One breath, one mind, one heart, the oneness of nirvana is a breath away.
Our breath is an anchor. Practicing awareness of our breathing connects and anchors us to the present moment. As a meditation practice, this is the foundation for mindfulness. Our everyday attention is scattered, focused on the past or future; rarely are we fully in the present moment. Using the breath as our anchor and focus, we practice focusing our attention on the rising and falling of the breath. This isn’t about controlling the breath in any way, simply keeping our awareness on it.
As we do this, we begin to experience ourselves and our lives in a more detached fashion. We begin to feel calm, peaceful, steady, and centered in our bodies. As our awareness shifts, we feel more detached from our feelings and thoughts. No longer identified with them, we can see our thoughts and feelings as separate from us. They are simply arising and impermanent conditions of the mind, not who we truly are. We can liken them to passing clouds in a clear vast sky. Our mind is that vast empty sky.
Many people think the goal of meditation is to completely still the mind and have no thoughts. We don’t have a goal when meditating; there isn’t anything to do but to be present. Each time will be a different experience. The point is to be become present and centered in ourselves, our experience and our lives without judgment or expectation, to experience life as it is happening in the now.
Meditation is about letting go of striving or trying to change certain things. We allow ourselves our full experience – whatever that may be. If we’re anxious, we allow that to be and see where it leads us. If we’re bored, we allow that and see how it unfolds. We don’t do anything to change it, we let go of trying to control it and allow ourselves to simply be present with it.
As we become more advanced in our practice, we might begin to have flashes of insight and wisdom. We may suddenly find answers to questions or situations that have troubled or eluded us. A chattering mind clouded by fear and delusion is like a polluted pond. A clear still mind has direct access to our higher wisdom and knowing.
The more we practice, the more present we will be in all situations. Our everyday life becomes our meditation. Fully anchored in our beingness, we can bring this calm centeredness into the midst of even the most stressful situations. No matter what is happening, we can calm and center ourselves through the breath.
To get to this state takes time, effort and practice. It’s not something we can get by taking a week-end retreat or meditating occasionally. We must make meditation a priority. It needs to become automatic, like brushing our teeth. It’s best to set a regular time for our meditation practice. We can start by meditating for twenty minutes a day, though even ten minutes is even beneficial, especially if we’re resistant to the idea at first. It makes it more doable and more likely we will sustain it.
Once we start doing it regularly, we will begin to feel the benefits in the form of feeling more calm and peaceful and that will keep us in the practice. We can then add more time, or even do two short sessions a day.
1. To begin get into a comfortable position. You can sit in a chair or on the floor with your legs crossed if you can be comfortable that way. Aim for twenty minutes if possible. Try to do it in a place free of distractions, where you won’t be interrupted.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Allow your body to settle in to the chair or where you’re sitting. Feel your body against the chair or floor. Allow yourself to soften and relax into your body.
4. Bring your attention to your abdomen. Soften and relax your abdomen.
5. Center your awareness on the breath as it comes and goes. Bring your awareness to the place where you can feel the breath come and go most easily. It may be the abdomen, chest, nostrils, or even your mouth (especially if you breathe through your open mouth.) If you’re not sure, the abdomen is a good place to start. Bring your awareness there and focus on the movement of the breath.
6. Allow the breath to come and go naturally. This isn’t about controlling the breath. It’s about developing attention, focus and awareness. If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the breath. If it helps you to focus, you can repeat in on the inhale and out on the exhale.
7. Try to remain present for the full cycle of the breath: in, out, space, in, out, space, etc.
8. Bring your awareness to the experience of the breath in the body. Notice the rise and fall of the abdominal wall; feel the stretching sensation. Notice how each breath is different. Some breaths are short, others are long, some are strong and deep, others are quick and shallow. Every breath is a new experience, as long as we’re fully present to meet it.
9. Notice how the mind continues to wander. This doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Noticing is an act of mindfulness; it means you’re discovering the nature of the mind: it wanders and chatters. The mind is simply being itself. When you notice it’s wandered, bring your attention back to the breath.
10. As we meditate on the breath, we continue to allow our experience to unfold without judgment or striving. Strong emotions may come up like anxiety, impatience, boredom, or even sleepiness. Try to allow them to be and breathe with them and through them. If they become too strong, we can try to intensify our focus by concentrating on a smaller area of the body. This will strengthen your concentration and help you to steady yourself. This is great practice for real life situations where we’re stressed or upset.
11. At the end of the session, open your eyes and wiggle your hands and toes. You may want to stretch your body. Note how the session has made you feel and let that go. Each session will be different. Don’t think because you had a great session that every session should be that way. Each will stand on its own. It’s like the sea, some days the waters will be choppy and other days the waters will be calm. Try to let go of judging one better than the other. They just are.
Quotes and Reflective Questions
- Not now, not Zen. The present moment is the only place where we can truly live.
- Past, present or future? Where do I spend most of my time?
- Safety is an illusion. The only real safety in life is the ability to deal with what life presents to you in the moment; the ability to live from one moment to the next. That is all any of us really have.
- Each moment we are presented with a choice: we can be fully present or we can avoid ourselves and our lives, and distract ourselves by overeating or some other form of escape.
- How would I feel if I dropped my expectations of myself and allowed myself to be? What am I afraid would happen?
- What would my life look like if I greeted each day as a new beginning presenting me with a unique set of circumstances? Does imposing my external rules on how my day should be work well for me?
I am unfolding at my own pace.
I greet each day as a new beginning.
I allow myself time and space to be.
I am more than my thoughts.
I am what I am seeking.
I am a refuge of peace.
I still myself to discover the peace within.
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Note: My work is spiritually focused, not religious, and fits with any belief system you may have, even agnostic. My work assumes that you have all the wisdom and answers you need inside of you.
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Catherine L. Taylor
How You do Food is How You do Life!®
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