In the previous post, I discussed the principles of Mindfulness Meditation from Sheila Singh‘s workshop. It set the tone for what we were about to put into practice. This post will talk about the methods and experiences of practicing meditation.
We covered two methods of meditation during the workshop, both of which originate from ancient schools of Buddhism. These provide paths of awareness that can be practiced by anyone, rather than solely as a religious practice.
The first method is shamata, which I also found spelled as samatha. It means “calm abiding” and is used to steady, concentrate, and unify the mind. We practiced this by anchoring to and focusing on the breath. Whenever my mind would wander (which it did frequently!), I would bring it back to the breath.
For the most part, I found shamata was “easy” in the sense that I had something physical to focus on – inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. While we only attempted 6 minutes of this meditation method, my left foot started to tingle as less and less blood made it down to that appendage. I tried my hardest to ignore the sensation and get back to my breath.
When these distractions come up, we were supposed to acknowledge and then release them to get back to our breath. As Sheila put it, it’s like saying “not now” to a toddler who is begging for your attention. I did find that by letting the discomfort run its course, it wasn’t nearly as distracting as when the tingles first began. Then again, we only did 6 minutes, so longer periods of time will require much more concentration!
Some phrases that we can repeat to ourselves are: Inhale, “I am here now.” Exhale, “Letting go of distraction.” Inhale, “May I be at ease.” Exhale, “May we all be at ease.”
I should also note that while this is a focus on the breath, it’s not meant to be a controlled breath. I think those of us who practice ujjayi breathing and other pranayama as part of a physical practice may get caught up in the technique of the breath. Instead, it’s meant to be free flowing and calm – not forced or controlled.
The other method is vipassana, which means insight. In this method, instead of telling sensations, “not now,” we were mindful of them and could investigate and explore the nature of that experience. Experience the experience, if you will. So whether it’s a bodily sensation, an emotion, a thought, or something in the environment, you give yourself permission to explore it in an unbiased way (don’t judge the emotion) and then return to the breath.
We practiced this method of meditation for a longer period of time, and my left leg completely fell asleep. It was numb. Again, I tried not to go down the rabbit hole of wincing at every needle-like tingle. It’s a delicate balance to notice and explore the sensation while still keeping my mind calm and then coming back to my breath.
Another challenge I faced was going between feeling sleepy and feeling antsy. This is where a bit of breath work can either energize or calm the mind. For lethargy, you can take a few deep breaths, really focusing on the inhale (oxygen is good!). For restlessness, you can lengthen the breath and focus on the exhale.
The workshop gave me some much-needed direction, and my goal is to put these two methods to practice and slowly increase my meditation time. And if I can find a way to get my leg from falling asleep, that’d be super awesome. Thanks again, Sheila!