‘Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?‘ – David M. Bader
One thing that makes meditation easier is if you blend the practice into your day. And, aside from maintaining mindfulness in everything you do, one of the best ways to integrate meditation is to take a few moments at regular times throughout each day to check in with your mind and body.
You don’t have to sit cross legged or even close your eyes – it’s nothing radical. Just stop – take a moment to pull your attention inwards, and sit within yourself for a half minute or so.
At this point, it’s a process of noticing, and adjusting.
- Notice wherever there is tension in the body and consciously try to let go.
- Notice how you feel. As you quietly note it, no matter how uncomfortable it feels, accept it and consciously relax around it.
- Notice how you’re breathing. Let go of the OUT breaths.
- Notice what kinds of thoughts you’re having and choose to insert Metta thoughts – kindness and compassion.
Checking in keeps the mind reacquainted with the body, and supports the synergistic relationship between the two – making it such that, when it comes time to practice for half an hour or more, it’s easier to surrender to meditation.
For a few people, however, checking in forms their entire practice.
For example, I had a student, we’ll call him Sam, who did publicity for a politician. He was on call most of the time, travelled a lot and had highly irregular hours, so he had a lot of trouble maintaining a regular practice. As such, he loved this, and did it constantly.
He said, ‘I like it because I can squeeze little mini-meditations into all the tiny spaces of my day. Like, while standing in a queue at the airport, instead of worrying and watching the clock, I pull my attention inwards and check in … take care of business, so to speak … relax my body, my breath, my face. Might be for only thirty seconds, but it’s like sipping cool water on a hot day.
‘And sometimes in a meeting, if I’m not called upon, I’ll close my eyes and check in. Relax my shoulders and face, and breathe. I’m still aware of what’s being said, but my attention is And if someone asks me what I’m doing, I’ll open my eyes and tell them I’m thinking. And no matter that it might only have been five or ten seconds, I always come out refreshed.’
Personally I don’t think checking in can replace a complete meditation practice, but in Sam’s case, well, I figured it couldn’t hurt.
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Needed to read that today. Thanks.
So, if meditation is all about observing and not changing anything of what is observed, when/how/why is the shift to intentially different thoughts like metta?
I do not recommend metta as a contant practice. Speaking personally, I only practice metta as an emergency strategy, as a go-to method for when I’m struggling – whether with a confronting situation, pain or emotion, or anxiety or worry – or any difficulty frankly. In those circumstances, switching to Metta helps us through.
Metta is designed to bath the mind and body in what I can only call, a ‘love-reaction’. As such, it’s a kind of tranquilliser, soothing whatever toxic state we might have gotten ourselves into.
For this reason, many meditators devote themselves to Metta entirely – especially those aligned with Tibetan Buddhism, though I don’t recommend this, for one reason – though Metta certainly helps to re-orient the mind to a more positive and compassionate view, and though it certainly stimulates soothing hormonal changes in the body, creating pleasant feelings and so on, the effect is largely superficial and temporary – a bit like taking a pill to alleviate pain or lift us out of an anxious state.
And if used like that, as kind of emergency sedative – that’s okay.
But as soothing as it is, when it comes to training the mind, Metta meditation is largely ineffective. If we want to create lasting change to our array of life habits we must meditate impartially – and practice accepting whatever arises, without concocting illusions, or willing any particular mind-state into existence to make us feel better. Doing that will only emphasise our clinging to feeling good, and defeat the entire purpose of meditation as a medium of transformation.
As such, I recommend only using Metta as a temporary measure, when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by one thing or another. In that instance, Metta is a good way of soothing the mind and body so you can return to core meditation practice.