October 26, 2013

Pointing at the Moon: The Essence of Meditation Practice.

Without a meditation practice, you’re not really a yogi.

I made that statement in an article earlier this month, only with “home” in place of “meditation.” It ruffled a bunch of feathers, primarily of people who don’t have a home practice and were offended that I had the audacity to define what a yogi really is.

But I stand by my assertion: home practice is key—it doesn’t mean yoga studio practice is invalid.

More specifically, a daily home meditation practice is key. And don’t tell me you’re too busy or too active to sit still.

As the story goes, the Buddha told his followers that his teaching is a method to experience reality. The teachings are not reality itself, just as a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself. A thinking person makes use of the finger to see the moon. A person who only looks at the finger and mistakes it for the moon will never see the real moon.

Words are just fingers pointing at the moon—but they are what we have to convey concepts and attempt communication.

I like words, generally. I enjoy their shape and sound. I enjoy writing them with a felt tip pen on a crisp white journal page. I enjoy typing them on a sleek keyboard. I love prose and poetry. The power of words is impressive.

Two words I do not like are “god” and “guru.” People sometimes refer to me as a guru, because I am a yoga instructor and because guru, like karma and even “namaste,” has become part of the vernacular. I am not a guru.

My friend Matt used to refer to me as “The Yoga Master.” I am not a yoga master.

“God,” to me, is too loaded a word. It has too many meanings, too many translations. “Love” is a little like that too. And even the term “yoga” has become quite loaded over the centuries.

As a non-guru, relatively novice meditation practitioner, my experience over the past decade has been that meditation practice is a constantly evolving thing. My habit of formal sitting meditation comes and goes, ebbs and flows.

I do some yoga and relaxation and think it’s enough. Or rationalize that I’m practicing mindfulness as I eat, or walk, or write, or… scroll mindlessly down my Facebook feed. (Wait, this isn’t mindful—I catch myself.)

But it’s not enough. I need to sit. To be still, alone, silent.

Even if for just five or 10 minutes in the morning, a formal meditation practice drastically improves the quality of my day.

More important than the length of time is the quality of practice.

I used to get so hung up on what technique to practice, what lineage to study, how to find my guru. It took me years to realize it doesn’t matter.

There are thousands of techniques, hundred of intersecting and diverging lineages of Buddhism and Yoga. Maybe you’ve already found one and stuck to it.

But if not, don’t think that you’re a failure. It’s okay to mix and match. This is a spiritual revolution: the teachings are out there, and they’re free and readily available.

So, while recalling that these words are just my fingers pointing at the teachings as they’ve been filtered through my mind, here are some basic meditation instructions:

Set a timer, if you want. I’d suggest starting with five minutes and working up to 20 or more.

Sit up straight and tall but relax your body.

If you’ve ever meditated before, pretend you haven’t. (Beginner’s mind is where it’s at.)

Let go of expectations about meditation in general as well as this specific meditation session. Whatever happens happens.

Be aware of your breath going in and out. Put 25 percent of your awareness on the exhale. Let your breath flow naturally.

Each time your mind wanders, which of course it will, immediately and often, treat it like a cute, stumbling puppy. Each time the puppy wanders off (the mind wanders off and hops on a train of thought about either the past or the future), you gently but firmly bring it back to the path (bring the mind back to the anchor of the present moment).

Meditation has a gazillion research-proven benefits. It is an essential and inextricable part of yoga.

Let’s all take a few moments to sit here and do nothing.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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