For the past several years I have been studying Buddhist philosophy and meditation, and trying to establish a daily meditation practice. Like many pursuits, it is hard. It is hard to be diligent and disciplined and devote the time each day for meditation. But when I do, I am calmer, happier, and more at ease. I wonder why I resist my daily sit when I know it is such a good thing for me. It is all too easy for my mind to convince me that I am better off doing something. My busy mind sends me in the direction of productivity, rather than reflection.
Productivity… Wow, for most of my life I have used productivity to measure my self worth. I am trying to make a shift in my M.O. to feel satisfaction in contributing to the world by just being who I am. I know, there are times I’m grumpy and cranky, and I’m not proud of that. If that has been our interaction, I apologize, and humbly admit to being human. But meditation is helping me pause, calm down, and respond mindfully to a situation of confusion or conflict. Powerful stuff. And, it works on horseback, too! My mare Donner Girl is happy that I take a little more time to work through our dressage challenges. This takes less physical effort on my part, and results in less tension on her part. The training changes are much more likely to be understood when revisited the next day. But I’ll write more about mindful riding later.
Back to meditation.
To share my interest in meditation, I recently started offering 15 minutes of guided meditation after each of my small group RiderPilates movement classes. It has been such a pleasure to explore a discussion of meditation. If I am doing a clinic for you, I would be happy to offer a guided meditation after any movement class we do if that is of interest.
In my brief foray into guiding meditation, I have been impressed that some think that meditation is “quieting the mind.” That is not my take and it has not been my experience. Here are my thoughts on meditation.
Meditation is about quiet, calm, steady, relaxed, focus. The “calm” and “relaxed” features are, for me, what distinguish meditation from intense focus that can include mental and/or physical tension. The “focus” part is what distinguishes meditation from sleeping (although I have certainly dozed off while sitting!). Often using the breath as a focal point, you are guided to pay attention to and be aware of your natural rhythmic breathing. Sounds easy, eh? It is not. Before you know it, your busy mind is on the scene pulling your attention to what you need to do today, what you did yesterday, what you said to person X, and what they said back, what you are fixing for dinner, etc., etc. When you recognizing this departure from focusing on your breath, the instructions are to just simply return your focus to your breath. This is your mindful moment! Consider how powerful this is! You recognize that you are thinking, and consciously change your focus back your breathing. The more times you do this the more you recognize that it is possible to override your mind’s tendency to be anything but in the present moment.
So why meditate? Learning to stay in the present moment while meditating supports us always living in the moment and seeing things as they really are. When you think about it, the only truth to what is happening in your life is what is happening right now. We don’t know the future; it is guesswork. We make stories and embellish the past with selective memory and emotional overlay, so the past is not the truth. Only “right now” is the truth. By recognizing this, we become aware when our minds distract us with stories; stories that can upset us, set false expectations, and pull us away from what is truly happening. We can suffer from believing our exaggerated made-up stories.
Living in the present moment helps us be real about what is actually happening. Without this awareness, we may exaggerate the “goodness” or the “badness” of a given situation, thus letting our emotions and reactivity run amuck. With meditation practice as a tool, we have a chance to see things as they are without the emotional baggage of expectations and interpretation.
Being in the present moment affords a new perspective on the events in life. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that nothing lasts forever — all things are impermanent. Pain from bumping your elbow on a doorway is intense, for a short period of time, and then goes away. Anger over being cut off in traffic may seethe, for a short period of time, and then it’s gone. Joy over a job success is wonderful, but does not last forever. Even the extreme grief from a losing a loved one may last a long time, but the intensity eases over time. Recognizing this has been profoundly helpful to me. When I feel a strong emotion, good or (especially) bad, I try to remember that it won’t last forever. This helps me stay calm and patient with it rather than losing myself in my mind’s fictional stories about how wonderful or awful so and so is, or I am as a person, etc.
I often remind myself of the words to this poem:
All things are impermanent,
They arise and they pass away.
To be in harmony with this truth,
Brings great happiness.
Responding to life with calm and steadiness. Sounds good, yes? But it takes work! Just as physical fitness comes from commitment to a long-term program, mental fitness comes from regular practice. It is easy to get started if you are interested. There are many guided meditations available to try online. www.dharmaseed.com is good place to start.