Meditation cultivates a peaceful state of mind, which has a positive effect on other areas of our lives. Ben Vanheems talks to Gen Nyingpo of the Drolma Centre to find out how meditation and modern Buddhism can be a force of good for everyone
Meditation is probably something more of us should be doing, but at the Drolma Centre you teach more than simply meditation. Can you explain what your focus is?
Everything we teach at the Drolma Centre comes from Buddhism. Meditation is central to Buddhism, so therefore everything taught is an aspect of meditation. Although we’re specifically teaching Buddhist meditation, people would still recognise it as ‘normal’ meditation. Meditation is quite broad, with both formal and practical examples. Formal meditation is where you sit with your eyes closed and develop a calm, peaceful or positive state of mind. But we also emphasise the importance of practical meditation, which is developing positive ways of thinking that anyone can use in their everyday life.
Meditation has become increasingly popular as the world around us gets busier. What are the benefits of meditation?
Its main benefit lies in making the mind calm and peaceful. More and more people are recognising their lack of inner peace. A lack of inner peace affects everything we do in our daily lives. Even if our general health is good, if we lack inner peace and our mind is disturbed in some way it can be quite harmful.
Are you saying that by achieving inner peace there are positive impacts on our wider lives?
Absolutely. Because meditation makes us calm it helps us to deal with everyday stress and irritations. That in turn improves our relationships because as we become more peaceful, we have a positive impact on those around us. It can transform everyday relationships at home, at work and with people we meet. Meditation also has direct health benefits. If you’re walking around with a lot of tension or a lot of anger in your mind then your health suffers. This is something that’s commonly accepted. If the opposite is true and your mind is more peaceful, you’re better positioned to cope with challenging situations. Why? Because you’re coming at it with inner space and clarity.
That all sounds great, but clearing the mind doesn’t come naturally to many of us, particularly anyone that’s very busy. Can you talk us through a typical meditation session and how it would help in achieving a calmer state?
In a typical session I begin with a guided breathing meditation. The purpose of this is to help people to just let go of their distractions to become more peaceful. This is essential, because we’ll often find that when people come in they’re carrying the busyness of their daily lives with them. So that quiet time is so important. It lasts for 10 to 15 minutes and because it’s guided, even someone who is new to meditation should be able to pick it up straight away. After this I would explain the different aspects of the practical meditation we’re undertaking. We look at many different subjects. For example, our first course this year is titled ‘stop stressing, start living’, in which the emphasis will be on letting go of stress. This part of the session is a very practical talk. So in this example I would explain what stress is and where it’s coming from, mainly from the point of view of the mind, because obviously we’re training in meditation. After this I would offer practical solutions to stress, anxiety, irritations and so on. The talk normally lasts about 30 minutes, with practical advice coming from the Buddhist tradition. Then there’s another practical meditation to finish. So maybe it’s a determination to carry a calm mind into daily life. Or it could be a meditation on patience.
Patience is something we could all do with more of! How can we be more patient in our daily lives?
Well, an example of a meditation on patience might begin with a talk on its benefits. It’s not just the obvious. Patience enables us to develop an inner strength that helps us cope with challenging situations, so we can remain calm even when things are going wrong. We might reflect on something like this quote that I really like relating to difficult situations: ‘If something can be remedied, why be unhappy about it? And if there is no remedy for it, there is still no point in being unhappy.’ In other words, either you can do something about it or you can’t, but there’s no point heaping more pressure onto yourself because it simply won’t achieve anything. Let’s take a traffic jam as an example. If you’re stuck in traffic and you’re angry or frustrated because of it, all you’re doing is giving yourself two problems: the traffic delay and negative feelings that will impact you and everyone around you. There’s nothing you can do about the traffic jam, so just relax!
Many of our readers will love the idea of meditation but may be less certain about Buddhism. Can you tell us exactly what Buddhism is?
Buddhism is like a mental journey. People often ask what Buddhism is: Is it a religion? Is it a way of life? Or is it a philosophy? Buddhism means the practice of Buddhist teachings, and Buddhist teachings function to protect your mind. So that’s what Buddhism is. We say it’s mind protection. That’s why meditation is such an integral part of Buddhism.
Buddhism appears to be tailor-made for the modern world!
It is! Buddha was around 2,500 years ago and what we teach in the classes is his timeless wisdom. The reason it’s timeless is because his instructions are incredibly applicable to modern life. Why? Because our problems haven’t really changed. We may have different reasons behind them, such as modern technology, but in the classes we go a little bit deeper and we see that while externally our problems have changed, deep down they haven’t. If you look within your mind there’s stuff happening in there which is creating the problems. Feelings of anxiety, frustration, stress – they’re timeless. So even though the instructions are two and a half millennia old, they’re as applicable as ever.
Is there any conflict between studying Buddhist teachings and being Christian, Muslim or whatever?
No, absolutely not. Most of the people that come to the classes aren’t Buddhist and have no intention of becoming Buddhist. Our classes are open to anyone, and everyone is welcome. Most people come along simply to learn how to meditate.
If people do want to learn more about Buddhism, what can they expect?
At Drolma Centre we do offer a more in-depth course called the Foundation Programme. Those attending get the opportunity to go through some of the Buddhists texts and learn about Buddhist teachings in more detail. We tend to find that people start with the meditation classes, at whatever level – either through the drop-in sessions or the retreat days that we run – then sometimes, after six months to a year, some will want to find out a bit more about Buddhism and take it a bit deeper.
Mindfulness is another area that, like meditation, has got a lot of press recently. How does this relate to meditation? Is it something completely different or is there a link between the two?
Mindfulness and meditation are not the same thing, but to meditate effectively you must rely on mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to literally ‘hold in mind’. We find it quite easy to hold certain things in mind but unfortunately the things we find the easiest to hold in mind can be those things that disturb us. As an example, if somebody has said something to upset us, we will replay that thought over and over again so that even if it didn’t disturb us much at the time, the holding it in mind probably will. We teach meditation and mindfulness together in all of the classes we run. When we’re training in mindfulness we’re trying to let go of distractions and thoughts that disturb us, that are not conducive to inner peace, and instead try to hold on to – keep in mind – positive or beneficial states of mind. Mindfulness has become very popular these days because people are beginning to see how busy and distracted we are. You only have to look at technology – everybody is always on their phones. More of us are recognising that we need a break from these distractions. Mindfulness enables us to develop a very clear and focused mind, while meditation itself is all about making the mind more familiar with positive states of mind.
● Weekly meditation classes: Join one of three weekly classes to learn practical techniques and follow guided meditations. Classes are suitable for beginners and those with some experience. Tues 7-8.15pm, Weds 1-2pm or Sun 6-7pm.
● Events and retreats: Meditation retreat workshops offer an opportunity to take some quiet space in the weekend to find peace of mind and deepen their understanding and experience of Buddhist meditation and techniques. Workshops run from 10.30am-3pm and include a light lunch. March 11: Life is but a dream; April 8: Dealing with difficult people.
● Business brains: Mindfulness and meditation classes are also offered to local companies looking to adopt a calmer, more considered approach to how they work.
● Classes in local towns: Classes are also held in Stamford, Spalding, Oundle, March, Wisbech, Huntingdon and Ely.
Drolma Kadampa Buddhist Centre 260 Dogsthorpe Road, Peterborough, PE1 3PG. Contact: 01733 755444, www.drolmacentre.org.uk