Work? Family? Relationships? Location? Stage in life?
All these are umbrella categories of stress that we find in our life. Does stress consume you to a point where it not only effects you, but others around you too. You create the world you live in by the quality of your thoughts. So how do we enhance our mental being? Or mindset on life? Our World we live in? We gradually change our perception on different situations and states we find ourselves in, but how….
It does not mean to be different from how we already are. Instead, aiding us to become aware of what is already true, moment by moment. We could say that it teaches us how to be unconditionally present; that is, it helps us be present with whatever is happening, no matter what it is.
You may wonder what good that is. After all, don’t we want to suffer less? Aren’t we interested in tuning in to this natural wisdom, this brilliant sanity, that we’ve heard about? Aren’t those changes from how we already are? Pain is growth in the form of heartbreak or loss. Every next level of your life will demand a different version of you. A stronger one where these hard maybe low points in your life were spaces given to grow.
Well, yes and no. On the one hand, suffering less and being more aware of our inherent wakefulness would be changes from how we experience ourselves right now, or at least most of the time. On the other hand, though, the way to uncover brilliant sanity and to alleviate suffering is by going more deeply into the present moment and into ourselves as we already are, not by trying to change what is already going on.
The sitting practice of mindfulness meditation gives us exactly this opportunity to become more present with ourselves just as we are. This, in turn, shows us glimpses of our inherent wisdom and teaches us how to stop perpetuating the unnecessary suffering that results from trying to escape the discomfort, and even pain, we inevitably experience as a consequence of simply being alive.
As we’ve seen in earlier blog postings, the man called the Buddha taught that the source of suffering is our attempt to escape from our direct experience. First, we cause ourselves suffering by trying to get away from pain and attempting to hang on to pleasure. Unfortunately, instead of quelling our suffering or perpetuating our happiness, this strategy has the opposite effect. Instead of making us happier, it causes us to suffer. Second, we cause suffering when we try to prop up a false identity usually known as ego. This, too, doesn’t work and leads instead to suffering. (See earlier blog entries for more on these ideas.)
Mindfulness, paying precise, nonjudgmental attention to the details of our experience as it arises and subsides, doesn’t reject anything. Instead of struggling to get away from experiences we find difficult, we practice being able to be with them. Equally, we bring mindfulness to pleasant experiences as well. Perhaps surprisingly, many times we have a hard time staying simply present with happiness. We turn it into something more familiar, like worrying that it won’t last or trying to keep it from fading away. For example, when your so used to be working in a fast western world, it comes time to go on Holiday but your already thinking of the work you have to do when you return.
When we are mindful, we show up for our lives; we don’t miss them in being distracted or in wishing for things to be different. Instead, if something needs to be changed we are present enough to understand what needs to be done. Being mindful is not a substitute for actually participating in our lives and taking care of our own and others’ needs. In fact, the more mindful we are, the more skillful we can be in compassionate action, an emotional intelligence.
So, how do we actually practice mindfulness meditation? Once again, there are many different basic techniques. There are three basic aspects worked with in this meditation technique: body, breath and thoughts.
First, we relate with the body. Setting up the environment you wish to meditate in, whether that be in a pre-made class setting or in the comfort of your own home. As long as you are not sitting in front of something distracting, like the TV or the desk where your computer lives, it doesn’t matter too much what is in front of you.
Once you’ve picked your spot, you need to choose your seat. It’s fine to sit either on a cushion on the floor or on a chair. The idea is to take a posture that reflects your inherent brilliant sanity, so one that is dignified but not stiff. The back is straight with the curve in the lower back that is naturally there. I was once told to imagine that my spine was a tree and to lean against it. It works for me; you can see if it works for you.
Sitting on a cushion, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. There’s no need to contort yourself into an uncomfortable posture. Just simply cross your legs as you might have done as a child. Notice again that you want your hips higher than your knees. If necessary, add more height to your seat by folding up a blanket or towel or a block.
Hands rest on the thighs, facing down. The eyes are closed.
Let your front be open and your back be strong.
Begin by just sitting in this posture for a few minutes in this environment. If your attention wanders away, just gently bring it back to your body and the environment. The key word here is “gently.” Your mind WILL wander; that’s part of what you will notice with your mindfulness: minds wander. When you notice that yours has wandered, come back again to body and environment. Do not stress, relax.
The second part of the practice is working with the breath. In this practice rest your attention lightly (yes, lightly) on the breath. Feel it as it comes into your body and as it goes out. There’s no special way to breathe in this technique. Once again, we are interested in how we already are, not how we are if we manipulate our breath. If you find that you are, in fact, controlling your breath in some way, just let it be that way. It’s a bit tricky to try to be natural on purpose, so don’t get caught up in worrying about whether your breath is natural or not. Just let it be however it is.
Again, sit for a few minutes with the posture and the environment and with your breath. In and out. Count an inhale as 1, the exhale as 2, inhale 3, exhale 4, continue until 20 and then restart. If thoughts run away with you, refocus on the breath back to 1. The idea isn’t to get it “right,” but instead to give you an idea that you’re not channeling all of your attention tightly on to your breath. The rest of your attention will naturally be on your body and the environment.
Finally, the last part of the practice is working with thoughts. As you sit practicing, you will notice that thoughts arise. Sometimes there are a great many thoughts, overlapping one over the next: memories: plans for the future, fantasies, snatches of jingles from TV commercials. There may seem to be no gaps at all in which you can catch a glimpse of your breath. That’s not uncommon, especially if you’re new to meditation. Just notice what happens.
When you notice that you have gotten so caught up in thoughts that you have forgotten that you’re sitting in the room, just gently bring yourself back to the breath. You can mentally say “thinking” to yourself as a further reminder of what just happened. This labeling is not a judgment; it is a neutral observation: “Thinking has just occurred.” I like to think of it as a kind of weather report: “Thinking has just been observed in the vicinity.”
How long should you practice? As little as 5 minutes is great to start with, build it as a ritual every day perhaps setting that time aside. Rituals tend to cement in after 3 weeks of consistency in doing so, after then it will become easy as a beneficial habbit. Build this as you feel 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes a day to increase your self awareness and effectiveness in every day life.
For instance towards the end of one of my yoga classes, I set aside time for complete relaxation and meditation. This is a skill alongside the physical asanas (postures) we perform before hand leading up to it. Eventually, you could extend it to 45 minutes or an hour. If you want to sit longer, you might want to learn how to do walking meditation as a break.
Walking meditation is one of many variety of ways to meditate, it isnt just being able to sit for an extended period of time, (although most effective once mastered). Through walking pay attention to your senses, what colours do you see? Scents do you smell? The feeling of your feet crunching on the leaves on an autumn night? The crisp cold air on your nose, eyes and ears?
Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn reveals a large amount about mindfulness and types of meditation. Describing others such as shower meditation, where the stress is essentially visualised to run off the body in the form of water. Lake mediation, where you envision the ripples on the lake to be the small stressors of life, disturbing the perfect reflection in the water. Sky meditation, where the clouds resemble pockets of thoughts, negative and positive, but the knack is to just watch them pass by and not let them consume you, just be. Sea/ Ocean meditation, waves resembling stressful thoughts, both small and large but having the skill to not rid them but to ride them instead.
Don’t try to get rid of your thoughts, instead be aware of what they are. It won’t work and it’s the opposite of the spirit of the practice. We are trying to be with ourselves as we already are, not trying to change ourselves into some preconceived notion of how we ought to be instead.
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