lori-6Often when I meet people who want to learn to meditate they are looking for an escape from the stress of life. They regard meditation as a healthier form of MEDICATION, like taking an aspirin when we have a headache!

It might be daunting for them to learn right up front that meditation is more a practice of being with their lives EXACTLY as they are, with all the attendant chaos, but with a NEW way of relating to it.

 

Meditation might even be better if it were called RELATING because it is truly a practice of relating to what is happening in the moment, including how we habitually wander away from the moment, noticing where we are unable to connect or relate at all, more comfortable in the busy monkey mind than the moment at hand! It’s funny because the more I learn about meditation and all the benefits; I think somehow we humans have been wired completely backwards. Why aren’t we happy with the way things are? Why are we constantly seeking relief? How has life become so intolerably difficult that we need to medicate instead of Relate? Was it always this way!? I can tell you that one thing Meditation has done for me is to make me incessantly curious and inquisitive about life rather than having some absolute sense of what it’s all about. And this in and of itself has been a huge relief! So much of our stress comes from feeling like we have to know, we have to be sure, we have to figure it out, and we have to make it better than it is!!

 

Meditation in it’s simplest form is a practice of RELATING TO BEING, no doing, no planning, just releasing our attachments to all of the accomplishments and simply experiencing. In Zazen, the sitting meditation practice from the Zen tradition, the entire process is about simply sitting there trying to allow yourself to focus on what is here and now. The posture, the breathing are the anchor points, the little touchstones of awareness that remind us we are “here” and then there’s that always meddling monkey mind that detaches from the moment and busies itself with memories and fantasies. The word Zen means “unrestricted” or “free”, so the point at which we can become completely present, loosely concentrated on each moment as it unfolds we feel a complete liberation of the mind, an UNRESTRICTED mind that is no longer bound by the fears and frustrations and plans of life!

 

The idea of “practice” is that we are simply devoting a period of time each day to notice how we RELATE with our senses, with our attention and to free ourselves from DOING anything. Once we are willing to practice this new way of relating for 20 minutes a day, we are sharpening our relating skills for the rest of what our day holds. Think how handy this might come in when faced with conflict or a difficult decision that triggers our emotions but requires contemplation and consideration before reacting! We might have more creativity in the way we respond, more acceptance of life as it is and fewer regrets!

 

So today our practice is first about sharpening the tools of awareness and relating to life, and then we can step off our cushion and bring these tools with us into life. To stay centered in our bodies, listening to our breath and observing life through our eyes and ears. Saying less, doing less, experiencing more and seeing that life is already full of wonder and surprises and a joy to relate to!

 

Begin by finding a good seat…notice how you are sitting, are you leaning to one side or too far forward. We do the body scan to explore this seated posture, not as a way to prepare for meditation but as THE WAY to meditate with the body itself. Close your eyes, take a long slow deep breath into the body. Notice where the body rises and expands on the inhale and where it contracts on the exhale. Notice how the breath feels going into the nostrils and then coming back out. How does your mind RELATE to your breath and your body? Does it immediately move to analysis and criticism? Move the breath and awareness into your feet. How do you relate to your feet? Can you simply feel them without thinking about them in some way? Then move your awareness into your ankles, shins and calves. Are they touching something, can you feel the air on your skin or is it covered with fabric. Your awareness can relate both from the inside and the outside! Move that awareness into your knees and up into your thighs and feel the heaviness of the legs. Notice if there is pain or discomfort and let yourself go deeper into feeling and relating to these sensations without making them mean anything. Continue to move up into your hips, your low back, your belly and the floor of the pelvis. You can feel the warmth from deep within and instruct yourself to let that warmth expand by releasing the muscles in your stomach and lower back.   Feel the diaphragm expand and contract as the lungs fill and empty. Soften the skeleton around these muscles and organs and feel the heart rise in the chest as the shoulders slide down the back. Your awareness is really sharpening now, focusing in to the limitless and dynamic nature of the body. Let your collarbones spread wide, your shoulders slide down your arms until you can feel the pulse of life in your hands and fingertips. Soften the jaw, let the teeth part, notice the immediate release of the mind, and the face releasing the mask of its last assessment. Finally as you reach the top of your head, you might imagine that the crown of the head lifts and opens as if it is holding up the sky! This is the constant in your practice. Your body is always here alive and flowing with blood and breath and you are free to relate to it anytime. As you stay connected to the body awareness you can expand your mind to include your breath. You can track the inhale and the exhale as it flows. You can even mark the flow of breath by labeling each one, calling its name, “inhale” as you breathe in and “exhale” as you breath back out. Gently quietly, internally relating to life, your life. Everything else is happening outside of this experience, even your thoughts leave the body to wander in a world of its own, that you have manufactured and constructed. Put the hammer of thinking down. Release yourself, Free yourself to simply be enough.

When the monkey mind wanders off reach out with your mind and draw it back to the body and the breath by saying to yourself “here”, “I am here” and recenter your relationship to what is here and now!

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