Barb Schmidt, author of The Practice, talks meditation and growth
Here is a beautiful soul who needs no introduction.
Barb Schmidt is an international speaker, philanthropist, spiritual mentor, and best-selling author of The Practice. Barb has devoted more than 30 years to her studies with inspirational leaders such as Deepak Chopra, Thich Nhat Hanh, Scott Peck, Buddhist nun Tenzin Palmo, Thomas Merton scholar James Finley, and Marianne Williamson.
In addition to speaking globally, Barb offers workshops and classes on spiritual practices and hosts events with many notable speakers including the Dalai Lama, Dr. Jane Goodall, Caroline Myss, Dan Millman, Gabrielle Bernstein, Tara Stiles, and James Finley.
Believing that “outer peace begins with inner peace,” in 2011, Barb founded Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life, to further serve those who seek to live a meaningful, happy life, and to fulfill her passion to bring peace to the world.Through this nonprofit, Barb teaches The Practice—a three-part guide to practical spirituality in today’s modern, and often chaotic, world.
In this interview, Barb talked to me about meditation, and her book The Practice.
Ysmay: As I understand, you started meditating in 1984. Do you remember what your first few meditations were like?
Barb: Early on in my meditation practice I felt very unsettled by all the thoughts that were going through my mind. I am a type A personality and I thought I would never be able to slow down my thoughts enough to actually experience the benefits of meditation. I actually thought I couldn’t meditate! Little by little though, with continued practice, I discovered that meditation is not about having an empty mind, but about letting the thoughts come and go without judgment or without getting caught up in them. I also learned that the benefits reveal themselves over time in how we approach our day and our overall life in general. It truly is a transformation from the inside out.
You have studied under some amazing teachers. What spiritual teacher has influenced you the most?
There are so many it's hard to pick one! I am such a firm believer that we are all meant to be our own teachers and it's our job to get there. If I had to name a few I would say, the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Palmo, James Finley, Scott Peck, St. Francis of Assisi, Sri Ramakrishna, Gandhi; see I can't just name one!
What are some of the challenges you see people have when they first start meditating?
I think new meditators put too much pressure on themselves in the beginning to “clear” their minds during meditation. The problem with this approach is that our minds are constantly going; it's the mind’s job to think. When we accept that this is what the mind does, we are better able to simply sit with ourselves in silence without getting caught up in our thoughts.
A major challenge is having expectations. Most people who sit down to meditate for the first time have certain expectations of what is going to happen; or what will they see. I teach people to sit without judgment, without any thought of what is “suppose” to happen and just be there in the moment.
Another challenge I see for new meditators is actually setting aside the time to meditate and doing it consistently. That is why I teach to meditate first thing in the morning, for just five minutes, before we engage the outside world. It simply becomes part of the morning routine.
What styles of meditation have you practiced and what is your favorite?
For me, meditation is just sitting with myself with my attention focused on my breath or mantra. For over ten years, I practiced passage meditation in which inspirational words are repeated slowly in the mind for the duration of the meditation. My meditation practice has evolved over the years, the inspirational object is just that, something to bring the mind back to when it wanders away. I find inspiration in that silent place within where I connect with an ever-ready source of love, peace, courage, strength, and well-being.
How has meditation changed your life?
As I describe in my book The Practice, when I was a young girl, I had difficulty feeling happy, and I found myself searching everywhere for this elusive feeling. I believed that if I achieved success, had all the material things life could offer, then I would be happy. I had everything the external world had to offer but I wasn’t happy. It wasn’t until I began to meditate that I finally found the happiness I was seeking—it was right inside me all along.
Your book The Practice has been met with a lot of positive feedback. Have any readers of The Practice contacted you with success stories? What one stands out the most?
The success of The Practice has been an amazing joy in my life. Everywhere I have gone so many have said to me, “you have changed my life with this book.” There are many stories and I will share this one with you:
Part of The Practice is the repetition of the Sacred Mantra—a word, phrase, verse, or prayer with a long history of use that is hallowed or considered holy by the tradition or culture from which it originated. I have a friend who is an avid hiker. She was hiking Kilimanjaro and took ill. The guides said to her going back wasn’t an option because weather had moved in. She was scared, started thinking about her family and really felt in that moment that she may never see them again.
She started repeating her Sacred Mantra, knowing that if her mind went to the future she would not be able to make it - the fear would paralyze her. She made it to the top, and was able to keep her illness in check.
She told me when she returned that having a mantra saved her life. By keeping herself in the moment, repeating her Sacred mantra, she was able to be present, not thinking about anything but what was in front of her one step at a time. I have been using my mantra for decades it is an incredibly powerful practice!
There are so many self-help books out there what makes yours stand out?
I feel that I've taken thoughtful deep practices, like meditation and explained them as an easy to understand and follow guide for life. I have given many personal examples as well as used many quotes from so many of our greatest teachers. I'm hoping that as people read this book they say to themselves "I can do this. I want to do this. I want to live my most magnificent life!"
What would you like for people to take away from your book?
We all have everything we need within us to live the greatest life. We have all the security, strength, courage we need without needing anything from the outside. We can have complete control over what we do and say and how we let life affect us - we can manage our stress, we can learn patience and we can live the life we wish to live.
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Tell me about your non-profit Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life. What's the mission and what inspired you to start it?
I envision a peaceful world where we can all coexist with love, compassion, and tolerance for one another. I believe that outer peace begins with inner peace, and so the mission of Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life is to provide people everywhere with the tools and resources they need to find peace within themselves so that we can all someday experience a calmer, more stable, more accepting world. This ideal world begins with our own individual lives, and Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life is dedicated to spreading peace through various initiatives and programs.
What's one quick meditation technique people can use when they're under stress?
The breath is the most powerful tool we have when faced with stress. When you begin noticing that you are experiencing the symptoms of frustration, impatience, or anxiety, my advice is to just stop and breathe. Take a few deep breaths, and if you can, close your eyes and just sit in silence for a couple of minutes. This helps to bring your body back to a place of calmness, connects you with your heart, and reminds you that all the love, compassion, and courage you need to deal with the situation is right inside you. I say to people, give yourself permission to stop in life: “stop, breathe, and then start again.”
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