How to Meditate
by
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

The practice of mindfulness/awareness meditation is common to all
Buddhist traditions. Beyond that, it is common to, inherent in, all human
beings.

In meditation we are continuously discovering who and what we are. That
could be quite frightening or quite boring, but after a while, all that slips
away. We get into some kind of natural rhythm and begin to discover our
basic mind and heart.

Often we think about meditation as some kind of unusual, holy or spiritual
activity. As we practice that is one of the basic beliefs we try to overcome.
The point is that meditation is completely normal: it is the mindful quality
present in everything we do.

The main thing the Buddha discovered was that he could be himself–one
hundred percent, completely. He did not invent meditation; there was
nothing particularly to invent. The Buddha, “the awakened one,” woke up
and realized that he did not have to try to be something other than what he
was. So the complete teaching of Buddhism is how to re-discover who we
are.

That is a straightforward principle, but we are continuously distracted from
coming to our natural state, our natural being. Throughout our day
everything pulls us away from natural mindfulness, from being on the spot.
We’re either too scared or too embarrassed or too proud, or just too crazy,
to be who we are.

This is what we call the journey or the path: continuously trying to
recognize that we can actually relax and be who we are. So practicing
meditation begins by simplifying everything. We sit on the cushion, follow
our breath and watch our thoughts. We simplify our whole situation.

Mindfulness/awareness meditation, sitting meditation, is the foundation of
this particular journey. Unless we are able to deal with our mind and body
in a very simple way, it is impossible to think about doing high-level
practices. How the Buddha himself, having done all kinds of practices,
became the Buddha, was simply to sit. He sat under a tree and he did not
move. He practiced exactly as we are practicing.

What we’re doing is taming our mind. We’re trying to overcome all sorts of
anxieties and agitation, all sorts of habitual thought patterns, so we are able
to sit with ourselves. Life is difficult, we may have tremendous
responsibilities, but the odd thing, the twisted logic, is that the way we
relate to the basic flow of our life is to sit completely still. It might seem
more logical to speed up, but here we are reducing everything to a very
basic level.

How we tame the mind is by using the technique of mindfulness. Quite
simply, mindfulness is compete attention to detail. We are completely
absorbed in the fabric of life, the fabric of the moment. We realize that our
life is made of these moments and that we cannot deal with more than one
moment at a time. Even though we have memories of the past and ideas
about the future, it is the present situation that we are experiencing.

Thus we are able to experience our life fully. We might feel that thinking
about the past or the future makes our life richer, but by not paying
attention to the immediate situation we are actually missing our life. There’s
nothing we can do about the past, we can only go over it again and again,
and the future is completely unknown.

So the practice of mindfulness is the practice of being alive. When we talk
about the techniques of meditation, we’re talking about techniques of life.
We’re not talking about something that is separate from us. When we’re
talking about being mindful and living in a mindful way, we’re talking about
the practice of spontaneity.

It’s important to understand that we’re not talking about trying to get into
some kind of higher level or higher state of mind. We are not saying that
our immediate situation is unworthy. What we’re saying is that the present
situation is completely available and unbiased, and that we can see it that
way through the practice of mindfulness.

At this point we can go through the actual form of the practice. First, it is
important how we relate with the room and the cushion where we will
practice. One should relate with where one is sitting as the center of the
world, the center of the universe. It is where we are proclaiming our sanity,
and when we sit down the cushion should be like a throne.

When we sit, we sit with some kind of pride and dignity. Our legs are
crossed, shoulders relaxed. We have a sense of what is above, a sense that
something is pulling us up the same time we have a sense of ground. The
arms should rest comfortably on the thighs. Those who cannot sit down on
a cushion can sit in a chair. The main point is to be somewhat comfortable.

The chin is tucked slightly in, the gaze is softly focusing downward about
four to six feet in front, and the mouth should be open a little. The basic
feeling is one of comfort, dignity and confidence. If you feel you need to
move, you should just move, just change your posture a little bit. So that is
how we relate with the body.

And then the next part–actually the simple part–is relating with the mind.
The basic technique is that we begin to notice our breath, we have a sense
of our breath. The breath is what we’re using as the basis of our
mindfulness technique; it brings us back to the moment, back to the present
situation. The breath is something that is constant–otherwise it’s too late.

We put the emphasis on the outbreath. We don’t accentuate or alter the
breath at all, just notice it. So we notice our breath going out, and when we
breathe in there is just a momentary gap, a space. There are all kinds of
meditation techniques and this is actually a more advanced one. We’re
learning how to focus on our breath, while at the same time giving some
kind of space to the technique.

Then we realize that, even though what we’re doing is quite simple, we
have a tremendous number of ideas, thoughts and concepts–about life and
about the practice itself. And the way we deal with all these thoughts is
simply by labeling them. We just note to ourselves that we’re thinking, and
return to following the breath.

So if we wonder what we’re going to do for the rest of our life, we simply
label it thinking. If we wonder what we’re going to have for lunch, simply
label it thinking. Anything that comes up, we gently acknowledge it and let
it go.

There are no exceptions to this technique; there are no good thoughts and
no bad thoughts. If you’re thinking how wonderful meditation is, then that
is still thinking. How great the Buddha was, that’s still thinking. If you feel
like killing the person next to you, just label it thinking. No matter what
extreme you go to, it’s just thinking, and come back to the breath.

In the face of all these thoughts it is difficult to be in the moment and not
be swayed. Our life has created a barrage of different storms, elements and
emotions that are trying to unseat us, destabilize us. All sorts of things come
up, but they are labeled thoughts, and we are not drawn away. That is
known as holding our seat, just dealing with ourselves.

The idea of holding our seat continues when we leave the meditation room
and go about our lives. We maintain our dignity and humor and the same
lightness of touch we use in dealing with our thoughts. Holding our seat
doesn’t mean we are stiff and trying to become like rocks; the whole idea is
learning how to be flexible. The way that we deal with ourselves and our
thoughts is the same way that we deal with the world.

When we begin to meditate, the first thing we realize is how wild things
are–how wild our mind is, how wild our life is. But once we begin to have
the quality of being tamed, when we can sit with ourselves, we realize
there’s a vast wealth of possibility that lies in front of us. Meditation is
looking at our own back yard, you could say, looking at what we really
have and discovering the richness that already exists. Discovering that
richness is a moment to moment process, and as we continue to practice
our awareness becomes sharper and sharper.

This mindfulness actually envelops our whole life. It is the best way to
appreciate our world, to appreciate the sacredness of everything. We add
mindfulness and all of a sudden the whole situation becomes alive. This
practice soaks into everything that we do; there’s nothing left out.
Mindfulness pervades sound and space. It is a complete experience.

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