Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Simply put, this is meditation.
Once a week, for over six years, I have sat with a Zen meditation group at the Bradford Community Unitarian Church. Our group is diverse. At least three sects of Buddhism are represented, as well as people of other beliefs. We begin and end each session with brief discussions related to Buddhist teaching. The remainder of the time usually divides into three sitting meditations separated by short walking meditations. What do we gain from a practice such as this?
I recently read When the Iron Eagle Flies, Buddhism for the West by Ayya Khema, a Buddhist nun. She spoke of how from the time we are born our mind never rests. When we are awake we are thinking. When we are asleep we are dreaming. We never allow our mind to rest, then we are surprised when things do not work out the way we want. Meditation is the means by which we can give our mind some rest.
This all seems so simple. Just sit on a cushion, focus on your breathing, and stop thinking. Unfortunately, our ego does not surrender so easily. If we stop thinking, even for a brief period, who are we? Western culture has embraced the idea that our thoughts define who we are. The French philosopher Rene Descartes expressed this by stating, “I think, therefore I am.” In contrast to this idea, a meditation practice helps you understand that your thoughts are only thoughts. They are only one part of you.
One of the most common meditation techniques is to focus on your breath. The usual sitting posture is cross-legged on a cushion. I use a low bench that allows me to tuck my legs underneath. Others sit on a chair. Place your hands either in front of you or on your legs. Keep your back straight but relaxed. Close your eyes almost completely and focus on a point a few feet in front of you. As you breathe in, think “one.” As you exhale, think “two.” Do this until you reach ten and start over. If you become distracted, and lose count, go back to “one.” Clear your mind of all other thoughts. Random thoughts will constantly arise. This is “monkey mind” because like a monkey, your mind swings from thought to thought. Do not try to fight these thoughts, or become upset by your “failure.” Let the thoughts come and let the thoughts go. Do not dwell on them. After awhile, as you meditate on a regular basis, you will find that the monkey will sit still for longer periods.
Although often associated with Buddhism, meditation is not a religious activity. People of all faiths can practice meditation. Allowing your mind to rest brings a greater clarity to all aspects of your life, enhancing work, family and spiritual practice. Rest your mind. Awaken to life.
For more information about Buddhism and meditation in Kenosha contact me at BASEWI@aol.com.