myself love.”
Turiano, an avid yogi and outdoorsman, is one of dozens of local practitioners who have completed a Deeksha training and learned how to give blessings as well as receive them.
“There is more than just quieting your mind,” he said. “It is also about connecting to your divine source and establishing a personal relationship. Growing up Catholic, they always said establish a personal relationship with Jesus.”
In order to give a Deeksha blessing, Turiano puts his hand on someone’s head and shares the love he has cultivated. There is no religious bent, he said, but a way to clear past traumas with a relationship to your essence. That essence can be God, Buddha or just the other.
Meditation can be achieved with sound, touch or silence.
Marcia Craighead, a founder of Teton Sangha, began meditating in the early ’90s with her women’s circle when she was going through a divorce.
“Instead of trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, I wanted to understand what was going on inside,” she said.
Paul Simon sings there are 50 ways to leave your lover, and Buddha teaches 84,000 lessons on how to meditate.
Craighead chose Buddhist-oriented Vipassana or insight meditation and facilitates a silent retreat taught by John Travis who has been coming to Jackson from the Mountain Stream Meditation Center in the Sierra foothills of California since 1997 to offer his teachings.
“It’s not easy because it’s simple,” Craighead said. “We are very complicated in how we think things should be. Human beings make things complex. We create territories, belief systems, protection systems. It’s kind of how wars and difficulties in relationships begin. It takes training to teach how this operating system works.”
While Craighead brings her meditative training to her work as the executive director of the Teton Wellness Institute, her teacher, Travis, lives off the Dana or donations that people offer for his teachings.
Since teachings are precious, the business side of meditation is tricky. It is not like yoga where there is a fee for service. But donations are accepted at Deeksha blessings, Buddhist classes at the Sangha and silent retreats to offset the cost of the space, the food at a retreat or to support teachers like Travis.
Trusting that the value of what is taught will be returned is a quintessential part of giving, Craighead said.
Judging by the number of books written by cancer survivors and jilted lovers traveling to exotic places seeking answers, the business of self-help is thriving. Americans spent more than $11 billion on self-improvement books, CDs and online programs in 2008, according to Marketdata Enterprises. The yoga industry nets somewhere in the $6.5 billion range, according to market data analysis by IBISworld. Both industries are growing at double-digit rates.
Samantha Strawbridge Eddy leads free meditations and community programs from Spirit, a bookstore dedicated to meditative books and gifts in Wilson that she was called to open.
“When I was inspired to open Spirit, I had just completed a silent meditation retreat with Adyashanti,” Eddy said. “I went into this bookstore and I said ‘Ah, I love these places.’ They meet everyone exactly where they are.
“The thing that has been most important about it is the community service. It has been awesome to see people’s appreciation. As far as a revenue generator, there’s promise. I’d love for one to balance the other. But everyone says a new business takes time.”
If meditation is 2,500 years old, and Western communities like ours are just catching on, maybe there is an opportunity to create a new system where the benefits of meditation outweigh the economic perils.
“The good news is that various techniques work,” Carol Mann said. “The bad news is, once it becomes a business it becomes a badness. I want it to be available to people. That’s my form of community service.”