In my overly active mind, meditation is everything and nothing. As Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, Meditation is Not What You Think.
I believe most anything done mindfully, with presence and a steady flow of breath, can be a meditation. Being mindful means being intentional and living from your heart. That involves practice and discipline, not to mention humor and humility, and a lot of self-pronounced imperfection.
It starts, quite simply, by practicing getting out of your head. (Then once you’ve tried doing this for a week you can be fancy and smug, and call it “your practice.”) With a variety of ways to focus, you’ll get in the habit of hanging out with your thoughts, not freaking out about them. That’s my language for non-attachment and developing an observer’s mind. My feeling is: this is not serious.
Like exercise, there are lots of ways to get in mindful shape. That can look a whole bunch of different ways. When I was younger, time spent in nature, or chasing a ball were my focus. Then, in my twenties, I ran, swam, skied, and roller-bladed, to help deal with anxious thoughts, (lotta chasing!) With age came harder-to-digest experiences off the buffet of life’s potential challenges. More-so than before, I needed to find peace and quiet. In my thirties and forties, exercise and nature were still threads, but yoga and meditation showed me I could experience peace on the very same days I experienced illness, chaos, or fear. (On bad days all of them.)
What I found at the center of my being was, and is, a stillness, a divine presence worth getting in touch with. Going “there” gave me calm, hope and energy, and helped to change my perception on things. Where did that come from? What was the source of it? People call this peace they plug into a whole lot of different things: the universe, your higher self, your soul. I call it God. You can call it whatever you want. Anne Lamott writes “Help. Thanks. Wow.” are the three essential prayers. For me, I add one more: “Please Explain!” And then I find silence. Prayer for me is asking; meditation is when I listen.
For thousands of years the practice of becoming centered and finding a place of peace and connection at the center of your being – in your heart~ has been sacred. The things we do, and rituals we observe to get there, are our meditations. There are many ways.
With meditation, the analogy of a swimming pool helps me. There’s a shallow end, a good place to get your feet wet. There we start with mindfulness, movement, intentionality, and self-care. We use our breath as a tool to focus which keeps life flowing through us. Guided and focusing meditations are productive mechanisms for redirecting the energy of our monkey minds. For me they are like water wings, that help this wild-minded meditator toddle safely into unchartered waters. I’ve dabbled in “the deep end,” and approached it with care and a well thought out process. Creating a daily time and place in my house for reflection, some rituals of sorts, has helped set me up for success. Working my way deeper with some process has made the most sense for me.
Sitting in silence is the most intense, and I’ll even say beneficial, way I practice, but certainly not the only way. I try to carve out time for sitting in silence every day. Sometimes a full twenty minutes works, and sometimes all I can handle is just a few after reading something inspirational or a walk outside alone . Whatever it looks like, I take at least twenty minutes, and view that time as sacred. Different days, many ways.
You’ve hear it called a practice of return, yes? That’s because some days, simply said, it sucks. The experience is not always enjoyable, like a bad day on the court or your worst timed run ever. Other days you’ve got a high from it. It has been happy, sad, frustrating, clarifying –you name it. Pretty much I’ve observed the full range of emotions that come from a full range of life experiences that get processed when I am quiet. No question the cumulative effect, and one that is realized after 40 days of keeping at it, makes it worthwhile. The benefit and healing is tremendous.
Mostly it is about taking a break. Using Lent to give up something you don’t need, an uneasy mind, and cultivating a connection with something you do need. Peace. Have faith, there’s something to it.
* * *
Mindfulness; another buzzword teetering on the brink of distracting annoyance. Here’s why: because middle aged mothers like me study mindfulness, write about mindfulness and then drive around with our phones in one hand and our Starbucks in the other, completely distracted. (Lose that visual, please.)
Modern conveniences send us multi tasking-planning for the future, rehashing the past, doing everything but being in the present moment. Mindfulness brings us back~here and now.
It takes practice. You start by slowing down.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Peace is every step.”
Enjoy the delicious cup of coffee before you. Next thing you know your focus is not on the bleak weather, but on the taste and warmth of the delicious cup of java before you. You are thankful for it. Your energy rests in gratitude.
”When you drink just drink. When you walk just walk” says the Zen saying.
Mindfulness is being present to whatever it is you are doing. It’s not driving and talking and then realizing you are half-way home and don’t remember passing any landmarks, or even driving.
Mindfulness is seeing the beauty in simple things, cultivating a child-like curiosity about magic of a beautiful world. It’s nourishing yourself, guilt free. And widening the lens on how you see life, focusing in on each aspect of it with intentionality. Meditation are mindfulness are a perfect partnership; each supports and enables the other.
Mindfulness is coming into the present. Your present; you will find joy here.
Just breathe. When the advice was first offered up to me, it sounded condescending. (I’m legitimately upset! Thanks but no thanks for the paper bag; now shove it!)
Ironic it is the most profound and yet fundamental tool available to us.
Breathing. It is the first thing we do after we are born, the last thing we let go of before we die. Under stress we see our breathing change. Just as our stress level can affect our breathing, likewise, our breathing can affect our stress. Our breath balances the nervous system and the exchange between that which we no longer need, carbon dioxide, and that which we do need, oxygen.
In most traditions there are parables and processes for connecting our breath to the divine. Breath is life-giving. It’s that simple.
Just breathe. It’s part of the practice.
“In our consciousness there are many negative seeds and also many positive seeds. The practice is to avoid watering the negative seeds and to identify and water the positive seeds every day.”
—Thích Nhát Hanh
ADD and 21st century living are synonymous, says she with the monkey mind. It’s true for most of us; with technology and the influx of bad news streaming our way, we have to be purposeful about where we place our energy. The grass is greenest where we water it, a wise friend explains. Wherever your attention goes, it grows.
Our thoughts stream across the screen of our minds 24/7. Fortunately there are a myriad of tried and true methods available to us. Guided meditation, yoga nidra, dharma talks… ritual, the rosary, mantra. We humans often need tools to help get us out of our heads. Really, anything can become a meditation, provided we are breathing and present to what is before us. Focus begets focus. As we practice honing out attention, we grow our ability to do so. And, the more we focus in, the wider the perspective becomes, because as we cultivate mindfulness through attention, we also cultivate connection and compassion.
“Listen to your Being. It is continuously giving you hints, it is a small still voice. It does not shout at you, that is true. And if you are a little silent you will start feeling your way. Be the person you are.” —Osho
Be still and know that I am God, writes the Psalmist. The still darkness is both haunting and hopeful. As Leonard Cohen sing, it takes the dark to let the light in. Mindfulness and a regular sitting meditation practice are perhaps the deepest and potentially most rich experience , provided you are game to go in. I suggest starting small . Work your way in.
Retreat when necessary. We will provide opportunity and support to those who choose to “go deep,”
Meditation brings clarity, and clarity brings insight. One of the great insights, of course, is that of finding joy, simply, at the center of your being. And there, too, we often find healing.
Meditation, mindfulness and prayer make no promises to cure diseases, but a peace is sure to be found. Ironic the less you think about being well, the better you become.