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A friend asked me about the basics of meditation the other day.
(Which reminds me, I need to get back to her.)
It caused a pause.
What do I really know? What makes me the right person to sit down with her and explain to her the benefits and gifts that being can bring?
All my life, I have been a reaction type person, as most of us are. I don’t find the middle path, I haven’t thought before I’ve acted and rarely have I ever not not let my emotions completely overtake me.
As of writing this, it has been officially ten months since the beginning of my journey. A year of 5-6-7 days a week, sitting down for 45-60 minutes and watching my breath.
(Sometimes sleep was also involved in that time.)
But, what do I know?
There is no magic “list” for what to do when beginning the process of sitting, so, here’s a list anyway.
1. Sit down with your back straight—ideally there isn’t a slouch in the spine (but there is in mine every time).
Books I’ve read say to keep the back as straight as comfortably possible, but I think the act of sitting is enough. It can’t be perfect anyway.
In a chair works too, it can help the back.
2. Cross your legs in a position that you can reliably sit in for 10/20/30/40 minutes.
In my case, I enjoy sitting cross legged.
In a chair, just sit so your legs are at a 90 degree angle, hands on thighs or in lap.
3. As one begins, the mind will probably not want to be there.
The idea is that you are here to learn to notice the thoughts. What thoughts pop up, how do you physically react to them?
The rising of the diaphragm, the belly expanding, the skin right below the nose (feeling cool and warm air as you breathe in and out).
Potentially, feeling the heartbeat.
Thich Nhat Hanh says:
It is an easy mantra to stay with. One could also count the breath starting at 1 (for both the in and out breath) and continuing to 10, starting over every time you lose track.
5. When a thought appears, simply look at it (with the mind’s eye/attention) and return to the breath.
We do this not because we are trying to shove thoughts out of the way, but, arriving at a gentle point where thought is not the main focus. The breath is the focus.
If one gets completely caught up in a thought, you will soon notice. Just return to the breath, don’t judge yourself, don’t say “I can’t do this, I should stop.” That is a continued creation of the mind.
We’re looking for the peace, an equanimity (big word of the day) that comes with sitting with all of these thoughts and choosing to do nothing. The thoughts lose their power.
6. Not every day of meditation is the same.
Also, the visions some people tend to have when their eyes are closed are so random, and detailed, it may be of benefit to keep the eyes open. I know I prefer eyes open.
7. Meditation is not something that requires you to work really hard.
You just have to sit down, with intention, and have no goals. You can’t force meditation to “do” or “be” something more than what it is on that given day.
Anyway, ten months later—I guess it could be said that the mere fact that I sit still in one place during busy days and meditate for 45 minutes is a feat.
Being present in the moment is the challenge. That time you’re sitting with thoughts is the practice. The world is the stage.
Often, I still get caught up in my reactions and blow the training. But, it’s okay. Staying the course and maintaining to continue down the path is the only thing I can do.
It’s challenging because as a society we strive to improve, to be better, to not be bad. But bad and good are words we can’t attach to meditation, awareness and mindfulness.
We have to find the middle way these two words, where we can live and enjoy life and the moments that we might otherwise miss if we hadn’t decided to live more openly.