It’s been a couple of years since I started up my study and practice of Buddhism. I have to say that the part of all of this that I often find the most challenging is not the reading up, not the discussions, not the carrying out of the dharma per se, but instead, in making myself sit and breathe.
Who would have ever thought that taking a few minutes out of your day to spend on yourself could be so difficult? I’ll be honest. I was annoyed when it was first suggested to me by some of my SBA dharma friends that at some point, in order to truly be able to know my intents, to distinguish between skillful and unskillful thinking, that I would need to meditate.
My thoughts were: Seriously? Do you people not know that I have two kids, a full time job, a husband, a house that does not clean itself, pets and friends to think about? Do you think that, at the end of the day, what I want to do is make myself sit and breathe quietly to myself? Don’t you know that after the kids go to bed, I clock out for the day and do not want one more blasted thing that I have to do?
Yet following this advice to meditate is the very thing that has given me a whole new approach and attitude to my day and to my life. This ‘obligation’ of sitting to meditate has become my way to ‘clock out’ in many ways.
Unfortunately, it is in fact still hard to get past the idea of having to carve out some of that time in one’s day to sit and meditate. Truthfully, it’s the first thing I set aside when my life takes a turn for the hectic. This recent hiatus from my practice started shortly after Thanksgiving, when many of us start to get busy with holiday preparations.
Yes, it’s been that long since I really sat on a real, consistent basis. I feel it: My mind wanders, I ‘zone out’ while I drive, I find myself daydreaming and getting lost in my thoughts. All of these actions have consequences — I stress out over things I cannot possibly control. I fixate and worry until I’m nauseated about finances and bills. I invent whole stories as to why my co-worker said something to me that way (what way? who knows? and that’s the trouble!). Those were all things I had gotten out of the habit of doing thanks to meditation, and it was wonderful. Without my daily practice, my mind has rediscovered its old tricks and is causing me all sorts of annoyances again.
In order to go back to that place where I had a little more equanimity, I’ve decided to take up Ted Meissner’s call to the March Challenge and meditate every day during this month.
To help me to this end, I’ll be following the material provided for free and online for the Introduction to Meditation course offered by Insight Meditation Center. I invite all of you to join me on this journey by following this course with me.
Starting this week, I’ll be posting a link to the Introduction to Meditation’s material for the week. At the end of the week, on Saturdays, I’ll post here some of my thoughts and experiences of the previous week’s meditation experience. This type of endeavor is always best undertaken with others, so please chime in with your own experiences and comments from the week’s practice. This stands to be a great way for the SBA community to learn from each other and support each other in our efforts to get some time on the cushion.
If you are new to meditation, or would like to — like me — get back in touch with the basics of what it means to sit and meditate, do explore the links I am providing below. I am also providing an outline of how the course works, how it can be followed, and some useful tools and tips that you may use, whether you are new to meditation, or like me, a novice.
Let’s meet this March Challenge head-on, and do it together! They do say, after all, that there is strength in numbers.
As I often see written, the importance of meditation isn’t so much what happens on the cushion, so much as how we apply that practice to our life off of it. That being said, we need to have put something on that cushion in the first place to take it with us, right?
So, let’s go!
(Next week’s post will not be this long! This is just to help us get started, I promise!)
HOW IT WORKS:
Let me preface here that I am by no means a teacher, and my intent is not to give the impression that I am one, nor to serve the role of one. My intent with this project is to simply offer my knowledge and insight of existing material, and to share it with the SBA community. I hope to give us all a space to support each other in our practice, whatever form it may take. If you choose to meditate but not follow the form of the course to which I point, you are still more than welcome to join our discussion and offer your own insight and support.
The online course is divided into six, week-long sessions. Each week is devoted to a theme. Week one is the breath, week two is the body, week three is emotions, and so on.
You can see the material and how the weeks are divided on their Web site here: Mindfulness Meditation Course.
On the left hand side of the page, you will see links to each week. I will be following the weeks in sequential order.
Each week begins with links for us to follow on Sunday. You’ll see links to a talk by Gil Fronsdal (for which a transcript is provided as well), reading material, instructions for the week (where they will outline how long to meditate, what to try to do during your meditation, during your daily life, and more) and what is called “Practice Support.” This “Practice Support” is a list of questions for us to consider as we go through our meditation practice over the course of the week.
It’s helpful to at least go through the Practice Support questions, as it gives us an idea of what we should be paying attention to during meditation that week, and helps us to process what happened during meditation. These questions are actually what really helped me connect with the significance of having a steady meditation practice. I’m sure you will find this to be the case as well.
After Sunday, each day is listed below it with some short reading, quotes, or points to consider. Sometimes we are assigned a point of focus or something to add to our meditation for that day, over the course of the day or for the rest of the week. Read the material for each day, if possible, before you meditate. I like to read them first thing in the morning, and ponder it as the day goes on. Whatever works for you, though, would be just fine.
At the end of the week (Saturday), I will be blogging on the SBA site some of my points of interest. I most likely won’t be answering or addressing all of the questions given in “Practice Support,” as that would most likely be pretty tedious for you to read, but I will offer up some of what I think may be the more interesting answers that came up.
Along with my own observations from the week, I’ll add the link to the new week’s materials at the end of my post with a reminder of the theme for the coming week.
What I would love to see happen is for you to join in and add your own responses to the Practice Support questions. Please also include your reaction to how things went for you that week. Some give and take with each other in the form of positive encouragement would be really helpful for all of us in this venture, and is highly encouraged.
SOME USEFUL HINTS AND TOOLS
1) Build a routine around your new practice. You can think of it as being flexible with your current routine to include your new practice. Whatever adjustments to your thinking and attitude toward including meditation in your day — simply do it. Remember, attachment to anything, including daily routines, can cause us stress and suffering. Be willing to let go of what you had been doing in order to make space for a new (or not so new), positive influence in your life.
2) Be sure to journal after each session. If you are a low-tech individual, have a notebook and pen or pencil sitting next to you so you can just grab it and write when your session is done. If you are a gadget geek like me and have a Smart Phone or tablet of some kind, there are several apps out there that will not only serve as a meditation timer, but also record the frequency of your sessions, keep a journal within the app, and allow you to see how many others are meditating with you at the same time.
My timer of choice is Insight Timer which includes all of the above features. This app is now also available on android devices, so if you’d like to try it out, I highly recommend it.
If you have the app, or acquire it, look me up and add me if you’d like. My user name is simply my first name, “Miyo.” I usually meditate between 9 and 9:30 p.m. EST, so if you’d like to join me then, please do! Another fun feature of Insight Timer is being able to join a group, and lo and behold! Secular Buddhist Association has a group in it, too! It’s a good healthy one, which would be great for you to join so you can further connect with your peers. Isn’t technology great?
3) Especially if you are new to meditating, use the guided meditations that are offered with each week’s theme. They are designed to help you focus on it and on the points made through the Practice Support questions and reading materials for the week. Even if you are not new to meditation, I find these helpful in focusing and redirecting me as I am quite often really sleepy when meditating, and they keep me from drifting too far astray.
4) Be sure to register for the March Challenge where you can have your name drawn for various prizes and incentives for participating in this community effort to boost all of our practices.
5) Find some words of wisdom and pointers on the SBA Facebook page to help you along the way this month! It was a successful and popular feature in January, so I know it will serve as a great additional motivator during this month too.
6) Talk about it. Whether you are becoming frustrated with your attempts at meditating or have made a breakthrough that you are really excited about, talk about it! By all means, blow off some steam or toot your horn, and we will all be here to help you through it or celebrate with you. A great place for you to do just that on a day-to-day basis is on the March Challenge discussion thread.
While I’ll be encouraging discussion on the Practice Support questions with each of my articles, the March Challenge discussion thread will be more active on a day-to-day basis, giving you a great place to ask and answer questions and offer words of support to community members who may be struggling … or celebrate with someone who feels they have reached an achievement!
Because we will be doing this without the support of a teacher from Insight, I think that having each other to go to will be very important in our finding success in this venture.
SO, HERE’S WEEK 1!
This week’s focus is the breath, a great place for beginners to start. At least, I always liked it as it seems very basic.
Here is the link to this week’s material: https://sites.google.com/a/audiodharmacourse.org/mindfulness-meditation/week-1-breath
If you are brand new to meditating, be sure to check out the link to Postures for Meditation. Also, you may find that the recommended 20-minutes of meditation might be a little rough to start off with. By all means, start small for now to see how you do. Try perhaps 10 minutes, and use this guided meditation from Audio Dharma if you feel you would like some direction:
Depending on how you feel about your experience, you may want to stick with this amount of time for the week, or, if you were comfortable with this length of time, eventually work up to the recommended 20 minutes.
For those with some experience, aim for the 20 minutes recommended for this week, at least.
Tomorrow, start off with listening to Gil’s talk (either listening to it or reading it), and do all the reading that is linked to.
Be sure to visit the Week 1 page each day and read the little blurb. For example, on Monday, you would read the little paragraph that is offered under “Day 2.” Tuesday you would read “Day 3″ and so on.
Of course, each day, be sure to sit and meditate, and record your experience!
We’ll meet back here on Saturday and hash it all out. I’m looking forward to hearing from everyone. Have a great week!