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Lions Roar : July 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2008 71 tips just barely touching. Cast your eyes downward (you can close them if you like, but watch out not to get too dreamy or sleepy) and begin by sweeping your awareness lightly through the body: forehead, eyes, cheeks, jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, and so on. The point is to arrive in the body, to be aware of the body as sensa- tion and process, to ground yourself in the body as basis so that thought and emotion don’t fly too far afield. Once you are actually sitting there, all of you, mind and body in one place, begin to turn your attention to the breath. Breathe in and out gently through the nose, paying attention to the breath in the abdomen area. Begin with counting the breath, saying the numbers silently, one to ten, with each exhale. If you lose count, go back to one and begin again, as much as possible without blame or dismay. Once you can count fairly well, or get bored with counting, next just follow the breath in the belly, feeling it there, in, out, in, out, and so on (you can say these words, or, bet- ter, just be with the sensation, or, still better, be the sensation). If this begins to make you sleepy, or if you would just like to move on, see the whole breath more brightly and fully: become aware of the beginning, middle, and end of the inhalation; the beginning middle and end of the exhalation; the odd and almost imperceptible places where inhalation ends and exhalation be- gins; or exhalation ends and inhalation (after a nonbreathing gap) begins. Every breath is a whole life: see if you can feel that life and live it fully, from one end of it to the other. If you can, and would like to, move on, then make the breath vivid and alive, brighter and brighter, as if you were turning up a rheostat to make the light in your room gradually brighter. Now you don’t need to count, follow, or see the whole breath— just make it alive, breath after breath, until it is full of interest and passion. If you can get that far, then you will be able to let go of the breath altogether and just sit with an open awareness, open to sounds, thoughts, feelings, the whole universe that swirls around you and inside you. To summarize the process: establish awareness of the body; count; follow; discriminate the whole breath; make it alive; jump off. These are the steps, but it is not necessary to do them all, or to do them in this order. Be flexible with your practice and figure out for yourself what is most natural, what will work to give you a grounding strong enough to bring you back to the present mo- ment of your being alive right here where you are. Also, remem- ber to stay engaged with the feeling of the body the whole time, which you will find that you can do, even while you are paying attention to the breath. After twenty to thirty (or more!) minutes of meditation, if you have time, you may find it worthwhile to spend another fifteen minutes doing some spiritual reading, or some prayer, chanting, or other exercise or form of worship. Repetition is the soul of spiritual practice. In any tradi- tion I know of, there are daily practices like this one and a sense of faithfulness to a daily routine. This takes some gen- tle self-discipline, encouraged by some support from others within whatever spiritual community you can find to belong to. Doing the same thing over and over again may seem dull, but the more you immerse yourself in spiritual practice, div- ing into it day after day like jumping into the bracing ocean with its sunlit wavetips, the more wonderful it becomes. Life’s like that, too. We might seek novelty, but even where there seems to be novelty, what’s really going on underneath the surface is pattern repetition. Whether we are in Hawaii on vacation, sick in the hospital, or absorbed in our work- week, there is always going to sleep, waking up, eating, go- ing to the toilet, walking, standing, sitting, reclining, seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, feeling, thinking. Every day goes this way. The sun rises, the sun sets. Life comes, goes, and comes back again. You could see this as boring. Or you could realize that life’s archetypal repetition is a form of the journey of return, the deep joy of moment-by-moment renewal, with each breath and heartbeat. The daily routine of spiritual practices brings this reality home to us. Gertrude Stein, the great genius of repetition, once said, “The ques- tion of repetition is very important. It is important because there is no such thing as repetition.” Each moment in the ever-repeated pattern is, by virtue of the repetition, always new; whatever comes back around again in the great cycle of things is always fresh. Spiritual practice in all its manifestations is the practice of coming home. The journey of return is profound, but it is also vague and dark. It is, to a great extent, hidden from us. And yet we know about it. The world’s religious and imaginative literature gives us many hints and pointers, and we ourselves have inklings and flashes of it at the center of our experience and sometimes at the edges. So we know it is real and we know how much it matters. The journey of return involves not only our so-called “spiritual lives” but the whole of our lives, our work, relationships, creative ex- pression, dreams, sickness, wellness, and dying. Meditation practice is at the center of the journey of return, fueling and inspiring us. ♦ Excerpted from Sailing Home by Norman Fischer. Copyright © 2008 by Nor- man Fischer. Reprinted by permission from Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Every breath is a whole life: see if you can feel that life and live it fully. 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