Mindfulness Meditation

by Steve Ryals
Author and Music Reviewer

"To meditate does not mean to fight with a problem. To meditate means to observe. Your smile proves it. It proves that you are being gentle with yourself, that the sun of awareness is shining in you, that you have control of your situation. You are yourself, and you have acquired some peace." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I've been doing quite a few interviews in the past few months. One of the questions I'm asked most frequently is, "How might someone begin the process of becoming fully present in the moment?" I detail my favorite method, often called Mindfulness Meditation, in Chapter 8 of Drunk with Wonder.

The basic technique is really quite simple. One of the prerequisites, of course, is that the interested individual be willing to create a few minutes of alone time, from perhaps five minutes to as much as 20. Alone time means no phone, no texting, no TV, radio, iPod, children or other distractions. Mindfulness simply means resting in pure awareness, on being present with what is, as it is. No Agenda, no goal ... only resting.

To get started, I recommend using the breath as a tool. Focus on taking one slow, deep breath at a time. Notice how it feels to take a deep breath, then letting it out slowly and easily. Take another breath, and notice how the body is already slowing down, relaxing into the now. As the body relaxes, it's common to begin noticing thoughts. These thoughts can seem random, though quite often some form of to-do list will surface. Whatever your thoughts might consist of, just notice, and let them go.

Some say that these thoughts just appear. Others say our thoughts are the product of our ego's desperate desire to remain hidden and in control. The notion that our thoughts are randomly generated has always seemed suspect to me, like saying, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." After all, if these thoughts are not ours, if we cannot lay claim to them, whose thoughts are they? Are we victims of some random thought generator? I don't think so, though I don't claim to know for sure. Like you, all I have is my experience.

Over the years, as my meditation has deepened and I have spent more time in the profound stillness of the eternal now moment, watching thoughts come and go has become something of a hobby. In my case, there's no question that they are my thoughts, not someone else's. In fact, if someone becomes convinced that the thoughts in their head are someone else's, it's called schizophrenia and is treated with powerful drugs

And yet, the thoughts that pass through my consciousness have become ever more entertaining. My thoughts may include snatches of dialogue spoken in accents whose origins remain a mystery; fear-based stories that have no relationship to anything going on in my world; elaborate plots with magical beings on great adventures - when I'm meditating, my thoughts become like puffy white clouds or sparkly bubbles - fun to watch, even if ultimately of little consequence.

The one constant of thought seems to be that it comes and goes. The art of meditation, then, is not to take our thoughts seriously. And here, like a dog after a long walk on a wet day, come in to shake off the storm and then, tail wagging, looking expectantly at the empty food dish, comes my point. When I'm meditating, and I notice a thought that says I'm not doing it right, or that there are too many thoughts, or that the thoughts are weird - no matter how compelling or certain my thoughts are that they are right - still, when I just notice and let them float away, my meditation remains serene and untroubled.

You see, even entertaining the question, "Whose thoughts are these?" will inevitably pull me, or you, out of the moment. It seems to me that in the final analysis it doesn't really matter whose thoughts they are. What I know is that, in the eternal now moment, we are not our thoughts - any of them. The key to mindfulness meditation is to rest in the unbounded, non-dual awareness of this moment now. That's it. It's incredibly simple, perhaps too simple for our busy minds. But after meditating on and off for going on 29 years, my mind has finally come to realize that meditation is like a vacation from thought, and even my mind wriggles with pleasure and relief at the "thought" of not having any.

If you're not practicing mindfulness meditation, I lovingly encourage you to begin. All you have to lose are your stories of fear and lack, thoughts that, after all, can never really touch the boundless self that rests in utter serenity in the heart of your soul.


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