August 25, 2012

Five Steps for a Steady Meditation Practice.

Photo: Meditation Music

Meditation is the door to the inside, it is our avenue—our Broadway for turning in.

It is the only way to touch our true being. Closing our eyes, feeling the energy within the body and following our breath, we open the door.

When we meditate, we are consciously and powerfully signaling to ourselves that we are here and that we are committed to understanding and knowing our inner self.

We are getting in touch. Each time we meditate, our roots grow deeper and deeper.

We become calmer, more aware of what is occurring around us at all times.

The hawk flies by, the ant scurries across the floor and we notice it. These are little events but our ability suddenly to perceive more and more around us throughout the day, opens us up to the greater possibilities in life.

With increased meditation and heightened awareness, such sights bring joy of their own accord. Our level of enjoyment grows. Small events—the primary fabric of our lives—become wonders and these wonders become the keys to unlock ourselves to further growth, further expansion.

“Not yet having entered the gate, nevertheless I have discerned the path.”

~ Ten Bulls

On the inside, the emotion rises and we feel it completely.

We are able to see that what rises within is just an emotion; we smile at this insight and we allow ourselves to flow with what comes. Then, we let it pass.

We are deepening, moving away from the world of form and touching the background, the infinite possibilities, the state of being that is just being.

Getting more and more in touch with our inner workings, we become increasingly stable.

We are conscious of what is coming up, what comes in and what goes out. We are more aware of what pushes our buttons and we see through it clearly. We are also more aware of our reactions to these stimuli and our tendency to run to some habitual response to cover up or to make us feel better. This may seem small but it is not.

Wisdom comes from meditation and the meditative lifestyle.

Being here, being open, touching the calm beneath the reactions and judgments allows the meditator naturally to become wiser.

He or she is bonding with something beyond any intellectual pursuit, something far deeper than thinking that precisely reflects the flow of life—something that lies within the infinity of the now.

Chao-chou asked Nan-chuan, “What is the Tao?”

                        Nan-chuan said, “Everyday mind is the Tao.”

                        Chao-chou said, “How can I approach it?”

Nan-chuan said, “The more you try to approach it, the farther away you’ll be.”

            “But if I don’t get close, how can I understand it?”

The Master said, “It’s not a question of understanding or not understanding. Understanding is delusion; not understanding is indifference. But when you reach the unattainable Tao, it is like space, limitless and serene. Where is there room in it for yes and no?”

Oftentimes we say, “I don’t have enough time to get my work done, exercise, eat and pick up groceries! How am I going to meditate? Sitting idly, what a waste of time!”

This is completely understandable, especially in the context of our society, (Go! Go! Go! Don’t look inside! Keep adding more and more things! Don’t look through the mirror to see beyond all the important exterior reflections!). And yet, we have the time.

We have the presence of mind to look beyond this fallacy. What must first take place though, is our opening to the possibility of what meditation can bring and also, our sincere effort in maintaining a daily practice. We have to get the ball rolling by experiencing the benefits, being open to them and taking control of the mind.

All it takes is ten minutes of sitting, breathing and witnessing.[1]

photo: flickr/Brett Jordan

When I first started meditating, I didn’t believe in the process, let alone benefits, at all. I could barely keep still for three minutes and if I did, I was often elsewhere, thinking about the various things to ‘do’ or ‘get’ later on in the day.

Always looking ahead, always living out the past, always looking away, that was my life. Can anyone else relate?

Finding distractions, this is what many of us do. In meditation, we come back to ourselves in this moment. A good idea may arise and we let it go in order to come back to ourselves. Thoughts, desires to watch television, snack, exercise, write, work (insert distraction), come up and we let them go.

This is the practice.

Am I a true individual, am I even here in this moment? What was the point of it all if I was never truly here?

Such questioning humbled me. There is something separate, something much deeper than these pursuits. Going somewhere or reaching for something else was not the answer. We can spend our entire lives looking outwards and we will not find anything other than more searching.

A famous Buddhist question facing young practitioners is, “When was the best day of your life?”

Naturally, the practitioner thinks that it has not come yet. Well, what if it has? The bottom line is, each and every day is the best, when we are able to tune in fully to what is happening—when we are present, aware of the movements within and without.

What is, is.

I wanted to get in touch with who I was right here, right now. I wanted to sift through the soil to find what lay buried beneath. I had looked outwards for more—bigger, better, faster things and experiences, only to have each pass by, leaving me in the trough, waiting for the next thing to attach myself to.

Meditation was a counterintuitive move. It seemed boring, unappealing and on the surface, easy. My mind wanted nothing to do with it. That was the key.

The fact that my mind, my controller—the black snake, feared such a way of life was what turned me inward in the first place.

As I said earlier, it was initially difficult to sit and stay motivated each and every day. Thoughts flowed through me, ideas sprang up, random obligations I had no intention of fulfilling, tried to dissuade me—this was all further proof of the ‘rightness’ of meditation.

It was a technique the mind feared because it was unable to be the controller in such an environment. It struggled and it writhed but with time (and effort), the struggling began to fade.

After one week, meditation became easier. One week and the benefits began to appear. One week and I began to venture beyond the enclosed boundaries of who I thought I was: I became a little more conscious, a little more aware and thus, more alive.

You have everything to lose and nothing to gain in meditation.

Letting go of the ramparts holding together my ego—inverting them and seeing them for what they were, the very walls of who I thought I was, was all that was necessary for me to create a hole to peer through, to feel the texture of being ok with whatever leapt out of infinity.

Meditation brings about a fundamental switch in the mind and body.

Nothing happens, we still have our lovers, our jobs, our commitments but now, we begin to have our selves. We are free, ideas and conceptualizations don’t stick—there is no story or narrative to follow. And in knowing the self, going deeper and deeper, we live more fruitful lives. We prune away the unnecessary, we become streamlined and we flow with the natural currents within the river of being.

“A Student of Tendai, a philosophical school of Buddhism, came to the Zen abode of Gasan as a pupil. When he was departing a few years later, Gasan warned him: “studying the truth speculatively is useful as a way of collecting preaching material. But remember that unless you meditate constantly your light of truth may go out.”

~ 52. Your Light May Go Out, 101 Zen Stories

Though we are just beginning, our goal is to bring meditation into our day.

We want to touch this lucid awareness not just in our quiet space, but in the world we live in; we want to become beacons—deep individuals, living in this world consciously, twenty-four seven.

photo: flickr/Ryan Oelke

Our seated meditation practice lays the foundation. Each time we meditate, we signal to ourselves that we wish to uncover who or what we are at our core. What we uncover and touch in our meditative practice moves from the seated position out into our moving, fluid lives.

Walking, working, running, laughing, crying, we begin to ‘do’ these activities consciously; the silent watcher is coming forth.

Here are five basic steps to getting started. If you meditate for fifteen minutes a day, seven days straight, meditation will show itself to you.

1. Sitting, relaxing, centering.

Letting go, we are here, alive! It is time to let go of the day, of the ego, of our thoughts. It’s time to get in touch with the inner

stillness below all these things. Our inner nature is right there, right below the surface. We are centered in an upright position and we are deepening through letting go and being.

2. Breathing—in, and then, out—focusing on the in and out of our breath.

This is our device, our tool.When we get flustered or bored, we can always return to the breath. It is our base—we cannot exist without it. Send a little thankfulness to the breath and return to it. There is nothing else to do but breathe and be. Paying attention to the breath allows us to focus on the body and thus disassociate ourselves from thoughts.

3. Posture: straight back, wide chest, drawn in stomach, aligned body, centered and sturdy, unshakable, rooted to the floor. 

When we meditate we become an antenna for all that is. To receive, we must be aligned and rooted into the floor. Whether we are sitting on a chair or on a cushion makes no difference. A mountain is a mountain. We want to get the best energy flow possible. Remember, ‘Deep roots and a mind like sky.’

Buddhism and Hinduism teach the seven chakras or energy centers, which include, the crown, the brow, the throat, the heart, the solar plexus, the sacrum and the base. When we meditate, we want to make sure that these seven energy centers are aligned. We want to promote flow within. Align yourself and flow…

4. Remaining focused, concentrated on being right here, right now.

Thoughts come, the mind is very busy and we are just beginning. Let the thoughts come, for they will be there. There is no need to be frustrated. Just come back to the breath and re-focus on the breath. We are here to be here. Boom! Another thought comes and we attach. No problem, refocus and come back to the breath. Over and over we do this with right effort.

It may take a week or two, but the mind will begin to still and slowly you will notice. Keep going, stay concentrated, without self-criticism, relaxed.

5. Deepening inwardly and settling into this.

As we settle into our meditation, thoughts flow as waves flow across the vast ocean. We are the ocean and the thoughts are just small surface phenomena—a natural part of the ocean but nothing compared to the ocean’s vastness and depth.

These thought waves, no matter how large—twenty, thirty, maybe even fifty feet high, are nothing when they are placed against such a large background. This is the metaphorical imagery: the largeness, the ocean, the sky, or the mountain, remain unmoved by the small surface events. In reality, we are the ones who attach and who allow the small surface events to affect us. Sincere meditation puts an end to this.

Being the inner infinite, the wave or cloud—the thought, the feeling, the emotion, floats by. We may feel it for a moment but it has no bearing on the inner nature and we let it pass; balanced, in touch, we remain.

I often liked to imagine jumping into a turbulent sea and sinking way down to the bottom. I would find a nice sea cave and sit at its mouth in peace. The turbulent ocean, full of thoughts and feelings was hectic and yet I sat unmoved, completely still. A giant, fifty-foot wave would pass (thought: getting a parking ticket) but from my vantage point it was barely visible.

In fact, it was beautiful—a powerful wave moving across my internal ocean. Without attaching to it, it passed and I would remain alert: watching. Another thought (when am I going to get in my exercise today?) passes, a solid thirty footer but once again, I witnessed, smiled and let it pass.

Wow, this is consciousness, this is a beautiful thing.

photo: flickr/David Saddler

Learn to meditate and tame the wild seas, not by ending and controlling the storms, a notion that is a mere illusion of the delusional ego, but by simply becoming the vast sea.

When you put these steps together and practice sincerely, meditation becomes something amazing. It gives back so much more than the time you put into it because it is giving you real life and true freedom. Changing your view, changing your level of being—turning in, enriches life.

We become present, mindful of our feelings and much, much more balanced. We are deepening our roots and getting in touch with the inner stillness. With effort and continued steady practice, our meditative state expands into our daily lives.

Something giant, a huge wave comes.

But we are a little more of the ocean this time around. The wave passes ferociously but it passes. We enjoyed it a little bit, we noticed the aqua blue tint of the wave as it reared up and heaved forward, the sun shimmering through the awesome spray and the relative warmth and liveliness of the surface-level water.

We even took a small lesson from it as it went by. And we were barely moved by it, because we had become the ocean, the water: the wave moved right through us without us moving, reacting or being affected. The wave was just a wave and its sway over us depended only on how much our minds attached to it.

Meditating, touching the deep ocean, cuts the mind out. What comes, comes and we are here for it completely. As we deepen from this point and we begin to see reality, the waves have less and less of an effect.

“The world is ruled by letting things take their course.”

~ Lao Tzu

[1] If we really want to bring meditation to modern times, then think of meditation as an investment of time in yourself, an investment that will bring high dividends!


Editor: Bryonie Wise

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