Meditation. The word brings to mind pictures of Buddha and Yogi‘s. You may think that meditation is simply a practice of closing your eyes and not thinking. And it is. But there is more then one way to meditate, and each practice brings with it it’s own benefit. So what exactly is meditation? Meditation is the practice of simplicity. It is nutrition for the mind. It is one aspect of holistic health that many people forget to cultivate, yet it is one of the most important aspects.
Mindful meditation is the practice of being present. It is about asking yourself every now and then, “Am I paying attention?”. It sounds so simple and in essence, it is. Yet there are so many moments that we go through life on auto pilot. We forget to see, for some of us, we have forgotten HOW to see.
Stop every now and then, notice your breath. Breath is a wonderful tool, always there to ground us, right under our nose. Notice how you feel, notice life going on with you just being. Understand that there is nothing you need to do right now but observe. The wonderful thing about practicing mindfulness is that you can do it anywhere, in any position. You might find, as I did, that keeping your attention focused for any length of time is dependent on repeatedly asking, “Where are my thoughts right now?” The most wonderful thing about this is that it merely takes a shift in attention.
Bringing yourself back into the present moment is helpful in so many aspects of your life. Driving is a prime example of a task many people do on autopilot, literally. One of the most wonderful things I read, was a book called The Monks and Me by Mary Paterson. While staying at a monastery after a difficult life experience, Mary learns from the monks around her, and realizes that one the one thing they all had in common was that they were present in everything they did. Even when eating, they did nothing else but eat. How many times have you eaten in front of the TV and realized afterwards that you didn’t even taste your food? Next time you sit down for a meal, be mindful, pay attention…you might notice you end up eating less.
In Zen mediation, you face a wall in a quiet, fairly dark room and concentrate on a single point with your eyes half closed. Some people like to use a candle to focus. Begin to count your breaths. In, out -1…In, out -2…all the way to 10 and then start over. If you find a thought enters your mind, start counting from 1 again. There is a proper seating positing with zen meditation, a proper way to fold your hands. This form of meditation has its place and can be a wonderful tool to teach the mind to be still, and to help us realize that we are not just our thoughts.
Both mindful meditation and Zen meditation are useful in their own ways. Try both. The latter is much more difficult to do and requires more time be put in, at least 5-10 minutes a day. Zen meditation helps us find our inner voice by quieting the incessant chatter and hidden fears that lie within us. But to truly understand the full effects of Zen, you have to see for yourself. What I have gotten out of zen meditation is a bit hard to put into words without sounding like a lunatic. There was a moment that I felt eternity, as if I understood how the universe was just as much inside of me as it was outside. I’ve tried ever since to get that feeling back, but it comes and goes in waves, and some days I don’t grasp it at all.
While I don’t always get to meditate using the Zen method, I practice mindful meditation daily. It centers me, it calms my anxious feelings (which I’ve been told is ADD), it helps me pay attention. Most of all, it lets me appreciate the present. When we open our mind to the present moment the wonders of life appear to us like a gift from the universe. Think of all the present moments that lead you to THIS present moment; the thought puts me in awe of the complexity of time and nature. This moment is uniquely special. This is it. This is the best moment of your life because this is the present moment. Pay attention.