Stacey Smith offers a journey toward achieving inner calm with four simple words: stop, calm, rest and heal.
“First, you stop. Physically and mentally, you stop looking, talking, doing,” says Smith, the lead teacher and facilitator at Flowering Tree Meditation in Syracuse. The stillness helps detach a person from external stimuli.
“Second, you invite calm by breathing in and out, by opening yourself to being still,” she says. Drawing deep into the inner calm behind closed eyes and a still body, you begin to feel serenity seeping in. “Next, you find rest by letting things go with each exhalation.” You make a mental and physical effort to distance yourself from whatever is bothering you—tension, a difficult situation, or even pain—with each breath out.
“Finally, you begin to heal by retreating to a quiet place.” Just as most mammals go to their den for sleep, to rest and heal, we can do the same, she says, by returning to our “inner den” through meditation.
Meditation is a broad term for the practice of mindfulness and awareness achieved through rising and falling breath, and an inward focus. For parents who experience the daily ebb and flow of stress, devoting a few minutes a day to meditation offers many rewards.
“Practicing meditation can lead to a state of mindful parenting,” says Smith. “We are all swayed by our circumstances; meditation helps you to find refuge within yourself.”
She leads groups at her Westcott Street location on weekdays and evenings. Mostly women gather to sit in a circle, focus on their breathing, and begin to clear and empty themselves of stress and tension. Smith says that just setting up a time for yourself within a community provides an incredible bonding experience and helps carry the effects out into the world.
Smith has taught meditation in schools, jails, shelters and clinics, to people of all ages. During college at Colgate University, Smith studied comparative religions, concentrating in the Buddhist tradition. As a college student, she journeyed to Sri Lanka, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean, for intensive training in vipassana meditation. There, she witnessed children as young as 6 years old learning to meditate.
Now, she instructs local schoolchildren on what it means to sit still and to focus on their breathing. In a culture rife with short attention spans, sound bytes, and visual, auditory and physical over-stimulation, just sitting still for a few minutes at a time can be challenging, even for adults.
“But even the youngest children are able to create a sense of internal refuge this way,” says Smith. “And as they get older, they are less likely to seek the external soothing found in negative places.” Children who look within themselves for peace and calm are able to better cope with difficult situations throughout their lives.
Although she has studied and practiced breath meditation and other forms of meditation her whole adult life, Smith still considers herself a practitioner reaching for inner soothing. Some people think they are not meditating, she says, because they cannot empty their minds of all thought or because they feel they are not achieving calmness. The intention is most important, she says. Achieving is not as important as continuing to practice.
“Meditation seeks to foster a culture based on respect, dignity and loving kindness versus the aggression, competition and over-stimulus in the world today,” says Smith. The elements of mindfulness, she explains, are not just ways to de-stress and cope with the challenges that pop up but are useful tools in self-awareness, healing and long-term well being.
Smith will offer a free workshop on the Stop, Calm, Rest, Heal program’s introduction to meditation at Flowering Tree Meditation on Saturday, Feb. 6, from 2 to 4 pm. This special session just for Family Times
readers will teach the basic principles and practice of breathing meditation. For more information about the special session or other classes at Flowering Tree, call 470-0778 or visit http://floweringtreemeditation.blogspot.com/
Sami Arseculeratne Martinez, who has a grown son and daughter, lives in Hamilton with her husband, three cats and assorted backyard wildlife. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO