Arriving at Meditation
Going from somewhere to there...and back here
One of my favorite folk groups of the '60s was the New Christy Minstrels. I loved them, in part, because I saw them perform live in Milwaukee in 1965. I also loved them for their fun brand of melodic folk music. A song which particularly enchanted me was called, "Denver." In the first stanza is this line, "...till I got to a place they call Denver, and I ain't never been quite the same." Of course, having Barry Maguire singing that opening verse is wonderful.
In March of 2011 I connected with a therapist in Denver, and I ain't been quite the same since.
This next series of posts will trace my journey, a journey which, on reflection, feels a little Hobbity. There and Back Again has been used, so my title is crafted to express more of my experience. As I trace this journey my wish is to present a primer on Mindfulness Meditation as I am learning about it. All I can tell you about is my own experience, and that experience is right now focused on what is known as the Thai Forest tradition (Theravada Buddhism). There are a whole bunch of other meditation traditions, TM, Zen, Reiki,etc. I will not attempt to provide comparisons; I do not have that expertise. I was moved in the direction I have gone through a series of "causes and conditions".
Before I tell you the story let me share the first thing I learned
Lesson One: A New Perspective on Peter
Moving from Peter the thinker to Peter the observer. My first practice was learning how to distinguish between thoughts and myself; to have thoughts without becoming the thoughts. To do this I would sit comfortably, close my eyes, and then watch as thoughts and images flowed through my mind. When a thought arose I would say to myself, "TALK," and when an image arose I would say, "IMAGE."
Initially I would do this for two minutes, gradually working my way to ten minutes. Once a day this was hard work. This is still hard work for me.
The point of beginning where I did with meditation was the reality that I had been living entirely "in my head" and was helplessly attached to every thought. To label every thought in my mind as TALK was not a judgment on the worth of the thought; simply a depersonalizing of it. It is "just a thought". The same with IMAGE; the mental pictures that enter my mind are just images.
I still come back to this practice from time to time; a reminder of why I have moved in this direction.
A critical part of this new direction is the idea of approaching every thought (and feeling) with compassionate curiosity. This is the essence of mindfulness, and I will have more to say on that in the weeks ahead.
One more comment. I use the word practice a lot. It is a multi-purpose word that describes both the content of specific meditation instructions and the reality that any work in meditation is a life-long exercise, a continuous flow of "practice" sessions. The goal, well at least one goal, is to have your life become your practice (the title of a retreat I attended this summer).