We’ve heard for some time now that meditation is good for us. We’ve heard stories of peace-loving masters and blissed-out yogis. For many of us, such an ease-filled state of mind seems impossible because of the clamorous nature of our thoughts. More times than I can count I’ve heard someone say, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t meditate.”
On the surface, this statement may seem true. It may feel like hard work to quiet our mind, but only if we’ve made it so. It doesn’t have to be so difficult. What if we could adopt a gentler, more realistic approach to meditation? What if meditation were no more than a period of focused attention? A kind time of being present with ourselves as we are by experiencing our breath? That’s all!
Often we begin to meditate holding the energy of struggle. We’ve heard about “monkey mind” or how thoughts are like wild horses that must be corralled. Immediately, this creates an attitude of aversion. What if you thought about your mind and meditation differently? Here is how yogic teacher Ram Dass explains it: “Imagine a flower. The center is called your primary object of meditation. And the petals are all the thoughts that keep coming out from that center. The primary object of our meditation is our breath. We focus on our breath going in and our breath coming out.”
In other words, meditation is nothing more than focusing on your flower center. The thoughts that will naturally interrupt your focus are not clamorous monkeys at all, but mere extensions of you. Petals. Thoughts. Some are lovely, some are tainted; mostly, they’re just distracting.
Invite yourself to peaceful inner space by focusing your attention on the breath moving into your body in the solar plexus (lower abdomen), feeling it rising and falling. Or, focus at the base of the nostrils and feel “the whisper of the breath,” as Ram Dass describes it, entering on the in-breath, and another whisper of breath on the out-breath. The point of meditation is to hold your conscious awareness on that experience as best you can. And if you can’t (and you won’t, because your thoughts will wander away), you simply return your attention to the art of breathing.
This is beginning meditation, and despite what you’ve been told, it can be as simple as breathing and staying; staying long enough for a sparkle of serenity to be seen. As you continue to sit kindly, over time, you will feel more comfortable and confident in your experience. Glimmers of grace—inner peace—will steal in on little cat’s feet and sit down beside you. Breath by breath by breath.
Adapted from Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook by Janice L. Lundy ©2015.
"If the breathing is at all unsettled, life is not your own."
"Heaven and Earth," c. Ming dynasty work Anthology on the Cultivation of Realization by unknown author, translated by Thomas Cleary in Taoist Meditation
On any given day, how do you truly feel? Do you feel calm and centered, or do you feel as if you've taken a seat on the carousel of life, whirling 'round and 'round, at its mercy?
I'm recalling a time when I climbed aboard the Tilt-A-Whirl at our local fair with my youngest daughter—against my better judgment. You see, I do not like carnival rides. The motion actually makes me very ill. But she begged me to ride with her and I reluctantly agreed. We climbed aboard, and as the whirling began, I thought to myself, "This isn't so bad. I think I can handle it." Within seconds though, the operator shifted gears and dramatically increased the speed and rotation factor. Sheer terror came over me, that out-of-control feeling knowing I was at the mercy of this man (who had a profoundly menacing look on his face), and there was no way I could get off the ride to regain my equilibrium. The whirling seemed to go on forever. I nearly cried with relief when it stopped, wobbled my way to a nearby restroom, where I collapsed on the floor and emptied the contents of my stomach into the commode. I lay there for what seemed like forever trying to regain my footing. I felt dizzy and nauseous for the rest of the day and upset with myself because of the poor choice I'd made.
Of course, my over-the-top carnival ride isn't a perfect metaphor for what can happen to us in daily life, but it is similar. Many of us are familiar with that spinning, out-of-control feeling as we move through our days; a loss of equanimity from the pace or "too-muchness" of life.
The only "remedy" I know for this is to come back to "center" as quickly as we can with the healing power of our own breath. I think of breath as our sacred touchpoint, the fulcrum of the human teeter-totter of life. It calms and stabilizes us like no other force or practice. It is simply miraculous! We carry our breath with us and can access it any time: "Portable Peace." And, as you know so well, the challenge is remembering to use it when you need it.
But did you also know that breath can bring you back to center in a variety of ways? Conscious breathing is not just for stabilizing, but for deep calm, and also for raising our energy level when we are feeling sluggish or worn out. Yogis of the past and present document the differences for us. Breathing one way, we get super relaxed, in another way we attain equanimity. And in yet another way, we can raise our energy to very high levels of strength and endurance.
I love this thought, offered by an unknown yogi. "When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace." If we are to live more gently with ourselves, it is vital that we own our breath, claim its power to do whatever our body/mind needs in the moment—whether it be rest, balance, or energy—so we can continue to serve ourselves and others well. The beautiful breath that moves through your being is a gift of the greatest measure. I invite you to learn to harness it for your own good.
Part 1 of a 2 part series on being at peace
is a touchpoint. a resting place, a "remembering" of who we really are and how we can best live—kindly and compassionately with ourselves and others.
Janice Lynne Lundy, DMin
is an educator, interspiritual director/guide and retreat leader who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for more than twenty years. She is the author of several spiritual growth books, including Your Truest Self, My Deepest Me and Portable Peace., and is the co-founder and co-director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.