Before coming to Peru, I knew I was going to have more free time than in my past and I planned on practicing meditation while here. Buddhist monks have always intrigued me as I wonder about the power of meditation. Does Zen or nirvana really exist? Are we capable of reaching those states? Is it worthy of our time? Would the world be a better place if everyone wasn’t in such a hurry or is the constant busyness good for us? Can we improve the value of our lives through meditation? Could we improve our society and our world by promoting and practicing meditation?
Unfortunately, our society doesn’t really place much value on the idea. Our mentality is something like, “Don’t just sit there, do something!” whereas the idea of meditation, in a sense, is, “Don’t just do something, sit there!” Similar to most things in life, standing outside and observing only gets us so far – in order to truly understand something, we have to put ourselves into it (kind of like being in love, you don’t really know it until you’ve been through it).
I’ve read a couple books on meditation by a Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. The story of his life is inspirational and his words, while simple, carry a profound meaning and an enlightened path. His books describe ways on how to practice meditation in our busy lives. His approach towards meditation is to begin focusing on our breathing, through what he calls, “mindful breathing”. The first steps are to recognize and control our respiration, while letting go of everything else. It sounds easy but it’s quite difficult. I suggest trying it for half an hour, not thinking of all the things that happened during the day or what you will be doing after, or about our relationships with others or about what is happening this weekend or the work still to do before bed – just focus on the moment. “As I breathe in, I am sitting. As I breathe out, I am alive. As I breathe in I nourish my body. As I breathe out I am in control. As I breathe in, I smile. As I breathe out, I relax.”
The longest I’ve been able to truly maintain a pure focus is about 5 minutes, then often my concentration gets broken and thoughts not related to the moment enter my mind and I begin anew to focus on my breath. I’ve had to build up to those 5 minutes also. It's tough to do. But, by focusing on your breath and the moment, you can enter deeper thoughts, while maintaining a focus on your breathing and the now.
After an hour, I feel exhausted, relaxed, and energized. It’s a unique feeling. My goals for practicing meditation are too many to list here. A few though are: I am trying to learn to enjoy the moment more, without thinking or worrying or hoping about the future (though of course, we all have to plan for the future). Happiness is now. I focus on living with more compassion and understanding. I sometimes focus on the sources of anger and frustration within me, in order to understand it and control it, not ignore it - thus lessening it. I focus on love and how I can bring more into my life while giving more to others. I often try to focus on energy - both scientifically and spiritually – which is what we are and is all around us. We are a bunch of cells...broken down further – molecules...broken down further – atoms, which can be broken down further and further. We are made up of the same things that make up everything around us – so, in a sense, we are the same, and we are one. (something neat to think about, not necessarily during meditation is this: Imagine a moment from your childhood – think about what you were doing, how you felt, etc. Then, realize that every single atom that was within you at that moment has since left your body and is somewhere else – so in reality, all the parts that made you then no longer exist within you now. Weird, huh?)
My routine is basically this, sometime between 6 to 8 PM, I’ll turn off the lights, close my laptop, turn off my phone (though set an alarm), light a candle or two, and sit for 30 minutes to an hour. It’s tough to maintain – and when I get back to the States and begin the life there again, it’ll be even tougher to maintain. As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches though, we can practice meditation while walking, while washing the dishes, folding the laundry, while cooking, or any other time. Through practice, we can include mindful breathing into all of our activities. If we are to continue leading lives the way we are, we need to find sanctuaries within our busy lives and mindful breathing is a great way.
I decided to share all this because I figure it might interest others to bring into their lives as well - and I think practicing meditation is very beneficial, calming, and helps make us better people.
Thanks for reading,