Friday, January 21, 2011

Getting Started

Beginning a meditation practice has it's real challenges. As I was sitting this morning, towards the end I began to reflect on the most essential aspects of what keeps me going. The single most important condition, both in my opinion and experience, is to develop a friendship with the practice.

What does it mean to establish a "friendship" with the practice? When you imagine friendship, what is the felt sense that comes up? For me it is warmth, kindness, happiness, joy, laughter, and love. When I go in the morning or in the evening to sit, the first things I say to myself is that I'm going to spend time with my friend. That friend is me. What a cherishable thing it is to have this time, right now, to be with my self! The very first thing I do when I sit is to check in. How does the body feel? Is it comfortable? Is there an ache? If something is hurting there is compassion for that hurting: "oh, my dear friend, you're hurting! That knee is really bothering you." One must develop compassion for themselves, especially at this early stage of meditation, because a neat thing begins to happen. The love in our heart opens. A connection between joy and meditation establishes itself, and if there is no sense of reward then the motivation to meditate will fall apart. It's simple Pavlovian psychology. But it's more than that, too.

We need this kind of love for ourselves early on because it provides a firm basis for compassion. As we go on in the practice of meditation, a lot of things will begin to come up -- a lot of things we may not like about ourselves. Having a sense of compassion and love will make our acceptance, and our letting go of these old worn-out patterns, easier and more fulfilling (and complete!).

As you read into the buddhist literature on meditation, you might come across the concept of anatta, or no-self. At this point, things can get really confusing and it's remarkably easy (and common) for us in the west to totally misunderstand and misinterpret this part of the teaching. My advice as your getting started is to not concern yourself with this aspect just yet. Anatta is a highly complex concept, one that tends to require a lot of practice, prior insight, and years of development to begin to understand.

For now, just focus on loving yourself. Cherish the twenty or thirty minutes you have to pay attention to your own body, mind, spirit. Give it love. Give it the healing beauty of a silent mind. Breath deeply into it. Feel its every feeling. Naturally, the experience of pure gratefulness will arise. And tomorrow when you might try telling yourself "I can't do this, what's the point, I don't have time, I'm not getting anything out of it," remember the feeling and it will naturally draw you back.

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1 comment:

  1. Jamie! Write a book. seriously. the way you wrote about meditation was just perfect. simple, beautiful, and encouraging. I hope you keep writing about it because I could really use a little guidance!
    I don't even know what to do with my body when I meditate. I don't know how to empty my mind. I know I used to meditate with some regularity, but it seems so long ago now. I love this concept of spending time with a friend. how true.
    thanks for your inspiring words!