This is a topic relating to self-discovery that I have always struggled with, yet I understand is so crucial to our continued growth. I am in awe of those that sit in a pose and appear to drift away for long periods of time. I was reminded of this once again during the recent Dalai Lama talk last week. It was a way to quiet the mind so that we can process the daily stress and emotions we experience on a daily basis. At a minimum it is a way to keep us from reacting in a more negative or hurtful way to ourselves or others.
I have been attending a weekly meditation session at a local store that sells Buddhist paraphernalia here in San Diego. The owner is an active practitioner of Buddhist ways, and uses the storefront as a way to open the doors to people to come in and take advantage of their free meditation session. He reminds us each time that this is not a competition and to accept that it takes many years to master meditation. The initial goal is to simply be able to sit quietly, even just for a few minutes, without reacting to our active minds.
The key was to focus on our breathing, one breath at a time, even for a few seconds at first. Then I would find myself thinking about an issue or project at work or whatever. What I learned here is that this is very normal and to accept this rather than fight it. To fight it, only makes it worse, since now my mind is engaged in another emotional response, frustration. Instead, gently bring the focus back to my breathing and go for a few more seconds. The more we practice this, the easier it is to bring back the focus on our breathing. My active mind, that is another story. It just likes to race and dwell on events or feelings.
This weekly practice does not use any music, scents or sounds. He states that although these can be helpful to some, the goal is to be able to meditate wherever you may be, which suggests learning how to become calm wherever you are. Personally, I like to introduce calming music, candles and incense at times since I find these more amenable to sitting peacefully. Ideally, I would like to find a spot alone on a knoll overlooking the ocean and just listening to the waves. But this is not always possible, which is why I am focusing on calming myself by focusing on my breath, even for just a few moments several times during the course of the day.
What is the real benefit? For me, even though I would consider myself still as a novice, has been the ability to react less to my emotions which have controlled so much of my life. I have come to realize how much of the time I live in some form of fear or anxiety. Left uncontrolled, these negative emotions will play havoc with your life, mentally and physically. A recent book, Dying To Be Me, is the story of a woman who realized the impact of the fear she lived with on her life.
So my suggestion is not to be overwhelmed or dismayed by what we believe meditation to be or how it should be practiced, and instead, find whatever way we can to quiet our active minds and find some peace in our lives, particularly in a natural way. At the end of every meditation we are asked how we feel, and everyone agrees that they feel more at peace. You deserve it!