Thursday, July 12, 2012

To Begin

Meditation is quite different from sitting there doing nothing, thinking nothing.  It is instead a focused attention on one’s present experience.  A chance to minimize the distractions that pull one away from the present. Pleasant events are often spoiled by comparison to other good experiences or worry that this wonder may soon end.  Difficult experiences are often tempered by a desire for escape and the fantasy of being somewhere else doing something else.  The mind will wander all over the place and our present experience, good or bad, may be missed.

So meditation becomes a practice.  A practice to remain here, in the present moment, fully aware.  It is something that must be practiced to achieve benefit, and the practice, though simple, can be extremely challenging.  But the benefits, as described in other posts and in countless others’ experience, are worth it.

So how does one begin?

Some sit cross-legged on a cushion on the floor.  This does provide a stable, supportive base and opens up the body for natural, unforced breath, but it is not necessary.  Sitting on a chair, if more comfortable, can provide a stable base for practice.  Just sit in the center of the seat, rest your feet firmly on the floor, and position your spine erect, shoulders back, chin tucked, head gently pressing up toward the ceiling.  If you can, without discomfort, hold this position without support from the back of the chair.  What to do with your hands can be a special distraction, so just fold them gently in your lap or place the palms down on your thighs.

In this position, focus on the breath.  Breathe naturally through the nose, unless it’s clogged, and focus on the rising and falling of your belly, or the cooling sensation on the tip of your nostrils during each inhale, and the warming on each exhale.  Counting breaths can help keep the focus on the breath, so count each exhale, up to ten, then begin again at one.

Other  tips include closing your eyes to increase your focus on the breath.  Or letting your eyes drop to a spot a few feet in front of you and holding them in soft focus to reduce blinking.  Gently close your mouth, teeth slightly apart, and position your tongue behind your top teeth to reduce swallowing.  Focus on the breath, feeling the rise and fall of the belly, the subtle expansion and contraction of your chest and back, keeping the breath natural, not forcing it or trying to slow it down.  This is a practice to experience the present moment and although it may relax you, it is not a relaxation exercise.  So keep everything just as it is, and return to the breath.

Thoughts will tumble through your mind and constantly pull you away from the breath.  Your mind will wander all over the place and even after years of practice thoughts will continue to interrupt.  Many posts will investigate thoughts, so for now, just notice that you are thinking, let the thought go, and return to the breath.  If you’ve lost your count, or find yourself at fifteen or twenty-seven when you meant to stop at ten, just let it go and begin again at one.

Discomfort is another challenge.  If you find an itch, don’t scratch it.  Just focus your breath into that spot and experience the itch.  If you feel bearable pain in your shoulder, or legs, or anywhere, do not reposition.  Just direct your breath to that part of your body and focus on release with each exhale.  Holding your position, focusing on your breath, and experiencing the present moment.  If you find a position becomes too painful, then respect the body and make adjustments as necessary.

Be kind to yourself and don’t be overly ambitious.  In the beginning, you may only be able to hold this attention for a few moments.  The thoughts may become too much, or the body too uncomfortable.  Although today I meditate for thirty minutes each day, I began at only five, and it took a long time to work up from there.  Just be aware that any period of focused attention is valuable, and persevere.

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