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Notes from the Venerable Guo Xing’s Presentation on the Science behind Meditation Practice

Venerable Guo Xing, Abbot of the Dharma Drum Retreat Center and the Chan Meditation Center in New York, graciously accepted an invitation from our Chan Meditation Community at 401, Burrard to give a presentation on the science behind meditation practice. Twenty-six of our colleagues from Environment Canada, CEAA and Fisheries and Oceans Canada gathered to enjoy his lunchtime presentation on Thursday, September 5.

Referring to several scientific studies that have demonstrated positive health benefits in meditation practitioners, he spoke of the longer life expectancy for cancer patients who practiced meditation and also of the mental health benefits of meditation practice for people who suffer from depression. He specifically mentioned the Massachusetts General Hospital, where the Benson-Henry Institute operates a stress management clinic that includes meditation and mind/body connection awareness programs that have produced noticeable improvements in mood, ability to sleep, chronic pain management and general well-being.

Venerable Guo Xing emphasized the importance of living in the present, to help alleviate our suffering by focusing our consciousness on the present moment instead of worrying about the past, wasting our energy interacting with wandering thoughts from memories of past events that we can’t change. He spoke of the distorted concept of the self, which causes suffering, limits our compassion and impedes our progress towards enlightenment. He cautioned us about allowing previous negative interactions to influence future situations, creating unhappy relationships based on past memories of experiences instead of approaching each new interaction and every new day as an opportunity to adjust our attitude and thereby improve our relationships, increase our compassion and attain true happiness.

He also spoke in-depth about “intention” and “attention” and the importance of paying attention to our intentions as we make choices that impact not only our lives, but also the lives of those with whom we interact. Chan practice is itself a path of self-awareness, self-discipline and self-transformation that happens as we move from subjective distorted perceptions and affliction into a liberating way of experiencing everything as interconnected. The Venerable Guo Xing introduced the concept of the dustless mirror, whereby we reflect on rather than attach to our thoughts and worldly phenomenon. He suggested that we practice keeping 90% of our attention focused internally, calming our bodies and our minds, and only allowing 10% of our attention to focus on external stimulus to reduce the impact of negative emotions and reactions, which will help us to keep our bodies relaxed and our minds at peace. Emphasizing that we all possess the full potential for perfect wisdom and compassion, he reiterated how important it is to practice meditation diligently to help enable us to reach our full potential.

(Prepared by Shelley Schnurr)

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