Amazing Images: How Meditation Changes You

Photographer Peter Seidler looks into the face of meditation

We know meditation is good for us. It lowers stress and anxiety, enhances a sense of well-being, lowers blood pressure, benefits our brains and immune systems and helps people with chronic illnesses and cancer cope.

But who knew that that inner wellness was so visible on the outside?

These dramatic images by photographer Peter Seidler show how much healthier people look after an intensive meditative experience. An artist and self-proclaimed “change agent,” Seidler has been practicing meditation for 20 years. He knows that it makes him feel more relaxed and whole, but he wondered if that inner tranquility translated into a more relaxed state on the outside. To find out, he took “before and after” photographs of participants at a 30-day meditation retreat -- a dathun, pronounced “dah-tin”-- at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colo.

Before snapping their portraits, Seidler asked each participant to think about what he or she wanted from the retreat -- not to share their thoughts, but just think them while they were being photographed. Thirty days later, he took their pictures again, in the same setting and with the same background, and asked them to think about what the experience of the retreat had been for them. Again, they didn’t share or express their thoughts. “I asked the same question of each participant and asked it in the same way,” explains Seidler. “The question had a formal intention, which was to frame the whole situation in a clear way.”

In the intervening 30 days, participants had adhered to a paradoxically simple but difficult routine: They woke up, sat in meditation for a few hours, ate a meal (in silence), listened to a talk or practiced again, took a break (perhaps a walk around the wooded acreage), practiced, took another break, ate lunch, practiced, took a break, ate dinner, practiced, went to bed. “There’s a certain quality of boredom to it,” admits Siedler. “You have none of the usual distractions. You really have to be with yourself.”

The meals were held in silence from the beginning, but participants weren’t bound by silence at other times. As the retreat progressed, however, there were periods of silence for several days. Participants gradually built up to silence, and then slowly came out of it.

By the end of the 30 days, you can feel like a different person, says Seidler: “You’re not trying to turn yourself into something else, but by being present with every moment, you’re gradually revealing your inherently awake and joyful nature.” Meditation helps clarify and stabilize what’s already there, he says. Participants begin to recognize how they hold onto thoughts -- and learn how to relax that hold.

After 30 days of daily meditation -- not to mention rest, good food and fresh mountain air -- can you actually see your awake and joyful nature? Seidler’s photos show that you can. “It’s very affirming,” he says. “It’s heartening to know that our basic goodness is actually available to each of us.”

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