Meditating in Place

Pema Chodron

Pema Chodron

The instruction is to stay in the present. Don’t get caught up in hopes of what you’ll achieve and how good your situation will be some day in the future. What you do right now is what matters.~ Pema Chodron

This advice from master teacher Pema Chodron is good medicine for this fraught time, especially at night, when you are trying to sleep.  What are you trying to do?  Sleep.  Instead the mind is on how many prisoners are dying in all the prisons of the world, as a plague descends on the land, and every thought we have is of how impossible it is for most humans to flee. Whether imprisoned or not.  Or maybe only “imprisoned” in our houses.

Meditation is a great gift to human beings, and I was especially grateful to have its instruction in the middle of the night last night, as I, along with millions of others, tossed and turned.  So here is brief instruction that works:

Although formal sitting meditation requires a certain posture: sitting on a cushion, a firm or fairly firm one, if you can get it, and propping up your crossed knees on slightly softer ones, and placing your open palms on your knees, relaxing your body and your posture, especially your neck, which will help even out your breathing, there are times when you will absolutely not want to do this.  Such was the case last night.

There I was, around four o’clock, having meditated formally if briefly earlier in the evening, wide awake and miserable.  Scenes of horror, suffering, sorrow and panic a ceaseless loop in my distressed mind.  But then I recalled how a friend who had spent months in bed after surgery had informed me that she regularly meditated while lying down. A purist – or simply a rigid person – I couldn’t quite imagine it. But last night became my baptism.

Lying there, flat on my back, with my knees over a pillow and my head and neck resting comfortably on another, and yes, my tiny dog snuggled close for warmth, (in formal meditation the instruction is for animals not to be around) I began to breathe. Which is to say, to breathe knowingly, with full awareness of my breath.

And in this wretched “pandemic” how precious mere breathing has become!

Over decades I have tried out many a mantra.  For years my favorite mantra (you’re actually not supposed to share your mantra, someone told me, but personally I believe sharing is the answer to almost everything) was “In Peace.”  Breathing in on “In” and breathing out on “Peace.” But I’ve discovered that the mantra I was originally taught, “Om Nama Shivaya”- which I translate as “I bow to our inner light”- (sorry, purists) is superior.  Those ancient meditators in India knew that inhaling this sound means sending breath into every crevice of the lungs, as “In Peace,” does not.  Ah, the things we learn over years of practice!  Imagine what we’d learn if we all practiced kindness.

When one is new to Meditation there is simply amazement at how easily and frequently the mind strays! It does not like to stay put.  Anywhere!  It likes to roam, zig-zag, strut, ponder and dissect. Calmness seems a foreign notion.  Hence, the mantra. Lying there, comfy, cozy with my tiny symbol of all Creation, I let go of chasing it,(my mind, not my dog!) turning instead to my mantra: Om- Na- Ma- Shivaya. Over and over I brought my mantra to face my mind’s distraction(s), until it seemed to catch on.

Oh, I imagine my mind finally saying to itself, we’re not getting away with rambling tonight! And that was true.  It wasn’t.  And so, it was many hours later, in the encouraging brightness of morning, that I discovered my mind and I had eventually enjoyed a great night’s sleep.

If we have hundreds and thousands of thoughts, life becomes restless and unhappy.  Freeing the mind from thoughts is the real meditation. Karunamayi, considered to be an incarnation of the goddess Saraswati.  From WISE WORDS: Perennial Wisdom from the New Dimensions Radio Series, Interviews hosted by Michael Toms; Edited by Mary Buckley. Bowing.~aw

We will get through this time of sorrow. But in order not to repeat it (endlessly) we must awaken and change. I am for us.  Most days.