Just for a day, keep your energy to yourself. Relax and feel the tensions we hold in our throat, around our hearts and in the small of the back. Is the response sincere, or meant to attract attention. Is the action only a habit or meant to to be kind. Does it feel like your always pushing a rock up against a wall of resentment from someone? Is that what causes the back to ache, giving support without being supported? Give up the need for validation and acceptance from others. Give in to the light within. Give up being seen as a whole being full of desires and contradictions, of wants and frustrations. Put the candle light within the self and let it fill the void. Depend on no one for one day, lean on the flame settled internally. Don’t give your light away. Keep the energy close. For once, let it all drop and figure out who you are in your own reflection and not the reflection of anyone else. Once in awhile, that what is most desired comes along. Cherish it only to yourself and share it with no one else. Be quiet that the winds of change have come and the most precious wish is there for you tomorrow. It doesn’t matter if no one understands. For once, know that the light is within.
As the New Year rolls in, thoughts turn toward the chance for a fresh start. The resolutions perpetually include intentions for weight loss, being kinder or better self-care. Perhaps the need for quiet time, especially, during the winter months, starts to nag at the consciousness. The term mindfulness is becoming popular. The word is not part of the lexicon and tricky (pardon the pun) to wrap the mind around. Mindfulness is active attention on the moment without judgement if good or bad. Sounds nice. An internet query returns links to books, articles and seminars. There are an awful lot of words to read. If it takes more than a paragraph to explain, what is a busy wannabe to do? Mindfulness is conscious awareness of the mind, body, and spirit as it is in the present.
Mindfulness is a meditative practice from the Vipassana tradition of Insight Meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, made it an achievable experience. He and his staff pioneered a way for the mind and body of an overwhelmed, overworked ordinary person to chill out with kindness towards the self. The state of mind or health does not matter. The outcome is a balanced way to approach daily activities and conditions with awareness of internal and external influences.
A home based practice can begin at any moment. In the Vipassana tradition, there is no moment to start, no day, hour or time. If symbolism matters, look out the window and say now. Turn inward and begin your practice of mindfulness. No mantra, no bell, begin and focus on actions.
It is breakfast time and the ritual begins with a simple meal. Mindfulness is attention on what you think, say and do in the moment. It might be easier only to do at first. Concentrate on using the non-dominant hand and balancing activity in both hands. If right handed, use the left for opening the cupboard and taking out the bowl. Prepare toast and tea as well. Open the kettle lid, fill with water, start the burner and take out tea with the left hand using the right for support. In other words, reverse hand movements. Watch how the body tries to switch hands. See the hands switch and follow the normal pattern of movement. Consciously shift hands.
There may be some discomfort and fumbling as a simple meal is prepared. Open the cereal box, pour and close with attention. Listen to the cereal shift in the wax paper and fill the bowl. Add fresh fruit if that is the habit. Add the milk or yogurt. Take out a plate and butter knife. Two slices of bread from the bag. How hard this is! How the body is twisting away. Here is mindfulness. Feel the twist, feel the discomfort, focus on the action and guide the hands with gentle intention. Say it aloud if it helps. Focus, focus on this action at this moment. Place the bread in the toaster and cook it.
The tea water is boiling. Brew with loose leaf or the tea bag. Pour with the other hand. Constantly shift the attention as it shifts to the habit of the other way. See something drop or spill. The hands are learning something new; give them a chance to understand. Take your time. When the toast pops, butter with the left hand, spread the jam with the right. Start to shift giving each hand the same movement. It is not a simple task.
Sit and eat quietly. Watch how complex it is to scoop cereal onto the spoon and lift to the mouth with the other hand. Pay attention to chewing on both sides fully. Most people tend to bite down and grind on one side as well. A chance for mindful eating. Peel an orange or banana with the non-dominant hand. Continue this practice every morning until it becomes common.
Mindfulness will often say to focus on the flavors. One thing at a time. By moving out of the normal rhythm of the morning ritual of breakfast, the mind starts to focus on actions. Feel the discomfort in the body and mind. Let it be uncomfortable. Focus and be in that space. See what is happening, feel what is happening, hear the thoughts and watch where they go. Bring the thoughts into the hands, into the fingers holding the spoon, the cup or the toast. Feel the bread warm in the fingers.
This activity will be harder with people watching or knowing what is happening. A conversation will cause over analyzing and get the mind rolling in judgement. Keep the practice to yourself. If possible, try other simple activities such as brushing the teeth or washing dishes with the non-dominant hand. The body knows what you want and does it in a specific way with little variation. Stop the habitual action and put it in the other hand, on the other side of the body and the mind as well. The deliberate action of watching the movements and performing them with attentive care is mindfulness in motion. The mind may chatter away with thoughts and judgement. The hands may drop and slip things. Pick them up continuously with the non-dominant hand. Throughout the day, find other ways to do things in an opposite manner with attention on the change. Be mindful in movement and be safe. Namaste
Sources for Mindfulness
Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society – University of Massachusetts Worcester Campus
Stress Reduction Program
Insight Meditation Society – Barre, Massachusetts
Plum Village – Loubès-Bernac, France
This article is available in Wisdom Magazine March Edition 2016.
In my previous article, Mediation It’s for Everybody, I talked about an alternative to the traditional practice of sitting in silence, lotus position. This writing will discuss guided meditation as a way to achieve quiet for the mind and body. For those who have made a resolution to begin a meditation practice in 2014, the intention is made, so now continue.
Traditional Silent Practice
Mediation is a form of repose. The body comes to stillness. The senses are drawn inward in personal reflection or spiritual contemplation. There is no beginning and no end. One meditates to understand the self, social interactions and everything in between. The object of meditation is to become aware of the mind generating thoughts and how creative a place it can be. Thoughts drive actions or non-actions. The sitter learns to observe this behavior from the inside out, from the outside in. Understand that the thoughts will not diminish, but perhaps there neediness will.
The term practice comes up frequently when seasoned sitters reflect on their experiences. A person may refer to it as “my practice” giving this activity a distinct, and separated identity attached to themselves. The practice of meditation typically means the habit of sitting still at a specific time each day. There are a wide variety of styles of meditation and traditions.
The act of mediation is often connected to the Buddha of India. Buddha means awakened. The Buddha successfully achieved a state of being rarely understood or duplicated. In essence, he became a fulfilled human and rose above the confinement of the mind and body. He was able to raise his conscientiousness beyond the norm of human experience. The remarkable action embraced all that humanity is and isn’t. He simply existed without beginning or end. He identified with everything and was in the awareness of thought-space-time all at once. That he could stay in that state is what is remarkable. Every person has experienced this state of being. In actuality, it happens daily but the untrained mind cannot stay in that awareness or sometimes, may be unable to recognize it as such. The Buddha showed us that with intention, any human can achieve insight.
A guided meditation can be created internally or furnished externally by another source. The guided meditation takes the listener on a path toward focused attention.
The most luxurious preparation for the sitting would be to take a warm bath in ¼ cup of epsom salts mixed with ½ cup of baking soda. If you feel cold normally, adding two drops of rosemary or vanilla essential oil will assist in warming the body and aiding circulation. Dress in soft comfortable loosely fitted clothing. Cover the feet with thick socks. Place a blanket nearby. As you sit, your body will cool naturally and you will need to keep an even body temperature in order to be comfortable. If you feel hunger may interfere with the ability to focus attention on the activity, have a banana with yogurt mixing in granola and/or wheat germ. This can become an elaborate or simple ritual depending on the mood of the sitter.
A self-guided meditation may be done at any time during the seated practice. The sitter may direct the breath through the body guiding the thoughts. Often, beginning sitters are advised to follow the breath in and out. The breath may be directed through the body to different areas. The sitter breathes in and out through the diaphragm. In the next breath, direct the internal eye to the right ear and breathe in and out as if through the ear. The next breath descends to the left shoulder breathing in and out. The next breath is at the right elbow, than the left hip, right knee, and left ankle. The order can be altered, reversed or started again from the top of the head to the bottom of the foot. This exercise will give variety to the mind and bring the sitter deeper into self-awareness within the body.
Guided by Sound
My personal style of meditation may be considered self-guided as I give over awareness to sound. As I sit, I listen to the sounds within the room. In a group practice, this is highly rewarding as you listen to the people around you settle into their bodies, cushions, or chairs. I have listened to the chatter of birds, crickets and wind. A ticking clock, especially an old time piece can be richly rewarding. I am still; my thoughts are focused on the sound. There is a moment when it all fades into the background and there is nothing there.
Guided by Voice or Acoustic Instruments
There are many excellent taped guided meditations by a wide variety of teachers. The absolute beginner may benefit most from a guided meditation practice. Think of your practice as a new habit. The body and mind are being asked to do something most unusual: be still. The beginner needs support in setting a new habit. For example, Sunday morning at 7 a.m. is set aside for the practice of meditation. To sit without benefit of guidance could be frustrating. What do you do?
The guided meditation by an external voice will help focus the mind on a task. The person speaking to you wants you to enjoy this experience and will use proper techniques to guide the listener into a state of relaxation. The speaker will often remind the sitter that the mind has wandered off into thoughts, or ask if you are breathing from the diaphragm. The sitter will benefit from their expertise to find comfort and support. The speaker will ease the person out of the meditative state and end the session properly.
Here are a few selections in my personal library. I prefer acoustic instrumentation and the sounds of nature. I would stay away from Classical Recordings as they are meant to take the listener into a mood or different emotional place. One of my favorite Classical Recordings is Chopin’s Raindrops Prelude. However, Chopin’s brilliance was in setting an emotional state not always positive although always contemplative.
Chakra Balance Meditation CD by Barbara Stone available through her website Soul Detective.net
1 – Guided Relaxation w/Solo Piano 36 minutes
2 – Guided Meditation 25 minutes
1 – Acoustic sounds of bells, bamboo, and etc. 27 minutes
2 – Acoustic sounds of bells, chimes, etc. 28 minutes
Songbirds of Spring and Pastoral Countryside by Richard Hooper
1 – Pastoral Countryside – 30 minutes
2 – Songbirds of Spring – 30 minutes
If you have a smart phone, search for free guided meditation apps and select a different one every time until you find the mix that is best for you.
Sit, just sit and find out who you are. A regular meditation practice can be rewarding and a path of personal discovery.
What image comes to mind with the word mediation? Perhaps it’s a person sitting in a lotus position eyes downcast in silence. What are they really doing? To sit quietly only with one’s thoughts for several minutes can seem unnatural if not awfully daunting. What do you do? Just sit! How strange is that. Achieving the position alone can be difficult not to mention putting a leg or two soundly asleep after a few minutes. What’s the reality of meditation? Can anyone practice?
Mediation is a form of repose. The body comes to stillness. The senses are drawn inward in personal reflection or spiritual contemplation. One meditates to understand the self, social interactions and everything in between. The object of meditation is to become aware of the mind generating thoughts and how creative a place it can be. Thoughts drive actions or non-actions. Meditation stirs up many thoughts, images, and emotions. The goal is not to control or stop them, but to be aware of them.
The practice of mediation requires regularity and simplicity. Practitioners traditionally find a time in the morning, evening or both dedicated to meditation. At first, perhaps setting aside 10 minutes at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. every day until this becomes a habit of daily life. The effects of meditation are cumulative. Generally, a regular practice may result in a better quality of well-being with more restful sleep, lowered blood pressure, increased energy, and ability to focus.
What happens in the silence?
The sitter needs to create a space that is only for meditation, a warm, quiet place filled with natural light, preferably dim. The sitter only needs a cushion if they can sit in lotus position, or a straight back chair. A place of refuge from daily activity. One recommendation may be to not set a clock. Simply sit and let the time pass. Don’t wonder how long you have sat, that’s the mind distracting the moment with thinking. Just sit. The minutes may grow naturally without creating tension in the sitter. If there is no goal, there may be nothing to compete against, a lesson to be learned from meditation.
At this point, many a reader may be lost at the complexity of these recommendations. In a house filled with kids, critters, noise or TV babble, this could be daunting. In this age of social media, it may be challenging. There is no better comfort than to be connected to the net and liked. Well, it is up to the sitter to find a way through all the distractions of modern times toward that place of refuge.
The first few minutes of meditation may be a revelation. There is no silence in the mind. The thoughts are endless. The body will also make awareness of every twinge it has or has conjured up. The cushion may become a friend just out of reach or a place of utter disillusionment. One minute of meditation can make the person painfully aware of the random and risqué nature of the mind. The mind loves stimulation. Sitting still is overwhelming. So, what do you do?
Alternative Mediation Practice
If this is all too painful to contemplate, consider alternative forms of meditation. Here is an example of mediation off the cushion. Start by taking out the most neglected houseplant, bring it to the table during a quiet time of day and examine it closely. Focus your eyes on the plant and take in its shape and color. Hold the potted plant between your hands and form a connection. Understand what the plant needs for care and begin to groom it. Trim off the dried leaves, prune back the unruly branches and tend it with care. Lightly cultivate the soil. Prepare a pot of warm water with plant food and give it a nourishing drink. Pour the water in slowly and watch the soil absorb the moisture. Take a damp cloth and dust each leaf or petal on both sides. Take your time and wash off the branches and stems as well. This may require a long swab to reach under and over. Tend the plant. When you have completed this task, give the plant a fine mist of warm water. Place the plant back in its surroundings, or ask it at the end of the cleansing, where it wants to be? Does it need more light, moisture or warmth? Give it all your attention until the task is complete. Practice grooming one plant each week. There is no start or end time, it is just done when it is done.
Zen meditation is filled with stories of enlightenment achieved by the act of a branch breaking off a tree. The simple activities we perform day to day may offer opportunities for meditation. This technique can be applied to grooming your cat or dog as well, combing your child’s hair, cleaning shoes, preparing breakfast or washing your own face. Meditation becomes a practice of focused attention with no pre-determined outcome. The meditator, rather than sitting alone, becomes engaged with something else. The act of sitting alone to extraverts can be improbable. The awareness of the shifting, rapid nature of thoughts to the introvert can be equally alarming. Find repose in simple activity, give the thoughts something to do, the hands activity to perform, and find comfort in the stillness. Meditation is possible in many different forms. Find the one that is best for you.