Meditation practice is called practice. That's because it is like music practice or physical training. It is a skill which is honed gradually over time. Training of the mind, in the traditional metaphor, is compared to training a horse. The untrained horse will buck and thrash about so that we are ridden by the horse. We have anxiety because the horse is running away with us.
A trained mind is compared to a well-trained horse. The seemingly infinite power and potential of the horse is yoked, is reined and moves together in an aligned and synchronized way with the seemingly infinite power and ability of the many other aspects of the human person. So, the mind is riding the horse. There is rest, relaxation, insight, stability, and extraordinary strength.
There are many ways to train the mind. The mindfulness practices, generally, are ways to increase our awareness and increase our ability to be where we are when we're there.
One way to train the mind is through the meditation practice known as “shamatha-vipashyana”. The word “shamatha” means “calm abiding”. It is the ability of the mind to rest on a single object of focus. This relaxing into the single object of focus helps the knowing which is outside of the limitations of the thinking or conceptual mind to increasingly become available. It is deep knowing, deep strength, deep stability.
It means that gradually one is able to increase the space between cause and effect, between action and reaction, between stimulus and response. When the mind is trained, there can be an experience in the outside world, or an experience in the inside world. That experience comes into awareness, and there is a pause. There is a deciding how to work with that situation. One then chooses a response.
A goalkeeper lets a goal into the net. Is the mind able to drop the response to that experience and return fresh and strong to the game? A roommate, a relationship partner says something, does something: is the mind able to hear and have the space to decide how to respond?
If you're yelling back when someone yells at you, was going to work, it would have worked by now. It relates to individual relationships. It also relates to social patterns of community inter-relationships.
There is power in a mind able to touch into its deep stability and strength. This is part of a traditional understanding of the power of meditation practice. It is a traditional view that one-person meditating - developing strong and stable mind - helps mind itself, helps the social context in which we find ourselves, to also become more stable, clearer, stronger.
In a room full of people who are experiencing anger or distress, one mind that is stable, clear and strong can make much difference. So, mind training will increase: relaxation, insight, wisdom, and the clarity to make choices that are skillful, that will increase one's happiness and well-being. Meditation practice is also understood to be of benefit to the community.
What is the difference between the mind of the individual and the mind of the collective? We are part of a whole.
“Shamatha-vipashyana” practice is done by allowing the mind to have a single object of focus which serves as a place to rest. It is somewhat like a bird looking for a place to land. We offer the mind a place to land.
What that object of focus is is less important than the fact that there is an object of focus. Different meditation traditions will offer different types of objects of focus. It can be a sound, the repetition of prayer or a mantra. It can be visual, a candle or a picture. In the meditation practice that we will now begin to experiment and explore together, the object of focus is the physical sensation of the breath as it comes into and out of the body.
Become aware that you are breathing. Where do you feel that breathing? Do you breathe from your chest? Musicians or athletes may have been trained to breathe from the diaphragm, in the lower in the area of the lung. Can you feel that you are breathing?
It may help you to place your hand on that part of your body that moves while you are breathing. Can you feel that movement? It may help you to exhale through the mouth. Can you feel the breath of the exhalation as it comes out of the mouth? Allow the mind to rest, and relax into this physical sensation that you are breathing. Rest with the breath.
Sometimes, it can feel like a rocking back and forth: the inhalation, the exhalation. It's like being rocked: in a hammock, on a swing, in a cradle. Can you make the hammock out of kindness? Make the swing out of kindness. Feel kindness underneath the inhalation, the exhalation. Rest and relax.
It may happen that you find your attention has moved away from that feeling of the breath. The thinking mind is very familiar with thinking.
Gradually, it will increasingly relax. It is like the wave that returns to the sea. It will take the time that it takes for that to happen.
When you notice your attention has moved away from the physical feeling of the breath, the practice is to simply return awareness to the physical sensation of the breath. Come home. Come home to the breath.
The content of the thinking is something you may wish to notice, reflect on or journal about at a different time. The act of mind training is to gently but clearly - like training a puppy, like training a horse, gently but clearly - return the attention to the breath.
Relax. Notice you are breathing. Notice you are alive. What is the difference between the air inside your lungs and the air outside of your lungs? There is no difference.
It is safe to relax.
The power of meditation practice, as the power of body training, is to return to the practice itself. You may wish to begin with five minutes. It has a clear beginning, middle and end: five minutes.
More is not better at the beginning. It is like training a puppy. It is like training a horse. We begin with an amount so small the mind hardly even notices it is happening. Just five minutes.
Choose when in the day will be your time for five minutes. It can be nice in the morning. The gentle stability of mind will tend to permeate the day like incense, if the practice is done in the morning.
It can also be good to do when the day's activity is finished, to do before bed, to do at lunchtime - to do any time - one time in the day. Five minutes. Five minutes a day. Every day. Then, if you miss a day or two, you just come back to the practice itself and do five minutes. Gradually, the mind becomes more stable and more strong. Gradually, the awareness becomes more precise, more clear, more able to bring insight into the inside world, and insight into the outside world.
A well-trained mind, like a well-trained horse: engage the journey. Together.
Comment below, and let us know how it goes!!
Wishing you joy,