Intro to Meditation for Mindful New Year's Resolutions

No one comes to spiritual practice for “sh*ts and giggles” and this is especially true of meditation.

It is boring.

People do not learn to sit on the floor in silence for twenty or thirty minutes at a time because they want to expand their horizons. People come to spiritual practice because of suffering. Stress, emotional hang-ups and an insatiably busy mind—these are the things that bring people to meditation practice.

At an embryonic level, suffering is discontentment—it is the absence of content, meaning and vitality. In a word, discontentment is disembodiment. We live in our heads. We are disconnected from the life of the body and as a result we feel lifeless. We feel incomplete, like something is missing. This pervasive feeling of dissatisfaction transforms our life into a scavenger hunt.

We spend most of our time and energy looking for a fix, for that magical missing ingredient. This is the speed and chaos between our ears.

We do not know that the felt experience of the body is what's missing. So we go out of ourselves looking for something to fill the void. We turn to the job, the relationship, shopping, food, sex, alcohol or drugs in search of a fix. Eventually, we bump into someone or something that makes us feel alive: The new job arouses excitement; the new boyfriend or girlfriend makes us feel giddy. It seems that we have found the perfect job or our other half. We think we have found that magical missing ingredient. Instead, we found a distraction. In the end, we desensitize to the relationship and the job and the feeling of dissatisfaction returns.
We are back at square one. We get so angry that we could cry. We yearn for something different. True spiritual practice is that something different.

Meditation practice meets us on the surface. It enters our pain and frustration, our stress and despair. But it says, “If you want something different, you must do something different.” Rather than going out in search of a fix, meditation invites us to sit down and turn within.

Meditation begins with taking a seat. Our physical posture is like a boulder firmly planted in the middle of a moving stream. It is stillness in the midst of our busy mind. We sit with a firm foundation, our shoulders are pulled back and our chest is open. The neck and chin form a ninety degree angle and our hands are resting palms down on our thighs.

Most people think that meditation is about controlling or silencing the mind. This is a misconception. The only faculty we have  that is capable of shhhing thought is thought. This does not work for obvious reasons. Thinking about not thinking only adds to the noise.
Don’t waste time thinking about what thinking can’t change.” ~ Evagrius
Instead of trying to think ourselves out of the noise, meditation encourages us to dis-identify with thought. In meditation practice, we do not try to control thought. We let go. In order to control something, you must be attached to it. Meditation invites us to open up to and reconnect with our larger life. When we notice that we are thinking about our own thoughts, we simply reconnect with the body, with the immediacy of the breath at the tip of the nose.

In meditation we tether our awareness to the body using the breath, which is rooted in the present moment. When we notice that we drifted off in thought, we simply reconnect with the coolness of the inhalation and the warmth of exhalation at the tip of the nose. No more and no less. If we do this a thousand times in twenty minutes, that is a perfect practice.

Meditation practice is not a trance like state; it is a practice of letting go. So the point is not to abide in a void, but to notice when your mind gets hung up and let go.

The mind settles according to its true nature. If clear pond water is disturbed and mud gets stirred up, the water will appear murky. But you can't force the sediment back to the bottom. You allow it to settle of its own accord. When we first start sitting our minds are murky. If we try to force our thoughts to settle by pushing them back to the bottom, our mind just gets murkier. Do not try to quiet the mind; just return to the immediacy and simplicity of the breath and the mind will settle.

Finally, meditation offers a long-term solution to the underlying problem of discontentment. It brings our awareness back into the body—back to the source of meaning, content, and vitality. This is the meaning of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is not concentration; it’s the fullness of mind. We allow the light of awareness to shine on our whole person. Rather than localizing or concentrating awareness between our ears, we open the gates and allow awareness to pour out into our whole being. This reconnects us to the principal from which we draw life, the body. As a result, we no longer feel needy, like something is missing. Therefore, we are no longer searching for something to fix us. The speed and stress begin to subside. 

Meditation offers a systematic and holistic approach to the problem of human suffering that haunts us all. But it would be a mistake to think of meditation as some sort of miraculous cure. Meditation once every now and then is hardly effective. It takes work and perseverance. We have to sit daily for at least twenty to thirty minutes. 

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