You know the old story about how your whole life flashes before your eyes just before you die? Well, that had happened to me three times in my life before the morning of September, 2nd 2009. Once was when I was drowning at the age of seven. Once was when I did drown and was clinically dead for 3 (or so) minutes at 13. Another was while falling from the top of a 250 pole while on a sky coaster ride that I thought had broken. (The catch at the bottom was something of a relief.)
The morning of September 2nd 2009 was the fourth, except there was no imminent death threat (or event.) I was just doing my normal meditation thing. I was in about 10 minutes when all of a sudden *Bam!* my entire life flashed before my eyes, just like it had those other three times. It caught up to the moment I was in and there was a “drop”, like I’ve had before when really clicking into the practice of atma vichara, which is my primary spiritual practice (sometimes called “self inquiry”). Then, nothing. The rest of the meditation, about 15 minutes or so, was in utter silence without thought. I’ve had periods of no-thought before during meditation, but they usually last a maximum of a minute and a half, and usually no longer than 45 seconds before a thought wanders by and grabs my attention, after which I (at some point) catch myself and go back to the vichara. Not this time though. 15 solid minutes of no-thing. Not even the idea that it was pleasant, or long, or anything really.
Then my timer went off, so I got up. In retrospect I am very glad my timer didn’t hoark, like it sometimes does. Probably would have been there until Daisy got up.
As of today I have been meditating for 765 days straight. I am on a personal vow to meditate for 1,000 days in a row. I intend to continue after the 1,000 days, but will likely shift my style of practice. In any event I thought someone out there might find what I’ve learned during these 2+ years of some use.
So, here’s my simple guide to meditation:
Get your “thing”
This “thing” will be the focus of your concentration for the duration of the meditation. It doesn’t matter too much what your “thing” is. My “thing” changed a couple of times early on, and once again around day 300. The “thing” can be a word, a thought, a concept, a sensation, an object, a process, a riddle, whatever. A popular “thing” amongst meditators is the breath. Another popular “thing” is a candle flame (either real or imagined.) Other possibilities could be, “peace”, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”, an icon of a favorite religious figure, sage, or saint. The “thing” is your anchor.
When your mind drifts, and it will, you will eventually notice it has drifted. This can take a short time, or a long time. Whatever. When you notice that your focus as drifted, re-focus on the “thing.” Don’t make a big deal of it, don’t beat yourself up, and try not to be startled about how often your mind wanders. Welcome to the human condition. 😉
Don’t strain. You can meditate in any of the three positions a human being can take, Laying, Sitting, Standing. I find laying down for meditation to be a bit challenging as it is very easy for my mind to stray into dream-land, or for the relaxed state I get into to slip into sleep. Your mileage will vary.
What ever posture you should keep your spine straight. When standing or sitting, do not use a support to lean against, unless such activity causes you pain. Don’t slouch. Stack your spine upright, on a stable hip girdle. Balance your head on top of that. Relax the shoulders. Make your stance, or seat stable and supportive. You may be here for a while.
When laying down, the spine, hips, and head should be in a line from the tail-bone the the middle of the top of your skull. Look for a feeling of flowing through this set up.
Don’t strain. I like to take three preparatory breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Nice, deep, long. Then I close the mouth lightly, swallow any saliva present and start breathing in & out through the nose at whatever rhythm the breath wants to take.
Start out easy. Don’t get too ambitious at first. I started at 15 minutes, and found that quite enough of a challenge, thank you very much! I added a minute a week, until I got to 32 minutes, and that’s where I’ve been ever since. On some days I might throw in an extra session of 15-32 minutes, but that’s a rarity. If I attend a group meditation, I do whatever they do. So, I have meditated for periods of up to 90 minutes. At home though, it’s always 32.
Why 32? Well, I have a meditation timer app on my iPhone. It allows for up to three chimes during the period, one at the end of a prep period, one interval, and another at the end. I give myself 2 minutes at the start to get my posture settled, do my preparatory breathing, and secure my mind on my “thing.”
Works for me.
That’s pretty much it, with one cautionary point:
You will have them while meditating. You’ll have them anytime you do anything, in fact. But, during meditation, as the mind settles and you begin to open actively to your inner spaces, they will probably take on lofty tones from time to time. They’re totally cool! Celebrate them. Then get back to your “thing.” These insights are your mind wandering. That’s not bad, but it’s also very easy to get sidetracked by them.
I highly suggest you start a simple journal and note them down when they happen. I find them so memorable that I can wait until after my meditation period to jot them down. If that doesn’t work for you, then just come out of meditation for a moment, don’t leave your place, but jot the insight down as succinctly as possible. Then get back to meditation for the rest of your chosen duration. If you are like me you will find these insights coming when off your meditation cushion. Note those down too. I find it very useful to take time every day, or two, to make a more full journal entry reflecting on these insights. You can go back and review the entries after some weeks, months, or years, and see what progress you have made. It’s a blast, and after putting hard time in meditating, you deserve it!
What I’ve outlined is basically the concentration/contemplation style of meditation. There are others. If you get into a groove with meditation I suggest doing some research and see what piques your fancy. You might consider sticking to one type until you “get it.” You will know what that means when you get it. A fairly standard goal for concentration meditation is to be able to keep your mind focused steadily on your “thing” for a full minute. (Believe me, that’s much harder than it sounds!) It’s all good, as long as it’s done.
My current plan:
After I complete the 1,000 days of concentration I plan to go on to 1,000 days of what’s called insight meditation, or vipassana. Basically that involves paying attention to all phenomenon that arise during the meditation period, getting a feel for how the mind moves it’s focus, it’s undulations and habits.
After that 1,000 days I plan on getting into Tonglen, or compassion practice. That involves taking in the pain/suffering/injury of an expanding sphere of sentient beings and returning healing and compassion. You start with a single person, breathing in black light from their hurts and breathing back white light of healing and compassion. You keep the black light in yourself, absorbing the negative karma out of the world. As time goes on you expand the number of people to say, your building, then your city, then your state, then your country, then the world, then the Kosmos. Sounds like quite a trip to me.
Of curse, this plan (like all plans) is subject to revision.
What’s your meditation style? Have you had any meditation experience? How was/is it?
I’ve posted before about the fact that I have retaken a meditation practice into my life. I sit for 25 minutes each morning, right after waking up and doing my morning prayers. It’s been quite invigorating and settling. The format is basically zazen, with my attention directed gently, but firmly at the feeling of being, and what it means to be. Sometimes insights open up. Sometimes it’s just pleasant.
A couple of days ago, as I was sitting and consciously pointing my awareness at what it is to be, one of the puzzles I often grapple with came to my mind. I don’t try and rid myself of thoughts when they show up in meditation, but instead remain still and let them do what they do. This particular puzzle is: trying to come to a gut level acceptance of what the great sages have said since the very beginning, “All is Silent Awareness.” That sort of bounced around and came up against the constant practice of the inquiry, “Who am I?”Â On this occasion the bounce made a spark.
Whenever I follow the question, “Who am I?” as fas as I can, I get to a place where the first knowing is, “I am.” Everything that comes after that is reconstructed from memory or analysis of current sensory input. It appears that the first truth, and the only continuous truth is, “I am.” That truth is true for everyone. When anyone looks inside, the only things they cannot deny or argue away, or delude themselves over is the fact that they exist. This is known absolutely, and is the only thing known absolutely and at all times without variance. If there is any knowing it first is this, “I am.”
For a long time I have added the idea of Awareness on top of that. That seems to be an error. Awareness is not composed of analysis of being aware, not composed of thoughts made from the fact of Awareness. Awareness is only Awareness. Awareness is this, “I am.” The assuredness of existence. I had assumed, believed, that to be aware meant having thoughts. It doesn’t. Awareness is before that. Awareness is equal with the simple truth of being.
Objects exist. Each thing has this same authority of being. The cushion I was sitting on, is. The bit of floor I starred at, is. The thought, “I am,” is. Everything that exists, is.
So, the first thing that anything is, is, “I am.” Suddenly all things within my Awareness were that same Awareness sharing the same root Truth.
After I got up from my cushion I went about my morning, barely cognizant of a shift. Something was happening, but I didn’t try very hard to put my finger on it. It was just there, and itch barely perceived. As I sat with my wife and ate breakfast the vague itch was still there, persistent but not annoying. I went for another sip of tea, lifted the cup and it sang, “I am.” It didn’t literally sing, of course, but it did. The itch I felt was that singing coming from all around me. The first thing that every object, thought, feeling, encounter, interaction has to say is this singing of, “I am.” As I looked at the cup, and it looked back I said, “huh…” My sweetie asked what was up, and I explained what I was “hearing.”
She said, “Wow, that’s cool.”
She was right. It is. Everything, everywhere, everywhen sings out in this never ending chorus that issues from one place only, the Truth. All sings, “I am.”