Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Meditation: It's Not Complicated

First of all (in my defense), I’d like to say that I've done a fair bit of meditating in my life. Have I been a regular meditator for decades? Not really, unless you call chronic spacing out "meditation." My experience in this area has been the kind where you purposely float off to other (more interesting) worlds and see unearthly lights, angelic beings, and perhaps one’s self in a past life or parallel reality. It’s fun---if you like that sort of thing---and it can be helpful in terms of spiritual growth and expansion.

Because I am that sort of seeker, I have never been drawn to the kind of meditation where you simply observe your breathing and stay in your body. I thought this type of practice was reserved for those whose minds were more disciplined than my own. And I was right, but I had it backwards---their minds weren't naturally disciplined. They earned that status through, you guessed it, regular meditation.

Once I clearly realized this, and realized how much I now wanted this, I ran out and signed up for the “Intro to Zen Buddhism” class at a local Monastery. I was willing to do whatever form of meditation they asked me to do, because Buddhists are sort of world experts in the area of disciplining one’s mind. I knew they had something valuable to teach me. 

The first class session was a great experience---very calming---and we were simply asked to sit quietly, inhale slowly, and then silently count while exhaling: 1,2,3,4,5… We were encouraged to stay focused on this simple exercise, but not try to control our breathing or indulge ourselves in the mind's usual parade of thoughts. Some inhales or exhales were longer than others. No worries.

It was all very simple and straightforward, so much so that I left feeling pleased at how well I had done on my first try. (The other pleasing feature was that while I stayed grounded in my body, breathing and counting, I simultaneously had a little of that floating experience that I enjoy so). I was encouraged.

During the week, I practiced the meditation several times, not because of some new found “discipline” or because it was homework, but mostly because I knew I could succeed at simply breathing and counting the breaths. I could do it for one minute, five minutes, or for 30 minutes, and there was no expectation of getting into any particular “zone” or finding Nirvana in that short period.

It was a no-pressure exercise, and since I am a beginner, I didn't demand perfection from myself. If my mind wandered, no problem. If I did it lying down instead of sitting, well at least I was practicing. I didn't feel any struggle of any kind, which all of a sudden made me want to meditate regularly.

If you've been intimidated by the perceived rigors of meditation, or by fears of failing to do it right, or even by fears of getting sucked into outer space or some unfamiliar crevice of your psyche, try the simple practice of counting breaths. It is a practical, easy, and non-threatening way to start your career in meditation. It’s relaxing, grounding, and great for disciplining the body and mind to calm down and stop overreacting to life.