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Spiritual Sedona: the Arizona town bursting with positive vibes

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January 5, 2017
The Guardian | Tara Isabella Burton

Locals call Sedona, Arizona, a cathedral without walls. It’s not just the landscape – those red cliffs, mesas rearing up against a crisp and empty sky, that inspired Hollywood producers of the 1930s and 40s to shoot westerns such as Broken Arrow and Stagecoach in the area. Three million tourists a year come to this town of barely 10,000, nestled among towering rusty sandstone rock formations in the northern Verde valley. Many of these visitors are pilgrims, particularly at this time of year, headed to Arizona in search of spiritual renewal.

Sedona has no major churches, no relics, no established holy sites. But what it does have are “vortexes” – a series of unmarked points around Sedona’s various cliffs that locals and visitors alike imbue with new-age significance.

Where that significance comes from – like the actual number of vortexes in Sedona, which varies from guide to guide – is subject to debate. Locals cite legends about the area’s sanctity to local Native American tribes. However, Sedona didn’t become America’s new age capital until the 1980s, when a US psychic named Page Bryant identified the vortexes after a vision. These vortexes were places where spiritual energy was at its highest point, where you could tap into the frequencies of the universe, where you could, by closing your eyes, start to change your life. Spiritual seekers across the country listened. In 1987, Sedona was host to one of the largest branches of the Harmonic Convergence – a new age synchronised meditation – when 5,000 pilgrims came to get in touch with the universe at the Bell Rock butte, believed by many to be a vortex.

Now, among the juniper trees, you can find strip-malls full of crystal shops, aura-reading stations and psychics. At ChocolaTree Organic Eatery, shiva lingams – statues normally associated with Hindu temples – stand against the walls; next door, a UFO-themed diner called ET Encounter (formerly the Red Planet) serves Roswell-themed burgers and old Star Trek episodes play on the TV. Every other office along the state route running through town offers a “spiritual tour” of the vortexes. The national forests are full of small cairns people have left as spiritual offerings. These are regularly removed by forest service rangers in order to preserve the site’s ecological integrity.

Many of Sedona’s businesses are also geared towards wellbeing and purification, if not enlightenment: the town’s highest-end “hotel”, L’Auberge de Sedona (rooms from $270), which consists of luxury cottages and lodges, supplements traditional spa offerings with an outdoor “creekside massage”, where guests are invited to dip their feet in the river and squelch mud between their toes, washing off the dirt with creek water scented with flower petals. My own hotel, the Sedona Rouge (doubles from $150 B&B), a ranch-inspired boutique hotel near Coffee Pot Rock, which towers over western Sedona, offers guests morning poolside yoga sessions before their turmeric-tofu breakfast scrambles.

Near the centre of town, the McLean Meditation Institute avoids the language of what owner Sarah McLean calls the “woos” – those locals who take their magic and their crystals a bit too seriously – by offering mindfulness and meditation classes that, though influenced by eastern traditions, are geared toward the spiritual and the just-plain-stressed alike.

When I sit cross-legged in her studio, which overlooks a hiking supply store and several Native American-inspired art galleries, McLean identifies my neuroses and gives me a few maxims for meditation: focus less on the future and on all that work I have to do, and give myself over to awareness of the present.

It’s easy to be sceptical about Sedona. The relentless barrage of wellness and self-improvement-focused tourism can border on the cloying (after a delicately-spiced breakfast of quinoa and almond milk at ChocolaTree, I find myself all but begging a waitress at a nearby downmarket diner to give me the strongest, worst-quality filter coffee she can find). My vortex tour with Mark Griffon of Sedona Mystical Tours ($135, three hours) – who starts off the morning with a sage cleansing near a stone-circle “medicine wheel” he’s assembled himself in his backyard – is at times uncomfortably intense, as one of the attendees breaks down into sobs during a meditation against a juniper tree called Fred.

But Sedona’s natural beauty – rearing rust-stained rock faces, orange-dust pathways around sage-scented mesas, searing blue skies – induces, if not spirituality, then at least a certain awe. My favourite moments there are not the guided meditations or the past life readings, but when I can hike, wander, explore on my own.

Walking through the yucca strands and mesquite branches, in the rust-and-gold shadow of the vortex site known as Cathedral Rock; listening to the sound of another traveller’s panpipes on the top of Airport Mesa; sneaking away from a tour to close my eyes and feel the scorching sun on my skin, sitting alone with a book and (mercifully strong) coffee at the Oak Creek Brewery and Grill hearing the creek murmur in the distance – all these provoke a sensation as close to mindfulness as any I’d experienced. I don’t know if I am in a cathedral. But there are worse ways to spend a Sunday morning.

Reboot Yourself: Amazing Wellness Escapes To Cleanse Your Mind & Refresh You From Stress

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December 28, 2016
Travelers Today | Jacq Evans

However charming, the holidays have a habit of leaving us with a heavy feeling of exhaustion. Most of us will cap off the year with some combination of occasion overload, domestic drama, and social media fishing, a combination not ideal to clearing our heads. Here is a rundown of activities that may aid in clearing your head from the urban and holiday buzz.

Revitalize Entanglement

The newest in the Aman Wellness portfolio is found at opulent Mughal-themed Amanbagh in India’s Aravalli Hills. It is a seven- to 21-day retreat revolving around preventive medicine drawn from the earliest teachings of Ayurveda and anti-aging procedures, which will surely clear your head. An in-house Ayurvedic physician identifies each guest’s dosha or Ayurvedic type and fashions a custom-made program based on that information, comprising a meal plan and purifying body cures. This event will take place in Amanbagh, Rajasthan, India from today until May 31.

Stress-Free Realization Retreats

This retreat will take place in Six Senses Douro Valley, Lamego, Portugal on January 26 to 30 and March 26 to 30. The experience which is profoundly inclined by Eastern beliefs embraces a singular wellness evaluation, Tai Chi, daily seminars, meditation, and yoga, as well as fitness lessons and regular massages. This is especially perfect for finding work-life balance, for those considering a vocation change, or for those who want to clear their heads.

Satori Mindfulness Meditation Spa Retreat

This event will take place at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa, Scottsdale, Arizona on January 22 to 25. Sarah McLean, Hay House author and instituting director of the Sedona Meditation Training Company, will spearhead this retreat to promote relaxation, balance, self-reflection and clear your head. Moreover, there will be activities for reflective guidance in optimisms of answering tough problems about purpose and identity, participants indulge in mindful organic banquets by Food Network star and Executive Chef Beau MacMillan and four one-hour spa treatments.

Escape Politics: Find Spectacular Beauty, And Zen, In Sedona Arizona

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May 21, 2016
Forbes | Lea Lane

I’ve found few places that are as serenely beautiful as Sedona Arizona. You can hike, bike, drive off-road, fish, and enjoy art galleries and cafes, and outdoor concerts in natural amphitheaters under clear, star-filled skies. Travelers flock to Sedona’s red rock bluffs, sandstone monoliths and towering spires to take in the natural scenery, elegance and serenity.

And Sedona’s reputation as a spiritual mecca and global power hotspot has drawn healers, artists and spiritual guides, and created powerful places of worship for faiths and thinking of all kinds. Between the sun-soaked spires and lush greenery lies personal escape from the bustle of life (especially in this rancorous U.S. election season!).

Inspiration and rejuvenation are feelings often expressed by visitors. Many are drawn to Sedona by the intense energy and the healing, therapeutic feelings intensified among nature’s stone temples glowing startlingly red against the blue sky.

“Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau”

You can find peace by just finding a pretty place, breathing the fresh air and appreciating the quiet. And many organizations offer spiritually-based programs. Three of the most well-regarded places of zen where locals and travelers gather to achieve relaxation and rejuvenation include the Amitabha Stupa, Sedona Spirit Yoga and the McLean Meditation Institute:

Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park

The Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park in the stunning red rock country is a place for meditation and spiritual renewal. Situated on 14 pristine acres at the base of imposing, iconic Thunder Mountain, the land is deemed holy by native peoples. The striking 36-foot enlightenment stupa gets its name from Buddha Amitabha, the Buddha of Limitless Light, whose bronze image is nestled in the faceplate of the stupa. Filled with hundreds of millions of prayers for peace, sacred relics and ritual offerings, the Amitabha Stupa is a vortex of enlightened presence and a beacon of blessings for all beings.

Sedona Spirit Yoga

For more than twenty years, Sedona Spirit Yoga has been welcoming guests to experience yoga on red rock vortex hikes, enjoy a nurturing break from everyday life and access greater peace within. Its leaders are expert Sedona retreat guides and veteran hikers who are deeply connected with the sacred land and vortex energy. The yoga hikes are tailored to hiking ability and pace, along with spiritual experience, whether a short hike to meditate near a vortex or a long jaunt on a rigorous hiking trail.

McLean Meditation Institute

The McLean Meditation Institute (MMI) is a leader in offering professional meditation and mindfulness teacher training. MMI was founded by Hay House author Sarah McLean in 2006, after 20 years of a deep personal meditation practice, working in the personal transformation field. She is known as the face of contemporary meditation, and headed up the education programs at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing. She spent two years living in a Zen Buddhist monastery, and traveled much of the world by bicycle, seeking the secrets of meditation. She brings this life experience to her practice in Sedona, offering services to both personal and professional groups across the globe.

The Meaning of Life

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March 27, 2016
Excellence Reporter

Does anyone really know the answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”

I am going to imagine you are asking. You, yes you, the one reading these words.

The purpose of life is to become utterly aware of the source of your life, of all lives, and in fact, of all of creation. I believe the source of your life is love. It is the same love that moves the mountains, that moves you, and that it is inherent in everything. Some people would call this love God, others, the creative field of intelligence, some, the field of love, or your true nature. It doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is that you have the direct experience of it and come to realize this love is inside you and all around you.

For a moment, turn your attention to that which is looking through your eyes, and reading these words. What is there? What is that? Now listen to the sounds in the room you are in. Who is it who is listening, what is this “you” that is attending to and aware of these sounds?

As you just experienced, you have the power to focus your attention where and how you want. And, we know from physics, that there is an observer effect. Your gentle, natural attention has an effect on the world around you.

Once you begin to become aware of your attention, you inevitably will become more intimate with its source.

Consider the question again, who is it who was reading, and listening? Consider from what/where this attention arises.

Your attention arises from your awareness — a field of love and light. You can think of your attention as a currency. And a valuable one. It is the currency of love, and you can use it like a flashlight, shining its beam onto what you wanted illuminate.

What happens to that which you truly give your natural attention to, whether it’s your body, your plants, your education, your environment, your pets, your partner, or your kids? I imagine your attention nourishes the relationship. What does it feel like to be paid kind attention? Does it feel like love? Perhaps your attention is love. Knowing this, you just might start to become more in charge of to what and to whom you “pay” your attention.

You can’t think your way to this realization. In fact, the more you think about what I am writing about, the less you will realize it.

The way I, and many people before me, have been able to awaken to this reality is through meditation. Meditation, when practiced correctly, without preconceived ideas, allows you to become intimate with your interior. Meditation is a practice that settles the fluctuations of the mind—thought is transcended. With mediation you then can have the direct experience of the source of your awareness. And this realization changes everything.

I hope you too realize the source of your life—the field of love—the creative intelligence that infuses all that is. You will always find what you are looking for, and you will come to realize that what you are seeking is in fact seeking you. My prayer for everyone is this: may you awaken to the love that lives through you as you. May you realize your true nature.

How to communicate like a Buddhist — mindfully and without judgment

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September 2, 2015
The Washington Post | Cynthia Kane

There’s a lot that used to frustrate me about communicating. Well, if I’m honest, it was that I didn’t know how to do it. I knew how to speak and string words together, but no one ever sat me down and taught me the purpose of communication or how to effectively express myself so I was heard and how to listen so I could understand. A lot of times it seemed that because I knew how to talk, that automatically meant I should know how to communicate.

Let’s be honest, communicating effectively is hard to do, especially in heated situations. It’s difficult because rarely do we stop to pay attention to what we’re saying or the purpose of our communication.

What I’ve found to help guide me on my quest is the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, specifically mindful communication.

“Mindfulness means being present with what you are doing, while you are doing it, with a nonjudgmental attitude,” says Sarah McLean, director of McLean Meditation Institute in Sedona, Ariz. “Not only is mindfulness a formal practice of meditation, it can also be the way one is engaged in activity. It is real-time gentle, present-moment, nonjudgmental attention while walking, mindfully eating, mindfully showering, for example.”

So how does this apply to communication? Mindful communication is the practice of bringing our attention to our words. It means we are aware of what we’re saying while we’re saying it. It is a practice of observation and not evaluation. It is paying attention to others on purpose with a moment-to-moment awareness. And because it’s a learned skill ,anyone can apply it to his or her life.

Some would say the goal of Buddhism is to reach enlightenment, an elimination of suffering, and mindfulness is a practice used to achieve this goal. “Most of our contemporary mindfulness practices originate from the Buddhist tradition, where the four foundations of mindfulness (of body, feeling, mind and objects of mind) are a basic practice,” says Susan Gillis Chapman, author of “The Five Keys To Mindful Communication.”

“In particular, in Buddhism there are precepts for mindful speech that focus on refraining from causing harm,” she says. “In lay Buddhist communities, this is practiced by refraining from harsh speech, gossiping and from dishonesty, which includes being dishonest with ourselves.” To communicate mindfully then shows us that the purpose of our speech is to help others and ourselves suffer less.

How, then, can we start to apply mindfulness to our speech so our words are kind, honest and helpful? By paying attention to our words, releasing judgment, and being in the moment.

1. Pay Attention

We’ve all been in situations where we’ve said something or reacted in a way that later we regretted, whether it was during an argument or fueled by resentment or by letting our attempts at poking fun get out of hand. Not only do we feel bad for what we said or for slamming doors and walking away, but we also see the hurt we’ve caused someone else. It’s in the aftermath of these situations that we see how powerful our words and our actions can be. It’s then that we see how easily we use judgmental or accusatory language or react with a cold shoulder or roll of the eyes.

But if we start to pay attention to our words and reactions, then we can begin to change them. By being conscious, “We learn to identify and clearly articulate what we are concretely wanting in a given situation. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative,” writes Marshall B. Rosenberg in his book “Nonviolent Communication.” We often forget that at every moment we have the opportunity to choose how we express ourselves. We can choose to use words that encourage a sense of openness, safety and understanding or that create stress, make others and ourselves feel less than, or provoke anxiety.

Along with our words and reactions, it’s important we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings as well, especially in difficult conversations. “Paying attention helps us to not get hooked in a chain reaction that leads to mutual dissatisfaction,” says New York City- based psychotherapist Susan Solomon. “The body knows. We must take the time to acknowledge our bodily reactions, thoughts and feelings. Taking 10 seconds followed by a deep breath leads to communication based on understanding and compassion, not reactivity and disconnection.”

If we slow down the process of interacting, pausing now and again or taking a breath before speaking, we give ourselves more time to maintain awareness and promote painless conversations. If you notice yourself speaking quickly, getting caught up in a reaction, take a breath and slow down; you can always begin again.

2. Release Judgment

There’s a tendency when we start paying attention to judge others and ourselves. Phrases like, “I can’t believe I said that.” “What’s wrong with me?” Or passing thoughts like, “She has no idea how she sounds,” or “He thinks this is funny?” seem like harmless expressions, but there’s a lot of evaluating going on. If the point is to help others and ourselves suffer less, criticizing and judging only makes everyone hurt more.

The wonderful part about mindful communication, and the scariest, is it’s a judgment-free zone. “Mindfulness communication involves listening with a beginner’s mind — without judgment, without interruption, and with total receptivity,” says McLean. This means in conversation with others and ourselves, we’re committing to no longer seeing something as good or bad, right or wrong; we’re no longer seeing from a place of betterness or less than, but as an equal. “When we combine observation with evaluation, people are apt to hear criticism,” writes Rosenberg. “We need to clearly observe what we are seeing, hearing, or touching that is affecting our sense of well-being, without mixing in any evaluation.”

How do we do this? We stop gossiping about others and start reminding ourselves that our wants and needs are the same. “Find a shared goal, and you have both a good reason and a healthy climate for talking,” writes Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler in “Crucial Conversations.” When we remind ourselves of our sameness, we learn to understand our differences. If we’re judging our own behavior, we need to let ourselves feel the feeling but not let it consume us. Getting stuck in any emotion forces us off equal footing. Suddenly we’re either horrible people and less than or we’re saintly and better than. Instead of getting stuck, note the thought and say, ‘I forgive you.’ Then gently let the thought go, and start again.

3. Be In The Moment

When we’re with someone, it’s possible we’re thinking of the meeting we just had, what needs to be done for tomorrow, our list of groceries to pick up. Or we’re waiting for the person to finish talking so we can or we’re too excited so we interrupt.

Our attention can drift, but what mindful communication encourages is to refocus. McLean says that “mindfulness cultivates the attention necessary for anyone to become aware of and redirect their thoughts, again and again back to what they are actually engaged in.” When we notice our attention is stuck in a story outside the conversation, that’s the moment we come back to the conversation at hand. Without judging ourselves for not paying attention, we let go of the story we’ve been lost in and come back to where we are.

By drifting and refocusing, we’re constantly coming back to the present moment again and again, keeping us tied to the conversation we’re in and aware of its needs.

There are many reasons why we choose not to be mindful: It takes discipline. It means listening and respecting another person’s reality of a situation even if we don’t agree. It means learning to accept others and ourselves as deserving of the same type of kindness and support. It means having to take responsibility for our words, actions, and reactions and their effects on others and ourselves.

But for all the energy it takes to cultivate a moment-to-moment focus and observe our words and actions without judgment, what mindful communication gives us is a guideline for communicating that is kind, honest, and helpful.

Meditation: Sarah McLean’s Perfect Antidote to Stress

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October 29, 2014
EmpowHER|By Marcia G. Yerman

In today’s world of information overload and unrelenting messages about everything from the economy to terrorism, it’s pretty difficult to feel calm. Fortunately, Sarah McLean has put together a meditation plan that is extremely accessible to the average person.

I interviewed McLean when she was in New York to introduce her new book, Soul-Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation. She has described her program as “decidedly mainstream.” Before meeting, I had read several chapters, visited her website, and listened to the first track on her guided meditations CD, “Why Meditate?”

In the opening pages, studies were referenced showing the effects of meditation: decreased anxiety and depression, enhanced immunity, normalized blood sugar, reduction of chronic pain, and lowered cholesterol. A January 2011 article published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging related that researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital had found that after two months of meditating for an average of 27 minutes daily that there was a positive physical change in the gray matter of the brain.

During our talk, Mclean recounted the story of her personal evolution over two decades — with activities ranging from serving as a behavior specialist in the military medical corps to living in a Zen Buddhist monastery in a remote part of southern California. She was the program manager at the Deepak Chopra Center, spent time in Afghan refugee camps, and served as a director at Byron Katie’s School for The Work.

McLean’s demeanor was open and unaffected as I peppered her with questions about integrating “stillness and mindfulness into daily life.” McLean admitted that her biggest challenge coming out of the monastery was “having to keep my center in today’s world.”
Part of that path includes “making choices not to be overstimulated” and “spending time with people you enjoy.” While covering the nuts and bolts of her program, our conversation touched on her philosophy, which is woven throughout the text. “Safety is not external. It’s a state of mind,” McLean explained. “Feeling loved is a perspective.” She added, “When you have a lot of stress in your nervous system, nothing feels good.”

“Soul-centered” is a term that McLean uses to explain a person’s relationship to life that is harmonious, regardless of circumstances. When you are soul-centered you are not dependent on others for your self-worth. Commenting on why it is unwise to look to outside circumstances for validation, McLean noted wryly, “The world’s a shaky place.” McLean has had her share of obstacles, including a bout with thyroid cancer and a period when she lived out of her car. “In meditation, you learn to be brave,” she told me. “You move toward self-compassion, courage, and bearing witness.”

Through meditation, one trains to take care of their own personal peace while moving beyond an established belief system — in order to embrace a wider perspective. “Everybody has different software,” McLean said, “but it is essential for each individual to live in their own integrity.” McLean defined that phrase as “expressing one’s self authentically. It’s having what you think, what you say, and what you do be aligned.”

Humans have 60,000 to 90,000 thoughts per day. When we meditate, it changes our focus. McLean’s approach underscores “ease and effortlessness — no expectations.” She noted reassuringly, “It’s natural to experience other stuff. It’s about shifting awareness.

When you meditate, you go beyond the ego — which is all about preserving who you are and what you’ve got.”

McLean also covers related topics like self-sufficiency, which enables you to be the navigator of your own path. “Don’t compare yourself to others” is also top advice. Attention should be in the present moment. “Life doesn’t not take place in the past or in the future; it is happening right now,” McLean stated.

It’s never too late to gain an understanding of how to “share yourself authentically in the world.” The scientific findings show that meditation helps the neurons in the brain to develop new connections, regardless of an individual’s age, because of neuroplasticity. We can then move forward by responding to a situation “creatively instead of habitually.”

Meditation is a preventative tool that allows the body to enter “a restful awareness response” as opposed to the “fight or flight response.” It increases levels of endorphins and serotonin, cultivating responsiveness rather than reactivity. McLean advises putting time for meditation into your schedule like an important meeting. Part of her overview is to break behaviors such as mindlessly jumping to answer the phone without acknowledging that you have choices.

My favorite tip was the Peacefinder Exercise, used to counteract a stressful situation through altering body response. By closing your eyes and going inward for thirty seconds, breath can be used as a stabilizing force. McLean recommends repeating an affirmation such as, “All is well. I’m doing the best that I can.”

Self-love, self-kindness, accepting your body — these are all components of McLean’s prescription for a compassionate attitude that minimizes a sense of insecurity, defensiveness, and feeling threatened. Self-approval is not always easy to achieve.

McLean suggests exercises for “transforming negative habits about how you think about yourself and others.” The ultimate goal is to be “soul-centered” rather than “ego-centered.” Then, your self-worth is not contingent upon others’ opinion of you. In essence, you “change the reference point by which you navigate life.” McLean believes that in order to find love “you must fall in love with yourself first.”

McLean advocates a one-day a month retreat. The parameters are unplugging from responsibilities, electronics, an established schedule, and a preconceived notion of what you should be doing. She views silence as “food for health.” McLean further describes how to experience a “noble silence,” which means simply “being.” Withdraw from actions outside of yourself such as listening to music, writing, reading, and talking. This gives the nervous system deep rest and a chance to rejuvenate.

“We all have access to our own peace, creating our center as a touchstone we can count on,” McLean told me. “It’s essential — just like brushing your teeth.” She continued, “Walk in nature daily, do one thing at a time, say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no. Let go of the need for approval from others. Practice gratitude.”

Contemplating her outreach about meditation’s benefits, McLean noted, “I’ve been trying my whole life to change the world from the outside in.” With her desire to share the perceptions she has garnered, she reflected, “I’m now trying to change the world one nervous system at a time.”

How Meditation Saved Sarah McLean

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June 12, 2014
Huffington Post | Trish Kinney

In person, Sarah McLean literally shines. It is part elegant and statuesque good looks, with her blonde hair and golden complexion. But it is the kindness and compassion she emits that makes her exactly what you would hope for in a meditation teacher.

When she begins speaking about the early years of her life, the shine literally dulls and the residue of the deep dysfunction of her family takes over like a cloud moving across the sky. Raised in a wealthy suburb of Boston by a violent father and an alcoholic mother, Sarah escaped on a regular basis by cutting school to take the trolley to Harvard Square where she spent hours exploring old book stores for works on mysticism and spirituality. She sat on the back seat of the trolley, legs crossed underneath her, eyes closed, pretending to meditate. Even though she had no idea of what she was actually doing, just assuming the position somehow felt right.

Determined to escape her dangerous home environment, Sarah dropped out of high school, ran away to Florida and lived on the beach, broke and homeless. It was there she met a man who perpetuated the cycle of violence she had known her entire life. They eloped before Sarah learned that he was a convicted felon and unimaginably cruel. Enduring physical beatings and days of confinement at a time, Sarah escaped to the Army where she hoped to become a spy. But the Army had different plans for her and trained her as a medic. She was assigned to working with soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, her first exposure to the connection between mind and body.

Throughout her life, Sarah had been seeking, always searching for something unknown. Even though she had no conscious understanding of what she was seeking, she already had a deep commitment to the process. She completed her GED in the service, transferred from active duty to reserve status, worked her way through college and availed herself of a free legal service to facilitate a divorce. Finally ready to begin her search in earnest, Sarah McLean set out to explore the world by bicycle, exposing herself to cultures and religions that influenced her deeply.

Upon her return, she was enthralled by an article she read about a new book by Dr. Deepak Chopra in which he promoted Ayurveda, the ancient Indian approach to natural healing. After reading the book, Sarah phoned the number on the book jacket and offered her services to the Ayurveda Health Center run by Dr. Chopra. Given room and board along with the opportunity to immerse herself in Ayurveda teachings, Sarah thrived. For the first time in her life, she felt a sense of belonging as a member of a community. Dr. Chopra was affiliated with the Transcendental Meditation movement at the time and Sarah learned to meditate. She described that first experience as a “moment of spectacular peace.”

As Dr. Chopra’s work became well known, a number of celebrity clients drew attention to the work by visiting the Center, including Barbra Streisand, Louise Hay, Queen Noor, Michael Jackson and George Harrison. The doctor accepted an invitation to set up a new center in southern California against the wishes of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, head of the TM movement and most famously known as guru to the Beatles, and Sarah accompanied him. Banished from the TM community, Dr. Chopra introduced his methods to California and the world. In the years that followed, he became “Deepak.”

Enriched by the amazing education she had received after eight years with the Ayurveda Health Center, Sarah once again took to the world, moving to a Hindu ashram in India to see where the practices she had come to love were born. Despite living and working in very primitive conditions that included sleeping pillow-less on a concrete floor, eating meals with only her hands, and using a hole in the ground for a toilet, she was happy there, meditating four to five hours per day. Upon her return home, she resided in a California Buddhist monastery, ultimately becoming the head cook. It was there that she wore black robes, took Buddhist vows and continued her meditation practice up to eight hours per day.

Today Sarah is busy teaching meditation based out of her studio in Sedona, Arizona, often to high profile clients from the world of sports, politics, entertainment, and the corporate world. And she is writing a follow up to her popular book Soul Centered. But she is particularly dedicated to training teachers to go out into the world and help people develop a meditation practice because of her unwavering belief that by doing so, the world becomes a better place with happier inhabitants. When I ask her if she is aware of how she lights up when mention is made of her time at the monastery or even when she half jokingly says that she would like to live on a mountaintop, her eyes fill with tears. Yes, she says she deeply misses the privilege of living in a community that is dedicated to the practice of meditation for a good part of every day. But she is keenly aware that her calling is to take meditation “out of the halls of monasteries and free it from the barriers of mystery.” She describes her work as “service leadership” and her prayer is to be of service until she is used up.

According to Thich Nhat Hanh in Old Path White Clouds, the Buddha taught the following:

Practice loving kindness to overcome anger. Loving kindness has the capacity to bring happiness to others without demanding anything in return.

Practice compassion to overcome cruelty. Compassion has the capacity to remove the suffering of others without expecting anything in return.

Practice sympathetic joy to overcome hatred. Sympathetic joy arises when one rejoices over the happiness of others and wishes others well-being and success.

I cannot speak for Sarah McLean, but it seems to me that she practices loving kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy every day. And by so doing, she has overcome anger, cruelty and hatred. And the path that she was seeking was found in what she teaches today. Close your eyes, feel your breath, explore your inner realm, enjoy the silence and notice how you feel after.

How to Awaken The Mystic Within You

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November 9, 2013
Heal Your Life

Have you ever had a moment of a deep connectedness with creation –a mystical moment of transcendence and ecstasy? It might have been as you watched a sunset, gazed at a night sky, felt the warm sun on your skin as you walked along the seashore, or listened to the rushing water as you sat by the creek in a canyon. They don’t happen because you’re especially spiritual or deserving, or you’re in the right place at the right time, or you’ve wished it into being. Instead, it can happen anytime spontaneously.

What is a Mystical Experience?

Reading or hearing about a mystical moment is very different from having one, and they seem to only be captured by poetry and song. You’ve probably heard of the bliss people experience during those moments as they hear a heavenly melody, see bright lights, taste divine nectar, or are intoxicated by celestial perfumes. Sometimes there are simultaneous tears and laughter as one realized the perfection of life. Everything suddenly makes sense.

Mystical experiences can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few days. If one only lasts a second or two, we often don’t give it much significance. We simply enjoy it then dismiss it as a “nice feeling.”  But a mystic’s heart awakens, making each of these moments a profound touchstone.  Knowing creation and the creator personally and intimately calls them to embark on the mystic’s path.

Who Are Mystics?

A mystic rarely calls herself (or himself) a mystic as her sense of self is overshadowed by the momentary experience of the wonder of creation. The mystic detaches from the hypnosis of social norms and customs, cultural conditioning, and worldly influences. She (or he) is no longer interested in the roles people play or her or other people’s status, they have transcended social norms. They are no longer that significant. Instead her focus is to expand her consciousness and open her heart, so she can more deeply experience a union with creation and Creator. Self-knowledge and divine communion are her ultimate goals.

A mystic’s path is far from formal. It doesn’t require gaining more knowledge, or thinking your way into a divine or ecstatic state, or faking it till you make it, or doing endless acts of charity. It doesn’t require you to get deeply involved in your religious practices either.  Instead, it simply requires walking with a prayer in your heart, a calling to deeply know the Divine.

The Journey of A Mystic

The journey requires faith and patience, as the path isn’t linear and there’s no knowing the timing of divine realization. A mystic can merge with the Creator through prayer, meditation, creative practices, and even through their work. Modern meditation practices, such as a mantra meditation, naturally create silence in the mind, an open heart, expanded awareness, and a transcendence of self-image. Also required is a refined nervous system. Meditation is the practice many mystics use to become more intimate with all that is.

I’ve been practicing meditation for 20 years. Known as the perfect antidote to stress, meditation lifts the veil of stress that can mask your senses and the wonder of creation. Meditation, when taught properly, and practiced daily, will help you to see clearly, maintain harmonious relationships with yourself and this world, and uncover the beauty of your heart, the radiance of your soul, and the awareness of the Divine.  Meditation cultivates inner peace and spaciousness, and makes way for magical mystical moments.  I invite you to give it a try.

Relieve external stress by retreating inward

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September 25, 2012
Chicago Tribune | Jenniffer Weigel

Autumn — with its back-to-school obligations now and the holiday blitz looming — means back to the grind for many. How can we alleviate the stress that comes with all our “to-do” lists? Sarah McLean, author of “Soul Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks With Meditation” (Hay House), and director of the McLean Meditation Institute in Sedona, Ariz., has advice for staying focused without being frazzled. The following is an edited version of our conversation:

Q: You say meditation nourishes the nervous system.

A: Meditation is the perfect antidote for stress. It helps you develop a new sense of normal. When we meditate we shift our entire nervous system from the “fight or flight” mentality to what we call “rest and digest.”

Q: Some complain they have too many thoughts during meditation, but you say this is the body releasing stress.

A: When we have a lot of activity in the mind, it’s probably always been there — it just gets amplified when we close our eyes. This is the time our body takes the opportunity to release the stress that has been in our nervous system. Thoughts are one of the ways we release stress … and there can be a physical release or emotional release too. You might feel rage for no reason or a wave of grief or a wave of bliss or a wave of anxiety. Usually what that indicates is you are literally releasing that stress that you didn’t allow yourself to feel before. So let it come, feel it — and then let it go.

Q: How much meditating do you need to make a difference?

A: Just 10 minutes once a day will give you the benefits in your nervous system. But even 2 minutes is better than no minutes!

The benefits of meditation

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June 17, 2012
Fox News

Meditation is considered one of the greatest stress relievers – something you can do at any time and any place.

Sarah McLean, the author of Soul Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation, stopped by and spoke with about the ancient art of meditation and the benefits you can derive from it.