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What is Meditation?

Meditation is the noble act of making friends with yourself. Breath by breath, moment by moment, we begin to learn who we really are. At first, this prospect may be interesting, shocking, appalling, mysterious, or boring. Eventually, the chop of discursive mind softens, and we find natural attunement with ourselves.~ We breathe in and out. We notice the play of light and dark. Sensations rise and fall in the body and in the mind. Slowly, our thoughts begin to settle, and we find that we are actually living in a very open and spacious world. We see that meditation need not be an unusual ascetic practice or even a particularly spiritual one. It is quite ordinary, yet somehow changes everything. We have just taken our seat, right in the middle of our lives.

Meditation is often associated with Buddhism, and the practices contained in Joyful Mind stem from Buddhist tradition. The Buddha, or "Awakened One," discovered a fundamental truth about being alive: There is no need to be anything other than who we are already. In fact, the core teaching of the Buddha is the importance of discovering who we really are. Meditation is a way of making this discovery.

Through meditation practice, we befriend our fear, craziness, desire, shame, and dullness: those things that keep us from waking up to our natural state. It is in fact our birthright to be truly alive, awake, and courageous.

The Buddha didn't make up meditation; it has been practiced in one form or another for many thousands of years. Therefore, it's not necessary to even think about becoming a Buddhist in order to practice meditation, just as it's not required to become a Christian to practice charity. These things are simply our natural heritage, the ground of being human.

Over the thousands of years that human beings have practiced meditation, certain specific forms have arisen that are particularly uplifting, helpful, and inspiring. Some of these are presented in Joyful Mind.

An unprecedented number of people are now interested in learning meditation. These practices and the philosophy behind them have irrevocably made their way West. Principles associated with meditation such as mindfulness, equanimity, and compassion are being embraced by executives as productivity tools, filmmakers as good storylines and advertisers as ways to sell products. Our interest in these practices is at an all-time high — and so is the opportunity for confusion. Therefore, it's important to turn to authentic teachers for guidance.

We may be thinking that meditation would probably be a good thing for us, but aren't sure how to begin or what to begin with. We may be asking questions like, "How many kinds of meditation are there and which one is best for me?" "Will I have to sit on the floor or in an otherwise uncomfortable position?" "Do I have to do a formal practice, or can I just make something up?" "How will I know if I'm doing it right?" In the pages that follow, some of the most respected and beloved teachers in the world answer these questions and offer us instruction. We are invited to do more than simply read about various styles of meditation; we're actually given the opportunity to try them out. At some point, one practice may "speak" to us more than the others. In this case, a list of resources and referrals have been provided, including places to visit to discover more about a certain teaching or teacher.

Joyful Mind describes these Buddhist traditions:

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shamatha by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

The untrained mind is like a wild horse. It runs away when we try to find it, shies when we try to approach it. If we find a way to ride it, it takes off with the bit in its teeth and finally throws us right into the mud. There is potential for communication and rapport between horse and rider, between mind and self, but the horse needs to be trained to be a willing participant in that relationship.

We train our minds with shamatha practice, the most simple form of sitting meditation. Shamatha is a Sanskrit word that means "peacefully abiding." Like all types of meditation, it rests upon two basic principles, known in Tibetan as ngotro and gom. Ngotro refers to "being introduced" to the object of meditation, while gom is "becoming familiar." In shamatha practice, we are introduced to and become familiar with the simple act of breathing. This is our object of concentration, the place we return to again and again when the mind has run off and we find ourselves clutching the horse's neck, hoping we won't end up too far from home.

Why Practice Shamatha?

Meditation is based on the premise that the natural state of the mind is calm and clear. It provides a way to train our mind to settle into this state. Our first reason for meditating might be that we want somefreedom from our agitated mind. We want to discover the basic goodness of our natural mind. To do this requires us first to slow down and experience our mind as it is. In the process, we get to know how our mind works. We see that wherever the mind is abiding?in anger, in desire, in jealousy, or in peace?that is where we also are abiding. We begin to see that we have a choice in the matter: We do not have to act on the whim of every thought. We can abide peacefully. Meditation is a way to slow down and see how our mind works.

The untrained mind is weak and inflexible. It lives in a zone of comfort. When the boundaries of that zone are challenged, it reacts by becoming more rigid. In contrast, the trained mind is strong, flexible, and workable. Because it can stretch beyond where it feels comfortable, it's responsive?not reactive?to challenges. Through shamatha, we can train our mind to be flexible and tuned in to what's happening now. We can apply this workable mind in all aspects of our lives including our livelihood, our relationships, and our spiritual path. So another reason to meditate is to develop a strong, supple mind that we can put to work. It's easy to associate meditation with spirituality because when we experience a moment of peacefully abiding, it seems so farout. Our mind is no longer drifting, thinking about a million things. The sun comes up or a beautiful breeze comes along?and all of a sudden we feel the breeze and we are completely in tune. We think, "That's a very spiritual experience! It's a religious experience! At least worth a poem or a letter home." Yet all that's happening is that for a moment we are in tune with our mind. Our mind is present and harmonious. Before, we were so busy and bewildered that we didn't even notice the breeze. Our mind couldn't even stay put long enough to watch the sun come up, which takes two-and-a half minutes. Now we can keep it in one place long enough to acknowledge and appreciate our surroundings. Now we are really here. This has nothing to do with religion or a spiritual path. It has everything to do with simply being human.

Preparing to Practice

The basic premise of shamatha meditation is "not too tight, not too loose." This holds true in every aspect of the practice —finding the right environment, preparing our body and mind to meditate, holding our posture, noticing thoughts and emotions, and bringing our minds back to the breath. The instructions are very clear and we should follow them as precisely as possible. Some gentleness is also necessary, or else meditation becomes a way in which we're trying to measure up against a hopeless ideal. It's important not to expect perfection or get hooked on the finer points of the instruction. The practice takes consistent effort, and it can also be joyful.

One of the simple things that we can do is to create a good environment for practice ?a place that is comfortable, quiet, and clean. A corner of your room that feels uplifted and spacious and private is a good enough place. It's unproductive to get caught up in chasing your idea of the perfect place to meditate. Some people from the city will go into the mountains to meditate in peace and find that the crickets and the birds won't shut up!

Timing is also important. Decide on a regular time to practice each day and try to stick with it. A 10-minute period in the morning is a good place to begin. The more consistent you can be in keeping to the routine, the better.

Planning is another element. It's better not to just sit down and hope for the best. If you plop down on your seat straight from the office or right after an argument, you may spend the whole session tryingto slow down enough even to remember that you're meditating. If you're agitated, a slow walk might be in order. If you're drowsy, a cool shower before beginning the session might help. It can be inspiring to read a little about meditation first as a reminder of why you're practicing. Working with yourself in ways like this is intelligent and honest and can create the proper mind and body for good practice. But remember, preparation is not meditation; it is just preparation.

Half the challenge of meditation is simply getting to your seat. At the beginning of a session, you may suddenly discover that you have more important things to do?housework or phone calls to makeor e-mails to write. One way to work with this kind of procrastination is to build a routine around preliminary stretching or walking before your session. This gives you a way to ease into it by softening your body and mind before you begin meditating. The more regularly you practice the better you'll get at working with the strategies that the untrained mind cooks up to keep you from making it to your seat.

Taking Your Seat

You can use different postures for meditation, but under ordinary circumstances, sitting is best. Whether you're sitting in a chair or on a cushion, consider the meditation seat your throne?the center of your practice and your life.

When you sit down, take a balanced, grounded posture to allow the energy in the center of your body to move freely. If you're on a cushion, sit with your legs loosely crossed. If you're in a chair, keep your legs uncrossed and your feet flat on the floor. Imagine that a string attached to the top of your head is pulling you upright. Let your body settle around your erect spine. Place your hands on your thighs, in a place not so far forward that it begins to pull your shoulders down, nor so far back that your shoulders contract and pinch the spine. The fingers are close and relaxed?not spread out in a grip, as if you can't let yourself go.

Tuck your chin in and relax your jaw. The tongue is also relaxed, resting against your upper teeth. Your mouth is ever so slightly open. Your gaze is downward, with the eyelids almost half shut. The eyes aren't looking; the eyes just see. It is the same with sound. We aren't listening, but we do hear. In other words, we're not focusing with our senses.

Slouching impairs your breathing, which directly affects the mind. If you slump, you'll be struggling with your body at the same time that you're trying to train your mind. What you want to be doing is the opposite: synchronizing your body and mind. When your focus is wavering, check your posture. Bring yourself back to the upright position. Imagine the string pulling your spine up straight, and relax your body around it.

Working with the Breath

Our mind usually jumps wildly from thought to thought. We replay the past; we fantasize about the future. In meditation, we place our mind on an object and keep it there. In shamatha meditation, the object is the simple act of breathing. The breath represents being alive in the immediacy of the moment.

Using breathing as the object of meditation is especially good for calming a busy mind. The steady flow of the breath soothes the mind and allows for steadiness and relaxation. This is ordinary breathing; nothing is exaggerated. One simple technique is to count the in- and out-cycles of breathing from one to 21. We breathe in and then out?one. In and then out?two. Place your mind on the breathing and count each cycle of breath.

Gathering the Mind

As you focus on the breath, you'll noticethat various thoughts and emotions arise. When this happens, acknowledge that you are thinking and return your focus to the breath. In focusing you are bringing yourself back to attention. You are centering yourself in your mind and placing that mind on the breath. You are slowly settling. You're gradually slowing the mind. When you first begin to do this, the movement of thoughts may feel like a rushing waterfall. But as you continue to apply the technique of recognizing thoughts and returning your focus to the breath, the torrent slows down to a river, then to a meandering stream, which eventually flows into a deep, calm ocean.

For the movement of the mind to slow down like this takes long, consistent practice. A good practice is one that we keep doing 10-minutes a day, year after year. Through ups and through downs, slowly we become familiar with the natural stability, strength, and clarity of the mind. It becomes natural to return to that place. We let go of our conceptual ideas about it. We can relax there and enjoy it. We begin to let this natural state of basic goodness infuse our entire life.

Meditation practice predates Buddhism and all of the world religions. It has lasted through the centuries because it is direct, potent, and effective. If meditation becomes part of your life, please consider seeking further instruction from an experienced meditator. It might also be helpful to become part of a community of practitioners.

I have learned these instructions from my teachers and am glad to pass them on to you. May these instructions bring natural calm abiding into your life. Having a mind that is at peace with itself, a mind that is clear and joyous, is the basis of happiness and compassion.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the leader of the international Shambhala community and holder of the Shambhala Buddhist meditation lineage of his father, the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The Sakyong is recognized as the incarnation of the great 19th century Tibetan Buddhist teacher Mipham Rinpoche.

vipassana by Larry Rosenberg

I would like to share with you a two-part meditation. The first part is called Anapanasati, which in the ancient Pali language of India means "breath awareness." It goes back about 2,600 years and was used by the Buddha to attain enlightenment. I learned it from Indian, Burmese, Thai, and Vietnamese teachers in Asia. The second part is called Vipassana or "insight meditation." Anapanasati and Vipassana have been practiced together for thousands of years; Anapanasati naturally and easily gives rise to Vipassana. The first practice calms the mind by focusing on breath. In the second practice, we release focus on breath alone to focus on whatever arises.

The Buddha taught that there is so much unnecessary suffering in life because we don't understand ourselves very well. Would you like to get to know yourself? If so, sit down and take a look! Breath awareness is a way to do just this. Conscious breathing helps to calm and stabilize the mind so that it is fit to see into and understand itself.

To begin with, it's important to establish the body in a position or posture that's both comfortable and stable. Whether you're in a chair or on a bench kneeling or sitting on a cushion cross-legged, it is helpful for the body to be erect so that the head, neck, and spine are in a straight line with the chin tilted down just ever so slightly. Good posture helps the body breathe properly and the mind stay alert.

Next, it's important to inhabit the body with awareness. Be sensitive to the fact that you're sitting. See if there is any obvious tension in the body. Common places where tensions accumulate for many of us would be the jaw, rather tight because we're determined. The shoulders may be hunched up, posed for action. Take just a few moments and move through the body with mindfulness, noticing any area that's contracted or tight, and, just for a moment or so, touch this area of the body with awareness. Probably it will relax a bit. It will soften.

You can keep the eyes closed with the lids fully shut or half-open without trying to see anything in particular. Put your hands on your knees or thighs, or clasp one hand inside the other.

Now you are ready to start observing the breath. It is helpful to take three of four deep breaths, a little bit deeper than your normal breathing. Then allow the breathing fto assume its own rhythm. Let it flow naturally. You can rest your attention on the air coming in and out of the nostrils or on the rise and fall of the abdomen. Station your attention at either one, and watch each breath as it goes in and out.

Take it one breath at a time, giving full care and attention to each in breath and each out breath in turn, staying awake during the pause between breaths. Learn to allow the breathing to unfold naturally. If you find that you direct the breath?and most of us do at the beginning?simply observe this tendency to control. Such mindfulness will restore the natural flow of the breathing. This practice is not about attaining some special kind of breathing. It is not a yoga breathing exercise or breath therapy. It is an awareness practice, and what we are aware of is the sensation of breathing exactly as it is. You might find yourself straining or struggling. Notice that. When you do, the energy usually smoothes out.

As you practice, you'll find that from time to time you're not attentive to the breath at all. You have some other preoccupation about the past or the future. Perhaps you will get caught up in sounds or bodily sensations. As soon as you see that you are not in contact with the breath, very gently, very gracefully ease back to the in and out-breath once again. This coming back to the breath is without judgment, without blame, without finding fault. It's just coming back. It's important that you do this with gentleness because, as you begin to learn this method, you may have to do it a fair amount. If you practice, it gets easier. Attention to breathing will become continuous.

As the mind begins to calm down, it is fit to open up the second aspect of our practice, what is called Vipassana or insight meditation. Insight meditation is a deep seeing into the nature of the whole mindbody process. It is a first-hand, direct way of coming to know ourselves as we truly are. In the Buddha's teaching, it is this clear seeing that liberates us from the suffering that we go through unnecessarily. In this next mode of practice, we retain focus on the breath as part of our method, but we loosen our grip a bit. Earlier, we were developing calm by attending to the breath exclusively; everything other than breath was considered a distraction. Now the breath sensations are not the sole object of focus. Now, we experience the breath as an anchor, helping us remain fully alert to our experience.

Insight meditation is the practice of liberation: by making friends withour old wounds, fears, anger, andloneliness,we free ourselves.

In Vipassana, we learn to fully receive our experience— whatever it is — in an intimate and unbiased way. Just to sit, breathe, be ourselves, and see what is there. Nothing particular is "supposed" to happen. Whatever is happening is perfect. We learn to observe our experience without holding on to what we like or pushing away what we don't like. Thoughts, moods, emotions will come and go. The body will feel a certain way; these feelings will come and go as well. The same will be true of sounds and smells. What aspect of all this do you attend to? Let life tell you! Different elements of the process of mind and body will be distinctive, strong, vivid. They will naturally capture your attention. The challenge is to open to experience exactly as it is, with mindfulness. All the while, conscious breathing will accompany and support you like a good friend. In this second mode of practice, unlike in Anapanasati, nothing is a distraction! Whatever we encounter is our life at that moment, and that is what we learn to be mindful of. Sensations will arise in the body. The practice is simply to bring awareness to those sensations. Can you become sensitive to bodily life without judging it? Not condemning what you don't like, not grasping on to what you do like. Sometimes the body will feel wonderful, meditative calm permeating the body with a wonderfully relaxed feeling. Can you let that happen without grasping it and trying to keep it forever? If you can't, you'll find that you suffer. See if that's true. Test it.

The same attitude applies to the mind. And when I say mind, I mean thoughts, images, and emotions?the different moods we go through, the likes and dislikes and fears and loves and loneliness that make up human existence. The mind grasps after things, holding them tightly or pushing them away aggressively. Sometimes the mind is confused, feels covered in darkness, is ambivalent and unresolved. At other times, it feels very fresh and clear. Can you let whatever is happening happen without preferring one state of mind over the other?

Insight meditation is the practice of liberation: By making friends with our oldwounds, fears, anger, and loneliness, we free ourselves.

Just relax, breathe, and know what's there. Whatever is in you starts to present itself. This way of attending to your experience, watching its nature from moment to moment, from breath to breath, takes us to another dimension of consciousness, one which is spacious and silent. The silent mind is tremendously fulfilling. It is highly charged with life and touches the human heart deeply. You may find that you are wiser and kinder! Anyone who has tasted this emptiness no longer needs teachers or books to know its value.

Now it is important to learn how to work back and forth between these two modes of practice, calm and insight. As you're able to do so, sit and enjoy the show. Let it all happen and stay awake in the midst of it. Be intimate with your experience. From time to time, as you find yourself caught up in thoughts, starting to analyze and psychologize, as the mind loses focus and gets lost in its own content, then simply go back to the breath as an exclusive object of attention. Fine tune your attention with simple breath awareness and either conclude the session that way or, if you feel your mind has calmed down, once again open the field to include whatever is there. It's sort of the right and left hand working together, helping to bring us to understanding and love.

Finally, a brief suggestion about a large subject: meditation in daily life. The Buddha's teachings are not limited to silent sitting meditation. We are encouraged to bring the mindfulness we develop while sitting to all of the activities that make up our lives. Bring undivided, full attention to every situation. If you are washing the dishes, wash the dishes. Notice if you get lost in thoughts about the past or future, thoughts that separate you from intimate contact with the activity of washing dishes. If you find yourself distracted, simply return to what you are actually doing. This suggestion applies to everything we encounter in our daily lives: eating, driving, working, waking up, and going to sleep. Nothing is left out. Start paying attention to how you actually live. Bringing alertness to daily life strengthens sitting meditation; sitting meditation enhances our sensitivity to daily life. Many of us have found this constant alternating between quiet contemplation and mindful action a beautiful way to live.

Larry Rosenberg practiced Zen in Korea and Japan before coming to vipassana. He is the founder and a guiding teacher at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center. Larry is also a guiding teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. He is th author of two books about meditation.

zazen by Edward Espe Brown

The meditation I offer is called zazen in Japanese. Introduced into Japan by Zen Master Eihei Dogen in the 13th century, it is from the Soto Zen tradition.

Zen practice is often associated with either koans or sitting meditation. In the Soto tradition, rather than using koans?"What was your original face before your parents were born?"?we emphasize the posture and presence of zazen. In zazen, you sit down and spend time with yourself. You are not getting anything done or consuming anything. You are given a few basic pieces of advice, primarily about posture, and are encouraged to find out for yourself how to continue sitting. It's that simple?and that difficult.

The essentials are rather straightforward: Sit down and be quiet, find a way to sit up straight with fullness of spirit, and keep at it. Many things will happen. Let them. Zen suggests that the point is to experienceyour experience, rather than seeking to control it.

So whether it is on the floor using some cushions of your choosing, or in a chair, see if you can find some way to sit up straight without slumping, without leaning against anything. Study how to be balanced left to right and front to back. You are like a tree, growing to the heavens. See if you can find a balance between the effort needed to sit up straight, and ease, the softness of mind and body associated with absorption.

We simply say, "Take your best posture." Because the body is a physical manifestation of consciousness, working on your posture is a direct, immediate way to work on your attitude, to work on your mind. You are allowing your body and mind to open, your vitality?chi and energy?to flow freely. You are "unfolding." You are meeting life with the fullness of your presence. Rather than ducking or dodging, taking (unconsciously) the posture you (implicitly) believe is to your best advantage, you go ahead and embody the fullness of your body, of your being. You are "liberated" from your story. You are not so easily knocked over by life when you take this posture.

You will have many ideas about what meditation is supposed to be, and your experience in meditation will not match your ideas. You will believe that the important point is to get your experience to match your ideas of what your experience should be like. When you are unable to do this, you will say that meditation is difficult. You will be ready to give up. But when you can "just sit," having the experience you have, whatever it is, without comparing it to what it should be, you will have true ease. No longer busy chasing after some imagined perfection, you rest in the moment. You "own" your body and mind. In Zen this is called, "No more worry about not being perfect." Welcome to being you.

Eventually, soon enough really, you will realize that what you are doing is maybe, possibly, probably not nearly as important as the way you do it, and you will start to consider whether there is some way to settle in, to settle down, to live the love you have in your heart, and make it real your life. Is there some way to be at home in this being I find myself being? To be at home in this body and this mind?

If you go to a Zen center, you may find that the forms of practice are presented quite strictly, but in the context of your own life, you can decide how strictly to do "formal" practice. You can also find many ways to simply "stop" in the midst of your life. For instance, I often do "coffee meditation" in the mornings, bringing a cup of coffee with me to my meditation cushion. While I sit quietly, from time to time I take a sip of coffee and thoroughly enjoy its robust fragrance and flavor. Similarly, you may find various places and times to sit quietly, gathering yourself together.

At the same time most people find that for meditation to have a significant impact on their lives, they need to make a commitment to a regular practice of sitting, whether it is at home, at a meditation center, or with a group of friends. You might find that sitting with others is inspiring and supportive.

You might be drawn to meditating first thing in the morning, or inspired to spend a few minutes sitting quietly before bed. Additionally there are dozens of resources that present instructions you might find useful (including those in this CD/book). Go ahead. Try things out. See for yourself what fits with your life and engages your being. See for yourself what matters to you most deeply and if meditation of some sort helps you connect with what matters most.

After 20 years of practice at the Zen Center of San Francisco where I became a disciple of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi?and more than 15 years of practice since then?I have continued to find it useful to spend at least a few minutes sitting quietly each morning. Rather than worrying about how much you should practice or how perfectly you are practicing, it is more important to practice regularly. Do something you can commit to. Your life will change because you have incorporated a life change.

Imagine: The bell rings to begin the period of meditation. You sit yourself down. You simply stop, sit down, and watch as you race across the internal landscape, driven to accomplish, driven to perform. Keep watching. As you do, you allow yourself to breathe, to notice you are breathing, and, suddenly, you are at rest. You've come to rest at the same time you are sitting with someone very busy figuring, analyzing, judging, aiming, progressing now forward, now back, and never arriving.

Finally it's okay to catch your breath.

Edward Espe Brown began cooking and practicing Zen in 1965 and was ordained as a priest by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in 1971. He has been head resident teacher at each of the San Francisco Zen Centers: Tassajara, Green Gulch, and City Center?and has led meditation retreats and cooking classes throughout the United States, as well as in Austria, Germany, Spain, and England. He is the author of several acclaimed cookbooks. Ed was the first head resident cook at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California, 1967?1970. From 1979?1983 he worked at the celebrated Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, serving as busboy, waiter, floor manager, wine buyer, cashier, host, and manager. He has been teaching vegetarian cooking classes since 1985.