Madre Grande Monastery
Meditation: It’s Not What You Think
For most people, the word “meditation” almost automatically conjures up images of serene robed figures sitting quietly on cushions, eyes closed and legs crossed in the lotus position, deep in a trance-like state of holy bliss. Even people who practice meditation can have this view, although in actuality they are often more like ducks on a pond: calm and still above water but frantically kicking and paddling below.
Meditation is more than just sitting still while repeating a mantra or watching the breath. Any form of activity or experience can be turned into mediation, including, but not limited to, yoga, tai chi, qigong, walking, dancing, singing, resting, or just about any form of mundane physical work. Meditation is primarily about quieting the mind and being present in the moment, no matter what is happening or what you are doing at that moment. It is often easier to meditate in a comfortable position in a quiet room than it is on a noisy street or busy kitchen, but the basic idea is to have a calm, alert, and focused mind throughout the day and in any situation.
The ultimate goal of meditation is to be consciously present in your life, every moment, every breath, and there are a myriad of methods, techniques, and practices to achieve this.
Breath Awareness and Loving-Kindness Meditation
At Madre Grande Monastery we have two scheduled periods of sitting meditation daily, one hour in the morning and one hour in the early evening. No one is obliged to stay the full hour, and we have no prescribed form of meditation, but we do have some “favorites”.
Focusing on the breath is perhaps the easiest and most often practiced technique. This mediation involves simply watching the rise and fall of the breath, and gently letting all other thoughts fall aside. Sometimes the mind becomes still and peaceful and clear, floating away into beautiful ethereal realms. Sometimes buzzing clouds of relentless random thoughts arise like pesky mosquitos, tormenting you to distraction and aggravation. The trick is not to berate yourself or force it, but simply smile and acknowledge the distractions, perhaps even thank them, then let them go and gently nudge the mind back to the rhythm of the breath. The cosmic bliss will still be there, waiting for you.
Another useful practice is Loving-Kindness meditation. Consciously fill your mind with warm fuzzy thoughts, and allow your heart to overflow with feelings of love and connectedness. An image or memory of a loving experience can be used, such as a basket of playful kittens or a beautiful nature scene. The feelings of joy and appreciation are nurtured and expanded to encompass all living beings, including yourself. All life, all existence, is engulfed and permeated by the pure energy of love and Divine Being. It flows into us, through us, through everyone and everything. Love is all, and all is Love. There is nowhere else to go and nothing left to do. You have arrived.
Got A Minute? Micro-Practice
Most of us find it difficult if not impossible to be mindfully present in every moment of our lives, which is why the concept of “micro-practice” is such a practical and useful tool. Throughout the day as you go about our business, remember to pause just for a moment, stop your inner dialog, and simply be present where you are and aware of what you are doing. Taking a few deep breaths and looking around helps, but you don’t necessarily need to even stop working, just take a mental step back and be aware of being aware. This way you can turn mundane tasks into sublime opportunities for spiritual growth.
For example, washing the dishes you become conscious of the sensation of water on your hands, the motion of scrubbing, the sound of swishing, the soap bubbles foaming and popping, the feeling of your muscles in action. You are fully alive. Then you let yourself go back into autopilot and allow your mind to drift into random thoughts, dreams, worries, complaints, and the usual stream of wacky ideas. Whenever you can, remember to be present in your life for a few more moments and once again experience the true power and depth of being alive and fully conscious. With time and practice the moments of presence will grow longer and more frequent, becoming a continuous state of mind. Then you are no longer meditating, you are awakened.
Sitting meditation is a useful, perhaps necessary, tool, but the true goal of meditation is to move through meditation into a naturally more enlightened state of mind. We seek to be here and now, all the time, fully alive and aware. Not just for an hour sitting on a cushion, but for every moment of our lives.
To achieve this takes great effort and practice, for years, for a lifetime, maybe more. But, although it may sound trite and cliched, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”
We hope you find the meditation tools we offer here to be useful on your journey.
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