Mindfulness and Meditation – Part I

Posted: May 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

This is part 1 of Chapter 4 from the draft manuscript of my book ‘Just Be’.

The next foundational building block for any spiritual journey encompasses the practices of mindfulness and meditation. These two things go hand in hand. Mindfulness is observational awareness of your current physical and emotional states, here, now, in this moment, whatever this moment may contain, from one moment to the next. Meditation is a concentrated mindfulness practice intended to help you achieve deeper levels of contemplative absorption, but this definition varies depending on the type of meditation you are practicing. Within this book we will be using a form of meditation derived from the oldest surviving school of Buddhist philosophy, the Theravada tradition. It is the form of meditation that was practiced by the Buddha himself and covers two key aspects, concentration and insight.

What’s most important is the physical experience itself. We often try to use words, concepts, and ideas to describe our experience to ourselves rather than just being present with the experience that we are having. Mindfulness is about training yourself to just be present in the moment. To be the observer of your own experience, absent the narration. Many of the same experiential techniques are used within both mindfulness and in meditation, which is why I say that the two go hand in hand. Both are dependent upon the breath as the foci of practice – but both extend outward from the breath in order to encompass the entirety of the conscious experience, within the moment, as the moment unfolds. We use the breath as if it were gravity to ground us in our present experience, drawing us fully into the moment.

Before entering too deeply into the details of practice, the true purpose of mindfulness and meditation should be properly understood by would-be practitioners. Over the past few years we have seen a huge increase in the number of mindfulness and meditation programs being offered to the public. These are often framed as ways to reduce physical pain and suffering, to create greater degrees of emotional calm, to sleep more peacefully, and so on. While all of these are indeed benefits of practice, they are not the main point of practice. The main goal of mindfulness and meditation practice, if such a thing were to actually exist, is liberation from the concept of self and the realization of insight – to see, through the truth of your own personal experience, that you are a being of infinite love, patience, and wisdom, one with everything, one with the universe, one with God.

Limiting your conception of what mindfulness and meditation are for will limit their usefulness, just like anything else. If you approach it with the goal of finding comfort within the illusion, then you may indeed find yourself more comfortable within the illusion. However, the real focus should be on leaving the illusion behind entirely. If you bang your head on a table, and someone says “here, put some ice on it”, you may be more comfortable after a bit. But if you keep banging your head on the table, and then applying ice for a bit, over and over again, how useful is the ice really? In the west, we have lost our understanding of what mindfulness and meditation are really for. They are not quick fix solutions or something esoteric to impress your friends with. Mindfulness and meditation are tools for freeing yourself from the traps of this world and discovering who it is that you truly are.

With this in mind, let us focus first on a few basic techniques that will cover both practices, and then delve into additional aspects of practice that are specific to each. In order to get a general sense of what we are aiming for, one must first find a comfortable position to practice in. Many people will tell you that you must sit on a cushion, focus on your breath, and let go of your thoughts. I will tell you that this is wonderful if you plan to spend your life sitting on a cushion. You can meditate sitting, standing, lying down; you can meditate in a focused manner, or while performing other tasks; you can even meditate while engaging in dialogue with people. This is why I try to explain that mindfulness and meditation go hand in hand. If you just meditate on a cushion, you are missing the point of meditation. Meditation is about concentrated mindfulness and mindfulness is about living your life free of mental narration.

So choose a position that will work best for you. If you are sitting, know that you are sitting, and sit upright; not because you need to sit in a particular manner in order to meditate, but because it is also a wonderful way to practice good posture. You can sit on a cushion, on a chair, on a tree stump, on the sidewalk – it does not matter. Just notice the primary point of contact between you and the world – your butt. If you are standing, know that you are standing; stand upright, and notice that your primary contact point is your feet. If you are lying down, know that you are lying down; and notice that your primary contact point is your back. No matter what position you are in, notice that you are in that position, and be in that position. Feel the physical sensation of being in that position. Settle into the physical sensation, settle into the body. Notice any tension that you may have in the body and slowly release it.

Now close your eyes and begin to breathe normally. Do not force the breath, just pay attention to it. Begin to breathe through your nose; in and out through the nose. Notice the physical sensation of air as it passes through the nose. Focus your attention at the edge of the nostrils and feel the breath. Let go of words, concepts, and ideas – don’t try to describe your experience to yourself, just be present with the experience itself. If you feel a hot breath, notice that it is a hot breath without calling it a hot breath. If it is a cold breath, notice that it is a cold breath without calling it a cold breath. Just be present with it. Is the breath slow or fast, easy or labored, etc.? But in each case, just be present with the sensation of the breath, as the observer of your experience, without trying to describe your experience to yourself.

Notice that the belly rises with each in breath, and falls with each out breath. Notice to that the lungs expand with each in breath, and collapse with each out breath. Be present with the sensation of these physical experiences. Notice that the breath itself is a movement that begins at the nose, is drawn through the body, all that way to your point of primary connection, your butt, your feet, your back – wherever you are most physically connected to the world – and then the breath flows back out of you again. It is a flow, a harmony, the breath. To breath in and just be with the breath. To breath out and just be with the breath. To just be with the experience of breathing. Continue to relax into the experience of the body with each breath, being aware of your physical and mental processes, your emotional content and your thinking mind. Be the observer.

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