Common sense tells us that it is harder to look out of a dirty, grimy window, but sometimes we don’t notice how bad the view has gotten. Just this morning, the sun hit my office window directly, and for the first time I saw that it was covered in a thick coat of mud and rain-splatter. I don’t think they wash the third floor of our juvenile detention center very often. I’ve been looking out of this window for two years. How tainted is my view of the world? This reminded me of one of my favorite benefits of meditation. Gil Fronsdal, a wonderful teacher out of The Insight Meditation Center in California, likens meditation to the painstaking process of scrubbing off a very grimy, dirty window. Only, instead of looking out, you’re looking in. Unfortunately, it is a very, very slow process (this window has been covered in years of tar and paint and sludge). But it’s worth it. It’s worth starting an active, daily meditation practice. Here are a few tips on how to get started, from one beginner to another, including some simple audio guides designed for beginners and young people.
Our world is not designed for meditation. Our world is fast-paced and results-orientated. We don’t take time to let things grow and develop. It’s either instant, viral, or trashed. I remember being told once that a hit show like Cheers would never exist today, because it spent something like four years at the bottom of the ratings before it took off. It took time for the show, and it’s audience, to develop. Nowadays, it’s either a hit or gone. What do we miss out on, in art, relationships, experiences, due to our impatience?
I’ve been actively meditating for years now, trying to stick to a daily practice, and every time I reflect on my practice, I feel like I’m just finally getting it, barely, kind of, almost. But that’s the point. Meditating is about always being a beginner, always having a beginner’s mind, always remaining childlike. And most days it is not magical. I do not rise out of my body and float on a cloud of bliss. Many days I watch my brain and think, “gosh, you think about the dumbest stuff.” But after many years, when I look out into the world and then into myself, I know the view has gotten clearer. I’m still think a lot of dumb stuff, but now I’m more aware of it and better at stopping it. And I know I’m more patient. I know I enjoy my life more. I hope I’m a better father, teacher, and overall person (though you’ll have to ask other people that). And my blood pressure is low, which I guess is not common for people who work in jails.
But starting to meditate can be a shock to the system. I’ve talked to a lot of people who are literally horrified by the thought. Why? I think it’s because we have to stare at ourselves face-to-face, and often it is not pretty. Our minds are endless loops of bad reruns, and we spend most of our day trying to get away from them. Most days my mind makes late night cable TV infomercials look interesting.
And now here’s this practice that forces you to stare right at the mind. But the benefits are vast. Meditation is personal training for living fully. It’s good for your health, your heart; it nurtures compassion and patience; it develops willpower; it relaxes; it focuses; it extends life; it grows happiness.
And there are easy ways to start meditating. Basic mindfulness meditation, at its core, is about sitting quietly and focusing on the breath. But this can seem almost impossible for a modern person. I know it was (and often is) for me. Years ago I think we did a lot more front porch sitting, parlor sitting, cave sitting, cliff-dwelling, and overall just hanging out. So meditating was part of life. There was not a barrage of media. We had more of an inner-life, and perhaps we were more naturally mindful. Today it can be a challenge to pause the monkey-mind’s endless stream of thoughts and to pause the world’s endless stream of data and information. But there are tricks you can use to help focus during the start of a practice. I use many of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn’s mindful phrases (he calls them Gathas) when I meditate. These are key words, or simple chants, that can help focus the mind with the breath.
I’ve made a few simple meditation audio guides using some of these phrases. Nothing fancy. These are not meant to be start-to-finish meditation guides, but openers. Fully guided meditations are great, but they do a lot of the work for you. They are another kind of media. These “starters” are meant to be like a parent offering a big push at the swing set to get the young child’s legs pumping. They’re all about three to five minutes, and they’re just meant to get you focused and going. The rest of the work is yours.
I’m working on some more that are more kid friendly, but I’ve used a few of these with my own children with success.
If you try one of the meditation starters, I’d love to know what you think.
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