[dc]I[/dc]f you have been following along with my previous posts on meditation, you have spent a week or so simply sitting, watching your breath, and letting your mind relax. Many of you may have had experiences like Nathan, who writes, “Hi Adam: Great practical exercise. I tried it over this past week and honestly had a ton of difficultly getting past even a minute or 2 in silence as my mind kept drifting and 1 though led to another. Found it very difficult, but will keep at it.” I want to touch on three things this week: a few more thoughts on the frustrations of having your mind wander, a couple notes on sitting—how you’re doing it and some things to think about, and I will leave you with another way to extend your watching the breath exercise for this week.
First, to Nathan’s point, your mind will wander. You cannot be surprised or upset when it happens; that is simply the nature of your mind. You are asking your mind to calm itself, and this is something it naturally resists doing. It requires patience on your part. Cultivate kindness in yourself and toward yourself. When your mind wanders, even if it is for the thousandth time in ten minutes, simply gently shepherd your mind back to the breath. Always back to the breath. As long as you live, the breath is there. People talk a lot about “vibrations”, and a good deal of that is empty New Age-speak, but the breath is part of the endless rhythm and the very long, slow vibration of your body. If you can make it 30 seconds without your mind wandering, consider that a tremendous success, but that is not the goal of the exercise. The goal is to bring the attention back to the breath, with peace and calm and focus, every time it wanders. Furthermore, remember that every interruption is a learning opportunity. There is no failure here, and, so, no logical place for frustration—only endless patience and focus.
Now, a few thoughts about sitting. You don’t have to sit for meditation. Meditation can be done effectively standing, walking, lying down, sitting in your Herman Miller chair, reclining on the sofa, sitting in an airport, lying on a hard floor—anywhere, any time. (An obvious word of warning: in meditation we turn inward and reaction times are likely to slow down. Do not meditate while driving, walking where you could walk in traffic. Use common sense.) The traditional posture for meditation is sitting cross-legged on the floor, either in lotus posture (with both feet on the opposite thighs) or some other variation of cross-legged sitting. That’s great if you can do it, and there are some good reasons for using this posture (reasons that are probably a bit outside the scope of these posts), but many people find it very uncomfortable. Don’t let attachment to posture keep you from meditating! Your mind is likely to find any excuse to get out of this at first. It doesn’t matter so much how you sit as long as you meditate.
Having said that, I’d highly recommend getting a proper meditation cushion and trying a few weeks of sitting cross legged. A proper cushion is called a zafu (I use this one), and is filled with buckwheat husks which make a heavy and stable foundation for your sitting, especially when placed on a soft mat to cushion your feet on the floor. Another thing you may not realize is that your pelvis comes equipped with bones that you are supposed to sit on. If you are like most people in Western society, you sit too far back and put pressure on the base of your spine. (This is “very no good” in meditation, again for reasons that are a bit beyond the scope of these early articles. Just trust that there might be more going on inside your body than you are aware of, and having yourself properly aligned could be a very good thing.) When you find the so-called “sitz bones” and put your weight on them, gently extending the spine and tilting the head forward, it is a wonderful, aligned, and stretched feeling for your body. I find the position of my body already does a lot to move my mind to the right place; we all know that stress of the mind can make the body tense, but the connection also works the other way. The mind can learn to relax based on cues from the body, and this is one reason why a good meditation posture might be useful. Regardless, don’t focus on this too much, and certainly don’t let it be a barrier to your practice.
I would like to encourage you to continue with your ten minutes twice a day, focusing on the breath, but try adding another small refinement. (This idea is adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh.) So, move into your chosen posture, and take a very deep breath, rather quickly. Slowly release it, and let the tension leave your body and mind with that relaxing breath. Do that two or three times, and then, when you feel you are ready, simply begin watching the breath again. This time, when you inhale, think to yourself “Breathing In… I am here.” The statement “I am here” is a bit more profound than it might seem at first. “I am here” means I am in this place physically and mentally, fully focused and with no distractions. I am not thinking about dinner or email, I am simply here and I am breathing in. That’s the idea, then when you breathe out, think, “Breathing out… I smile.” Try it, and actually let yourself make a very small, gentle smile. It is impossible to be in a bad state of mind when you let yourself gently smile and let that smile extend down into your body. (Obviously, we are using imagery here for something that is physically impossible. Don’t get caught up in that. Don’t overthink. Simply smile, and smile down to your heart, and let your heart glow with peace and love. Try it.) Next… “Breathing in… Love.” Substitute whatever work you want here—love, peace, calm, stable—but don’t make it too goal oriented. If you are even thinking something like “breathing in… I respect my stops” or “I am a good trader”, not only are you missing the point, but you risk doing damage to yourself. Keep it simple and basic and then when you exhale, “Breathing out… Peace”, and feel yourself sink down as even more tension and worry leaves your body and experience. Keep that going: “Breathing in… I am here… Breathing out… I smile… Breathing in… Love… Breathing out… Peace…” Over time, it can become less verbose: “In… I am here… Out… Smile… In… Love… Out… Peace…” And then, “I am here… Smile…. Love… Peace…”
This should be a simple and natural extension of what you’ve been doing. Don’t try to stretch the time… 10 to 15 minutes twice a day is quite enough, especially if you’ve only been meditating a few weeks. Really let yourself sink into this practice this week because next week I will give you an entirely new set of things to experiment with and some interesting things may begin to happen in your experience. Peace.