“Dad, you piss me off!” he said. “And I think you could learn a little from Josh, he’s been through a great deal more than you and handles things with his kids a lot better.” I would like to report that I had remembered to leave, take a few breaths, and deal with my son later, but I can't. Offended and a little mad, I decided to lay down the law. In the end, I was highly successful at making a tense situation worse and stressing my wife.
In contrast, two days later I found myself waiting up for my son, who was late again on a school night and hadn’t kept many of his commitments in a while. To say the least, I was frustrated. This time, gratefully, I remembered to breath and meditate. Moments before he bounced through the door, my heart told me to ask about his day and listen. So, I followed this impression. It was one of the best conversations we’d had in months, and I learned a lot about a young man full of hopes and dreams to make a big difference.
For me, this is the power of meditation. It is connection with the present and what needs to get done in the moment. It is a source of inspiration, strength, and wisdom that I can use any time of the day. It is a tool for transformation that allows me to break bad habits. I’ve only been at it for five years, breath meditation for a scant six months, and I’m no guru. Although this post offers basic suggestions about how to get started, embedded within the advice is a lot about why you might want to consider taking up meditation. Here’s what this beginner has learned and experienced so far:
One. There are different forms of meditation, and one is not necessarily superior to the other. In fact, I began with the easiest form, guided meditation. I used Jon Gabriel’s nigh-time visualization to help me reprogram my mind and make better food choices. After firmly cementing the habit of eating a plant-based, whole food diet, I became interested in and switched to Zazen. This form of breathing meditation has brought more peace and stillness into my life, and I feel that I’m gaining so much value from it that I’ve now decided it’s worth my time to do sit a few times each day. My current practice consists of multiple forms of mediation: breathing when I awake, Metta later in the morning, and then time for the exploration of different guided meditations at night, which both deepens my current practice and allows me to discover other disciplines.
Two. You get better and faster results if you start your practice under the guidance of someone with experience. I live in a remote location and do not have access to a meditation guru; however, there are a lot of resources available for us today. My first guidance came from John Gabriel and an MP3 player he sold. Then, I found instruction online. Now that I’ve accepted limited use of the smartphone, I use an App called Insight Timer. Having access to meditation masters Sharon Salzberg and Thich Nhat Hanh has rapidly advanced my practice. Even though I only sit with a timer in the morning, I still rely on the guidance of experts at night. It helps!
Three. To reap the benefits of your practice, you have to stick with it and be consistent. Occasionally, I will experience a big breakthrough and observe a rapid or profound shift. More often than not, however, the changes I’ve experienced have been subtle and nuanced. For instance, if I had scientifically charted my temperament when I began Zazen, I believe the graph would reveal an overall direction to a more calm and patient state of being with some bumps up or down along the way. I certainly still have bad moments, but they are remarkably less severe or prolonged. For me, this is a personal triumph.
Four. Although the instructions are simple—I can, for instance, share with you the instructions for Zazen in just a few minutes—the practice is profound and challenging. As I attempt to completely focus attention on my inhalations and exhalations for a total of ten cycles, thoughts, feelings, and various sensations arise. The trick is to let them float on by like leaves in a stream and not follow them. Through the practice of gently shepherding concentration to the breath, I’ve discovered my thoughts are not always a reflection of who I really am and that feelings will pass if I just breath. The practical applications of these revelations are enormous. When I encounter tense situations and remember to breath in and out, I am able to stay calm, focused, and aware of what needs to be done in the present situation. Instead of my emotions or thoughts having control over me, I can now allow them to pass on by like the leaves in a stream, which has been very beneficial for my personal relationships.
Five. It’s easier to do if you schedule a regular time to sit, have the proper setting, and receive some encouragement. I have a current meditation streak of more than two-hundred consecutive days. To accomplish this, I’ve done a few things that seem to work. Foremost, I prefer to wake up before my family and practice first thing to avoid distractions from others. Also, I have room that is quiet and uncluttered. Last, my meditation App is helpful because it provides me with daily reminders, "milestones" for reaching goals, and social networking with encouragement from others. (I get little dopamine hits from the App as it and others celebrate my participation in and the consistency of my meditation practice.)