Meditation is a tool we use to quiet & focus the mind, first to develop calmness, joy & clarity, then deeper understanding, compassion and wisdom. The practice is how we develop Mindfulness.
Sitting comfortably upright, we gently focus our attention exclusively on the breath, either as it passes through the nostrels, or moves with the diaphram. We follow the flow of the breath in and out, continuously, quietly, slowly. Gently bring your attention back to the breath when it wanders, put a half-smile on your lips & gently persist.
As our undisciplined minds wander or worry, the body agitates or emotes – we just return to our breathing.
If some important issue persists in your mental wanderings, you might label that thought for later consideration, then set it aside and go back to your breath. With practice this “sitting” becomes easier and more pleasant – gradually developing the skills of calmness, focus, clarity & joy - the mind ceasing to misguide, act up or react.
This conscious breathing unifies mind and body in the present moment, building toward total awareness of current perceptions and conditions, called Mindfulness (Smrti) This is the first goal of meditation, a skill we seek to employ in all our life.
Walking meditation is a similar practice while moving, focusing on both coordinated breath and foot step - mindfulness while walking. This calms an agitated body better than struggling to sit quietly. Awareness of each step, our contact with the Earth, weight on the foot, walking actions, balance, the solidity of the Earth, oneness with the living Planet, further center us in our interbeing with all creatures, nature & the universe.
In a similar way, we practice working meditation, eating meditation and playing meditation where appropriate. The more we practice these together, we develop interconnections, synergy, harmony of a shared body we call the Sangha. The Sangha is our collective aspiration to enlightenment and interbeing.
* * *
Meditation is the wonderful tool Gutama Buddha taught to focus the mind, to understand interbeing and to transform suffering. The deepest practice ultimately develops through the seven stages of focus, concentration, deep looking, understanding, compassion, wisdom and liberation.
The ability to focus uninterupted attention on a single point, with mental calm & clarity, is called Concentration (Samadhi.) Developing this skill of Concentration allows one to proceed with the second aim of meditation, Deep Looking (Vipassana.) Our feelings, thoughts, mental states,habits & beliefs unconsciously arise to control and create suffering in our lives. With deep looking we focus on these phenomena to understand their origins, their causes & effects - their true nature. From this Understanding follows Compassion, the ability to appreciate the motives & suffering of ourselves and others. This also enables us to transform their harmful expressions into beneficial ones, healing wounds, creating joy. This is called Insight or Wisdom (Prajna.) Once one accomplishes all these skills they are said to liberate totally from Earthly suffering, known as Nirvana.
Such work can be a life time practice, perfecting our skills and applying them in our family life, society and culture. Gutama understood that our true natures were loving, compassionate, healing & beneficient – each’s own Buddha nature. He taught how to uncover & develop this true, Buddha nature from conflict and confusion by our unmindful conditioning. It has been practiced and proven effective by millions over thousands of years.
Thich Nhat Hanh, furthermore, teaches us how to apply these insights in personal life, work, family, civic and government matters– what he calls Engaged Buddhism.
We practice to become the best we can at mindfulness and insight. But do not judge ourselves for lack of attainment or imperfection.