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Lions Roar : May 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2008 55 the koan forest, but all of the Buddhist traditions have key discoveries in common. And you might come to some very similar roadside inns in the Vajrayana mountains and the plains of insight meditation. So let’s look at some of the landmarks of meditation practice, some features you might notice along the way. Escaping from the Burning House The reasons for starting a practice are usually different from the reasons for keeping one going. When it comes to starting, any rea- son will do. The Buddha used the metaphor of a burning house. The idea is that people are in a house that has caught fire but they haven’t worked out what is going on yet. You want to help, so you tell them anything that will get them out of the house. You offer a cover story, “Oh look, there’s Britney Spears, half dressed, with her paparazzi” or “Come and listen to my new iPod; it’s awesome.” When you begin meditation these ploys get you out of the burning house, at least for the moment. Usually we start for reasons that are acceptable in a given culture. In North America we like to be told that a method will improve us in some way. I often teach in and sometimes do re- search in medical environments and in medical schools. Phy- sicians are open to meditation because they are interested in evidence-based techniques for healing. In medical settings, med- itation is called things like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, MBSR for short. Another reason for taking up practice might be that meditation changes the pathways in the brain. While most conversations and talk therapy might involve the neocortex, the idea here is that meditation gets down to the limbic brain, where stories about trauma are stored and replayed. Meditation can weaken the grip of such stories. It also seems to enhance the im- mune response, to manage pain, and to shorten recovery time from surgery. Also, if you are a doctor or a nurse or an executive, then meditation probably makes you better at what you do. These are all good reasons to begin meditation. Permanent MAY 54-59.indd 55 MAY 54-59.indd 55 3/6/08 11:30:43 AM 3/6/08 11:30:43 AM