Humans love to over-complicate things. For some reason, we have a tendency to think that if something isn’t (enormously) difficult, we won’t feel any kind of satisfaction at the completion of something. We want something as simple as a glass of water, but we set up something like Pee-Wee’s Breakfast Machine. Yes, that way he doesn’t have to “do” anything to make his breakfast, but think of all that work involved in setting it up, and then resetting it. Every. Single. Evening. And that’s exactly what we do with meditation.
Because we’re taught that hard work brings big results. Well, sure. There was a lot of hard work put into that machine, and the “big result” is a tasty breakfast…but wouldn’t it be easier if we just got up and cracked the eggs into a pan ourselves? Thusly getting the same results? Taking the easier route?
Most of us will say yes — and that yes, that’s the way they want all results in their lives. And so that’s why many people turn to the practice of meditation — because of its simplicity. But because it is so simple, we get confused, and so we over-complicate it in various ways. Yes, there are challenges you’re going to face (as I covered in the previous post), but in this post I’m going to talk about ways to keep the act of meditation itself simple.There are lots of ways you can meditate. Breathwork (examples can be found here), mantras, prayer, counting, soft focus on a candle or stone, guided, visualization and so on. They’re all wonderful. I’ve done most of them and have gotten benefit from all of them. But my favorite meditation is to just sit and be with my thoughts; Zazen, really, though I don’t officially practice it. Even Zazen comes with its own set of rituals and “etiquette” — altar, seated position, direction you face, etc. It can get very fancy — which is ironic, since Zen is all about simplicity…but that kind of irony is also very Zen in itself, as it’s all about the contradictions of life.
But I digress.
At its core, stripped way, way down, rituals aside (if you like rituals and they help, they’re fine to use, of course), Zazen is just you sitting and being with your thoughts and body, not directing them, not contemplating them, not doing anything with them. Here’s a more in-depth explanation. Here is a video of a monk explaining it.
There are hundreds of resources about how to meditate. Some will be quite simple, others fairly elaborate. I’m not one for elaborate practice when it comes to something like meditation — the simpler it is, the easier it is to stay with it (remember — it’s the monkey mind that creates the challenges).
Here’s how I do it.
I put on a soundtrack I find relaxing — either some kind of “New Agey” “space” music, or what I call “yoga music” (Anugama’s Shamanic Dream, Shamanic Dream II and Healing Earth are favorites of mine), or I create a track of environmental sounds of my own using a really nifty iPhone app called Ambiance. You can download from thousands of choices for sounds and make your own mixes. They may also have a version for the Android.
Sometimes I sit in on a seiza bench that my father made for me. Sometimes I sit on a pile of stiff pillows. Sometimes I sit outside in a chair. Sometimes I sit on my couch or in a comfy chair. (No! Not the comfy chair!) (Sorry…a little Monty Python humor there.) If it’s daytime, I’ll tie a bandanna around my eyes to keep out the light.
I generally always use my iPhone for meditation, and so I set a gentle alarm to alert me when the time is up. I’ll turn on a soundtrack , do some breathwork to settle myself. Belly breathing is awesome for this. And then I just sink into whatever my mind wants to do. Sometimes it chatters, so I let it chatter. Sometimes it complains, whines, bitches, pisses and moans about whatever — and I let it whine, bitch, piss and moan. Sometimes I’m at the mercy of an extraordinary monkey mind. Sometimes I have a vision. Sometimes I start crying for no reason, and I’m filled with an unexplainable sorrow. Sometimes I start laughing and laughing and laughing. Sometimes absolutely nothing happens and I just sit there. Bored. Even really bored. Or I might just drift off to Nowheresville, either flowing in and out of there or staying there until the alarm alerts me to the end of the session. Time might feel very compressed where an hour feels like a few minutes — or a few minutes can feel like an age has passed.
Or I might have a session where all of that happens. It’s pretty fascinating.
Again, there is no “right” or “wrong” session, no session that’s “good” or “bad”. It is what it is and it is what it ain’t, if you will. (A Zen koan with poor grammar, I guess). Whatever happens — or doesn’t happen — during the session is exactly what that session is. Or isn’t. (I realize that’s confusing).
If there are visualization sessions you find you like, guided meditations, that’s okay too. My suggestion is to start simple — just a chair, a pillow in your lap to rest your hands on more comfortably (if you want to use a mudra, you can, of course), a nice soundtrack and breathwork. That’s all you have to “do” with this type of meditation. It’s that simple. If you find yourself wanting to complicate it — stick to the simplicity and explore why you feel the need or complications (some people might even call it “drama”).
That’s it. It’s something you can do for five minutes, ten, twenty, an hour. My suggestion is to start small and build to longer times. Factor it in when you feel like you can be consistent. It is not recommended for most meditations — including this kind — to practice it lying down. There’s a physiological reason for this. When you lie down, you’re signaling your body to go into rest mode. Rest mode means sleep. You may not fall asleep, but it’s those kinds of chemicals and hormones that kick in. Lying down is fine for reading or watching TV — but it’s not recommended for most meditations (there are some you do in that position, but not many). Sit upright in a way that you feel comfortable. I recommend starting in a comfy chair where your back is supported. You can have your feet off the ground, on a foot rest or a coffee table.
Sitting upright helps promote awareness. Awareness is key for change. Yes, the monkey mind might settle if you’re lying down, but what you’re essentially doing is blocking the exit valve for all those thoughts and slowing down the process.
If you want to focus on a question, or, say what Easy does it means to you as you meditate, you can. HOWEVER — and this is enormously key — do not actively contemplate it and figure it out as you meditate. Because then you’re not meditating. You’re figuring out. Instead, pose the question to yourself, and then push it to the back of your mind and let it sort itself out.
If you get insight, great. If you don’t — great. Forcing answers to come will add in another dose of over-complication. You may have to spend some time with a specific question in the back of your mind.
I would, though, encourage you to leave question-pondering out of the mix at first. I know you probably have lots and lots you want to sort out, but, for now, just sit and be and practice the act of meditation. Of just being. Of just having some stillness. Then, when you feel like you’re more acquainted with that, add in a simple question to marinate in the back of your mind.
(As a note, if there is something that keeps coming up during a session and you can’t seem to disengage from it, that’s okay. Two ways to work with that would be to just let your mind obsess on it, or, to pretend like you have absolutely no vocabulary to describe what’s going on. Like all you have left is the feeling, and then sink into that. You’ll be surprised at what can happen sometimes.)
Keeping it super-simple is the key to making consistent changes and staying in the habit. Over-complication may be a habit of yours, but it’s what will get in the way of progress because it fosters an added dose of frustration, obstacles, blockages and confusion. And who wants more of that?
Monkey See, Monkey Do: When Your Mind is Full of Gibbons — Meditation, Part 1 of 6
Creating a Order from Chaos: Practice, Time, Patience — Meditation, Part 2 of 6
Watching for Awareness: Meditation, Part 4 of 6
Disengaging to Engage: Meditation, Part 5 of 6
Walking Yourself Through the Process: Meditation, Part 6 of 6
Top image courtesy Freedigitalphotos.net.
Questions? Comments? Have some meditation tips or tricks? Leave a comment below, in the discussion forum, or email me at heather (at) smallchangelife (dot) org. You can also drop by my Facebook page and leave me a message, leave a comment below or feel free to start up a conversation in the discussion forum.