Wednesday, January 29, 2014

quiet mind: a beginner's guide to meditation

I have been working so hard on getting my bodily health in shape that I may have overlooked my mental and emotional health, too. Everything is connected, and pretty much everyone I talk to has suggested meditation for a way to relieve stress and improve my outlook on life. But where does a neophyte start? I found this book at the library, Quiet Mind: A Beginner's Guide to Meditation, which was compiled and edited by Susan Piver. It includes seven different meditation exercises, explained and introduced by seven different Buddhist practitioners. There is also a CD included, with the same teachers helping guide one through each meditation technique.

After reading and listening to and trying each method I think this book was a great introduction to starting one's own meditation practice. You can try each method and see what works best for you before trying to delve more deeply in a practice or attend a meditation center for some more personalized training.

The different techniques included are:

Shamatha, "the practice of tranquillity," presented by Sakyong Mipham. A meditation that focuses on the breath.

Vipassana, "the practice of clear seeing," presented by Larry Rosenberg. Similar to Shamatha, but more attuned to the environment one is in while meditating.

Zazen, "the practice of freedom," presented by Edward Espe Brown. His technique helps people in "shifting from performance to presence."

Metta, "the practice of 'lovingkindness,'" presented by Sharon Salzberg. Salzberg guides you through her "lovingkindness" mantra, which is said repeated for yourself, someone who inspires you, a friend, a neutral person (like the barista at Starbucks, e.g.), a difficult person, and ultimately all beings on the planet, acknowledging that we are all one:

May you be free from danger
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you live with ease

Tonglen, "the practice of transformation," presented by Judith Lief. The Tibetan word tonglen means "sending and taking" — send out what you want, bring in what you don't want. The breathing technique reverses the usual method. One is supposed to get away from the habit of putting yourself first by breathing in what you reject and out what you desire.

Healing Meditation, "the practice of healing the body and mind through meditation," presented by Tulku Thondup.

Opening and Closing Yoga Poses, "the link between yoga and meditation," presented by Richard Faulds.

Although different approaches the seven techniques all have in common:

Finding a comfortable sitting position
Focusing on the breath
Not trying to control breathing
If thoughts come into the mmd, don't feel discouraged, just acknowledge them and let them go and return to the breath

One doesn't have to be a Buddhist to practice any of these methods. Not all of them will appeal to you — try and see which might be the best fit. I found the first, most basic, Shamatha, to be a great way to start my own practice and routine. I also found Tulku Thondup's Healing Meditation on the CD to resonate the most with me. The yoga poses and relaxation are also great, although I find that more something I'd like to work into my daily exercise routine rather than use as a mode of meditation. If trying to quiet your mind is something that interests you, Quiet Mind: A Beginner's Guide to Meditation would be a great place to start.


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