The Next Step is . . . Sitting Still

My friend Chris Ogden, who I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, wrote to share his perspective on meditation.  He also included instructions on how to meditate.  They are simple and elegant at the same time.

I think part of the challenge in getting people to try meditation is that we westerners focus on the ‘goal’ rather than the practice.  The error in most thinking that I’ve encountered is that if one can’t get their mind to be still they can’t meditate.  This I believe is a misunderstanding. 

I believe that the most important part, instant, aspect of meditation is the moment when we realize our mind has strayed from the breath, jumped on the train of thought coming through the station of our consciousness and decided to ride rather than face the boredom of watching the breath. 

So, it isn’t about trying to keep the mind silent or focused on the breath.  It WILL stray.  The value of meditation comes from that moment when we become aware that our mind has strayed and we gently choose to let go of the thinking and go back to watching the breath. 

It is that moment, that decision, experienced over and over, thousands of times that lets us begin to become the master of our thoughts and our minds rather than its servant. 

I think the student whose mind wanders ceaselessly and who makes the choice to return it to the breath, if only for a few breaths, over and over many times during the period of meditation actually gains more than the experienced yogi who can sit with a still mind indefinitely.  

I now give those interested the following simple instruction.  Sit with your back fairly straight in an attentive awake attitude on the floor, on a pillow or on a chair.  Close your eyes.  Focus on the feeling of the air as it passes in and out at the end of your nose. 

You’ll notice cool on the in breath and warm on the out.  Focus your inner vision, your attention on that sensation.  Your mind will do this for only a brief time and then it will stray.  You’ll think about your day, or balancing your check book or whatever.  It is OK. 

When you notice you are no longer focused on the sensation at the end of your nose but instead have been ‘lost in thought’ simply and gently let go of the thought and go back to focusing attention on the sensation of the breath.  The value is in making the choice.

How to Sharpen Your Saw – No Ohms Required

I stop doing it just when I need it the most.

When I’m feeling hurried, pressured, with too many things to do, I let it go.  I’m rushing, having difficulty staying focused, not following through.  Monkey mind takes over — swinging every which way.

It’s then that I skip the practice that supports me, keeps me balanced, helps me focus for better productivity, and generates inner peace.

My friend Chris said to me years ago it was like finding a $100 bill and, despite that perspective, he didn’t do it every day.  Even though he could and there was nothing stopping him.  He is not alone in bypassing a simple and personally fulfilling exercise.

The IT here is meditation.

It can be just a simple period of sitting quietly, focusing on breathing, and allowing the mind to quiet down.

It doesn’t have to be complicated or take a lot of time. I don’t need to go anywhere special, or pay anything.  No “Ohms” required.

When I make time to give myself a good start to the day, I take 10 to 20 minutes in the morning to sit in a comfortable chair, close my eyes and focus on my breathing.  Afterward, I am calmer, clearer, more grounded and my grasp on the day is a little looser.

Meditation is under the umbrella of mindfulness, which has rightly received a great deal of positive press of late – from a TIME cover story to a segment on 60 Minutes.

It’s an ancient practice that has survived through the centuries for good reason.  Physically, it reduces high blood pressure, decreases tension-related pain, improves immune system and increases our energy.  Mentally, it decreases anxiety, improves emotional stability and increases creativity and happiness.

The experience of meditation is both personal to the individuality of the meditator and also evolves over time through the practice itself.

Despite all these glowing recommendations, when I have a full schedule I can feel compelled to jump in and start doing right now (and so skip that day’s meditation). It’s then that I am reminded of Steven Covey’s sharpening the saw story in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

It goes like this:

Suppose you come across a woodsman who is working feverishly to saw down a tree.

He complains, “I’m beat! This hard work!”

“Why don’t you take a break and sharpen your saw?” you ask.

To which he replies, “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw. I’m too busy sawing!

So it goes with taking a few minutes for the benefits of personal quiet time.  The benefits are immediately apparent, consistently positive, and cumulative over time.

While no formal training is necessary, there are a few books that I especially like. The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh and A Gradual Awakening by Stephen Levine.  Another, a classic, is Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zin. Surely, there are many others.

The point is that there is no right way here.  The value for each of us is just being on the path at all.  It is in the seeking that we find.

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From the Water Cooler . . .

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