In meditation we slow ourselves down and observe the activity of the mind.We then see that much of this activity is an incessant monologue of mostly inane chatter. We see that many of the things we obsess over, and that keep us preoccupied, have no consequence whatsoever. We see that much of what we worry about passes away within minutes; indeed, after a few minutes more, we have forgotten what we were so worried about and have moved on to the next temporary obsession. In meditation we learn to break this pattern.We learn to take care of the mind by observing its dynamics without grabbing at, interfering with, or rejecting anything that comes up.
Allow your meditation to begin before you begin formal meditation. That is, even as you approach your place of meditation, settle your mind. Be aware of what you are about to do. Meditation doesn't magically begin the moment you sit down to face a wall, or the moment a bell sounds. Instead, let your meditation begin even as you think to meditate. If you learn to practice meditation in this way, gradually you will learn to bring awareness to any activity the very moment you turn your mind to it.
Your eyes should always remain open during meditation. This is often difficult for people new to meditation to understand. But, remember, meditation is not about tuning out the world, but about awareness. Without tilting your head forward, cast your gaze downward at a forty-five-degree angle. Your line of vision should strike the floor at about the same distance in front of you as your eyes are above the floor. If you are sitting facing a wall, your line of vision may intersect the wall. Let your gaze fall in a general area. Do not fixate on any specific point. You should be able to see clearly while meditating. Because your gaze is downward, your eyes will appear to be halfclosed, but keep them comfortably open. Just relax your eyelids, and they will naturally settle into a half-open position.
In the beginning, if you have a lot of trouble maintaining concentration--that is, staying with the breath--try counting the breaths. There are different ways to count the breath for various effects, but the simplest way is to silently count "one" on the inbreath, "two" on the out-breath,"three" on the next in-breath, and "four" on the next out-breath. Count up to ten in this way, then start over again with one. If you lose track of your counting, simply begin again at one. Do this until your mind settles down and you can once again follow your breath without counting. It's best to let go of counting the breath as soon as you feel you can do so--because, over time, even counting the breath can become a distraction from here and now.
As we meditate, we don't demand that the world be silent around us.That would just be another variation on our old theme of "I'm not satisfied, so I need to rearrange the world."And, anyway, we can't make the world silent, no matter how hard we try. Sometimes noisy things happen just outside your window, no matter what you do. Meditation is just to be there with what is happening. There's no need for you to control any of it.
In meditation, words and concepts will spontaneously appear. Let them go. Don't hold on to them or build upon them. Don't think about them or use them to calculate some expectation. Just stay here. Start cultivating a wordless Awareness of just this.
If you have the opportunity to meditate with a group, I strongly recommend it, ideally on a regular basis.
Regularity is the cure for resistance to practice.When it's time for your regular sitting meditation, just sit in meditation. If you feel resistance rising, know that it's not unusual. Go ahead and feel that resistance. Look at it. And then continue your regular meditation 60 What's Your Problem? schedule, resistance or no resistance. Don't let it take you away, or it will only strengthen. If you can get past resistance to meditation, nothing else in life will be an obstacle. If the worst situation comes to you, you can deal with it. If the best situation lands upon you, you can continue to walk steadily. Over time, resistance will become but an echo in the mind. Be honest and attentive with whatever resistance does come up in your mind. Face it down, and it will cease to be a problem. With regular practice, resistance will evaporate like dew in the earlymorning sun.
There will be times during your meditation schedule that you just won't feel like doing it. This is normal. It's all too easy to justify why today would be a good day to take off. In this and innumerable other ways, we kick and scream and try to avoid meditation. In such moments, it's all the more essential that we practice with regularity. When our mind resists following our meditation schedules that's precisely the time to stick to it. We need to forget how we feel and what we think about meditation at the moment, and just take up the practice. Reality doesn't care how we feel at the moment.And, when it comes to meditation, neither should you. If it's time to meditate, it's beside the point whether you're bored, or tired, or shaky, or upset. In fact, it's in our very resistance that we create suffering.
Over time, if we practice regularly and honestly, our kicking and screaming mind will subside.We'll learn to walk evenly through life and not to be perturbed by the events we encounter.We'll discover that we are well equipped to deal with whatever unwanted situations come our way.We can engage fully in our life with equanimity.We can experience each moment for what it is, as it happens, without emotional residue.
Our meditation practice reflects the attitude we take in life. If our practice is unstable or based on our whims and impulses, our life will follow in the same way and become ever more difficult--even unbearable. In short, if we're serious about taking up meditation, procrastination and vacillation have to go.
In meditation, we refrain from passing judgment. Judgment, as opposed to discernment, takes us out of the present moment and into our heads, where we assign weights and values to everything and then fixate on our evaluations.To the extent we're fixated, our minds have become brittle, rigid, dogmatic, and inflexible. In short, a judgmental mind is antithetical to meditation. In meditation, we stop picking and choosing. Instead, we only observe without comment.We don't label, evaluate, or judge. Or, if we do, we let go of that label, evaluation, or judgment as soon as we notice it, and return to here and now.
Bringing Meditation to Life
Meditation is doing one thing and doing it completely. If you're driving, then driving can be meditation. If you're taking off your shoes, then taking off your shoes can be meditation. Meditation is doing this activity in complete awareness.
At the heart of meditation is the intention to be awake. This intention has no room for thoughts or desires, hopes or fears, fantasies or plans. If we are to awaken to our delusion, we can want only one thing--Reality as it is, before goals, ideas, or desires sprout. Meditation is a commitment to Reality. It is the pure desire to engage in life as it is, not as we hope or wish it to be.
With constancy, we learn to take care of this moment whether or not it is something we want. If right now it is time to get out of bed, then we just get up. If right now it is time to go in for cancer treatments, we just go in. We're not tossed around by circumstances. We just get on with life.
"Zen is zero or 100 percent": wholeheartedness.This means giving our full attention to each thing we do, without holding back. It means not multitasking. It means experiencing each moment fully, whether it's pleasant or unpleasant, joyous or painful. That's the 100 percent part. The zero part is the flip side. If you're only willing to meditate (or, really, do anything) halfheartedly or half-interestedly, it's better not to do it at all. Either cook dinner or don't. You wouldn't bake a soufflé halfway and serve it. If you want to adopt a pet, don't care for it only when you feel like it; either care for your pet wholeheartedly or don't take on the responsibility at all.
Some people employ the meditative practice of prayers, or gathas. These are short verses that people regularly recite--either aloud or to themselves--on all kinds of occasions.They're little verbal or mental reminders that can help you draw your attention to the activity at hand, or to slow yourself down and return to the present moment. For example, you might recite a gatha before you eat, or brush your teeth, or pick up the phone.As an aid to drawing your attention to your own state of mind, reciting gathas can be a wonderful practice.
Meditation isn't about cutting off our feelings, or ignoring them, or transcending them. It's just the opposite. In meditation, we freely experience and realize our emotions fully--without increasing them with thought, without trying to end them or continue them, without trying to do anything about them at all. Our emotions and thoughts are like the weather. They are sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant, always changing.We can do little to control them directly, and are wise not to try.Yet they needn't control us, either. What we can do is be alert. Just observe and let them be what they are. And after the occasional, inevitable storm has passed, we only need to quietly watch as the clouds dissipate on their own without any help from us.
In meditation we put our effort into coming back. In each moment, learn to spot yourself forming and running off into the past or the future.Then come back. Just come back. Don't say anything, not even to yourself.
It's the act of seeking that's the problem, not the object being sought.This is where, sooner or later, all of us get stuck. It's all very simple. Either you're present or you're not. If you're genuinely present, there's nothing to seek. If you're not, then you've lost your way--in which case, simply come back. Don't think there's anything more to meditation than this.
We are all in this together, whether we acknowledge it or not. As we learn to engage fully and directly in what we're doing, we have a profound effect on others, by encouraging them to take up their lives in the same manner. Indeed, although it may not always be evident, everything we do has a profound influence on others.