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Tuning In to Peace
Meditation can be a very deep enquiry into the mind. It can be undertaken in intensive retreats, wherein subtle features of the way the mind works, and levels of mind that don’t get normally get accessed, can come to light. However, meditation is also something that we can practice in a lunch-break or when returning home from work as a skillful means to regain balance and to stay centered in daily life. What follows is an introduction with which to get started.
Sit still in a quiet and settled place in a way that feels comfortable. Relax your eyes, but let them stay open or half-open, with a relaxed gaze. Be aware of the sensation of your eyeballs resting in the eye-sockets (rather than focusing on what you can see). Be sensitive to the tendency for the eyes to fidget, and keep relaxing that. As an alternative, you may find it helpful to let your gaze rest, in a relaxed way, on a suitable object – such as a view into the distance.
Then bring your attention to the sensations of your hands, then your jaw and tongue. See if they, too, can take a break from being on guard. Let your tongue rest in the floor of your mouth. Then sweep that relaxing attention from the corners of the eyes and around the head, as if you were unfastening a headscarf. Let the scalp feel free.
Let your eyes close. As you relax all around your head and face, bring that quality of attention, slowly, gradually, down over your throat. Loosen up there, as if allowing each out-breath to sound an inaudible drone.
Keeping in touch with these places in your body, be aware of the flow of thoughts and emotions that pass through the mind. Listen to them as if you’re listening to flowing water, or the sea. If you find yourself reacting to them, bring your attention to the next out-breath, continuing to relax through the eyes, the throat and the hands.
If you feel like extending this, sweep that attention down your body to the soles of your feet. In this way, build up a whole sense of the body at ease.
While maintaining awareness of the overall presence of your body, practice stepping back from, or letting go of, any thoughts and emotions that arise. Don’t add to them; let them pass. Whenever you do that, notice the sense of spaciousness, however brief, that seems to be there, behind the thoughts and feelings. Attune to the peacefulness of that.
Feel the peaceful quality of that spaciousness, and take it in. Take a few long, slow out-breaths sensing your breath flowing out into the space around you; let the in-breath begin by itself. Sense how the in-breath draws in from the space around you. Attune to the rhythm of that process.
You can support this reference to the breathing process by asking: ‘How is my breathing now?’
It’s also useful to think slowly and carefully in ways that calm or gladden the heart. Bring to mind any instances of people’s actions that have touched you in a positive way, in terms of kindness, or patience, or understanding. Repeatedly touch the heart with a few specific instances, dwelling on the feeling that it evokes.
Stay with the most deeply felt recollection for a minute or two, with a sense of curiosity: ‘How is this affecting me?’ Sense any effect in terms of heart: there may be a quality of uplift, or of calming, or of firmness. You may even detect a shift in your overall body tone. Allow yourself all the time in the world to be here with no particular purpose other than to feel how you are in this way. Dwell upon and expand awareness of any sense of vitality, stillness, comfort or spaciousness.
When it’s time to conclude the meditation, keep attuned in a peaceful way. First feel how you are in bodily terms. Then notice what inclinations and attitudes seem natural and important when you are dwelling in your place of value. Then bring those to your daily-life situation by asking: ‘What is important to me now?’ ‘What matters most?’ Then give yourself time to let the priorities of action establish themselves in accordance with that.
If you can’t check distracting thoughts, or if you feel bothered by what’s going on around you, you may benefit from finding a more conducive setting for meditation – somewhere that gives you a supportive mood. It could be somewhere in nature, a quiet corner of your room, or a meeting place with like-minded friends. Keeping your eyes open will help to keep your mind from getting engrossed in thought.
It’s also good to precede a meditation period, which may be of fifteen to twenty minutes, with relaxing and refreshing yourself with bathing and gentle exercise.
Meditation, and being at peace with ourselves, is more fulfilling when we integrate it with how we live. That is, acknowledging the effects of harmful speech, we learn to be more careful. Putting aside drink or drugs, and limiting how much time gets spent working and living at high speed, leads to more balanced energies in body and mind. But because everything we do has its effects, it’s also the case that if we have friends who bring warmth and joy into the heart, and if we have no regrets and can feel content with how we’re living – then the mind is going to feel a lot brighter and steadier.
If this form doesn’t help you…
You may benefit from exercises like Hatha Yoga, or Qi Gong.
To add to the sense of ‘tuning in,’ use some sound. Begin with breathing out with your larynx open to make a sound something between a drone and a sigh. Listen to the sound and to the mood that it invokes. Tune into that, amplifying it and adjusting it with each long out-breath to make a sound that sounds like its coming from an emotive place within you. Don’t try to make it beautiful or operatic; the aim is to listen to the mood, not to make much out of the note.
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