Day 4 Meditation
Today we continue onward by adding the element of counting to the breath. It’s common in the beginning of a meditation practice to be quite distracted, almost like a mental discharge. This technique is used in many traditions and is particularly good for such time when you feel restless or scattered. Each breath is full and complete on its own – with the counting there to support you. This technique has a slightly different nuance as compared to simply noting the breath, and it’s interesting to find for yourself how each affects you differently.
The larger effect of distraction in our lives is a disconcerting sense of fragmentation. We often feel uncentered; we don’t have a cohesive sense of who we are. We find ourselves compartmentalizing, so that the person we are at work is different from the one we are at home. We might be confident in the office and fragile at home, or vice versa; withdrawn with our spouse but the life of the party when we’re out with our friends. When our attention is tuned in, when we’re aware of ourselves, these different parts of us work in concert and in balance and allows us to find an essential cohesiveness.
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Instead of being discouraged if you feel sleepy, anxious, or distracted when you wanted to feel peaceful and focused, remember that success in meditation is measured not in terms of what is happening to us but by how we relate to what is happening. Do you calmly observe your sleepiness, anxiety, or distraction? Success. Do you try to stop punishing yourself for feeling these things? Success.
Question & Answer
Q: How do I keep from nodding off in meditation?
A: Don’t worry about dozing; it’s going to happen. Part of meditation is the burgeoning of calm and tranquility, part of it is an increase of energy, and the two aren’t always in sync. Inevitably there will be times when the calm side is deepening but you’re not generating enough energy to match it. That’s not a bad state, just an imbalanced one—and it will make you drowsy.
You can deal with sleepiness in a variety of skillful ways. One is accepting that it’s an impermanent state. It comes and goes; you’ll get past it. Another is approaching the sleepiness with openhearted acceptance and observing it closely. Thinking of it as an enemy only makes you feel worse; you are piling tension and animosity on top of fatigue. Try being with the drowsiness and observing its different components. Where do you feel the fatigue? Are your eyes drooping, your limbs heavy? Is your head falling forward? How many signs of drowsiness can you spot? Has your breath changed? Your posture? Taking an interest in your drowsiness and investigating it is likely to wake you up.
You can also take some practical steps to pick up your energy. One of my Indian teachers would frequently ask students how our practice was going. At that point I was falling asleep frequently in meditation, and I was very anxious about anyone finding out. But when the teacher asked the woman next to me how she was doing, she told him unselfconsciously, “Oh, I fall asleep all the time.” I was so relieved! And then instead of an esoteric response, the teacher simply said: “Try standing up, or throwing some cold water on your face”— a very practical suggestions to change the energy balance. You can also try sitting with your eyes open, or stepping outside for a moment when you start to nod off. Over time, your practice will deepen; you’ll find balance, and you won’t be so sleepy.
Welcome back. Today, I’ll be guiding you through another variation of breath meditation. It can be particularly good if you feel especially restless or scattered. Because it’s so common in the beginning of practice to get quite distracted, one of the fundamental techniques that’s used in many traditions is counting the breath.
You can sit comfortably and relax. Let your attention settle on the feeling of the breath, at the nostrils, at the chest or the abdomen, just with normal, natural breathing. As you breathe in, you can make the silent mental note of in. As you breathe out, you can count, one, two. So to begin, in, one, in, two, in, three, in, four, in, five, and so on. When you get up to ten, you can begin again with one. If your mind becomes distracted and you lose touch with the breath before ten, when you realize it, you can just begin again with one.
The number can be very quiet, and most of your attention is on the actual feeling, the sensation of the breath. Both the note of in and the number are really a support for that awareness. If you find your attention has wandered, you needn’t judge that or be distressed. Just begin again at one. You may find the rhythm of the breath changing, becoming slower or faster. You can let it change as it will. Stay connected to it with the mental note and the number. Let the breath lead the way. You needn’t try to establish a certain rhythm. Let it move, let it change, as you note, in, one, in, two.
See if your awareness of the breath can be as full and complete, your attention as wholehearted with six, seven, eight, all the way through to ten. If you’re with breath number three, you don’t want to kind of be with three and kind of waiting for four. Just in, three, in, four. No matter how many times you have to begin again at one, you needn’t be discouraged. Each breath is full and complete on its own with the counting there to support you. And when you feel ready, you can open your eyes and relax.
See if you can bring an awareness of your breath throughout your day.