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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 19 MEDITATION PRACTICE IS A PERIOD of self-reflection that offers an opportunity for us to feel. To feel is to be present, which allows for depth and insight to occur. By learning to feel, we can contact the inherent openness of our being—known as bud- dhanature or, in the Shambhala teachings, basic goodness. This universal nature is characterized by kindness and compassion. A successful meditation practice is one in which we intimately con- nect with this naturally occurring love in our hearts, and then embody it in our lives. The ancient meditators realized that people needed a period of seeming inactivity to make any substantial growth or change. Generally speaking, it is very hard to change when we are on the go. When we are engaged in daily life, we may have the thoughts, “I wish I were kind, I wish I had not done it this way,” but it is very hard to change our habits. We need time to reflect on who we are, and how our mind feels underneath all the thoughts and emotions. From the physiological perspective, we have sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. When we are on the go—running, talking, working—the mind is engaged in a sympathetic nervous system process associated with “fight or flight.” The parasympa- thetic system, like the heart pumping blood, is less visible, is asso- ciated with “rest and digest.” If we don’t balance these processes by giving ourselves time out to deepen and rest, we become wired, edgy, and emotionally sensitive. Crossing our legs and sitting on a cushion is a good start, but meditation is not a process of osmo- sis; it’s one we need to engage with. It comes down to this simple point: if we do not respect what we are doing during the period of meditation, nobody will. Understanding what we are doing is called “the view,” and it is very important. It helps us build inspiration and feeling. If we don’t feel inspired to be present for our life, we will not continue meditat- ing, and if we do not know how being present feels, we will not be able to rest with that feeling and help it grow. So it is important to know why we are sitting here, looking as if we’re doing nothing. In the meditative tradition, we regard every feel- ing and perception as an opportunity to tune into the present moment. The reason we meditate is that most of the time we are too caught up in thoughts to feel where we are, and be there. To feel, we need to relax. By taking an upright sitting posture, we enable the body to relax and the mind to be awake. This is the first step in building a strong meditation practice. Then we use the breath to train in mindfulness of feeling. Releasing thoughts and coming back to the feeling of the breath automatically bestows some insight: “It is so hard, but this is how I feel.” What follows such awareness is a feeling of openness, gentleness, and curiosity. If we respond to the thought with “I am bad” or “These thoughts are making me feel worse, I must get rid of them,” med- itation becomes a battle of sorts, and a feeling of pressure sets in. Meditation is supposed to feel good. In fact, when we are sim- ply being and feeling, we appreciate; we find that we are naturally less discursive and less critical. That’s because practice is different from conceptualizing. Most people meditate just with the head— “How am I doing?” Or perhaps they feel, and then think, “Well, what I am feeling cannot possibly be what the meditators are talk- ing about.” When we do that, we are disempowering ourselves. We need to let go of our conceptual mind and be with the feeling. To be aware of how our mind feels and learn to stay with it requires taking time out every day, even briefly, for a period of self- reflection. If you have a hard time sitting still, you can stand, or walk slowly—or even just find a nice chair where you can sit down, relax, and self-reflect. We all need that moment. Even though we are quiet and still, a lot is happening during this period of rest: we heal and we develop. It is how we learn and how we change. Such moments of self-reflection are not especially encouraged in our culture. It is up to us to see their importance, especially as the world becomes speedier. Just as exercise is considered a PHOTOBYLIZAMATTHEWS Stop, Relax, Wake Up Meditation practice, says SAKYONG MIPHAM, gives us time to slow down and really wake up to the naturally occurring love in our hearts.