During my own meditation studies, I was blessed with the opportunity to learn from Ms. Salzberg; and I am eternally grateful for her guidance and the wisdom she shared.
In the excerpt below, is from Ms Salzberg’s article “Sit”. She originally wrote it back in 2002 for “O” Magazine. In it, Ms. Salzberg draws upon her years of experience to help others get started in meditation. I hope you enjoy it!
Keep up with your practice! And May your days always be filled with love, happiness, & peace,
~ Anthony Profeta
Please visit www.sharonsalzberg.com to learn more about Sharon and her teachings.
Meditation: Getting Started
The text below is an excerpt from ‘Sit’, an article I wrote some time ago for O Magazine. It provides some basic meditation instruction and answers many questions about the practice.
How do I do it?
Sit comfortably, with your back erect. It is fine to sit in a chair or on an arrangement of cushions on the floor. If necessary, you can lie down. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, feeling the breath as it enters your nostrils and fills your chest and abdomen; then release it. Allow the breath to become natural, without forcing it or controlling it. Let your attention rest on one breath at a time.
If your mind wanders, don’t be concerned. Notice whatever has captured your attention, then let go of the thought or feeling, and return to the awareness of the breath. In this way, meditation teaches us gentleness and an ability to forgive our mistakes in life and to go on.
I recommend sitting for a 20-minute session if you are just getting started and increasing the time gradually until you are meditating for 30 or 45 minutes. At the end of your meditation period, lovingly acknowledge others in your life-your family or your community, maybe the whole planet. This forms the bridge between our inner work and our resolve to act with more awareness and love in our daily lives.
How do I find the time?
If you can pick a set time and place to meditate each day, it will enhance the sense of sacredness. But if you’re not able to sit regularly, you can still benefit. Even the ordinary activities of daily life can be times of meditation when you free yourself from the strictures of habit and the tendency to be only half-alive. Take a walk or eat a meal with full attention. Break the momentum of rushing and busyness in your day by stopping to meditate for just a few minutes; you’ll rediscover a deeper sense of yourself and what is most important to you.
What will happen to me when I’m meditating? What will I experience?
Sometimes you will tap into a wellspring of peace. Other times you might feel waves of sleepiness, boredom, anxiety, anger, or sadness. Images may arise, old songs might replay, long-buried memories can surface. Instead of feeling discouraged if you get sleepiness when you want peacefulness, remember that the core components of meditation are concentration, awareness, and lovingkindness. Meditation reveals how continually all the elements of our experience change. It is natural to go through many ups and downs, to encounter new delights and newly awakened conflicts from the subconscious mind. Success in meditation is measured not in terms of whatever may be happening but rather how we are relating to what is happening.
If you feel overwhelmed by thoughts or feelings, use awareness of your breath to anchor your attention to your body. If, for example, you find yourself thinking “I will always be this way” or “If only I were stronger (more patient, smarter, kinder), I wouldn’t feel this way,” return to the simple truth of the moment-sitting and being aware of your breath.
What do I do when my thoughts just won’t stop?
Some people have a mistaken idea that through meditation all thoughts disappear and we enter a state of blankness. There certainly are times of great tranquility when concentration is strong and we have few, if any, thoughts. But other times, we can be flooded with memories, plans, or random thinking. It’s important not to blame yourself. Notice that you don’t invite your thoughts. You haven’t said, “At 6:15 I’d like to be ruminating about the past.” Thoughts come and go without our volition, but we don’t have to be ruled by them.
Exploring the emotions that fuel obsessive thinking can begin to diminish their power over us. For example, when we look at what lies behind relentless planning, we may see that we hope somehow to control the future, and we fear that without continual planning, what we want will never come to pass. As we relate to such emotions with lovingkindness, we begin to release the worry, restlessness, and remorse that take us away from the present moment both in meditation and in our daily lives.
Can meditation help me deal with physical pain?
What you learn about pain in formal meditation can help you relate to it in your daily life. In meditation, one of the first things you may notice about pain is that when you start to feel it in one part of your body, the rest of your body tenses up. This can increase the pain. Consciously take a deep breath and relax your muscles. As you relax physically, you will discover greater ease of mind.
You can also use the skills of meditation to distinguish physical pain from emotional associations you may have about it. You might find yourself thinking, I’m a bad or weak person because I have pain, or pain is something shameful that should be hidden. Such attitudes can only make the pain worse. Likewise, when your thoughts leap into the future and you think “This will always hurt, and it will probably get worse,” you are burdening yourself with anticipated pain, which in fact may not come. Like all experiences, pain is easier to be with when seen directly, without emotional overlays.
The simple act of sitting for 20 minutes can cause discomfort in your knees or back. If you feel a lot of pain when meditating, it is wise to shift position. If the discomfort is tolerable, you might use the meditation session as a time to learn how to relate to it in a new way: Can you decrease the intensity by accepting it rather than mentally fighting it?
Can meditation help depression?
Depression has many causes. While it is important to investigate its possible biochemical basis and seek out psychotherapeutic help if necessary, meditation may also be useful. Dedicating some time to meditation is a meaningful expression of caring for yourself that can help you move through the mire of feeling unworthy of recovery. And developing the skill of concentration can free you from the trap of obsessive thinking. To be obsessed is to be in bondage to the compulsive repetition of a fixed idea or emotion. As your mind winds tighter and tighter, your identity constricts around that limiting fixation. Learning how to concentrate, you are able to focus gently on a chosen object with increasing ease of mind. As your mind grows quieter and more spacious, you can begin to see self-defeating thought patterns for what they are, and open up to other, more positive options.
You begin to see that the cloud of negativity that we know as depression is made up of many parts, including anger, loss, and guilt. Even though the feelings may be painful, once you see that depression is really many changing states and not one inert, overwhelming entity, it becomes more manageable. Lovingkindness enables you to regard whatever you discover within, even if it’s disturbing, with greater compassion.
If your depression is persistent or severe, I would strongly encourage you to work with a qualified meditation teacher and seek other professional help.
How do I know if I’m doing it right? Do I need a teacher?
There are many different ways to practice meditation; it’s good to experiment until you find one that seems to suit you. If you feel confused about the techniques, it’s useful to consult a teacher, speak with more experienced meditators, read a book, or listen to a tape.
Success in meditation is not based on accumulating wondrous experiences. You are not in a contest to see how many conscious breaths you can tally up. You are transforming your mind, gently and with compassion for yourself, by beginning again each time your mind wanders and you get lost in thought. You might see changes in your daily life more clearly than in your formal practice. In fact, others may notice the changes before you do, as your conviction that you are capable of loving yourself and others grows stronger.