Tuesday, 11th December 2012
Oh boy. Here we are. It’s a month of festivities and the easiest time of year to get swept up and spit out. The buzz and noise and zeal of it all can be overwhelming. And yet, the holiday season is a great reminder to come home.
For me this means retuning to my cushion and practicing meditation. But first I have to ask myself, why? Why meditate.
And then I remember.
This past summer, I did a three-week meditation intensive studying the Vajra Dharma, a series of teachings from Tibetan Buddhism, in an intimate setting of about forty practitioners. I returned home with clarity and energy. Yet two weeks in, I started to feel the tug of daily life. I found it difficult to concentrate. Distractions came in the form of a shiny new book, a hot cup of tea, a quick text, a long email, and a loud bang outside my porch. In short, I had too much time to get anything done. So I headed off to the Santa Cruz mountains for another retreat ~ this time a five-day solitary retreat in a cabin built for one.
Just before leaving city life, I called my mom. If she hasn’t heard from me in a few days, she thinks bears have eaten me. So I wanted to relieve her of this thought and let her know I’d be unreachable. Solitary confinement is not her idea of a good time. So telling her know I’d be in a cabin, alone, in the woods, I’m sure conjured images of two-headed boogiemen hobbling and moaning in the night.
There was a pause on the other end. My mom has dabbled in meditation before. She’s done a couple of three-week retreats and recently completed an online meditation course called the 21-Day Meditation Challenge, hosted by Deepak Chopra. That being said, with complete sincerity, she asked, “So why meditate?”
When you meditate, you learn to be with yourself in a very ordinary way. This stillness makes you aware of the river flowing within. Like when you close your eyes to taste or to hear or to feel, your sense sharpens. Meditation is about seeing what is happening now. It is about learning how to focus. You may notice a speedy mind, physical pain, heartache, or numbness. When you sit still, you access your confusion. Sitting practice allows you meet yourself in a very direct way. And then the possibility of untangling yourself from yourself becomes real. Look and you’ll notice that underneath your morning routine and your commute to work (and within almost every conversation) is a discomfort that colors your sight, flavors your language, and safeguards everything. There is no need to be afraid of this dis-ease. Yet too often, we disconnect from feeling life and instead set out to accomplish it.
Mediation is often referred to as riding the wild horse. When you sit, there is a rawness, an untamed energy that is accessible. And yet it is a very ordinary act, an extra-ordinary act, to sit in this way. Ride your breath. Let go of story. Ease up. Feel into the pureness of sensation. The body knows what to do if given a chance. Meditation teaches us to have patience with our story. It teaches us how to accept ourselves. It becomes a trusted friend—not because it’s always the same, but because we show up to our practices and are willing to open and trust what arises. Know this ~ the body will speak. And it starts here. Thinking is a symptom of past, present or future. It is never now. Sitting is now. This is intimacy.
Meditation Instruction: How to Sit
Take a good seat on the floor with legs crossed and an upright spine. Use a cushion to raise your hips above your knees (you can also use a chair but be sure to sit so that your feet are firmly planted on the ground and your spine is upright). Settle in. Relate to your body, with its weight and warmth. Become aware of what it feels like to have a body. Relax.
Begin to tend to the breath. Notice the cool, expansiveness of the inhale. Feel the warm release of the exhale. If thought arises, say ‘thought’ and return your attention. Spend time with each bit of direction until it’s effortless. This is the basic practice.
By doing this, you become aware of the gap between thought and now. This is what the Buddhists texts mean when they say first we tame the mind, then we train the mind. Trust whatever arises. All thoughts are considered the same. Violent thoughts are no more important than a thought about cleaning your car. In meditation, just notice when it arises and label it so. Then return to the breath. It is this return that is the practice of meditation.
To sit with oneself is like holding a child. We are spacious, curious, and patient so that the child feels safe and will trust us. Ultimately, it is your presence that comforts the child ~ not the story. She wants to know you will be there, that you won’t turn away. When she’s upset, she wants to be held. And when she’s crying, no amount of reasoning will work. In the end, her fear diminishes because of your faith. This is unconditional love. It is as if our cells are saying, No matter what, I love you. Even if it’s not okay, that’s okay. It’s always workable. Always. So meditation practice is about learning really how to love. And we begin with the self ~ the primary relationship from which all relationships stem. This is why we meditate.