Day 1 – Mindfulness Meditation for the Modern Life
Today I began to share and explore the practice of mindfulness meditation with a new and sweet group of students at Castle Hill. I continue to feel fortunate to have this opportunity, and I hope to share some of the material covered in the series here.
Some of the questions we considered on day one were what is mindfulness meditation and why is it relevant to us? These are really good questions to ponder, especially if you are committing to taking a six week series. Mindfulness meditation is the practice of sustaining and returning one’s attention to our present moment experience, whether it is the experience of breath, physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, or even the environment. Sounds simple, right? Yet, practice is often challenging. We very quickly find that the mind is very scattered. Sometimes I can’t sustain my attention for a second, forget minutes, but don’t be so quick to throw in the towel. The initial stages of trying anything new are always difficult, be it playing the violin or playing soccer. Practice is key. Consistency is critical. So we come into our discovery of this material and practice with a willingness to explore, to commit and to maintain a curious mind and open heart.
Why are these practices relevant today? The list of benefits of meditation are long: greater clarity and focus, less anxiety and stress, inspired creativity and more ease. We all may come to meditation with varying aspirations, but there is one aspiration that is common to all of us. We seek to find genuine happiness. What is genuine happiness? We experience momentary bouts of happiness all the time. We buy those new pair of jeans or bite into a wonderful meal. Indeed, we experience happiness, but those moments of happiness pass. They are transient and stimulus based. What we seek is a kind of happiness and ease that can be sustained through the highs and lows of life. Ancient wisdom traditions tell us that this kind of happiness is more connected to how we relate to experience, rather than the experience itself. We often hear of people who have suffered great difficulty in life, yet they continue to carry forward with a gesture of kindness and compassion. Someone who easily comes to mind is Nelson Mandela. Rather than being identified by his difficulties, he became awakened to deeper wisdom and kindness. This possibility inspires us to explore the same within ourselves. Mindfulness meditation offers a platform for exactly this exploration.
What often happens in life is that we experience something good and immediately we are attracted to this thing or person that is good and pleasant. Not only, but it feels so good that we begin to hold on to this experience, this relationship, this situation. More so, we begin to devise ways to make it last longer. In a word, we begin to struggle. At the opposite end, at times we experience difficulty or challenge and we want to fast forward through the experience. Sometimes, not even fast forward, we want to circumvent it entirely or feign a busy-ness so that we don’t have to turn toward it. We look the other way in the hopes that the difficulty will go away. We all know that this is rarely the case and instead we have created more struggle and resistance to what life is presenting. The essence of practice, instead, is to experience what feels good and pleasant with a willingness to let it go when the time comes; to experience what feels unpleasant and even painful with a willingness to allow it to be. In the absence of struggle, we begin to find ease.
These are some of the foundational wisdoms and teachings that we will explore over the next six weeks. How can I sustain greater ease in life? How can I practice letting go and allowing, more often than holding on and resisting? We begin our exploration with the methods of Shamatha practice. In order to skillfully investigate our experience, we first require a mind that feels more stable, at ease and clear and Shamatha practice offers us the tools to do just this.
I look forward to continue sharing this six week journey with you.