In the last week I’ve had to explain to a few people (who’ve been interested) about my meditation practice. Having had to explain off the top of my head, I thought it might be interesting to write it down here and see how it comes out. Apologies in advance to those who come here for drawings, storyboards and stuff about drawing (but hopefully this rough panel sketch of Nao is enough… for now).
Anyway, I’ve managed to get into a routine where I ’sit’ (meditate) twice a day for 16 minutes, once in the morning after I’m washed and dressed and the boy is at school and the baby is having his nap… and once at night, just before the final bedtime ablutions. It’s been a long long time that I’ve been interested in meditation but it’s also taken a long long time to establish any kind of daily ‘practice’ (routine). I would do it sporadically both at home and at a Buddhist Centre, but never regularly until relatively recently. And the trick to getting into it, was doing just a small chunk at a time. I downloaded a neat little ‘app’ for my iphone called ‘Zen Timer’ and started out just doing 10 min sessions, then after a few days I moved the timer to 13 minutes and after a period of doing that, now I’m up to 16. I think with two kids and a shitload of work to do I’m not gonna get above 25-30 minutes for each session per day… at the moment 16 minutes is just right, completely manageable and feeling like it’s beneficial.
“But what do you actually do when you’re meditating? Do you chant? Is it religious? Spiritual?” …No, no and no to the last three questions. Not for me anyway… not right now. To be honest, I don’t know what it is, but I try to see it in the same way as brushing my teeth ie something I don’t really think about, but have to do twice a day. But with regards the first question, what do I actually do? Well, I sit in ‘Seiza’ position but on two ‘Zafus‘ so I kinda look like this guy (that’s not me). When I was first taught to meditate I was taught ‘Mindfulness of breathing’, which is pretty simple, you just breathe normally, no funny big ‘yoga’ breaths… and you count after each outward breath, you do this up to ten, then start over. Obviously the mind wanders, sometimes almost immediately. That doesn’t matter. If it happens (which it will), you just bring yourself gently back to the counting. It’s important not to give yourself a hard time about your mind wandering, it’s just doing what it does. Some people believe the idea of meditating is to empty your mind, so therefore get all in a tizzy when they can’t stop thinking about stuff for 2 minutes, let alone half an hour. I believe that the mind will calm it’s self, you can’t force it to calm down. If you fill a bath with water, you can’t force the ripples to be still… but they will calm down and stop eventually, if you just watch them. Anyway, that’s Mindfulness of Breathing, I was also taught the Metta Bhavna which I don’t want to go into here because I don’t do it in my daily practice, but they do it a lot at the centre I go to when I can.
Then there’s Zazen which I became really interested in, and it appeals most to my sensibility. More of the Soto sect’s method rather than the Rinzai way with all that koan stuff. Anyway Zazen is basically just ’sitting’ and letting whatever thoughts come… you let them come and go without getting involved… and again the idea is that the mind will calm itself if you’re just sitting there watching it, (not being aggravated by it).
So in my daily practice I do mostly Zazen but if my mind is too hectic I might do a little bit of counting as well, just to get a bit of focus.
I like to see my ‘mind’ as this funny little yapping, excitable dog that won’t seem to shut up, but I’m very fond of this dog, I would never shout out it or lift a finger to hurt it… I just like to watch it. It yaps, yaps yaps away, I’m not really listening to it, just watching… and gradually it calms down, walks round in circles for a bit, then climbs on my lap and goes to sleep. I don’t literally imagine that as I’m meditating, I’m just trying to find a way of explaining how it feels. But having said that, the image of that dog does flash up sometimes and reminds me to go easy on myself if I’m feeling too hectic. And by no means does the dog sit on my lap and fall asleep every time I meditate… more often than not he yaps all the way through. But occasionally things do calm down and become completely still and that’s a lovely feeling.
There’s plenty of scientific evidence these days proving the medical benefits of meditation, one quick Google search produced this and this. None of which surprises me. I just think people (myself included) find it hard to find the time to sit around consciously doing ‘nothing’. These days we all feel the need to be doing something, or consuming something, TV , music, food, films… and if we’re not doing that we should be working… or exercising. It’s taken me such a long time to get to a point where I’m doing this everyday, but that was because I really thought it should be done for 30-45 minutes, and who’s got that much spare time on their hands!? And hey, sometimes it’s really boring… and difficult, to just sit there with yourself (and that stupid dog).
But I honestly feel better on the whole for doing it and can’t recommend it enough. Just try 10 mins once a day, see what you think.
And sorry for not posting more often, I’ve got so much work to do, I find it hard to justify stopping to write a post. So this might be all for quite a while again. Even on Twitter I’m not ‘tweeting’ so much, but please feel free to ‘follow’ me cos I do more there than I do here.