Dear Still Water Friends,
Sitting meditation is one of the most intimate, personal things we can do. We remove ourselves physically and psychologically from the rush of our days and take time to touch the vitality of our own lives and the workings of our own consciousness.
Over time, as we practice, many of us accumulate short meditation poems and touchstones that we use to guide our practice. Sometimes they are just a few meaningful words we say to ourselves as we begin a sitting, or when we are feelings scattered, overwrought, or low in energy.
One guide that I often use and teach is a 12-word meditation gatha written by Thich Nhat Hanh:
Present moment, wonderful moment.
Each of the lines of the poem is a pointer to a specific practice. “Breathing in, I am aware of breathing in. Breathing out, I am aware of breathing out.” We let go of everything else and focus our attention on the physicality of our breath. All we need to say is “In, out.” When we are new to the practice, the single words help to keep our attention from straying. When we have some experience and have settled into our breaths, then we can drop even the short words, simply being present to each in-breath and out-breath.
When it feels right, we can move on to “Breathing in, I am aware of the depth of my breath. Breathing out, I am aware of the speed of my breathing.” We merely notice. However, our noticing changes what we notice. Usually as we settle in, our breathing becomes deeper and slower. We say, “Deep, slow.”
“Calm, ease” directs our attention to the quality of our mental states and our bodies. Is our mind calm or agitated? Is our body at ease or tense? Again, if we are deeply present to our breathing, there is little we have to do. Our agitation subsides. Our tense body relaxes.
“Smile, release” is a way of changing our mental and physical energies. Smiling lightens us. Releasing is letting go of our worries, concerns, and tightness.
“Present moment, wonderful moment” is a reminder of the joy and beauty inherent in life. The previous exercises have settled and opened us. Now, for some precious moments, we are able to enjoy our existence. Our lives are miraculous, even on days when we and the people around us may be experiencing difficulties. (And recognizing the miraculousness of our lives will likely help us deal with the difficulties.)
Another meditation touchstone I sometimes use is a couplet from the 12th century Chinese Master Hongzhi, from the poem “Song of Silent Illumination”:
In silence, words are forgotten.
In utter clarity, things appear.
The first line is for me a reminder to let go of discursive thinking, to come to awareness of my breath, my body and my physical senses, my feelings and emotions, and the working of my mind — my awareness can become wordless and choiceless.
The second line reminds me that the practice of non-thinking, the silencing of the discursive mind, need not lead me to a drowsy vagueness of experience. Rather I can be awake and aware, I can come to see things as they really are, and that will bring me acceptance, joy, and peace.
This Thursday evening, after our meditation, the Dharma sharing will explore what we are actually doing when we are meditating. Are there poems, phrases, or touchstones, that assist you in your practice? You are invited to join us.
This week is also the first Thursday of the month and, as is our tradition, we will offer a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and to the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
You are also invited to join the Still Water community on Saturday, August 13th, for a Day of Practice at Blueberry Gardens. The theme will be “Clarity, Calmness, and Strength: Cultivating Compassion in Ourselves and Others.”
In the excerpt below Thich Nhat Hanh describes his own practice of meditation.
When I Practice Sitting Meditation
by Thich Nhat Hanh from the Congressional Retreat, October 27, 2011
When I practice sitting meditation, I do not open the doors of the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the body, or the mind, and yet I feel very alive. I feel cozy. I practice breathing in mindfully and I touch the fact that I am alive. I touch the miracle of life within me. I enjoy breathing in and breathing out. I generate the energy of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the energy that can help protect us. In the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness is the essence of a Buddha. A Buddha is someone inhabited by the energy of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the energy that allows you to know what is going on. What is going on is that you are alive. What is going on is that you have a body. What is going on is that there is a paradise of forms and colors available in the here and the now.
What is available is the Kingdom of God, not only around you, but in you. That flower is a wonder and if you have enough mindfulness and concentration you recognize that as something belonging to the Kingdom of God. If we get in touch deeply enough with that flower, we get in touch with the Kingdom and we get in touch with God. That is thanks to mindfulness.