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Lions Roar : March 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MArcH 2011 32 If you don’t have an established practice, I recommend be- ginning your meditation by softening the heart. first, visualize a place of still water. This feeling may last for only a second. Notice that. Next, express gratitude for the blessings of your life, even the common things that you take for granted. Third, practice loving-kindness toward yourself. This tenderizing of the heart is like preparing the soil in our garden—we turn the soil and add the compost of caring. Then we plant the seeds of mindfulness by focusing on the breath, sounds, or sensations. After your timer goes off, try to sit in a chair by a window with a nice view, or perhaps on a deck. With a cup of tea in hand, contemplate an aspect of a recent dharma reading. or stroll around a garden. you know what your houseplants look like if you forget to water them for a while. The same thing happens with our medi- tation practice if we neglect it for a couple of weeks, or even for a few days. We water our practice by sitting daily. We support our practice by sitting weekly with a group. We fertilize our practice by reading dharma books or listening to dharma talks. occasionally we take our practice to a retreat center, where it may flower or bear fruit, as a plant will do in a greenhouse. on retreat we have just the right conditions—a schedule, nutritious meals that are prepared for us, and only the belongings that fit into one suitcase. Amazing how little we need to live comfortably for a week or so. Simplifying our lives gives us breathing space. one advantage of going on retreat is that someone else tells us what to weed out of our daily routine at the retreat center: no reading, no writing, no cellphones, no computer. No wonder life feels calmer. A gardening adage about perennials says: “The first year they sleep. The second year they creep. The third year they leap.” This means that when you transplant perennials into your garden, they just sort of sit there the first year. But underground they are developing a root system that will sustain them for a long time. our meditation practice requires this sort of patience. first we simply sit on the cushion and develop the habit of sitting. dur- ing the second year, perennials begin to look more robust—they bloom and begin to grow. The third year they are fully established in their new location and have a serious growth spurt. Some pe- rennials are even slower, such as my climbing hydrangea that took five years to grow three feet. Then it grew three feet the following year. Now it covers half the side of my house, and a robin nests in it each spring. our meditation practice needs time to flower and bear the fruits of a spiritual life. Transplanting season does come to an end. The spring or fall of our lives can be conducive to transplanting a meditation practice, while the summer of our lives may be totally booked with work, family, and paying off the mortgage. In the winter of our lives, when we are on our deathbed, the elements of earth, water, heat, and air are likely to be out of balance, and possibly very uncom- fortable. That’s when the mindfulness we’ve been nurturing, the wisdom we’ve gleaned from our practice, will support us—just when we need it the most. ♦