Imagine it is the start of a new day. You throw off your covers and it is time to get dressed, get breakfast, and begin the day’s activities. Imagine when you start to physically begin this process; you tense all of your muscles. You want to avoid your day’s to do list so much you tighten your whole entire body. Your head down to your toes are tensed as tight as they can be to resist what you have to do. How would these activities look? It would be painful. It would take much longer. You probably would not be able to put your clothes on or cook your breakfast fully.
We all feel a little tension here and there but we rarely tense our whole entire body through day to day processes. However, we often experience this same type of resistance within our minds. Day to day stresses, anxieties, situations, emotions, and thoughts are more often than not met with struggle. This resistance, leads to things such as denial, anger, fear, guilt, judgment, and hatred.
So what would we do in the case of the first example of physical resistance? We would notice that our whole body is tense and tell ourselves to relax. We would relax our bodies, for the most part, at least enough to move freely to perform our tasks. In meditation practice, we do this same thing with the mind. We practice noticing the mind and what it has to say to us. We practice noticing what our body is telling us. What our senses are telling us. We practice noticing. Just noticing. Our whole experience at the very moment we practice.
This is meditation.
Meditation is not resisting, tensing, or running away from our reactions, our emotions, our experiences, or our thoughts. Meditation is noticing, listening, and learning with them. Meditation is leaning into our experience. There is no right or wrong, good or bad here. It is your practice of getting to know yourself. When we do this, we train our mind, our heart, and our body to avoid resistance and just flow with our experiences. Meditation does not take away our bad experiences. Meditation does not magically provide us with all good experiences. Meditation allows us to experience all experiences with full awareness and a clear understanding.
I recently participated in an online meditation retreat with Pema Chödrön and Tim Olmstead. If you are not familiar, Pema Chödrön is a Buddhist nun whose mission is to bring Eastern teachings/practices to people in a Western way of understanding. She is devoted to providing teaching to those that may not otherwise have access to it or those that may not have access to an individual mentor. Tim teaches with Pema and runs her foundation. Please check out her foundation and teachings: https://pemachodronfoundation.org/
Pema and Tim built their recent retreat around this principle of avoiding resistance and leaning into your experiences. When we settle into what it is we are going through, good or bad, we are able to experience it with more clarity, peace, and understanding. Future situations are met with ease. We lessen the panic response that we so often have with situations (that mind resistance I discussed earlier) and we can take on our lives in control. There are so many things, now more than ever, that we cannot control. What we can control is our inward and outward reactions.
This might sound challenging. Meditation is challenging. When we want our bodies to be fit and strong, we do demanding high intensity cardio, lift weights, go on long walks, and tackle intense toning routines. These workouts may be fun, but we sweat, sometimes we cry, we get sore, and we become out of breath. Overtime, though, we start to notice that we can lift things with greater ease or climb stairs without losing our breath. We begin to notice and feel the benefit of our practice.
When we practice and train our minds, it might feel rough. We might feel distracted, frustrated, and confused. However, this practice of sitting in awareness and turning inward will overtime produce tangible results. You may notice you will have less anger in response to others or a greater empathy for individuals you do not agree with. You may begin to go through your day slower with more intention and mindfulness. You may react to news stories or scary situations with increased strength.
I want to share a practice taught by Pema and Tim. This practice is called calm abiding. This is a practice of just becoming aware. It is a simple practice but it can be challenging, like a physical workout. Calm abiding is a practice of resting awareness. It is just noticing, experiencing, and avoiding resistance. Let’s practice.
Find a comfortable place to sit.
Begin by fully relaxing your body. You can do a quick body scan here, noticing any areas of tension here and invite them to release. Deepen your breath breathing deep into your belly and intentionally exhaling. Letting go.
You can close your eyes but you might try leaving them open if that feels comfortable to you.
Bring awareness to your body. You might pick one hand or foot and bring fool awareness to this part of you. What does the air feel like around it? What does your skin feel like? Is it hot or cold? Is it dry or soft? Just notice.
Imagine that awareness flowing through your whole body to where you are now fully aware of yourself.
Just sit and notice here. Remember to breathe.
When a thought or distraction appears, just notice that. Notice it and do nothing more than that. You do not need to follow this thought; you do not have any task that you need to do. Let the thought drift away, this can be visualized in a way that aligns with you. Perhaps imagine the thought drifting away on a cloud or blowing away with the wind.
Return to just noticing. Just be aware. Lean into it.
It might help to notice one thing. You can just focus on awareness of your breath, what you hear, what you see, what you smell, or perhaps one object in front of you. If you use a focus to help you, return from thoughts or distractions back to this focus.
Rest here. For however long you need. One minute is practicing. Thirty minutes is practicing. Any amount of practice will be of benefit in the long run.
Return your focus to complete relaxation. Enjoy.
When you are ready, return to your space, return to your day.
May you find a time and place to practice calm abiding. May you practice often. May you be free of self-judgment. Any meditation practice you do, is a beautiful practice just for you. May you find that when you walk with your experiences instead of resisting them, you find a peace and strength to carry through your every day.
May you fill your heart with gratitude for this practice that is all for you.