Sunday, January 2, 2011

JANUARY DAILY PRACTICE: Some words of encouragement

If you are relatively new to sitting meditation practice, it may help to consider the following: Create a comfortable, private space to sit. It could be a corner of your bedroom, a walk-in closet or wherever you can have privacy. After even only a few days, the consistency of sitting in the same place will lead to a greater ease in letting go of other concerns and settling into 'just sitting.' The same thing goes with time: it's best, if possible, to sit at the same time(s) each day.

Sit so that your knees are lower than the top of your pelvis (the iliac crest). If you are sitting on a cushion, sit toward the front of it so that your pelvis tilts slightly so that your lumbar spine maintains its natural curve. If you are sitting on the floor, and your knees do not come to the ground, bring the ground up to your knees by supporting your outer thighs with rolled blankets or yoga blocks. You want to feel completely supported. As Patanjali describes asana, your posture should be stable and easeful.

Let your jaw be relaxed; perhaps your lips are even slightly parted. Eyes can be closed or partially open, but in either event, have your eyes rolled downward, as this helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for the relaxation response.

Rest your hands on your thighs, palms up or down, whichever you prefer OR use a traditional meditation mudra.

Decide before you sit how long you plan to sit and then sit there that long! Don't cut it short 'because it's not working' or because you're bored or think of something better to do! If at the end of the time, you'd like to sit longer, that's fine.

Sitting quietly, feel what is sitting. Feel the body 'in the body.'
Observe the ever-changing sensations and see if you can stay at the level of sensation and not rush to judge or mentally describe them.

Go into the sensation and see if you can realize the subtle presence of that which senses. Feel the sensation within the sensation.
Rest in just sitting.

Can you locate that which senses? Is there a defined boundary of that which is aware?

Let this be simple. Don't try to be 'spiritual.' Just sit free of any inner seeking for attainment. Let go of strategizing and simply be present to your life breath by breath. Practice radical acceptance.

Remember, there's room for all of it on your cushion (or chair).

frank jude


  1. This is the first year in my life ((I think) that I have not made New Years resolutions. But I did take some time to "scan" over the events of last year and reflect a bit on the positives and the negatives and what I will "emphasize" this year (as oppossed to "resolve to do" this year). I am relatively new to meditation but was hooked from day 1. And found it natural to establish a daily practice. So most certainly I will "emphasize" meditation this year :-). Thanks for the prompt..."simply be present to your life breath by breath. Practice radical acceptance." That last bit - radical acceptance....that presents some strange possibilities :-). I'll have to explore that more.
    I'll share that when I first started sitting this summer I did some experimentation as far as cushions and mudras or not mudras and candles or not and what room in the house, different times of days....And I've settled (for now) on prefering my garden outside (not in this weather) and using a mudra and have a favorite cushion. I also like candles - didn't think I would. Since I'm new I can't help but wonder if these rituals that have already developed can become "things I cling to" and hope to keep an open heart about letting the rituals evolve with time and circumstance. Thanks, Frank, for your teachings.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Susan! You should know that the Buddha discussed four categories of things we can get attached to. Now, remember, these are not in and of themselves 'bad' things. It's not like we should avoid these things. The Buddha is just pointing out that there are skillful and unskillful ways we can relate to these things.

    1. Sensory pleasures, such as food, sex, art, music etc. This is perhaps the most obvious of the things we can get attached to, and it's equally obvious how such attachment will certainly lead to suffering. None of these things are permanent!

    2. Views, opinions and perceptions! As all of these are conditioned by other things, none of them have absolute, unchanging reality. By becoming attached to our perception of people, places and things, we stop really seeing what's there, relating instead to our thoughts about them. This kills intimacy, and saps life of authenticity.

    3. Rites, rituals, practices! SO, yes indeed, you can end up 'clinging' to your candles, cushion, mudras etc. and so we must be vigilant in NOT doing so! Otherwise, one day, when your candle is burned out, and you don't have an immediate replacement, you will be disappointed! And that's just the least of it!

    4. "I," "me" and "mine." This notion of being a 'self' is the most sticky and challenging category and the one that leads to the greatest suffering. It's especially pernicious as ultimately there is no such self to be found!

  3. Happy New Year Frank and everyone reading!
    I love this monthly intention and am joining you in sitting each day. I started my morning meditation practice a few months ago when I realized how much I was avoiding being present in my new life in Thailand. My mind was so scattered and agitated each morning, usually after a bad, restless sleep, that I began by listening to a Loving Kindness meditation podcast. I really enjoy the meditation and love starting my day off by directing the phrases out to people in my life. I often sit for another 10-15 minutes afterward when the podcast ends.

    Unfortunately, I now feel "hooked" and am having trouble meditating without being guided in some way! I know I have the meditation memorized, but I still can't focus without that familiar voice- I even laugh about it to myself. So for the rest of the month I am going to attempt to do as you suggest- not make a big deal out of, not try to be "spiritual", and just sit without a voice guiding me through the experience.

    But, I am wondering about your thoughts on being dependent on things like this- guided meditations, background music, or even mental techniques like counting or mantras (I usually go with "so hum") to stay "focused"... I am starting to think I am relying on these techniques to actually further avoid observing...please share your thoughts :)

  4. Ah, Carrie.... you bring up an important point! Thank you!

    The easy part first: definitely 'back-ground' music is something I really do not recommend for 'meditation.' Bob Sharples has a lovely little book called "Meditation and Relaxation in Plain English" that helps clarify the distinction between the two, and I often like to talk about "contemplation," "relaxation" and "meditation" as practices that share some similarities and overlaps, but which really offer distinct 'benefits' and I believe some clarity on their differences can help us get the most out of the respective practices.

    Back-ground music can be lovely for relaxation (like in shavasana) but is a distraction for meditation. This holds especially for music that has an obvious melody or cadence, less so for music like the Zen Shakuhachi flute music.

    Counting breath, mantras and noting, like you point out, are helpful for 'focusing' or developing concentration. These are techniques used in shamatha (calming or tranquility meditations), but again, they tend to get in the way of vipassana or insight practice. And "mindfulness" is ultimately an insight practice.

    I too enjoy a guided meditation every once in a while, but if you are actually feeling 'hooked' by it, and finding it difficult to sit without guidance, then I'd say you've answered your own question: it's an attachment and attachment is attachment! So, please do, just sit and invite whatever visitors that come 'round to come 'round.

    And thank you for joining us!

  5. frank jude i am noticing that i desire a guided meditation from you!!
    these past few nights of meditation have been really interesting. besides one night having felt as tall as a sky scraper and yet somehow like a blade of grass, i have felt very connected to tucson and quite raw and vulnerable. i have not been carried away in these physical feelings and visuals, i have noticed the images and felt the emotions and then come back to my breathing. it's been really interesting

    i have come away from these january meditations so far more grounded in my practice. i have also been incorporating other pracitces from previous months still into my daily routines, the gathas as i wake and before i sleep as well as the drinking water in the morning practice and gathas. i am so appreciative of all that you offer. of your time and effort that you have put in. it does touch the lives and inspire others. As Christopher Key Chapple writes "take a step back and think about the company you keep. Is this individual or group manifesting a place pr space or mood that merits my friendliness and hence ease?" i am so thankful for this space and for these readings and practices which you have shared with us in which i can use my practice to find "the best path to pursue"

    thanks to everyone