Whether you meditated for the first or millionth time today or are simply thinking about maybe giving it a try, it is good to review a few key points about beginning your practice. In any case, we’re all starting over right now. So this is the first time for all of us, myself included.
There are basic 4 points to keep in mind.
- The meditation practice that we do is called Shamatha. Shamatha is a Sanksrit word that means The Practice of Calm Abiding or The Practice of Tranquility. Which sounds pretty great, but also pretty impossible. I mean, we’re all so busy and so stressed. You might think that in order to peacefully abide, you’d have to get through your to-do list, fly to the Caribbean, or at least turn out all the lights and bolt the door. Au contraire. There is a place that is always available to you for peaceful abiding and that is in your own mind. “Not bloody likely” you may say to yourself, “that’s where all the anxiety is in the first place.” Well maybe so, on one very conventional and mundane level. But on another, once you relax, you see that your mind is so much vaster and more beautiful and brilliant than you ever imagined, and that your stresses are only a piece of the landscape.
- Meditation practice is about the placement of attention. All it is, is substituting for your discursive mind (you know, the you that is always going “I have so much to do, We need a new dishwasher, Does my butt look fat in this, Should I break up with my girlfriend, I wish I spoke Mandarin…” and so on) another object of attention. In our practice, that object is your breath. Now, what is this mysterious attention? How do you locate it and how do you determine where to place it? It is quite simple. Right now, without moving or looking, place your attention on your left big toe. You can do it, right? Now, without moving or looking, place it on your right earlobe. Doable, right? Now, pitch it behind you. Place it on the tip of your nose. Each time you switch location, something within you moves. That something is your attention. That is what you place on breath during practice.
- The biggest misconception of all time about meditation is that it means you’re supposed to stop thinking and “clear the mind of thought.” Your mind exists to produce thought and trying to make it stop would be like opening your eyes and telling them not to see. Try to look out through your eyes and not see anything. It’s very frustrating. And, really, not very practical. Our practice is actually quite practical. Rather than teaching you how to stop thinking (or think only happy thoughts), it teaches you how to relax with all of your thoughts exactly as they are and remain open minded, clear-eyed and softhearted. Now that is practical.
- The #1 problem most of us bring to our practice is the tendency to make it more complicated than it really is. This practice is more than 2,500 years old. It has been used by countless individuals over the millennia and while I’m not saying it’s for everyone, I am saying that you can trust it completely. It has been honed and perfected and remarked upon by the most brilliant minds imaginable. Zillions of people just like you and me have both screwed it up completely and used it to transcend the wheel of suffering. We can learn from all of them. No aspect of the technique is there without reason. So, if you catch yourself saying, “well this eyes-open thing doesn’t make sense, so I’ll just close mine” or “she says we should let thoughts go, but that one was too important and I’m going to write it down,” take a pause. Reapply the technique. Resist attempts to embellish or remake it, at least for a few lifetimes—you know, until you really know the practice inside and out. Though meditation isn’t easy, it is very, very simple. So when in doubt, do less. Apply the technique wholeheartedly. And get ready for your life to change.
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