Meditation - Where to Begin

Where should we start with meditation. What is the simplest way we can understand meditation? I think we can begin with the image of sitting still, which is the central image of the Buddhist path of meditation.  So we can begin with the feeling of sitting still.

Just finding a way of being with our bodies where we feel comfortable and able to be still. Sitting with a good strong base to our posture and a upright back, with are head balanced.
So this is where we can start just by trying out what it feels like to sit still. We can try it laying down, sitting on a chair and sitting on the floor. We can be interested in what the body, our body, feels like when we sit still, we can see if we can find a way of sitting that helps us to be still.

The art of meditation is very old. People have always sat still and allowed their minds to settle down. I think that sitting still and doing nothing sometimes, is essential for the good mental health of all of us. It is very hard to think outside of our own historical situation, but I do not think it is too far fetched to think that people before the Industrial revolution did this as a natural part of their ordinary lives, without all the distraction that we now take for granted such as television and so on, there must have been times when we just sat or stood still and looked over the fields or stared into the fire. I have heard stories that pre-industerail people would visit one anothers homes and just sit for a while saying nothing and then just leave. I find this idea very moving the idea that there is a value in human contact, being with other humans without the exchange of any information.

As a meditation teacher I often find myself on retreat, sitting silently with other people in a meditation room. I have been doing this for nearly thirty years now and I find it increasingly moving. It is so uncommon now in our culture to be with others in silence. It is very beautiful experience to be with others free of any feeling of unease just sitting together.

So the first thing is for us to experiment with sitting still on our own.

No two bodies are the same, so we do not want to lay down rules about how one has to sit. However there are a few simple guidelines we should bare in mind as we try and find the right way of sitting for you. Perhaps the most basic thing is the idea of alignment, when the body is aligned it takes the least physical effort to sit, if we are leaning forwards or backwards or to one side we will become uncomfortable and there will be unnecessary tension in the body. We want to have a sense of the weight going through the core of the body and dropping through the pelvis, through the sitting bones into the cushion. The shoulders in line, directly above our hips the head balanced.

But although posture is important, even more vital is the attitude that the posture is trying to express. When we sit we are trying to express through the posture, an attitude of kindness and interest in out experience. We are kind of saying by taking this posture, that we care about ourselves, that we want to be intimate with our whole experience, our bodies, feelings, emotions and thoughts, and this is where meditation begins.

Keeping Still

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
This one time upon the earth,
let's not speak any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.
The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing,
and would walk alongside their brothers,
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn't be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.
If we weren't unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,
if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I'll go.

Pablo Neruda,
from Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon.
Translated by Stephen Mitchell.