When I first learned of this requirement, I thought it would be relatively easy. I have for many years had a spiritual practice that involved daily contemplation. I have learned since that the kind of mindfulness that meditation requires is difficult.
Over the last few weeks, though, things have clicked for me and I’ve begun to dial in a regular practice that I now look forward to with relish.
One of the books that we were asked to purchase for training has been quite helpful. It’s Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield. (Affiliate link.) It’s very simple and straightforward, and comes with a CD that has a number of meditations recorded on location at various retreats. It’s helped me get started — and from there, I’ve begun to grow.
I started out just meditating for 5-10 minutes four times per week. Now I am meditating 20 minutes every day (pretty much: some days I skip, but I don’t skip two days in a row).
A Different Practice
For many years, as a part of my spiritual practice, I have engaged in morning contemplation of spiritual principles. Sometimes this takes the form of a written letter to God, sometimes it takes the form of prayer, sometimes I read inspirational books.
But meditating is different than all that. The goal is to quiet the mind, and bring awareness to the present. Contemplation, writing, and prayer actually work against that (at least, that’s what I have found). I am not stopping all that, but they do not quiet my mind in the way I would like.
So, as I have begun to meditate, I have become increasingly aware of the differences — and how far I have to go.
What I have found different than what I had been used to is that, instead of contemplating a spiritual principle (as I had been doing previously), I am bringing attention and awareness solely to my breath. Focusing awareness on breath forces my attention into the present and away from the mish-mosh inside my head.
This, it turns out, can be difficult. The mind has a tendency to wander. I was surprised to find out just how much chatter I have in my head normally. Planning, pondering, reviewing, worrying, hoping, regretting, recriminating, figuring, budgeting . . . all these things and more occupy my mind. It does not seem to want to stop, it just goes by itself!
But, little by little, just by focusing my attention on my breath, I have found that my mind quiets. I get little stretches of respite from the chatter. Over time, these have begun to lengthen, and they come more quickly. At the end of each session, I feel refreshed and ready to face the day.
One of my yoga teachers suggests that we meditate first thing in the morning. “RPM” — Rise, Pee, Meditate. I’ve found that is a little early for me, and I tend to snooze off a bit, even though I am seated upright.
So, I wait a while until I have been awake long enough to have a certain amount of alertness.
I sit kneeling with my sitting bones on a yoga block (turned so it is at the “medium” height, resting on a long narrow side), and set my iPhone timer for the amount of time I wish to meditate. (I have learned it is easier than I thought to set aside the time to meditate, if I know just how long it is going to be.)
I close my eyes, inhale, and exhale. I bring my attention to the physical sensations of the breath — the feeling in the back of my throat, cool as it goes in. My belly expanding slightly.
As other physical sensations arise, I bring my attention there, naming the sensation (itching, itching, or, pressure, pressure) until it subsides. I try not to move or fidget.
When I notice my mind has wandered — which it does, often — I try to gently bring it back to breath, like I’m placing a puppy back on its newspaper. I don’t get uptight about it, I just return to breath. I do this over and over.
This practice has opened a new door in my world. I feel more connected and calm as I start my day. It used to be difficult to make it through five minutes sitting still. Now I find twenty minutes has passed by in a wink.
If meditation is something you are curious about, I encourage you to give it a try. Just start with a short time, a few times per week. See where it takes you. You might be surprised! I know I was.