Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation
Meditation is more than a practice; it is a way of being in the world. It is a path.
Starting a meditation practice is not that difficult. I’ve started mine countless times! What is difficult is sustaining the practice.
Meditation gives you the courage to be who you are.
Because when you give up your story about yourself and about life, you are left with things as they are.
In becoming gentler toward yourself, you become gentler toward others. All of this seems to happen without your willing it to.
sorrows, both of which you can feel. You see that everyone, everyone, is as unprotected as you are and is pretending that they are not.
When you have a sense of gentleness toward yourself and others, something quite extraordinary happens. You relax. Whether things go well or poorly on any particular day you can deal with it because you know how to remain soft and open. This soft openness is the same thing as waking up to the present moment. You are right here, open to your life and this world.
The simple act of meditation, of placing awareness on breath and, when it strays, bringing it back, is exactly, precisely, utterly this act of wisdom.
in the words of the Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa, “The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground.”
all meditation is, is substituting for your discursive thoughts another object of attention.
Activities like the ones on this list encourage the mind and body to be in the same place at the same time. This is extremely powerful. Meditation teachers call this “synchronizing mind and body.”
When mind and body are synchronized, we are in the present. In fact, that is all that is meant by “presence.”
When we are present, interestingly, we relax. We enter a state of absorption. We are right here and somehow this right here–ness, though it might not always feel “good,” feels alive. Powerful. Real.
Rather than solving all your problems, then, meditation teaches you how to relax with them. When you are relaxed, amazing things happen. Self-confidence rises. You notice that emotional resilience is already present. Interesting insights emerge. You find that you are already strong and wise and flexible. You cheer up. This may sound like a fairy tale, but it is not. In meditation, you synchronize mind and body by placing your focus on an object other than your discursive mind.
again: all meditation is, is substituting another object of attention for your discursive mind.
Buddhism is sometimes described as the “middle way,” and that means it is neither eternalistic nor nihilistic, but right down the middle. It’s likely that in your practice you lean more toward one than the other. “I meditate to know God.” Fine. Or, “That stuff is woo-woo. I meditate to lower my blood pressure.” Also fine. Just don’t think that either one is the point. The real point (if there is one) is, mysteriously, somewhere exactly in the middle. Please enjoy contemplating this.
Meditation consists of two inseparable qualities, only one of which is called “mind-fulness.” The other one is called “awareness.”
At the same time, however, from this one-pointedness, insight arises. As your meditation practice takes root, you see your life more clearly. You perceive patterns and connections you had not noticed before. Clarity and understanding seem to arise from nowhere. It feels as though your mind is expanding to point out that you exist in a much larger space than suspected; your perceptions become subtler and subtler. This is called “awareness.”
The greater our ability to focus, the larger this awareness grows. The more aware we are, the more focused we can be. Mindfulness and awareness are inseparable.
So rather than calling meditation the practice of “mindfulness,” it is more accurate to call it the practice of “mindfulness-awareness.”
have to stop thinking. Actually, there is one
Instead of trying to stop thinking, meditation is about assuming a different relationship to your thoughts.
Your practice is a time to stop trying to be a better anything and instead release all agendas and relax with yourself just as you are.
Rather than becoming more peaceful, meditation makes you more authentic.
Precision means choosing a particular object of attention and staying with it, holding your attention to it as best you can. When attention strays, the instruction is simply to bring it back. Everything that is not that object is considered a distraction.
This degree of precision cultivates the precious, profound, and increasingly rare ability to concentrate. When you can place your attention where you’d like it to go, you find yourself in possession of an authentic superpower, mental kryptonite of the highest order. You are able to be mindful. This is actually what “mindfulness” means—the ability to place your attention (or mind) on what you choose.
Practices that emphasize mindfulness are potent indeed and tend to encourage qualities such as discipline, clarity, and commitment.
When we open up, we see and feel things we hadn’t before. Awareness expands. A kind of freshness and tenderness permeates the atmosphere. Perhaps because of this, practices that emphasize awareness tend to also focus on compassion and love.
To practice precision and openness, we find that we must continually let go. The moment we hold on—to a thought, feeling, conclusion, opinion—we have taken ourselves outside the flow of the present moment.
To remain present, we notice and let go almost simultaneously.
The truth is, whatever you think, feel, and so on, is constantly changing. When you examine this closely, you might see that there actually is no solid state of mind. Though we have spent all our lives cultivating the ground of personality, identity, and belief, these actually are not solid, not the whole picture.
Through consistently (and at times, abruptly) releasing all fixity of mind, practices that focus on going beyond also stress recognition that the nature of all phenomena is empty and luminous.
These three components of precision, openness, and going beyond mirror the three major schools, or yanas, of Buddhism.
Even the simple instruction “don’t lie,” then, is enormously complex. Unbelievable presence of mind is required to follow it.
The more I learn, the less I realize that I know.
What is left is to relax with your thoughts and feelings just as they are. You could notice your thoughts and feel your feelings. When you get carried away by what comes next—the story attached to those thoughts and feelings—you could let go of it and return to a simple state of acknowledgment and feeling. It turns out that this is the key to metabolizing experiences of all kinds. Who knew.
Gently let the thought ease away like a wave eases back into the ocean.
instead of identifying with the clouds, we identify ourselves as the sky. The sky doesn’t care what kind of clouds pass through or how long they stay. And, just like the sky, we can hold it all and know that no matter what direction we happen to be facing, somewhere it is always east and somewhere the sun is always rising.
Mindfulness of body can create a sense of stability. Mindfulness of breath creates a sense of peace. And mindfulness of mind creates a sense of tremendous spaciousness. Together, mindfulness of body, breath, and mind create your meditation practice.
habits thrive on routine.
As you sit down to practice, say to yourself something like this: Now is my time to practice. Everything else can wait. Commit yourself at the outset.
The only thing worse than slacking off in your practice is feeling like crap for slacking off in your practice. So please don’t do that.
You could get together once a week or once a month and simply sit for a mutually agreed-to time, followed by a conversation about how the practice is going for each of you.
This is the kind of relaxation you feel when you become absorbed in something.
when we are fully engaged, there is also a sense of flow. It is invigorating.
When we extend care to the environment, the environment itself becomes a place of kindness.
make offerings, request blessings, and dedicate the merit.”