Friday, July 31, 2015

On Meditation and Mindfulness

Image result for meditation

I suppose that over the years I have taken up meditation a multitude of times. My efforts have lasted days to weeks to...well, maybe a month. I really don't have trouble sitting still, the trouble has always been setting aside a specific time to sit still. Eventually something knocks me off schedule and the practice loses out to other interests.

But for the past ten months or so, based on an off-the-cuff comment by my yoga instructor, I have tagged a 20-minute meditation session onto my 20-minute yoga-ish session in the mornings. 

This has worked. One practice just flows into the other and I find I have been very consistent in doing this. I started taking what I call Old Lady Yoga about five years ago and soon worked up my own morning routine. But it was only recently that I thought to add the meditation bit along with it.

This is not religious or Woo-Woo stuff for me. I don't sit in an uncomfortable position on the floor. I don't light candles or incense. I simply sit in a straight-backed chair in my kitchen. I set a timer for 20 minutes, throw a light shawl around my shoulders, and close my eyes. I try to concentrate on my breath - in, out, in, out - but my mind is much like a free-range chicken. It pecks at this thought then that one, then quickly darts over to another corner and starts pecking there. 

Actually, I have come to enjoy this playtime for my mind. I think my brain needs a break each day to just wander where it will. So even though I may not get an A in Meditation Practice, that is how I do it.

I know there are hundreds of books on mindfulness and meditation and I have read many of them. My favorites, though, are as follows:

Meditation by Eknath Easwaran. I first read this book, upon the recommendation of a friend, in the early '90s. It is the first book I have ever read that once I came to the last sentence on the last page, and without missing a beat, I immediately started over again with the first word on the first page. The book was subtitled A simple eight-point program for translating spiritual ideals into daily life. The first point is meditation. It is so clearly written and personal. The author, who died in 1999, is the founder of Blue Mountain Retreat Center and Nilgiri Press in northern California. The book has been reissued with the title Passage Meditation. I don't know what changes have been made to the original text, but I see that the second edition, the one I read, is still available. Highly recommended.

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. At one time I owned this book then loaned it to a friend who returned it with the addition of multiple coffee stains and wrinkled pages. (I tried to meditate a bit so as not to get a resentment, but I don't think it worked. I finally gave the book away.) However, I recently re-read it - a library copy with no stains - and found it to be entertaining and helpful. Its short chapters/essays include practical ways to practice mindfulness and meditation within the busyness of our everyday lives.

Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana. Actually, I am just beginning this book written by a Buddhist monk whose name I cannot pronounce. The cover tells me this is The Classic Bestseller and I have no cause to doubt that. From the preface: In my experience, I have found that the most effective way to express something new in a way people can understand is to use the simplest language possible. I am all for that.  Chapters deal with: meditation - why bother; what meditation is and isn't; how and when to sit; what to do about distractions; mindfulness; and loving friendliness.

If you meditate or have ever tried to, I am sure you have your own book to recommend and I would be happy to hear from you.



  1. Jack and I have been talking about yoga recently to help with aches and pains. I have so many friends who swear by it. But I have to find a co-ed, beginners class for old people.
    I've also suggested meditation for both of us, but that's usually all the farther I've gotten. I'm intellectually lazy and, like you, my mind is always buzzing. Of if it's not, I feel guilty because I'm doing 'nothing'. Katrina, at Pining for the West, says this is because I was raised a Presbyterian!
    I think I have Wherever You Go, There You Are on my Kindle. If so, I'll start with that one.

    1. Hi, Joan. I was lucky to find a yoga class that I liked on my first try. It is small - 7 to 10 - and the people who attend are very committed. We started in chairs but now are down on the mats. Good luck. Perhaps the YMCA?

      That's funny about the Presbyterian upbringing. I too was raised in the Presbyterian church but never gave much thought to its effects. Now I have something else to meditate on!

  2. Belle, I have a few Buddhist books on my shelves but few strictly on meditation as the linkage between Buddhist philosophy (in reality it is not a religion) and meditation is like ordering a Banana-Split and asking them to hold the ice-cream! I like all of Kabat-Zinn’s books the one you mentioned in particular. Lama Surya Das (Jeffery Miller) wrote a beautiful book “Awakening the Buddha Within”. Joseph Goldstein’s “Insight Meditation” and Tara Brach (Phd Clinical Phycologist) “Radical Acceptance” are detailed and again speak to meditation but in a form that is used in stress reduction clinics and hospital programmes. Her introduction page starts with this:
    “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
    there is a field. I will meet you there.
    When the soul lies down in that grass,
    the world is too full to talk about
    language, ideas, even the phrase each other
    doesn't make any sense.” Rumi (1207 – 1273).
    Jack Kornfield’s “Path with a Heart” is a classic and I would be remiss if I didn’t add the corner stone” Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki. Its short and brilliant but one needs time to mull over what is being said, typical Zen school.
    I was recently involved as a mentor with someone who had suffered a mental breakdown and the Physiatrist’s first order was getting her started in mindfulness training (and meditation) with Dr Kabatt Zinn’s “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” as the primer. It is no longer considered just a hippy activity....or as you so nicely put it....."the Woo-Woo" brigade (..too funny)!!

    1. I was hoping you would provide a good list, Tullik. And you have! And thanks for the quote from Rumi...'the phrase each other doesn't make any sense'...surely something to ponder.

      I have read a few of your suggestions, but long ago. How could I have forgotten 'Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind'. I will give 'Awakening the Buddha Within' a try. It is one I have heard of. Funny how books come along or back into our thoughts at different stages of life.

  3. I tried to do Zen meditation for a while, under the influence of Janwillem Lincoln van de Wetering's The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery. I must admit the uncomfortable sitting position ended it for me. Sitting in a chair sounds much better!

    1. Kat, I think the whole point is to quiet the mind not be in pain. I haven't been able to sit in the lotus position ever! I just maintain an erect posture and I concentrate on my breathing instead of aches and pains in my hips and knees. Maybe give it another try. I'll see if I can locate a copy of 'The Empty Mirror'. Sounds intriguing.