“There are times when we stop, we sit still. We listen and breezes from a whole other world begin to whisper.” ― James Carroll
We all like simple, don’t we?
One of simplest and at the same time; most effective mindfulness practices is the Sitting Meditation. If you followed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, the practice is introduced in week four.
So what is Sitting Meditation?
The Mindfulness approach to the sitting meditation is not sitting in the traditional lotus position, fingers and thumbs circled, gently going “ho oom Mmmmm” for hours at a time. Rather, it is a gentle, easy approach to sitting and focusing on something simple, like the breadth. The practice can take a few minutes or even up to an hour. It all depends on you.
What do you do before you start? If you have questions then the notes below will help. There are four key elements you need to consider:
- A Place that is quiet and calm is key.
Find a good spot where you live, ideally where there isn’t too much clutter or distractions. It needs to be somewhere where you can find some peace and quiet. Not in front of the TV, or in the middle of the kitchen. Perhaps a spare room. I use our spare room as it is quiet and few people go into it.
- Next, is Posture and hands.
With Mindfulness, there is no right way or wrong way to practice. It is what is comfortable for you. Some people choose to sit on the floor. Some choose a chair. Me? I happen to sit on the edge of the spare room bed. Whatever, posture you feel comfortable in. If you suffer from back pain, what position is the easiest for you? You might want to sit on lots of cushions or very few. What you do need is a stable, solid seat, not perching or hanging over an edge.
Notice what your legs are doing. If sitting on cushions on the floor, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. If on a chair, it’s good if the bottoms of your feet are touching the floor and your legs a slightly apart. That is the posture I use. I like to sit without shoes on so I can feel the soles of my feet in contact with the carpet.
You need to make sure that you are sitting relatively straight, and do not stiffen your upper body. We all have a slight natural curvature of the spine. Let it be there. Your head and shoulders can comfortably rest on top of your vertebrae.
People ask, what do you do with your hands? I gently rest my hands on my legs. Not grasping the fingers together, but letting them rest – open and loose.
You can close your eyes or drop your gaze. If you choose to drop your gaze, drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. You may let your eyelids almost close. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it. It helps in my case as I wear glasses all the time. So I take them off and it helps.
- Next, is Time. Build the practice into your day.
At the outset, it helps to set an amount of time you’re going to “practice” for. Otherwise, you may never create the time to fit the practice in. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as five or ten minutes. Eventually, you can build up to twice as long, then maybe up to 45 minutes or an hour. I use a timer on my phone. Many people do a session in the morning and in the evening, or one or the other. I tend to practice early in the morning as this is the time I have build into my daily schedule to practice. If you feel your life is busy and you have little time, doing some is better than doing none. When you get a little space and time, you can do a bit more.
4. Finally, Attitude, Commitment, and Kindness.
Like anything in life, mindfulness meditation takes commitment and practice. It is well known that little and often is better than intermittent. So be prepared to practice at least four days a week or more. I tend to practice formal mindfulness sessions five days per week and walking meditations at the weekend. When you begin the practice you will notice that you can “concentrate” on your breathing for a few moments and then all of a sudden a string of thoughts will flash across your mind. Your instinctive reaction is to berate yourself for not being able to “do the practice”. This is where the kindness to yourself comes to the fore. No matter how many years you have practiced and no matter the intensity, you can not ultimately control all the thoughts you have. It is like trying to hold water in your hand. No matter how hard you try, you will not succeed. Instead, don’t bother judging yourself or obsessing over the fact you are having the thoughts or the contents of the thoughts. Come back to the focus that the sitting meditation is centered on. Your body and your breath. You will go away. You come back. Time after time. Like the waves on the edge of the sea.
I hope these simple elements help make your practice a success. If you have experiences and comments on the sitting practice, do let me know.
The photo is one I took this morning, imagining myself sitting under the tree doing a sitting practice.
I leave you with the following quote:
“I’m simply saying that there is a way to be sane. I’m saying that you can get rid of all this insanity created by the past in you. Just by being a simple witness of your thought processes.
It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say “this is good, this is bad,” you have already jumped onto the thought process.
It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher.
And this process of watching is the very alchemy of real religion. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, thoughts start disappearing. You are, but the mind is utterly empty.
That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.”