The brain is overrated, according to Kadam Lucy James at the Kadampa Meditation Center.
“Have you ever felt peaceful in your head?” she asked.
She put her hands over her heart and said that’s where the mind is, adding that while the brain has conceptual reality, the mind exists in the heart, where we feel peace, love, joy and wisdom.
“If we can get into our heart, we automatically start to feel more peaceful,” she said.
James is temporarily living in Arvada and teaches meditation at the Kadampa Meditation Center. She started practicing about 41 years ago after she saw a “very peaceful person” in college.
“He was a student meditating on the end of his bed and I asked him what he was doing, because this was back in 1981, and meditation, no one had heard of back then,” she said.
Ever since, she’s been practicing and has taught all around the world, including England, San Francisco, New York City and now Denver. She hopes to one day achieve enlightenment, or infinite happiness and peace.
It takes a lot of hard work, but she said it’s the only thing where the more she does it, the happier she is.
It’s because, with meditation, the mind becomes naturally peaceful. Each person has a natural source of peace and happiness inside them, she said, and instead of seeking it elsewhere — relationships, fulfilling jobs or material things — it’s already inside the body waiting to be found.
The evidence lies in the random moments of peace and happiness everyone feels. It could be a torrential downpour and the mind is peaceful, settled and calm.
“What those moments show is that our mind is fine. And then what unsettles the mind is actually all our uncontrolled thinking,” she said.
Coming from the teachings of the Buddha, she compared the mind to a vast ocean. The waves are turbulent while below them is a vast, infinite, calm place. Waves of anxiety and negative emotions distort the brain but below those waves rests an incredible sanity.
“When our mind is settled, when we can let go of our troubled thoughts, and our turbulent thoughts, uncontrolled thoughts, then we naturally feel good. We naturally feel peaceful and we start to get a sense of our potential and who we really are, which is this person who has limitless potential, limitless happiness,” James said.
The first step to unlocking that potential and happiness is to breathe.
Focus on the nostrils
Carol O'Dowd, a Trauma and Transition Psychotherapist and Spiritual Counselor assists her clients by meeting them where they are and offering them acceptance through breathing.
“If you focus on your breath, you cannot simultaneously focus on all your internal dialogue. It cannot be done. The human brain is not wired that way,” O’Dowd said.
It creates a space between the thoughts. The stress and anxiety stored in the body don’t go away, but the practice of noticing the emotions and putting them on pause to breathe helps calm the body down.
Breathing is a function of the body that automatically happens all the time. Focusing on that breath, O’Dowd compared it to a spectrum. What happens when the body stops breathing — death — is one end and the other is when the body pays attention to the breath — peace.
“It can be as simple as just experiencing that flow of air, and in and out of your nostrils. If you can place your attention there, that's giving yourself a mini vacation,” she said.
O’Dowd encourages her clients to practice treating uncontrolled thoughts like a salesperson trying to sell them. Instead of buying, make them sit in the corner and return to them in 20 minutes after taking time to check in with the body.
It can also let go of stress. Pain, like what the fingers feel after working at a computer all day, can be a physical manifestation of stress. Holding on to that stress can lead to other health conditions.
“It’s not rocket science,” she said.
Escape to reality
James said achieving enlightenment is extremely difficult, and while the teachings she studied laid out different steps and pathways, she simplified it down to three. The first is focusing on the breath to relax. The second is identifying delusions.
A delusion can be jealousy, greed, competitiveness or other unpleasant thoughts. Most of the time, those thoughts aren’t controlled by the mind and enter the brain randomly. It’s the root of many problems, she said, and they destroy happiness.
“It's completely unnecessary. Which is the whole purpose of meditation, to show us how unnecessary it is,” she said. “We've been so busy trying to control everything outside of us.”
She compared it to anger with someone else. It may last for a few days and then one day, those angry feelings leave.
“If you can do that deliberately (getting rid of negative feelings), which we can, then you can see we stopped the grasping or stopped the delusions, we just experience deeper and deeper levels of happiness,” she said.
Identifying delusions is the first part of the equation. The other half is universal love and caring about others. It comes from understanding everyone wants to be happy, and that there isn’t much difference between people.
It can be a city councilor running for office, understanding their opponent wants the same things, but sees different ideas on how to move forward. They aren't always bad people.
Realizing that leads to the next step: wisdom. That takes understanding reality. It means turning away from the anxiety, sadness and other negative emotions and escaping to the reality within the body that possesses infinite happiness and peace.
“We can train in wisdom. Understanding that things are not as real as they appear,” James said.