I mentioned in the previous post that as meditators and Buddhist practitioners we have three main intentions: First to develop a regular practice, second to return again and again to the present moment, and third to practice kindness to ourselves and others. In this post we will explore these three intentions in a little more and find useful means to help keep our intentions.
Intention: To develop a regular meditation practice
Setting the intention to develop a regular practice involves first recognizing that the practice is valuable. To the degree that we have already practiced, in a class or retreat, we may have begun to notice a subtle or perhaps significant change in our lives. This recognition of the gift of meditation sparks the desire and fosters the discipline to maintain a regular practice.
Setting up a regular practice requires a few practical decisions. Where, when and for how long will we practice?
Choosing a place to practice in your home, you will want to find somewhere you can sit comfortably erect where you will not be disturbed. Many people find creating a specific space is useful in reminding them to practice – everything set up just so. But this is a very portable practice, and place is ultimately not that important. Sitting in the airport waiting for a flight is as good a place as any. But in this tender time of developing a regular practice, designating a specific spot in your home and setting out reminders – a zafu cushion, an altar, a bell, for example, can be visual aids to remind you to practice. But place alone is not enough.
Setting a specific time that works best in your daily schedule and keeping that date with yourself no matter what is very important. Let meditation be the non-negotiable focal point of your day, and work everything else around it. For many, first thing in the morning is the best time. It’s usually quiet, easy to be alone while others sleep or have already left for the day, and is less likely to be interrupted by phone calls or doorbells. Usually the mind is not yet full of the day’s story, making the sitting easier. If mornings are a busy time for you, you can either get up earlier so you can have the time, or choose another time of day that works best, not just on some days but every day. Right before bed is another time of day that is usually available, but it is more challenging as most of us are inclined to fall asleep.
Setting a length of time for your practice is also important. Ideally you want to meditate for 30 – 40 minutes, or twice a day for 20 minutes each. There are no hard and fast rules on this, but its important that when you set a time you keep it. If you are new to meditation, starting with ten minutes, then working up to a longer meditation is a good way to go. You can set a timer to help you stay with the meditation.
Taking your personal practice seriously can be challenging at first. You are not used to sitting in silence with your eyes closed, and when your thoughts wander you might actually physically begin to wander, acting upon a thought of something you have to do. Be kind to yourself during this adjustment period, but don’t give up! When you find yourself reaching for the phone or standing at the refrigerator door, with great compassion but firmness bring yourself back to your practice.
Intention: To be fully in the present moment
In our practice we find ourselves lost in thought and we bring ourselves gently back to an awareness of the breath and sensations in the body. In our daily lives we can also use this embodiment practice, just sensing in to our general sense of aliveness, as well as to any specific sensations. We can run our hand against a texture – a rough fabric, a smooth stone, the bark of a tree. We can listen to sounds without attaching story to them that leads us into memories. We can look around us with fresh eyes, noticing light and shadow, pattern, color, varying levels of detail, etc. – using our artist eyes even if we never intend to paint what we see. We can really taste our food as we eat, savoring the melding flavors.
To help you stay in the moment notice when you are multi-tasking and decide which thing you will stop doing and which you will continue to do right now. Giving full attention to whatever we are doing is necessary in order to stay in the moment.
Notice when you are doing something out of habit, i.e. mindlessly. We want to bring mindfulness to all our doings. For some people it helps to turn habits into rituals. Think Japanese tea ceremony and the possibility of bringing a beauty and artfulness into making the bed, brushing your teeth, washing up, and cooking. On retreat we each have yogi jobs in which we learn to be mindful while doing simple useful tasks. It changes everything to have these daily duties change from things to be gotten through before ‘real life’ begins to being the essence of life well and fully lived.
Pay attention to the moments in between ‘real life’: waiting in line, waiting on hold on the phone, waiting at a stop light. See these as opportunities to pause, calm down, sense into the body, to be fully present with all that we see and experience. Don’t waste your time ‘killing time,’ filling these periods with mindless distractions. Each moment is a precious gift if only we can bring our full awareness to it, no matter what is going on.
For more about staying in the moment go to the Archive and read the posts in July 2008.
Intention: To be kind to ourselves and others
Developing kindness begins with noticing how we are treating ourselves and others now. When we are nice to people, is it an act or our true feelings being expressed? When it’s an act, then it’s not kindness, not a true caring. Instead it’s using kindness as a tool to keep ourselves safe from potential harm, or using it to obtain a desired result. That’s not really kindness at all.
If this false kindness is our modus operandi, once we know people, we may feel we can let down our guard. And because we see kindness as a shield or a tool, we might feel we can set down our shield and let our true feelings out. Perhaps we misinterpret a sense of connection as entitlement to impose our opinions, or we think we are creating intimacy by being (maybe teasingly) abusive. We may treat the ones we love with less respect, because for us respect is based in fear, and we no longer fear them. We may feel we have a certain shorthand together so we can skip the niceties of please and thank you. Or perhaps we feel that those close to us should understand us and we shouldn’t have to be kind.
These kinds of interactions with others are usually about power, and the need for power is rooted in fear. So when we stop to listen to how we talk to ourselves in our minds, it’s not surprising to find we are calling ourselves names and beating ourselves up at every turn. Rooted in fear, seeing the world as a dangerous place and ourselves as bumbling idiots making mistake after mistake, it is almost impossible to be truly kind.
True kindness stems from the Right View, from that shift of vantage point from seeing ourselves as separate in need of creating a protective fortress and operating our of fear, to seeing ourselves as an integral part of the universe, as interconnected with all life. We see that we are yet another expression of the loving creative mystery.
Once we make this shift – even a brief glimpse of this wise understanding can transform a whole life, the way one drop of something can flavor a whole glass of water – then we can become the natural conduits of the loving energy (metta/loving kindness) that flows through and around us, previously unnoticed.
This is vital understanding. We have all experienced the ‘kindness’ of people whose body language spoke otherwise, and we have felt the discomfort of that dishonesty. From our deeper more spacious vantage point, we can have compassion for them. Because we can imagine how they treat themselves, how cruel their inner conversation must be. We know because we have experienced it ourselves.
In order to develop true kindness, we must start with ourselves. We will explore this more fully in an upcoming post on Right Speech as we notice the language we use when we talk to ourselves. But there is much more about loving kindness/metta in the August 2008 posts. Check the archive.
Setting these three simple intentions will radically enhance your life. Start with one of them, the one that resonates most deeply right now, and begin. Then begin again. No matter how many times you lose the intention, it is there for you. Keep it alive. Write it down and put it some place you will come across it often. Explore it with as much spaciousness and compassion as you can. The rewards are infinite, and absolutely free!