Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Little Bit About Meditation

When I tell people that I meditate, I get some strange reactions. Some people dismiss it as unprofitable navel-gazing and a waste of time. My devoutly Christian dentist gravely warned me about the spiritual dangers of “stopping thought” and “kandaluni”(I assume he meant kundalini.). When I told him I usually just focus on the breath he was much reassured: “Well, there's nothing wrong at all with deep breathing.” Mostly people find the idea of sitting on a cushion too daunting: “Oh, I can't do that. I can't concentrate that long. My mind wanders.”

The truth is, meditation is just not as complicated as all that. It's just going with the flow of the present moment. Musicians have told me something similar happens when they are into playing and going with the music. From what Jeff tells me, he experiences something like it while riding his motorcycle. You are totally “into” what you are doing. The object can be your breath, a mantra, an ideal, or just the field of sensation your body experiences. It can be devotional in nature, or you can just count your breaths up to ten over and over. Whatever the focus, you bring it to the front of your awareness. “Concentration” is really too harsh a word, because it implies a kind of force. As for “emptying your mind of thought”, that doesn't happen, so I don't know what folks are so worried about.

You don't even have to be sitting down. There are Buddhist schools where work is considered a meditation. (Remember Grasshopper on the show Kung Fu sweeping up the leaves in the temple? He was meditating.) You can also lay down or stand in a relaxed posture. The point is that you bring your mind into the present moment and try to keep it there.

This is where people think they are failing to do it right and that they aren't “good at meditating”. But the truth is that the moment when you are aware that your mind has drifted away from your object and has begun to tell its own story is very important. That awareness of what the mind is doing is part of the learning process. You just say to yourself “I'm thinking.”, and bring it back to the breath. And you do that again and again during the time allotted for meditation. Sometimes I'll give myself credit for having positive thoughts, if that's the case, although one should strive to observe without judgement.

It's strange that we think that meditation on a single object is “boring”, but if you pay attention to your thoughts you find that the mind throws up the same old stuff again and again. But for some reason, we aren't bored by that. Counting to ten is boring, but re-living that argument you had with someone last week for the hundredth time isn't boring. In fact, because the human mind is wired for self-protection, we think that if we keep re-living bad experiences, we'll be more ready to defend ourselves. Maybe we will, but in the meantime we're causing ourselves to suffer unnecessarily.

Meditation takes us out of all that, as well as out of worry about the future. It's just a tiny mini-break from the internal drama we create for ourselves. If I'm sleepy, I can exercise first or do walking meditation. There are times I'm just too wound up to meditate silently, and I try exercise or chanting. Sometimes I just have to cry. Other times I have to put my energy into resolving the situation that has me hung up – and there always is some kind of solution that will release that energy and return me to a calmer state. I don't worry much on the discipline aspect of it, as in setting a goal to meditate a certain amount of minutes at a certain time every day. I do the best I can with the circumstances I find myself in. Mornings are best, especially if my daughter isn't home and sleeping in my yoga room. If she is home, then I have to do things differently. One of the things that meditation teaches you is that life is constantly changing, and you're better off accepting that. And it's hard for everyone – I certainly don't have some sort of special talent or ability. But I do think it's worth the effort, because it gradually changes your attitudes even when you're not on the cushion.

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