Monday, January 12, 2015

The blessings of meditation

Today I went to teach yoga to my neighbors, a couple in their eighties, for our regularly scheduled session, only to find that L had taken a terrible fall in a parking lot late last week. She landed on her face, and though she is healing quite nicely, she was in no shape to do even the gentle class we typically do. She has balance issues and has taken several less serious falls in the two years we've done yoga together. I suggested that she needs to make sure she's not putting herself in situations where there is only a narrow space to walk in, because a wider stance improves balance. I also suggested that they consider having at least some of their groceries delivered, to avoid icy parking lots. L is a sweet, soft-spoken woman, but my innocent recommendation touched a nerve. She launched into a tirade about how she'll never have groceries delivered, because she isn't ready to be chained to an armchair for the rest of her life.
When I came home from our visit, I started thinking how grateful I am that I have an established meditation practice. I am thankful to my teachers, especially Sri Shambhavananda, for so generously sharing the gift of silence. Twice a day I practice sitting, doing nothing other than opening my intention to the Divine Guide. If I am forced to sit in a chair or stay in a bed because of some catastrophe, I feel confident my practice has prepared me to deal with these restrictions as gracefully as I can.

The cultivation of silence and stillness is totally countercultural. Students have told me they won't or can't do pranayama because their minds race and it makes them feel bad. They believe they need a more active practice that allows them to escape the menace of their thoughts. This complete connection to doing at all costs, linked with a fundamental inability to be with oneself, is to me totally sad. Because what happens when they get to the place in their lives where they can't do an active practice of any kind, when perhaps even going about doing their daily chores is too big a challenge? Because if they're lucky enough to live a long life, they're going to get to that between a rock and a hard place.

If you've successfully set up your life to avoid facing and taming the rollercoaster of your own mind, you're going to be ill-prepared when you can no longer hop onto all the carnival rides the world offers you. Even then, there's time to begin to meditate and learn to understand and calm the mind's fluctuations.

But why wait? It's as simple as sitting in a chair, closing your eyes and paying attention to your breathing. Start with at least ten breaths, because that is the minimum needed to reduce the circulation of stress hormones. The goal of meditation is not to cease all thought. Thoughts are inevitable. Let them pass by as if you're watching clouds float past your window.

This will likely be so welcome you'll want to continue. When you open your eyes, you might find that five to ten minutes have passed. For one month, commit to practicing every day in this way, first thing every morning. Over time, it's best to build up to thirty minutes of sitting. I guarantee you'll feel more open, relaxed and able to face the world, receptive to all its joys and challenges.

Once you get a taste of the pleasure that comes from being better acquainted with the rhythms of your mind and breath, you may want to consider joining a meditation group. I find it enormously helpful to meditate with the yogis at Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram and with my yoga students. It's like linking train cars to a mighty engine--the shared momentum allows everyone to roll along with ease. If you're lucky enough to live near a yoga center, you can receive instruction from experienced teachers there. Some recreation centers offer meditation classes. Most also offer yoga classes. Not all yoga teachers are meditators, but ask if any of them also teach meditation.

There are no failures in meditation. Even if you stop for a while, it's always there for you. The worst that can happen is that you get to know yourself better. 

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