“I can’t meditate, it doesn’t work for me,” is a phrase I’ve heard so many times in the past 10 years. Not wishing to be impolite, I don’t push back on this, but I do wonder, “What part of meditation is broken?”
One possibility is sitting still. That can be hard for some of us (me!) to accept, at least, at first. But there is an easy solution: notice when you get antsy and stop. Who said 90 seconds of meditation ‘doesn’t count’? (I don’t think we give prizes to the person who sits the longest.) Anyway, once you can sit quietly for 90 seconds without feeling that you’re being punished, add another 90. Sit for 3 minutes.
Then there’s the Mind Game. Continue reading
Conflicts between people are a natural part of life. We even fight with ourselves, criticizing our past actions and denying our ability to cope with the future. Meditation doesn’t seek to erase conflicts or turn meditators into placid doormats. Instead, it teaches a path in which life’s problems are approached with understanding, patience, and love.
Vietnamese Buddhist priest, teacher, and author, Thich Nhat Hanh, offers these instructions for performing metta (lovingkindness) meditation as a path to cultivating love for oneself and others (“Cultivating Compassion” Tricycle, Spring 2015):
Oregon Public Broadcasting TV (OPB, Ch. 10) is broadcasting shows on meditation and mindfulness that might interest you.
Whenever someone brings “mindfulness practice” into conversation with me, I naturally expect to hear stories about people struggling with “adult” problems like stress, overwork, focus/multitasking problems, emotional trauma, pain, grief, and addiction. I don’t expect to hear about the problems of 8-year-olds, not because I think they lack for problems, but because I can’t picture an 8 year-old sitting on a cushion, silently counting in- and out-breaths. They have trouble sitting still for a simple count-to-10, right?
In the last few years, however, I’ve discovered that there are ways for children to practice mindfulness, and there are real benefits to be had. As I suspected, the practices that are commonly recommended for adults (“sit down – be quiet”) require some major reworking for the elementary school audience, but there are ways to make a mindfulness connection at any age.
How to Help Your Kids Practice Mindfulness (Without Making them Sit Still) (Trike Daily, 5 Apr 2017) contains a bunch of useful insights about how to work with children (hint to aunts & uncles – the kids don’t have to be yours) as well as a link to Susan Kaiser Greenland‘s web site. Greenland, a parent, meditation teacher, and author, presents a number of practical ways to work with children, and even your inner child. Rolling my mouse over the icons on her site turned up headings like “watch,” “listen,” and “shout out,” each of which led to a set of practical suggestions and tips for mindful activities. Greenland has also packaged her materials as a book (Mindful Games) and a card deck of activities (Mindful Games Activity Cards) that might fit very nicely into a summer camp counselor’s backpack.
For the record, I haven’t found any form of meditation that espouses “No Pain, No Gain” as a tenet. Sitting still and silent may feel awkward. Sitting may even elicit some of the uncomfortable emotions and thoughts we commonly associate with pain, as in “I can’t take this anymore,” but the point of meditation is neither to produce pain, nor to use pain as a yardstick. On the other hand, pain is an unavoidable fact of life (I’m sure my birth caused my mother plenty of it), and aches and pains can serve a useful purpose (don’t put wait on that sprained ankle yet). So how should one relate to pain?
Long-time meditation teacher Ezra Bayda writes(“More than This Body,” Trike Daily, 26 July 2017)
Pain, by definition, kind of sucks. …
We usually try to simply get rid of it. Being cured of pain is the outcome our culture teaches us to expect — we carry a sense of entitlement that life should be free from pain. But one of the worst parts of the pain syndrome—whether the discomfort is short-term, as in meditation, or long-term, with chronic pain — is that our physical pain and our urge to nullify it feed off one another in a most unfortunate loop, and our life comes to revolve around our discomfort. …
It is essential to understand that both our pain and the suffering that arises from it are truly our path, our teacher, in that we can learn from them and experience our life more deeply as a result. …
When pain arises, instead of immediately thinking, “How can I get rid of this?” we can say “Hello” to it, and ask, “What can I learn from this?” It’s not always easy to do this, but when possible, it turns the whole experience upside down.”
Bayda’s article goes on with exploration of the different dimensions of pain, our responses to it, and a menu of tools for experiencing life-with-pain free of the mental hangups that normally present themselves.
As a rule, mindfulness meditation practice involves 3 steps:
- choosing something to be aware of (breath, sounds, touch, feelings)
- paying attention to this phenomenon
- returning one’s attention to it once we detect that our attention has wandered
The first step, choosing, often strikes people as a bit odd because nearly every set of instructions says, “pay attention to the sensations of breathing.” But why? My breath isn’t that interesting: I do it all the time without thinking about it. Worse, it seems to change whenever I pay close attention to it, and it just doesn’t seem that interesting compared to all of the other things I might focus on. So why pay attention to breathing?
Spring Break is right around the corner, and so are midterms, papers, and qualifying exams. Your chances of squeezing a meditation session into your schedule this week are probably zero, but you can still use this simple, portable, breathing technique to calm yourself down when you start to feel crazy:
1. Take a deep breath, expanding your belly. 2. Pause. 3. Exhale slowly to the count of five. 4. Repeat four times.
When you have a little more time, learn more about other controlled breathing tools: Unsure What To Do? Breathe. Exhale. Repeat. (A Quiet Place, 14 Nov 2016)
Next week, Jan 16-19, brings some special meditation opportunities as part of Reed’s informal winter session: Paideia 2017. Here’s the full list (with class descriptions at the bottom):
- Jan 16, M, noon-1 pm, Eliot chapel – Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners taught by Mary Priester ’76 and Prof. Alan Shusterman
- CANCELLED (College closed because of weather) – Jan 17, Tu, noon-1 pm, Eliot chapel – sitting meditation, first bells at 12:10, last bells at 12:40, drop-ins welcome-come when you can-leave when you want
- Jan 17, Tu, 2-3 pm, Dance Studio – Walking Meditation taught by Alan Shusterman
- Jan 18, W, noon-1 pm, Eliot chapel – Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners taught by Mary Priester ’76 and Prof. Alan Shusterman
- Jan 19, Th, 2-3 pm, Dance Studio – Walking Meditation taught by Alan Shusterman
All of the events listed above are also listed on the Reed Meditation Google calendar, and are open to all members of the Reed community and their guests.
While it isn’t necessary to sign up for the classes, doing so could be a good way to show Paideia organizers your support for meditation. Tuesday noon-1 sitting meditation repeats weekly throughout the spring semester. See Our Schedule for dates and locations.
New to meditation? Here are descriptions of the two meditation classes:
I’m looking out the window at the busy street that runs in front of my house. It has been covered by snow for the past 48 hours, but now it’s melting and traffic has picked up. A smart driver knows, however, that a small ice patch could be lurking anywhere so it’s important not to follow the driver in front too closely. Your car may lose its “stopping power” if it skids on that patch of ice.
Following an upsetting conversation, or an email thread, or a news feed, too closely presents some of the same problems. Instead of leaving some space around these provocative stimuli, I attend to them closely, vigilant, ready to take offense, already constructing the words that will win a debate or cut an opponent down to size. And then I have my say and craashh! What happened to my “stopping power”?
Meditation is a practice of learning to make space and give ourselves more stopping power. In fact, the word STOP also serves as a handy acronym for a basic meditation practice. Read what Dr. Elisha Goldstein has to say about it here (Mindful.org), and listen to this online lesson. Increasing our stopping power can save us all kinds of heartache.
‘Silent illumination’ is a meditation practice from the Zen school of meditation.* The practice is described in ways that often sound impossible and contradictory to the Western ear: just sit, the method of no-method, and so on. So how does one attempt to do something that is ‘not doing’?
Lion’s Roar has published an eminently practical description of silent illumination from Master Sheng-yen [1930-2009], the founder of Dharma Drum Retreat Center (“There is No ‘I’ Who is Sitting,” 1 Sept. 2003). Some bits and pieces from his teaching: