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Demystifying Bodhi Meditation

Bodhi Meditation is a form of Buddhist meditation aimed directly at improving one’s physical health (as well as mental health). It’s based on the so-called Medicine Buddha.

First of all, let’s get several important points out of the way:

  • You don’t have to become a Buddhist to practice Bodhi Meditation. It is purely optional. However, you will be immersed in Buddhist traditions that surround meditation. This is simply a matter of respect, nothing more.
  • Bodhi Meditation relies on two fundamental aspects of your mind: relaxation and visualization (or imagination).
  • If you are incapable of effective visualization, meditation will not work for you. You may simply think that visualization is just a lot of hokum.
  • If you are incapable of effective relaxation (because your mind is clouded with all sorts of negative thoughts and problems), meditation will not work for you.
  • Meditation is hard work. When you are first learning to meditate, you are fighting your body’s resistance to the strain and discomfort of various postures, such as the lotus sitting position or standing for an hour with your feet firmly planted on the floor (they grow extremely numb).
  • Meditation is hard work. To visualize effectively requires constant practice. In the beginning, you will have great difficulty. If you are unable or unwilling to work hard, meditation will not work for you.

Meditation is all about the mind-body connection. Just as your body’s health can affect how you think and feel, how you think and feel can affect how your body responds to pain and disease. The mind-body connection is an accepted medical truth, if not a scientific fact.

Visualization is one of the key techniques used in psychiatric practice. Meditation is an expanded use of this technique that aims to physically realign your body’s internal systems that have gone out of whack, such as your neuromuscular system or your immune system. This is why you are fighting your body’s resistance when sitting in the lotus position, for example. Once you get used to it, the realignment process begins.

Visualization is a means of retraining your brain. The brain is incredibly adaptive. It is capable of creating its own “reality.” For example, schizophrenics live in a universe of their own making. By visualizing the flow of cosmic energy around you (whether or not such energy actually exists), you create the conditions within which your mind-body connection can begin healing or realigning your health. This is a fancy way of saying that it helps you to “fake it until you make it.”

The subconscious mind cannot tell the difference.

Meditation, then, is about manipulating this cosmic energy for your benefit. The value of meditation is in providing a structure for your visualization practice. Performing the rituals and following their steps reinforce the mental training. These rituals are time-tested and time-honoured.

Meditation and visualization have very tangible and provable results. The French monk, Matthieu Ricard (aka, “the world’s happiest man”), has been extensively studied with respect to how meditation works to retrain the mind and body.

In my case, I sought Bodhi Meditation because I suffer from chronic low back pain. Western medicine has been decidedly ineffective in treating this problem. I tried physiotherapy (core strengthening exercises and stretching exercises). I tried massage. I tried medication (Aleve and Tylenol). I even tried acupuncture. But nothing worked.

If I’m on my feet for more than an hour (standing/walking), I suffer crippling pain in my low back. I have to sit and rest for a while. After fifteen minutes, I can walk again but only for a shorter period (around half an hour). I can repeat this cycle a few times (with progressively shorter periods) before I am completely done for the day.

My first exposure to Bodhi Meditation was through Bagua walking. It’s an exercise where you walk around and around in a circle holding various postures. You focus your eyes and your mind on a tree in the centre of the circle. You are bathed in soothing meditative music.

After the first few days of doing this exercise, I found that I could walk for over an hour during the exercise without any pain or discomfort in my lower back! How can this be?!

Outside of Bagua walking, I still have the same back problem. But the exercise is the first indication that Bodhi Meditation just might work for me.

(I have a theory as to why it works. During Bagua walking, you are required to walk with a twisted waist. Biomechanically, this corrects any neuromuscular deficiencies in your back and legs from your normal way of sitting and standing/walking. Bad posture is a killer!)

It’s still too early to tell. I’ve only been doing Bagua walking for a month. But I’m hopeful.

Today, I completed an eight-day meditation workshop over the Christmas holidays. Eight consecutive, full-day events where we worked very hard at a number of meditative exercises. Each night, I was so exhausted, I sometimes overslept the next morning for the next workshop day. (This would be a great cure for insomnia!)

But, hey, no pain, no gain, right? At least, I learned a lot.

One important thing I learned is that meditation requires a good deal of mental focus. It’s very easy to be distracted by things happening around you. Moreover, your mind may be full of distracting thoughts, especially negative thoughts. This is very destructive to meditation. So you must keep a clear mind during practice.

One final comment: Meditation practice is not much different from martial arts practice. I used to study karate and aikido, and both of these martial arts employ time-tested and time-honoured traditions and rituals which are necessary to reinforce the practice, reinforce the training of your mind and body. They add structure to your training. Whether you’re putting your fist through a cinder block or gathering cosmic energy to heal your body, it’s all the same. The ceaseless, repetitive exercise of these training steps help you to internalize the lessons. In other words, practice, practice, practice.

If the concept of cosmic healing energy bears some resemblance to The Force, it’s no coincidence. Meditation and martial arts practitioners are the closest things we have to modern Jedis.

LUKE SKYWALKER: I don’t believe it.

YODA: That is why you fail.

Incidentally, Bagua walking derives from the Chinese martial art of Baguazhang, one of three from the Wudang family (the other two are Taijiquan and Xingyiquan). So it shares a martial arts tradition, as well. (By the way, Baguazhang is designed to help you fight up to eight opponents simultaneously! This is an amazing art.)

Let’s see if meditation ultimately works to solve my health problem. I’m giving it three more months (after I’ve learned so much from the workshop).

What about you?

All that we are
is the result of
what we have thought.
The mind is everything.
What we think we become.
~Buddha

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