By Karen Mehringer
“The mind is the source of all experience, and by changing the direction of the mind, we can change the quality of everything we experience.”
– Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, The Joy of Living
Have you ever had the thought, “If only I could win the lottery, all of my problems would be solved and I would be so happy?” The results of a study by Philip Brinkman indicated that people who had won the lottery were not much happier than a control group who hadn’t experienced the excitement of suddenly becoming rich. In fact, after the initial thrill wore off, the people who had won the lottery reported finding less enjoyment in the everyday pleasures of life.
Often times, what we think will make us happy, when our focus is on an external source, may prove to be temporarily satisfying, but, in the end, only leaves us feeling dissatisfied and wanting more. What then will bring us lasting joy? – The experience of our true, essential nature. One method for getting us there is through meditation.
Imagine for a moment the sky. Our essence is the blue vastness, a backdrop to the clouds. The clouds come and go. They change shape and form. But, who we are as pure spirit, pure essence, is infinite, vast and expansive, always present, still and at peace, just like the sky. Our thoughts are like the clouds. They aren’t who we really are, but they shape our life experiences and how we perceive what is happening to us and around us. Like the clouds, they are temporary. But, often, we mistake them as being real. Through meditation, we can learn to observe our thoughts for what they are – transient, tap into our essential nature, and experience inner peace and joy.
Developing a meditation practice is a gradual process. At first, we may experience our thoughts like a waterfall, rushing through our minds without pause, and it may feel uncomfortable to sit still observing this torrent of activity. Eventually, our thoughts become like a slow river and ultimately like a still lake in which we are able to experience the calmness and bliss of being. The key then to developing a practice is to start slowly. Sit for only a couple of minutes at a time and then gradually lengthen the amount of time given your comfort level. The idea is to experience some level of success before expanding your practice, so it doesn’t feel like a chore.
Begin by sitting upright with your spine straight, your body relaxed and your hands resting gently on your lap. Next, focus on your breath. Watch the inhalation and exhalation as it becomes a rhythmic cycle. Then, rest in bare awareness without focusing your attention. Sit quietly and simply observe your thoughts, feelings and perceptions as if they were clouds passing by. If you notice your mind wandering, bring your awareness back to the present moment, focusing again on your breath. The idea isn’t to rid yourself of your thoughts, but to observe them with mindfulness, without chasing them or allowing them to distract you. As you become aware of your thoughts, their power over you will begin to fade.
Another helpful tool is to focus your attention on your five senses. For example, sit quietly and listen to every sound…the tree leaves rustling, a car passing by, a dog barking, a plane flying overhead, your computer humming. Listen without judgment. Practice this for a couple of minutes. Then, focus your attention on the sensations you feel in your body. You can also meditate with your eyes open, focusing on an object’s form and color like a candle flame. Further, you can focus your awareness on smells or tastes.
Focusing your attention on one of your five senses can be done as an informal meditation practice throughout the day, even while waiting in line at the grocery store or when stuck in traffic. According to Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche in The Joy of Living, “…practicing informally in daily life gradually eradicates the all-too-common misconception that you have to be someplace absolutely quiet in order to meditate… Distractions are everywhere.”
The more you practice meditation, the more benefits you will experience. For example, you will bring a sense of mindfulness and present awareness into your everyday life. Situations that once caused you to feel frustrated, impatient or irritated will be opportunities to experience inner peace. Further, you will experience greater clarity, openness and receptivity and will be able to tap into the vastness of your essential nature – the place of everlasting joy.
“You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.”
– Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks