Hi, my name is Sicco..
Meditation Freedom is here to discover and share creative ways to bring the benefits of meditation and mindfulness in daily life.
One way of doing that is by having conversations with folks like meditation teachers and long-time practitioners of various wisdom paths and traditions and find out why they chose to practice meditation and mindfulness.
This site contains resources, tools, links, encouragement, and community. I believe that meditation and mindfulness are great tools for cultivating awareness and attention, which can lead to understanding and working (even if you’re not into religion) with stress, alienation, anger, dissatisfaction, depression, overwhelm, haste, and all kinds of other suffering and afflictions.
Take one look at today’s news, and you can see that this precious world is quite a mess. Rather than only looking to fix or solve the issues, “out there”, I’m interested in what can be found in ourselves that is reflected out in the world in larger ways.
“We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts, we make the world.” – Buddha
I am like everyone else, and experience most of these afflictions. I spent a good portion of my childhood and early adulthood struggling to understand and appreciate the point of life and the pain we cause each other. I also felt very alienated and separate and had a sense of being, “bad”. It can really sap the joy of life. I was so miserable at one point as a teen, that I tried to find a meditation solution to help me escape life or possible, “rebirth” altogether.
Fortunately, through great meditation teachings and practice (with ethical, wise, and compassionate teachers and community), I learned to savor, enjoy, and become more intimate with the present and loosen the conditioned boundaries that kept me in a self-limited prison of my own mind.
I learned to more deeply appreciate the here and now, where life flows. To appreciate this precious life and learn to feel love and compassion towards the parts that I used to consider “other” or “enemy”. I started falling out of fear, and back in love with life (Ha! Much of the time that is!).
We are all capable of having an increased sense of peace and freedom, and ability to becoming kinder, wiser, and more conscious. This then naturally ripples out and benefits wider circles. Meditation can also help us increase a sense of awe and wonder, increase joy, and unleash creativity and authenticity in our lives. There are many other benefits that have been attributed to meditation and mindfulness, a more extensive list can be found further down the page. As the scientific community comes up with ways to verify these benefits through instruments and research experiments, I will add those studies below as well.
If we really take care of ourselves and consciously cultivate wisdom and compassion practices, this inevitably ripples out, and affects loved ones and beyond. If practiced well, the fruits of meditation and mindfulness benefit everyone and the planet as a whole in ways that are not usually measurable, but noticable nevertheless.
Teen Angst and Stress….
When I was about 16 years old and stressed out, I realized that my own attempts at meditation based on books were not effective. So I started looking to learn and practice with a community and teacher. I ended up learning from and practicing with a very good Tai Chi teacher. She was a very experienced teacher, and had studied and practiced in a well known Tai Chi Chuan lineage, as well as had practiced with well known reputable Zen teachers.
She told me that even at that age of just 16, my shoulders and neck were super tight with layer of stress built up over just those few years as a teen. This was amazing even to me then, that a young person had already built up so much stress in the body. That as my teacher put it, “it would need much practice to peel off layer after layer of stress.
Fortunately, I was at that point humble enough to realize this was going to be a lifetime practice and commitment.
Tai Chi meditation practice, is in part the cultivating of meditation in movement. It helps the practitioner realize stillness within movement, the ability to be flexible, yielding, and graceful, harmonizing, “opposites”, and increase calm in their daily life. This practice is very useful in daily life.
Turmoil and Confusion
Fast forward a few years, after immigrating to the US from the Netherlands, I found that again I needed to look for further and deeper meditation practices. I realized I needed a meditation teacher. I still felt a lot of anger and alienation, distress, and confusion about my murky state of mind as well as the world. Destructive emotions didn’t help my relationship with my close family either.
I started a sitting meditation practice which was very helpful and beneficial, but realized that a home meditation practice was not enough for someone like myself. When you just practice alone, it is so much easier to fool yourself, there is no one helping you with blind spots, “watching the back of your neck” so to speak. So found a very credible and reputable Zen lineage (Diamond Sangha) back around 2001 to really start going deeper.
I also realized that meditating together with fellow practitioners in community, and a regular schedule was more in accord with the reality of interdependence, as well as more powerful and beneficial than doing it alone.
Meditating with others amplifies the energy of mindfulness.
Self Limiting Beliefs, Stories, Narratives, and discovering the waste of Value Judgements
Joining a community of practitioners, and having a teacher really helped me let go of some self-limiting beliefs and stories, and increase freedom from the deep conditioning that makes us feel so separate from ourselves, and everyone/everything around us.
I discovered, or uncovered how wonder-full it is to realize one’s authentic self and become familiar with the sense and realization of being whole and part of a whole. And also feel rich (in the spiritual wholeness and integration sense) again.
It’s a relief to find out that each one of us belongs here, is a shoot coming from the same root, and each one of us (sentient or insentient) is fully justified in being here.
Wholehearted Expression and Participation
I was really moved and humbled to see how each flower, tree, bird, etc gives of itself, and expresses itself fully without holding back or having expectations of certain outcomes. You don’t see that full wholehearted participation with the present as often with humans! I knew in my case that I certainly was holding back in many ways. A little bird singing it’s heart out on a branch taught me I was still stingy and had too much self-concern.
Each one of us too has a unique gift or talent to share. The hard part is learning to trust and let go, and realizing this simple but amazing fact, getting out of our own way. Allowing your true nature to come forth as it is, uncovering it, and letting go of all the layers of conditioning and expectations and value judgments we have grown up with.
Consistent Practice and Integration of Stillness into Daily Life
Besides a home practice, I also practiced with meditation communities. The retreats would be a few times a year attending silent meditation retreat intensives (sesshin) ranging from several days to 7 days at a time, (retreats would consist of doing sitting meditations all day, alternated by walking meditation, working meditation, eating meditation, and sleeping meditation, so everything becomes meditation and mindfulness in action, and non-action).
I discovered the many ways I was stuck, and learned to get unstuck from many various mental obstacles and deep conditioning, as well as learning to release destructive emotions, while cultivating beneficial emotions and states of being. It became very important for me to integrate and constantly verify the insights and stillness cultivated during retreats into my daily life.
Otherwise what would be the point, if it could not be applied to daily life, “the marketplace”. This is life-long process, there is always more to uncover and work on. One of the reasons for the meditation freedom podcast, is that this is yet another wonderful way for me to learn, verify, and apply insights from fellow practitioners of meditation.
Our daily moment-to-moment lives and encounters with the world is where the real practice and verification takes place!
Sitting on a 100 Foot Pole..
I don’t think everyone needs to formally sit in meditation for 10 hours a day in order to have less stress, more calm, peace, presence, and clarity in their lives. Many busy folks who currently are stressed and overwhelmed can discover benefits from simple meditation and mindfulness techniques that can be implemented throughout the day.
That said, as wise elders have said based on their own experience, “not knowing is most intimate”. It is always with the beginner’s mind, where there are “no walls of the mind”, where we can meet fresh as equals.
Or as Rumi said,
Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
Going through these meditation retreats helped in my case tremendously and gave me experience, insight, and compassion for the human condition. I don’t see that human beings can or need to focus on, “graduation” or get, “gaining” ideas about some state of, “enlightenment”, or that there is an “other better shore” to go running to. This is another trap, another distinction, setting up another “wall of the mind”, which creates a further inequality and set-up for separate self-delusion. This may disappoint the radical perfectionists, but perfectionism too, is a trap one can get stuck in. That said, perfectionism is also what brings us back to constantly growing and improving, so I don’t throw out or disregard this impulse to progress/perfect/polish either 🙂
Widening our Circles and Circuitry of Compassion
I do believe that we are ALL capable of widening our circles of compassion (as Einstein put it). Capable of becoming increasingly conscious and kind. And if one of us rises in consciousness, or for example, has a new scientific/research breakthrough that helps us increase our understanding, and applies that insight into their actions, then we all rise, we all wake up a bit more.
It is an interconnected reality. We are all in this together, learning to uncover our innate wisdom and compassion and figuring out how to apply that with today’s challenges. The opportunities for practice are endless, we may as well do this together.
Yes, even with time and practice, you of course will still have pain, “dark nights of the soul”, difficulties, stresses, grief, losses, etc. But there will be less internal friction with reality, and more resilience and compassion. Situations are given more space to breathe, making them much more workable. It becomes easier to respond skillfully from a place of wisdom, instead of reacting to circumstances or based on internal stories or internalized “life sentences”.
The world can feel more like our home..we don’t need to feel like we end with the boundaries of our skins. There can be much more intimacy with the mystery that we are all part and unique expressions of. Then there will be much more deep appreciation and affinity with what has always been there, but perhaps the eyes were not able to see it right in front of, or staring out of them.
My teacher puts it this way, we move from a self-centered point of view to a multi-centered point of view….A “radical re-visioning of relationship”. Which makes us more able to respond naturally and skillfully to the plight of fellow human beings, animals, and environment.
I’m constantly reminded and need to remind myself what a privilege it is to be alive, increasingly awake, and increasingly conscious in this amazing and also sorrowful world.
So what are some of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness?
Some of the possible benefits you could reap from a regular consistent meditation and mindfulness practice with a healthy community of practitioners are listed below. I’ll add links to scientific research articles if there is evidence to support these claims. If not, then you’d have to verify with your own experience!
Note that in a nutshell, to gauge whether a meditation practice (or for that matter any religion/tradition/ritual) is beneficial or not, you simply look at the fruits, or evidence of someone’s practice over the long-term. One wouldn’t think it is that simple to, but it really is! Is there more harm, or less harm as a result of this practice? More intimacy with everything, or more distance and disconnect? If less harm is the result of your practice, then the practice is beneficial for all of us!
To get a better sense of some of these benefits, there is a partial list below. Many of these listed benefits are long range benefits, meaning it might take anywhere from no-time-at-all, to one minute, to 10+ years, or even past our individual lifetime to begin to realize a certain quality or benefit. And of course there will be times/moments where the possible results listed below may or may not be present at all. That is OK. This is no indication that your practice is not working. If you are going through a tough time, simply look at the rule of thumb listed above. Is this causing more or less harm overall and over the long-haul?
- Decrease of stress overall
- Increase of peace of mind and appreciation overall
- Clearer Mind
- Increased focus and concentration
- Increased Attention
- Improved Health
- An ability to recharge your batteries, immune system boost. (See UCLA Study)
- Increased ability to self heal
- Reduced inflammation.
- Decrease in brain’s aging process (See latest 2015 study)
- A decrease or de-escalation of destructive emotions such as Anger and Anxiety and Fear (see JAMA study)
- Reduced Depression (see JAMA study)
- Increased Resilience and Acceptance, more comfortable and increased familiarity with uncertainty
- Increased Engagement with Life
- Increased Concern for fellow beings and the planet (the definition of “home” increases, including the planet, etc)
- Decrease of Destructive Emotions, Increase Positive Emotions
- Clarity and increased Awareness
- Increased ability to Focus and Concentration
- Increased attention and ability to be fully present for each moment (present moment-awareness)
- Increase of emotional intelligence (and ability to regulate emotions)
- Decrease loneliness (through increase of connection, intimacy, and presence with all)
- Decreased of Suffering and Alienation
- Increased Joy
- Increased Energy
- Increased movement towards Authenticity
- Increase wisdom
- Increased happiness
- Increased generosity
- Increased fulfillment
- Increased Joy and (ability to see and experience life and “ordinary“ as amazing)
- Increase of possibilities and sense of possibilities
- Increased Freedom from old destructive emotions, habits, and fears
- Increased Inner harmony leading to more outer harmony
- Increased Mindfulness
- Increased Resilience
- Increased ability to enjoy the journey in the present
- Increased Spiritual Growth
- Increased Creativity
- Increased trust and confidence in future and endless possibilities (situations can become more workable)
- Increased Equanimity
- Increased Open Heart
- Increased Intimacy with all
- Increase of compassion for self and others (see more)
- Increased Open Mind and trust (and courage to trust)
- Increased likelihood of seeing the world fresh. Filled wonder and awe again (See recent University of Groningen study)
Academic Benefits for in Schools
(See episode 32 and 33 for sources)
- Improved focus and self-control
- Improved Grades and Test Scores
- Reduced Behavioral Conflict including Bullying
- Improved School Climate
- Increased social awareness
- Health benefits (impact academic performance):
- Reduced anxiety and stress
- Enhanced immune function
- Improved Sleep
- Enhanced feelings of wellbeing
- Increased resilience
These are just some of the possible outcomes of a continued meditation/mindfulness practice.
Note that science has not yet verified a lot of these benefits. Your own experience will verify some or all of these results. Don’t rely on anyone’s word, just practice, and verify yourself, and if possible with a community of fellow practitioners and ethical mature teacher.
If you do join a community, be sure to again look carefully to see if the community overall is healthy, grounded, egalitarian, wise, mature, open, transparent, kind, and ethical. If possible research the community online as well, so you can make an informed decision about whether or not to join.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoy these past episodes of the podcast.