How Does Meditation Liberate Us?

MATTHIEU RICARD: In the beginning, our mind is very turbulent, so it is very difficult to complete an analytical meditation and to cultivate compassion, and it’s still more difficult to observe the nature of awareness. We just have to deal with a whirligig of thoughts. The first step, therefore, as we have seen, is to achieve a certain level of calm. We don’t do this by knocking out the mind the way we would knock somebody out with a stick; rather we give it a chance to become a little clearer, a little more stable.

That’s why most meditations begin with observation of the breath. It is at the same time practical (the breath is always there), simple (a constant movement of coming and going), and subtle (it’s invisible, and if we don’t pay attention, it disappears instantly from our perceptual field). It is, therefore, an excellent object for refining our attentional faculty. This simple training is not necessarily easy, however. We can even be discouraged at the beginning by seeing that “I have more thoughts now than I had before; meditation is not for me.” There are not necessarily more of the thoughts; rather we have begun to perceive what is going on, to be able to gauge the extent of the damages. However, like a waterfall turning into a mountain torrent, and then into a river, and finally a still lake, the mind calms down with time.

After a few weeks or even a few months, I can pass on to the next stage: “Now that I have a more flexible and accessible mind and can direct it like a well-trained horse, I can say to it: ‘Apply yourself to compassion.’” This sequence of progression should be respected, and it is of no use trying to skip ahead. If you try to meditate on compassion when your mind still won’t hold still, you won’t cultivate compassion; you’ll simply be distracted.

I can also ask myself, “In the end, who is meditating? The ego? Awareness?” I can analyze the nature of all that. In a more contemplative and direct fashion, I can deepen my questioning: “What is behind all these thoughts? Is it not awakened presence, the quality of pure awareness that is behind all mental events?” At that point, I begin to glimpse that which, underlying all thoughts, is always there like the unmoving sky behind the clouds. I can then let the mind rest in this pure awareness.

 

A Toolbox for Meditation

CHRISTOPHE ANDRÉ:

Meditation is not only a religious or spiritual practice; it is also a form of mind training. It can help us cultivate attention, detachment, understanding, and emotional balance. It can also help us to develop our basic human virtues, which otherwise might lie dormant deep within us and not express themselves. I’m talking about kindness, compassion, generosity, and so on.

Meditation is simple. It only requires us to regularly pause and observe the nature of our experience—our breathing, sensations, emotions, thoughts. Everything starts with that.

Starting with very simple kinds of exercises like those recommended in mindfulness meditation (the kind of meditation we use in health care and education), there are many meditative traditions that are much more demanding and complex. As with the piano, we can very quickly learn to play a few little pleasant tunes; then we can go on to cultivate virtuosity for the rest of our lives.

 

ALEXANDRE JOLLIEN:

Let things pass. If I had to sum up the practice in three words, without hesitation, I’d go for “Let things pass.” In the midst of chaos or deep in one’s inner battlefields, dare to make the experiment of not controlling, of dropping the self. It’s mayhem, but there’s no problem! Far from giving up and far from resignation, letting things pass means distinguishing between the psychodramas (the problems created by conceptual mind) and the genuine tragedies of existence, which call for solidarity, commit- ment, and perseverance.

Meditating is stripping down, daring to live nakedly in order to give oneself, contributing to the welfare of the world, giving one’s share. Why don’t we look at the day that lies ahead of us not as a store where we can acquire things, but as a clinic, a dispensary of the soul, where together we can recover and advance?

 

MATTHIEU RICARD:

Meditation requires diligence, which should be nourished by enthusiasm, by joy in the virtues, by inner peace, by compassion, and by the feeling of having a clear direction in life.

Meditation, in itself, does not have harmful effects. Meditation is not contraindicated unless it is not properly understood or properly used—used in the wrong conditions or at the wrong time. Whether we like it or not, from morning till night we are dealing with our mind. Who wouldn’t want their mind to be functioning in the optimal fashion and to be providing them with inner freedom rather than playing rotten tricks on them?

This is an adapted excerpted from the newest book from Matthieu Ricard, Christophe André, and Alexandre Jollien, Freedom For All Of Us: A Monk, A Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist on Finding Inner Freedom.

Copy of MatthieuRicard-AlexandreJollien-ChristopheAndré©PhilippeDanais2017

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk, a photographer, and a molecular geneticist who has served as an interpreter for the Dalai Lama. 

Christophe André is a psychiatrist and one of the primary French specialists in the psychology of emotions and feelings.

Alexandre Jollien is a philosopher and a writer whose work has been attracting an ever-growing readership. Together, they are the authors of In Search of Wisdom and Freedom For All of Us.

Learn More

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound

 

Alexandre Jollien

Christophe André

Matthieu Ricard

Photo of ()\

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk and has authored several books, including The Monk and the Philosopher and The Quantum and the Lotus. He is a major participant in the research collaboration between cognitive scientists and Buddhist practitioners, spearheaded by the Dalai Lama and the Mind and Life Institute. Ricard is a noted translator and photographer, and initiates and oversees humanitarian projects in India, Tibet, and Nepal. For more information, visit www.shechen.org.

Author photo © PhilippeDanais2017

Listen to Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interview with Matthieu Ricard:
The Altruistic Revolution: Transform Ourselves to Better Serve Others »
Happiness Is a Skill »

Also By Author

How Does Meditation Liberate Us?

MATTHIEU RICARD: In the beginning, our mind is very turbulent, so it is very difficult to complete an analytical meditation and to cultivate compassion, and it’s still more difficult to observe the nature of awareness. We just have to deal with a whirligig of thoughts. The first step, therefore, as we have seen, is to achieve a certain level of calm. We don’t do this by knocking out the mind the way we would knock somebody out with a stick; rather we give it a chance to become a little clearer, a little more stable.

That’s why most meditations begin with observation of the breath. It is at the same time practical (the breath is always there), simple (a constant movement of coming and going), and subtle (it’s invisible, and if we don’t pay attention, it disappears instantly from our perceptual field). It is, therefore, an excellent object for refining our attentional faculty. This simple training is not necessarily easy, however. We can even be discouraged at the beginning by seeing that “I have more thoughts now than I had before; meditation is not for me.” There are not necessarily more of the thoughts; rather we have begun to perceive what is going on, to be able to gauge the extent of the damages. However, like a waterfall turning into a mountain torrent, and then into a river, and finally a still lake, the mind calms down with time.

After a few weeks or even a few months, I can pass on to the next stage: “Now that I have a more flexible and accessible mind and can direct it like a well-trained horse, I can say to it: ‘Apply yourself to compassion.’” This sequence of progression should be respected, and it is of no use trying to skip ahead. If you try to meditate on compassion when your mind still won’t hold still, you won’t cultivate compassion; you’ll simply be distracted.

I can also ask myself, “In the end, who is meditating? The ego? Awareness?” I can analyze the nature of all that. In a more contemplative and direct fashion, I can deepen my questioning: “What is behind all these thoughts? Is it not awakened presence, the quality of pure awareness that is behind all mental events?” At that point, I begin to glimpse that which, underlying all thoughts, is always there like the unmoving sky behind the clouds. I can then let the mind rest in this pure awareness.

 

A Toolbox for Meditation

CHRISTOPHE ANDRÉ:

Meditation is not only a religious or spiritual practice; it is also a form of mind training. It can help us cultivate attention, detachment, understanding, and emotional balance. It can also help us to develop our basic human virtues, which otherwise might lie dormant deep within us and not express themselves. I’m talking about kindness, compassion, generosity, and so on.

Meditation is simple. It only requires us to regularly pause and observe the nature of our experience—our breathing, sensations, emotions, thoughts. Everything starts with that.

Starting with very simple kinds of exercises like those recommended in mindfulness meditation (the kind of meditation we use in health care and education), there are many meditative traditions that are much more demanding and complex. As with the piano, we can very quickly learn to play a few little pleasant tunes; then we can go on to cultivate virtuosity for the rest of our lives.

 

ALEXANDRE JOLLIEN:

Let things pass. If I had to sum up the practice in three words, without hesitation, I’d go for “Let things pass.” In the midst of chaos or deep in one’s inner battlefields, dare to make the experiment of not controlling, of dropping the self. It’s mayhem, but there’s no problem! Far from giving up and far from resignation, letting things pass means distinguishing between the psychodramas (the problems created by conceptual mind) and the genuine tragedies of existence, which call for solidarity, commit- ment, and perseverance.

Meditating is stripping down, daring to live nakedly in order to give oneself, contributing to the welfare of the world, giving one’s share. Why don’t we look at the day that lies ahead of us not as a store where we can acquire things, but as a clinic, a dispensary of the soul, where together we can recover and advance?

 

MATTHIEU RICARD:

Meditation requires diligence, which should be nourished by enthusiasm, by joy in the virtues, by inner peace, by compassion, and by the feeling of having a clear direction in life.

Meditation, in itself, does not have harmful effects. Meditation is not contraindicated unless it is not properly understood or properly used—used in the wrong conditions or at the wrong time. Whether we like it or not, from morning till night we are dealing with our mind. Who wouldn’t want their mind to be functioning in the optimal fashion and to be providing them with inner freedom rather than playing rotten tricks on them?

This is an adapted excerpted from the newest book from Matthieu Ricard, Christophe André, and Alexandre Jollien, Freedom For All Of Us: A Monk, A Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist on Finding Inner Freedom.

Copy of MatthieuRicard-AlexandreJollien-ChristopheAndré©PhilippeDanais2017

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk, a photographer, and a molecular geneticist who has served as an interpreter for the Dalai Lama. 

Christophe André is a psychiatrist and one of the primary French specialists in the psychology of emotions and feelings.

Alexandre Jollien is a philosopher and a writer whose work has been attracting an ever-growing readership. Together, they are the authors of In Search of Wisdom and Freedom For All of Us.

Learn More

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound

 

Tools for Cultivating Supportive Friendships & Re...

Tools for Cultivating Supportive Friendships & Relationships:

CHRISTOPHE ANDRÉ:

For this toolbox I’d like to put forward a little bit of theory about how we are supported by relationships — that is, to offer an overall look at what we receive from our relationships with others.

The five benefits of relationships. Studies show that social support can be broken down into several families of benefits:

  1. Material support: Others can help us in concrete ways. If I’ve broken my leg, I will be glad if somebody will do my shopping for me. If I have to move, I will be happy to have my friends help me transport the boxes.
  2. Informational support: Others can advise us, give us useful infor- mation, and play the role of human search engines — as intelligent as Google but alive and compassionate — and they won’t resell our personal information afterward.
  3. Emotional support: Others are the source of positive emotions; they give us affection, love, friendship, trust, admiration.
  4. The support of esteem. Others can remind us of our value and good qualities, tell us what they like about us, and sustain our self-esteem at moments of uncertainty.
  5. The inspiration of their example: This is more difficult to evaluate scientifically, but it’s quite real, as we have indicated.

The four varieties of relationships. Another important point is that it is helpful to cultivate varied social relationships, just as it is important to have a varied diet. There are four families of relationships, distributed in four concentric circles:

  1. Our intimates: the people we live with, whom we touch and embrace practically every day. This means mostly our family and best friends.
  2. Our close relations: our friends and colleagues, people with whom we regularly have close and regular exchanges.
  3. Our acquaintances: the whole network of people with whom we have a connection, even occasional, and who we keep track of and who keep track of us.
  4. Unknowns: those who we might also have relationships with, depending on our character. This includes people we might speak to on the street, on public transport, in stores. They can also be sources of help or information for us, as we can for them.

Specialists in social relations remind us that it is important to draw sup- port from these four circles — not only from our intimate and close relations—and to sustain our connections with these four relational spheres by giving and receiving help, information, support, eye contact, advice, and smiles. Because the idea is not only to receive but also to give, by speaking to unknowns and maintaining warm relations with our acquaintances, neighbors, and shopkeepers, we do ourselves good. And we embellish the world, improve it, and make it more human!

 

MATTHIEU RICARD:

The importance of social connection. We should choose to live in an environment where people are warm, altruistic, and compassionate. If this isn’t the case in all areas of our living space, we should progressively try to establish these values or, if it’s possible, we should leave the toxic environment.

In this connection, I like to cite the case of a community on the Japanese island of Okinawa, which claims to have one of the world’s highest concentrations of people aged a hundred or over. It appears that the main factor in this exceptional longevity is not the climate or the food, but the power of this community, where people maintain particularly rich social relationships. From cradle to grave, they relate very closely with one another. The elderly people in particular get together several times a week to sing, dance, and have a good time. Almost every day they go to schools to greet the children (whether they have familial links with them or not) at the end of the school day. The elders take the children in their arms and give them treats.

Draw inspiration from the righteous, from people who, in our eyes, embody the values of impartiality, tolerance, compassion, love, and kindness. In these times of the migratory crisis, I think of all those who have taken great risks, and I remember those who protected Jewish people during the Nazi persecutions of World War II, particularly those who hid Jews in their homes. These people have since come to be called “The Righteous.” The only common point that emerges from their many accounts is a view of others based on recognition of their common human- ity. All human beings deserved to be treated with kindness. Where we saw a stranger, they saw a human being.

Meditate on altruistic love. Studies in psychology have shown that meditating on altruistic love increases people’s feelings of belonging to a community; it enhances the quality of social connections and compassionate attitudes toward unknown people, while at the same reduc- ing discrimination toward particular groups, like people of color, homeless people, and immigrants.

Draw inspiration from friends in the good and spiritual masters. I recommend that everyone see a historical documentary made in India by Arnaud Desjardins at the end of the 1960s, in which we are shown the most respected of the Tibetan masters who took refuge on the Indian slopes of the Himalayas following the Chinese invasion of their country. The film is called The Message of the Tibetans.

 

ALEXANDRE JOLLIEN:

The audacity to live. Existing, opening oneself to the other, is running a risk. It means dropping one’s armor, one’s protective coverings, and opening one’s eyes and daring to give oneself to the other and to the entire world. There’s no way you can invest in a relationship, so throw out your logic of profit and loss! What if we were to embark on our day without any idea of gain or of using our fellow human beings? What if we stayed attentive to all the women and men it is given to us to encoun- ter on that day, looking to find among them masters in being human? 

Identify our profound aspirations. Helping others can often amount to imposing a view of the world on them without really paying any attention to what they really want in their hearts. A man bought an elephant without giving any thought in advance to how he was going to feed it. At a loss, he was obliged to turn for help to those around him, and what he got from them was, “You never should have bought such a big animal!” What does it mean to help others? Does it mean committing completely to being there for them? Does it mean going all the way with them?

Authentic compassion. A will to power might enter into our move- ment toward the other—a thirst for recognition, a twisted attempt to redeem ourselves. Daring a true encounter means quitting the sphere of your neurosis and walking the path of freedom together. There’s no more “me,” no more “you,” but a coalescent “us,” a primordial solidarity.

Coming out of the bunker. As a result of having been burned in our relationship with another, the temptation is great to put on armor, to completely shut ourselves up in a bunker-like fortress, even to the point of suffocation. Don’t our passions, our griefs, our loves, and the fierce- ness of our desire remind us that we are essentially turned toward the other, in perpetual communication? Is there a way to live the thousand and one contacts of daily life without our ego appropriating them?

This is excerpted from the newest book from Matthieu Ricard, Christophe André, and Alexandre Jollien, Freedom For All Of Us: A Monk, A Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist on Finding Inner Freedom.

Copy of MatthieuRicard-AlexandreJollien-ChristopheAndré©PhilippeDanais2017

 

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk, a photographer, and a molecular geneticist who has served as an interpreter for the Dalai Lama. 

Christophe André is a psychiatrist and one of the primary French specialists in the psychology of emotions and feelings.

 Alexandre Jollien is a philosopher and a writer whose work has been attracting an ever-growing readership. Together, they are the authors of In Search of Wisdom and Freedom For All of Us.

picture of the book titles Freedom for All of Us

Learn More

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound

 

Meet a Coauthor of . . . Freedom for All of Us

The Author

Alexandre Jollien is a philosopher and writer who spent 17 years in a home for the physically disabled. His books include In Praise of Weakness. He lives in Switzerland. For more, visit alexandre-jollien.ch.

Freedom for All of Us Cover

The Book

With their acclaimed book In Search of Wisdom, three gifted friends—a monk, a philosopher, and a psychiatrist—shed light on our universal quest for meaning, purpose, and understanding. Now, in this new in-depth offering, they invite us to tend to the garden of our true nature: freedom.

Filled with unexpected insights and specific strategies, Freedom for All of Us presents an inspiring guide for breaking free of the unconscious walls that confine us.

 

Translated from the original responses in French.

What is one unexpected thing or habit that inspires your writing practice? Is there a

playlist or album you listen to?

Sils Maria

Meditation really opens me up to write. Walking too. Above is a photo of me walking in Sils Maria, Switzerland, where Friedrich Nietzsche lived at one time. However, in my eyes, writing is never systematic [or methodical]. It’s not a [mere] technique. A writer has to render themself available to messages that come—in some sense—from beyond. Conversations with friends, explorations into the mundane, family life, the readings of the great thinkers, the practice of Zazen … all these things feed my desire to pick up my pen again. I write, or rather I dictate my writings, in silence. However, sometimes I do enjoy techno music, which keeps me going and wards off anything that could poison an idea I have; “the sad passions” as the philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, called them.

Send us a photo of you and your pet (and let us know if your pet had any role in helping you write your book)!

Grisette

We have a little hamster at home, Grisette, who is our children’s little darling. For me, he embodies peace and a certain serenity. When I look at him, I see a being that isn’t deep in denial and agitated. [Although] sometimes, when he frolics on his hamster wheel, I have the impression that he’s reminding me that my mind, too, can often run in [unnecessary] circles …

 

 

 

If there is a book that started your spiritual journey, what was it? How old were you, and

how did you discover it? How would you describe its impact?

When I was a child, I didn’t enjoy reading and I thought that wisdom was reserved for the elite. I considered culture to be so far removed from everyday problems that I avoided it completely. One day, I accompanied a friend into a bookstore. While I was waiting for her, I flipped through pages from books by Plato and Aristotle. The book [that made an impact] was L’étonnement philosophique [“Philosophic Wonder”] by Jeanne Hersch, which traces the history of Western thought. In my adolescence, that book gave me a great foundation, a benchmark, a marker, a starting point. It’s an admirable book. Afterwards, I really fell into reading the greats, like Plato, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Epictetus, all of which still inspire me today. I was 14 years old then, and reading had changed my life.

Below are portraits [of some of my favorite philosophers and spiritual teachers] painted by my son, Augustin.

portraits

 

 

 

Learn More

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Transform your relationship with your kitchen—and yo...

Hello gorgeous community of amazing human beings,

For the last 15 years, I have been cooking up this question: 

What does it look like to nourish YOU? 

 

Let’s drop everything we might think this is 
and everything you didn’t get done today 

and bring our collective shoulders down from the sky. 

Let’s take a minute here. We are just getting started, yet I feel we need to slow down. Will you take a deep breath with me? Thank you for being here with me. Thank you for breathing. There is nothing to do here. 

You can bring your awareness to your breath with an inhale through your nose. Open your mouth slightly and exhale with a HAAAAAAAAA sound. It feels so good to drop everything and breathe. Me too. To let go, even a little, is a real lovefest for the heart and mind = heart mind. 

It feels so good, can we do one more? 
You can close your eyes this time if you want to—

I will be right here. 

We are just getting here, together.

Now let me ask you again: 
What does it look like to nourish YOU?

What if I told you that your kitchen is a place of stories, mothers, grandmothers, imprints, and emotional weather patterns that shaped how you live now? It is also a place to deeply nourish yourself and cook up the life you have been longing to live. 

Your kitchen (yes your kitchen!) is a fierce, unconditionally loving mother holding what is ripe and ready to become inside of YOU. Who would have thought that you can heal your life in your kitchen? I did! And now you can.  

I am excited to share my new book: The Kitchen Healer: The Journey to Becoming You.

It invites you to bring your entire body into the kitchen, put your shame into the fire, offer your grief to the soup—allowing all you have been hungry for to begin to feed YOU. As you turn on the fire, you will come home to yourself. You will make the room you need, to hear and see and feel the stories you have been carrying.  

 

You will begin, again and again, to become YOU. 
Welcome home. 

In loving service to your courage, your kitchen healer,
x x x x jules

Jules Blaine Davis, the Kitchen Healer, is a TED speaker and one of Goop’s leading experts on women’s healing. She has led transformational gatherings, retreats, and a private practice for over fifteen years. She has facilitated deeply nourishing experiences at OWN and on retreat with Oprah Winfrey, among many other miracles. Jules is a pioneer in her field, inviting women to awaken and rewrite the stories they have been carrying for far too long in their day-to-day lives. She is cooking up a movement to inspire and support women to discover who they are becoming.

This Is Your Time to Be Healthy, Fit, and Fine

Sex, health, happiness, and wealth . . . you know you want it all. And there’s no better time than now for having it all and “gettin’ it good!

Without social networking, motorized vehicles, or modern-day technology, many of our ancestors went for what they wanted and got it. One trailblazing “I’ve got this” woman I revere is Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler. As the Civil War raged in 1864, 33-year-old Rebecca Lee became the first Black female physician in the US. She graduated from what is now Boston University School of Medicine. In 1865, with her husband, Arthur Crumpler, she courageously journeyed to Richmond, Virginia, to provide medical care to recently freed slaves that the White doctors would not touch.

Her life in Virginia wasn’t easy. While there, many pharmacists refused to honor her prescriptions, some hospitals denied her admitting privileges, and some—reportedly, even physician colleagues—wisecracked that the “MD” after her name stood not for medical doctor, but for “mule driver.” But Dr. Crumpler persevered!

She remained in Virginia for almost four years then returned to Boston in 1869, established her medical practice, and wrote a book about women’s and children’s health. She blazed a trail upon which many have and do tread.

Hers is just one story of a brave, determined, capable Black woman. Over the centuries, there have been more in numbers untold! In the 1900s, especially during the Civil Rights Movement, Black women were instrumental in the reckoning of a nation. While their husbands got the most notoriety, matriarchs such as Coretta Scott King, Juanita Abernathy, and Lillian Lewis stood along- side their men and played pivotal roles in moving the nation forward to live up to its creed.

And as the first decade of 2000 ended and a new one began, Black women became increasingly on the move, onward and upward, and are now doctors, accountants, judges, pilots, investment managers, nurses, and elected officials as well as wives, mothers, and caregiving daughters. Undoubtedly, many of today’s Black women are carving out lives about which our great-great- grandmothers may have only dared to dream.

Black women’s voices are no longer muted or silenced; instead, they are heard around the world, with sophisticated, strong, and successful style. In 2020, America elected its first Black female vice president, Kamala Harris, at whose 2021 inauguration the words of the first Youth Poet Laureate of the US, Amanda Gorman, rang forth for the world to hear. But there’s more!

In February 2021, Georgia Tech engineering major Breanna Ivey interned at NASA and helped put their rover, Perseverance, on Mars! And as the COVID-19 pandemic stole lives around the globe, vaccine researcher Kizzmekia Corbett, who has a PhD in microbiology and immunology that she earned at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, worked with the National Institutes of Health and was instrumental in bringing safe, effective vaccines to the world.

Indeed, Black Girl Magic is in full force! When we look around, seemingly there’s hardly any- thing Black women can’t do—and do well—in any field, including medicine, the military, politics, education, technology, business, sports, aeronautics, and the arts. What we put our minds to, we can achieve! With an “I’ve got this” approach and determination, it is ours to be had.

But life is not a bed of roses for all Black women. Too often (and still) negative images barrage our psyches, loved ones in our community lose their lives in gun violence, and our health often needs dramatic improvement. Black women still carry the highest incidence of, and the poorest prognosis for, medical conditions that affect practically every organ system in the body. We are more obese and have a shorter life expectancy than other women in the female demographic, and we carry the highest mortality rate for many killer diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, and more.

Despite those findings, the plight of Black women’s health is rarely, if ever, specifically addressed at length in general women’s health books. For that reason I have stepped outside of my medical office, outside of the sacred space of the surgical suite, even outside of my city and state to offer women in America and abroad Black Women’s Wellness: Your “I’ve Got This!” Guide to Health, Sex, and Phenomenal Living. May it be the one-stop source you can reference on your personal quest to achieve total wellness, health, and happiness in every important aspect of your life. I offer this book as a Black female who grew up poor in a single-parent household. I never knew any of my grandparents, had an absentee father (who I later found when I was 49), a mother with some “issues,” no siblings, and many naysayers in my midst. But to achieve my goals to become a physician and a surgeon, I studied to show myself approved. It wasn’t easy, but I got it done.

Over the years, I’ve seen thousands of women of various ethnicities suffer with chronic diseases, some of which can be avoided, or at least, better controlled. I also know the remarkable and re- warding joy of practicing medicine and performing surgery to remove disease, help women with their infertility, or free them from cancer.

As a physician, my question to you is, Are you taking time to take care of your health? In fact, when did you last really think about—and take time for—your health in a comprehensive, serious, deliberate manner?

Jack Kornfield’s Buddha’s Little Instruction Book reminds us that “each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” Kornfield also tells us, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” Whatever your schedule, lifestyle, religious preference, or personal obligation to others, the reality is you won’t be able to do anybody any good if you’re in poor or failing health. As said in the 2021 movie Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia, “Take one seed of what you give others and plant it in yourself.”

The words and images within these pages present information that is applicable to the specific medical, spiritual, emotional, and social needs of Black women. However, non- Black women can glean valuable information about their health and standing in this book as well because I also provide comparative data for Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American women, as well as some data about our male counterparts. But special attention is given to Black women because the fact is, Black women’s health concerns and challenges are different from those of other women.

In these pages you will find staggering statistics and a less-than-desirable legacy of Black women’s health. But you will also find tools, medical information, and encouragement that can liberate you and Black women everywhere from a similar fate. With knowledge comes power.

Look at all the wonderful things Black women have done and continue to do when they employ their mind and determination in force. Hold on to that because improving one’s physical health is doable—you can do it!— and changing the trajectory of Black women’s health is also doable. It can be done, and it must be done because changing the health of Black women can change the health of the Black fam- ily and that of all future generations. As you review and compare the health statistics across racial lines presented herein, remember one thing: the goal isn’t to be like White or Asian women; the goal is to be healthier Black women. Black Women’s Wellness provides a head-to-toe medical reference, with information that will carry you for years to come. Some of you might read this book cover to cover, as a whole. Others might read chapters that address your, or a loved one’s, current medical concern, circumstance, or curiosity. Or as you flip through the pages, you might see a pie chart or graph that grabs your attention or gives you pause.

In chapter 1, I begin with my “Societal Stress and Black Women’s Health” flowchart that ties together the psychosocial challenges and micro- aggressions that we face as Black women and how those psychosocial stressors can affect our physi- cal well-being.

In part 1, I present timely information about heart disease, diabetes, maternal mortality, cancers, and HIV/AIDS . . . the top five conditions that are robbing Black women of life and longevity.

In part 2, I hone in on our womanly feminine form and function. As with all creation, the hu- man body is a thing of beauty with wonders it performs! No one would be alive today without a woman’s body, for it is through women that all life is formed and born.

Medical conditions can affect all of us—whether we are tall or short; “thick” or thin; heterosexual or homosexual; light-skinned, “olive-complected,” or the color of rich, dark chocolate. You’ll read about your reproductive anatomy and physiol- ogy and the diseases that can affect your female organs, such as fibroid tumors and endometriosis, but also other medical conditions that cause mid- life “female” problems such as a dropped bladder, urinary incontinence, and pelvic pain. You’ll read about vision problems, arthritic conditions, sickle cell disease, multiple sclerosis, and more. And if you are menopausal and utterly confused about hormone replacement therapy, this part can give you guidance.

No book on wellness is fully complete with- out addressing sex. Can I get an amen? Given my personal experience and professional expertise, I wrote the sex, sensuality, and relationships section with a heterosexual approach. But regardless of your sexual preference or identity, in part 3, you’ll read about the health benefits of having sex (with whoever rocks your boat). There’s also sage infor- mation about sexually transmitted diseases and how to identify any residual sexual hang-ups you may have so you can fully enjoy and benefit from the experience that love-making was meant to be.

Maybe your love life has gone from a sizzle to a fizzle, you have trouble achieving orgasm, or you experience pain with intercourse. Or perhaps you’re wondering if male enhancement medica- tions work in women or how you can possibly en- joy sex in a day of rampant sexually transmitted diseases and men “on the down-low.” Fret not; you’ve come to the right place! I give you tips on how to boost your sex life and get or keep the passion going with your sweetie. I also offer you advice on how to address these intimate issues (including sexual dysfunction) with your doctor.

And last, in part 4, I round out the call for total wellness with information on relationships, love, beauty, mental health, mindfulness, and financial well-being. I also provide a checklist for you to take stock of your health to identify the specific areas that require your medical attention.

To find happiness in a world of frequent, near-daily rejection, it is important to have inner strength, self-assurance, emotional balance, and reliable friends and family. Part 4 will give you useful tips to achieve inner peace, to keep your brain active and alert, and to avoid toxic people. It will advise you on how to capitalize on your best traits and, if needed, minimize those traits you find less desirable or that impede your personal or professional goals.

Proper diet and physical activity for increasing the secretion of endorphins—the “feel good” body chemicals—will be addressed, and tips for hair and skin care will be presented. Lastly, unique medical “pearls of wisdom” will help you improve your interpersonal relationships. Along the way, I will share a few anecdotes of my life’s journey; perhaps they will encourage you to keep moving forward when you feel you just can’t take another step.

I am excited for you and me. Despite the doom and gloom of the past, it is possible for Black women to achieve medical parity and live the best, healthiest life possible in the 21st century. We need not give up hope, for there have been and will continue to be victories and successes in the lives of women whose skin has been bountifully kissed by the sun. As never before, the 21st century presents a new day and an exciting time in health-care technology, research education, and improved medical outcomes, and no woman—whether Asian, Hispanic, Native American, White, or Black—should be left behind. Not anymore. This can yet be our time to shine, as many of us are living well past the statistical projections of life and death . . . and doing so in healthy, fine, fun, and sexy style!

Total wellness and phenomenal living are aspirations many Black women enjoy and others seek to attain. It can be done; the journey begins with just one step. Black Women’s Wellness may prove to be the long-needed source that can encourage, educate, comfort, and celebrate you, me, and Black women everywhere. With the information in this book, the evergreen list of resources I’ve provided at the end, and an “I’ve got this!” determination, your 21st-century journey to total wellness, physical health, and phenomenal living can begin right now. Let’s get started!

Melody T. McCloud, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist-surgeon, media consultant, public speaker, and author. She lectures nationwide on women’s health, sex, and social issues and has served on an advisory council of the CDC. Affiliated with Emory University Hospital Midtown, Dr. McCloud was honored as one of the 25 most influential doctors in Atlanta and named Physician of the Year by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. She has appeared on CNN, ABC, NBC, Court TV, and in the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, Parade, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and more.

Sound Healing & Meditation: How Vocal Toning Can ...

Have you ever sat down to meditate and found it nearly impossible to relax and find the stillness you were hoping for?  There’s a little known sound healing secret that may just help you to overcome the initial restlessness when starting your practice.

The secret can actually be found in the opposite of silence, by using the sound of your voice and vocal toning to ground yourself, calm your nervous system, and clear your mind. 

How Sound Deepens the Silence

Chanting, mantra, and vocal toning have long been practiced in tandem with silent sitting meditation by both ancient and modern yogis and buddhists.  You may have experienced this yourself in a yoga class meditation that starts with three AUM’s.  There are different reasons why various types of voice are incorporated into the practice, but when it comes to preparing for silence, knowing this one concept can make all the difference.  

When we begin a practice by filling our bodies and our meditation environment with sound, whether that be our own voice, the sound of a singing bowl, gong, harmonium, or other instrument, it creates contrast with silence when the sound is gone.  There is a big difference in how we experience silence when the silence is preceded by sound, and once the sound is taken away, the silence can be experienced much more deeply.  

Peace Is A Stable Consistent Vibration

The foundational practice here is to use your own voice to create a stable consistent vibration within your body.  By repeatedly toning a vowel sound such as Eh, Ah, Oh, Uh, or AUM, on the same note, your body and mind will automatically begin to relax and become more calm and focused.  The vagus nerve, which runs through your neck, is right next to your vocal chords, and the effect of the voice on nervous system regulation is well studied.  

Vocal toning and humming increases nitric oxide, which can reduce blood pressure, slow the heart rate, and slow brain wave speeds from high functioning beta to slower meditative states of alpha, theta, delta.  You can even literally sing yourself to sleep (I know because I’ve done this myself by accident while toning!)

Singing IS Breathwork – Breathing IS Sound Healing  

Sound healing is not just about audible frequencies, but also about rhythms and the frequency of rhythms within the body.  The breath is one of the most fundamental rhythms we can access for reducing stress and restoring peace within the body.  

It is well known that extending an exhale longer than the length of the inhale will slow down the heart rate and calm the nervous system.  When we’re singing, toning, humming, and extending the length of that sound, we are essentially extending the length of the exhale to be longer than the inhale.  

This is why singing IS breathwork taken to the next level with the sound of your voice.  While it may seem a bit awkward at first, your body LOVES the sound of your own voice, and you can nourish your body in profound ways using the gift of this internal instrument.

How to Practice Vocal Toning Before Meditation

Go ahead and get into your meditative position, whether sitting or laying down.  For best results, I recommend at least 3-5 minutes of toning or humming to really give yourself time to get lost in the sound.  

  1. Using your voice, find a note that feels comfortable in the moment.  This will likely be a lower note in your normal speaking range, or maybe even slightly lower than your normal speaking voice.  It should be a note that doesn’t create any strain or tension in your voice, and can allow you to relax while maintaining the pitch.  
  2. Find a vowel sound that feels good to you.  For the most grounding and calming effect use Ah, Oh, Uh, or a combination of all three such as AUM (Ah, Oh, Um).  For more “clearing effect” EE, and Eh sounds can be effective for releasing stuck and negative thoughts or emotions.  Humming with the mouth closed is also a very effective method that can be thought of as singing down into your own body by keeping the sound inside rather than projecting it out.  
  3. At the beginning of each cycle of toning, take a long deep breath through the nose to receive as much breath as you can, and then begin to let the sound emerge from your voice in a slow and controlled manner.  Try to extend the length of your sound by releasing only enough breath to create the sound.  You may find that after a few rounds of toning you are able to take in more breath and extend your sound for longer periods of time.  
  4. If you feel any self-consciousness, awkwardness, embarrassment coming up, this is totally normal, even for experienced singers!  Let it be an opportunity for letting go of any self-judgment and try to stick with the practice.  You will find that these feelings will soon go away and will be replaced with feelings of peace and even the experience of timelessness.
  5. See if you can feel the subtle vibrations traveling through your body.  You will likely find that you can feel the sound traveling all the way to your toes, fingers, the hair on your head, various parts of your skin.  Just notice where the sound is traveling.
  6. To take things even deeper, bring in the emotions/intentions of gratitude or love and visualize those positive feelings riding on the sound waves from your voice to every cell of your body, filling yourself with beautiful vibrations.  
  7. Practice for 3-5 minutes or however long feels most comfortable to you, and when you are ready, let your final sounds dissipate into silence.  Continue to breathe normally and take notice of how much deeper the silence now feels.  You may continue your silent meditation practice from there for however long you desire.

Finding Your Homenote and Balancing Energy with the Voice

If you’re enjoying the use of your voice for stress relief and for starting your meditation practice, there are ways to get even more intentional with the voice.  We have the amazing ability to clear energetic blockages, restore balance to energetic deficiencies, and return to a state of peace using our own voices.  You can learn more on my website 1:11 Sound Healing.  

Nicholas Penn

Nicholas Penn, 1:11 Sound Healing

Nicholas Penn is a life-long musician, producer, and sound therapist with a certification in Sound Healing through Globe Sound Healing Institute.  Nicholas is passionate about educating and empowering individuals to access the gift of their own voice to restore peace and improve wellness for themselves and loved ones.  He is also a producer for Sounds True and leads strategy and content creation for the Sounds True YouTube channel and Eckhart Tolle Spotify Channel.  Learn more at 111soundhealing.com   

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