This week will focus on developing and deepening the formal practice of meditation. We will explore the postures of sitting, laying down and standing as well as movement such as walking. These four positions lend themselves to practice meditation anywhere and anytime even if it is only for a few minutes while the coffee brews. The use of the term formal refers to a dedicated time and space to practice. It is integrated as part of your day, just like you might going to the gym. Informal practice refers to on-the-spot and brief, such as taking a deep breath and feeling your feet on the ground before entering the home or workplace.
Why start a meditation practice? If you need more reason that Sharon Salzberg’s quote above, follow along this week and see for yourself.
The other day I captured this rabbit and his buddy (beyond the scope of this photo) lounging in my backyard. I have seen rabbits eating and hopping around my yard before, with their ears moving with alertness. I have never seen them relaxing in this way, their whole body sprawled out like a sunbather at the beach. I wondered if they felt safe enough to take a rest. They were there for quite awhile.
Watching them reminded me about the importance of slowing down, resting, stillness. This is the first invitation of meditation – to slow down enough to experience stillness within. Now why would anyone want to do that? Just as Kristi Nelson shares, “to notice all that is presenting itself to us as a blessing.” Before we can even get to seeing it “as a blessing,” we have to notice IT. We have to be aware. We have to be present.
What is this IT? Only you know what IT is. And you can only know when you slow down enough to see it, feel it, hear it.
Meditation is a personal experience. It is about getting to know yourself, your inner world, the one we are often moving too fast to know, to hear, to care for. We do not have to wait for vacation to rest like these rabbits. We can experience the nurturing quality of stillness daily just by taking a few minutes to meditate.
This is an invitation to sit, stand or lay down for 3 minutes. Just 3 minutes! Set a timer. Read these directions, then turn the timer on.
If this is your first go at meditation, you may notice how unfamiliar your mind and/or body is to stillness. This is completely normal. Meditation is a practice. I encourage you to do this everyday for the week. Your mind and body will become more familiar and you may begin to notice IT.
The practice today adds bookends to the three minute meditation to move from concentration into mindfulness. Begin by reading Mark Nepo’s poem as inspiration for your meditation. Perhaps even take a moment to allow his words to soak into your heart, contemplate its meaning, feel it calling forth your inner wisdom. Then move into mindfulness of the breath noticing the state of your mind, body and/or heart right now with gentleness and nonjudgment. Ending the meditation with these questions.
Today’s invitation is to keep practicing settling your mind in the present moment by pausing and getting quiet. While most people tend to sit while getting quiet and still, you can also do this while standing, laying down, or walking. Today, I encourage you to try standing meditation, perhaps even outside where connecting with nature can be supportive.
Find a comfortable way to stand – make sure your feet are positioned in a way to stabilize your body, knees are bent slightly and relaxed, your back straight and relaxed. Place your hands where it will help you to keep balance. Close your eyes if you can or soften your gaze.
After taking a few deep breaths and anchoring your attention in your breath, move your attention to your body. What does it feel like to stand still? Notice how your body is present with all its sensations. Notice your feet touching the Earth. You are so alive in this moment, standing here in stillness. Now taking as much time as you need, follow the instructions of this Native American proverb.
Listen to the wind, it talks.
Listen to the silence, it speaks.
Listen to your heart, it knows.
What do you hear? Where in your body do you hear it? How might this guide the rest of your day? End the standing meditation.
Meditation To-Go: Consider doing this daily for a couple of minutes when waiting for the coffee to brew, after brushing your teeth, waiting for a meeting to begin. This practice can be done almost anywhere. Play around with it. See how it goes.
Meditation supports our healthy engagement with the world. If you’ve been practicing the 3-5 minute meditation, perhaps you have started to notice more often how you are moving through your day, what you are paying attention to, what is taking up space in your mind or heart, how your body knows through sensation. In an effort to deepen our awareness of the body-mind connection, we can practice mindfulness of feeling. This is not the same as emotion. It is feeling tone, which “refers specifically to that quality of pleasantness, unpleasantness or neutrality that arises with the contact of each moment experience,” writes Joseph Goldstein.
When we practice mindfulness of feeling, we begin to uncover our relationship to experience. For example, when we can note that an experience has the quality of pleasantness, we may soon notice how we want this feeling to stay. We cling onto it; we become attached to the sensation of pleasure. Recall the last time you were scrolling Instagram and you felt the pleasure of a post so much so that you saved it or shared it. Next time, notice the feeling in your body and how it leads to the thought of desire to keep, to return to, to want more, etc.
When we experience unpleasantness, we tend to resist it or push it away. We may even begin seeking something pleasurable to drown out the unpleasantness. Think about a post or an account you follow who you’ve muted or unfollowed. It’s likely something was unpleasant. While there’s nothing wrong with removing unwanted posts from your feed, the point is to use the real-time experience to uncover the sensation of unpleasantness in the body. You will soon see how this “sensation leads to reaction” cycle occurs in other situations, like with physical pain or sadness.
When we experience neutrality, we tend to ignore it or disconnect from it. It seems ordinary or is unfamiliar that we may resort back to pleasant or unpleasant. How many “boring” or “uneventful” posts did you scroll past? This time, pause and notice the feeling in your body and where you feel it.
So why practice mindfulness of feeling? To disrupt the habitual patterns (some of which are harmful) that govern our lives. Without awareness, we limit our ability to choose our response; instead, we tend to react without much discernment. Often this results in unskillful, sometimes harmful, actions and unnecessary suffering.
When we practice becoming more familiar with your relationship to experience, we are cultivating agency. So each time you take a seat to meditate, you are opening the gate to your inner landscape. Step in and get to know yourself. It’s beautifully wild.
Mindfulness of Feeling – recorded live 7.2.21
My family and I are enjoying some time along the Atlantic Ocean. It is a wonderful place to slow down and practice mindfulness as distractions are limited. It was a pleasant surprise to find this rock seat in the town’s park. It felt like it was waiting just for me, reminding me to pause and breathe in the joy of the moment. I invite you to find your place today, pause and breathe in the moment.
On a morning walk in this lovely town, I came upon this labyrinth. Another reminder to slow down. Putting one foot in front of the other, I walked the path feeling the impetus to rush in my belly and chest, and taking a deep breath as I anchored back into lifting up and placing down each foot. When we are so used to moving quickly, it feels real strange to slow down like this. This brief experience reminded me that it is ok to not rush once in awhile, to walk just to walk, not be without needing to be anywhere.
I invite you to practice walking meditation today. You can practice anywhere. Give yourself ten steps to walk slowly, attending to the sensation of the leg movement. Notice all that arises in the mind, body and heart. Hold yourself gently. Pause after ten steps. Take a deep breath and continue for another ten steps, knowing that there is no goal to achieve, no place to be except right here in this moment.
Today’s practice is mindfulness of sound. For a moment, bring awareness to hearing. You can use the sounds in this 10 second video if you’d like. Simply pay attention to the experience of hearing — the sound being received by the eardrum. Notice how the mind tries to label the sound as waves or wind, etc. Notice the difference between the direct experience of sound and the mind’s tendency to label the experience.
You can expand this to other senses like smell, taste, seeing, or even to physical sensations in the body. Pause and notice your direct experience. Take delight in the moment you notice the mind pulls you away through labeling, judging, storytelling, etc., because this is a moment of wakefulness.
Spending time with the ocean, the shore, the horizon, the sky, the clouds, the sun and the moon nourishes my being. It’s as if there is no space between me and the magnificence of nature. As I watched the sun kiss the horizon this early morning, I experienced the interdependence of existence or as Thich Nhat Hahn calls inter-being.
“You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
On this last day of July’s Week of Awakening, I invite you to contemplate both the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hahn and Rumi. Today, right now, in this moment, is time to wake up to your life!!! Look around you. While you may not be near an ocean, you are near a tree or plant, a bird, a pet, the sky. Grant yourself a few minutes to meditate on how you are nature and that which you observe is you. “You are not a drop in the ocean; you are the entire ocean in a drop.”