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         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.

              source: http://www.shambhala.org/centers/toronto/howmed.html
 

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