*Before I begin, a quick note to friends and family: Yes, we got hit by the blizzard of the century (not so much. I've seen worse), and we are a-ok. Fantastic, even. I think we got about 15 inches of snow, and the wind is making any sort of transportation impossible. Our street has been plowed, but we're staying put. All is well.
Being present. Man, I have a really hard time with that. Being in the moment. My brain is like a ping pong ball; it bounces all over the place. Add to this that I am a habitual planner and you've got a recipe for brain overload. Each time I close my eyes my brain hits the neural autobahn in 5th gear. Not good and not necessary. Time for a change.
About a year ago I decided that meditation was the way to go. I had begun studying Buddhism and a meditation practice is an important part of the Buddhist journey. So, I started doing my homework. I read up, got a cd of appropriate music, and sat my arse down to meditate. I closed my eyes, focused on my breath as instructed and proceeded to become a crazy person. Sit here, like this, for 20 minutes doing nothing? Seriously? Can't be done. No thanks. Stuff to do. And that was that.
Then I discovered Jack Kornfield. I won't bore you with all ways Jack changed the way I looked at meditation, but it truly was an "Aha!" moment. To sit in meditation is not nothingness or doing nothing. It is the ultimate "me" time. Observing my thoughts, but not following them. Recognizing emotion and allowing it to be. In a year I have gone from being a vibrating crazy person to looking forward to the gift of sitting between heaven and earth.
Above is my altar. You absolutely do not need an altar to meditate, but it makes me happy. It faces east and the peacock feather represents air. Candle at north; fire. Shell and turtle west; water. Rocks south: earth. The Buddha in the middle. Pictures of those I love on the wall behind. It reminds me of my connection to all beings on the planet and especially those I love.
I usually begin my practice with at least 15 minutes of yoga. It focuses my energy and prepares my body and mind to sit. This is just the way I do it. None of this is required for everyone. It has to be a personal experience. After yoga I light candles and/or incense, gather whatever aid I'm using (more on that later) and sit. I prefer to sit in half lotus on the floor, but a chair, cushion, even lying down works if you like. I be sure that I have a shawl nearby in case I get chilly. It's important to be warm enough. Knitters, I've found the Clapotis to be the perfect meditation shawl pattern. Alpaca is a nice, soft choice of fiber. May I suggest Briar Rose Wistful? Just beautiful yarn. I sit tall, feel the earth below and the sky above, close my eyes and observe my breath. It's amazing how peaceful and focused I feel when I'm finished.
This is by no means to suggest that I am any sort of pro or expert on meditation. Some days I simply cannot sit still. (Usually after too many days have past without sitting.) Almost every time I meditate my left foot falls asleep after 10 minutes. At 15 minutes the right foot. I get distracted by noise in the hallway. My nose itches.....etc, etc. There is a reason they call it a practice.
A word on aids. As mentioned, I love Jack Kornfield and recommend any/all of his DVDs or CDs. I especially like "Meditation for Beginners" dvd. His "Loving Kindness" meditation is my favorite. If you have an ipod or ipad the app store has many meditation apps, some of them free. I'm fond of "Simply Be". Itunes has a plethora of guided meditation options. While I am now able to sit in the quiet and meditate, I prefer to have music, nature sounds, or a voice guide. It helps me to focus.
Why do I meditate? It helps me cultivate a calm and focused mind, puts my mind in a peaceful, kind place, and allows me to be present all the time, not just during meditation. Some studies show that it can help heal on a cellular level and improve your immune system. I can't speak to that, though I have been sick less frequently this year. I meditate because it is a good thing for me. People have been meditating for over 5000 years. (wow) And, in the words of my favorite world religion professor, Dr. Prashwar, "why not"?