Mindfulness – what’s all the fuss about? This is a personal account of what I’ve learned along my path to truth through meditation. Hopefully this will inspire you to consider what meditation can do for you.
For me it all started over 43 years ago, when a teacher gave me personal instruction in breath-regulation meditation. I was a pretty calm but adventurous (and clumsy) only child with two open-minded artist parents (Aquarians – me, a Pisces). It was a rather novel (and precious) upbringing. I thought meditation would take me on super cool and groovy out-of-body experiences.
Instead, in meditation I experienced a feeling of calmness in my mind, and complete relaxation in my body like never before. There was also a subtle feeling of satisfaction, of natural ease. I was hooked. That night I decided that I would start meditating regularly.
I started meditating for 15 minutes every night. Even though I had no idea what I was doing, I just kept at it. It proved to be very useful especially after I moved to the continent.
Over the years my practice evolved as I tried different meditation techniques and eventually committed to being a student of a meditation master who was a descendent in a long line of meditation masters.
As a result of thousands of hours of practice, dozens of in-person instruction sessions & programs as well as dozens of books, texts, & manuscripts read on meditation and related topics, I’ve experienced a deep transformation in every area of my life. This includes learning deeply about who I really am.
Thanks only to my teacher, my teacher’s teacher, and so on back 2,600 years am I able to bring you these few simple insights into meditation. May they be of great benefit.
1. What Is Meditation?
Traditional mindfulness-awareness meditation has been around for 2,600 years and is the mental exercise of putting your full attention on the present moment. (Over the last 100+ years, people who thought they could improve on traditional meditation made changes to it in one unfortunate way or another.) “Present moment” can sound cliche but only because people who have never experienced it think it doesn’t exist.
The sad fact is most people do not live most of their lives in the presence of any given moment – we’re too busy thinking about the past or future.
The present moment can be the experience of feeling your body breathe. It could be hearing the sounds around you; noticing the light in the trees; feeling the temperature of the air on your skin; smelling the flowers in the air; tasting what may still be in your mouth from what you last ate; or even realizing that you are thinking.
Thinking is not a problem, BTW. It’s no different than hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting – it’s just a part of being human.
In meditation, we notice when our mind has wandered away from the present moment: when we begin judging the past or worrying about the future. When that happens, we simply and gently bring our attention back to the present moment.
This is the mindfulness part of traditional meditation.
Through meditation, we also learn to be keenly aware. Aware of our surroundings; aware of how we’re feeling; aware of our bodies; aware that we’re thinking; aware of what we’re thinking, how we’re speaking and acting; aware of our impact on others and the Earth; aware of how we treat ourselves.
This is the awareness part of traditional meditation.
We can bring meditation into every minute of our lives. Sitting meditation is practicing (like doing scales on the piano) so we can get up off the cushion or chair and take it onto the concert-stage of life.
We know that we’ve really been practicing meditation in this way when other people start looking at us anew; as if to say, “What are they doing differntly?”
We don’t know how much longer we have on this good Earth at any given time and because of that, we could be inspired to start meditating today and make a commitment to do it daily. My teacher’s teacher said, “Practice like your hair’s on fire!”
2. Three Essential Virtues
Keep these three attitudes in mind and your practice will blossom:
No matter what, do your meditation practice every day. Even if for only five minutes. Even one minute. But do it. 30 days makes a habit. In meditation, we are making a new habit called Peaceful Abiding to replace our old habits of anger, fear, worry, and retaliation.
It doesn’t matter if you are tired, bored, busy, confused, depressed, or angry. Just sit and meditate. This will rewire your brain so that being calm, centered, and focussed is the new norm. A famous Zen teacher once said, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy. In which case, you should sit for an hour.”
Perhaps you’ll be as amazed as I was at how time rearranges itself to make room for meditation. (Seriously.)
Keep your interest alive. Read about meditation, talk about it, meet with people who meditate, go to retreats. It will keep your enthusiasm alive.
Also, that sense of calm mind and relaxed body – Peaceful Abiding – which comes in glimmers during meditation will be your North Star. You’ll want to keep going back to the cushion to experience that!
Meditation isn’t about results, per se. If you’re waiting for or expecting something, it will allude you til the day you die.
It’s about your experience while meditating. By holding a beginner’s mind – being curious about what will happen rather than waiting for a fixed idea of results – you allow yourself to be open to who you are and to whatever blossoms from your practice.
Funny enough, you get more results, more benefits, when you forget about trying to get them.
Be patient. Don’t harbor expectations with your practice. Don’t close down on any goal. But if you do, don’t be hard on yourself for doing it. Let the experience arise then move your attention back to the present moment.
3. Living Aloha
If I want to be fluent in a foreign language, just studying it a little bit every day will only take me so far. Fluency comes when I start to constantly think about what I’ve learned and experiment thinking in that language throughout my day. A wise teacher said once, “When you dream in the language you’re learning, you know you’ve arrived.”
The same goes with meditation — it has to become larger than your few minutes a day practicing it on a cushion or chair. That’s the whole point of it, isn’t it?
How to do that? By reminding ourselves, several times a day, of being present. When you are talking, eating, working, anything, everything. Take a deep breath, be mindful of your sense perceptions and aware of what’s actually happening in the moment. This is meditation in action.
If negative storylines come to mind or strong unpleasant emotions, don’t sweep them aside. Instead, acknowledge them. If you can, let go of the storyline behind them (there’s always one there) and bring your attention back to the feeling arising in your body. As long as we can release the storyline or see it like a cloud passing in the sky (remember, thoughts are just a part of being human), we’ll feel the heat of emotion dissipate.
By bringing your meditation practice into your entire day, a powerful liberation can be experienced.
4. Things Change
Those who take meditation to heart begin to see changes in their lives. I began to see a completely different world (the present moment) than what everyone else is stuck seeing (only past or future). My view of life changed – what’s important and what’s not. I no longer feel compelled to react in old and unhelpful habitual ways to things I cannot control. I feel better about myself which has led me to feel compassion & care toward myself, others, and the environment. Kindness and patience has become the norm. I see the conditioned beliefs I once held onto and feel empowered to review them as to what to accept and what to reject.
Everyone has a different experience. I wonder what yours will be.
5. We Are Not Our Thoughts
Two of the greatest gifts meditation has given me is 1) the understanding that I’m not my thoughts, and 2) the ability to give room for things to happen that are outside of my control.
I now deeply know that whatever I’m thinking or feeling is just another temporary experience. Everything has a time limit. Emotions are tied to thoughts (storylines) and thoughts are impermanent. In fact, thoughts don’t even have a beginning or end and they loop randomly and endlessly. I’m convinced they’re simply snippets of memories.
We are more than our thoughts. Way more.
Nonetheless, the conceptual mind is very important. It helps us not cross the street when a bus is barreling our way or put our hand on a hot burner or remember how to tie that all-imperative knot. The meditation masters say that’s about all the conceptual mind is good for, though. Wisdom, they say, is all we need and that is constantly available in the experience of Aloha (my word) – the present moment. We just need to be still enough to hear it.
Meditation gives me the freedom to be who I really am, instead of who I’ve been conditioned to be. It opens my heart and keeps me connected to my true nature: Aloha, Basic Goodness – my inherent perfection. When I’m aligned with that, uncanny things happen.