Monday, May 16, 2011

The Challenge: Week One

Today is the start of our 28-day meditation challenge with Sharon Salzberg, based on her book, Real Happiness.

Sharon's instructions for meditation are simple and direct. "In week one," she says, "we’re really working with concentration. Most of us experience ourselves as fairly distracted or scattered, at least in some arenas. In week one we’re deepening a greater steadiness or steadfastness of attention."

The practice is to sit in a comfortable position, cross-legged or in a chair for example, and watch the breath. We notice the sensations of the breath entering and leaving our body, how it feels, the temperature of the breath, any noise it makes, any tension we might feel in our bodies as we breathe, and so on. And if our attention wanders, when we notice, we simply bring our awareness back to the breath, gently and without judgment.

Following the breath sounds like it should be simple, but for most people, attention tends to wander quickly, and often.

"It’s important to have the right expectations. Your attention will wander. It won’t be 800 breaths before your mind will wander. It will be two or three. That’s just going to happen. It’s normal and to be expected."

But, Sharon adds, "The crucial part of the meditation is the moment that you realize your attention has wandered."

"That’s the moment where it’s very tempting to judge ourselves, to get down on ourselves, to berate ourselves, but instead we can practice gently letting go and beginning again. Even if your mind wanders a billion times in that 20 minute period, it’s not considered a failed meditation because that beginning again moment is so important."

Sharon recommends three periods of meditation in the first week, starting slowly at first. "My idea of a good goal is about twenty minutes a day of formal practice. But if you can only do five minutes on a certain day, do the five minutes."  

It will be tempting to evaluate yourself, to wonder how you're doing and if you are doing it well. Sharon says this is very common, but we have to have a different view. "It’s not a question of better or worse. That’s just the habit of our conditioning."

"It’s easier if we can quantify it," she continues. "It’s much more satisfying in many ways. We can say to a friend, 'I started out being with two breaths and now I’m up to 58.'"

But the real goal is something different, and more subtle. "To say we are much more gentle in the letting go process or that I start over again with more and more compassion for myself is much more difficult to do."

If you decide to take up this challenge, congratulations! Be gentle on yourself, and know that whether you are focused or your mind wanders, there are no mistakes. Every experience in meditation is welcomed and then released, no matter if it is pleasant or unpleasant, "good" or "bad."

Please let me know if you decide to take up the challenge, and how it's going, through comments here or on the Facebook page. 

And remember to have fun with this grand experiment.


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