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Saturday, April 24, 2010, 2:22 AM
Heart meditation helps you with your ability to love and also your ability to let things go, both of which are very important in everyday life when dealing with other people, whether its loved ones or just acquaintances. Your ability to love effects your relationships on many levels, the ability to let go is also very important as resentment and anger can build up to dangerous levels if left unchecked.
Heart meditation helps on both of these matters by activating two important chakras, the heart chakra and the navel chakra. The heart chakra is in the heart centre which is located between the breast and slightly to the left. The navel chakra is located about 2 to 3 inches below your navel.
To practice the heart meditation firstly take your usual meditating position (heart meditation is not dependent on position and can be practiced in any), my favorite is to sit on a meditation cushion cross legged, with my knees touching the floor and my back straight.
Heart meditation is aligned with your breathing so you might want to take a minute to relax and take a few deep breaths. When you are comfortable, breathe in and imagine the breath going into your heart center.
The second stage is, when you breathe out, imagine your breath is flowing down to your navel chakra; this stimulates a feeling of letting go.
The third stage of heart meditation is when you breathe in you imagine you breathe in from your navel chakra to your heart center.
Stage two is then repeated with an inner feeling of letting go.
Stage three is repeated again, as you imagine that you breathe in from your navel to your heart center.
The process is repeated between stage 2 and stage 3 until your meditation is over.
When you have practiced and mastered the heart meditation technique, you may like to imagine when breathing to your heart center that a white light and a feeling of love is engulfing the heart, some yogi have said that the feeling of love is so intense that it has brought such joy and a inner peace that is unrivaled.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010, 12:06 PM
The Loving Kindness meditation, taught by the Buddha, is to teach
selfless or altruistic love. Buddha said that “Hatred cannot
coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if supplanted
with thoughts based on loving-kindness.”
This easy but very profound meditation can help you to make friends with yourself, give you greater capacity for empathy with other people, reduce your animosity, open your heart, and boost your capacity for love.
Learn here this meditation to teach you loving acceptance of
yourself and others.
1. Sit in a relaxed but alert posture.
2. Focus your intention. Remember that during this meditation you want to get in touch with your own heart and your innate feelings of goodness.
3. Let your mind and body relax. Let go of any thoughts that are currently preoccupying you.
4. Recall a situation in which you felt a complete sense of well-being and contentment. Recall exactly where you were, who you were with, and precisely how you felt. Take time to reestablish that scene, and feel the sensations in your body.
5. Find words that describe the feelings of well-being you had. You might choose words such as contentment, well-being, happiness, delight, ease–whichever feel most fitting.
6. Let go of the details of the remembered scene. At the same time, continue to pay attention to the feelings of well-being that accompanied the scene. Remain with the sensation of well-being, and allow yourself to feel it intensely. Let the words and feelings arise together.
7. As you experience the well-being, repeat to yourself the phrase, “May I be happy,” or “May I experience ease and contentment.”
8. Recall a friend or someone who has shown kindness toward you. Begin with someone for whom you feel kindness. It is better to recall a friend than a lover or family member. Keep the image of that person in your mind.
9. Recall the feelings of well-being or happiness you generated in the first part of this meditation (steps 1 - 8). Let those feelings of goodness move to the area around your heart.
10. As you are experiencing those feelings of well-being from your heart center, let them radiate to the person you were thinking about.
11. Recite the same phrases you repeated before, this time saying, “May he/she experience ease and contentment,” or “May he/she be filled with loving kindness.”
12. When you feel some familiarity with radiating loving kindness to people you love, gradually extend the feeling to others: neighbors, family, work colleagues, animals.
12. Gradually extend the feeling further, to people you find difficult–those who have power over you, people who might dislike you, or those you feel negative toward.
14. If you are unwilling to extend the feeling of goodness in this part of the meditation, don’t worry. This is natural.
15. When you feel that resistance, try to generate the feeling of loving kindness. If you can’t generate positive feelings, don’t force it; be gentle and patient with yourself.
16. After 5-10 minutes of working with this loving-kindness meditation, sit quietly and reflect on your experience. Having engaged all of your emotions in a new way, contemplate what you have learned.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010, 2:47 PM
The natural ease of walking can be used as a direct and simple way to bring centeredness and peace into our life. Walking becomes a meditation when we bring a careful and present attention to each step we take. Walking becomes a meditation when we feel ourselves fully here on the earth.
To learn walking meditation, select a place to walk back and forth at a leisurely rate, fifteen to thirty paces in length. Stand at the end of this "walking path." Feel your feet on the floor, on the earth. Sense the environment around you. Be aware of yourself and your surroundings until you feel quiet and composed. Then begin to walk. Focus your attention on your body, feeling each step as you lift your foot and place it back on the earth. As you sense each step, return your foot to the earth with care.
Walk upright in a relaxed and dignified fashion. When you get to the end of your path, pause briefly and then turn around, Stand and center yourself then and be aware of the first step as you begin again. You can walk at whatever speed keeps you most present.
Walk with careful attention to each step for fifteen or twenty minutes. Usually when we walk we are distracted by a hundred other things. As you walk in meditation, try to let the thoughts and images that arise remain in the background. Even so, you will regularly get carried away by thoughts. When this happens, simply stop walking and be aware of the thoughts. Then quietly re-center yourself and take the next step. Keep coming back to your footsteps in this simple way. At times you may wish to do a period of walking meditation alone. On other days you might walk for ten or fifteen minutes before beginning a sitting meditation.
After some practice you can learn to use walking meditation to calm and collect yourself, to become truly present in your body. You can extend this walking period in informal ways, when you go shopping, when you walk down the street or to and from your car. You can learn to enjoy walking for its own sake instead of combining it with the usual planning and thinking. In this simple way you can move through life wakefully, with your whole body, heart and mind together in harmony.
Saturday, April 17, 2010, 3:44 PM
Those involved in self-mastery to enlighten the mind integrate the body into their work as the object to be healed and as the means of healing. Additionally, one heals through the four healing powers: positive images, words, feelings, and trust.
Tibetan Buddhist and Harvard scholar Tulku Thondup lists twelve stages of healing meditation, and recommends you meditate on them one at a time until you can enjoy each through experience, and then start combining them. One could stay with the first stage alone for a number of months if not years! Here is its wisdom:
Stage one of “The Twelve Stages of Healing Meditation.”
Bring your mind back to your body, by:
1. Feeling peace in the parts of your body: head, upper body, arms and hands, lower body, legs and feet.
2. Gathering any uneasy sensations into a black cloud and sensing that it leaves your body with the outgoing breath, slowly moves away, and dissolves into space.
3. Connecting with the earth, grounding the floating mind.
4. Uniting your body and mind in the awareness of peace.
Monday, March 22, 2010, 12:34 PM
Seven Steps Buddhist Breath Meditation
Buddhist breath meditation one. Start out with three or seven long in-and-out breaths, thinking bud- with the in-breath and dho with the out. Keep the meditation syllable as long as the breath.
Buddhist breath meditation two : Be clearly aware of each in-and-out breath during this meditation.
Buddhist breath meditation three : Observe the breath as it goes in and out, noticing whether it's comfortable or uncomfortable, broad or narrow, obstructed or free-flowing, fast or slow, short or long, warm or cool. If the breath doesn't feel comfortable, change it until it does. For instance, if
breathing in long and out long is uncomfortable, try breathing in short and out short. As soon as you find that your breathing feels comfortable, let this comfortable breath sensation spread to the different parts of the body.
To begin with, inhale the breath sensation at the base of the skull and let it flow all the way down the spine. Then, if you are male, let it spread down your right leg to the sole of your foot, to the ends of your toes, and out into the air. Inhale the breath sensation at the
base of the skull again and let it spread down your spine, down your left leg to the ends of your toes and out into the air. (If you are female, begin with the left side first, because the male and female nervous systems are different.)
Then let the breath from the base of the skull spread down over both shoulders, past your elbows and wrists, to the tips of your fingers and out into the air.
Let the breath at the base of the throat spread down the central nerve at the front of the body, past the lungs and liver, all the way down to the bladder and colon.
Inhale the breath right at the middle of the chest and let it go all the way down to your intestines.
Let all these breath sensations spread so that they connect and flow together, and you'll feel a greatly improved sense of well-being.
- Buddhist breath meditation four : Learn four ways of adjusting the breath:
a. in long and out long
b. in short and out short,
c. in short and out long,
d. in long and out short.
Breathe whichever way is most comfortable for you. Or, better yet, learn to breathe comfortably all four ways, because your physical condition and your breath are always changing.
Buddhist breath meditation five : Become acquainted with the bases or focal points of the mind--the resting spots of the breath--and center your awareness on whichever one seems most comfortable. A few of these bases are:
a. the tip of the nose,
b. the middle of the head,
c. the palate,
d. the base of the throat,
e. the breastbone (the tip of the sternum),
f. the navel (or a point just above it).
If you suffer from frequent headaches or nervous problems, don't focus on any spot above the base of the throat. And don't try to force the breath or put yourself into a trance. Breathe freely and naturally. Let the mind be at ease with the breath--but not to the point where it slips away.
Buddhist breath meditation six : Spread your awareness--your sense of conscious feeling--throughout the entire body.
Buddhist breath meditation seven : Coordinate the breath sensations throughout the body, letting them flow together comfortably, keeping your awareness as broad as possible.
May your Meditation bring you inner peace and harmony.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010, 12:23 PM
A Mind Like Sky
Meditation comes alive through a growing capacity to release our habitual entanglement in the stories and plans, conflicts and worries that make up the small sense of self, and to rest in awareness. In meditation we do this simply by acknowledging the moment-to-moment changing conditions—the pleasure and pain, the praise and blame, the litany of ideas and expectations that arise. Without identifying with them, we can rest in the awareness itself, beyond conditions, and experience what my teacher Ajahn Chah called jai pongsai, our natural lightness of heart. Developing this capacity to rest in awareness nourishes samadhi (concentration), which stabilizes and clarifies the mind, and prajna (wisdom), that sees things as they are.
We can employ this awareness or wise attention from the very start. When we first sit down to meditate, the best strategy is to simply notice whatever state of our body and mind is present. To establish the foundation of mindfulness, the Buddha instructs his followers "to observe whether the body and mind are distracted or steady, angry or peaceful, excited or worried, contracted or released, bound or free." Observing what is so, we can take a few deep breaths and relax, making space for whatever situation we find.
From this ground of acceptance we can learn to use the transformative power of attention in a flexible and malleable way. Wise attention—mindfulness—can function like a zoom lens. Often it is most helpful to steady our practice with close-up attention. In this, we bring a careful attention and a very close focus to our breath or a sensation, or to the precise movement of feeling or thought. Over time we can eventually become so absorbed that subject and object disappear. We become the breath, we become the tingling in our foot, we become the sadness or joy. In this we sense ourself being born and dying with each breath, each experience. Entanglement in our ordinary sense of self dissolves; our troubles and fears drop away. Our entire experience of the world shows itself to be impermanent, ungraspable and selfless. Wisdom is born.
But sometimes in meditation such close focus of attention can create an unnecessary sense of tightness and struggle. So we must find a more open way to pay attention. Or perhaps when we are mindfully walking down the street we realize it is not helpful to focus only on our breath or our feet. We will miss the traffic signals, the morning light and the faces of the passersby. So we open the lens of awareness to a middle range. When we do this as we sit, instead of focusing on the breath alone, we can feel the energy of our whole body. As we walk we can feel the rhythm of our whole movement and the circumstances through which we move. From this perspective it is almost as if awareness "sits on our shoulder" and respectfully acknowledges a breath, a pain in our legs, a thought about dinner, a feeling of sadness, a shop window we pass. Here wise attention has a gracious witnessing quality, acknowledging each event—whether boredom or jealousy, plans or excitement, gain or loss, pleasure or pain—with a slight bow. Moment by moment we release the illusion of getting "somewhere" and rest in the timeless present, witnessing with easy awareness all that passes by. As we let go, our innate freedom and wisdom manifest. Nothing to have, nothing to be. Ajahn Chah called this "resting in the One Who Knows."
Yet at times this middle level of attention does not serve our practice best. We may find ourself caught in the grip of some repetitive thought pattern or painful situation, or lost in great physical or emotional suffering. Perhaps there is chaos and noise around us. We sit and our heart is tight, our body and mind are neither relaxed nor gracious, and even the witnessing can seem tedious, forced, effortful.
In this circumstance we can open the lens of attention to its widest angle and let our awareness become like space or the sky. As the Buddha instructs in the Majjhima Nikaya, "Develop a mind that is vast like space, where experiences both pleasant and unpleasant can appear and disappear without conflict, struggle or harm. Rest in a mind like vast sky."
From this broad perspective, when we sit or walk in meditation, we open our attention like space, letting experiences arise without any boundaries, without inside or outside. Instead of the ordinary orientation where our mind is felt to be inside our head, we can let go and experience the mind's awareness as open, boundless and vast. We allow awareness to experience consciousness that is not entangled in the particular conditions of sight, sound and feelings, but consciousness that is independent of changing conditions—the unconditioned. Ajahn Jumnien, a Thai forest elder, speaks of this form of practice as Maha Vipassana, resting in pure awareness itself, timeless and unborn. For the meditator, this is not an ideal or a distant experience. It is always immediate, ever present, liberating; it becomes the resting place of the wise heart.
Fully absorbed, graciously witnessing, or open and spacious—which of these lenses is the best way to practice awareness? Is there an optimal way to pay attention? The answer is "all of the above." Awareness is infinitely malleable, and it is important not to fixate on any one form as best. Mistakenly, some traditions teach that losing the self and dissolving into a breath or absorbing into an experience is the optimal form of attention. Other traditions erroneously believe that resting in the widest angle, the open consciousness of space, is the highest teaching. Still others say that the middle ground—an ordinary, free and relaxed awareness of whatever arises here and now, "nothing special"—is the highest attainment. Yet in its true nature awareness cannot be limited. Consciousness itself is both large and small, particular and universal. At different times our practice will require that we embrace all these perspectives.
Every form of genuine awareness is liberating. Each moment we release entanglement and identification is selfless and free. But remember too that every practice of awareness can create a shadow when we mistakenly cling to it. A misuse of space can easily lead us to become spaced-out and unfocused. A misuse of absorption can lead to denial, the ignoring of other experiences, and a misuse of ordinary awareness can create a false sense of "self" as a witness. These shadows are subtle veils of meditative clinging. See them for what they are and let them go. And learn to work with all the lenses of awareness to serve your wise attention.
The more you experience the power of wise attention, the more your trust in the ground of awareness itself will grow. You will learn to relax and let go. In any moment of being caught, awareness will step in, a presence without judging or resisting. Close-in or vast, near or far, awareness illuminates the ungraspable nature of the universe. It returns the heart and mind to its birthright, naturally luminous and free.
To amplify and deepen an understanding of how to practice with awareness as space, the following instructions can be helpful. One of the most accessible ways to open to spacious awareness is through the ear door, listening to the sounds of the universe around us. Because the river of sound comes and goes so naturally, and is so obviously out of our control, listening brings the mind to a naturally balanced state of openness and attention. I learned this particular practice of sound as a gateway to space from my colleague Joseph Goldstein more than 25 years ago and have used it ever since. Awareness of sound in space can be an excellent way to begin practice because it initiates the sitting period with the flavor of wakeful ease and spacious letting go. Or it can be used after a period of focused attention.
Whenever you begin, sit comfortably and at ease. Let your body be at rest and your breathing be natural. Close your eyes. Take several full breaths and let each release gently. Allow yourself to be still.
Now shift awareness away from the breath. Begin to listen to the play of sounds around you. Notice those that are loud and soft, far and near. Just listen. Notice how all sounds arise and vanish, leaving no trace. Listen for a time in a relaxed, open way.
As you listen, let yourself sense or imagine that your mind is not limited to your head. Sense that your mind is expanding to be like the sky-open, clear, vast like space. There is no inside or outside. Let the awareness of your mind extend in every direction like the sky.
Now the sounds you hear will arise and pass away in the open space of your own mind. Relax in this openness and just listen. Let the sounds that come and go, whether far or near, be like clouds in the vast sky of your own awareness. The play of sounds moves through the sky, appearing and disappearing without resistance.
As you rest in this open awareness, notice how thoughts and images also arise and vanish like sounds. Let the thoughts and images come and go without struggle or resistance. Pleasant and unpleasant thoughts, pictures, words and feelings move unrestricted in the space of mind. Problems, possibilities, joys and sorrows come and go like clouds in the clear sky of mind.
After a time, let this spacious awareness notice the body. Become aware of how the sensations of breath and body float and change in the same open sky of awareness. The breath breathes itself, it moves like a breeze. The body is not solid. It is felt as areas of hardness and softness, pressure and tingling, warm and cool sensation, all floating in the space of the mind's awareness.
Let the breath move like a breeze. Rest in this openness. Let sensations float and change. Allow all thoughts and images, feelings and sounds to come and go like clouds in the clear open space of awareness.
Finally, pay attention to the awareness itself. Notice how the open space of awareness is naturally clear, transparent, timeless and without conflict—allowing all things, but not limited by them.
The Buddha said, "O Nobly Born, remember the pure open sky of your own true nature. Return to it. Trust it. It is home."
May the blessings of these practices awaken your own inner wisdom and inspire your compassion. And through the blessing of your heart may the world find peace.
This meditation is one of a variety of practices offered in Jack Kornfield's The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace (Bantam Books).
Jack Kornfield, who spent many years studying Buddhism in Burma, Thailand and India, is co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
A Mind Like Sky:Wise Attention Open Awareness, Jack Kornfield, Shambhala Sun, May 2003.
Sunday, March 14, 2010, 8:27 PM
Step by Step
To begin, find a comfortable posture for meditation (seated on a cushion or blanket, in a chair, or against a wall). It may be helpful to set a timer for 10, 20, or 30 minutes so you can deepen your meditation without being distracted by the time. You may also want to gently ring a bell at the beginning and end of your meditation.
Place your hands on your knees in Jnana mudra (index and thumb touching), with palms facing up to open your awareness or palms facing down to calm the mind. Scan your body and relax any tension you feel. Let your spine rise from the base of the pelvis. Draw your chin slightly down and let the back of your neck lengthen.
Bring your awareness to the center of your chest. To draw your mind into meditation, start to repeat the sound Om with each exhalation. You can chant Om silently at your heart region or out loud, letting the sound emanate from your chest, as though you have lips on your heart.
Let the sound vibrate like a gong, where the sound of Om ripples in all directions. As you work with the sound, feel that each Om widens your heart like a great lake. As you stay with the Om, feel that your heart is being washed of any unnecessary gripping, tension, or feeling.
If a particular emotion arises and starts to overpower the meditation, allow it to be buoyed by the sea of sound. Look underneath, around, and inside that emotion and discover an insight that may arise from the spaciousness of your inquiry. Gradually, the sound of Om will dissolve into the calm spaciousness of the heart-the great container.
When you are ready, bring your hands together in Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) and complete your meditation with a moment of gratitude, reflection, or prayer to integrate the energy of your meditation into your life. You can bring your awareness to your heart anytime throughout the day to return to the seat of unconditional love.
Sunday, March 14, 2010, 9:24 AM
Take 10 minutes out each day
This is a simple, basic meditation that is best done at the start of the day. Find a quiet place where you can sit without being disturbed.
Take a couple of deep breaths and close your eyes. Become aware of your senses: the feelings in the body, the sounds and the smells around you.
Don’t think about them, simply notice them.
Next become aware of the breath.
You don’t need to breathe in any special way, just notice how the rising and falling movement of the breath feels in the body. Each time the mind wanders, gently bring it back to that same point of focus — the rising and falling sensation of the breath.
Make it a daily exercise
A bit like learning any new skill, meditation works best when you do it regularly and often. It doesn’t have to be at the same time every day, but you may well find it easier to stick to this way.
Be conscious of what you’re doing
We live on auto-pilot, especially when we do things that we have done thousands of times before — brushing your teeth or drinking a cup of tea, for example.
Choose just one of these activities to be fully conscious of each day.
Rather than let the mind wander off into worrying, planning or thinking about things, notice what it feels like to actually drink a cup of tea. What does it taste, feel and smell like? It’s amazing how much we miss because we are simply lost in thought.
Resist the urge to control the mind
When we first become aware of the constant chatter of our thoughts, we try to “stop thinking”, which is impossible. Focus instead on being at ease with whatever is happening in the mind. If it’s busy, OK, it’s busy. Resist the temptation to try to control it. If you feel irritated or upset, that’s just how it is sometimes. Don’t fight it. Let thoughts come, acknowledge them and let them go. By allowing thoughts and feelings to flow in this way, they are usually much more short-lived.
Shift the focus from ‘me’ to ‘you’
Have you ever noticed that the more you focus on your own problems, the bigger they seem to get? Take a moment to reflect on those people close to you who might also be having a tough time with things right now. How are they feeling? This simple exercise helps to put your own difficulties into perspective and to develop empathy and understanding towards that other person.
Ease off the gas
If you look at the best sportsmen and women, they seem to play with a sublime lack of effort. Roger Federer, the tennis player, is one of the best examples of this. Trying harder does not mean performing better — often it’s just the opposite. By approaching everyday activities in a slightly more relaxed and measured way, things not only will become more enjoyable, but also will be done that much better.
Take practical steps
When life becomes so busy that you hardly have time to breathe, it’s unrealistic to expect a lot of headspace.
If it’s possible, try to simplify life a little. Look for ways to reduce the amount you’re doing, or ways of doing it more effectively. Similarly, if you have lots of thoughts racing around your mind, take a couple of minutes to write them down. This can help to free up the hard drive, and at least give a feeling of additional space in the mind.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010, 11:27 PM
Love is a wonderful gift. It's a present so precious words can barely begin to describe it. Love is a feeling, the deepest and sweetest of all. It's incredibly strong and amazingly gentle at the very same time. It is a blessing that should be counted every day. It is nourishment for the soul. It is devotion, constantly letting each person know how supportive it's certainty can be. Love is a heart filled with affection for the most important person in your life. Love is looking at the special someone who makes your world go around and absolutely loving what you see. Love gives meaning to one's world and magic to a million hopes and dreams. It makes the morning shine more brightly and each season seem like it's the nicest one anyone ever had. Love is an invaluable bond that enriches every good thing in life. It gives each hug a tenderness, each heart a happiness, each spirit a steady lift. Love is an invisible connection that is exquisitely felt by those who know the joy, feel the warmth, share the sweetness, and celebrate the gift! ".
Thursday, February 4, 2010, 12:49 PM
“Mindfulness practice is simple and completely feasible. Just by sitting and doing nothing, we are doing a tremendous amount.”
In mindfulness, or shamatha, meditation, we are trying to achieve a mind that is stable and calm. What we begin to discover is that this calmness or harmony is a natural aspect of the mind. Through mindfulness practice we are just developing and strengthening it, and eventually we are able to remain peacefully in our mind without struggling. Our mind naturally feels content.
An important point is that when we are in a mindful state, there is still intelligence. It’s not as if we blank out. Sometimes people think that a person who is in deep meditation doesn’t know what’s going on—that it’s like being asleep. In fact, there are meditative states where you deny sense perceptions their function, but this is not the accomplishment of shamatha practice.
Creating a Favorable Environment
There are certain conditions that are helpful for the practice of mindfulness. When we create the right environment it’s easier to practice.
It is good if the place where you meditate, even if it’s only a small space in your apartment, has a feeling of upliftedness and sacredness. It is also said that you should meditate in a place that is not too noisy or disturbing, and you should not be in a situation where your mind is going to be easily provoked into anger or jealousy or other emotions. If you are disturbed or irritated, then your practice is going to be affected.
Beginning the Practice
I encourage people to meditate frequently but for short periods of time—ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes. If you force it too much the practice can take on too much of a personality, and training the mind should be very, very simple. So you could meditate for ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening, and during that time you are really working with the mind. Then you just stop, get up, and go.
Often we just plop ourselves down to meditate and just let the mind take us wherever it may. We have to create a personal sense of discipline. When we sit down, we can remind ourselves: “I’m here to work on my mind. I’m here to train my mind.” It’s okay to say that to yourself when you sit down, literally. We need that kind of inspiration as we begin to practice.
The Buddhist approach is that the mind and body are connected. The energy flows better when the body is erect, and when it’s bent, the flow is changed and that directly affects your thought process. So there is a yoga of how to work with this. We’re not sitting up straight because we’re trying to be good schoolchildren; our posture actually affects the mind.
People who need to use a chair for meditation should sit upright with their feet touching the ground. Those using a meditation cushion such as a zafu or gomden should find a comfortable position with legs crossed and hands resting palm-down on your thighs. The hips are neither rotated forward too much, which creates tension, nor tilted back so you start slouching. You should have a feeling of stability and strength.
When we sit down the first thing we need to do is to really inhabit our body—really have a sense of our body. Often we sort of prop ourselves up and pretend we’re practicing, but we can’t even feel our body; we can’t even feel where it is. Instead, we need to be right here. So when you begin a meditation session, you can spend some initial time settling into your posture. You can feel that your spine is being pulled up from the top of your head so your posture is elongated, and then settle.
The basic principle is to keep an upright, erect posture. You are in a solid situation: your shoulders are level, your hips are level, your spine is stacked up. You can visualize putting your bones in the right order and letting your flesh hang off that structure. We use this posture in order to remain relaxed and awake. The practice we’re doing is very precise: you should be very much awake even though you are calm. If you find yourself getting dull or hazy or falling asleep, you should check your posture.
For strict mindfulness practice, the gaze should be downward focusing a couple of inches in front of your nose. The eyes are open but not staring; your gaze is soft. We are trying to reduce sensory input as much as we can. People say, “Shouldn’t we have a sense of the environment?” but that’s not our concern in this practice. We’re just trying to work with the mind and the more we raise our gaze, the more distracted we’re going to be. It’s as if you had an overhead light shining over the whole room, and all of a sudden you focus it down right in front of you. You are purposefully ignoring what is going on around you. You are putting the horse of mind in a smaller corral.
When we do shamatha practice, we become more and more familiar with our mind, and in particular we learn to recognize the movement of the mind, which we experience as thoughts. We do this by using an object of meditation to provide a contrast or counterpoint to what’s happening in our mind. As soon as we go off and start thinking about something, awareness of the object of meditation will bring us back. We could put a rock in front of us and use it to focus our mind, but using the breath as the object of meditation is particularly helpful because it relaxes us.
As you start the practice, you have a sense of your body and a sense of where you are, and then you begin to notice the breathing. The whole feeling of the breath is very important. The breath should not be forced, obviously; you are breathing naturally. The breath is going in and out, in and out. With each breath you become relaxed.
No matter what kind of thought comes up, you should say to yourself, “That may be a really important issue in my life, but right now is not the time to think about it. Now I’m practicing meditation.” It gets down to how honest we are, how true we can be to ourselves, during each session.
Everyone gets lost in thought sometimes. You might think, “I can’t believe I got so absorbed in something like that,” but try not to make it too personal. Just try to be as unbiased as possible. Mind will be wild and we have to recognize that. We can’t push ourselves. If we’re trying to be completely concept-free, with no discursiveness at all, it’s just not going to happen.
So through the labeling process, we simply see our discursiveness. We notice that we have been lost in thought, we mentally label it “thinking”—gently and without judgment—and we come back to the breath. When we have a thought—no matter how wild or bizarre it may be—we just let it go and come back to the breath, come back to the situation here.
Each meditation session is a journey of discovery to understand the basic truth of who we are. In the beginning the most important lesson of meditation is seeing the speed of the mind. But the meditation tradition says that mind doesn’t have to be this way: it just hasn’t been worked with.
What we are talking about is very practical. Mindfulness practice is simple and completely feasible. And because we are working with the mind that experiences life directly, just by sitting and doing nothing, we are doing a tremendous amount.