Day 21 Meditation
Practicing mindfulness meditation is making the choice to be still— to step into the quiet shade instead of running away from difficult thoughts and feelings. We sometimes call meditation non-doing. Instead of being swept away by our usual conditioned reactions, we’re quiet and watchful, fully present with what is, touching it deeply, being touched by it, and seeing what is happening in the simplest and most direct fashion possible. Today’s practice is a way of weaving mindfulness into the moments of our every day lives: both routine moments as well as those that are more challenging.
Mindfulness creates a spaciousness to choose which thoughts and emotions we want to nurture and which we want to let go of.
I used to feel, very early in my practice, that mindfulness was awaiting me somewhere out there; that it was going to take a lot of effort and determination, but somehow, someday, after a great deal of struggle, I was going to claim my moment of mindfulness—sort of like planting a flag at the top of a mountain. My view of the matter was enlarged and my understanding transformed when I realized that mindfulness wasn’t inaccessible or remote; it was always right there with me. The moment I remembered it—the moment I noticed that I was forgetting to practice it—there it was!
My mindfulness didn’t need to get better, or be as good as somebody else’s. It was already perfect. So is yours. But that truth is easily forgotten in the midst of our busy lives and complicated relationships. One reason we practice is to recall that truth, so that we can remember to be mindful more and more often throughout the day, and remember more naturally. Regular practice makes mindfulness a part of us.
Question & Answer
Q: My meditation practice doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and I’m really suffering. Any suggestions?
A: A certain quality of suffering can be a good feedback system, a kind of self-assessment. Often we have made a decision, whether consciously or not, about what our practice should look like, and we disparage or dislike everything other than that ideal. We judge our practice, or we judge ourselves. If we can notice ourselves doing the judging, we’ve learned something important about ourselves.
When our practice makes us suffer, that feeling can teach us a lot about how we habitually respond to lots of things in our life, not just meditation. My response to my knee pain in practice taught me how often I projected physical or emotional pain into an unchanging future and felt defeated by it. My relationship to anger coming up in my practice taught me how afraid I was of certain feelings, and showed me that by denying them, I was granting them greater power. My difficulty with my wandering mind taught me how self- judgmental I was. And learning how to begin again, to open to whatever was happening, to have compassion for myself instead of criticism, taught me that I could relate to suffering in my life very differently.
We all have cherished hopes about what our meditation practice should look like. But the point is not to achieve some model or ideal but to be aware of all of the different states that we experience. That’s a difficult message to believe, and somehow we need to hear it again and again.
Welcome back. This practice is a way of weaving mindfulness into the moments of our everyday lives, routine moments, as well as those that are more challenging. The first thing we do with this practice, because it’s brief, is to take an intentional posture, relaxed, letting our bodies express a sense of being present, at ease, and awake. Now close your eyes if that feels comfortable for you, or leave them slightly open.
The first step is to collect our awareness by focusing on a single object, the movement of the breath. Now we really gather ourselves, focusing attention on the movements of the belly, the rise and fall of the breath, or the passage of each in breath and out breath at the nostrils. Spend a minute or so to focus on this movement, moment by moment, breath by breath, as best you can. Know when the breath is moving in and when the breath is moving out. Just bring your awareness again and again to the pattern of movement at the belly or nostrils, gathering yourself, using the anchor of the breath to be present.
The second step is to include awareness of sensations in the body. Having gathered our attention to some extent, we allow our awareness to expand. As well as being aware of the breath, we also include a sense of the body as a whole. Allow awareness to be more spacious a sense of the body as a whole, including any tightness or sensations related to holding in the shoulders, neck, back, or face. Follow the breath as if your whole body is breathing. We hold all this in a more spacious awareness. What sensations are present? Simply noticing this is how it is right now.
As a third step, become aware of what’s going through your mind. What thoughts are coming and going? Here again, as best you can, just notice the thoughts as events in the mind. What emotions are present? In particular, turn toward any unpleasant emotions. Rather than try to push them away or shut them out, just acknowledge them, perhaps saying there you are, that’s what’s happening right now. Then, when you’re ready, just allow your eyes to open. And as best you can, bring this expanded, more spacious, accepting awareness to the next moments of your day.
We’ve come to the end of our third week. During this week, we’ve looked at thoughts and emotions with greater clarity and balance. We’ve seen what it’s like to be able to generate more spaciousness to our thoughts and emotions so we can be present and centered, whatever is happening. This growing spaciousness also allows us choice as to which thoughts and emotions we want to nurture and which we want to let go of. It’s a useful time to look back and reflect on your experience of mindfulness of thoughts and emotions. See you next week, when we explore loving kindness.