I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s mini-retreat at Calm Chicago. We’re going to have a full house.
Preparing for any retreat always gets me thinking about the best way to teach people how to meditate, particularly those who may have little or no experience with this practice. I realize how important it is to keep things simple and straightforward.
It’s easy to get lost in all the misdirections of language. Words don’t always help as much as we think they will. We think they point to something specific, but often, the more we try to explain something, particularly something as profoundly simple as meditation, the more we find the words just lead us around in circles.
In that circumstance, we find that we are like the dog in a variation on the Zen story about the finger pointing to the moon. Roughly, the idea is this; When you point your finger towards the moon and say, “Hey there dog, look! See the moon?” – the dog only sees your pointing finger. The dog never sees the moon. When we talk too much about meditation, we can all be like the dog, caught by the words instead of going straight for the experience.
In the end, it is with meditation as it is with all things; each of us must try it for ourselves, experience it for ourselves, and investigate it for ourselves. This way leads to profound realizations, experienced both as we meditate and very importantly, in our every-day lives.
Meditation is not meant to be a temporary vacation or tuning out of the world. Ultimately, meditation leads us to living each and every moment without struggle, without fears, hopes or anxiety about the past, present or future. Instead, we slowly learn to be fully and joyfully present observing life as it is with clear, wise seeing. This in turn, allows us to think, speak and act in ways that most benefit ourselves and all those around us. So, let’s get to it.
A simple, how-to for sitting meditation.
1. Find something to sit on where you can be comfortable for a time. Avoid that big squishy chair or couch. You don’t want to take a nap! Sit with good posture; if possible, without resting against the back of the chair. Maybe you have a kitchen or dining room chair that will do the trick.
2. Don’t worry about what to do with your hands. The idea that you have to do something special with them is a myth. Place them in your lap where it feels comfortable.
3. Relax. Try to find a posture where the spine is straight without creating tension. You want to sit naturally.
4. Now, find the breath. Inhale and exhale through the nose. (If you’re congested, don’t worry about it. Just breath however you can today.) Notice where you feel the breath most strongly and clearly. Depending on how your nose is built, that might be just inside the tip of the nose, just inside the nostrils. Or, you might feel it more, just under the nose, on the skin just above the lip. It doesn’t matter which one. Take a few moments and just sit like that and breath and pay attention. Once you find the spot where you feel it the most, stay with that one place. This is the exact spot you’ll stay with in observing the breath when meditating. Don’t, as one of my teachers once put it, go shopping.
5. Now, just sit and breathe. Observe the full course of inhalations and exhalations at that one clear spot. Put the full attention of the mind on that spot. If the mind wanders, it’s okay. Just bring it back to the breath without judgement or worry. Mind wanders again? Just bring it back again. Do this over and over, gently returning the attention to the breath, as you perceive it, on your lip or inside the nose.
And that’s it! Simple, eh? You can sit this way for as long as you like. Especially in the beginning, no need to worry about how long to sit. Go with what you can do. Got five minutes? Sit for five minutes. Got 10, 20, 30 minutes? Sit for as long as you like. If you find the mind distracted by wondering about the time, set a timer.
Are there other things to say about meditation practice? Sure. We’ll address those things another day. One thing at a time. For now, the goal of this post is just to provide a good basic set up that anyone can try right now. So go on. Go get a chair and give it a try.
And for anyone local to Chicago, or if you’ll be visiting the area, if you want to learn more, Calm Chicago is here to offer what guidance we can. Feel free to contact us. The center has a new page too. Use that get the latest news, photos and so on.
Whatever media suits you, I look forward to hearing from you. Let us know how we can help your practice. Thanks for reading.