There are many styles and traditions of meditation. You can google “How to Meditate” and get an overwhelming amount of info. Karen Maezen Miller offers her own instructions on Zazen meditation. Kundalini meditation, Transcendental Meditation, Guided Visualization, Tonglen, Qi gong…and others, all which offer great benefits and one day I hope to explore each more in depth. The closest “label” for my meditation practice is Vipassana or mindfulness meditation, which has it’s roots in the Buddhist tradition. I am not Buddhist. I am not anything. But I have found the practice of mindfulness to translate the most easily into my every day life. Plainly put, it offers me what I seek.
I support finding your own way. We like to have easy formulas to follow, we like to feel like there is a time-tested step by step process to get from point A to C or wherever we want to go. There is a lot of interesting and supportive information to help you get more out of your practice if you have one or are beginning one. But ultimately this is a Do-It-Yourself project.
As of today’s date, the first line in the Wikipedia article on meditation states, “Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or as an end in itself.”
My interpretation of meditation would read something a little different: My meditation is the practice of training my mind to return again and again to it’s natural state of awareness.
I breathe, I see, I hear, I feel. I am alive in this moment.
The original purpose of yoga postures was in preparation for sitting meditation. In fact only a few of Patangali’s 196 Yoga Sutras (the foundation of the ashtanga yoga tradition) even mentions asanas. The essential meaning of the word Yoga means unity, to join mind and body through breath and to see through the illusion of separation between us and all living things.
I have had a daily yoga practice for some time but in the beginning I frequently found that harnessing my concentration to simply sit and breathe was more difficult than any pose I have attempted to hold. The breath truly becomes the only tether.
The early morning offered the best opportunity for sitting meditation for several reasons. My child is a super early riser, waking before daylight and usually a couple of hours before my partner gets up to ready for his workday. I like to take full advantage of the quiet and stillness to begin the day with my sitting practice. I discovered that there is a sweet little window right after my son has had his breakfast where is he is actually pretty content to busy himself around the house and play independently. Taking this time first thing in the morning instead of plunging headlong into my day changes everything. It is so much easier for me to start my day mindfully than trying to to backpedal later, so even 5 minutes in the morning is helpful even if I get interrupted and have to continue later like during nap time. Of course a toddler offers hefty doses of opportunity to retain the essential qualities of flexibility.
In a snapshot, here is what it looks like:
Closing my eyes I feel my weight supported by the floor beneath me. (I like to sit on a cushion or yoga block, legs crossed with one foot in front of the other). I follow my inhales and exhales to a count of ten. And slowly begin to hone in on what it feels like to be in my body this day and what sensations or emotions have taken up residence in my physical being as well as my emotional body in the last 24 hours. Some simple breathing exercises (pranayama) help me clear and calm my mind and release muscle tension.
As thoughts come, I let them drift by and try my best not to engage them. How quickly and efficiently our minds grope and grasp! Before I know it I’ve traveled down a wormhole again and must draw myself back to the breath. I acknowledge what arises (oh and it does) and practice (key word) unconditional acceptance of whatever feelings I have toward myself, others, circumstances going on in my life.
Natalie Goldberg, a poet, teacher, meditation practitioner and bestselling author writes:“There is no success or failure, no great place you are going. You are ‘just sitting.’ To wander, to obsess, to lust—you get a flavor of the mind, a direct meeting. Without acting on any of the thoughts, you get to see how they rise up and—if you’re lucky–pass away. Sometimes we get stuck. You get to observe the nature of being stuck.”
Part way through this 60 day experiment, I felt inspired to find some venue to share my experience. I was again writing daily, and feeling like my “spiritual channels” were opened up and suddenly I was being flooded with personal insight. I won’t sugarcoat it – there were many mornings that it was very very very hard to be still. There are mornings still when it feels like the last thing I want to do. But more than most these days I crave to be in that meditative space and have found that I can frequently revisit it throughout the day while doing dishes, closing my eyes as my desk for a few moments, or pausing on a walk and looking up at the sky. I am here. It is now. This is what this moment feels like.
My sizable daily responsibilities of working, managing a household and caring for a high-needs toddler did not change, but the way I met each day and moment did. My life did not get easier, but my own needs and feelings got easier to manage. The tight grip I was trying to maintain on what was beyond my control loosened. I felt a shift in the relentless tendency to focus on what didn’t get done, what I could be doing better, where I had slipped up. There weren’t any miraculously any more hours in the day but the wonder was that I found time.
Just these precious few snatches of time have reshaped the landscape of my life inwardly and outwardly in such a way nothing else has. I began recording my sessions, much like Kara Leah-Grant and had the vague idea of a blog or post of some kind that might be encouraging or useful to other parents like me.
So now how do I have time to be writing this blog??? I don’t know that I do. But it kept calling to me. And since it wouldn’t shut up I finally paid attention. And what I discovered is that it brings me great joy. And that I should do the things that bring me joy. And that when I follow joy, I feel indulgent and enthralled and revitalized with energy carries me through the activities that are a little less joy-filled. In essence: when I follow joy, joy follows me. It’s definitely a win.
A great, short and helpful tutorial on meditation posture but author and Buddhist teacher Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel: