By Joni Takanikos
I have practiced meditation since I was a teenager. It has anchored me while providing a lift to my life and, at times, sheer transcendence. I am by no means an expert in the field, but I have taken some field notes along the way. Here are some of them:
1. There are many ways to meditate.
2. It is simply a practice.
3. Meditation contains stillness, whether the body is moving or remains as still as a statue.
4. You can practice meditation in any field—a pasture, a cathedral or a crowded airport.
5. Even a five-minute practice will have an impact.
6. Once you have stood in the center of your own field, you will have a strong heart sense of how to return.
7. Meditation is an enormous boon to creativity.
I came to the practice of meditation through the ever expanding corridors of yoga. I continue to explore this path in different forms and as teachers present themselves, but from this exploration a simple everyday practice has emerged: the practice of sitting or lying still, following my breath and watching my thoughts and feelings drift by like clouds. Of course, some clouds are more dense and heavy than others, and they may occupy the space of your mind like a weather pattern you wish were different. Accepting the mind is similar to accepting the weather.
A friend recently shared with me a quote from the writer and meditation teacher Adyashanti, “If you want to suffer, argue with what is.” I have adopted this as my mantra. “Mantra” in Sanskrit translates as “a tool for the mind,” and Adyashanti’s quote is one of my favorite new tools for finding and keeping myself centered.
There are many ways to begin a meditation practice. If sitting is difficult, you might begin by lying down, closing your eyes and following the flow of your breath for five minutes. It helps to relax the throat, jaw and tongue so the flow of air is not constricted.
This simple method can open up rooms in the mind and body you may have been neglecting. It helps to open the doors and windows inside our body for this fresh air to enter. The breath is a powerful gatekeeper and longs for a more intimate relationship with our bodies. In the yogic philosophy, the breath is called “prana,” a Sanskrit word that translates to “vital energy.” Prana, this vital energy, is easily accessed through simple breath awareness. If you follow the breath as if it were a beautiful piece of music, it will naturally expand and unfurl, making itself truly known to you, perhaps eventually becoming symphonic in nature. Physiologically, you will drop into your parasympathetic system, which can regulate and calm the central nervous system.
Dancing, walking, doing dishes…all of these activities can easily and gracefully become our meditation as we follow the wind of our breath and practice letting our thoughts and feelings simply arise and drift off. This happens more naturally when we practice awareness of thoughts without attachment. Thích Nhãt Hanh, monk and author of Stepping into Freedom:Rules of Monastic Practice for Novices says, “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
Amit Ray, author of Om Chanting and Meditation, says, “If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
A friend of mine recently called to tell me that no matter how hard he tried to meditate, he was unable to because his mind was full of thoughts. He said, “I’m not like you! I can’t just empty my mind and be peaceful.” I laughed and explained that my mind was also full of thoughts. I don’t know anyone who meditates who doesn’t have a parade of thoughts; this is the nature of our mind. It enables me to write my thoughts down on this paper right now. I have found that the freedom that comes through a regular practice of meditation, noticing thoughts come and go without attachment to them, does create a stillness and peace which tends to stay with me through my day. When my “thinking” begins to take over, I can more easily notice this “train of thought” without being overtaken by it. In my yoga practice—both on and off the mat—I often take a deep breath, and on the exhalation I bow my head to my heart. This simple surrender of the head to the heart will lead you towards beautiful and peaceful fields, fields that are always just around the corner from your present state of mind. Pema Chödrön, author of When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, says “You are the sky. Everything else—it’s just the weather.”
Here are just a few of the many places to practice meditation, all by donation, with teachers here on Whidbey Island:
Half Moon Yoga Studio in Langley with Sarah Manchester halfmoonyogalangley.com
Yeshe Long House with Kilung Jigme Rinpoche: pemakilaya.org
Tacoma One Drop Zendo: onedropzen.org
Stillness Tuesday’s at Whidbey Institute: whidbeyinstitute.org/stillness-tuesdays/
Healing Circle Mindfulness Meditations every Tuesday evening beginning October 6th. Taught by students of the venerable Thich Nhãt Hanh: www.healingcircleslangley.org. 534 Camano Ave, Langley WA.
Joni Takanikos teaches yoga at Half Moon Yoga Studio in Langley. She is also a poet, singer and performer ever in search of Truth and Beauty in all the fields.
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Thank you for your mention of the Whidbey Institute’s Stillness Tuesdays. Howard Aposhyan has been holding meditation in the Sanctuary at the Institute on the first Tuesday of every month for over six years and we would love to welcome newcomers to this free monthly gathering!
If you’re curious about the Institute and other ways to be involved, we’re also holding a free community festival from 10 to 1:30 on Sunday, October 11!
Beautifully written, wise, and useful. Thank you, Peggy