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BASIC MEDITATION INSTRUCTION

 

Jon Kabat-Zinn's meditation instruction is among the most clear and easy to follow that I have found.  The following instructions appear in his book Full Catastrophe Living:

"The basic instructions for practicing sitting meditation are very simple.  We observe the breath as it flows in and out.  We give full attention to the feeling of the breath as it comes in and full attention to the feeling of the breath as it goes out... And whenever we find that our attention has been carried elsewhere, wherever that may be, we simply note it, then let go and gently escort our attention back to the breath, back to the rising and falling of our own belly.

If you have been trying it, perhaps you will have already noticed that your mind tends to move around a lot.  You may have contracted with yourself to keep your attention focused on the breath no matter what.  But before long, you will undoubtedly find that the mind is off someplace else.  It has forgotten the breath; it has been drawn away.

Each time you become aware of this while you are sitting, the instruction is to first note briefly what is on your mind or what carried you away from attending to the breath, and then to gently bring your attention back to your belly and back to your breathing, no matter what carried it away.  If it [your attention] moves off the breath a hundred times, then you just calmly and gently bring it back a hundred times. 

By doing so, you are training your mind to be less reactive and more stable. ... By repeatedly bringing your attention back to the breath each time it wanders off, concentration builds and deepens, much as muscles develop by repetitively lifting weights.  Working regularly with (rather than struggling against) the resistance of your own mind builds inner strength.  At the same time you are also developing patience and practicing being non-judgmental.  You are not giving yourself a hard time because your mind wandered away from the breath.  You simply and matter-of-factly return it to the breath, gently but firmly."

Jon Kabat-Zinn Full Catastrophe Living (2013) pages  60 - 61

PLEASE NOTE:  Kabat-Zinn instructs us to rest with the physical feeling of breathing.  He emphasizes the word "feeling".  We're not thinking about the breath.  We're not trying to become the air or breath itself, moving in and out of the body.  Instead, we are fully present to the physical sensations of the body breathing.

 

Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying wrote a book of daily reflections on living and dying titled Glimpse After Glimpse (1995).  I find it helpful to sometimes look up any particular day of the year and read the paragraph or two of Buddhist wisdom there.  Here is what he says about meditation on the March 2 page in his book:

"Whatever thoughts and emotions arise in meditation, allow them to rise and settle, like the waves in the ocean. Whatever you find yourself thinking, let that thought rise and settle, without any constraint. Don't grasp at it, feed it, or indulge it, don't cling to it, and don't try to solidify it. Neither follow thoughts, nor invite them; be like the ocean looking at its own waves, or the sky gazing down on the clouds that pass across it. 

You will soon find that thoughts are like the wind; they come and go.  The secret is not to "think"  about the thoughts but to allow them to flow through your mind, while keeping your mind free of afterthoughts."

NOTE: One time when I was leading a group of people in meditation, one of the attendees said they had been told by a meditation teacher to "make your mind a blank".  But we're not trying to make our minds a blank when we meditate, so I'm glad this created the opportunity to clarify that in meditation we don't have a goal of emptying our mind.  The key is to not get caught up in our usual patterns of thinking.  Meditation can be a wonderful time -- we don't have to think about anything!  We get to take a vacation from our usual discursive thoughts.  We don't have to think about work, we don't have to worry, we can just rest with the object of our attention, which is often the breath or the body.  I think Sogyal Rinpoche's explanation of this idea -- that meditation is not about trying to turn off the brain -- that appears on the November 25 page in his book is helpful.  I quote it here:

"Sometimes people think that when they meditate there should be no thoughts and emotions at all; and when thoughts and emotions do arise, they become annoyed and exasperated with themselves and think they have failed. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a Tibetan saying: "It's a tall order to ask for meat without bones, and tea without leaves".  As long as you have a mind, you will have thoughts and emotions."

Check back for other authors' meditation instructions in the future.

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