Meditation practice often feels like something to get through, something good for us, like medicine. But as we become more familiar with practicing mindfulness, we can begin to enjoy it as an opportunity to simply be—to inhabit our body and be wherever we are without having to do anything in particular.
Obviously there’s nothing wrong with “doing” things—we have to do things. Doing things is great, but doing things is also challenging. Having some time when we can just be is refreshing.
No question that simply being is equally as challenging because some scary thoughts might crop up. But as we become more familiar with the process, we realize we don’t have to fully engage those thoughts or get caught up in them.
If it’s a particularly painful time, the meditation practice will be about being with that pain. We can allow it to be a bit “discontinuous,” that is, we see little gaps in the pain where bits of relaxation, and joy even, can poke through.
So, in this longer meditation practice, let’s take the time to enjoy being here.
Establish Your Meditation Posture
The first place to start is with spending a short period of time, in a relaxed way, on the posture.
We begin with our seats. The point about our seat and our legs is just to have a base, to be supported. Nothing special about it.
- If you’re on a chair: bottoms of the feet are touching the ground.
- If you’re on a cushion: Legs can be simply crossed in front of you or they could be in a lotus posture or half-lotus posture.
- The upper body is upright but not stiff. Our hands can rest on our thighs in front of us with our upper arms parallel to our upper body.
- Our eyes can be open or closed, and our gaze is slightly down. Just a slight feeling of humbleness about that. And with the gaze down we’re slightly focussed inward. Our mouth can be just slightly open or closed.
That’s a practice in itself: just taking the time, taking the luxury, to establish our posture. If you have various bodily issues you just need to make adjustments for those.
Notice the Breath
Now, simply pay attention to your breathing. Now we pay attention to the breath as it comes in and goes out. The nice thing about the breath is that it’s reliable. It’s always going to be there if we’re alive. Sharon Salzberg talks about the importance of faith, many people talk about trust. It’s a very simple type of faith or trust that something is going to continue to be there. As you find yourself lost in thought and you notice that because you have trust in the breath, you know that it will be there when you bounce off that thought and come back to the breath.
Pay attention to the body and breathe together. As we come back to and notice our breath, we’re also noticing our body, so it’s a kind of a whole-body experience, resting our attention on the breath. We can also feel the temperature in the room and appreciate our ability to sense the world—that we are a sensory mechanism. The world touches us. We have an interplay going on with the world. That’s something we can appreciate. Pleasure and pain come from that sensing of the world.
Notice Thoughts and Emotions
For a little while, practice returning to the breath when the mind wanders. We’re taking time to be present and to develop presence. Presence meaning: able to be present for whatever comes up—up or down, could be very intense thoughts. How did the world begin? Why are we still driving so many cars? Who invented the car anyway? How do cars work? It can be cognitive, random thoughts like that. Or, could be intense emotional thoughts. Emotional thoughts carry with them a lot of “color,” and a lot of energy, and a lot of feeling of movement in the body: “I hate that,” ” love that,”—lots feeling tone to those thoughts. They can be persistent. They keep coming up, no matter how many times we go back to the breath. Or, thoughts could be just about simple sensation it’s an itch in your toe.
Mindfulness is an equal opportunity process: whatever comes up, we just notice it and come back. If it comes up again in another shape or form, you know to sit and come back. There’s a certain amount of simplicity and dullness about that, but over time that dullness becomes natural relaxation. There’s a feeling of strength that comes from being able to be present with whatever arises and not being so inclined to run from it.
Some people like to use the slogan “The present is pleasant,” but that’s not really true, necessarily. The present can contain whatever is present at that moment. If a family member has just died, it’s not going to be particularly pleasant. Taking a moment to meditate will be about being with that, not trying to create a pleasant experience for yourself. Usually, we’re trying to get something out of an experience. In this case, paradoxically, we are just trying to be with, rather than trying to get something out of it.
As we notice thoughts again and again in meditation practice, the thoughts begin to have less solid substance to them. They can feel less like something we have to fight with. We can have an appreciation that they are not facts, they’re just formulations that emerge in the mind and that beneath them is some kind of presence and awareness that continues, whatever thoughts may arise and dwell for a while and then go.