Category Archives: meditation techniques

In the vortex of the Eight Worldly Winds

Whatever is going on in your life right now, if you really pay attention, you will see that it is impermanent. For added help in seeing clearly what is arising and falling away, and how to be in skillful relationship with them, the Buddha divided the experiences, these ever-changing winds, into eight categories, presented in pairs. They are pleasure & pain, gain & loss, praise & censure, status & disgrace.
Think of something going on in your life right now and see if it fits in any of these categories.8WW.jpg

These Eight Worldly Winds are naturally occurring. There’s no way to avoid their arising and falling away in our experience. But we can be more skillful in how we are in relationship to them. First we notice how we react to them. Are we caught up in the winds, welcoming some and rebelling against others? In both cases we might feel at their mercy, tossed about hither and yon, feeling broken and bruised. Is this any way to live?
When I first learned about the Eight Worldly Winds, I was reminded of a meditation technique I used to do when my mind was abuzz with planning, worrying, reliving past moments, etc. In meditation I would imagine my thoughts like a whirlwind circling around me. I would sit cultivating such stillness that the thoughts, in contrast, seemed to be whirling faster and faster until they blurred together and my mind could not latch onto any particular worry or plan or regret or desire. I sometimes actively stirred the winds, creating a vortex where I could sit in the lightness of the center. Amidst it all, I was able to be at peace. (You might think of poaching an egg, how you stir up a vortex in a pot of hot water, slip the egg in and it holds its shape. No vinegar needed in this meditation recipe, however. 😉 )
If we sit this way, either creating a vortex or simply allowing the winds to pass through our spacious field of compassionate awareness, we cultivate a space for the calm quiet voice of our own inner wisdom to be heard. If our meditation practice is regular, and especially if we give ourselves the gift of going on retreat occasionally, we empower our ability to listen in to that wisdom, and let it gently guide us to be skillful, ethical, kind and balanced. (Note: If the inner voice is strident or demanding, it’s not the wise inner voice, but a fear-based aspect trying to run the show. No need to make an enemy of it. Treat it with respect, negotiate reasonably, but don’t follow it’s instructions!)
We see the impermanence of all that arises: the pleasure and the pain, the loss and the gain, the praise and the censure, the status and disgrace. We can dance with the wind as a willow tree’s branches sway, while being deeply rooted in wisdom, instead of shallowly rooted and ultimately uprooted by the passing winds of life.
As we go about our day, if we are present and compassionate, we can see the Eight Worldly Winds more easily. When one of them blows through our field of experience, we can acknowledge it but we don’t have to chase after it or run from it.
Can we appreciate gain without fearing loss? For example, can we allow ourselves to love without holding back because we fear losing the person we love?
Can we understand loss as a natural part of the experience of being alive in this impermanent world? Can we be compassionate with ourselves in our grief, but also see it all as part of the dance of life?
Can we enjoy a pleasure as it arises in our experience without getting caught up in craving it and clinging to it?
Can we recognize pain as a bodily messenger to heed and attend? And if the pain is beyond remedy, can we be present with the many sensations within what we label ‘pain’, and recognize how they arise and fall away like parts of a symphony? Can we find other sensations that are happening in other parts of the body at the same time that are neutral or pleasant, and see that the pain is just one aspect of all that is arising in our experience?
Can we accept praise without seeking it? Can we accept praise without reacting against it? Can we accept praise without doubting the praise giver’s truthfulness or intentions?
Can we accept censure when we have done something unskillful and do what we can to make amends? Can we look within and see how this unskillfulness happened, and set the intention to be more skillful in the future? If we are blamed for something we did not do, can we handle our response with clarity and compassion, seeking solutions instead of getting caught up in the blame game.
In relationship to elevated status, can we let it be simply a byproduct of something authentic and skillful that we have done? Can we not see it as a goal or a solution to the emptiness within?
If our reputation is tarnished and we experience disgrace, can we handle it with grace? Can we make reparations? Can we take the opportunity to look within and see how we may have erred. If the accusations are false, can we be skillful in how we respond instead of making it worse or confirming opinions?
At the very core can we remember that none of these Eight Worldly Winds are who we are? When we set the intention to be present in this moment, compassionate with ourselves and others, the Eight Worldly Winds do not define our lives. We all experience gains and losses. We all experience pleasure and pain. We all experience praise and censure. We all experience status or disgrace, to varying degrees. We may experience a variety of emotions and thoughts around them. But as we rest in awareness and compassion, we are supported by a deeper understanding of the nature of our experience that comes from our wise intention and the skillful efforts that follow from it.
Coming into skillful relationship with the Eight Worldly Winds, we can use the questions we have been exploring in the previous posts.
When we ask What is my intention here? we might see that we are chasing praise, pleasure, gain or status, or fighting or fleeing from censure, pain, loss and disgrace. We can look at what we are afraid of. We can pay attention to the stories that arise out of that fear, and we can ask if it is really true.
The person seeking fame may discover the fear of disappearing, not being seen at all. Let’s say they do become famous. Now they are still afraid because they are not being seen for who they really are. Being seen can be pleasurable, but if fear of not being seen is a prime motivator, then all kinds of misery ensues.
The person seeking pleasure may be running away from the pain in their lives. But the pleasure they seek, if overindulged, may ultimately exacerbate the pain.
The person seeking praise feels lost and needs constant acknowledgement in the form of praise to help them feel like they exist at all. They prefer praise, but if it’s not available, then censure gets attention too. At least they are visible!
The person who seeks gain may need it to build their sense of self, to impress others, to prove their worth, or they have a gripping fear of scarcity from some earlier life experience. There is no amount of worldly goods that will satisfy this need. Loss then reflects poorly on them. They may have more than they need to lead a comfortable life many times over, but loss is still threatening, defining them as a ‘loser’.
But if we recognize the existence of the Eight Worldly Winds and see their impermanent nature, we can be in a more skillful in relationship with them. If we practice meditation regularly and openly explore what arises in our field of awareness, we can dance gracefully like willow branches swaying in the wind.
As you go through your day, see if you can recognize which of the Eight Worldly Winds present themselves to you. Then notice how you are in relationship to them. See if you can allow each of them to flow through without making an enemy of it, chasing it or clinging to it. It’s a challenge and a lifelong practice well worth doing.
Report back!

Befriending the Breath

In the vipassana meditation tradition we are taught to focus on the breath. Why? Aren’t there more interesting things to focus on? Certainly there can be. Take listening, for example.

Yesterday in class we sat outside in the cool morning air and did a listening meditation, as if it were a symphony. There were many distinct sounds: sawing, hammering, traffic noises, bird calls and more. Each was like musical instrument playing its part. It was a magnificent symphony.

A listening meditation is lovely when there is rain. It’s also good for in a public space, like at the gate waiting for a flight at the airport. I remember in 2003 in the lead-up to the Iraq war, sitting with other meditators organized by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship as all the peace marchers assembled at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco. What a listening meditation that was! The sound of voices over a microphone rallying the troops, the conversations of nearby marchers getting together, the rustling and footsteps that passed by around us. When the march began we rose to take our part, feeling focused and united in purpose. We were the peace we wanted to see in the world.

Even sitting inside in a quiet room there will be sounds to listen to: the heater, the refrigerator, someone clearing their throat or coughing, some rustling perhaps, a cell phone going off (oops!), and allowing the sounds to be a symphony rather than an annoyance is skillful.

In my poetry classroom at College of Marin, we have a wall of glass facing a busy street near a fire station. Last week during the four-day annual poetry intensive, I found myself coming into relationship with that sound and here’s a poem I wrote.

Siren Song

What if the siren
echoing down the street
doppleganging by
the classroom window
is the red blur of God,
the tender wail of wanting
all beings to be well?

So listening can be a very powerful meditation when sound is the most dominant sensation you notice. And that’s the key word, ‘dominant’. We pay attention to all the senses as we begin our practice, and we might ask ‘What is the dominant sensation in this moment?’

Sometimes the most dominant sensation might be a pain in the body. If we spend time with that sensation we can notice a ‘symphony’ of more subtle sensations. We see that what we have been labeling ‘pain’ is not one solid experience but an ever-changing arising and falling away of a whole series of sensations, each one tolerable and even kind of interesting. This is not to make light of pain. I deal with chronic pain a lot in my life and at times it can feel overwhelming. But it has helped to recognize that much of the agony has to do with how I get lost in thoughts about the pain rather than really paying attention to the micro-sensations that compose it, how they arise and fall away, get stronger and softer, appear and disappear.

But generally, for most of us most of the time, as things settle down at the beginning of our practice, aches and pains are not dominant. If they are present, we sense that there are also other sensations going on in the field of our experience that are pleasant or neutral. We don’t replace one with the other, but we just notice the full range of sensation within our field of experience.

And then, if things are relatively quiet and other sensations are reasonably mild, as we pay attention, we begin to notice, even if we haven’t been directed to, that the breath is the most dominant experience. And, not only is it dominant, it is ever present. It is the most reliable sensation we have. As long as we are alive, we have breath to focus on. The rhythm, pace and depth may change but the breath carries on. Dependable. And potentially very interesting. A perfect focus. Vipassana: Awareness of the breath.

breathMany people come to vipassana practice from other traditions, and I encourage them to experiment with focusing on the breath, but to also feel free to use whatever skillful means they have in their meditation ‘toolbox’ to bring themselves fully into the present moment.

I came to vipassana meditation over twenty years ago after many years of other forms. I found focusing on the breath a challenge in part because my mother died of emphysema and her last years were a painful struggle for breath, so focusing on my breath brought up my grief. It took me nine years to have the aha! moment when I realized that MY lungs were healthy. MY breath was fine. 

But even though it became easier, it still didn’t always feel compelling, and sometimes it felt dull, even boring. But I stayed with it because I know that ‘boring’ is just a label I was putting on it, that in fact it was a rich experience when I really paid attention. And now, all these many years later, I am having a new relationship with the breath, one that recognizes that as long as I am alive my breath is my constant companion, my most intimate, reliable and supportive friend.

And so I have been writing odes and love poems to my breath! Here are some examples.

My Heretofore Unnamed Friend

All these years
it never crossed my mind,
until now, to befriend my
greatest supporter.

Oh, what oversight!

So now, with gratitude
and deep appreciation,
I name this breath
my dearest friend.

 

Lifesaver

The breath is like a lifesaver
floating on the swells
of thought and emotion.
I rest there, gently rising and falling.
When I find myself swallowed up
and sucked down into the depths,
surfacing into that circle of breath
is both relief and rejoicing.

 

No Name Breath

Breath, aware
attending
each unnamed note
of earth’s symphony…
bird song, car door, heart beat.

Breath, aware
opening
infusion of light
bursting boundaries
dissolving cherished reference points
that heretofore defined me.

Breath, aware
this, this and only this
the unlimited
the unnameable
the ever present.

 

Rescue at the Well

In a moment of dread
the unwelcome upheaval:
churning chest,
catch in the throat
woozy wobble

I make my way to the middle
and stand by the well
where steady pumps
the influx the outflow

I attend the constant motion
of my most reliable friend
and in this abiding
monstrous mutiny melts.

All poems by Stephanie Noble copyright 2016

So I encourage you to investigate your own practice with whatever is the most dominant sensation at the time. And  befriend the breath! If you are religious, recognize all the spiritual words (even the word ‘spiritual’) assocatiated with breath. If you are more scientifically inclined, then the focus on the physical process that keeps your body alive and connected to all life is a wonderful place to ground your practice. Explore and enjoy!

Just a Minute

Last week we experimented with meditating for exactly one minute. Hopefully some of you tried it during the week as well. If so, what was your experience?

I notice that I feel much more relaxed, alert and present than I would have expected from just one minute of meditation. It made me realize that when we know we have 30 – 40 minutes we may take our sweet time getting into it, especially if we are on our own, without the introductory guidance of a teacher. In fact, meditation retreats are similar in that way. Whether we are attending a day long, a weekend retreat, a week-long or longer, there’s an arc that includes a ‘settling in’ period, a ‘sweet spot’ of varying duration, and then the either ‘eager for or dreading the end’ period. When we only have one minute we don’t have time to mess around. Experienced meditators can, if needed, drop right into that sweet spot. And that’s a sweet thing to know!

I am going to present this one minute mini-meditation to a group of non-meditators and it will be interesting to hear their experience of it. I have done this before to very positive effect. We discussed in class how parents and schools are routinely giving ‘time outs’ to children. I’d be curious to know if there is any instruction given with this time out that would make it a more beneficial meditative experience rather than simply a cooling off of raging emotional states. Instead of ‘Little Johnny seems less angry now” or “Sally seems truly sorry for what she did,” how about “Johnny and Sally seem more able to interact with the other children without resorting to violence, and they are paying more attention in class. They seem more grounded and happy.”

Even a minute of meditation helps us to be more present, relaxed and alert, like tuning a violin when it gets off key. Maybe we were a little out of tune with the moment — all tensed up, too tightly strung, or too loosely strung, tired and unable to focus, and now, after the minute of inward focus, we feel more in tune.

‘Taking a minute’ has always been an acceptable coping skill. Watching my granddaughter, I see that it is an inborn skill. When she first started becoming mobile she naturally found herself in awkward physical situations that were new for her. She would pause in place and become very still. She seemed to be sensing in to these new sensations for a bit before deciding how to proceed. She still needs a minute now and again just to transition and regroup, as do we all, whether we realize it or not.

As regular meditators, doing this tuning-in minute at any time during the day when it feels necessary serves to weave our meditation practice fully into the fabric of our lives so that we aren’t deluded into thinking that meditation is some isolated event in our day that we can forget about when we stop and return to habituated behaviors.

It can also aid our understanding of meditation, reminding us to be present, aware, not lost in dreamy fantasy. When a group of meditators sit in a circle in silence there are many different ways to experience meditation. Here is a poem I wrote about eleven years ago that illustrates the variety of experience meditators have, one from the other but also within any given meditation.

The Running Child Meditation

In the foyer of the meditation hall
a small child runs back & forth
back and forth, feet plopping & rising
& pausing & turning again.

Inside the sitting room a meditator
feels irritation rising up within her.
“What could that parent be thinking?
Why don’t they take that child outside?”

Another meditator is drawn
into a memory of her own children, now grown,
and the sweetness of the footfalls in the foyer.

Another notes in awe the boundless energy
of youth and feels her own lethargy.
“I am old,” she sighs.

Yet another is caught in the aching emptiness
of the old dream of the child she never had.
She hadn’t expected it to find her here
and feels a victim of its intrusion.

Another doesn’t notice the sound very much,
so loud are her own thoughts, planning, planning.

Another doesn’t hear the sound at all.
She is almost asleep in a fog and nodding,
catching her head each time it drops.

Another hears the sound as simple sound,
unattached to any image –
a rhythmic cadence, soft and round.

Another composes a poem in her head, titled
The Running Child Meditation.

And all of these meditators are me.

– Stephanie Noble, Spirit Rock, 2000

So the one minute attunement puts us in an instant state of being present with our experience. We don’t have time to settle in, to finish our thoughts or lollygag. I am reminded of Margaret Atwood telling our poetry class at UC Berkeley many years ago that when she was single she had all sorts of time-wasting rituals she would do before writing, including sharpening all her pencils to perfect points. Then she had a baby, and suddenly she had to decide between these rituals or really writing. So she just got right to the writing whenever the opportunity arose because there was no time for messing around. That has stayed with me and helps remind me to cut to the chase of whatever I am doing.

In our Vipassana or Insight meditation practice we have our intention to be present and to be compassionate to keep us anchored into our physical senses. We focus on one sensation such as the breath or we rest in an open field of awareness to receive and be present with whatever sensations arise and fall away. We may alternate between a concentrated focus and an open receptive awareness.

Meditators from different traditions have other ways of focusing such as inner mantras (sacred word silently repeated) or chanting. All forms have the ability to bring us fully present into a state of heightened awareness.

Daily meditation practice when anchored in intention has the potential to keep us present during our day. But if we think of meditation as separate from our ‘real’ lives, then we check it off our to-do list, or chalk it off as a pleasant respite and forget about it. This happens even after extended retreats where we have had amazing experiences and insights. We want it to last but most of us toss ourselves right back into the bubbling cauldron of daily life where our habitual patterns take hold pretty darn quick. We are advised to think of the last day of a retreat as the middle day, and to take as many days to gently reintroduce ourselves into our lives as we spent on retreat. For longer retreats the recommendation is for a day for each week of the retreat. But really, it’s an opportune time to reevaluate how much of our habitual lives we must reclaim? Do we really want to watch television instead of the sunset and the stars? Do we really need to tell everyone everything all the time? This transition out of retreat can be a sweet time of rich noticing and clear choosing, if we take the time to allow for that.

The addition of this minute attunement could serve to remind us that meditation is a practice to bring awareness into every moment of our lives.

Now some of us might wonder if this one minute tuning in is all we need. Maybe we don’t need a sitting practice at all. Each of us would have to answer that for ourselves. Immediately after a one minute attunement we might feel the wonderful relaxation and centeredness we feel after a longer sitting practice. But how long do we feel that way? How often do we have to have these minutes in order to feel the sense of connection, aliveness and joy we experience with a regular daily practice? This would be an interesting experiment for those who want to try it.

I know from many decades of personal experience that daily practice replenishes my sense of connection and going on a long retreat deepens that sense immeasurably. It has truly transformed my default life view. I realized this recently when I came upon a collection of poems I wrote in my 20’s. I am struck by their dark, defeatist and sometimes suicidal sounding bent. Anyone who knows me now might be very surprised to hear that. Was I really like that? Yes! I remember being in a state of discontent most of the time. My feathers were easily ruffled, my feelings easily hurt, and my hopes easily dashed.

Now the causes and conditions of my life have not changed substantially since I wrote those poems. I am still married to the same man, still live in the same county. But Will and I are both much happier than we were back then. He has mellowed through the daily practice of Chi Gung and Tai Chi, and I have mellowed through meditation. In the first decade of our marriage we often waded deep into muddy misunderstandings and got stuck in our positions of opposition. At one point it even looked like there was no sense in going on and we talked about breaking up. Today we are truly happily married and we are kinder people than we were back then. Our mindfulness practices have made a huge difference in both our lives.

So the minute of attunement is a wonderful way to shift energy, to put the pause button on the rapid-fire life we are living, and thus is of great benefit and a great addition to our meditation toolbox of techniques. But just as a pit stop is not the same as a full service for a car, meditation is more than just a sense of relaxed centeredness. The pit stop makes it possible to go on in the short run, but in the long run a car needs more than new tires, and we need more than a minute to come to a deeper sense of connection that leads to inquiry, reflection, insight and awakening.

Things Fall Apart

We develop a practice of meditation, finding the ways that work best for us: The perfect place, the perfect time, the perfect intention and the perfect way to bring ourselves into a state of spaciousness and ease.

And then causes and conditions change. The ‘seas’ that we talked about last week as a metaphor for the causes and conditions of life become rough. As sailors we learn quickly how to make course corrections, alter speed, trim the sails, or take out the bucket and start bailing. As meditators we need to develop that kind of readiness and flexibility as well.

Occasionally during meditation instruction I have talked about the importance of having a variety of meditation tools in our toolbox. But as life goes along smoothly, we can easily get complacent, relying on the one tool, the one meditation technique that seems to be most effective for us. Where else in life has that ever been a good idea? We eat a varied diet to assure not just balanced nourishment but the ability to draw nourishment from multiple sources. When we plant just one variety of potatoes and that variety succombs to a disease, we starve! When we must go on thinning ice, say to rescue someone, we lie down to spread the weight so we don’t rely too heavily on any one point. We prepare for emergencies by having multiple options, depending on circumstances. We develop a network of friends and family relationships in part so that we can all support each other when times get difficult. We see what happens when someone we know has relied too heavily on only one person for their needs. We are communal creatures and developing community is a basic skill of our survival in a world of impermanence. We acknowledge this when we create sangha, our community of meditation practitioners.

When we experience things falling apart, our meditation practice may feel like it is falling apart, too. “Just when we need it most!” we say, feeling bereft. But at these times if we pause, we can recognize that we are prepared for this, that we have multiple tools in our toolbox. And we also have the support of the sangha to remind us if we forget.

When things fall apart in a riveting way, as when we are suddenly launched into a heightened state of emotion due to startling circumstances, if we have been doing a regular practice of meditation, we may find that we are very much present with all that is going on, that this is in fact what we have been practicing for.

So the practice has not abandoned us at all. It is serving us in this moment, keeping us present, allowing us to notice our emotions and bring a full measure of compassion to ourselves and others. We might notice that things have fallen apart, but in fact we haven’t fallen apart, or at least not to the degree we might have done without the practice.

During this intense period we might not be able to practice meditation in the usual sense, but just as soon as things get a little more stable, we need to resume the practice, because without the natural inner replenishment of the practice we are running the risk of depletion. And then we do feel as if we are falling apart.

But the practice we have relied on most, the one that has been such a nurturing source, might suddenly seem difficult or uncomfortable. Why? Because we know it and we expect it to be as it was, so we get stuck in comparing mind. We may feel we have lost our ability to practice in addition to whatever other loses we may be experiencing, and this sense of loss underscores and amplifies the grief we may already be feeling. Perhaps there’s also a sense of betrayal, because we thought this practice was supposed to be our support, but it’s not there to support us when we most need it. This can set off a chain of memory-laden emotions that echo that sense of betrayal and things seem to unravel more and more. Maybe we become depressed and give up the practice all together.

But the practice is still there! The ability to practice is still within us. We simply need to correct our course, trim our sails or start bailing! What does this mean in meditation terms?

First we need to look at what happens when we try to meditate. Are we not able to release tension and relax? Are we not able to focus? Are we caught up in thoughts and can’t find inner silence?

Compassion is our best companion at these times. Instead of making demands that we meditate in a certain way, we can sense the support of the web of life holding us. Perhaps we experience that support as God, feeling ourselves cradled in his arms or resting in his heart.

Of course experiencing this loving-kindness and compassion is challenging if we are railing at God for creating the causes and conditions that are making us so miserable. This is the exact moment that people of faith are severely tested. By seeing God as separate instead of the whole of which we are a part, we can get into a blame game that exacerbates our misery and sense of isolation.

Feeling ourselves to be integral to the fabric of life both releases our sense of separation and empowers us to be the compassion we wish to receive. We do not have to sit around and wait for it, beg for it or look for it from any other source. We are by our very nature a conduit of universal compassion. We take a deep breath, sense in, let go of all the accumulated tension and release into our natural state of being. We are both held in a compassionate open embrace and we hold the world in a compassionate open embrace. We shift our awareness back and forth between those two focuses and we begin to really understand our role in the nature of things.

When I was a very small child I had a little mantra I would do when I was by myself. I don’t know how I came up with it, who might have taught it to me, but it felt very much my own discovery. I would say, “I am in God and God is in me, and I am in God and God is in me” over and over until that oxymoron made sense to me, at which point I would dissolve into delicious giggles and roll on the ground. As an adult, the word and concept of God are too culturally laden with all the personification and implied separateness that gets in my way of deep understanding. And now that we can see, through the use of lenses and through the research and insights of science, how we are embedded in the fabric of life, all of us made of the same stuff, the illusion of separateness is easier and easier for me to see through.

But for those of us who have a more straightforward relationship with God, who can experience union with God, who weren’t raised by what I affectionately call a ‘raving atheist’ and a ‘closet worshiper of Mother Nature,’ then Hallelujah! Rejoice in that sense of being supported and aspire to be the fullest expression of God’s love.

If the problem with trying to meditate when things are falling apart is a lack of focus, we can do more embodiment work such as mindful inner-directed yoga, slow walking meditation or active breath work. These are all forms of meditation, all valid for keeping us connected to our experience of the present moment. The senses are our anchor to the present moment, so whatever we can do to draw our awareness to sensation is useful. In any given moment we can simply rub our fingers together, or rub our hands on a piece of fabric, noting the texture. This brings us into the present moment.

If sensing in is alien for us, we might give ourselves more opportunities to be fully in the body. For example, we can have a massage but request silence instead of chatting with the massage therapist so that we can really experience the fullness of sensation.

If when we meditate we cannot seem to get free of words, we might visualize them growing, letting the words themselves get very large, so large they lose all meaning, until we can swim between the spaces in our large lettered universe. This is a creative way of being with what is arising in the moment.

If we have a whirlwind of things going on in our life, we can imagine that tornado whirling even faster, so fast all the individual aspects, all the worries and concerns, are a singular blur, as we sit in the calm center, the eye of the storm, at peace.

If we are fraught with worry for another person, we send them loving kindness. As with all metta meditations, we begin with sending metta to ourselves for we need to receive loving-kindness before we can share it, sense in to its infinite nature to be a conduit for its transmission.

Maybe we find we just don’t have the heart for meditation right now, as if it’s a selfish thing to simply sit when there are so many practical things that have to be done. We just don’t have the time!

Let’s remember that Gandhi is quoted as saying, “Today is going to be a particularly busy day, so I will meditate two hours instead of one.” Wait a minute! How can that make any sense? Taking two hours out of an already busy day is no way to get things done. Gandhi was clearly no efficiency expert. But since he accomplished more with his life than almost any other human in recent history by gaining Indian independence from the British Empire without loss of life, and further inspired other non-violent movements including the Civil Rights movement in the United States fifty years ago, and since he continues to be an inspiration to us today, perhaps we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he knew what he was talking about!

But how could giving more time to meditation make us more efficient? First we have to make sure we are doing mindfulness meditation, practicing being fully present, not escaping into a dream state. When we are practiced at being fully present, we are more efficient because we are seeing more clearly, we are more in touch with the flow and we are noticing when we are getting in our own way. We can prioritize, we can come to agreement with others, and we can let go of things that will resolve themselves without our involvement. We can recognize that very few things in our life are truly urgent, yet we habitually act as if they are and drive ourselves and perhaps others accordingly. We can see when those around us are caught up in circular thinking and we can choose not to waste our energy trying to guide a tornado onto a different course.

This is the kind of clarity that streamlines our ability to accomplish what needs accomplishing without wasting time on what doesn’t. Without meditation practice we can be undiscerning, become easily distracted and waste time focusing on things that won’t resolve the problem at hand. Our emotional aspects may run amok, setting a questionable agenda because we haven’t taken the time to access our inner wisdom, our Buddha nature. Without being fully present, we rely more heavily on our habitual nature, so that we keep doing the same thing in the same way, hoping for a different outcome.

Our habitual nature can also infect our meditation practice. When things fall apart we want the tried and true to pull us through. But when the tried and true falls through we are called upon to find another way. If we cannot find 30 to 40 minutes in our suddenly fallen apart day, we might experiment with a series of much shorter meditations throughout our day.

What? Didn’t I just say that Gandhi said two hours of meditation is better than one? Yes, and one minute of quality meditation is good as well if it means we will meditate rather than not meditate at all. In this as in so many areas of life we are not dealing with either/or but both/and. There are many ways to deal with a challenge. Discovering that we can actually change our experience, energy level, and our physical and emotional sense of well being quite dramatically by one minute of truly being present in meditation reminds us to do it, not to put it off. It makes us see that our statement that we don’t have time is clearly a lie. One minute? We all have one minute at many times during the day. One minute while we are put on hold, while we are waiting for a computer download, while we are on the toilet, while we are waiting for water to boil to cook pasta or make tea. One minute? This is never too much to ask! How liberating! But how can this be?

Well, let’s try it. Let’s set a timer for exactly one minute and then see how it affects us to meditate for that minute. We sense into our bodies, release tension, notice the breath rising and falling, and expand into spaciousness, finding a still point of center. We rest here or we continually cycle through this process, whatever works for us at this time.

Now how do you feel? Has there been a shift of energy? What do you notice? Is there perhaps a sense of replenishment? One minute well spent in meditation is a gift we can give ourselves at various times throughout our day. It helps us understand that meditation is not some separate experience, but a natural part of life, like the brief pause at the bottom of a released breath.

Why does the one minute meditation work? I think it is like the last couple of minutes in meditation when I say “In these last moments, really savor what is arising in this moment.” Knowing it will end so soon, we are suddenly able to really pay attention. It’s our deadline mentality! It’s based on the same principle as Stephen Levine’s teaching of A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last. With the thought that the end is so near, we stop squandering our time, we start noticing the beauty and the preciousness of life. When we think we have a lot of time, we feel free to waste it! Whether it’s a lifetime or forty minutes of just sitting, we perceive it as a lot of time, so we may go about it in a circuitous ramble instead of being clear in our intention to be present and compassionate.

The question for me is not how I feel after a minute of focused inner awareness, but how long do I feel that way? How often would I have to have these minutes in order to feel the sense of connection, aliveness and joy I experience as a result of a regular daily practice?

But when things are difficult and a regular practice feels out of reach, accessing these meditation minutes can help to keep our meditation practice alive.

So we can see that we have many means in our toolbox, a great variety of techniques at our service, to deal with whatever comes up. Yes, it is wonderful to have a good steady practice, but it is important to remember that we have much more than that. We can be flexible, creative, alive and resourceful, ready and fully equipped to sail upon the sea of causes and conditions, whatever they may bring.