In the practice of meditation we develop this skill called mindfulness. In this context it is non-judgemental, non-reactive present moment awareness. So much of what happens in our mind and in our interactions is a habitual reaction to an image, thought or emotion. Sometimes these reactions are not helpful, wise or kind.
Here's an excerpt from part of a workshop I held on May 5th, 2018. I am grateful to the teachings of Tara Brach and Marcela Clavijo for the inspiration behind these words.
Planning to start or enhance your meditation practice in 2018? Set yourself up for success by doing these 2 simple things now.
1) Set your intention.
This a simple, yet very powerful first step. Don’t be fooled, in mindfulness practice there is more to this than writing your intention down and sticking it on the fridge. This is the beginning of working with your mind.
Like goal setting it is best to be specific by setting a date you will start your practice and the amount of time you will meditate daily. For example “Beginning on News Year’s day I will meditate for 5 minutes every day.” If you can nail down a specific time of the day (morning, after lunch, before I pick up the kids, after dinner, etc.) that works for you, even better. Simply form and hold this conscious intention in your mind through out the day. Begin working consciously with your intention now and you will find far less resistance to beginning your meditation practice on New Year’s day.
When you think about it, conscious intention is how we accomplish everything in life. As a small child you wanted to play with a ball. Your parent would toss the ball towards you and you would reach out your hands ‘intending’ to catch the ball. The mind willed it but it took many weeks of practice to actually get the body to respond as you intended. Eventually the intention propelled the body to complete this simple action.
We can use this same power of intention to reprogram unconscious mental processes that might create roadblocks to starting our meditation practice….or anything else you want to accomplish! This is the foundation of working with your mind. In traditional Buddhist meditation we use a roadmap to a happier life called The Eight Fold Path. One of the eight elements on this path is intention. It’s that important.
2) Find your tribe.
In Buddhism we take refuge in and pay homage to what is called the Triple Gem. The three gems are the Buddha (our teacher), the Dhamma (the teachings) and the Sangha (the community). Yes, the community is just as important and revered as the teacher and teachings. Meditation practice is the journey of a lifetime. To sustain us and guide us it is vital we find our Sangha, our Tribe.
Perhaps it is a tribe of two to start when you tell a friend of your intention regarding meditation. Like finding a workout partner for the gym, we know this can strengthen our commitment to the action we have chosen. Even better, if you find someone that shares your intention and you can experience meditation together.
Next, gather information about local classes or online courses that are available and sign up for one. Having been a student of meditation for 30 years, I can tell you there is tremendous benefit from practicing with a group. Not only does group meditation support you on a physical level, but you get to share your questions, difficulties and experience with other students. Although this is a very personal experience of working with our mind, our tribe is invaluable on this epic journey.
In essence, the key is to start in this present moment.
2,500 years ago a guy called Siddhartha got a wee bit rebellious....gave away all his stuff....went looking for the way to lasting happiness....rejected the methods of the holy men and gurus....found his own path and enlightenment.
His method? Vipassana...a meditation technique that cultivates insight into the true nature of reality through awareness of the present moment.
This is Insight Meditation.
During my travels in the US last year, I indulged my passion for reading material and found many provocative articles in these two magazines. What a joy it was to find current issues of these old friends I used to devour cover-to-cover during my tenure in the San Francisco Bay Area. One article that really got me thinking was regarding the trend of secular meditation. That is, removing the tools of Buddhism (meditation) from the psychology. Don't get me wrong, I think bringing meditation packaged as 'mindfulness' into the daily lives of as many people as possible is a very positive trend. However, as a complete answer to the complex and pervasive issues we face 'mindfulness' falls short. It is a starting point, but without the depth of understanding that Buddhist psychology/philosophy offers there can be many unnecessary pitfalls.
One such example is, as we progress in meditation, as the mind calms, it is like the surface of a pond becoming still. Quite often, at this stage we start to see below the surface of the water into the depths of the pond and what we find there is not what we expected. At this initial stage, below the fragile calm we find there are skeletons and other ugly things that are coming into focus. How do we deal with these? Why are they there? Quite often these questions and experiences can cause us additional stress, which is what we started a 'mindfulness' practice to reduce. I know there are many secular teachers that can help their students navigate some of these obstacles, however Buddhism has a 2,500 year old tradition of wisdom to draw on. Why not access it?
One of the ideas that initially drew me to Buddhist practice 30 years ago was the idea of Bodhicitta. This is the belief that by striving to perfect my understanding of my mind and develop a true heart of compassion I can help uplift all beings. To continue a practice of meditation throughout a lifetime, you need strong motivation. This does it for me. I hope your practice, whatever form it takes, does this for you as well. Or is it just another item on your 'to do' list? I bow to the Buddha in you.