Category Archives: guided meditation

Gratitude for this moment, just as it is

If you live in the US, Happy Thanksgiving! No matter where you live, gratitude is joyful to cultivate even without a harvest feast.
Maybe you can make a long list of all that you are grateful for. My list includes my favorite seasonal fruits shown here: easy-to-peel satsuma mandarin oranges and crunchy fuyu persimmons. Delicious! Yet how easy it would be to turn this simple pleasure into suffering. I could long for these fruits the rest of the year and dread when their short season ends. Training my mind to appreciate each fruit in its season didn’t come easily. I had to notice my impatience, my craving and my sadness when the season passed. Obviously I’m not just talking about persimmons and tangerines. This practice applies to all life.
Maybe finding things to be grateful for isn’t easy for you right now. Maybe it feels like a chicken scratching in the dust, and nothing’s coming up. Stop scratching! You won’t find anything nourishing. Instead, try this:

CULTIVATING GRATITUDE FOR THIS MOMENT

Pause to rest in the spaciousness of this moment just as it is.
You will probably find some tension in the body. To release the tension, tighten everything up first:
Inhale and tighten your muscles, squenching up your face, tightening your jaw. Bring your shoulders up toward your ears. Tighten your arms to your sides. Clench your fist, your belly, your buttocks, your thighs, your calves and your feet — tight, tight, tight — and then when you can’t hold it anymore, release. Release your breath, release your muscles, let everything go. Ahhhhhh.

Let yourself rest in this more relaxed state. Just discovering how much tension you may have been holding and how easily it is released is cause for at least some gratitude, right? But wait, there’s more:

Notice sounds — whether you find them pleasant or unpleasant, just let them be sound, the unique symphony of now, never to be repeated in just this way. A symphony just for you and all you have to do is be present to listen. Whether the symphony is subtle or noisy, sense into whatever you notice: the rhythms, the volume, the tones, the pitch, the pulsing, the beat, the variety, the layering.

Open your eyes and let them rest on whatever is here, without naming the objects or judging what you see. Just notice light and shadow, color, texture, distance, shapes and the molecular interaction of all of these including the molecules of the air that surrounds the solid objects. 

Now close your eyes and sense in to the pressure where body meets whatever is supporting it. Feel the texture of whatever clothing or furniture comes in contact with skin. Feel free to trace the fabric with your fingers to activate more awareness of texture.

Feel the temperature of the air, and the stillness or movement of it. Feel whatever is going on in the body — pain, tension, energy, pleasant sensations and numbness. Wiggle the toes to activate awareness in the furthest reaches of the body. Taste the inside of the mouth. 

Breath in softly and smell the air. Notice the breath, rising and falling. 

Do this for as long as you like.


When we are able to release fully into this moment, savoring each sensation with fresh attention, we can notice how the very moment we thought was so ordinary, is in fact extraordinary because we are alive to notice it. 

And what we notice may surprise us. We might discover a deep sense of gratitude. This isn’t a gratitude conditioned on whether what we find is the way we wanted it to be. No little sensory exercise is going to change the facts of a situation. If we have suffered a loss, we still grieve. This life does not come without pain. But when we pay close attention, we can see the ways we exacerbate the pain, and conversely the way we can hold all that is arising in our experience in a more compassionate way. We have access to a less critical noticing. 

We may feel gratitude for simply being alive in this moment, understanding that this moment is the only one that is real. All other moments are just memory thoughts, planning thoughts and worry thoughts. When we find ourselves dwelling in them to the point that it blinds us to the beauty of this moment, we suffer unnecessarily. 

This moment, fully relaxed, filled with compassion for ourselves and all beings, is the gateway to sensing the infinite interconnection of life. We discover we don’t need a list of reasons to be grateful. Gratitude is ingrained in the sense of being fully alive in this moment just as it is.

New to the practice?
If you are new to the practice and this access to the moment sounds like a pipe dream, be with the pipe dream, see it for what it is. Let it inform your experience of this moment. Keep practicing being present with whatever is. Stay focused on the senses, noticing. Notice everything. Notice the judgments, notice the emotions, notice the thoughts. Just notice. Maybe it feels like a big tangle, a tight knot, inaccessible. Be with that! Notice and notice again.

Meditation is like any new skill. At first paying attention to the present moment feels like trying to balance on the head of a pin. The moment we realize we’re on it, we fall off. But with patience, intention, compassion and consistent practice, we begin to notice the head of the pin getting larger until we feel present for longer and longer periods, and it becomes the foundation of our lives.

There’s no hurry. There’s just the practice. Wanting to get ‘there’ only seals the door and locks us out of the possibility of accessing awareness. For there is no ‘there,’ only ‘here.’ Just this experience. Can you feel gratitude for the rise and fall of your breath? Can you feel gratitude for the moment you discover your mind has wandered into thoughts (as minds often do!!) and you are able to refocus on the senses? Can you let go of any need to ‘put on a happy face’ or ‘look on the bright side’? This is not about becoming a new improved you. This is simply becoming present, acknowledging that there are kinder ways to be with our experience that are more honest and true.

Thanksgiving
When we relax into simple awareness of this moment, we fully inhabit our bodies and minds in a way that enables us to live an authentic, heartfelt generous and meaningful life. Accessing the infinite wisdom of simple presence, simple awareness, brings clarity and gratitude.

Come up for air!

Every swimmer comes up for air and the skillful ones have developed a method of incorporating their breathing so that it is natural and effortless

Just so, our meditation practice might be seen as coming up for air, rising above the sea of thoughts that are ‘drowning’ us. While in the insight meditation tradition, we simply focus on the breath and other sensations, sometimes it’s useful to try a little imagery to refocus our attention. Most of my students found this very helpful, but it’s not for everyone. If the metaphor of water is uncomfortable for any reason, you can dry the experience out and still have that sense of coming up for air, of rising above the world of busy thoughts.


MEDITATION
Settle in as you would for any meditation, relaxing and releasing tension and noticing sensation, Now focus on the light on your eyelids. Then, if you can, lift your gaze just a bit more. That sense of lift enables you to rise above all the thinking-thinking and to breathe clear air in.

Rest here awhile, breathing out and in.
Let the air breathe you!
Let the freshness in!

If you find yourself sinking, just begin again.
This is a lot to take in,
but you were made to swim, not wallow

Spend as long as you like meditating.


Here are the instructions for after meditation, when you are relaxed and have the time to notice thoughts as they arise in your experience. If you’ve been following these dharma posts, you’ll recognize the Three Poisons of greed, aversion and delusion. One of my students found it helped to remember the three with the acronym GAD. To take her thought a little further, when we find ourselves caught up in Greed/Aversion/Delusion, we are GADabouts, and when we come across one of them, we might say e-GAD! I’m all for any way to help us skillfully recognize them when they are present, and help us compassionately release them.

AFTER MEDITATION EXPLORATION

If you want to dive deeper, keep coming up for air
so it stays clear what you’re seeing down there.
You’ll find all kinds of creatures in the deep
but notice how they fall into three categories:

There are greedy gulpers, eating more than they need

There are grumpy gashers, attacking everything they see,

and the go along to get alongs can’t see up from down or right from wrong

Greed, aversion and delusion:
They are all there, and they pair down there.
They take all forms and create all kinds of drama
and once you buy into it, oh baby, you’re a goner.

See what you see but make no enemies.

When you’re running with the pack
and fear drives your every move
come up for air, come for air, come up for air!

When you’re gorging on the goodies
and you still feel unsatisfied
come up for air, come for air, come up for air!

When you’re so convinced you’re right
that you’re uncomfortable with questions
come up for air, come for air, come up for air!

The air is fresh and free and you’ll feel fine again
you were meant to breathe even while you swim


Having only had this idea a week ago, I am still experimenting, and you can too. I am finding that ‘Come up for air’ is useful instruction at any time during the day if I am caught up in thinking-thinking. It’s very clarifying.
Let me know if this is helpful to you, both the meditation and the self-exploration. Comment by clicking on ‘reply’. — Stephanie

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Meditating with Insight Timer

2017-03-05-09-48-24If you don’t have a regular meditation practice and would like to establish one, I highly recommend using Insight Timer. It is an app that you install on your phone, computer or tablet to help you stay on track with your regular meditation practice. (There are other apps of this nature, but I have only had experience with Insight Timer.)

Why use Insight Timer?

  • It will time your meditation so you don’t have to keep looking at the clock.
  • It provides a beginning and ending bell that is very satisfying.
  • It reminds you that you are not alone in this endeavor, that at this very moment thousands of people around the world are also meditating. There’s a map of where they all are as well as profile photos. A global sangha!
  • It provides guided meditations (including my own) for all different kinds of meditative experiences: To relax, to develop awareness or to get to sleep, for example.
  • It provides talks by teachers, although if you are seeking dharma talks, I would recommend dharmaseed.org.
  • You can find community in the many different online groups that focus on various traditions or aspects. For example, I belong to ‘Women Who Meditate’ and ‘American Buddhists’.
  • It’s free! While there are advanced features that cost some minimal amount, this is a free service offered by people in the tradition of generosity.
  • It keeps track of how much you are meditating and gives you congrats and stars for consistent practice. While this may feel like being in grade school, it is not surprising that most of us still respond to stars, especially when aligned with our core intention.
  • You can set it up to remind you to meditate at whatever time you want. Especially useful for a beginner who hasn’t established the habit of meditating at a certain time of day.

How to use Insight Timer

First download the app. https://insighttimer.com

If you are installing it on your phone, it’s wise to put your shortcut to it on your main screen so it is up front to remind you to meditate. Apps for mind traps like social media and games can be put on subsequent screens. You’ll find them! Besides Insight Timer’s Buddhist bell logo is a powerful emblem of your deepest intention to stay present and compassionate.

In the app, you will set up your profile. There are many privacy options so explore and see what works for you. As you feel more at ease with the program, you may want to revisit your profile and adjust. You may just want to start by sharing your first name and a peaceful nature photo. 

In settings (the little gear image), make ‘Timer’ your opening screen. This will help you stay on track and not get lost in checking out groups, etc. when your intention was to meditate. It’s so easy to get distracted in social media, so make it easier to start your meditation than to get caught up in the comments in the ‘groups’ section. Even though it is a supportive community, if it is keeping you from meditating, it’s just another distraction!

On the timer page you will put in how many minutes you want to meditate and what sounds you want at the beginning and end. The free bells are really nice. but perhaps you prefer something different.

Now you are all set to meditate!

If you are a beginner, I suggest setting the timer for ten or fifteen minutes at the most to start. You can always continue to meditate after the end bell rings if you feel like it. And, if you want ‘credit’ for the full time you meditated, just check the little box above ‘DONE’ that asks if you want to log your extra minutes.

Each day you can then add more time in five minute increments, until you are meditating anywhere between twenty and forty minutes a day. Find what works best for you. There is no rule. Just developing a regular daily practice of any length is something to celebrate.

After meditation, the phone is right there, so handy, but try not to get involved right away exploring the groups, checking email or browsing social media. Instead stay present with the quality you have cultivated in your meditation. Do some mindful self-care, make yourself a cup of something to drink with mindfulness, practice mindfulness as you do meal prep, household chores, dog-walking, etc., keeping that quality of spacious ease active. If your mind is busy with some challenge you are facing, this period of deeper awareness after meditation is a good time to do some inner inquiry, journaling, walking in nature, and being open to the wisdom that is more likely to come when you have cultivated quiet receptivity.

If at a different time you want to more fully explore Insight Timer, you might look into the communities. There are many! If you want to join in, it’s easy to request to be a member. If you like the conversations, you can visit often and get involved by ‘liking’ and/or commenting. Once you comment, you will get notifications whenever anyone else comments, so it may get more involving than you want. But it also might be just the sangha you are seeking. If you want to post in these communities, bring your Wise Speech to bear before posting: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it timely? What is my intention here? If you share an experience, try to give the gist of it rather than the details, especially if it involves other people. The groups on Insight Timer are meant to be about inspiring each other to practice, so if your sharing is not helpful in that way, reconsider sharing it. This is not a gossip mill or a therapist’s office.

Using Insight Timer, or another similar app, can be very skillful. But meditating with your phone by your side can be challenging. Set your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb’ if you are likely to get tantalizing sound notifications that you have a message, email or phone call. If this is too difficult, forget about Insight Timer! Meditate the old fashioned way with your phone in another room.

Whatever you do, may it support your ongoing meditative practice.

Develop concentration in your meditation practice

breathConcentration is the heart of the practice. It is how we cultivate Mindfulness. We center in and focus on the senses that are activated in the present moment. Instead of talking about it, I will offer a couple of concentration exercises for you to use.

The first is a focus on the breath. For meditators who struggle with finding the breath and staying with it, this will really help.

GUIDED MEDITATION ON THE BREATH

All sensations can be the focus of concentration practice. Sound is a particularly pleasurable sensation to attend. Here is a recording I made of a series of sounds.

MEDITATION ON SOUND

After spending time editing the recording of bells and various water sounds in nature, I was washing up the breakfast dishes and, because I was in that listening space, the sounds were absolutely amazing and wonderful. (It reminded me of being on retreat and, by the fourth day, the racket of clatter in the dining hall sounded like a beautiful symphony to me. What a gift to myself to find the joy and the beauty in simple sounds.) 

I wondered if my students, after meditating on sounds for a good part of the class, would also find the washing up so intoxicating. So we assembled in the kitchen and I did a short meditation at the sink. And indeed, with their eyes closed and their attention focused, they also enjoyed the ‘symphony’ of pouring water from pot to glass to sink and around again.

Next time you are washing up, you might try it for yourself. (Of course, don’t be wasteful of the water!)

As with all the aspects of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, I have written quite a bit. If you are interested, feel free to check them out.

https://stephanienoble.com/2009/04/22/eightfold-path-right-concentration/

https://stephanienoble.com/2011/02/23/eightfold-path-spacious-concentration/

https://stephanienoble.com/2013/09/22/wise-concentration-the-four-jhanas/

https://stephanienoble.com/2015/05/24/concentration-the-problem-with-problems/

https://stephanienoble.com/2015/06/02/breath-focus-continues/

https://stephanienoble.com/2015/06/09/thoughts-emotions-in-meditation-continuing-the-anapanasati-sutta/

https://stephanienoble.com/2015/06/12/the-wisdom-of-the-breath-the-last-tetrad-of-the-anapanasati-sutta/