My Issue with Doing
I am going to write a memoir someday with the above title. I am a ‘Doer’, less of a ‘be’er’ (I know a ‘be’er is not a word). I come from a long line of people who are always busy and always have a project to work on. I used to think that made me a productive part of society. I am also an aficionado of the To Do list and get all giddy when I mark something as completed. I have even found in my files, ancient To Do lists, stored away like priceless gems. Oddly none of those say Enjoy Life and Be Present.
The present revelation of my nature should not be a shock to me as others in my life see it. But I have been so good at keeping busy that I didn’t have the time to realize that it was impacting my relationships with others and myself. I needed to practice stillness and fast (more doing). One such practice to stillness is meditation. I have been dawdling in meditation for many years now, trying various styles but none stuck with me. I had to find a practice that connected with my self as a doer.
I have now found a way to meditate that can incorporate some ‘doing’ and bring about some stillness. I have been using mala beads to meditate. These are the prayer beads that you see monks using during meditation or now adorning yoginis wrists everywhere. I sit comfortably, begin with an “Om” to set my intention and as I focus on my breath, I move the mala beads through the fingers of both hands one by one. I like the tactile feeling of the beads moving through my fingers. I feel gratitude that these natural seeds were sowed from somewhere in the world by someone in the world and now I can harness that energy to become still.
|My meditation place
Paying attention to our breath known as Conscious Breathing, can also be a tool to use to be present rather than do. This is a way to begin our practice together to realize where we are starting off from. The article “Conscious Breathing” below presents an awakening on the breath and its role to lessen our doing and increase our ‘being’.
My meditation practice may change again. Perhaps I will take less of an active meditative practice. (see Sa Ta Na Ma Meditation in sidebar for another example of active meditation) in the future. This serves me now. Explore your own meditation practices and the stillness it may bring.
From the dawn of our birth until the sunset of death, we breathe, always and everywhere. Indeed, breath defines our life and supports us body and spirit. Besides being central to life, ever-present, and connected to the spirit, breathing involves an easily noticeable complex of physical sensations. Thus, the practice of breath awareness was widely embraced by our ancestors in the spiritual pursuit. The Buddha was engaged in breath awareness as his primary practice at the time of his enlightenment. The Christian Desert Fathers, Hindu Yogis, and Islamic Sufis employed variations of breath awareness.
Breath awareness forms a subclass of the more general awareness of bodily sensations. Because the breath always moves, the sensations of the bodily movements associated with breathing remain with us continually from birth to death. The more subtle sensations of the air moving through our nasal and oral passageways also stay with us. To powerfully anchor ourselves to the present, we need only abide in the sensations of each breath, one after another without a break. Since we always breathe, we have the potential to practice breath awareness at any and every waking moment.
A word of caution, though, at the outset: in practicing breath awareness we make no change whatsoever to the physical movement of the breath. We do not attempt to slow it down, speed it up, or alter it any way. We only bring our attention and awareness to the sensations of breathing, as they are, without imposing any changes on the breath. We do not interfere with the vital function of breathing. We simply ease into awareness of it and ride along to stay present.
Such relaxed and continuous awareness of the sensations of breathing creates a sturdy and effective basis for the path of spiritual transformation. This simple method entails a direct attention to, and consciousness of, the actual physical sensations associated with breathing. We might focus on the sensations in the nostrils, the air movement across the upper lip, or the rise and fall of the abdomen and rib cage. Or we might prefer to work with awareness of all of them at once in a more global view of breathing. Each has its advantages. The abdominal region offers relatively large movements, with obvious physical sensations that we can readily engage and follow. The nostrils and upper lip present a small, subtle, and very focused region. The narrow focus can be more difficult to acquire and maintain but enables us to quickly build up a sharp and strong attention. Global bodily awareness of breath readily supports a conscious backdrop to common daily activities. Our situation and state can guide us to the most appropriate style of practice in any given moment.
In meditation on the breath, we allow the breath to breathe itself. We do not interpose ourselves as doing the breathing, as being the one who is breathing. Consciously letting the breath breathe itself can lead to the shocking realization that our usual concept of our self is wrong, that the self we believe ourselves to be is just a collection of patterns and memories with nothing at its core. Putting this in another way: we go about our day doing many things, believing we are the doer. When we come to sitting meditation, nothing much seems to be happening other than breathing. So always believing ourselves to be the doer, we think we are the one who is breathing. But if we let the breath breathe itself, we see that there is no doer. And that insight can puncture our illusion of ego, liberating us from the notion that we are a permanent, separate self.
From ancient times until today, conscious breathing remains among the most powerful, effective, and natural methods for centering ourselves in presence and preparing our being for opening to the spirit.
Props: bolster, two blocks, 2-3 blankets (we used 3 folded blankets this week)
Benefits: Gently stretches the lower back, relieves shoulder tension and quiets the mind. Give a sense of security. Feeling support and release.
Extras:sandbag for sacrum
Place the two blocks at either the lowest or medium height, equidistant from each other bolster lengthwise on top of blocks. A s-fold or triple fold blanket on top of bolster. It may be more comfortable without blocks. Legs straddle the props at one end, and lengthen body over them. Head will rest on props. Additional blanket(s) may be used behind knees. Ideally props should extend all the way to the pelvis area but this may not be the case with your body structure. Stay here for 10 minutes to begin with, rotating head side to side.
Sublime Side Lean
Benefits: Stretches the torso and provides a gentle twist which allows a release in tension in the lower back area. Emphasis on three-part breath. Elongates side body.
Create a bolster fold from one blanket. Fold a blanket into smaller rectangle from a a full half fold. Lay flat on floor and fold in thirds, the final third folding under (s-fold) then fold 1/3 in and other third in with fringe on top third. Lie on right side with hip at the base of the blanket. Torso should rest on the blanket. Right arm rest on the floor with the palm up. The left arm can reach over the head to increase the stretch. Close your eyes and allow your body to relax and release any stress or tension. Slowly sit up and switch sides for the same amount of time.
Focus on your breath. Breath into your right side allowing that gentle stretch to travel from the tip of your fingers down your lower spine. Sense the left side of your body gently melting and surrendering to the ground beneath you. All tension and stress being recycled by mother earth. Sense the gentle letting go of your muscles and knowing that you are safe and supported. Breath deep and exhale soft and long.
Reclined Bound Angle
Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Opens the chest and abdomen benefiting breathing problems.
Props: bolster, 4 blocks (or firm cushions, pillows or rolled-up blankets), 4 blankets and one extra blanket for warmth, strap and eye pillow
Place a block lengthwise under one end of a bolster to prop it up on an incline, add another block under bolster for stability. We used the wall in this week’s class placing the bolster at a higher elevation. Place a double-fold blanket on floor next to low end of bolster and a long rolled blanket on top next to bolster (for sacral support). Sit with your back to the short, low end of the bolster. Place two blocks where your knees will rest (can top with a soft blanket or use other props as necessary for propping knees) Bring your legs into Bound Angle Pose with the soles of your feet together. Wrap a blanket around your feet to create a feeling of containment. Lie back on the bolster. Place supports under your arms so that they are not dangling and there is no feeling of stretch in the chest. Stay in the pose for 10 to 15 minutes.