Around the Medicine Wheel with Jim Frank

—Don’t we all want a map with a big arrow that says, “You are here!”

Meditation :part 2 of 3 entries on Spirtual Practice

My daily spiritual practice consists of prayer, meditation and self-examination. This is the East, South, and West of a medicine wheel which has the blessing of balance in the North. Each morning I give myself an hour of spiritual practice when I rise. I have found that starting my day this way works best. I know some people like to use meditation to relax before going to sleep at night but I would draw a distinction between mere relaxation techniques and meditation. I do my spiritual practice in the morning when I first rise because I know I have the uninterrupted time for it then. I have often joked that I set the alarm and get up before the rest of the house for my meditation, even when I live alone. Consistency in practice is important and trying to fit meditation within a busy schedule just does not work for me. So, use your relaxation exercises when they will help most but still set the alarm an hour early and get out of bed to you meditation spot. And while writing about time, it is worth mentioning space. I have a chair I use most days and it is next to a table with my “altar.” It is best to have a spot that you use for no other purpose but most have to make do.

In a previous post I wrote about how I include prayer in my spiritual practice so I will continue from there. When I notice my prayer has turned to gratitude, I often find that thoughts of the day ahead begin to intrude. This is when I begin the inward journey of meditation. Since I have noticed the thoughts that are coming to me I turn my attention to my breath. I follow my breath out. That is where I start, breathing out to make room for all there is to come. You see, when I turn my attention to my breath I usually notice a tension in my body that goes with the kind of thinking that plans and anticipates, and emptying my lungs is an aid to emptying my mind. When my breath is out, I pause for a moment to notice that. Then I watch as my breathing takes place. I notice that there are four stages to this in-breath. First my belly expands then my lower ribs, followed by my upper chest and finally my upper chest fills so that I can feel my shoulders rise to make more room. I was taught this way of breathing in a Yoga class a long time ago and though I can remember a time when I put out effort to breath this way, now, after more than thirty years of meditation it is automatic. I merely have to watch that breath and when the chest is full of air, I notice the pause before the slow emptying again. I don’t have to do this breathing, it happens for me. It is more like I am being breathed than I am breathing. I sit and notice I am being breathed and I notice I am also being thought. Certainly I have an active mode of thinking when I concentrate of focus on a specific thought, but in meditation I let that go. Sure, thoughts come. But if I just notice them, they leave again. Thoughts come, thoughts go. I am breathed, I am thought.

Some folks tell me that when they meditate, they like to repeat a short prayer or mantra. This can be helpful, and it was the first mediation technique I learned way back in 1976. But that meditation was at its riches when the mantra was not being said by me, rather it was being recited, like when I am breathed. I find today that watching that breath works better for me. Also, others tell me they meditate by reflecting on a story but that becomes too active for me so I don’t count myself among the contemplatives. No, I just sit and I notice. The rest happens by itself. The breath comes and the breath goes. Thoughts come and thoughts go. And sometimes they are pretty wild thoughts but I let them pass, not engaging my focus. The nuns taught us to not entertain unwanted thoughts and that is what I do when meditating. Maybe this habit continues during my day but it is great to have even a mere twenty minutes each morning when I notice that life’s drama is just a big story. I think it was on a recording that I heard Jack Cornfield say that when he sits, it is like the circus comes to town. Pema Chodran writes that the whole world tries to push her out of her chair. I remember a period of time, when my meditation practice was about two years old, when I would have moments of inspiration come to me and I would jump out of my chair and run to write them down. I have learned that if a thought will come during meditation, it will come again later in the day. So, when I find that my mind is following some thought, I merely turn my attention to my breath. I am breathed, I am thought. By the way, this is “practice” – I don’t grade my meditation by how many times or for how long I followed thoughts. It happens some days. But what that means more often than not is that I am tired and should get to bed earlier that night so I will be better able to meditate the next day.

Sitting like this, allowing the thoughts, can be very healing. I find that I face everything in my meditation, because the thoughts that come include everything. I allow thoughts of my body and I find that I fit in my body better. I allow thoughts of relationship and I find I am better in relationship. I allow thoughts of death and I find that I am not afraid today. There seems to be many benefits to meditation, but that can be a trap too. I suggest that the idea of “practice” would mean that it be done for its own sake. Like any practice, having a trainer can help a lot. Many great books on meditation are available. I recommend Trunga’s, “Shambala: The Way of the Warrior”

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