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Beginner’s Guidance

Last week at our local sangha, affectionately named Be Here Now (BHN), we offered a beginner’s guide to the practice, as part of our regular evening’s format.

Here’s what our format was and what we covered:

  • Start: 7:30pm
  • Introduction to sitting meditation, 5-10 min (Nicole)
  • Guided sitting meditation, 10 min (Amy)
  • Intro to walking meditation, 2-3 min (Amy)
  • Walking meditation, 10 min
  • History of BHN & Introduction to our practice tradition, 5 min (Nicole)
  • Secular vs. spiritual practice, 5 min (Nicole)
  • Introduce and explain the usage of the Five and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, 5-10 min (Linds)
  • Intro to sharing circle (Nicole)
  • Open sharing circle
  • Closing circle
  • End: 8:45pm

My prep notes:

Introduction to Sitting Meditation:

To listen to the audio file of this first portion of our evening, please click here.

Here in a few minutes, Amy is going to lead us in a guided seated meditation session and offer us some instruction during our sit tonight – but before we do that, I’d like to offer a little bit of instruction on posture for sitting meditation. Here at BHN we like to emphasize physical comfort when we sit and we like to encourage folks to simply sit in any way they feel works for them. And while that is still the case, I’d like to offer some additional guidance for those of us who may be looking to delve more into the development of a sitting meditation practice. If we resonate with the practice of sitting meditation and really want to enfold it into our daily/weekly routine, posture is an important component to address. When we sit in meditation, it’s encouraged that we sit upright and solid but not “at attention.” So we’re looking to find that balance where we can be both upright and relaxed; not stiff or rigid or locked in place. To sit upright, we want to have three points of contact. If we’re sitting on a cushion, that means our sit bones on the zafu (round cushion) and both knees on the zabutan (square mat) – and if our knees don’t touch the mat, then we want to support them with other small pillows or blankets, as we don’t want our knees to hover. If we’re sitting in a chair, that means our sit bones on the chair and both feet flat on the floor – and we want to have our backs not leaning against the chairback. So in both cases, we want to sit on the front 1/3 of our cushion or chair, if we’re physically able. And of course if you need back support then please use it. It’s also important to mention that our cushions and chairs are sans inferiority/superiority complex, so they happily reside together in the sangha. There is no better or less better seating apparatus when it comes to cushions and chairs, they are on the same sitting field. So please don’t get caught in the false view that sitting on a cushion will usher you someplace that a chair cannot.

Our eyes can be open or closed and our hands can be relaxed in our lap or on our knees. If our eyes are closed, we want to try to relax all the muscles around each eye and in our face. If our eyes are open, we can keep our gaze pointing downward, about 2-3 feet in front of us. We want to try to keep our shoulders relaxed and not scrunched up and tight.

Developing proper posture when sitting in meditation supports us in a couple of key ways. When we sit upright, with both solidity and relaxation, it allows our belly to have the space it needs to fully expand and contract, which is necessary in order for us to breathe deeply from our diaphragm. This sort of posturing also helps us to start training the mind to quiet and settle down. It’s much easier to still the body than it is to still the mind. And in order to start working on stilling the mind, we need to cultivate some discipline and support in our physical body. If our body is too loose and too relaxed, our mind will have a much harder time in becoming settled and concentrated. If our posture is lazy, our mind will be lazy too. So we start in our body, developing good posture for meditation, and over time – slowly slowly – our mental chatter will start to settle down.

When we first start sitting in meditation, it’s very common to feel as though our mental chatter actually picks up when we sit down on the cushion. But really what’s happening is that we are creating enough stillness to put on conscious display how active our minds really are. So it’s not that our minds are becoming more active necessarily, it’s simply a matter of noticing it in a way that we’re not used to.

Our root teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (often referred to as Thay, which means teacher in Vietnamese) says that we must learn the correct spirit of sitting. In an interview with what was formally called Shambhala Sun magazine, Thay offered that sitting should be pleasant and that we must learn how to sit without fighting (January 2012). So when we sit, we practice to simply sit and enjoy our sitting 100%. To be gentle and kind with our self in body and mind. If we sit in such a way where it feels like hard, taxing labor, Thay goes so far as to say that we are wasting our time in meditation. He said: the problem isn’t whether to sit or not to sit, but how to sit.

So how do we sit? What are we doing when we’re in meditation? Well, to start, what we are NOT doing is trying to wrestle our mental chattering into submission. And if we have the goal of sitting without the presence of any mental chatter – if we think having zero thoughts is a thing – we’re in trouble, because that’s impossible. We’re human and mental chattering is part of the deal. What we’re looking to do instead during sitting meditation is to redirect our focus and attention onto something else other than the spinnings of our thoughts. So our practice is simple but not at all easy: it’s to notice when our mind is trailing off into the past or future and to gently, with kindness, invite it to reconnect with the sensations of our breathing or the sensations of our body and sensory experience. And when it wanders off again, which it will, we practice to notice and return again. Notice and return, notice and return. This is the practice of sitting meditation. It’s a mental training ground. And it takes practice. It takes ongoing, diligent, continual practice. Our mind is a muscle and the practice of sitting meditation is rather akin to going to the gym to strengthen our physical muscles.

So, now we will segway into practicing all of this together as a sangha (which means spiritual community in Buddhism), and Amy will offer us some guidance along the way.

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Choosing to Shine

A few years ago, I started on a journey to practice shining more. Shining my talents, abilities, and forms of creative expression. For me, shining means stepping into something and not letting fear run the show. I came to see how often I shirked back from shining – out of fear. Fear of ego and fear of out-shining others.

In a little under 3-weeks, the culmination of my journey thus far will manifest in a solo spoken word performance and CD release party here in town. To say that I am nervous would be a remarkable understatement. But, as I’ve been sharing with folks lately, I’m proud of myself because despite having feelings of doubt and fear and uncertainty, I’m still doing it. I’m still moving forward, one scary moment at a time. My tracks are recorded and mastered; my CD’s are ordered; the gig is set; my booklet of lyrics is at the print shop. It’s happening!

If you’re interested in checking out my event page for this upcoming gig: https://spark.adobe.com/page/hC5Y8cQ32xv1e/

Something I’ve realized over the years is that fear isn’t rational, which is a big part of what makes it challenging to work with. If fear were a rational process, it would be fairly easy to talk our way out of it. But we all know that engaging in an intellectual dialog when it comes to a certain fear we have is futile. For example, let’s say we’re afraid of flying. Would it reduce your fear, even an iota, if someone were to give you the facts and statistics about how flying is safer than driving? No, probably not. Fear cannot be addressed in the head, it has to be addressed in the heart of our experience. In order to work with fear, we have to get out of our head and into our heart.

So that’s what I’ve been working on. Since fear lives in the head, I’ve been breathing in and practicing to exhale and delve deeper into the fragrant and calming waters of the heart. I’ve been practicing to use gentle and loving speech with myself: I see you fear. You are present and part of my experience AND I’m choosing not to let you run the show. You can hang out and all – but I’m choosing to shine.

I love that the following poem is so well-known. I’ve encountered it in a variety of places over the years – my most favorite spot being the middle school my stepson went to a few years ago, where an excerpt hung in large lettering on a banner in the hallway.

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Posted by on February 18, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Thay

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Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is often referred to as Thay (pronounced Tie) by his students.  Thay means teacher in Vietnamese.  Searching for a magazine earlier in the week to bring with me to read on my lunch break at work I came across an old edition of Shambhala Sun from January of 2012 featuring Thay on the cover.  It in there’s an interview with Thay and a personal account from the magazine’s deputy editor on having attended one of Thay’s large retreats.  As I re-read the interview I was reminded once again of how much I appreciate Thay and his teachings and how grateful I am to be one of his students.

A word for word transcription from the magazine interview with Thay by Andrea Miller of Shambhala Sun follows here:

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Posted by on March 6, 2015 in Everyday Practice

 

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On Stage

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On Friday night I participated in my first poetry slam.  I signed up over a month ago for this annual event mostly because I was interested in taking another large step outside of my comfort zone and practicing to embrace my love of spoken word and sharing it with others.  When I emailed a few friends letting them know about the slam and how I’d love to have some support in the audience I jokingly told them that if I simply was able to get on stage and not pass out then I’d consider it a success – mission accomplished!

I was incredibly nervous and over thinking each of my pieces to death on the night of the performance.  To help cultivate some grounding energy before the slam I practiced walking meditation in an empty room upstairs from the venue.  I also carried a sharpie marker with me to keep my notes and smiley faces on my hands visible, as they would quickly fade with my increasing nervousness and sweating.  I wrote the word Breathe on my left hand pointer finger and had one smiley face on my left thumb and palm and one on my right hand to help remind me to breathe and smile.  And while I didn’t use it I also brought my meditation bell with me in my bag – ya know, just in case :)

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Posted by on October 14, 2014 in Everyday Practice

 

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Red Sun Labyrinth

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Today I went on an impromptu solo excursion to Redsun Labyrinth.  Located about 40 miles from town in the Bitterroot Mountains the labyrinth sits on private land and is simply beautiful.  It is easy to find and lovingly maintained.  Luckily there are easy to follow signs guiding and welcoming you along the way to the labyrinth because with it inhabiting private land it’s a bit counterintuitive to simply park in a stranger’s driveway and walk in through their front gate past their house and over their lawn (which is what you have to do).  The fact that the labyrinth is open to the public, sits on privately owned land, and simply operates on general trust and donations is pretty spectacular.

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Posted by on July 23, 2014 in Everyday Practice

 

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