Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Beginner's Meditation:Sit and Sip

We're busy people. We both dislike this and crave this.  So meditating becomes something we desire and at the same time something that is difficult for us. We want to slow down and do nothing, perhaps feel a sense of serenity, and then when we try to meditate, we feel restless, we feel we should be doing something, we're intensely aware of how active our minds are with thoughts and perhaps this busy mind bothers us more than when we aren't meditating. 

So what do we do?  How do we meditate?  I suggest starting slow and simple.

One way to ease yourself into a more formal meditation practice is to try a drinking beverage meditation.  Find a time of the day where you won't need to give your attention to other people. Make a cup of tea or coffee.  If you're not a coffee or tea or hot beverage drinker, some other beverage will work just fine.  Then sit down and tell yourself that you are not going to get up and move or do anything else except sit there and slowly drink your beverage until it is gone.  Ideally, it will take you about ten to twenty minutes, so plan to set aside this amount of time.  If you want to set a timer, that is fine too.

During this time, you sit still on a chair and you sip your beverage.  You let your mind think. It will. You won't need any help with that. But every now and then, whenever you notice you are thinking, you tell yourself, "That was thought. Let it go."  You take a deep breath, and return to the present moment, and take a sip of your beverage.  You notice the quiet.  You notice the sounds you hear, the things you see.  Maybe you'll notice something you've wanted to clean or move, but you don't do it.  Maybe you make a list in your mind of the things you need to do.  Maybe you think about the past or your present. That's fine.  But as soon as you notice your mind wandering again, (and it will), you  remind yourself, "That is thought, let it go," take a deep breath, take a sip of your beverage and return to the present moment.  No matter what the thought, it is still thought, so just let it go.  Worrying about our future or hating our present may seem like thought we want to let go and so we do so willing, but planning for our day is also a thought and even though we may think it is a "good thought process" we still let it go.  No judgement of your thoughts either way: no good, no bad, just thought, just let it go when you remember, and don't get down on yourself when you don't.  Just sit and sip, sit and sip. 

If you want, you can count your breaths as you sit and sip.  Count each breath up to ten, and then start again.  It sounds easier than it really is because your mind will start thinking and you'll lose count. That's okay. When you notice you aren't counting any more and that you are thinking, just say, "That is thought, let it go," take a sip of your beverage, take a deep breath, and start counting again. 

Be gentle with yourself. You are not going to have a clear mind or blank mind or big mind or a calm mind or any of those idealized Zen minds we imagine in a day. It takes a long, long time, and even those practioners of meditation who meditate for years, still think while they are meditating.

Why the drink the beverage?  It gives you the sense that you are doing something rather than just sitting there and meditating, which as I mentioned, is often difficult for beginners.  Eventually, with a consistent practice, you can give up the tea, the sense that you need to do something.  Just sitting and meditating is doing something, just something that is in sharp constrast to our Westernized idea of doing something.   

See if you can find a consistent time to do this beginner's mediation once or twice a week so that it becomes a routine. View it as practicing something, and as is the case with everything through practice, you will become better and advance in your skill.  And meditation is a skill. It is something we do.

Appreciation, Acceptance, Awareness

Like you, I'm in my head a lot.  I think about my life.  I think about the past, the present, the future. 

With my past, I usually think about what I liked, what was going well, the elements that seem better than my current reality.  Perhaps I'm looking at it with rose colored glasses, a sense of nostalgia; perhaps I only choose to remember the good things. 

With the future, I hope.  I hope for things to be better than they are now, the things I don't like about my life  Perhaps this is a choice about my future I also make: to look at it with optimism.  When I don't, I know I see my future as more of the same, the stuff of life I don't like right now.  That pessimistic view of my future sinks me into a pit of disappointment, despair, and depression. I know that's not healthy for me so I resist. I hope. 

And the present?  I know from my study and practice of Zen that there is nothing but the present moment. The future may never arrive; the past has left.  What I have to work with is now, this moment, this hour, this day.  So I remind myself to accept, to appreciate, to be aware.  I remind myself to let go.  To be grateful for what I do have. I remind myself to return to optimism rather than pessimism. 

When I remember, and I need to remember far more often, I take a deep breath; I become aware of that breath.  I move myself out of my mind and into my body.  Breath awareness can do this in any situation without anyone knowing.  Meditation also, obviously.  This is the purpose of meditation: to calm our minds, to take us out of our minds momentarily, and into our bodies, into the present moment, no judgment.  Exercise also works.  A contrast to the stillness of meditation, the constant movement of our bodies can create a quiet mind, a mind concentrating on the exercise at hand.  Yoga is the midpoint between meditation and exercise.  One,two, or all three of these activities can help us calm our minds and return to present moment with a renewed sense of acceptance, appreciation, and awareness of our current reality.

Being in the present moment doesn't mean we can't plan for our future. In fact, we must.  It doesn't mean we won't think about our past.  It is our history; it informs us.  Being in the present moment simply means that this is the most tangible, the most real moment of them all because it is here and now, it is what we are experiencing.  It is not a memory; it is not a hope. It is reality.  
We need to calm our minds to be still and to be aware of the fact that we are here, we are alive, this is it, this is all we have.  Viewing it with anxiety, angst, or anger makes life as it is (past, present, and future) more difficult.  Viewing it with appreciation, acceptance, and awareness makes life as it is (past, present, and future) easier.  Choose the latter and that makes a huge difference.