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Lions Roar : September 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2010 44 James Baraz is a founding teacher of spirit rock meditation Center and leads retreats, workshops, and classes around the U.s. and abroad. With shoshana alexander, he is the author of awakening joy: 10 steps That will Put you on the road to real happiness (Bantam). since 2003, he has also led an online course at www.awakeningjoy.info. meditation is so crucial to being more mindful in all our daily activities. as with any skill, prac- ticing mindfulness in a formal way will help it to arise naturally and spontaneously. in the Theravada tradition, mindfulness meditation is called Vipassana, which means “to see things clearly.” when you are mindful you know what is actually happening in your present moment’s experience, without judging how it is or wishing it were different. if you have an itch, for example, mindfulness feels the sensation of itching with no agenda to get rid of it. it is the bare knowing of experience. when you’re mind- ful, the mind is fully present for what’s actually happening. you are not lost in thought. how exactly do you practice mindfulness medi- tation? as one of my teachers used to say, if you want to understand the mind, sit down and observe it. To begin, find a comfortable posture, sitting in a chair or on a meditation cushion or bench. your posture should be a balanced expression of alert- ness and ease. i like Thich Nhat hanh’s suggestion of thinking of yourself like a mountain—strong, worthy of respect, here for any changes in the weather system. at the same time, allow any places of tension or holding to release, letting go of any- thing that you don’t need. feel your connection to the earth and let it support you. it’s here for you. mindfulness training usually begins with awareness of breathing. you collect and focus your attention on the breath wherever you feel it most clearly—the in- and out-breath at the nos- trils, the rising and falling of the abdomen, or the whole body expanding and contracting. This is easier said than done, because the mind will soon wander into thought. anyone who has ever tried to meditate knows this. you may be lost for five seconds or five minutes, but when the mind is gone, it’s gone, and there’s little you can do about it. This is not bad. it’s just the way it is. The eye sees. The ear hears. The mind thinks. The mind is not the enemy. and it can be trained. The key moment in the meditative process is the moment you realize you’ve been wandering. how you respond to that fact determines how you will relate to meditation practice. if you react with frus- tration and judgment, you will strengthen those qualities. if you get hooked by the thought and say, “oh, let me go with this interesting thought,” you’ll be lost once again and, in a little while, feel more frustration. The secret to skillful meditation is bringing your attention back with great patience and kindness. instead of feeling frustrated because you’ve been lost, you can appreciate that you’ve woken up from your daydream. in doing so, you will develop a healthy relationship with your mind, as you cultivate patience and kindness along with mindful awareness. after establishing the breath as your connec- tion or anchor to the present, you can then in- clude any part of your experience as the subject of your mindfulness meditation. There is noth- ing outside the meditation field. whether it’s the breath, sensations, sounds, images, emotions, or the thinking process itself, you simply are aware of what is happening now, allowing your experi- ence to be just as it is. when a loud sound calls your attention, mindfulness knows that hear- ing is happening. if you’re restless, mindfulness knows that restlessness is here. if you are calm, mindfulness means simply knowing you are calm. mindfulness does not try to fix anything. along with kindness and patience, it’s impor- tant to let the mind be as relaxed and spacious as possible, so that it’s not contracted or tight. This allows you to more easily open to anything that arises. at the same time, if you bring a natural curiosity to what is happening in your experi- ence, you will be more engaged and less likely to get bored or sleepy. of course, when boredom or sleepiness come, they too are part of the mo- ment’s experience, so rather than trying to get rid of them, just include them. Practicing mindfulness in formal meditation with this relaxed, interested, non-judging aware- ness will help you develop these qualities in the rest of your life. you will see for yourself why the Buddha called mindfulness the most direct way to overcome suffering and realize great happi- ness. Good luck!