Sitting meditation is a way for us to return home and give full attention and care to ourselves. Every time we sit down, whether it is in our living room, at the foot of a tree, or on a cushion, we can radiate tranquility. We bring our full attention to what is within and around us. We let our mind become spacious and our heart soft and kind. With just a few minutes of sitting in this way, we can restore ourselves fully. When we sit down peacefully, breathing and smiling with awareness, we have sovereignty over ourselves.
Sitting meditation is very healing. We can just be with whatever is within us, whether it is pain, anger, irritation, joy, love, or peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away. We let it come, let it stay, then let it go. We have no need to push, to oppress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there. Instead, we can observe the thoughts and images in our mind with an accepting and loving eye. Despite the storms that arise in us, we’re still and calm. Sitting and breathing, we produce our true presence in the here and the now and offer it to our community and to the world. This is the purpose of sitting: being here, fully alive and fully present.
Sitting meditation should be a joy. Sit in such a way that you feel happy and relaxed for the entire length of the sitting. Sitting is not hard labor. It’s an opportunity to enjoy your own presence, the presence of your family or fellow practitioners, the Earth, the sky, and the cosmos. There’s no effort. If you sit on a cushion, be sure it’s the right thickness to support you. You can sit in the full- or half-lotus position, a simple cross-legged position, or however you feel most comfortable. Keep your back straight and your hands folded gently in your lap. If you sit in a chair, be sure your feet are flat on the floor or on a cushion. If your legs or feet fall asleep or begin to hurt during the sitting, just adjust your position mindfully.
You can maintain your concentration by following your breathing, and slowly and attentively changing your posture. Allow all the muscles in your body to relax. Don’t fight or struggle. Just allow yourself to be relaxed, as if you were sitting by the ocean. While sitting, begin by following your in-breath and out-breath. Whenever a feeling comes up, recognize it. Whenever a thought arises, identify it and recognize it. You can learn a lot from observing what’s going on in your body and mind during the sitting meditation. Most of all, sitting is a chance for you to do nothing. You have nothing at all to do; just enjoy sitting and breathing in and out.
Breathing in, I know I’m alive.
Breathing out, I smile to life, in me and around me.
Being alive is a miracle. Just sitting there, enjoying your in-breath and out-breath is already happiness. Since you’re breathing in and out, you know that you’re alive. That’s something worth celebrating. So sitting meditation is a way to celebrate life with your in-breath and your out-breath.
It’s important to allow your body to relax completely. Don’t try to become a buddha. Just enjoy sitting and accept yourself as you are. Even if there’s some tension in your body, some pain in your heart, accept yourself like that. With the energy of mindfulness of breathing, you embrace your body and your mind, you allow yourself to be in a relaxed position and enjoy your breathing.
Breathing in, I have arrived.
Breathing out, I feel at home.
You don’t need to run anymore. Your true home is in the here and the now. You are solid and free. You can smile, relaxing all the muscles in your face.
We need some training to be successful in our sitting. We’re so used to always doing something—with our mind, with our body—that sitting down and doing nothing can be difficult at first. We’re used to always doing something. We need some training to be able to sit and enjoy the sitting, to do nothing and enjoy doing nothing. Each of us has the habit energy of always having to be doing something. If we’re not doing something, we can’t stand it. So just sitting down and doing nothing is an art, the art of sitting meditation.
If you’re having trouble concentrating, counting is an excellent technique. Breathing in, count “one.” Breathing out, count “one.” Breathing in, count “two.” Breathing out, count “two.” Continue up to ten and then start counting over again. If at any time you forget where you are, begin again with “one.” The method of counting helps us refrain from dwelling on troublesome thoughts; instead we concentrate on our breathing and the number. When we have developed some control over our thinking, counting may become tedious and we can abandon it and just follow the breath.
If you approach meditation as a fight to arrive somewhere and you try hard to achieve success, you won’t be able to relax. Look out the window. Perhaps there is a linden tree or an oak tree out there. The tree is beautiful and healthy, being entirely itself. It doesn’t seem that the tree is making any effort at all. It allows itself to be—fresh, green, stable. Perhaps the tree is on a mountain. The mountain is strong and solid, supporting all kinds of life without strain or effort. When you practice sitting meditation, you are stable and solid like a mountain. You can practice like this:
Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.
Breathing out, I enjoy my Solidity.
To succeed in your sitting, release the tension in your body and in your feelings. Get comfortable in your seated body. When you begin to breathe in and out, enjoy the breathing in, the breathing out. Give up any struggle and enjoy sitting and smiling. This is a privileged moment, having the opportunity to sit quietly like this. You are your own island. Nobody at this moment can ask you to do anything. Nobody will disturb you, no one has the right to ask you a question, or to ask you to go and wash the pots or clean the bathroom. This is your precious opportunity to relax and be yourself.
All these practices have the same basic purpose: to bring our minds back to our bodies, to produce our true presence, and to become fully alive so that everything happens in the light of mindfulness. Each practice in itself is very simple. We breathe in and we breathe out; we make a step in mindfulness; we listen deeply to the ones we love and look closely at the beauty around us. But these simple practices can help us touch our true nature of no birth and no death and no separation. If we want peace in ourselves and in our world, we have to practice. If we don’t practice, we don’t have enough of the energy of mindfulness to take care of our fear and anger and the fear and anger of our loved ones. Mindfulness practice is essential for our survival, our peace, and our protection.
In Buddhism, there’s a wonderful image of the world, full of bright shiny jewels. This world is called the Dharmakaya. When we look closely, we can see that the Dharmakaya is our everyday world. We have a rich inheritance, but we don’t know it. We behave as if we were poor; a destitute son or daughter. Instead we can recognize that we have a treasure of enlightenment, understanding, love, and joy inside us. It’s time to go back to receive our inheritance. These practices can help us claim it.
OUR TRUE HERITAGE
The cosmos is filled with precious gems.
I want to offer a handful of them to you today.
Each moment you are alive is a gem,
shining through and containing earth and sky,
water and clouds.
It needs you to breathe gently
for the miracles to be displayed.
Suddenly you hear the birds singing,
the pines chanting,
see the flowers blooming,
the blue sky,
the white clouds,
the smile and the marvelous look
of your beloved.
You, the richest person on Earth,
who have been going around begging for a living,
stop being the destitute child.
Come back and claim your heritage.
Awareness of the breath is the essence of mindfulness. The seed of mindfulness is in each of us, but we usually forget to water it. If we know how to take refuge in our breath, in our step, then we can touch our seeds of peace and joy and allow them to manifest.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices, Parallax Press