Blessing Meditation Center7759 Herschel Avenue, Suite B
By Pat ShermanWhen people hear the word ‘meditation,’ the image of a person sitting in the lotus position uttering the ‘om’ incantation often springs to mind — along with the misconception that it is a complicated mental process primarily designed to alter consciousness.
La Jolla-based meditation instructor Michael DeFrancisco says that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Each week at the Blessing Meditation Center on Herschel Avenue, DeFrancisco guides his students through exercises that require little effort and are designed to keep the mind alert, while placing the body in a state of rest that he says can be more than twice as deep as the deepest sleep.
“Meditation always looks like it’s somewhat esoteric, but it’s not — it’s practical,” said DeFrancisco, who has taught it to people of all ages and backgrounds, from teens struggling with peer pressure to doctors with overwhelming caseloads and artists striving to free up more creativity.
In the short-term, these practical benefits typically include a reduction in stress, increased focus, and a sense of happiness and well-being that can last for days.
“When I talk about stress, I’m talking about eliminating it, not managing it — purifying the nervous system so that stress is not present causing an imbalance,” DeFrancisco said.
“Stress is a thief, robbing us of our own relaxed, loving, happy and productive nature,” he added, noting that stress often stems from today’s culture of over-achievement and people’s tendency to seek happiness in outcomes.
The cumulative, long-term benefits of regular meditation, DeFrancisco said, include transformative insight, an enduring sense of joy that is independent of external factors, and an increased ability to convey love and compassion.
“Rest is the primary prescription for correcting disease,” he said. “If you go to the doctor, the first thing they say to you if you’re sick is get some rest. They know the body’s going to go to work by itself and offer an opportunity for healing.”
DeFrancisco, who grew up in the blue-collar steel town of Bethlehem, Pa., said he lived the standard “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle when he discovered meditation in 1974. The following year, he completed a six-month resident training program with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, leader of the transcendental meditation movement. From there, he went on to work in a large meditation center in Philadelphia, ultimately preferring to take on students for private sessions as the years progressed.
Along the way, he watched the wellness industry grow, and modalities such as acupuncture, yoga, Reiki and others flourish.
“I realized that all these people who had taken advantage of much of the modalities were in the same stressful situations — a lot of neurosis, a lot of anxiety and tension.”
Here’s how it worksDeFrancisco’s students start by repeating a mantra — a meaningless word or phrase — that is spoken softer and gradually only repeated as a faint notion in the mind. He works to take students “off the grid” of their unconscious minds, which bombard them with negative messages or fight-or-flight responses that make them react to stress in negative or exaggerated ways.
“The unconscious governs most people’s thought, speech and actions,” he said. “It’s a dastardly thing.”
DeFrancisco helps guide students to an inner state of calm wakefulness he refers to as “pure being.”
“All I’m teaching is how you become fully awake and what that means,” he said. “Does it mean that there’s not an issue with the kids or with finances? No. It means your response to it doesn’t throw you so far out of balance.”
Coronado resident Peggy Templeman began her meditation under DeFrancisco’s tutelage four years ago. She now meditates six to seven times per week and attends DeFrancisco’s Sunday morning group meditation, which includes a blessing ceremony.
“I was looking for something to help control my temper and calm me down,” Templeton said. “It’s been incredibly helpful. I still have a temper but it gets longer to get there. I can feel the difference and the people around me can feel the difference.”
Jane Wheeler of Bird Rock has been practicing yoga for nearly two decades. She decided to try DeFrancisco’s meditation sessions about six months ago, at La Jolla Yoga Center, where he also teaches two nights per week.
“It takes the edge off when you get worked up over stuff — when your mind spins out of control,” Wheeler said, adding that meditation also has improved her sleep.
DeFrancisco also offers sessions over the phone and via Skype to clients around the world, and is currently working on a podcast and book.
“Everyone knows there’s something more,” he said. “What I do is offer a systematic way to help people uncover that value, which is already there.”