I hope you are having a life experience that pleases you most of the time. If you are, mind training will definitely enhance your enjoyment. If you’re not, mind training will definitely enhance your enjoyment.
Survival, Relief and Foundation
Increasing my own daily meditation practice 20-30% these past five months has gradually improved my inner state amidst a confluence of tumultuous life challenges.
My mind was overwhelmed with fear and anger, which generated streams of catastrophic thoughts draining my energy and hampering constructive action. I’ve survived this mental hurricane with mind training. Much more than temporary relief, meditation has been a foundational investment that pays ongoing dividends to strengthen and ground me as I progress further into my eighth decade. Progress, not perfection is my focus.
Big Picture Shows Progress
Mind training, mindfulness, and meditation are similar descriptions among many others for a journey towards wholeness, unity, fulfillment, grace and love. We continue to move in that direction until our earth body expires (and probably after that as pure consciousness). On this journey mistakes and successes are both instructive. Like planets in retrograde, we may appear to be moving away from that direction of integration at times, but the big picture is one of progress.
Encourage Mental Order
Travelers become more conscious in stages, by degrees as they journey. Breath counting is a convenient bridge towards inner freedom which expands with experience.At first, counting each exhale in a series up to four, while alternating with a simple inhale mantra, “I’m breathing in” is an easy strategy to gently, kindly encourage mental order amidst chaos. Think of a school bus full of rowdy children settling into a sing-along.
Count four sets each from one to four, four sets from four to one, four more sets begin at one, then another four descending back to one, etc. My mind was soooo hyperactive for awhile that each exhale had to be filled with its number quickly repeated to tightly fill the entire length of that breath. Inhaling to the thought, “I am breathing in,” then exhaling, “one, one, one, one, one…” as many times as would fit until I began the next, “I am breathing in,” followed by, “two, two, two….” The idea is to give my rowdy mind something constructive to do without resorting to suppression with violence or drugs.
Portable and Adaptable
This is a quick fix for any distress. And it has added benefits of life affirming skill development. This breath counting is an intervention that makes you stronger and smarter and more integrated. This strategy is a foundation upon which you progress to build a better quality of life. It can be done with eyes open or closed. Breath counting can be done sitting, standing, moving. Do it during hours of insomnia or minutes until the red light turns green. It can be done alone, in silent concert with others, in an airport, in sickness, and in health. It is totally portable, totally adaptable to any situation.
Soften and Settle
My thinking, thinking, thinking began to soften and settle after a couple months’ practicing twice daily for 15 -20 minutes seated, eyes closed. (I was extremely distressed, so you will probably experience positive results much sooner.) Adjunctive practice fit conveniently into daily activities for varying amounts of time while washing dishes, mowing the yard, eating, waiting in line, walking through a parking lot. After awhile I didn’t need to recite each number so many times. My calmer mind wasn’t intruding obsessive thoughts into the spaces between numbers. I truly enjoy those quiet nanoseconds, which gradually expanded. When thinking resurges, I gently increase frequency of counting to regain serene order.
Calmness Becomes Peacefulness
The calmness that results from breath counting opens to the next stage of practice—conscious breathing. Direct your attention to your nostrils and the sensation of the air coming in and going out. Notice your chest expanding and releasing as well as subtle movements in your abdomen. Recite mentally, “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in; Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.” Vietanmese monk Thich Nhat Hanh (see Bio below) (Peace Is Every Step; The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Bantam Books, NY, 1991 ) suggests, “You don’t even need to recite the whole sentence; you can use just two words: ‘In’ and ‘Out.’ …As you practice, your breath will become peaceful and gentle, and your mind and body will also become peaceful and gentle.”
Breathing Links Body and Mind
Nhat Hanh continues, “Our breathing is the link between our body and our mind. Sometimes our mind is thinking one thing and our body is doing another, and mind and body are not unified. [SOMETIMES?!?] By concentrating on our breathing, ‘In’ and ‘Out,’ we bring body and mind back together, and become whole again….we become quite refreshed [with practice]. We recover ourselves, and we can encounter the beautiful things around us in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here. If we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life. [Ponder that for a moment.]
“When we are in touch with the refreshing, peaceful, and healing elements within ourselves and around us, we learn how to cherish and protect these things and make them grow,” he affirms. That’s the nature of this journey, to grow our conscious connection with life. I invite you to let go of perfectionism as you travel and to celebrate your progress as well as the progress of others.
Who Is Thich Nhat Hanh?
Pronounce his first name “tick.” He’s Vietnamese, 91, an ordained Buddhist monk since 16, author of nearly 100 publications in English, French and Vietnamese, and “a cross between a cloud, a snail, and a piece of heavy machinery—a true religious presence,” according to American Buddhist Richard Baker-Roshi, director of the San Francisco Zen Center and teacher of Arnold Kotler whose editorial introduction to Peace Is Every Step cites TNH’s Nobel Peace Prize nomination by Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as TNH’s other admirers like Catholic mystic Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama. Kotler recognizes TNH “as one of the great teachers of the twentieth century. In the midst of our society’s emphasis on speed, efficiency, and material success, TNH’s ability to walk calmly with peace and awareness and to teach us to do the same has led to his enthusiastic reception in the West. Although his mode of expression is simple, his message reveals the quintessence of deep understanding of reality that comes from his meditations, his Buddhist training, and his work in the world.” For a catalogue of books and tapes by Thich Nhat Hanh, or a current schedule of Thich Nhat Hanh’s lectures and retreats worldwide, please contact Parrallax Press, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707.