I’ve attempted meditation before. My understanding of meditation comes mostly from new age/pagan books I’ve read over the years. I was very fond of Laurie Cabot’s Crystal Countdown and visual meditative techniques years ago, but they’re not something I like to do on a regular basis. Other books I’ve read use focused meditative techniques like staring at a candle flame and trying to clear your mind, which never worked for me. I’d stare, and my mind would babble away despite all attempts to quiet it. I don’t have a meditative space set aside, so I’d try things like trying to meditate when I laid down to go to sleep at night. Good idea/bad idea really. It relaxed me for sure, I’d fall asleep in the middle. Didn’t do much for furthering my meditative skills. When I was having nerve issues from my undiagnosed cancer, any thoughts of meditation just went out the window.
Lately I’ve been reading up on Tibetan Buddhism, and looked to see if there were any groups in my area where I could go and see what they were about. I found the Princeton Buddhist Meditation Group, which had a free monthly introductory class on Buddhist-style meditation. I took the leap and joined in the class yesterday. The space was very nice, and they had all the cushions and supplies for me to take the class. The teacher was very kind and patient, and gave the class a very good vibe. She remembered all of our names, which personally I find very impressive since I can’t remember anyone.
Posture was the first part of the lesson. The first thing I noticed was that the cushions they use for meditation aren’t at all what I expected. I’ve seen pictures of monks on cold stone floors with thin mats, I wasn’t expecting nifty meditation cushions. The next nice surprise was not meditating in the lotus position. I’ve never been able to sit like that comfortably, it takes practice and stretching I just haven’t done. The idea for their tradition is that you keep yourself comfortable so you can concentrate on meditation, not on how uncomfortable you are. Your thighs should be parallel to the ground or slightly sloping down away from you. So you sit on a big flat cushion that can cushion your ankles and feet, with a smaller tall cushion under your butt. Sitting like this actually helps you keep your back nice and relaxed. Not straight like a military man, just natural and relaxed. Another thing she stressed was if you’re uncomfortable you can move! ah, I like common sense! Some of the class students sat on chairs in the back, but personally I sit cross-legged quite often anyway so I knew I’d be comfortable. Their tradition meditates with the eyes open, looking slightly down. The thought she shared was that we go through life with our eyes open, and that we should go through meditation like that too. I went back and forth between open and closed.
Breathing was the second part of the lesson. To pay attention to the breath, and feel what it feels like going in and out. To notice the physicality of it and concentrate on it. I’m a trained singer, so the physicality and noticing what was happening was not an issue for me. What is an issue is that I can’t stop counting! In-two-three-four Out-two-three-four! Ack, it’s so distracting, but it’s totally ingrained from 30+ years of music. I have to get my brain to stop that, except it’s really hard to NOT think about something. This will take work.
And speaking of thoughts, that was the final part of the lesson. What to do with your thoughts as you meditate. Instead of the creative self-led meditations or no-thought meditations I’ve tried in the past, the idea here is that by simply being present in the moment, and quietly noticing each thought as it floats by rather than being whisked along by the air currents and swirled by the eddies and dust storms that usually happen as the mind tries to concentrate on the rush of thoughts. The teacher said that the mind is like the ocean, and the thoughts are like waves upon that ocean. You will never make the ocean waveless, but you can stop yourself from being crashed on the shore by immediately reacting to thoughts. Growing up by the ocean, I understand and love that symbolism. When you stand in the surf and go in up to your hips, you can be assured you’re going to get buffeted, possibly bowled over, and controlled by the undertow. But if you go out a little further, to where your toes can’t touch the sand, you can pay attention to the waves, kick upward and ride over the wave. If it crests before it reaches you, you can push through the middle and let it pass.
When I was explaining all this to my husband, he asked what the point of meditation was. My understanding is that it teaches you to be conscious of your thoughts, and mindful of the present moment. By practicing this, you learn to be more insightful, and in non-meditative life to be able to consider your thoughts to make better decisions.
In all, I’m feeling pretty positive about meditation. I can’t wait to get home tomorrow after work and give it a try. I’m thinking a couch pillow on the dog bed in the living room, in front of the altar, will be a good place to meditate. I downloaded a meditation timer for my phone that plays the sound of the Tibetan bowl or other peaceful bell sounds to let you know the time is up. It sounds just wonderful, I’m looking forward to giving it a try. That’s IF miss pretty nudge-muffin pokey-nose greyhound can leave me in peace…