Well-Being

DID YOU KNOW?

“Mindfulness” and “Meditation”….These buzzwords of the present day have been in use long before phone apps. In 900 AD, Shantideva wrote the Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, or the Bodhicharyavatara, in which he catalogued meditation practices, which were already ancient.(1)

There are many lineages of meditation teachers in many Buddhist traditions, and generations of American teachers. With Transcendental meditation and MBSR<footnote-text> (2)<footnote-text>, mindfulness and meditation went so mainstream you can’t escape it. Phone apps are ubiquitous. Google meditation and you’ll find a million resources.

But mindfulness and meditation can be clarified to one essential practice<footnote-text> (3)<footnote-text>:

“Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.”

In this time of covid stress and attention deficit, I myself need to slow it down a little further:

As I breathe in, I notice that I am breathing in.
As I breathe out, I notice that I am breathing out.

There is much that can be said about how to sit for mindfulness and meditation<footnote-text> (4)<footnote-text>. But we’re doing it on the fly, in front of a screen, probably you’re hunched over like I am. So just take a moment, and balance your posture. Straighten your back. Place both feet on the floor and sit tall. Now inhale through your nose, and notice how it feels as you inhale.

Breathe in, long enough to notice that you are breathing in. Breathe out, long enough to notice you are breathing out.

To quiet anxiety, increase the depth of each breath. Feel your chest expand. Then exhale even more deeply. As you slow down your breathing, your heart rate slows. You may notice a feeling of quieting.

This is the threshold of “calm abiding” or Shamata in Sanskrit.<footnote-text> (5)<footnote-text>

If you feel agitated, overwhelmed or upset, the first step is to breathe mindfully. As you breathe in, notice you are breathing in. As you breathe out, notice you are breathing out. This phrase repeated becomes a mantra<footnote-text> (6)<footnote-text>, and serves to protect the mind. The mantra and the breathing soothe the mind. This is a form of “self-soothing.”<footnote-text> (7)<footnote-text>

As thoughts and feelings arise, notice them, like they are clouds appearing in the sky. You don’t have to react to them. The stronger the feelings, the more tempting it may be to react. But consider: when you notice rather than react, you activate a different part of the brain. React = primitive brain. Notice = cognitive brain.<footnote-text> (8)<footnote-text>

By noticing rather than reacting, you are practicing a life-saving skill that can prevent impulsive action. Slow down and be present. Whatever the feelings, just notice them like clouds, keep breathing, and keep noticing the breathing. Help is on the way.

1. There are many sources and kinds of meditation as you can discover on Google. I am focusing on one simple approach because when in crisis, less is more!  
2. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an evidence-based therapy that really works. Based on the work of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zin, and others, rooted in Buddhist tradition.  
3. This mantra is attributed to Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Naht Thanh.  
4. See note 2.
5. I only know two or three words of Sanskrit. The second one is Vipassana, which means Insight, also a kind of meditation. The third word I will use later.
6. That’s the third word. It means “To protect the mind,” denoting a repeated phrase. In Catholic tradition, “Hail Mary is another example of a mantra in the form of a prayer. All mantras are a form of prayer.
7. One of the tools of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), an evidence-based, highly effective practice.
8. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, reacting is “emotional mind,” and noticing is “wise mind.”
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