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Friday, November 20, 2020

Mindfulness, Compassion, Nonviolence - Series 6

 

Hope you were able to use the link I provided in the previous post. If you had trouble keeping the focus on the breath, here is a link to the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin where a well-tested breath counting tool is available. It is free but you have to register to get it.

https://centerhealthyminds.org/well-being-tools/breath-counting-tool

Here is another one  https://webtasks.keck.waisman.wisc.edu/breath/demo/

There are several other methods to bring the mind back to breath. For example, we can focus on a sound symbol. In Hinduism, it is the sound “Om”. In Buddhism it is “manipadmoham”. In the Catholic faith it is “maranatha”. The idea is to use this sound to bring the mind back to its focus on breath each time it wanders off.

In Buddhist schools, a gatha is used to get the mind back. It is a short statement to utter within oneself each time the mind is caught wandering off. For example, when breathing in and out, we say “I am breathing in – I am breathing out”. “Breathing in- Breathing out”. Or “When I am breathing in, I know I am breathing in – when I breath out I know I am breathing out”. This gatha helps keep the focus on the breath, brings you to the present moment and also recognizes the body-mind connection.

Speaking of gatha, we can make up our own gatha just as Rev.Thich Naht Hanh suggests while we are washing dishes or driving a car. For example, when walking, he suggests repeating with each step the following gatha: Breathing in, I say “yes” to life; Breathing out, I say “thank you” to life” etc.,

You may wish to use a short prayer from your tradition. That is fine too. The only point is that we should not get stuck with that sound but get back to focus on breathing. In some systems, the teaching is to focus on the silent interval between the gathas or mantras.

We can visualize a sacred image to bring our focus on the breath. This can be one’s favorite deity, or a sacred figure such as Buddha or Jesus or a serene memory of nature. The idea is the same. Whenever the mind wanders, use this image to come back to the present moment and focus on the breath and breathe slow and deep – until it wanders off again, which it does often. That is the nature of the mind. In eastern philosophies the mind is compared to a drunken monkey, jumping from branch to branch.

Another aid to meditation is a rosary, which is commonly used in all faiths. The most important point to remember in pushing the beads is not to get stuck with the ritual. Pushing the beads mindlessly does no good. The essential principle is to focus on the divine figure or the divine sound each time one touches a bead and to focus on the silence or the breath before touching the next bead. Prolonging the silence between the beads and prolonging the attention to the here and now of the breath should be the goal.

Why do you wish to meditate? Before you start meditation practice, ask yourself why you want to do this and what you expect to gain out of it. Is it out of curiosity? Is it because this is the “in thing” these days? Is it because you are looking for special states of bliss and mystic experiences? Is it because your life is full of stress and you need a stress-reduction program? Are you interested in spiritual growth? Are you interested in developing a deeper understanding of this life and of this universe? You must find your own answers.

In addition, it is good to know before you start that this method is not for attaining mystical states, although it is possible to reach such states with decades of training and more rigorous discipline. They are for the monks and nuns. Those states may even be harmful to some. For us, common folks, it is best to start with an open mind, and aim for calming of the mind. “Letting go and let it be” are two of the slogans in learning mindful meditation. It is best not to set too high an expectation.

What are some hindrances to practice?    Doubt and indecision, anxiety and restlessness and laziness are clearly hindrances. Setting too high an expectation or giving up easy are also major hindrances. Just let it be. Do not cling or grasp. Just let go.

What do you have to do to get started?

In practice, we set up an assigned time every day and stick to it. I prefer early morning before anyone, or any event can interrupt the meditation time. We need a calm place, with all lights and phone turned off. We need a comfortable seat to sit on and comfortable clothes which we do not have to keep squirming in. It goes without saying, but we will be better off setting this time before eating or drinking alcohol or coffee. This will not be an issue if we meditate early in the morning immediately on getting up.

Practice, Practice  and Practice.

It is like exercising daily to build the muscles. Consider this as building neural networks in the brain. Daily, informal practice is the most important. You may wish to attend a formal meditation session in your neighborhood, if there is one, once a week or twice a month. In this age of technology, you may be able to join one of the virtual group sessions. If you are serious you may wish to attend a week-end retreat on meditation conducted by reputable teachers and organizations.

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