“The shamatha style of meditation is particularly recommended by the Buddha. It has been the way for beginning meditators for 2,500 years. To describe meditation we could use the phrase touch and go. You are in contact, you’re touching the experience of being there, actually being there—and then you let go. That applies to awareness of your breath on the cushion and also beyond that, to your day-to-day living awareness. The point of touch and go is that there is a sense of feel. The point of touch is that there is a sense of existence, that you are who you are.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche- taken from a letter dated 1973
When I started sitting at a local Shambhala Centre (Shambhala is a Buddhist path built for Westerners, learn more here) I don’t think I knew why I was sitting. People have asked me many times over the last three years. Was I trying to become more peaceful? Calm? Relieve stress? Achieve enlightenment? It wasn’t any of those things. I just felt like my life wasn’t right. Something was missing and I had been searching for years and not finding what I needed. I wondered if what I searched for could be found in sitting meditation.
“Was I trying to become more peaceful? Calm? Relieve stress? Achieve enlightenment? It wasn’t any of those things. I just felt like my life wasn’t right.”
I first received meditation instruction at an open house at the Victoria Shambhala Centre about three and half years ago. I’d tried reading books and sitting at home but I was getting now where with that. I didn’t know how to sit, why I’d sit, or what to do while I sat.
As the centre I was given a pretty basic, non-mystical set of instructions about taking a seat and just being aware of my breath. That’s it. What? No colorful visualizations? No guided meditation? No chanting or mantra? Just me, sitting in a lotus position, or as close as I could come, and breathing. And not some sort of special deep breathing. Just regular, every day breathing. Oh yeah, and, you have to do it with your eyes open. With an unfixed and lowered gaze you just sit and breathe. That was it. Now, the sitting and breathing were broken up by periodic walking around the room in a circle, but, again, nothing is happening. Just walking, and just breathing, and noticing that I was walking, and breathing. And then back to sitting. That filled the hour. That’s right. An hour.
Just walking, and just breathing, and noticing that I was walking, and breathing. And then back to sitting. That filled the hour.
It is over three years later and I am in the middle of three months of a meditation commitment. In order to train in late January as a Meditation Guide for others, I have promised to sit for thirty hours every month. Basically an hour a day. At first glance I thought that would be easy. I was already getting up a half hour early to sit, no big deal. But life as a freelancer isn’t really very predictable. And life with dogs, husbands and children is complicated. And before I knew it two days would pass and I hadn’t sat. I would sleep in or have outside commitments late at night or early morning teaching, blah blah blah, the point is- I started to get behind. Before I knew it, I needed 12 hours in 6 days. How could I find 2 hours a day to sit? Or maybe what I’m really saying is, would I? How willing am I?
My mind was screaming that it had 800 (and I’m not exaggerating of course) things to do that couldn’t be put off for sitting.
My mind was screaming that it had 800 (and I’m not exaggerating of course) things to do that couldn’t be put off for sitting.My mind was screaming that it had 800 (and I’m not exaggerating of course) things to do that couldn’t be put off for sitting.
And this led to a very interesting experiment.
Up until that point I had sat in my special places. I had sat at the Shambhala Center with others, or at my own home spot. But If I was going to get this sitting done, I had to become a meditator in the world.
I meditated on the bus when I was sitting and standing when it was full at rush hour.
I started meditating on busses on the way to other things. I meditated on the bus when I was sitting and standing when it was full at rush hour. I meditated while walking the dog and after lunch in my studio between lessons I had to teach. Was it cheating I wonder? Am I only meditating if I’m sitting on a cushion? Or am I meditating anytime I’m fully present with the breath and not surfing the channels in my mind?
Test Drive: Want to try it out?
Next time you are walking or riding on a bus or in a car – see if you can sit, feel your body in the seat and then just notice your breath going in and out. When thoughts arise, just label them ‘thinking’ and let them go and come back to the breath.
What was it like to do that?
What did it feel like afterwards?
Next Blog: What I notice from taking my meditation off the cushion and into the world AND my true confession about the missing 6 hours for November. Did I make the goal?