Meditation for the masses

By Andrea Bulfinch, Portsmouth Herald, Oct 18, 2005

Portsmouth, New Hampshire (USA) -- Chances are, if you’re reading this article it’s one of the precious few moments of leisure during your day. Let’s try something. Before reading any further, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and then let it out slowly. Go ahead, the paper’s not going anywhere.

Bodhipaksa, a Buddhist teacher and author, runs a Web-based Buddhist meditation site, On the Wildmind site you’ll find tips on ways to meditate, online meditation courses, all things needed to set yourself up for a comfortable session, and all the information you’ll need to get started.

He’s recently released a CD, "Guided Meditations for Busy People," which can be purchased on the site. The CD is intended to allow even the busiest soul a way to squeeze in a couple of "power-meditations." Although it sounds similar, it’s much different from a power-nap, although it will leave you just as refreshed. It involves a conscious effort of attempting to clear the mind and enter into a state of calmness.

Impossible, you say? Don’t stop reading yet.

Bodhipaksa, originally from Scotland and now living in New Hampshire, has been practicing meditation since 1982 and has been a member of the Western Buddhist Order since 1993. His interest in meditation began 11 years earlier while studying to become a veterinary surgeon. He said he had a feeling that he could easily go crazy at that time in his life with stress, teenage angst, and friends moving on to university.

That feeling is what created his hunger to find a more stable way of contentment.

Through meditation, he was unable to go through what he described as a "hardening process" that his peers in the veterinary program were experiencing. Instead, he was feeling more sensitive to what he was feeling in response to parts of the work, like the act of putting an animal down. These things, he realized were having disturbing effects on him, including unpleasant dreams.

When he decided being a veterinary surgeon was not for him, he didn’t know what would happen next. He knew he enjoyed meditation and had a positive image of Buddhism. He also knew he liked educating people.

"I had no idea when I started where it was going to lead," he said.

Some friends of his who were also Buddhists had a business of printing literature on Buddhism. But printing wasn’t for him, either.

He started running a Buddhist retreat center, Dhanakosa, in the Highlands of Scotland. It also served as an adult education center, offering an opportunity for people to develop themselves.

But he still wanted to study Buddhism more critically than he had been.

"I felt a desire to study Buddhism with a bit more rigor than I had been," he said.

During a conference, he met a professor of Buddhist studies from the University of Montana who was looking for someone to teach three sections of his class. That position is what led Bodhipaksa across the Atlantic.

During his time at UM, he decided to do an interdisciplinary master’s program and earned a degree in Buddhism and business. Bodhipaksa wanted to see tangible results of his work through setting up a business and programs for others. The combination in fields of study is where his business, Wildmind, now translated in a number of languages, came from.

He came up with the idea for a Web site through a marketing class and wanted to create a site that would teach meditation with audible text, written word and interactive discussion forums.

He began selling guided meditation CDs, which sold well and the business has been growing from there.

He now operates out of a storefront in downtown Newmarket. This is where Wildmind really comes together.

The online classes gather students from around the globe.

"It brings together a really diverse community from all over the place," he said.

Aside from the online courses, he, with other’s from Wildmind and Aryaloka, a Buddhist meditation center in Newmarket where he also teaches, makes weekly trips to the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord. Working with the inmates. There, the inmates, some of whom are Buddhist, are taught the techniques of meditation and the benefits of it. Bodhipaksa said the inmates have been working very intensely and are making great progress. They also construct small benches used during meditation sold through Wildmind. But most importantly, Bodhipaksa said he has seen the violence exit their lives and an outreach made by older inmates to younger ones, protecting them in a new way- one without violence.

Writings from inmates across the country are being collected for a book that’s in the works, "Buddhism Behind Bars." The book, it is hoped will be available to inmates free of charge as a resource for them to know that they’re not alone. They are being matched with writing mentors to help them find their voice and story. Bodhipaksa hopes the book will also help with the transition when being released from prison.

So how can you get started with meditation? Bodhipaksa said one of the obstacles people encounter when attempting meditation is the idea that it’s a special activity requiring pillows, candles, and incense. That’s just not true, he said. It can be done anywhere, anytime. You just need to tune in to mindful breathing, noticing the rhythms and sensations that occur in the body and go for it.

One of the first things you’ll notice is how active your mind is, hence the business name, Wildmind. Over time, and with practice, you’ll notice more calmness. And that transition is one of the best rewards Bodhipaksa said he gets from guiding people.

"There’s nothing I like better than to see people changing."