Wednesday. I’ve been absent. Bad week last week. Not such a great week this week either so far, but I think I see some sun peeking out and I think I will feel better once I get outside. Simply put, I just can take this cold and wind any more. I’m just not cut out for this. I need warmth and I’m sick of wearing twenty layers to get it. I’d go to Florida but have too much to do.
Did my 14 mile run on Saturday and it was an epic mental journey. Miles 1- 7, eh, not great but I was doing it. Miles 7-10 I hate this, I absolutely hate this. Back of my kneecaps are scraping and they hurt, I couldn’t run. Found myself crying out of frustration and thinking this is stupid why am I doing this? Mile 10, my hip goes out. I can’t run. I’d give up but I am too far from a cab. Keep walking. Stretch. Mile 12. Huh. My hip feels okay and I can actually run a little. Mile 14, geesh, I feel fine, I could keep going if I had to. What a big baby I am. I laugh at myself. What a gamut of emotions. What an ego. Stop taking yourself so seriously…. Geesh… You were never a runner. Why do you pretend that you have lost something you never had? Just enjoy the fresh air and sunshine and forget all of this ego. Attachment. Stay in the moment. Forget the expectations…. Try again next week. You covered 14 miles. Next week cover 16. Just get it done.
Sometimes I have blog topics I need to write down because I try to use this as a learning tool and reminder for when I get too full of myself (as noted above), but sometimes the topics come to me. Last week I had three different people ask me about meditation. Okay when three different people ask me about it I’ll be happy to share what little I know.
First and foremost you do not have to be a Buddhist to meditate. I am not a Buddhist. I’m not an anything ist, ian, or ant. I don’t pray or chant any words that I do not know the full meaning of and agree with. I am not trying to convert anyone to anything. I use meditation to explore and train my mind, not to channel some religious experience. Go with where ever your path takes you. Please don’t think you have to join something to explore your own mind. It is your mind….
I just completed the Chopra 21-day meditation challenge and I really enjoyed it because they took through several types of meditations that I have never done before. I did all 21 days and now I’m doing a second round. I do it in conjunction with my regular meditation. I start with their meditation and then I do a little more to fill out 30 minutes. It was my first time, for example, doing chakra meditation and surprisingly I really enjoyed it. I don’t particularly believe in chakra’s but I also didn’t believe in Acupuncture until I started doing it. I cannot negate something I have yet to investigate.
I’ve been meditating on and off for about twenty years. I think started in my early 30’s. I definitely did not have a daily practice until my 40’s and even then I would say I have not been diligent. There is only one thing I know for sure about meditation; I feel better when I do it. When things fall apart for me I can usually tie it to a stall in my meditation practice. In sports, meditation is a great tool as well. To learn to control your mind is an incredible advantage. You’ll hear people talk about the Flow or how Athletes get in the moment. It just means they’ve entered that space of mindfulness of being completely and totally in the present moment. Meditation can help get you into that state more easily. I think back to the days of tennis when I would repeat, “watch the ball, watch the ball. ” That chant would turn into a hum and all I could see was yellow fuzz. That was meditation. That was a mindfulness meditation. When I really and truly watched the ball, stayed in the moment and saw nothing else — those were my best moments. When I worried about the score, how I would feel if I lost or what my result would be — it was over before it started. Even if triathlon and running, when I get my mantra going, shoulders back, loose hands, hips forward, shoulders back, loose hands, hips forward — then I enter that beautiful place called Flow, Mindfulness, the present moment. (Note to self on today’s run, ditch the watch and just run.)
For me meditation does not deliver an immediate impact. I don’t finish meditating and go “Wow, I feel so enlightened.” In fact, sometimes I finish meditating and I feel frustrated that I couldn’t “tame” my mind more. But most of the time I let it flow and I know for me, it is not about stopping the thoughts it is more about watching and redirecting. I notice the effects of meditating subtly, later, at certain moments when I can catch myself and bring my mind back to the present instead of whirling like a mental dervish. Or if I am stressed it gives me a tool to return to normal breathing.
I don’t have a magic formula on how/where to meditate but I can relay what I have done and what has worked for me.
I started with reading some books on the subject and over the years I have picked up some tips from more books, classes and seminars. Here are some of the things that work for me.
First thing I will say is you have to be comfortable. Don’t think you have to sit in a lotus pose or anything fancy. I often sit on a cushion cross-legged but recently in the cold I have been sitting upright in my bed, back against the wall with my covers covering my legs and a blanket around my shoulders. If you are sitting cross-legged, you want to try to have your hips higher than your knees. So you may have to put one or two pillows under your tush to get your hips up. You must be comfortable otherwise you won’t sit and you’ll be fidgeting. Sitting upright in a chair is just fine.
You want your back straight. Doesn’t have to be rigid but straight. I always like to think of the energy going up and down my spine and trying to give it a straight avenue. If you need the back of a chair, or a wall that’s fine. You are not meditating less because you are using assistance. They don’t grade for difficulty in meditation. There are no black diamond meditation techniques…. Or maybe there are and I don’t know them yet.
Eyes opened or closed. In Shambhala teaching they tell us to have our eyes open, looking softly down and ahead. In many other meditation styles I have been told to shut my eyes. I personally like eyes shut better but I understand that if you can train yourself to meditate with your eyes open you can more easily bring that meditation practice into every day life — like at a subway or bus stop. You can sneak in a little mediation at your next business meeting and nobody will be the wiser. I say if you do whatever feels comfortable you will continue to do.
Hands. Everyone seems to have a different place to put your hands. Some say resting in front of you, one hand resting in the palm of the other. I’ve seen some people make a connection between their middle finger and their thumb and place hands up on their legs. For me, If I am sitting cross-legged I find it most comfortable to let my hands drape gently over my knees. Again, I don’t think they hand out demerits for hand position. I think the most important thing is to get rid of distractions. Whatever is comfortable.
Incense, background music, fine if you don’t find them distracting. I sometimes use both, sometimes I just like the absolute quiet. Nothing to sing along with, but sometimes chimes or nature sounds are nice to transport you to a mindful state and take you away from the hum of the city. I do have a regular mediation space but I’m also learning to not be attached to having to have everything perfect. If you can’t meditate where you like, like where you are and meditate anyway.
In yoga class I learned about belly breathing (and later in running played around with it as well). I find belly breathing a great way to concentrate on your breath. Easy way to start, on the exhale, stomach goes in and squeeze out all the air from the stomach first and the squeeze out the lungs. On the inhale the stomach fills first and then up to your lungs. (For me it was almost the opposite until I realized I was only breathing into the upper half of my lungs anyway). If you get confused just think exhale stomach IN, inhale stomach Out — the lungs take care of themselves. When you focus on your breath it gives you something to keep coming back to. As you start to find your mind wandering you just keep coming back to the breath. In, out, in, out.
One tip I sometimes use if I am having a very noisy “Monkey Mind” kind of day. I’ll use a counting technique to help me settle down. Just slowly count from 1 to 10 and back over an over again. When you lose count, start over. When running I will use this counting technique to control my pace and breathing. I count my exhales in a rhythm. I can’t break the rhythm up hill or downhill. It’s not easy. It’s funny, in tennis drills when we have to hit cross court and down the line a hundred times, I find I do better when I count. I don’t know why but it must be some form of concentration.
How long? I would never tell anyone to start out meditating for an hour or even a half hour. My max meditation session is 30 minutes and I often don’t get up early enough any more to do a full 30 minutes. Right now I’m only doing it once a day but from what I read twice a day is optimal. Here’s the kicker, you can actually feel benefits with even 5-10 minutes a day. It does not have to be some kind of long torture session. If it is your first time I would say 5 minutes. Take a break and maybe come back for 5 more minutes. Work your way up to 10 then 15. You’ll know what is right for you. This morning I did 30 minutes but I often feel fine with 20. I never do 1 hour.
How to stop thinking while you meditate. You can’t. Well I can’t. The more important part for me is not how many times your mind wanders, it is how many times you get it to come back to the present. (Not how many times you fall, how many times you get up.) One tip someone gave me once is to label it “thinking.” For example, you are nice and cozy in your form and taking in nice belly breaths, in and out, in and out. In and out, in and out. Did I forget to turn off the stove? Stove, I should make some chilli for lunch? Chilli, did I remember to buy Chili powder? …… Instead of getting upset that your beautiful meditation has been destroyed simply say to yourself “Thinking” and return to your breathing, In and Out. In and Out. Somedays it can get crazy in my head. I can’t believe he said that. I’ll repeat conversations over and over in my head. Or I have a deadline and I can’t stop thinking about it. No matter what it is I just say “Thinking” and come back to my breath, In and Out. If it is a really bad day and the thoughts are really loud, I’ll use the counting to ten and back technique. Then I’m not placing my mind on breath, I’m placing it on the numbers. Sometime I get to two and have to start over again. Some days are easier than others. But I don’t try to stop my thoughts, just notice them and redirect my mind back to my breath or other intention for that day.
Here are some resources online and in person for getting started.
I really thought the Chopra 21 day meditation challenge was great. I think you can still sign up http://www.chopra.com/meditationchallenge#details The Chopra.com site has a lot of other resources too such as these guided meditations: http://www.chopra.com/library/guidedmeditations (you may have to sign up to get into the library but it is free.)
Any and all books by Pema Chodron are great. I consider Pema Chodron a Spiritual archetype for me. (Chopra does a cool meditation on archetypes too). I really like this audio CD (book on tape) and pull it out every once in awhile. http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_2?asin=B002VA9UUI&qid=1297874246&sr=1-2
In NYC, my first meditation classes were at Shambhala on west 22nd street http://ny.shambhala.org/learn_meditate.php I still consider that my meditation home base. I’ve taken several classes there and really like it.
I’ve also done some sitting at New York Insight Meditation. I liked it but not as much as Shambhala. They have a nice tip sheet on meditating. http://nyimc.org/index.php/site/learnmeditate/
Currently I’m taking a class downtown at the Interdependence Project. This is good for lower East siders. Too far out of the way for me but I really enjoyed by class with Ethan Nichtern. They have beginning meditation classes and drop ins http://theidproject.org/events/2011/02/06/intro-meditation. I’ll be taking two classes online with Ethan Nichtern this semester.
That’s all I have for now. Hope this helps.
This is a picture of a typical meditation session for me.