Wednesday December 12, 2018

Mirabai Bush speaks about her root-teacher Neem Karoli Baba (Part 5)

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By Nithin Sridhar

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Mirabai Bush

During a time when people across the world are struggling hard to manage work-related stress and balance professional and personal lives, Mirabai Bush has helped thousands to harmonize their lives and optimize their outputs through contemplation and mindfulness practices.

She is the co-founder of The Center for Contemplative Mind and Society and teaches contemplative practices and develops programs that apply contemplative principles to organizational life. She had also helped Google create its ‘Search Inside Yourself’ program, and was one among those who introduced Buddhist practices in the West in the 1970’s.

She traces her spiritual practices to her root-teacher, Neem Karoli Baba and other masters in India from whom she learned various Hindu and Buddhist meditation practices. In an exclusive interview with NewsGram she spoke about her life, her work, and her stay in India way back in 1970’s.

Interview with Mirabai Bush- Part 5 (Concluding part)

Mirabai Bush and Neem Karoli Baba

Neem Karoli Baba was the root-teacher of Mirabai Bush and others like Larry Brilliant, Ram Dass, and Krishna Das who were with her. Speaking about her time with Neem Karoli Baba and his teachings, Mirabai Bush said that Neem Karoli Baba never taught them any practices. Whenever any of them wanted to learn meditation from S.N. Goenka who was their Buddhist teacher, he used to say “of course, of course. Go to the course.” She further said that, he did not teach them Kirtan (chanting) as well. But, Maharajji would have kirtan done when he came in (to give Darshan) at different times. So, they kind of figured out that they could practice Kirtan as well.

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Neem Karoli Baba

She gave the example of Krishna Das, who was one among Maharajji’s western disciples who had a very good voice and whose Kirtans are now played in many of the Yoga studios in the US. She added that Krishna Das’s album was also nominated in 2013 for the Grammy Award.

Returning back to the topic, she said: “So mostly we just sat and we drank tea. When people came to him, occasionally he would give them some advice. He really did not talk about philosophy but only gave simple advices. He is most famous for telling three things: love everyone, Serve everyone, and remember God.

“One time, Maharajji said to me: ‘Never go where there is no love.’ So, when I came back to the United States, I thought that ‘never go where there is no love’ meant just staying with people who are loving. So, I did that at first. But when I started working with Seva Foundation I thought that the message must have been bigger than that. I felt that if I am loving, then I can go anywhere, because I will bring love with me. So I started trying to create loving situations like the work in Guatemala. Then, in the recent years, the message has changed for me. Now it means that I should just be there and be aware of or be able to discover love that is in everyone.

She said that in the last 20 years she has been working on The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, and it aims to bring these contemplative practices into mainstream secular settings so that common people are benefited. She has been working with corporates, judges, lawyers, academic professors, ex-gang leaders, and with the army. She said: “I found that it’s always just us. If you can be present enough to be here and see the purity in any human being, then it is always there.” It may be people in the army or those who are in the corporates, but beneath all the outer stuff, there is always a heart. She described this ability to see the inner heart in others as the “greatest gift that Neem Karoli Baba gave to me.”

Mirabai Bush about her name

When asked about how she got the name “Mirabai”, Bush cheerfully stated that she got that name from Neem Karoli Baba. She continued: “It’s a tradition with a Guru, to be given a name, a name that acts as a practice for life. You reflect on ways in which you can embody what that name stands for. And Mirabai philosophically stands as an embodiment for loving God as a lover. I was young when I was given that name and I felt it was great. The day Maharajji gave me my name, he asked-‘Do you know who Mirabai was?’ But, I did not know.

“So, from another devotee who was present there, I got to know about the story of Mirabai, how she was a queen but gave up all worldly goods to sing for Krishna and love Krishna. I also came to know how her in-laws did not wanted her to worship Krishna and when they could not stop her, how they tried to get rid of her. I was also told about how a snake sent by her in-laws turned into rose petals when she opened the basket. I started admiring all these stories and I just felt that it was a very wonderful name.”

And she laughingly recounted how, after she got her name, her then husband John got up and ran out of the temple. She said: “Maharajji sent Ram Dass to bring him back and when they both returned, Maharajji asked John ‘What’s the matter?’ John replied that he did not wanted to be the husband who keeps his wife from God! To this, Maharajji replied: ‘No. You are Krishna. You are the one she loves!’ So, it’s been a great name for me and people love to say it.”

She mischievously added: “If you Google Mirabai Bush, then there is only one name and that’s mine!”

Mirabai Bush about her current project

At the end of the interview, when asked about the projects she is currently handling Mirabai Bush shared about her teaching programs and how she teaches various groups of people including students in the Amherst College. She said that she is also working with Ram Dass on a book titled “I am Dying” that attempts to give a contrast between the culture surrounding death in India and the West.

More in the Series:

Mirabai Bush speaks on Mindfulness and its application in Google (Part 1)

Mirabai Bush speaks on her stay in India and the Guatemala Project (Part 2)

Mirabai Bush speaks on Yoga and its uprooting (Part 3)

Mirabai Bush speaks on Right Livelihood & Center for Contemplative Mind in Society (Part 4)

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New Study Shows Link Between Meditation And Greater Focus

Supplementation, a healthy diet, and daily exercise are key, with recent studies showing that aerobic exercise also increases brain size.

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Pranayamic breathing is just one way to improve brain health.

Pranayamic breathing – an important part of yoga and meditation – has a unique ability to strengthen our focus and a new study by Trinity College Dublin has unlocked its secret. The researchers note that pranayamic breathing affects the levels of a natural chemical in the brain called noradrenaline. The latter is released when we are challenged, curious, focused, or emotionally excited. When present at the right levels, noradrenaline helps the brain grow new connections and helps us concentrate better on important tasks.

The old masters were on the right track

The researchers noted: “Practitioners of yoga have claimed for some 2,500 years, that respiration influences the mind. We looked for a neurophysiological link that could help explain these claims.” The researchers did so by measuring breathing, reaction time, and brain activity in a small area in the brainstem called the locus coeruleus, where noradrenaline is made. Noradrenaline is affected by stress; when we are worried or anxious we produce too much, and cannot concentrate. When we feel lazy, on the other hand, we produce too little and once again, focus is lost. One way to boost levels is through yoga; another method which can complement the latter is the consumption of medical grade focus supplements, which contain compounds such as octopamine (which has a similar effect to noradrenaline).

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Conversely, those with lower mindfulness ratings had greater activation of this part of the brain and also felt more pain. Pixabay

Pranayamic breathing aces the right balance

In the above study, researchers noted that brain activity in the part of the brain where noradrenaline is produced raises slightly when we inhale and drops slightly as we exhale. Thus, balance is achieved and we can focus on what we have set out to do. Pranayama not only boosts concentration but also produces “changes in arousal, attention, and emotional control that can be of great benefit to the meditator.”

What is Pranayamic breathing?

Pranayamic breathing involves controlling and extending breath, with a view to manipulating your vital energy, battling stress, and improving your mood. It is often used in meditation and yoga and interestingly, many yoga experts rank pranayama as even more important than asanas (the postures performed in a yoga session). In yogic tradition, breath is said to carry a person’s life force. Interestingly, scientific studies back this assertion to the extent that pranayamic breathing is able to boost brain function and change the actual structure of the brain. In recent studies, pranayamic breathing has been found to lower or stabilize blood pressure, lower stress, and reduce anxiety and depression.

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In order to comprehend better the Indian seers constructed the special “BOAT” – named Yoga/Meditation.

Implications of the study for aging

The researchers are excited that their findings could signal a way to prevent brain aging. They stated that if brains typically lose mass as we age, practices such as pranayamic breathing greatly reduce the rate of brain shrinkage, thus potentially helping keep dementia and related diseases at bay. Because keeping noradrenaline levels at an optimal level can help the brain grow new connections, meditation is an ideal activity to pursue.

Pranayamic breathing is just one way to improve brain health. Supplementation, a healthy diet, and daily exercise are key, with recent studies showing that aerobic exercise also increases brain size. To make the most of the effect of breathing on focus, consider joining a yoga class or learning the essence of pranayamic breathing online or through an app like Prana Breath or Universal Breathing.