Sitting meditation can be like a mini-vacation. It’s not an escape from life, but it’s a way to rest in peacefulness, even in the midst of a busy life. Peacefulness is already in us. It’s like an island each of us has inside. We only need to rediscover it, give it our attention, and it can be a place where we let ourselves go to rest.
Anyone can practice sitting meditation. It’s nice to have a meditation cushion, and sit in a quiet place. But you can practice anywhere. I’ve practiced meditation while riding a city bus, waiting at the doctor’s office, on park benches, and on the beach. The waves and seagulls are great companions.
For a long time I avoided sitting meditation because I thought I had to sit for at least 20 minutes a day. I didn’t have that much time to spare! But meditation doesn’t have to be a major time commitment. I know an acupuncturist who asks all his patients to practice 5 minutes of meditation, 4 times a week. That’s only 20 minutes a week. Even the busiest among us can try that.
This description is a blend of instructions I’ve learned from different Buddhist traditions over the years. It’s meant for sitting on a cushion, but you can adapt it to sit anywhere. Let yourself just enjoy sitting, and enjoy your breathing.
Sit on a cushion with legs folded in full lotus or half lotus, or folded underneath you, knees on the floor. If the knees are on the floor, below the hips, your posture is stable and you will naturally sit upright. It’s easier to stay awake and focused when sitting upright.
Sway gently from side to side, forward and back, until you find a natural center. There’s no hurry to get into the position. Let the cushion support you. Feel the solidity of the earth beneath you. Keep your back strong, and your front soft. Your head is straight, as if someone is gently lifting up the back of your head. You might like to imagine a string connecting the crown of your head with the ceiling. Shoulders are relaxed. Hands rest on your knees or in your lap, whatever is comfortable. The eyes are open, resting about 45 degrees in front of you, but not focused on anything in particular. The gaze is soft.
Just This One Breath
Once you are resting in the posture, make contact with your breathing. You might like to focus on the space just below your nostrils where the breath comes in and goes out. You could also rest your attention on the belly as it gently rises and falls with each breath. This way, the mind is with the body in the present moment. It’s natural for the mind to go to the past or future, but with some effort, we can make it a positive habit to bring it back to the present.
We only take one breath at a time. Just stay with this one breath. Don’t try to change your breathing; just notice it as it is.
Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that we say to ourselves, “Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.”
Thoughts naturally come and go. When your thoughts come, you can watch them arise and go away, as if you are watching waves form and sink back down into the ocean. Like waves, thoughts will come and go. When you notice yourself thinking, gently bring your attention back to your in-breath and out-breath.
You might notice that there is a slight pause after the in-breath and before the out-breath, and also after the out-breath and before the in-breath. This is a space where you can rest.
For now, relax your grip on whatever you are holding on to. You don’t have to let it go; just loosen your grip.
Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.