First select a suitable space for your daily meditation. It can be wherever you can sit easily with minimal disturbance: a corner of your bedroom or any other quiet spot in your home. Place a meditation cushion or chair there for your use. The priority here is to sit comfortably. Arrange what is around so that you are reminded of your meditative purpose, so that it feels like a sacred and peaceful space. You may wish to make a simple altar with a flower or sacred image, or place your favorite spiritual books there for a few moments of inspiring reading. Allow yourself to enjoy creating this space.
Then select a regular time for practice that suits your schedule and temperament. If you are a morning person, experiment with sitting before breakfast. If evening fits your temperament or schedule better, try that first. Begin with sitting 10 or 20 minutes at a time. Later you can sit longer or more frequently. Daily meditation can become like bathing or brushing your teeth. It can bring a regular cleansing and calming to your heart and mind.
As you sit, bring your attention to feel the sensations of your breathing. Take a few deep breaths to sense where you can feel the breath most easily, as coolness or tingling in the nostrils or throat, as movement of the chest, or rise and fall of the belly. Then let your breath be soft. Feel the sensations of your natural breathing very carefully, relaxing into each breath as you feel it, noticing how the soft sensations of breathing come and go with the changing breath.
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After a few breaths your mind will probably wander or you may even get sleepy. When you notice this, no matter how long or short a time you have been away, simply come back to the next breath. Before you return, you can mindfully acknowledge where you have gone with a soft word in back of your mind, such as “thinking,” “wandering,” “hearing.” After softly and silently naming to yourself where your mind has been, gently and directly return to feel the next breath. Later on in your meditation you will be able to work with the places your mind wanders to, but for initial training, one word of acknowledgment and a simple return to the breath is best.
As you sit, let the breath change rhythms naturally, allowing it to be short, long, fast, slow, rough, or easy. Calm yourself by relaxing into the breath. When your breath becomes soft, let your attention become gentle and careful, as soft as the breath itself.
Listen to your breath. When we are listening carefully, we can sense new aspects of our breath all the time. At first when we feel the breath, it seems like only one small movement, but as we develop the art of concentration, we can feel a hundred things in the breath: the subtlest sensations, the variations in its length, the temperature, the swirl, the expansion, the contraction, the tingles that come along with it, the echoes of the breath in different parts of our body, and so much more.
Sticking with a spiritual training requires an ocean of patience because our habit of wanting to be somewhere else is strong. We’ve distracted ourselves from the present for so many moments, for so many years, even lifetimes. Here is an accomplishment in The Guinness Book of World Records that totally lets everyone off the hook when people are feeling frustrated. It indicates that Mrs. Miriam Hargrave of Wakefield, England holds the record for persistence in taking and failing a driving test. Mrs. Hardgrave failed her 39th driving test in April 1970, when she crashed, driving through a set of red lights. In August of the following year she finally passed her 40th test. Unfortunately, she could no longer afford to buy a car because she had spent so much on driving lessons. In the same spirit, Mrs. Fanny Turner of Little Rock, Arkansas, passed her written test for a driver’s license on her 104th attempt in October 1978. If we can bring such persistence to passing a driving test or mastering the art of yoga or skiing or any one of a hundred other endeavors, surely we can also master the art of connecting with ourselves. As human beings we can dedicate ourselves to almost anything, and this heartfelt perseverance and dedication brings spiritual practice alive.
Always remember that in training a puppy we want to end up with the puppy as our friend. In the same way, we must practice seeing our mind and body as “friend.” Even its wanderings can be included in our meditation with a friendly interest and curiosity. Right away we can notice how it moves. The mind produces waves. Our breath is a wave; the sensations of our body are a wave. We don’t have to fight the waves. Simply acknowledge, “Surf’s up.” “Here’s the wave of memories from three years old.” Then it’s time to reconnect with the wave of the breath. It takes gentleness and a kindhearted understanding to deepen the art of concentration. We can’t be present for a long period without actually softening, dropping into our body, coming to rest. Any other kind of concentration, achieved by force and tension, will only be short-lived. Our task is to train the puppy to become our lifelong friend and at the same time, not taking ourselves so seriously. Meditation is a practice that can teach us to enter each moment with wisdom, lightness, and a sense of humor. It is an art of opening and letting go, rather than accumulation or struggle.
J. Renée DeTar earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wichita State University in communicative disorders and sciences and liberal studies. She is the founder and director of Yoga Teacher Training of the Institute of Interdisciplinary Yoga Studies, a subsidiary of ReneeYoga since 1991. She offers yoga teacher trainings and spiritual events in Kansas City, MO. She has two children, David and Jamie, and lives with her significant other, David Schafer in north central Missouri on a sustainable farm.