Not too tight, not too loose
There is a story regarding the Buddha which recounts how he once gave a teaching to a famous sitar player who wanted to study mediation. The musician asked, “Should I control my mind or should I completely let go?” The Buddha answered, “Since you are a great musician, tell me how you would tune the strings of your instrument.” The musician said, “I would make them not too tight and not too loose.” “Likewise,” said the Buddha, “in your meditation practice you should not impose anything too forcefully on your mind, nor should you let it wander.” That is the teaching of letting the mind be in a very open way, of feeling the flow of energy without trying to subdue it and without letting it get out of control, of going with the energy pattern of mind. This is meditation practice. – from the Introduction to Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
Three aspects of sitting practice
Posture organizes your being and makes you a true human being with good head and shoulders, as opposed to an ape or a banana. Posture is one difference between animals and human beings. In tüdro, the Tibetan word for animal, tü means “bent over,” and dro means “to go,” or “to walk” so an animal is a sentient being that walks or moves bent over. Unlike animals, human beings are capable of sitting upright and having good head and shoulders.
The second aspect of sitting practice is technique. Basically speaking, the technique is to be spacious and not wait for anything. If something is about to happen, it will happen; if it is not going to happen, it won’t. Don’t expect anything from your practice. Sitting practice is not a punishment or a reward. Don’t expect it will bring you sudden bliss or a new relationship with reality. You have to sever yourself completely from any such view! Nobody is going to help you; you are on your own. John Doe or Jane Doe. Be alone, be lonely. Loneliness has the quality of somebody playing a bamboo flute; it has the quality of somebody strumming a guitar at the foot of a waterfall. Occasionally you sneeze, which might shock you. Loneliness will make you resentful and horny. Loneliness will make you cry and laugh at the same time.
The third aspect of sitting is joy, or appreciation. Sitting practice is joyful, but not in the usual sense. It is hard joy, tough joy, but you will achieve something in the end. Joy is connected with hard work and exertion: you appreciate working hard and you are not trying to escape from pain. If you stay with the pain of practice, it is like carving a rock: it is not necessarily pleasurable, but you are achieving something. It is like sawing a tree or trying to swim across a big river: you keep going and appreciate keeping going.
Practice is like medicine: it is bitter, but good for you. Although it is a bittersweet experience, it is worth it. When you sit on your cushion, it is tearful and joyful put together. Pain and pleasure are one when you sit on your meditation cushion with a sense of humor. Sitting practice is remarkable, fantastic, extraordinary! It is like watching a traffic light: stop, wait, go. It is like an orgasm, which could be both painful and pleasurable. That is life.
– from The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, Volume 1, p. 180
A 10-Minute Guided Meditation with Barry Boyce
(Click HERE to listen to the audio recording)
This mediation practice is nothing fancy. One simply sits on a cushion or in a chair in an upright but relaxed posture. The eyes are open, with a soft gaze looking slightly downward. You breathe normally. The whole technique is as follows: you breathe in, you breathe out. When you breathe out, you imagine you are going out with the exhalation, dissolving into space. Then you breathe in. You don’t pay particular attention to the inbreath; just let it come in on its own. You breathe out, you imagine you are going out with the exhalation, dissolving into space. Over time, the outbreath becomes like an anchor, like the gentle tug of a kite string that lets you know when your mind is wandering. When you notice your mind has wandered, you simply come back to the outbreath, back to the present moment — without judgment. No praise, no blame. You continue to breathe in, and breathe out…
1. Feel your bottom on the seat.
First, feel your bottom on the seat, and your feet on the floor or the ground, flat, touching the earth. Your eyes can be open or closed, head tilted slightly down. Your shoulders are relaxed, your hands are resting on your thighs and your upper arms are parallel to your torso. Just take a moment to feel that posture.
2. Use breath as an anchor.
Now we’re going to use the breath as an anchor for our attention. We don’t concern ourselves with trying to adjust the rate of the breath, we just come with whatever breath we have.
One of the first things we notice naturally as we try to pay attention to breath coming in and out is our mind is filled with thoughts. It’s like a waterfall of thoughts. And in mindfulness practice, just notice the thought. Touch it, and go back to the breath.
The moment of noticing a thought is a very powerful moment. It’s really where the real meditation occurs. That’s because there’s a spark of insight at that point, what in technical terms is called meta-awareness: you’re aware of your thought process, not just caught up in it. Now at that moment, there’s lots of possibility.
You can touch that thought and gently bounce back to attention on the breath and your body. But you might also say “Oh, there I go thinking again, I just can’t get away from this thinking and do this meditation.”
One of the wonderful things about meditation is the fact that it allows for such a monumental amount of failure. Failure is just fine. So, if you’re sitting meditation for 10 minutes and you don’t notice your thought until the bell rings at the end, that’s what that session was about. You learn from it. There will be another one. No big deal.
4. Concluding bell.
As you hear the concluding bell, no matter what’s been going on in the session, you don’t need to evaluate it, just let it go. As you’re hearing the reverberation, open your eyes, and enjoy what’s coming next.