by Muse_of_Fire Learning to be mindful helps in so many areas of life, and when we are truly engaging in our practice, we experience a sense of centeredness in life that can make life's normal stresses and ups and downs seem very manageable. However meditation and mindfulness aren't "mystical" things. True, they have their roots in many religions and philosophies. But meditation is not a magic bullet that will solve all your problems and help you learn to taste colors and saut de chat a semi truck. In essence, it is a way of practicing or training yourself to remain your Self (capital S intentional) in all situations. - Read more for the full article. Discuss in this thread where Muse originally posted this. In the past week or two I've gotten a handful of questions about meditation/mindfulness, people interested in it and curious about how to incorporate it into their lives. So I thought I'd put up some words for everyone who's interested to use. I'm certainly no authority on mindfulness. I have read a lot and attended some meditation retreats. Like the stretching, it's something I've sort of taught myself and experienced a lot of, but I am not any kind of "official" expert on it.

I chose to put this in the Fitness section because I view the bodymind as just that: a single, undivided entity. So for me, maintaining strength of mind and spirit, through meditation, also impacts my body's fitness. I see my meditation practice as as much a part of my training as my frog stands, precision drills, running, and ballet classes. If the mods feel this should go elsewhere, I won't be offended or hurt if it is moved.

Lots of people are interested in meditation but aren't sure where to start. Many people, particularly Westerners, see meditation as some magical, mystical thing that happens. It can feel that way sometimes, as learning to be mindful helps in so many areas of life, and when we are truly engaging in our practice, we experience a sense of centeredness in life that can make life's normal stresses and ups and downs seem very manageable. However meditation and mindfulness aren't "mystical" things. True, they have their roots in many religions and philosophies. But meditation is not a magic bullet that will solve all your problems and help you learn to taste colors and saut de chat a semi truck. In essence, it is a way of practicing or training yourself to remain your Self (capital S intentional) in all situations. For me personally, meditation practice has made an immense difference in many areas of my life, so I do tend to strongly advocate for it and encourage others to do the same. I can become quite zealous sometimes. But if you boil it down, it is really a quiet, individual, personal thing. And it is really quite simple. At its most basic level, it is simply breathing.

We spend a lot of time in our lives, doing. We are always doing something, busy busy busy. Even if we are relaxing, vegging on the couch, we are still "doing" if we are not mindful. We're looking around the room, thinking about bills to pay, rearranging the magazines on the coffee table, flipping through the channels, wondering whether or not we should call That Guy or That Girl, scratching, worrying about the rent, etc. Meditation and mindfulness practice train you to shift from Doing to Being. We have no way of changing the past, and only very limited control over the future. So "doing" accomplishes little. All we can do is Be, and even then, we can only Be, Right Now. Granted, we live in the world and the world asks us to make predictions (I will need to get groceries next Saturday), take certain things for granted (my alarm will go off tomorrow and I will be at work by 8:00 am), and participate in things that require us to "Do." (We all need to pay bills, floss, and make plans). It would be absurd to argue that we are better off not doing these things. However it is when we get swept up in the "Doing," in thinking that by Doing we are Living, that it becomes a problem. So mindfulness helps us get the Doing done, all the while Being and Living.

Meditation takes practice. You often hear people who meditate refer to it as "my practice." Just like landings and rolls, it is something that requires consistent and diligent repetition to be effective, no matter how practiced or experienced one is. Meditation can also be done in many ways. The most basic is the focus on the breath. But even here there are countless ways to approach it. Yoga practice can involve meditation. For some, certain activities, such as cooking or dancing, or even parkour, as many have noted, are meditative (I am one such person). Meditation is not so much something you "do," separate from the world (although the practice of it is). Rather, meditation--or more accurately, mindfulness--is a state of being to which one strives for every moment of every day. Again, we are distinguishing between "Doing" and "Being."

To illustrate further, I have included excerpts from two readings:

How To Meditate
by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
author of Turning the Mind Into an Ally

The practice of mindfulness/awareness meditation is common to all Buddhist traditions. Beyond that, it is common to, inherent in, all human beings.

In meditation we are continuously discovering who and what we are. That could be quite frightening or quite boring, but after a while, all that slips away. We get into some kind of natural rhythm and begin to discover our basic mind and heart.

Often we think about meditation as some kind of unusual, holy, or spiritual activity. As we practice that is one of the basic beliefs we try to overcome. The point is that meditation is completely normal: it is the mindful quality present in everything we do.

The main thing the Buddha discovered was that he could be himself--one hundred percent, completely. He did not invent meditation; there was nothing particularly to invent. The Buddha, the awakened one, woke up and realized that he did not have to try to be something other than what he was. So the complete teaching of Buddhism is how to rediscover who we are.

That is a straightforward principle, but we are continuously distracted from coming to our natural state, our natural being. Throughout our day everything pulls us away from natural mindfulness, from being in the spot. We are either too scared or too embarrassed or too proud, or just too crazy, to be who we are.

This is what we call the journey or the path: continuously trying to recognize that we can actually relax and be who we are. So practicing meditation begins by simplifying everything. We sit on the cushion, follow our breath and watch our thoughts. We simplify our whole situation.

Mindfulness/awareness meditation, sitting meditation, is the foundation of this particular journey. Unless we are able to deal with our mind and body in a very simple way, it is impossible to think about high-level practices. How the Buddha himself, having done all kinds of practices, became the Buddha, was simply to sit. He sat under a tree and did not move. He practiced exactly as we are practicing.

What we're doing is taming our mind. We're trying to overcome all sorts of anxieties and agitation, all sorts of habitual thought patterns, so we are able to sit with ourselves. Life is difficult, we may have tremendous responsibilities, but the odd thing, the twisted logic, is that the way we relate to the basic flow of our life is to sit completely still. It might seem more logical to speed up, but here we are reducing everything to a very basic level.

How we tame the mind is by using the technique of mindfulness. Quite simply, mindfulness is complete attention to detail. We are completely absorbed in the fabric of life, the fabric of the moment. We realize that our life is made of these moments and that we cannot deal with more than one moment at a time. Even though we have memories of the past and ideas about the future, it is the present situation that we are experiencing.

Thus we are able to experience our life fully. We might feel that thinking about the past or the future makes our life richer, but by not paying attention to the immediate situation we are actually missing our life. There's nothing we can do about the past, we can only go over it again and again, and the future is completely unknown.

So the practice of mindfulness is the practice of being alive. When we talk about the techniques of meditation, we are talking about techniques of life. We're nor talking about something that is separate from us. When we're talking about being mindful and living in a mindful way, we're talking about the practice of spontaneity.

It's important to understand that we're not talking about trying to get into some kind of higher level or higher state of mind. We are not saying that our immediate situation is unworthy. What we're saying is that the present situation is completely available and unbiased, and that we can see it that way through the practice of mindfulness.

The second reading is a little more "out there" but it does provide a nice framework for understanding mindfulness practice:

Excerpt from Eckhart Tolle, "The Power of Now"

When someone goes to the doctor and says, "I hear a voice in my head," he or she will most likely be sent to a psychiatrist. The fact is that, in a very similar way, virtually everyone hears a voice, or several voices, in their head all the time: the involuntary thought processes that you don't realize you have the power to stop: continuous monologues or dialogues.

You have probably come across "mad" people in the street incessantly talking or muttering to themselves. Well, that's not much different from what you and all other "normal" people do, except that you don't do it out loud. The voice comments, speculates, judges, compares, complains, likes, dislikes, and so on. The voice isn't necessarily relevant to the situation you find yourself in at the time; it may be reviving the recent or distant past or rehearsing or imagining possible future situations. Here it often imagines things going wrong and negative outcomes; this is called worry. Sometimes this soundtrack is accompanied by visual images or "mental movies."

It is not uncommon for the voice to be a person's own worst enemy. Many people live with a tormentor in their head that continuously attacks and punishes them and drains them of vital energy. It is the cause of untold misery and unhappiness, as well as of disease.

The good news is that you can free yourself from your mind. This is the only true liberation. You can take the first step right now. Start listening to the voice in your head as often as you can. Pay particular attention to any repetitive thought patterns, those old gramophone records that have been playing in your head perhaps for many years. This is what [is meant] by "watching the thinker," which is another way of saying: listen to the voice in your head, be there as the witnessing presence.

When you listen to the voice, listen to it impartially. That is to say, do not judge. Do not judge or condemn what you hear, for doing so would mean that the same voice has come in again through the back door. You'll soon realize, there is the voice, and here I am listening to it, watching it. This I am realization, this sens of your own presence, is not a thought. It arises from beyond the mind.

So when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in. As you listen to the thought, you feel a conscious presence--your deeper self--behind or underneath the thought, as it were. The thought then loses its power over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking.

When a thought subsides, you experience discontinuity in the mental stream--a gap of "no mind." At first, these gaps will be short, a few seconds perhaps, but gradually they will become longer. When these gaps occur, you feel a certain stillness and peace inside you. With practice, the sense of stillness and peace will deepen. In fact, there is no end to its depth. You will also feel a subtle emanation of joy arising from deep within:
the joy of Being.

I shared those to kind of provide a framework for how to think about and understand meditation. As mentioned, some of it is kind of "out there" and I don't agree with all of it, personally (although you might and that's fine), but I think they frame meditation nicely as a concept.

Some people get very caught up in chasing after this "no mind" state that Tolle mentions. What can end up happening, in that case, is that your meditation practice turns into a "race," or some kind of competition with yourself that you have to achieve. You can get "lost inside your own head." Therefore the important thing to remember is what was discussed in the first article: to simplify. Recall that meditation is not some mystical magical thing that happens to you if you just try hard enough. Rather, mindfulness is our natural state of being and mediation is a practice to retrieve that state of being for ourselves.

So with that said, here is my "basic recipe" for a mindfulness practice:

1. Set aside some time each day, preferably at the same time each day, to practice. This should be a time when you are safe from distractions. Be aware that although you may have set aside 15 minutes or so, on any given day you may only meditate for 30 seconds. That's fine. The amount of time isn't important, so don't get caught up in timing yourself. The journey is the goal.

2. Sit or lie down comfortably. You don't need any special cushion or chair; nor do you need to take up a special pose or posture. It helps the breath to sit up straight, but your body should be in its natural, comfortable state whether you are sitting or lying down, or even standing. Be sure you are in a place without distractions.

3. Begin to breathe. Through your nose or mouth, either way; whatever way your body wants to. Fill your lungs fully with air, and then let the air out slowly, but at the natural pace your body wants to.

As you breathe, place all of your awareness on your breath. Focus all of your senses on it: what it sounds like, what it feels like inside your lungs and flowing through your windpipe, the temperature of the air, everything. Don't analyze how it feels, or put judgments on what it feels like (not even, "That's warm"). Simply concentrate on the fact that air is flowing in and out of your lungs.

You may find that random thoughts arise unbidden during this time. Simply let them happen. Don't acknowledge them at all; nor should you judge yourself for having random thoughts when you're "supposed" to be experiencing "no mind" as Tolle calls it. Simply Be Where You Are, let your thoughts float across your mind and fade into the ether unacknowledged and unjudged.

Continue to breathe. Listen. With a capital "L." Let the sounds enter your ears and mind, and just Be. Don't place a value or a thought on what you hear ("Sounds like the neighbors are home. The cat is meowing--did I remember to feed her? Gosh the dishwasher is loud," etc.) Just let the sounds happen. If you do find yourself letting "the voice" in your head engage, don't beat yourself up over it. Simply let the thought go and move on.

You may find, if you are breathing deeply, that you can let several seconds go by between your last exhalation and your next inhalation. This is fine. Your body knows when it has used up all the oxygenated blood, and will prompt you to take another breath when it needs to. Maintaining a focus on the breath, and the body's natural breathing cycle, as well as the state of the body on the state between breaths, will help you find your stillness with relative ease.

4. Remain in this state, staying with the breath, until you feel ready to come out. Your bodymind knows when it is done, so when you feel ready to be done, simply allow yourself to return to awareness and go about your day.

As you gain more practice, you will start to become adept at deflecting thoughts, finding your stillness, and staying with your breath.

Be aware that you should be in a comfortable position to meditate. If your leg falls asleep while you are sitting, or you experience some other discomfort, go ahead and shift position. Be sure to try to get back to the breath without judging.

Lastly, here are some mindfulness authors that I really like. If you're interested in reading more, feel free to look for books and readings by one or more of the following authors:

Pema Chodron, Jon Kabat-Zinn, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Eckhart Tolle, and Antoine de Saint-Exupery (not a meditation "guru" per se, but a very mindful author--his essays and fiction are very meditative)

I hope this is helpful for some. I welcome your comments and any additional information you'd care to share. I'm always eager to learn more.
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Written by Mark Toorock   
Saturday, 08 March 2008 08:57
Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 22:05