Mindfulness Meditation: Slowing Down and Touching Truth

A couple paddles in a canoe on a lake, heading toward a bright sunset.I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields…,
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon…?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
– Mary Oliver

Some transitions in life, such as the end of a season, can call for a period of slowing down. I prefer to think that any slowing down typically brings one into the basic wisdom of the heart, which finds that slowness leads to a softening and a heart opening. Slowing down, we are able to feel a warm summer breeze against our sun-tanned skin and enjoy a slow, lingering cloud-defined, twilight-hued sunset. We are able to eat a ripe homegrown tomato with a new appreciation for all it takes to experience this gift of taste. We are less scheduled and more available to life’s simplicity. We are able to convert our fears into sadness and let our heart pain shower us with bodhichitta, or our naturally awakened heart, our intrinsic goodness, and basic sanity.

There are a lot of ways to “achieve” what is already our essential nature. So often, we read about doing yoga, tai chi, chanting, qigong, mindfulness meditation, centering prayer, which are all disciplines for the mind so that it can get out of its own way. Truthfully, however, if you take some time and daydream—look out your window and notice your breath, you’ll also notice a sense of ease, a sense that you don’t have to do anything and that nothing is required to feel awake. We often get lost in prescriptions and stand in line waiting for what we already have: sanity.

One of the basic premises of mindfulness is slowing down and paying attention to just what is happening now. Although calm may be the result of mindfulness, we are not looking to create anything, as much as simplify things. Simplicity might evoke all kinds of associations for you. What happens when you feel into the concept of simplicity? Maybe the first experience you have is a negative one related to deficiency or something lacking complexity and sophistication. On the other hand, it may reflect for you a quality of experience that relates to clarity, purity, or even beauty. It may suggest eliminating unnecessary complications. This final consideration of “eliminating unnecessary complications” is what I mean by the word simplicity—a simple harmony and alignment with the way things are. We are less in our thoughts and more simply aware of the movement of life.

What usually complicates life is the way we personalize experience. One simple way to effect freedom from all personalizing thought is by practicing meditation. Meditation is not so much about doing anything in particular as much as it is about finding yourself more awake and dignified.

Shamatha (Sanskrit for “calm abiding”) meditation practice is the development of mindfulness, or being present in the moment to what is happening. This is a practice in which you bring awareness to a single point of attention, such as one’s breath. The purpose of concentration practice is it allows the mind to strengthen its ability to focus on a single point while also noticing various emotions and conceptual thinking processes, but not getting lost or dwelling in these temporary affective and cognitive conditions.

The first aspect of our noticing might be to employ mindfulness by just observing our ordinary breath and how it naturally occurs in various situations. Bringing attention to breath is as simple as walking and noticing how you are breathing: climbing the stairs and noticing how exertion affects your breath, or how falling asleep influences breath. Again, the ultimate purpose of bringing attention to our breath is that it effects—allows our opening into what already exists—an undisturbed witnessing clarity. This sets the stage for bringing a more analytic attention to the patterns of our mind experiencing the world. We then begin to explore the movements of mind. We begin to notice certain patterns of seeking relief from our suffering by running after security and comfort. So, we become curious about our patterns:

  1. Is there a basic honesty to how we approach life?
  2. Can we encounter ourselves, and explore our self-truths, without any judgment, without condemnation?
  3. Can we neutrally observe our inner landscapes (our emotions and thoughts) as we might the changing weather conditions?

Seeing self is similar to seeing any changing conditions. Our fears are that somehow what arises in our minds is really who we are. This ignorance leads to irritation, doubt, embarrassment, fear, shame, anxiety, depression, and a host of other conditions that seem to be emotional roadblocks to our basic sanity. Yet we can respect what is arising without making it personal. Shamatha practice allows us to focus on one thing (breath) while simultaneously noticing that emotions and thoughts arise and that there is no need to suppress or attend to them. There is a basic, friendly, naturally intelligent, sane openness in experiencing what arises, which leads to a precision and clarity that is vitally connected with whatever is experienced.

Ultimately, you could say that what becomes clear through meditation is the expression of the awakened state of mind. This expression allows for a sense of dignity, a compassionate presence with others, and a willingness to spontaneously let go rather than hold on. Ironically, we begin meditation by noticing our sense of personal suffering and find that suffering is the gate by which we enter into experiencing that there isn’t anything to hold onto. We make friends with our basic insecurity and it becomes less of a problem. So, meditation refines experience to just this: this morning’s grass that smells dewy and fresh, this azalea in bloom, this death of a loved one, and this one “wild and precious” life where everything is vitally alive and deeply meaningful, not because it meets our expectations, but because we’re touching truth as it exists right now—in all its complete, unified aliveness.

References:

Oliver, Mary. (1990). The House of Light. Beacon Press: Boston

© Copyright 2010 by Linda Jame, LCSW, therapist in Katonah, New York. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Shamini

    Shamini

    July 29th, 2010 at 3:38 PM

    Slowing down to smell the roses sounds like just what the doctor ordered!!

  • Naomi

    Naomi

    July 29th, 2010 at 9:56 PM

    What a beautifully written article. Your own serenity flows from it, Linda. I have gradually fallen away from meditation as life became busier. I’m sure you’ll appreciate the irony that I gave it up at the very time I needed it most in my life. Your reminder of its power has motivated me to start over again. Thank you!

  • Robert.G

    Robert.G

    July 29th, 2010 at 11:49 PM

    Fast-paced life that we all live has not let us concentrate on the finer things in life as we are always in a hurry to reach our destination,to get a job done or anything else that we are aiming for.Slowing down once in a while to reflect on things is not a bad idea at all as it may sometimes make us rediscover ourselves all over again.

  • Maddie

    Maddie

    July 30th, 2010 at 4:42 AM

    The more you learn to let go and just appreciate the simple things in life the more you will find yourself surrounded by wonder and amazement every day.

  • Linda Jame, LCSW

    Linda Jame, LCSW

    July 30th, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    Isn’t that true–that as we slow down, and what a luxury that is in our fast-paced world, we find the miracle of just this moment–so easy, so simple–so without the judgments that we almost (without realizing it) always use to interpret our world.

    Naomi, I’m so glad to hear that you’ve been moved to meditate–often it can become effortless–just the gift we give to ourself before we start the day–a healthy habit!

    Thank you, all, for your lovely comments. I appreciate the feedback.

  • Becky

    Becky

    July 30th, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    Very nice article indeed, Linda. Thank you. Can you share any help on how to stop your mind from wandering please? I find being in the moment difficult to do. My brain keeps on chattering.

  • Linda Jame, LCSW

    Linda Jame, LCSW

    July 31st, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    Becky:
    Mind wanders–so we notice it wandering. We also notice many other aspects of this moment. There is really no problem with mind wandering; what would it do if it didn’t wander? It would focus, but how would we know focusing if we didn’t know wandering? Basically they are both equal–nothing different but how we see them. So, have no preference and simply rest in what is happening and this will allow equanimity and the beauty of opposition without discrimination.

    Enjoy!

  • Shelley

    Shelley

    July 31st, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    Linda, thanks so much for the great article. May I ask something? Is there any one type of meditation that’s superior to another or does it not matter as long as you practice it in some shape or form? There are so many different meditative techniques out there that it’s mind-boggling to know what to do.

  • Linda Jame, LCSW

    Linda Jame, LCSW

    July 31st, 2010 at 3:00 PM

    I would say, Shelley, the best thing to do is to decide to just sit–in a chair, on a zafu,–but sit. Set your alarm a half hour early for the next two weeks and just sit for about twenty minutes. The first thing you may encounter is your ambivalence. Most of us are very ambivalent about any commitment–including meditation! So, check in with yourself and see if you have ambivalence and then become friendly with it–dialogue with it and see if you really want to do it. If you do, go for it.

    Ultimately, however, the best “type” of meditation is just committing to a regular practice–whether that’s mindful yoga in the morning or a mindful walk before work. It’s a time where you are not engaged in your typical problem-solving mode rather you are simply observing your five senses and your mind. You are making friends with your mind-body and your environment just as you find it. It may be you wake-up irritated and there is nothing but chatter for the entire 20 minutes or maybe you wake up and you are in a relaxed state of pure bliss–either way you just are friendly with what is. Sitting with ourselves grounds us in tolerating the ups and downs that cause suffering; things are always changing and change is what we are learning to tolerate from one moment to the next by bringing fresh awareness to each moment .

    We watch as thoughts arise and as an ache comes from no where. Watching is different from identification with the thoughts, sensations, etc., it is this impersonal space that relieves us of much of our reactivity. So, meditation is a path of asking what’s going on right now, how can I see it as my path, what’s my most cherished belief about myself, what is this and can I let things be just as they are–we’re working on all this in meditation while breathing in and out and realizing it’s no big deal.

    Have fun!

  • Clarabelle

    Clarabelle

    July 31st, 2010 at 6:10 PM

    I’d also like to know what would be suggested meditation practices for a complete beginner to follow. Could you think about writing an article please about that sometime Linda? I would really appreciate that. I enjoyed this one so much I’m wanting to try it now.

  • Patrick

    Patrick

    July 31st, 2010 at 7:50 PM

    A very interesting article you shared there Linda. I appreciate that reminder to lead a more calm existence. (P.S. You have a small typo in your footnotes. Number 4 says introduction to mediation, not meditation.)

  • Linda Jame, LCSW

    Linda Jame, LCSW

    August 1st, 2010 at 8:31 AM

    Thank you, Patrick! I didn’t think anyone read the endnotes, and now I know that they are being read. I’ll see if I can get that corrected!

    Much appreciation.

  • Barb

    Barb

    August 1st, 2010 at 7:44 PM

    Ahhhh, Linda. :) Your article made me want to go out and lie in the grass right now this very minute! I would if it were not for the neighbors. :) Excellent. Many thanks.

  • Linda Jame, LCSW

    Linda Jame, LCSW

    August 3rd, 2010 at 6:12 AM

    Clarabelle, I’ve been thinking about your request to write an article for a “complete beginner.”
    That’s very appealing to me as it brings me back to “cutting through” any aspect of routine/habit and bringing a freshness to the question of what is this–that which we call “meditation.” So, beginning with breath, beginning with our open or shut down hearts-any confusion, uncertainty–we find our “spot”–our seat on this earth to be a “warrior.” We face ourself, not hiding from any aspect of the truth of who we are, we sit and we see; we acknowledge, allow, open to find our heart moved by being human and sharing that humanness with others. So, I’m working on just that–an article on being a “complete beginner.” Thank you for that humble request and reminder to us all of the value of beginner’s mind.

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