Oh how I welcome September’s new challenges. As I transition into the theme of this next chapter, I will try to hold on to the acute mindfulness that I gained in the chapter three but bring it inward. The external environmental questions have naturally led me closer to the examination of internal questions that are laid out before me this month. I also feel that I will pull much from what I learned in chapter one’s Body/Kinesthetic challenge to help me achieve this month’s goals.
Being asked to turn inward for answers, peace and calm comes at a good time as I find myself transitioning again, not only into a new season, but into a new home. I bid goodbye to “Meridan Summer” (the sail boat I was living on) at the end of August and have just moved aboard and welcomed “Morning Star” to begin my existential chapter. I am hoping that this change of shelter will assist me as I try to shift into a new state of mind.
Changing environments can be rejuvenating, but I do still find uprooting myself to be a stressful experience. However, the timing of this move may quite possibly be the perfect time to be entering into a meditation practice. It can’t possibly hurt to bring stillness, focus, and quiet to my life during a time that often brings chaos, disorder and questions.
Unlike Amy, I have not read much on meditation or traditional Buddhist philosophies. I also have very little book knowledge or experience with the act of meditation itself. What I do know I learned through doing yoga in which I practiced the art of focusing directly on controlling my breath and my physical body through different poses. I learned how controlled breath works to both calm my mind and enliven the muscles in my body. Yoga practice has helped me slow down and become more intentional and aware of both mind and body. When I first came to yoga, I started with the intention of wanting some kind of result from it. I wanted a form of physical exercise that would bring benefits to my body/mind and wanted a structure or practice that could help ground me when feeling particularly overwhelmed or stressed. I did not start yoga with a desire to develop spiritually or philosophically. However in the 9 years of experimenting with different forms of yoga, I have become more and more curious and open to learning about how to expand and grow spiritually. Body, mind, our actions and the act of being with ourselves and with others? How does this all connect?
I do feel lucky that yoga has given me a bit of experience with the posture and the breathing needed to learn and practice meditation, but what I really would like to learn more about at this point is “the attitude of mind”. When reading Amy’s suggested guidelines from the “American Zen Association”, this excerpt really resonated with me.
“Mushotoku is the attitude of non-profit, of not wanting to gain anything for yourself. It is essential to true Zen practice. Giving without expecting to receive, abandoning everything without fear of losing, observing oneself.”
“Abandoning everything without fear of losing, observing oneself” WOW … how freeing would that be if I could truly adopt and practice that. “If you abandon all you will obtain all” hmmmm…. Definitely thoughts to mediate on in the next month.
It’s a long journey to reach these goals I am sure, but as always I need to start somewhere. So here I am. I will start by instituting 30 seconds of stillness breaks throughout each day in September with the goal of stretching these mid day breaks from 30 seconds to 30 minutes of stillness throughout the month. I will also begin a new mediation practice of 20 minutes before bed and 20 minutes after waking of traditional Zen meditation.
Sharing my first attempt at this mediation practice somehow feels even more personal and revealing than sharing my shower habits last month but here goes, we can’t learn anything if we don’t share anything right? I am open to hearing your experiences, comments and suggestions so please chime in if you have helpful thoughts that may guide me forward.
Below are my steps in my self guided mediation practice: (note these are my personal instructions to myself not suggestions for how others should practice)
1. Deal with all external factors first that may distract me: Sound, temperature, bathroom break, spatial issues etc
2. Sit comfortably in folded leg position with hands palm face up open on knees, holding my posture as straight as I can – sometimes I sit on a few folded towels and let my knees fall forward to the ground.
3. Set my meditation timer and start it.
4. Find a spot in front of me to fix my eyes upon (not looking directly at something but rather resting my eyes lightly on something) I keep my eyes open for my morning mediation and am practicing with my eyes shut for evening mediation.
5. Start breathing in and out through my nose using a 3-part breath filling my belly, my chest and my esophagus and then releasing the breath in the same order. (Its audible and slow, taking maybe 4 full seconds to come in and 4 to fully go out)
6. Focus my breathing and connect it to a visual element. (for example: I imagine white light coming into my body with the inhale and then imagine the light leaving and radiating around the body with the exhale – sometimes I imagine floating on the ocean and the tide coming in with the inhale and the tide going out with the exhale – this one especially works for me when meditating on the boat!)
7. Set an intention. My intention is simply gaining a greater awareness of either my mind, body, or attitude. I will accept what does or does not happen. As I am just starting this practice, I am not really sure what mediation is or should be. I just will accept whatever happens in this 20 minutes of stillness and try to learn from it.
8. When the time is up. I take written notes on the process, how it changes from day-to-day and make lists of what I am calling the “mmm” thoughts (monkey mind moments – re-occurring thoughts that hang around bothering me, jumping from one thing to the next)
My initial assumption of meditation was that it would be a time to simply empty out the thoughts that fill my head on a daily basis – a time of peace and solitude. But in these initial stages, I realize that it’s a place that all thoughts will arise to the surface and live (positive or negative). And now I feel that its ok to let them. I am grateful that Amy built writing the thoughts down into the week’s challenge. It is helping me to become aware of the issues and things in my life that are causing me anxiety or using my energy. Looking at them on paper has helped me separate myself from them and look at them for what they are. Just thoughts. As I said, I am not sure yet what this practice is or will bring but for now I will fall back on what the American Zen Association says,
“Zen students develop wisdom if they are vigilant in their Zen practice, in their effort to know themselves, to go beyond themselves, to give of themselves without expecting any personal gain. If you abandon all, you will obtain all.”
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