Jane from the sangha comes clean about what her practice is really like..
I’d like to tell you that every morning I assiduously read a poem, do yoga, followed by Wim Hof breathing, meditate for an hour and realise a constant state of mindfulness throughout the day. But I would be mistreating the fourth precept (telling the truth)!
What I do know is that meditation and learning about the dharma has profoundly changed the way I think and am. It didn’t happen overnight and probably took several years for me to notice. But now I regularly catch myself behaving in ways – spontaneously- I would never have done before.
My time on the cushion has become a real haven of comfort in times of trouble and occasionally offers glimpses of a lovely joy.
I meditate first thing in the morning and sit cross legged facing the garden where there are two at least 100-year-old New Zealand tree ferns and a lovely black stone Buddha. The Buddha is very chilled (‘Zen’) and often seems to be saying, ‘Really?!’ with a wry look of amusement.
Sometimes, I wish the trees well and ask their help for us humans – a practice taught by Ratnadeva on his wonderful animism course. When I do this, I experience a lovely sense of connection and joy. A feeling of safety too because if trees are looking out for us, all is well with the world.
I find sitting cross-legged on the floor earths me and I feel more open. As I settle into my posture, I wriggle my spine then straighten it, then briefly focus on the top of my skull and imagine I am moving into a more open blue-sky space. I often set a timer as a discipline to make me take proper time. Otherwise, I allow myself to get distracted thinking what time is it, or just plain lazy. It’s a bit like setting a getting-up alarm; once you know it is on, you don’t need to worry.
I try to choose a focus for my meditation – a particular aspect of meditation practice thrown up by a course or book I am reading, or mindfulness of breathing. The metta bhavana is not my go-to and I think this is because I find it difficult to know what to ‘do’: to spend the full-time wishing people well or bringing them into my consciousness. I turn to it when someone I know is suffering or when I feel irritated or unsettled by someone else. Which, of course, is not someone else but me being unable to accept the way that someone else is! Sometimes, I do a quick burst of tonglen where, simplistically put, you breathe in another person’s suffering and breathe out a mode of being that would take that suffering away. Often this, for me, is an imagining – like sending someone a hug or visualising I am St George stamping out the dragon’s flames which represent their suffering. I find that when I do focus on someone, either in metta bhavana or tonglen, when I meet them in person, it feels like there is warmth and ease between us, or things that might have been difficult or challenging seem to have melted away. Magic!
Settling into a meditation, I maybe skip over the body awareness/body scan too quickly. Staying with different parts of the body or body feelings can take a lot of concentration and I have a tendency to think ‘Boring…’ and move on. I believe that very experienced meditators see this entry point as key and I am making a conscious effort to focus on this more thoroughly.
I sometimes find a guided meditation helpful and if I have followed an online course and kept the recording, this can help add new aspects to my practice and sometimes creates different understanding where I see things the second or third time round that I hadn’t seen during the course.
Off the cushion, I try to bring myself into mindfulness by doing an exercise we just learnt in our mitra group: AGE.
- Awareness: take a moment to become aware of where you are and how you are feeling.
- Gathering: focus on your breathing.
- Expanding: keep awareness of your breathing while also drawing in and incorporating what is going on in your body and around you.
Sometimes, I just say to myself: ‘Here. Now.‘ as an effective shorthand reminder. In truth, I find committing to even brief exercises of mindfulness throughout the day more difficult than committing to a session of meditation!
A growing part of my practice – it’s importance only recently understood – is trying to commit to generosity in its various guises. When I manage to do it, I find the effects profound. It’s part of my learning that I am not the centre of the universe because, truly, I do believe I am! When I am having a particularly childish inner tantrum – nobody loves me ENOUGH – I try to refocus. I bring to mind the old poster: Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. This reminds me to stop focusing on what I perceive as my deprivation and to turn instead toward empathising with what might be going on for the other person and what I could give them, even if it is just a wishing them well. At the very least, this is quite empowering, and at the most, it maybe, just maybe, reminds me I am not the axis upon which the universe spins!