“To meditate means to go home to yourself. Then you know how to take care of the things that are happening inside you, and you know how to take care of the things that happen around you.” Thich Nhat Hanh
The mind is often compared to a flickering candle or a cup of dirty water. When it is shaken, the water in a cup becomes cloudy, but when it is still, the sand settles to the bottom of the cup and the water is clear. The practice of meditation is like letting the cup of water—your mind—be still. Another metaphor is of a pebble falling down to the bottom of a lake, one of my favorite Thich Nhat Hanh visual inspirations for meditation. At the surface of the lake there are ripples and currents, yet way down at the bottom there is a limpid stillness, undisturbed and perfect. Picture yourself as a pebble drifting down to the bottom of a lake bed, and let this be your sanctuary of stillness. Breathe deeply and allow yourself to sit quietly while listening to your inhales and exhales.
Link your meditation with a 10 minute pranayama practice or breath awareness, such as Sama Vritti, or Equal Breathing. This means inhaling and exhaling for an equal length – beginning with 5 counts on the inhale and 5 counts of the exhale, and prolonging the length to a 10/10 ratio if possible. The longer our inhales and exhales are, the calmer our nervous system becomes. The ancient sages and yogis believed that we have a limited number of breaths per lifetime, and the less breaths we take the longer we live. Focusing on counting the breath also relieves us from our scattered thought patterns – and brings our attention to a focal point outside of our chaotic mind.
Meditation and pranayama are meant to be done after asana practice. First we relax the body and free up the prana flow, and then we free the mind and elevate our consciousness.
“It’s up to us. We can spend our lives cultivating our resentments and cravings or we can explore the path of the warrior, nurturing open-mindedness and courage.” Pema Chödrön
The Four Limitless Ones Chant: Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity. This powerful and essential Buddhist mediation falls under the ‘Aspiration Practices’ – as one aspires to free himself from clinging to negative thoughts and energy, and cultivate compassion and kindness. Contemplation of The Four Limitless Ones is a traditional way to start a meditation session, and open up the channels of for an enlightened mind and radiant heart. This particular meditation is helpful if you are feeling disconnected from others, and are recycling anger and resentment; if you’ve ‘lost heart’ and feel separated from happiness and joy. It enables you to connect with ALL that is out there outside of your inner world of turmoil, and experience equanimity. This is how we move toward non-judgement and ultimately freedom from mental and physical suffering. When we meditate on the misfortunes of all other sentinent beings and pray for their well-being, we realize we have the ability to open our hearts, connect and expand, rather than isolate and retract. What we wish upon others, we wish upon ourselves. Anger, judgement, and frustration melt away as we open our hearts and minds to a vaster consciousness.
*What is your primary negative habit, or source of recurring frustration? Judgement, anger, resentment, envy, complaining or gossiping too much, etc. Spend this day in full awareness of IT, and recite the Four Limitless Ones mediation below, every time you feel reeled in by your negative trait. Begin the day with it, and end with it. There is no doubt that you will experience a positive shift in your behavior and perception.
“May all sentinent beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness” “May we be free from suffering and the root of suffering” “May we not be separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering” “May we dwell in the great equanimity, free from passion, aggression, and prejudice”