The Art of Living
(Entry below was hand written this past Saturday, 1/5/2012)
When you experience real freedom, it is an extraordinary, and sometimes frightening thing.
It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m at the library writing. There is a man sitting across the room fast asleep, and lightly snoring. I had a productive day. After meditation group last night, I fell asleep easily for the first time in many nights, and woke up around 9am today, naturally. I went to the post office to pick up a package, got some coffee, did my laundry and now I’m here.
When I open myself up to the world and new experiences, I’m always astounded at how expansive it is, and how my mind grows a bit each time I allow myself to do something new and different. It’s like when you exercise again after a long period of being sedentary, all that oxygen pours into your brain and you start to feel euphoric.
That happens with meditation too. Last night I was reminded of that. I decided to go out into the cold winter night to learn a new meditation technique on the 5th floor of a building on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. The group meeting was at 6:30 and I arrived in time just barely, since the building was not very easy to find.
The man leading the group explained how the mind needs meditation, and how the mind has certain tendencies that one needs to be aware of. Changing your mind changes everything. He said that the mind has a tendency to cling to the negative- to what’s not good or not going well. And that once you become aware of this tendency, you are outside of that negativity. You can choose a different thought.
The whole idea is to be very aware. To observe the mind. He explained that newspapers are very aware of this tendency of the human mind. That’s why they broadcast only negative news. He got a lot of laughs when he said: “You never hear a newscast that says ‘today, 10,000 flights landed safely. They only report on the one flight that crashed.’” One man in the group had a light bulb go off after hearing that statement and quietly said ‘wow.’
The leader of the group said that it is important to take care of the mind. He said, we take care of our bodies by showering every day. Our minds need our attention as well. The mind, otherwise, gets overwhelmed. So we need to step back and observe our feelings, emotions and thoughts in order to not be owned by them. If we become owned by them, our minds become foggy. By meditating, one focuses on the present moment- on just being. He told us before we started meditating, to feel for those 20 minutes that we are nothing, and we want nothing.
After practicing a few breathing techniques, we sat quietly for 20 minutes through a guided meditation. I was sitting by a window so I was a bit cold, but he told us to close our eyes and breathe deeply. My heart was beating fast, as it’s had the tendency to do the past few days, but I simply observed it as told. He asked us to become aware of all the sounds in the environment, all the traffic sounds outside and the sounds within our surroundings in the room.
He asked us to become aware of what we were thinking, and to just let the thoughts come. And a little later, we were asked to become aware of what we were feeling, and to let the feelings come. He had us bring our soft attention to our physical bodies and different body parts, like: feet, legs, thighs, genitals, chest, neck, face, top of the head. He paused for a few seconds after naming each one. As I was bringing my attention to these areas, I noticed that my legs were very tense and clenched without my realizing it, so I released them and relaxed. I felt myself surrendering to the moment, my worries melting away.
I like to meditate in a group of people because everyone’s energy is focused on the same thing. It was a gentle form of meditation, not trying to force enlightenment or anything like that. Just being, breathing and acceptance.
The leader explained another tendency of the mind- to be either worried/anxious about the future, or thinking about the past with feelings like sadness or regret. And this focus on times other than the present produces sadness and other negative emotions. And it’s like wasted energy. He asked us, ‘When you have felt happiness, wasn’t your mind clear? Were you not thinking too many thoughts at that time?’ And it really is true.
I started to think about how much I worry about the future, when really I can’t predict the future, so why worry when I can’t possibly know how things will turn out? If you do things mindfully, and focus on what you are doing in the present moment, worries and fears and memories can’t affect you.
That’s the hard part- fighting the natural tendencies of the mind. Focusing on the present slows time down, it relaxes you. You don’t have any expectation. You are just acutely aware of the present. When you are completely in the moment, you cannot feel sad, you are simply observing what it is to be alive. You are not attaching yourself to any emotion or obsessing over anything. It’s like you are outside yourself, detached, but in a comforting way.
This afternoon, while my clothes were in the dryer, I sat at my kitchen table and tried this meditation technique for 26 minutes. I was feeling hungry, which made it a good time to meditate (it’s not good to meditate after a large meal as your mind is preoccupied with digestion). Morning is supposed to be the best time to meditate, but I haven’t been able to achieve that yet.
So I sat with eyes closed, and tried to breathe deeply. I remembered the teacher’s instructions and started observing my thoughts and feelings. I brought my attention to the sounds in the environment, and different parts of my body. I tried to be as present as I could be, without worrying or thinking too much. When a thought or feeling came up, I watched it, and recognized it as a thought or a feeling. I practiced bringing my attention back to not being or wanting anything. I felt myself get very deep and still and I knew my meditation took effect because I felt a shift in consciousness.
I wasn’t of my body or bodily concerns (emotions, feelings, desires). I was above it, like floating. It was a very brief shift that would occur, then stop, then recur. I think the trick is not to bring the thinking mind to it because that causes the feeling, the trance, to drop. And the whole point of meditation, at least for me, is to achieve that state of consciousness.
It was the first time I tried meditating in silence with no music. And I think it was good because now my mind is too familiar with the meditation music I always use, so it has more of a tendency to wander.
Now is the time when I need to turn inwardly, not outwardly. I need to focus on who I want to be and what I really want out of life. I know that having negative thoughts or feelings of any kind makes me feel bad, so I am constantly working on elevating myself to a higher, more productive, healthier state of mind. This year I’m going to focus on what I want for me, not what other people think or want for me. I’m going to only do the things I want to do and not give my power away to anybody.
More from this entry to come..
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