I've had a long personal history with the practice of meditation.
The very first efforts were self-guided attempts in my early teens, spurred on by my rapt readings (for better or worse!) of people like Jack Kerouac, Tom Wolfe, Henry Miller, Kurt Vonegut, and many more. Just a formal closing of the eyes and rather self-consciously sitting there, attempting to feel some magic, in quite random ways. It felt pretty good.
I then literally stumbled into some zen monks at Mt. Baldy, near Claremont, CA, and began sitting formally with them on weekends. Then a meditation teacher came along who encouraged and expected one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, on the cushion.
That kind of rigor splashed some cold water on the whole thing, unfortunately, and a few years went by before I resumed my quirky personal practice. The practice took a backseat yet again with my accidental discovery of yoga, which more or less supplanted the sitting practice, for a long stretch, more than a decade.
It was a fabulous decade for yoga, but my deeply inspiring teacher Geoffrey moved back to his hometown of New Orleans, so sitting made a bit of a comeback, as it always seems to.
Over the past few years, I've come to love a super easy and super quick (five minutes) meditation that I've developed, and thought some of you might be open to giving it a try. Here's how it works:
- Find a comfortable cushion and sit on it, tilting forward a bit, with as straight a spine as possible. You can also do this in a chair if you need to, but your back should be as straight as possible, don't sink into a big EZ recliner! Posture really does make a big difference.
- Start a timer on your smartphone or kitchen timer or whatever, for five minutes. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!
- With the timer running, begin inhaling through your deep belly, at the diaphragm, slowly and yet somewhat powerfully and mindfully. As you inhale, you start your count with a long, upward, inhaling soft count of a slow "oneeee," then exhale slowly and powerfully. You're still on "one" on the exhale, till the very end of the exhale. For the next inhale, it's "twoooo" for another inhale and exhale cycle.
- Then "threeeee" in and out.
- Et cetera. Do it until the timer rings.
This is the meditation, and it's wonderful. It really does help the brain train itself to pay attention. In five minutes of relaxing breaths.
See how low you can count in five minutes; deep, powerful inhales and exhales take longer, and relaxation seems to deepen as well. The goal of course is not lower numbers -- the numbers are just a reflection of any given particular day -- but a relaxed state of pure awareness, when all you're doing is paying attention to the breath while counting as mindfully as you can.
Counting keeps the brain in a slow, sustained focus. Meditating for five minutes and NOT counting feels like it's too easy to get sidetracked with an errant thought or two and forget that you're actively meditating, and the five minutes just blows by. Counting slowly for five minutes while filling the lungs and other organs with breathable goodness might be thought of as a kind favor to yourself, and even and to others in your orbit.
You can have a bowl of matcha or a glass of coldbrew either before or after this practice, both are fabulous in their own unique ways. Focus is definitely easier with the matcha coursing through your body and brain, but the delight of sipping it after the meditation is equally wonderful.
It's a fabulous way to start the day -- you can even intentionally wish yourself and those around you well afterward, which creates pretty fertile soil for creative and other work pursuits.
Hoping some of you will try it!
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