For years, I’ve tried my head at meditation.
One moment, I’m with my breath, no distractions… while the next I’m just sitting there–waiting for the timer to go off, itching my nose, shifting my seat, and thinking about every little thing going on in my life.
But whether I actually experienced some stillness, or I spent the whole time calling my mind back to attention (or completely unaware of all the thinking I was doing!), I’m almost always better off after the session than I was before. The practice of meditation grounds me.
Back in August, I had the opportunity to chat with Seth Freedman, from Shambhala Meditation Center NYC. We had a great conversation about what a meditation practice can be (and what it’s not). Along with some other helpful tips on meditation.
1. What is meditation?
It’s a practice, or technique of paying attention to what’s going on internally and externally, and working with stress and habitual patterns in order to make friends with yourself, and live a life with more ease.
2. What happens to us when we start meditating?
Once you start to meditate, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that your mind is a flood of thoughts – kind of out of control. And when you’re going about your day to day life that flood of thoughts is still going, and you still have no real control over it. You may not even notice that’s how it is. So when you start to meditate –you’re sitting there and a thought comes up and you feel it pull you to engage in a reaction. But because (you’re meditating) you’re just sitting on the cushion you notice the thought. You’re practicing to not act on it– so the thought doesn’t hook you.
3. What do you think is the biggest obstacle for people to get started with meditation?
Getting to the cushion. Everyone seems to feel really stressed out, or rushed and there’s no time to sit down for 20 minutes a day to work with your thoughts and emotions, and take a break from the mental activity. But I found if you can schedule it, or make a commitment to doing that practice – its benefits come pretty quickly, and then you’re hooked to the practice.
It’s kind of like brushing your teeth – if you were traveling and forgot your toothbrush, you could probably deal with it for a day or two, but after that you’d feel like you had to brush your teeth.
4. What’s the point of meditation?
People think meditation is all about relaxing and finding peace and stress reduction, it is those things, but those things aren’t the main focus– they are more of a by-product.
In your day to day to life – you’re often caught with a compelling emotion so instead of just reacting to it –you are training to notice the gap between the thoughts. So eventually you can rest there (in the gap between the thoughts) and you can make a choice on how to perceive with some kind of clarity – so you’re not making a knee jerk reaction. You can decide what’s the best possible scenario, and how to go forward and cause less harm and do what’s beneficial for all. And this carries through in work issues, relationship issues – all facets of life. It’s learning to rest in the gap.
5. How do we become good meditators?
We’re not here to become good meditators – that is not the point.
What about Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche? Is he a good meditator?
I think he’s never not meditating.
6. What can we do to find solace in our day to day lives?
Take breaks. While sitting on the subway instead of pulling out your iphone and reading an email, take that time to be on the train. Look around. Notice what’s happening on the train, and center yourself. So often, myself included, people are trying to distract themselves when there is not something to be done. But by really connecting with our surroundings and the people next to us – we really inhabit our own skin. And that’s a really good way to feel grounded, and get a little breath of fresh air in the daily grind.