Greater peace can be achieved by finding inner peace,” said the 77-year-old Dalai Lama, sporting an orange Syracuse University visor as he spoke during the Common Ground for Peace events last month at the Carrier Dome. Laughing at his own jokes and interacting easily with co-presenters, His Holiness seemed to be enjoying every minute of his visit to Syracuse. Appearing happy and healthy, his presence gave further credibility to his message that a peaceful mind and body promote health and happiness.
“To know reality, body and mind, we need to think more. Greater consciousness leads us to greater inner peace and outer peace.” said His Holiness, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people and Buddhism. It is suggested that meditation enables you to access your subconscious mind and eventually a higher consciousness.
Jikyo Bonnie Shoultz, Buddhist chaplain at SU’s Hendricks Chapel, agreed. “I am a Zen Buddhist nun, and health and wellness is not the reason I meditate and practice. However, I believe meditation is one reason that I am healthy and happy at age 71.
“Like most people, I have experienced turbulent emotions and moods at various times during my life,” said Shoultz, “and have had recurring negative thoughts that are not based in reality. I began practicing meditation about 16 years ago and have found that this regular practice has helped me to recognize these when they occur and to counter them with positivity and a much more serene outlook.”
She added that recent studies show that meditation can lower blood pressure, decrease feelings of loneliness and depression, reduce stress, and counteract many other ways in which people suffer unnecessarily. “The practice of paying attention to the present moment, to the breath or a sensation that occurs in the present, rather than to thoughts about past events or future possibilities, is statistically associated with positive health outcomes,” Shoultz said.
While there are many risk factors to personal health and wellness, researchers and the Dalai Lama concur that mindful meditation is a proactive practice that can reduce the risk of certain illnesses while fostering non-judgmental attitudes and behavior.
According to the Mayo Clinic, if the thoughts that run through your head are mostly negative, your outlook on life is more likely pessimistic. If your thoughts are mostly positive, you’re likely to be an optimist, someone who practices positive thinking. Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Current evidence suggests that health benefits from positive thinking include increased life span, lower rates of depression, lower levels of distress, greater resistance to the common cold, better psychological and physical well-being, reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and better coping skills during hardships and times of stress.
Health educators at the Mayo Clinic emphasize that while it is unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits, one theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on the body. Their advice: When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge or embrace forgiveness and move forward. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you. Plus, you can experience less anxiety, stress and hostility, lower blood pressure and fewer symptoms of depression.
In his Syracuse visit, the Dalai Lama further suggested that inner tranquility could benefit from the development of love and compassion. He explained his worldview of our shared humanity: “We are same person, one person. Your happiness is my happiness. Your unhappiness is my unhappiness.” By awareness of our shared humanity and reaching out to others, we cultivate compassion and well being. “An understanding of one another fosters peace, free and positive change,” His Holiness said.
The Dalai Lama isn’t the only person who feels this way. “I believe that doing kind things for others and feeling compassion for others is crucial to health and well-being,” Shoultz said, “given that personal benefit is not the reason for acting kindly and cultivating a compassionate heart.”
She has seen people in their 90s whose vitality and energy she attributes to their years of giving to other people. “Some of the most important practices for health and well-being are meditation that focuses on the present moment and the cultivation of positive qualities such as gratitude, compassion, forgiveness and letting go of negativity, and carrying those qualities into daily life.”
When speaking of inner peace and peace between people of the world, the Dalai Lama tried to rally his Carrier Dome audience with a call to action. “If you want peace, don’t sit and ask for it, or just pray for it, like this, ‘Peace, peace, peace.’ You have to get up and take action! It’s our duty as human beings to help one another.”
For online messages by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, visit dalailama.com/messages. For information on local Zen meditation visit the Zen Center of Syracuse, 266 W. Seneca Turnpike, zencenterofsyracuse.org. The Spiritual Renewal Center, 1119 Court St. Suite B, offers a Contemplative Prayer Group every Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Marnie Blount-Gowan is a member of the Crouse Hospital Integrative Health Alliance, Mind Body Health instructor and editor of Realewell.com.