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MEDITATION

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— Photo by Alison Shaw

I’ll admit it. I’m often stressed. Easily distracted. I worry. I get the jitters around doctors, airplanes, and spiders. Then there’s disorganization, clutter, and procrastination.

And I’ve been meditating for several years. I wonder sometimes if I might be the only person for whom meditation doesn’t “work.”

Meditation at Yoga Haven.
Meditation at Yoga Haven.

But I also get along pretty well with people. I stop to listen, and empathize. When someone pushes ahead in line, I catch myself being annoyed, then remember he has as much right to be there as I do.

I don’t scream and act out (mostly). I think long and hard before saying something mean or critical — usually I don’t say it at all. When I mess up with people, and I do, I try hard to make it right. Scary things are still scary, but not for as long as they used to be. I have learned that nothing stays the same; even the difficulties will change.

In the midst of my scattered-seeming life, sitting in a chair for 20 minutes, breathing, not having to think about bills, work, my dentist appointment, or all the fears and uncertainties of living is an oasis of calm.

When I stand up from meditation, things look more manageable. I find myself laughing at the cat, marveling at ice crystals on the trees and bluejays on the feeder. Savoring my coffee. Counting my blessings.

So, maybe meditation does work. Whatever your goal, whether spiritual growth, finding serenity, health and wellbeing, to improving your relationship with God, your kids, or yourself, there’s probably a meditation opportunity here on Martha’s Vineyard.

You may not change overnight. You may not become a saint, a seer, or a swami. But one day you may get through a family crisis without falling apart, avoid a controversy, accept criticism without turning defensive. You might laugh when the dog knocks the platter on the floor, the check bounces, the washer breaks. You may enjoy sitting in summer gridlock and even wave at your fellow drivers. And you’ll give your place in the Stop and Shop line to a harried grandmother, impatient vacationer, or cell-phone wielding teenager, and just smile.

It can help you make a more harmonious life. As meditator Rob Myers commented in our story: “It’s an ordinary and natural state of mind that can seem extraordinary to those of us who have tricked ourselves into thinking that having an over-active and frazzled state of mind is normal.”

“The mind chatter eventually quiets down. A centering and deepening begins which allows me to experience ‘the peace that passeth understanding.’ I bring the peace with me into my life’s experiences, responding to life’s situations with ease and grace rather than reacting out of emotion and judgment. I get to know myself better, and access to the inner wisdom is always there for me when I have the ears to hear.” — Cheryl D. Burns, student of Elliott Dacher, Zen meditation, Vipassana, Bodhi Path Buddhist Center, and more.

Thinking about trying meditation? Not sure which class or group is right for you? Here is a roundup of the meditation offerings on Martha’s Vineyard:

Meditation and Mindfulness with Elliott Dacher, MD
Elliott Dacher, MD, has offered a course in meditation each spring and fall since 2007. The eight-week series titled “Meditation and Mindfulness: Calming the Mind, Reducing Stress, and Optimizing Well-Being,” draws students from a broad range of experience, most with little or no meditation background. A large proportion establish a daily practice and report positive results in their lives. The spring series, co-sponsored by The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard, begins on Wednesday, March 26.

Dr. Dacher, for many years a practicing physician, developed an interest in the spiritual aspect of health and healing which lead to his interest in meditation. He now teaches meditation on the Vineyard and elsewhere.

Unlike other meditation resources here, this is the only program entirely dedicated to meditation training. Others offer practice opportunities with occasional teachings.

Classes meet one night a week in the Medical Staff Library of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Sessions begin and end with a short meditation. During group discussion, students ask questions or report on their experiences practicing. Dr. Dacher teaches on a specific topic each week, such as history and traditions of meditation, afflictive emotions, meditation and health, mindful listening, and meditation in the workplace.

Dr. Dacher provides step-by-step instruction in how to meditate, geared to the novice. Students are strongly encouraged to establish a regular daily practice, and he continually offers support and tips for this, emphasizing its benefits. Text for the class is Dr. Dacher’s “Aware, Awake, Alive,” a volume which he developed from a workbook he designed for teaching this class. The book includes a guided meditation CD.

Unlike some approaches to meditation, Dr. Dacher emphasizes that he does not recommend temporary relaxation as a goal. Instead, he urges the aim be “attainment of an optimal well-being, and an enduring inner-based happiness and peace achieved through study, reflection, and meditation practice, in both formal sessions and integrated into daily life.”

Dr. Dacher insists that meditation is the utmost means for alleviating the inevitable suffering in life. He teaches that while external circumstances often cannot be changed, one’s response to, and experience of those circumstances can be shifted through meditation practice.

“Meditation allows us to calm the overactive mind and rest in stillness. In this state of natural wellbeing, we have the opportunity to learn about the mind and progressively overcome its overactivity, stress, and mental distress,” he said.

Advance registration required. Tuition $150 per person, $130 for YMCA members, $75 for hospital employees. Dr. Dacher’s “Aware, Awake, Alive,” $20. Iryna Demedenko, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, MVHmeditation@partners.org, 508-957-9479.

“Using a term such as ‘life changing’ seems so shallow in comparison to the impact meditation has on you once you commit. It is a calming stabilizer to accept, to be compassionate to all, and most important to be kind and compassionate to yourself; to remind you to truly follow the Golden Rule and to live an easier life. Once you understand and find this space, it reflects on everything else you do.” — Elaine Miller, student of Elliott Dacher.

Mindfulness Meditation Community of Martha’s Vineyard
The Mindfulness Meditation Community of Martha’s Vineyard sponsors a wealth of meditation and study opportunities year-round. The loose-knit group is coordinated by a five-member steering committee.

Chas deCapua, resident teacher at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, travels to the Island one Saturday each month to lead a morning-long class. A graduate of the IMS/Spirit Rock Teacher Training, he has offered meditation since 2001 and teaches around the country. According to the IMS website, his work is rooted in the Theravada Buddhist teachings of ethics, compassion, and wisdom, “practices which help develop awareness and compassion in ourselves, giving rise to greater peace and happiness in the world.”

Held at Howes House in West Tisbury from 9:45 am to 12:45 pm, the meetings draw some 25 to 30 participants. They sit in a circle, on chairs, cushions, or meditation benches. Mr. deCapua’s teachings are interspersed with practicing insight (vipassana, or mindfulness) meditation, defined by IMS as “the simple and direct practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness.” There is no fee, but donations are encouraged.

According to Kathy Fitzgibbon, steering committee member, this winter the group has been focusing on Lovingkindness (metta) Meditation. The meditator holds another or himself in his heart and mind with wishes of happiness, compassion, and wellbeing. This practice aims at cultivating an open and loving heart and allows one to experience connection with others.

Ms. Fitzgibbon observed that Lovingkindness practice can be challenging and revealing, especially when holding good wishes towards oneself or a stranger. She said it is unlike mindfulness meditation — in which one lets go of thought — since it entails concentration.

Sitting meditation sessions are held the first Tuesday of each month at 7 pm at Howes House, and the second Monday of each month, 7:15 pm, at the Island Co-Housing Common House in West Tisbury. An extended practice is followed by discussion.

A Book Study group meets the fourth Monday of each month, 7:15 pm, at Co-Housing. It begins with a 20- minute meditation, then discussion of a designated book, currently “The Wise Heart” by Jack Kornfield.“If you are interested, but unable to complete the reading, don’t let that stop you from attending. Your thoughtful presence is enough,” writes facilitator Jill De La Hunt in an informational flyer. Jill De La Hunt: 508-693-1440; Kathy Fitzgibbon: 508-693-1669; Sherm Goldstein: 508-627-2668. Insight Meditation Society: 978-355-4378; dharma.org.

“Sometimes I’m aware more quickly when I’m distressed. Then I take some deep breaths and notice what I’m thinking and feeling. Then I decide if I want to say or do anything, or let it go.” — Kathy Fitzgibbons, Mindfulness Meditation Community of M.V.

Centering Prayer
Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk, developed Centering Prayer in the 1960s, a period when there was renewed interest in Eastern religious practices and meditation. It is based on Biblical scripture and Christian contemplative tradition. He has described Centering Prayer as “a way to present teaching of earlier times in an updated form, and a way to become closer to God.”

Centering Prayer sessions take place twice a week: Tuesdays, 2 pm, at the Good Shepherd Parish Center in Oak Bluffs and on Sunday mornings, 9:15 am, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown.

Participants sit in a circle as one member reads a short sentence or phrase from scripture. Then all is silent as they enter into a 20-minute meditation.

The second part of the one-hour meeting is dedicated to “Lectio Divina” or “divine reading” of Biblical passages. During several repetitions, participants are encouraged to listen, reflect, and respond to the words, enhancing their connection to God.

The Vineyard group began in approximately 2001. Peggy McGrath and Susan Kelly serve as co-facilitators. It is part of a large network of such local groups all across this country and worldwide.

Despite its deep Christian roots and Biblical content, Centering Prayer welcomes all to attend the peaceful gatherings, regardless of religious background. According to Ms. McGrath, Centering Prayer is a strongly ecumenical practice and often attracts those from varied faith traditions.

Centering Prayer itself is not unlike any other form of meditation. It entails sitting quietly and erect, maintaining silence for 20 minutes. Participants may choose to begin with a “sacred word” (such as God, Jesus, Mary, Love, Peace), returning to it as to a mantra, or simply follow the breath instead, letting go of thoughts and feelings that rise.

“All you’re doing is consenting to, opening to the presence of God,” said Ms. McGrath. “You are surrendering to a loving presence that’s beyond you.”

Members say they often discover the fruits of Centering Prayer appear later in their everyday lives. Ms. Kelly said she had initially doubted her ability to sit quietly for 20 minutes. “But it was amazing! You open up a space. Then you begin to observe your thoughts.”
Information: Peggy McGrath, 774-563-0875; margaretomcgrath@gmail.com; contemplativeoutreach.org.

“I discovered centering prayer in the mid 1990’s, during a difficult period. It was balm to my wound, and very soon it became an integral part of my daily life….During the 20 minutes of silent centering prayer, I surrender to the love and action of God in my heart. Over time, I have found this daily practice to be transforming.” — Peggy McGrath, Centering Prayer

Bodhi Path Buddhist Center
The Bodhi Path Buddhist Center in the peaceful West Tisbury woods opened in 1999. It is one of an international organization of Buddhist centers founded by Shamar Rinpoche, the Red Hat Lama of the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Like the others, this local center takes a non-sectarian approach to Buddhism, focusing mainly on meditation techniques and guidance, augmented by teachings. These aim at taming the mind and deepening wisdom.

According to a Bodhi Path source, the purpose of exploring these methods and wisdom is to better understand and work with the mind and emotions, bringing kindness and discernment to everyday situations. Bodhi means “awakening,” Bodhi Path the path or way to awakening, enlightenment.

A meticulously renovated garage, the light, spacious meditation hall is a comfortable and inviting space for practice and teaching. Colors are warm and bright; there are cushions and chairs. Participants practice “calm-abiding meditation,” following the breath, counting if more focus is needed, until the mind becomes calm. The intent is to develop awareness, then other methods may be introduced. Sessions comprise 15- minute meditations with short breaks in between.

Lama-Yeshe-Drolma.jpg
Lama Yeshe Drolma.

Resident teacher Lama Yeshe Drolma usually spends three months a year at the center. She teaches on Sunday mornings, leads weeknight meditations, day-long retreats, and includes meditative Chi Gong in some sessions. Other respected Buddhist teachers from the same tradition sometimes visit, leading meditation and retreats. Topics have included death, dying and the bardos; bridging spiritual practice with everyday life; and in-depth teaching on meditation technique and practice. This summer, Lama Tsony, Lama Kunkyab, Shamar Rinpoche, and Trinlay Rinpoche will visit and teach, and Lama Yeshe will be in residence during August and September.

When no teacher is present, meditation is held three times weekly: Tuesday and Thursday, 6 to 7 pm, and Sunday morning, 10 to 11 am. A timekeeper maintains the schedule and an experienced meditator is on-hand to guide newcomers. Currently, a video by Trinlay Rinpoche on Shantideva’s classic, “The Way of the Bodhisattva” is shown as part of Tuesday’s session. Special programs are presented occasionally, such as a Yoga and Meditation class.

Meditation and teachings are offered in a secular manner. Some attendees have taken Buddhist vows, committing to cause no harm, develop compassion towards other beings, and to understand themselves better, gaining insight into interconnectedness of all. But one need not be a Buddhist to participate. The center welcomes anyone wishing to explore mindfulness training, regardless of spiritual background or religious affiliation. Participation is by donation.
Information: 508-696-5929; e-mail marthasvineyard@bodhipath.com; visit bodhipath.org/Martha’s Vineyard. Lama Yeshe’s teachings may be viewed at http://www.mvtv.org/mvtv-video-on-demand/ Bodhi Path.

“Having a meditation practice has offered me a way to become familiar with how I operate. When my mind calms down and settles, I get a chance to see clearly what drives me, and work with it. It can be challenging at times to manage all that comes up, both on the cushion and off, but being face-to-face with my tendencies gives me the means to see through them and adjust.” — Barbara Dacey, Bodhi Path Buddhist Center

The Mind/Body Connection
Decades of research in the fields of psychology, biofeedback, psychoimmunology, neuroscience, and micro-molecular biology have led to an emerging understanding of the impact of meditation practices on mind and body.

These include reduction and potential reversal of the symptoms of stress, improvements in attention deficit disorders, self-regulation of autonomic physiological functions — blood pressure, pulse, abnormal heart rhythms, bowel motility, and brain wave activity — the capacity to enhance immune function, the ability to alter brain physiology and structure, and most recently suggestions that meditation may affect both the aging process and the suppression/activation of genetic imprinting.

We are at the early stages of documenting through modern science the age-old experiential findings of the Yogis.

How does a change in something as intangible as the mind cause physical change? When an individual gains progressive stability in meditation, there is a calming of the overactive mind, and with that a corresponding slowing and balancing of the body’s physiology.

This can be a result of the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, alterations in hormonal activity, and increased levels of neuropeptide messenger molecules. Each of these changes has a cascading effect on complex body mechanisms.

What ancient Yogis, modern scientists, and common sense assert is the timeless wisdom of the mantra of our ancient Greek ancestors: ‘sound mind, sound body.’” — Elliott Dacher, MD, meditation teacher, author: “Aware, Awake Alive,” “Integral Health,” “Whole Healing”

“Learning, living, and practicing meditation has made me a better human being. Meditation helps me think more clearly, gives me more patience, enables me to see things from different perspectives. It has allowed me to live life more gracefully. — Donna Goodale, student of Elliott Dacher

More Meditation Opportunities

Wednesday Drop-In Meditation Group: Sustaining and Growing Our Meditation Practice”This group welcomes all meditators or those without experience interested in beginning a practice. The 90-minute session held at the Martha Vineyard Hospital’s South Side Conference Room begins and ends with a 20-minute meditation. Discussion focuses on readings.
Every Wednesday, 6–7:30 pm. Free. Donna Goodale, coordinator: 508-939-1118.

Meditation and Discussion: Saturday Morning Community Drop-In Program
Elliott Dacher, MD, presents three Saturday morning lecture demonstrations this spring on “Focus: creating a healthy mental and physical life in the midst of the everyday realities of daily living.” Meditation instruction, guided meditation, teaching, and discussion. No experience required. Co-sponsored by the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
Saturdays, March 22, April 19, May 17, 9:30–11:30 am. YMCA of MV, Oak Bluffs. Free. 508-696-7171; ymcamv.org.


“Shake a glass full of muddy water and one cannot see through the cloudiness. Set the glass down, let the mud settle and become still, and the clear water appears. It was there all along, just obscured. Our mind functions similarly. The meditative path has the potential to calm the obscured mind, allowing the space within which to experience innate wisdom. A natural expression of this wisdom is compassion and love.” — Martha Flanders, Bodhi Path Buddhist Center

Meditation: “Yoga for the Mind”
Taught by Todd Alexander at the Martha’s Vineyard Yoga Center in Oak Bluffs, this class offers an introduction to various types and styles of meditation, and an opportunity to deepen practice for experienced meditators. All are welcome. Class includes positioning and breath work, occasionally walking meditation. Sessions begin with a brief talk, followed by meditation, discussion, and final meditation.
Wednesdays, 5:30–6:30 pm, through June 1. $6 suggested donation; all proceeds go to Smile Train. 508-237-1861.

Pranayama and Meditation
Vanessa Kent provides an exploration of Pranayama (yogic breathing techniques) both invigorating and calming, and instruction in a variety of meditation techniques, including seated and walking meditation, guided savasana, japa (using a mantra and prayer beads) and more. All levels welcome. No experience necessary.
Saturdays, 9:45–10:15 am, year ‘round. Martha’s Vineyard Yoga Center, Oak Bluffs. Free, donations welcome. 508-237-1861.

Meditation in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and Mindfulness Coaching Consultation
Jackie Clason facilitates a meditation group in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh with whom she has studied for nearly 25 years. The group meets during most of the year on Wednesday evenings in Chilmark. Free.
Jackie Clason also offers one-on-one mindfulness coaching sessions, often in conjunction with her homeopathic practice, “to help people use qualities that are cultivated with meditation and general mindfulness to help them deal with their own difficult emotions, physical pain and anxiety, etc.” Available year ‘round, in person, by telephone or Skype.
jackie@clasonhomeopathy.com, 508-693-7091

Martha’s Vineyard Hospital Patient Guided Relaxation and Meditation
Len Bernstein, an experienced meditator and hospital staff member, is available to provide private guided relaxation and meditation sessions to patients during their hospital stay upon request. Sessions take place in the patient’s room. There is no fee. Details about this service are included in the patient information packet.
508-957-9898.

Meditation & Recovery
A discussion group in the tradition of integrating the 12 Steps of Recovery and the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, with an emphasis on sitting meditation. Loosely affiliated with the Buddhist Recovery Network, meetings are open to anyone interested in how the practice of meditation can deepen and strengthen progress on the spiritual path of recovery.
Every Thursday, 6:45 – 8 am. Nathan Mayhew Seminars, Fanny Blair Hall, Greenwood Ave. and North William St., Vineyard Haven. 508-696-9479, sit.stay.heal.bow.wow@gmail.com; buddhistrecovery.org

“The biggest challenge is in being true to the new consciousness that inhabits my awareness. I don’t want to make it a fetish. I don’t want to pretend it does not exist. I am learning how to move together with it as a dancing partner, until I am like the shadow of this new consciousness, attached at the feet, as I move through the room.” — Michael West, student of Elliott Dacher

Sunday Yoga Devotion Class
Sherry Sidoti leads a class in dynamic meditation at Yoga Haven from 10-11:30 am each Sunday. “Sometimes we just sit, sometimes we chant, sometimes we dance or shake,” she reports. There are also occasional straightforward seated meditation meetings. All schedules are at yogahavenmv.com.

Zen Tradition Teaching
Guest teacher Billy Meegan shares insights from the Zen tradition.
Saturday, April 19, 9:45 am – 12:45 pm, Howes House, West Tisbury. Sponsored by the Mindfulness Meditation Community of Martha’s Vineyard. No fee. Donations welcome. 508-693-1669.
Relaxed Body, Open Mind, Deep Rest”
Experienced Kripalu Yoga Teacher, expressive movement therapist, and shamanic healer Martha Abbot leads weekly classes at The Yoga Barn in West Tisbury. The hour-long sessions begin with gentle stretching and movement to release tension, followed by 15 minutes of relaxation and 15 minutes of meditation. “The class provides a wonderful sanctuary in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, to receive nourishment for body, mind and spirit,” says Ms. Abbot.
Wednesdays, 11 am–12 noon, The Yoga Barn. Chilmark. $17. Co-sponsored by ACE M.V. through April 9. Class may resume after that date. Yoga Barn: 508-645-9642; mvyogabarn.com. Martha Abbot: 508-645-2735, spiritmovesyou@gmail.com

“One of my favorite quotes that Wendy Chabot shared was ‘don’t believe everything you think.’ The lesson is that much (if not all) of human suffering occurs in the mind. The things that happen to and around us are inherently neutral, while how we experience and react to them is really up to us. Anxiety and depression are really just negative thought patterns that we have fallen into. They are habits, and like any habits, they are formed through repetition, but can also be replaced. The insight that you can control your own thought patterns to be more positive is very empowering.” — Dr. Deborah J. Mayhew, student of Elliott Dacher and Wendy Chabot