The work of meditation

Today I sat down for my regular time of meditation. I have previously been chatting with my wife and had left her a voicemail. Figuring that if I began to sit, she would certainly call, I took care of a few chores first and finally began to sit.

As is my normal practice, I first purposefully take notice and attempt to be aware of my body, starting with my feet and ending with my breath. As I began to focus on my breathing, feeling calm and focused, aware of my thoughts but not engaging in dialogue with them, the phone rings. I probably should have allowed it to ring and called her when I finished, but unfortunately, I didn’t do that. So I took the call and then settled back into my sitting, focusing on my breath.

IT was at that time that our cat decided that she wanted to be petted and walked over and began to rub up against me as cats do. This time, having learned my lesson, I was aware of the cat but did not turn away from my breath. Eventually the cat got the hint and went over to a chair where she found my library book. Now my cat really likes plastic for some odd reason and as I focused on my breath I was aware that she was rubbing up against the book (which was a copy of the Tibetan book of the Dead). Still I didn’t turn from my breath. But then she stared to bite and rip the plastic, at which time I shewed her off.

I share these experiences for two reasons. First, meditation is work because of all that would interupt (be it thoughts, story lines in your head or noises or pets). Those of you reading this, if you have a practice of meditation, probably have had time like that of which I just spoke. The second and more important reason I share my experience is that it relates to a previous post where one is aware of their thoughts (and emotions) recognizing them, identifying them but not following after them. The goal is Merely letting them be what they are without judgement or trying to remove, ignore or override them. So after multiple interruption, I again focus toward my breath and the present moment. What I was aware of immediately was anger. I was angry because my time had been interuppted and disturbed. I took note of that, named it and returned to my breathing. So even though my sitting had not progressed like I would have wanted it to, I was able to be mindful of my emotions without entering into a self dialogue about my anger. I knew from whence it came and I returned to the present moment with all that it was.

I can see that the training part of meditation is meant to be applied in all our various engagements throughout our day. To be aware of ourselves, our emotions, thoughts and intentions in the present moment. This awareness provides us opportunity to choose mindfully how to proceed rather than just reacting. While I might not always respond in this way, I appreciate for the opportunity to take a step back and be mindful, where previously I would have just been angry.

mindful practice and thoughts

As a new practioner of mindfulness practice I am still very much learning the ropes and increasing my understanding of how to meditate and not to mention how that practice trains my mind in my everyday living.

One of the challenges for a novice, like myself, is the randomness of thoughts when attempting to dwell mindfully upon one’s breathing. That is why I found Gil Fronsdal’s book helpful (both with this topic, and with understanding mindfulness from many other perspectives). Fronsdal writes:

Sometimes people think the point of meditation is to stop thinking, to have a silent mind. This does happen occasionally but it is not necessarily the point of meditation. Thoughts are an important part of life, and mindfulness is not supposed to be a struggle against them. We can benefit more by being friends with our thoughts than be regarding them as unfortunate distractions. In mindfulness, we are not stopping thoughts as much as overcoming any preoccupation we have with them. However mindfulness is not thinking about things, either…In those moments when thinking predominates, mindfulness is the clear and silent awareness that we are thinking.

So now I can work to be aware but not discursive in the thoughts as they are happening. Fronsdal goes on to say “In Meditation, when thoughts are subtle and in the baground or when random thoughts pull us away from awareness of the presnet, all we have to do is resume mindfulness of breathing.
I found his suggestions helpful in my practice and it is helpful to have such a clear description of what mindfulness is like.  I can use all the help and advice available to me. If you want a helpful book for learning and practicing mindfulness, I would highly recommend this book!

anger

I have discovered in myself that one of the ways that I deal with the unsatisfactoriness of life, is through anger. When things don’t happen the way that I plan, when traffic is thick and I’m late for class or work, when I call my children for the 6th time with no response, when a short task takes hours or any other number of things occur. I have discovered that my first response is anger. I would say that I get “frustrated,” but in reality I get angry. I respond with a short “damn it,” or some other seemingly appropriate expletive. But it isn’t really even that quick response but the lingering effect of the anger, the frustration that life is not as I would like it to be. The funny thing is that I am not sure where I got the idea that life should or would be as I want it.

Life is as it is, unsatisfactoriness is a real part of life, not always but it is part of what we experience. We all age, we all deal with sickness and we will all face death. That is just the truth. I heard it said that happiness is a state of mind, not dependent upon the circumstances of life. So If I am to be happy in life, there must be a way for me to experience not only the fun and exciting times of life, the pleasurable times in life but also to experience loss, sickness and pain.

Anyway, I have discovered about myself that anger is my first response. That is not something I wanted to admit but it is true. I hope that through my practice of mindfulness each day I will develop more and more the ability to live in the present for what it is and when I experience anger to look at it without judgement and be able to see its causes and to let go of the things to which I cling. It would be nice if just recognizing such things were enough in and of itself to bring about a change in the way I respond, but I realize that recognizing this is but the first step. This is something of which I would like to let go, but I think there is some more digging and discovery required.

Well, I think its time to go sit and attempt to practice mindfulness.

New years resolution – Follow up

Well, with the exception of two days, I have thus far kept my new years resolution to meditate each and every day. For the most part, the biggest challenge to this is stopping in the hurried pace of most days. To stop, sit, breath and be in my body focused on my breath, is so refreshing but also challenging. Now, I don’t want to imply that I have in any way “got this meditation stuff down.” I am so very much a novice and barely gaining any ability to focus my mind, but the moments in each days meditation, where I do settle and focus and breath are so wonderful that I want to cultivate mindfulness until it is my normal mode of being. I want to be mindful when I drive, shop, study, work or visit with family or friends. That goal is, of course, on the distant horizon but I know the path to that place, it is a simple path as the Dalai Lama phrases it, a simple path of cultivating awareness and mindful living through practice (because Buddhism is much more a practice than a religion).

One thing I have learned through some time spent with a local Zen Buddhist in Boise has been helpful. As I am sitting, inevitably my mind wants to jump around and to chatter. Thoughts push their way in and I can easily find myself thinking about any old thing from the past, to the future or just stuff. My Zen friend recommended to me that when those thought enter, that I pause and name them: plans, worries, memories questions, thoughts, hopes etc. After naming them I return my mindful focus toward my breath and interestingly enough this naming works. After naming I am again able to be aware and focus on the movement and rhythm of my breathing.

Another part of mindfulness is awareness moment to moment of my mind and body, of what I am feeling and experiencing. The understanding of what actually causes the unsatisfactoriness in life as being clinging or avoidance, provides me the opportunity to question myself about my feelings. When I am angered or frustrated, worried and anxious, restless and searching, attempting to be mindful through asking questions about what it is that I am clinging to (independent identity, plans, control issues of every sort) or what it is that I am wanting to avoid (pain, conflict, work or any host of things) have given me a beginning place to understand the unsatisfactoriness. Then the challenge is to let go of that clinging or to exist in that which I would rather avoid. One does this because mindfulness and awareness is an existence in the present moment, in the present moment as it really is, not as we would like it to be.

I am so new and unskilled at all of this but it is a wonderful path to be on and the desire to reach the horizon grows in me each and every day as I pause, quiet myself and sit.