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Last edit of this page 26/04/2013
How to meditate
"But it's not so simple, that sort of 'quiet hour'. It has to be learnt. A lot of unimportant inner litter and bits and pieces have to be swept out first. Even a small head can be piled high inside with irrelevant distractions. True, there may be edifying emotions and thoughts, too, but the clutter is ever present.
So let this be the aim of the meditation: to turn one's innermost being into a vast empty plain, with none of that treacherous undergrowth to impede the view. So that something of 'God' can enter you, and something of 'Love' too. Not the kind of love-de-luxe that you revel in deliciously for half an hour, taking pride in how sublime you feel, but the love you can apply to small, everyday things." Etty Hillesum An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1941-43, p.27.
Why meditate seated?
Is it to learn relaxation? Simplest method of relaxation may be just to stop, put your legs up, turn on the soothing music and sip a glass of fine wine, cup of tea or your favourite combo. If you want a scientific method of relaxation, I'd recommend a portable low cost biofeedback device for heart rate, blood pressure or Galvanic skin response. And practice progressive muscle relaxation. All simple and effective. If you have a Yoga teacher ask for Yoga Nidra, an even deeper relaxation process.
But if it's meditation you're after that's a different proposition. Meditation is not a quick fix and it can be boring. Just sensing your breath, for example may seem at first pointless until you notice that this companionship with breath is about risking and allowing life to come with the breath and into awareness. The full bodied enormity of life, magnificent and unfathomable.
It's about inviting balance into life, mind and body just by sitting with yourself. It is to meet life as it is without telling a story or running our lines on it; without suppressing or indulging parts of ourselves, remaining composed and steady tempered when facing fear and its twin temptress, hope. And as a bonus, you will enjoy life, food, the washing up and a good haircut even more.
Why meditate every day? So that we meet whatever is there, not just meditating on the days when we feel good about ourselves and our world.
What's the benefit? A sense of calm spaciousness and good humour. Short term - balance, grounding, openness, a clear mind for problem solving. Long term - more bounce back from tough times, increased resilience. Greater flexibility in developing alternatives after serious loss and injury, during major illness and in life transitions. A rich store of gut level understanding about how other people face life's challenges and therefore more choices in navigating our own life. Calm when all the world has gone mad - a wise warrior. And you get to meet more synchronicity and serendipities - these are not funny little green people.
How do I start sitting meditation?
'Adopt a "split-level" approach to all instructions: On the one hand follow the instructions exactly, so that you can discover the experiences to which they point. On the other hand be sensitive to yourself and your own body. Assume that only sound expansive experiences are worth having. The moment doing it feels wrong in your body, stop following the instruction, and back up slightly. Stay there with your attention until you can sense exactly what is going wrong.'
Start where you are. Happy, relaxed, tense or excited. Be willing to face the tough stuff, rather than pull away from it in fear or by hardening your heart. Lean into those tender places, welcome them. It might initially feel more yucky to relax into discomfort compared to an habitual - 'close it down!' and shut up shop for the day. But if you let it be, the brain will find a way to let it move on.
Give yourself about 20 minutes in a place and at a time where you are likely to be free of interruptions. In a seat or if cross legged on the floor, on a cushion or cushions with your bottom raised sufficiently for the knees to be a bit below the level of the hip bone; torso comfortably upright, chest softly open rather than tight or sunken; palms open, facing down or up and resting on the thighs; eyes gently closed; tongue soft, ears soft, all facial muscles soft; and then, gently aware of the breath, the in and out breath either in the abdomen, chest, throat, nostrils or as it passes over the upper lip. Just noticing. When the mind wanders, kindly, softly as if speaking to a child happily absorbed in play, name the process as 'thinking' and gently bring awareness back to the out breath.
Comment: in this mindfulness awareness practice called anapana in the Vipassana method, breath is the object of meditation. The out breath is the nearest thing to the natural state of mind - relaxed and open. The in breath is energising. The heart beat increases with in breath, decreases with out breath. Breath is an object of meditation to return to, to bring the mind back home. In other methods the object might be a candle flame or a mantra.
The instruction in a phrase is: kindly open the mind and relax. Meditation practice may be taught with the seven points of mind training known as the Lojong teachings. There are some chapters on line by the Lojong master, Chogyam Trungpa.
Does it work?
Yes - in being open minded and open hearted in the world. The means and the ends are not separate. However, 'horses for courses' - the method has to fit the practitioner reasonably well after a fair trial of say, six months.
Why does it work? Because it is straightforward - without gimmicks or gods. It is just sitting kindly in 'I am'. You might try walking meditation with the same intention.
What gets in the way of it working?
'Ego is able to convert anything to its own use, even spirituality'. Ego can make meditation a soft and cozy place and can stick to a good place in the practice. Ego is like the occupant of a room who's made the place just right, but stuff keeps coming through the cracks, disturbing ego's little comfort zone. So ego works to keep the stuff out and ego in. Trouble is life is full of stuff that yanks ego out into the real world. The more ego resists the more stuff persists.
Ego is like the kid who built and decorated a magnificent sand castle at the spot where the sand is just wet from the last high tide, and then goes crazy when the tide starts to come in again. Ego is the passenger on its ship's maiden voyage. Even the vessel knows it sinks at the end of the journey and ego drowns, but ego refuses to believe it. Instead ego spends the time in frantic efforts wrestling immortality from eternity, completely missing the wonder of the voyage.
Ego is a great teacher.
There is more information in the articles on this site and on other sites linked above. But remember, at the outset more information can be clutter and something else to depend on.
The basic practice is befriending your life, mind and body. Later, when you have become somewhat aware of all that is your life, mind and body, Tonglen may allow your practice to grow and encompass the poignant enormity of life.
'So come, my friends, be not afraid.
We are so lightly here.
It is in love that we are made;
In love we disappear.
Though all the maps of blood and flesh
Are posted on the door,
There's no one who has told us yet
What Boogie Street is for.'
Leonard Cohen Boogie Street, Ten New Songs
- 'Although I've sat in the presence of many sublime spiritual teachers, I have not become a reliable source to pass on the ambrosial teachings I've drunk. At times, I have practiced stupid meditations I've made up myself, and in dependence upon delusive dream appearances, I've diligently tried to put these teachings into practice. However, I have no hope of developing a strong sense of pride due to really developing my mind, since I haven't met any spiritual mentors who could lead me on the path. I don't have the conceit of being able to say, 'this is my experience,' since I have no wisdom qualities arising from genuine practice. My meditation is like achieving meditative stabilization, and then falling asleep. My meditation is like that of a hibernating groundhog!' From the Crazy dharma of an idiot who wears mud and feathers for clothing.
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