Meditation practice in the everyday

Reflection imageI recently went to a Meditation seminar run by a Buddhist monk, and he provided some colourful and helpful thoughts about Meditation practice and why it’s important.

Why meditate?

This monk had been on a 4 year retreat, and reflected that when he came out, the world had got much faster than it had been, even 4 years earlier; the bombardment of images, more frames on television programmes, and images on the tubes and buses.

“We could say that meditation doesn’t have a reason or doesn’t have a purpose. In this respect it’s unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don’t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. 

Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment”.

It is helpful to be wholeheartedly connected to the present moment, maintain positive feelings, let go of anxiety and help “train the mind”. The undercurrent of our lives is our search for happiness and contentment. The issue is that we tend to externalise our search for happiness, where our mind is a filter through which life flows. Meditation practice encourages an “insider” approach by looking to do well by oneself and others by looking from the outer to the inner: to truly be mindful of being in the present moment.

I have been meditating for a few years, using a combination of CDs, sounds of ocean waves and stillness, but feel very much in the foothills of practice.

Some principles of Meditation

It doesn’t have to be complex, and people can get a lot from spending a few minutes a day in meditation practice. Whilst going to classes or listening to CDs and reading books can be useful, getting started is straightforward.

In a way, its good common sense; for some people it will have a spiritual dimension, but by no means for all.

The idea is that Meditation should be a daily practice, and the suggestion is that you start with a 20 minute programme, perhaps building up to longer sessions over time.

It’s good to think about meditation as a metaphor; the mind is like an ocean, the waves are the thoughts and feeling that are the natural expression of the ocean. We can watch these waves develop and wind their way across the ocean to spill onto the beach, but the idea is to watch them, and not get too hooked: to return to the focus of the breath: “returning to the breath is the moment of success.”

Some meditation practice seems to teach the idea of keeping the focus on a single thing, sometimes a point or mantra, but the teaching of the Monk was actually your mind leading you astray is part of the process; if you use the analogy of traffic at an intersection or a series of taxis, then your mind gets in the “thought taxis”, but it the getting out and returning time after time that is actually the meditation practice

Approaches to Meditation: daily practice. A 9 step breathing approach

The idea of the practice is that it lasts around 20 minutes and builds up, with just a couple of minutes for the different sections, but the majority of time (15 minutes) spent in the meditation core, step 6.

  1. Establishing the right motivation: thinking about what you want from the meditation; perhaps for you and for all the people you know
  2. Short visualisation: a time to receive nourishment and receive. Imagine a ball of light made up of many colours and the elements of fire, earth, water, space. All the compassion is brought into this fireball of light, and the ball gets bigger
  3. Whole body mindfulness: think about your weight in the chair, move through your body from your toes upwards, tensing and relaxing the different parts
  4. Stillness: notice in the stillness that there is movement; the expansion and contraction of the breath
  5. Breathing focus: get more specific about breathing; the air into the nose, down into the stomach and out again; the breathing cycle
  6. Meditation core: focus on a single point in the breathing, where you feel the air coming in through the nose. Every so often, the “taxis” will come along with a thought, and you will come back to the breathing; “returning” again and again. This strengthens mindfulness
  7. Whole body mindfulness: aware of the whole body away from the breathing
  8. Meta” loving kindness: imagine beams of light from your heart going outwards into the world
  9. Closing dedication: you have ended the session and completed the practice; dedicate it to who/what you wish

Meditation as part of the everyday

We have 24 hours in a day, so 20 minutes time out to meditate isn’t a lot of time to meditate. A suggestion was to build on the 20 minute practice into longer periods, but also to practice moments of mindfulness in our everyday activities in life; “meditation in action”.

One way of doing this is:

  • In Month 1, choose 3 activities that are ordinary and mundane part of our everyday life, that we use to practice mindfulness; we are curious about what we are doing, and unhook ourselves from lots of other distractions; these could include things like eating, walking, waking up
  • In Month 2, widen the mindfulness out to most things in the day to practice
  • Month 3: make a strong decision to practice mindfulness in stressful situations; e.g. being stuck in a traffic jam, or being late

Another suggestion from Christine Baldwin in her book “the Seven Whispers” is a 3 stage process:

  • One breath to let go. Let go of the list making, the squabbling, the confusion of priorities, the fears, the niggling of inadequacy. Send in the oxygen, instead of the adrenaline.
  • One breath to be here. Be here in the moment and notice what is; the sensual reality of where you are standing; hear, taste, touch, smell.
  • One breath to ask now what? Now what is trying to happen here; what do I want this thing to mean? Breathe, wait a few seconds, and enjoy the stillness you are creating within yourself