The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

Mindful Monday Morsel: Meditation and Relaxation in Plain English

by Lydia Anderson
October 14, 2013
Mon, 10/14/2013 - 10:30 -- landerson

Today’s morsel comes from Meditation and Relaxation in Plain English, a manual for beginning a meditation practice by Bob Sharples. Here Sharples explains how to make a realistic first step towards a practice.

Making a Start with Meditation and Relaxation

Some years ago I came across a remark attributed to Goethe, the great German writer and scientist. He wrote that it is important to be willing to make a start at something. Once a beginning is made, all kinds of other possibilities, unimaginable beforehand, can come into being. Making a start with meditation may be one of the most momentous life decisions you will make. The Buddha certainly thought so. He said that the greatest gift you can give to another person is to teach them to meditate.

These old, well-practiced traditions tell us that it is not skillful just to sit in a chair or plonk down on a cushion and hope for the best. It is possible to distill from the great meditation traditions the core attitudes and behaviors that we can use to support and strengthen our meditation practice.

We live in a world of doing, of ceaseless activity. We may be strongly drawn toward the idea of meditation, but can find ourselves at sea with the daily immersion into a state of non-doing. At social gatherings where we meet new people, the most commonly asked question is, “What do you do?” We know that the answer we give will immediately pigeonhole us in our questioner’s mind. Yet we generally feel attached to and even defined by what we do. When we start to meditate, all the doing parts of our life are put on hold for a while. Initially this can feel very unusual, sometimes even threatening. It is no wonder that people frequently report one or more of three common responses when they start to meditate: falling asleep; becoming restless and agitated; or feeling overwhelmed by the busyness of the mind’s mental chatter.

It is important not to be too idealistic about your meditation practice. Meditation is a variable experience. Some days you will find it to be effortless and peaceful; other days you will be so agitated that the best you can do is just stay seated for the duration. It is quite normal for the quality of your meditation to go up and down. There is no reason for your meditation practice to be exempt from the turbulence and change that affects all the other parts of your life. Meditation is not a quick fix, contrary to the many instant strategies on offer in the New Age marketplace. It is a life skill, and like all others you have to learn it the slow, hard way. A deep and sustained meditation practice takes the same effort you would need to put into learning to play the violin or program a computer. To make it even more challenging, there is no one practice that is right for everyone!

Don’t be tempted to constantly evaluate your experience against those reported by other meditators, or those you might have read about. After you have checked out the meditation possibilities, settle on a practice that speaks to you, that you can make a commitment to; and, if possible, seek out a skilled teacher to guide you. Then it is up to you. Be aware that the experiences of other meditators can be a source of inspiration for you, but that your experience will be different. Your meditation practice is strengthened for the long haul when you learn to listen to and trust your own unique experience. One of my teachers constantly encouraged me with these simple words: “Do it, don’t judge it.”

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