One of my favorite lessons from my training with Sarah Powers had to do with meditation and the benefits of a daily meditation practice. She said that we sometimes need to do less physically so we can train more in the mind. Meditation practice can heal the heart and the mind and allow us to be free from suffering a little more each day. This was inspiration enough to jump start my home meditation practice. She taught us two practices. One for evening and one for morning. What I am sharing with you is the evening practice as I found it the simplest way to begin.
Shamata / Shavasana = Shamasana
Shamata practice is a practice of non-distraction and awareness of the habits of the mind. It doesn’t need to be perfect and it needs a daily infusion to keep you connected and present.
For this practice, you can lay down or sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair. It takes 12 minutes to do. I found an app for my computer (zazen suite) or there is an app for iphones (insight timer lite) that can help you time your practice.
There are three qualities you want to bring to this practice. The first is relaxation. Being relaxed is important in that if you practice this through any mental discomfort, you may begin to practice it out in the “real world” too. If you find yourself getting tense, focus on the exhale. The second quality is stability. You want to feel stable in body and mind so you are not pushed in either direction by your emotions or thoughts. The third quality of this practice is vividness. This is key so you don’t fall asleep. If you find yourself getting sleepy, open your eyes slightly and focus on the inhale.
- Sit / Lay quietly in a comfortable position
- Notice the breath. Don’t begin ujjayi breathing here. Just notice your normal breathing. (This was the hardest part for me)
- As a thought comes in, just lightly touch it and say “dukkha” which means suffering. Let the thought disappear and bring your awareness to the low belly and your exhale. (Pema Chodron suggests saying “thinking” as you let your thoughts dissipate.)
- Repeat this process as often as needed. If you feel tense or attached to a thought, focus on the exhale. If you feel sleepy or tired, focus on the inhale.
- When the timer rings, bring hands to prayer in front of the forehead (for clarity of mind), to the heart (for clarity of the emotions), and if seated bow to the floor (for health of the physical body and as a gesture of humility).
What I have found is that some days the mind is clear with only a few popping up. Some days, I struggle to find even the tiniest space and I have to say dukkha repeatedly to stop the thoughts from arising. I haven’t learned to control the mind, but I have learned to not attach to each thing that pops up. I no longer beat myself up for the spinning thoughts and I no longer celebrate when things are clear. I think I finally realized that it is all to be embraced. The other thing I have found is that I truly enjoy those twelve minutes each evening and look forward to my meditation time.