It has been so nice today reading your tweets, comments, postings; and sitting myself, feeling how many people were also dedicating themselves to practice. I know some of you have ordered Real Happiness and don’t yet have it, so I wanted to go over some context for the challenge.
I think of meditation as attention training. Concentration, the first skill of meditation, is stabilizing attention, helping us be less distracted, scattered, and fragmented. Sometimes people think of concentration as something quite harsh and horrible, like squeezing your attention down to a point of focus and repressing everything else. The concentration we are talking about is much more gentle, with a basis in balance. We rest our attention (notice the word rest) on a chosen object, like the feeling of the in and out breath, and gently let go of distractions to return without judgment to the breath. Over time we experience much more stability in our attention.
In week 2 we’ll go on to the second skill, mindfulness, which is refining our attention, freeing it from so many habits that affect the way we experience things. Week 2 emphasizes our bodies and physical sensations, and week 3 emphasizes the same skill of mindfulness with our emotions and thoughts. Week 4 we’ll move onto lovingkindness meditation, developing the skill of opening our attention to include all aspects of ourselves and all of life in our field of care and compassion.
Like any kind of training, meditation takes time and practice. Please don’t feel discouraged if you get sleepy, or restless – all of that is perfectly normal. You will see lots of changes over 4 weeks, if you patiently keep practicing.
Remembering balance is the key. Even when you sit down to begin a meditation session, your posture can express some of that balance. We want to have some energy in our body, so see if you can have your back straight. But you don’t want to be stiff or uptight. We want to be relaxed, but not so relaxed that we are way slumped over, bound to fall asleep. Feel your way into that balance. You can set an alarm or timer of some kind if you like, so you don’t have to worry about the time. And have fun. Meditation is like an inner adventure. It’s an inner adventure, but we’ll undertake it together.