by guest author Peter Fernando, A Month of Mindfulness
I like to consider what ‘meditation’ is, from the perspective of a beginner, or someone who’s never heard of it.
Sometimes the more I think I know about something, the further away I get from really knowing the heart of it!
So, having reflected on it, from an experiential place, I reckon this thing called ‘meditation’ actually just consists of four qualities, or skills in the mind:
Take an object, such as the feeling of the breath in the body, and determine to focus on it. Keep coming back to it. Remember it. Make an effort to focus. This effort will gradually form a pathway in the mind, and it will become easier to focus, for longer periods of time. The quality of focused attention will become stronger, more palpable, and gather an energy of presence into itself.
Feel for a place in the body where you can feel the rhythm, sensation or texture of the breath. Allow attention to rest there. Feel the flow, the pulse, the direct sense of breath as fully as you can. When the mind gets caught in thinking about this, that, me, him, her, tomorrow or next week, re-kindle your interest in this simple inquiry:
- What does the breath feel like, right here, right now?
- What is it like to feel it fully, in a direct, embodied way?
2) Be aware of your thoughts
Focusing on one object doesn’t mean we can’t be aware of what’s arising and passing on the peripheries. On the contrary, the quality of focus on the breath is enhanced by cultivating an all-round awareness of how the mind is trying to kidnap our attention, moment to moment. So we don’t become focused through willpower – we become focused through being aware of what, how and why we want to drift off somewhere else!
See your thoughts in the same way as you would a movie. Say, the ‘Hunger Games‘, for instance. It’s riveting, it’s captivating – but something in you knows it’s just a movie. It’s just images on a screen. In reality you’re sitting on a seat, in a movie theatre. Amplify that in you which knows this. Trust it. Rest in it. Remember that it is what is actually happening, right now.
3) Feel your body as fully as you can.
The mind doesn’t only exist in the head. The mind is everywhere! In our toes, in our bellies, in our shoulder blades. So an all round, embodied attention goes a long way in terms of knowing our own mind. The body is a treasure trove, full of hidden secrets. Often what seem to be purely physical sensations reveal themselves to be aspects of our subconscious, or our primal mind. Through embodied attention these begin to reveal themselves and unfold quite naturally.
Notice that you have a picture of ‘my body’ in your mind. Notice that underneath that picture there is actually a field of sensations. Choose any area – your hands, your belly, your face, and notice that actually it isn’t a picture at all. It’s sensation. Feel it. Connect to it. Be curious about it. You are now in the present moment, beneath the realm of thought.
4) Be kind.
One easy way to lose interest in meditation is to start judging oneself.
‘Why am I having these stupid thoughts?’
‘Why doesn’t my mind shut up?’
These kind of internal attacks only serve to make us more agitated, and create a war-zone in the mind! On the other hand, kindness is curious, and free of compulsive judging. It listens, it is interested in this moment. It’s an attitude of heart.
When focus, awareness, and full-feeling are engaged from a place of kindness and warmth, they work much better. The absence of kindness makes things feel hard, ‘wrong’, and unworkable. The presence of kindness makes every manifestation of mind feel normal. Even the crazy states. Even the thoughts we feel embarrassed about. All of it. It’s all here to be seen, held, and attended to with great compassion – for ourselves. Meditation flows much easier from this place.
Relax any sense you have that your thoughts shouldn’t be happening. See the thoughts in your mind, the moods in your heart as natural processes.
Just thoughts. Just moods. Don’t do anything about them. Nothing. Receive them in your awareness as you would a good friend. Here they are. They are just as they are. You don’t have to believe anything they say. But your heart is open to them. Notice how this automatically relaxes and releases tension in the mind.
And that, in four easy steps, is meditation. Focus. Awareness. Feelings. Kindness. Anyone can do it, anywhere, anytime. Even you.