It’s only when one tries to intentionally calm the mind, does one discover the anarchy that exists. The mind seeks refuge from this pandemonium.
Meditation has been an important part of my life, and more recently than before. Friends and family ask the inevitable, “What is meditation?” My response is slow, sometimes uncertain of where to begin. It’s more out of honoring the practice that I understand to be ‘meditation’ and its benefits, and words always seem to be tricky for something so simple, yet powerful. At times it seems easier to explain the technique itself, and allow the benefits to reveal themselves to the individual, rather than explain its philosophical aspects that may only confuse. For me, meditation is simply awareness of oneself and awareness of the reality that exists in the present moment. When you hammer a nail, absolute awareness is necessary to prevent one from hitting their finger, right? Is there any prejudice, intolerance, or hate at the moment a hammer strikes a nail? We remove ourselves, recognize the situation, and hit the nail! So this is meditation in practice. “To be” in its purest sense.
Of course this can seem to be new age, something beyond the mind’s grasp, which unfortunately creates the misunderstanding of meditation, thus making it seem foreign to many people. My hope, as I build a stronger practice, is to share the practice of meditation in a way that can inspire and reach a broader population: the layperson, the working class, the poor, the child, the senior citizen—basically the non-traditional meditator. Meditation has proven benefits that I have experienced, and I have witnessed others benefit in many ways from it. I remember hearing a man in his fifties talk with such conviction and a positive tone about being depressed and angry through his life and suddenly becoming aware of his misery, as if asleep half his life; this awakening inspired hope and a cause for change within him. What surprised me was that there was not a hint of shame in living such a life, his mind and energy instead being on the possibilities that awaited him. Being equipped with this ‘new’ awareness, he now had the choice of what he will do with his life, which he understood would require discipline and a positive mind. Through meditation, he was able to reach the reality of his situation, while recognizing the power that exists in him to change.
Meditation comes from the source of truth that I believe love and compassion are born from, though I don’t use this in my explanation of meditation. I feel meditation has more potential to attract someone if presented in a way that can be practical, simple, and beneficial. Though love and compassion are important to promote, it seems some people are surprisingly turned off by this, believing lessons on virtues and values should be left for the home and church. However, once one embarks on a practice of meditation, love and compassion will surely grow, whether one’s intention is for this to happen or not. Meditation also helps in keeping our egos in check, though discussions on the ego aren’t always so popular—as it seems, egos are like our children, and some people can get quite defensive hearing their children talked about in any way other than positive. Through my observation over the years of reading and discussing meditation, I’m slowly finding my way to becoming a teacher of this powerful tool that exists within our reach. Meditation has the power to develop our strengths, to build confidence, to bring focus into our lives. It has the power to help most people in whatever predicament one finds oneself—most importantly, it can bring dignity and acceptance to those in extreme conditions of suffering. ‘Living in the moment’ has no meaning until one has truly experienced this reality. Meditation creates this awareness. Though the goal is to calm the mind, what I’ve learned is to not be so ambitious with meditation. Simply understand that it’s a practice, like any exercise or skill that needs to be learned. Some days the mind will be calmer, and other days it may feel like a hurricane has hit, and simply becoming aware of this, is the goal.
A Simple Meditation Practice for the Beginner
This practice can be done early in the morning, or before going to bed while lying down. Begin by devoting 5 minutes to the practice, adding a couple of minutes each day until you can meditate for 15-20 minutes. No need to be hard on yourself if you aren’t able to meditate beyond 5 or 10 minutes. However, like any discipline, be true to yourself and make a commitment and honest effort, especially in those days where you don’t want to sit. Slowly, you’ll find meditation becoming part of your life, a positive habit that will indeed benefit other areas of your life.
Find yourself in a comfortable seated position. You can sit cross-legged on a pillow or sit on a chair with back straight. Place hands on knees facing down or up. Softly, close the eyes. Breathe deeply, naturally. However the breath feels, let it be. Slowly, bring the awareness to the nostrils, feeling the air entering, and leaving. Continue to breathe naturally. The mind, being what the mind is, will want to move from thought to thought. Whatever thought it finds, the mind will refuse to sit still. No need to fight the mind, no need to find some absolute stillness in the mind. Understand, that the goal is simply to return the awareness to the area of the nostrils, feeling the air entering and leaving. With this awareness at the area of the nostrils, observe any sensations around this area. Whether an itch, a tingle, any sensation. Simply observe, simply observe.
Slowly, with an aware mind, follow the air into the nose. Inside the nose, observe whatever sensations arise. Coolness? Heat? Tightness? Whatever sensation, let it be. No need to find a particular sensation. No need to become frustrated at not finding any sensation. Continue to breathe naturally. The breath may have changed by this time, and if so, let it be. The mind still wants to wander. Like a child told to sit still and be quiet, it begs to stand and run, to play, to yell, to dance wildly. The mind does not understand stillness. Each moment of the day some information enters the mind in a thousand forms. The mind spends each moment processing, whether at a conscious or subconscious level. The mind needs rest. The mind needs discipline.
Slowly, continue to follow the air as it enters the nose, to the back of the throat, through the lungs. Pause at different areas to observe the sensations. Remind yourself, “Aware Mind, Quiet Mind”. If the mind wanders, slowly return the awareness to the body, and observe the sensations. No need to inquire, but to simply observe, simply observe.
Continue to move the awareness from the lungs to the nose, and the nose to the lungs, pausing to observe the sensations of the different areas.
At the end of the meditation, remind yourself “Aware Mind, Quiet Mind.”
Carry this awareness throughout the day and observe any sensations that arise. Remind yourself throughout the day, “Aware Mind, Quiet Mind.” Understand that bringing this awareness is a choice, a discipline, a practice. And just as the sensations come and go, always changing, so do we and so do our circumstances. Welcome to meditation.
As you deepen your practice over time, you can bring the awareness to other areas of the body, including the head, face, shoulders, arms, hands, back, legs, feet, etc. No need to start doing this immediately, but only when you feel your awareness becoming sharper.