Day 1- Yoga Yoga Mindfulness Meditation Series, Establishing Our Ground
Today I began a six week journey with a new group of students, this time at Yoga Yoga. Every opportunity to share this material feels unique and deeply enriching for me. I hope you will find the same.
We began by exploring the reasons each of us have for coming to explore these practices. The reasons are as unique, as we are individual. Into this uniqueness, we wove in a common thread. Each of us seeks to be genuinely happy. So what does this state of being look like? When we get or buy something new, we feel happy. The happiness or excitement lasts for a while, but with time what is new becomes old and the excitement fades. This kind of happiness or short-lived excitement is more stimulus-based. Though it is a completely valid part of our experience, it is not one that is sustainable. Genuine happiness, on the other hand, is more precisely defined as a sustained ease being that can be carried through the highs and the lows, the old and the new. Wisdom traditions tell us that this kind of happiness is more connected to how we relate to experience, rather than experience itself.
What we find happening in life often is that we want to hold on dearly to what feels good, while we resist or deny what feels difficult or painful. Living between the lines of good and bad begin to feel limiting and strugglesome, and where there is struggle, ease cannot flourish. Through these practices, we will examine how we can experience what is good, while being willing to let it go; how we can experience what is difficult while fully allowing it to be a part of our experience. It is an interesting and beneficial inquiry, and leads us directly into mindfulness meditation practices.
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. This attention allows us to deepen our understanding of and intimacy with how we are relating to life’s unfolding. This wisdom alone can help us along the journey toward genuine happiness or ease.
Mindfulness meditation has two parts: shamatha and vipassana. Shamatha allows us to cultivate a greater sense of focus and concentration in our mind. Sit quietly for even a minute, and we experience how scattered the mind can be at times. No doubt, this practice will be challenging and will require equal parts discipline and kindness in order to realize the benefits.
In a shamatha practice, we are directing our attention to the breath, while allowing life to happen around us. Every time we are drawn away, we allow the experience to be and we kindly place our attention back on the breath. We recycle this method over and over again, no matter for how long or how often we wander. In this way, we build greater focus, as well as strengthen our capacity for patience and kindness. The goal is not to empty the mind or to live in a vacuum. It is to allow life to move through us, while discovering our capacity for ease. The steady lens established with a shamatha practice can be used for deeper inquiry in a vipassana practice. In vipassana, instead of immediately returning every time we are drawn away, we may take some moments to inquire into the nature of what has arisen. We will begin to cover vipassana in greater detail on day two.
As you explore shamatha during week one, take time for self-care. These practices are rooted in care and kindness, and both qualities will allow your home practice to flourish more fully. Choose a time or a space that you can be consistent with so that you will be as inclined to meditate, as you are to brush your teeth. Practice with discipline, but within the discipline apply a kindness so that you are not too harsh if you wander off incessantly or even skip a practice. Simply arouse fresh interest in returning whether it’s in the next moment or the next day. Your practice always awaits you.