Can't meditate? Knees killing you? Misplaced the present moment? Let Falling Into Easy make meditation simple, practical and accessible. For years, we've heard about the benefits of meditation. Spiritual teachers describe the advantages of a quiet mind, our mothers suggest that we learn to relax, and even neuroscientists extol the benefits of a regular meditation practice. There is only one problem. How exactly does one meditate?
Falling Into Easy answers this question. Using simple meditation mechanics, innovative concepts and unusual metaphors, both novice and seasoned meditators can learn to meditate with ease and a sense of familiarity.
Falling Into Easy reveals the greatest paradox of meditation. Readers set out to learn to mediate but instead they unlearn to meditate. In so doing they will discover a peaceful state of well-being, that is simply and naturally accessed with every successive breath.
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Read an Excerpt
Falling Into EasyHelp For Those Who Can't Meditate
By Dee Willock
O BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Dee Willock
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHow It Started
I woke up one morning from a dream that had two prevailing messages. The first was that my car was out of oil and the second was that I should teach meditation. As I rolled over in bed pondering these messages, I felt a stabbing pain in my right wrist and remembered that I had somehow sprained it lifting boxes in the basement the night before. I got up, wrapped my wrist for the day and wondered if my car really was out of oil. When I got to my car, I realized that I couldn't lift the hood because that would require two fully-functioning hands. So I carefully and awkwardly drove to the closest gas station. When I pulled up to the pump, a service man arrived at the window with a big smile on his face, proudly displaying his nametag which read, Bud. I let Bud know about the possible oil situation. As Bud struggled to open the hood (tricky lever) I got out of the car to offer support. There we both were, leaning over the engine looking for the dipstick. As I pointed to the obscure location of the stick, Bud turned his head and looked straight at me and said, "I'm in a lot of pain. I have had three heart surgeries and haven't found a way to handle the pain. I was thinking of trying meditation but I don't know how to do that." Then he wiped the dipstick and said, "You need oil all right, there is none in your engine!" I stood still for a moment watching his face. Did he just say that? Then I thought, What I should do first? Go inside and purchase a few quarts of oil, or teach him how to meditate? I chose the latter.
I told Bud that when he got home, he should find a comfortable place to sit or lie, and just watch how he was breathing, and how his body moved as he breathed. Then he could take note of any thoughts that distracted him from his focus on the breath. If he found that some thoughts were so strong they stopped him from noticing his breath, he could write them down on a piece of paper, and then go back to noticing what his breath was doing. I told him that this watching of the breath was the first of a few steps to help him gain a little distance from the pain. Bud said with excitement that he would go right home, get his pen and paper, and really work at it. I said, "No, don't think of this as work. See if you can find a way to make it easy, so you can look forward to it." He nodded and said, "Right," and headed off to the next car at the pump.
I thought about Bud all the way home. Bud had heard of meditation but didn't really know what it meant or how to do it. What he did know was that he wanted a way to handle his pain and find some ease in his life. And if you are like Bud, you may be holding out hope that there is some help, some way of easing out of your struggle. You may be hearing a little voice in your head telling you that there has to be another way. Well, there is help and it is close at hand. It sits just below the surface of our awareness as a kind of stillness that will reveal itself as the relief we want. It is lying in wait, only a few degrees from where we are right now. But first, let's begin by taking a closer look at the idea of meditation itself.
A New Look
The notion of meditation can be loaded with images of discipline, structure, commitment, restriction and a whole lot of shoulds. And the idea of having one more should is enough to stop us from developing a practice we can love. The thought of more hard work ahead is just too sad. And, realistically, if we were left in a quiet room with traditional meditation instructions, we would probably end up at the beach, or in front of our computers, or suddenly having to do some very important laundry. Instead, we want to somehow find a way to look forward to meditation. We hope to be saying, I want to meditate not I should meditate. We want to find a way to unhinge, to fall away and to land ... and then discover the amazing richness that we suspect has been here, in us, all along. And guess what? Where we land actually ends up being just here, in this present moment.
What is the present moment exactly? Initially we see it as a concept that lies right smack in the middle of past and future: a little pocket of time that we don't often notice except when it grabs our attention. For a few seconds we are in the present moment when we step off the plane into a foreign country, or when a child is born, or when we receive a call from the doctor asking us to come in for test results. Suddenly, we take everything in, right then. We are so awake that we can almost feel the moment on the tips of our fingers as we rub them together – the moment, just as it is. Our journey now is to obtain this acute aliveness without having to travel, constantly produce children, or regularly receive shocking news.
Our journey is also about being in our world in a new way – a way that will help us sit in a place that is big enough to allow us to breathe freely and see clearly. The little voice in your head is right. There is an easier way. In this new place, we are less reactive, have less fear and anxiety, and can handle physical pain in a new way. We begin to allow layers of compassion, tolerance and quiet reflection to rise to the surface. We release the habits that keep us circling and circling the same old wagon; habits that have been with us forever. Avoidance, repression or reaction have become the norm, and have isolated us from some sort of truth we suspect is at hand. And, in this isolation, we have a tendency to dissociate from the present moment.
Many of us dissociate and disconnect. Any trauma we have experienced – big or small, childhood or recent – can make us want to escape from feelings or sensations we are experiencing. We have the tendency to leave the present moment by eating, drinking, consuming, repressing or ignoring. Or we cope with our discomfort by shielding and deflecting, as though we are holding our arms over our brows as we walk through the streets.
Shantideva, a spiritual teacher from 8th century India, describes this tendency in one of his many teachings. Shantideva taught that when our life around us is uncomfortable, we feel as though we are walking around all day over hot pavement and sharp stones without any shoes on. We feel every disturbance. We are irritated by noises, smells and sights as well as conversations and opinions. We want to avoid the hot pavement and sharp stones. We want to cover over those things that disturb us. Our attempt to protect ourselves is like trying to cover everything around us with big pieces of leather – our yards, our neighborhoods, our work places, and our lives – all covered with leather so we can't feel the hot tar, the sharp stones, the critical words or the disturbing thoughts. However, Shantideva suggested instead that we cover our feet with leather by putting on some shoes. Simpler, I think. Working with our minds, through meditation, is like putting on a pair of shoes. We can go anywhere and experience anything and our feet (and feelings) won't get hurt. We can learn to stabilize our mind and become more solid in ourselves so people and situations do not throw us off. And as varied as our shoes are, so are our ways to work with the mind.
What We Are Looking For
Let's start by redefining the word meditation. Instead of associating meditation with lists of shoulds, we can now look at it as a kind of treasure hunt for the curious. We are hunting for some lost air space that lives in and around us and is often imperceptible. This air space sits in the gap between our thoughts. It has the ability to expand to great proportions, and send messages back to the mind about an unencumbered existence. Our mind can't figure out exactly where it is or how it exists because the air space doesn't fit any rational explanation. But we can let our minds know that it is something like white space on a page, or extra room in our closet we didn't know we had, or a secret area behind the bookshelf.
The air space can become so spacious and sublime that it defies definition. It is unburdened with the clutter of thoughts, plans, emotions and beliefs. The air inside is fresh and spacious, yet primitive and deep. This air space can propel us into glorious feelings we have rarely sensed or known.
But, we don't actually go looking for this air space, because again the mind doesn't think we have it. Instead we turn to a kind of meditation that uses the imagination to find the lost air space: a meditation that suspends the mind. Through imagery we learn to fall away from the mind's holdings and settle back into a spaciousness that already exists within us. Through imagery and metaphor, we will imagine our way through rivers, caves, teeter-totters and even a party. It'll be fun.
So now when we hear the word meditation we will know we are on a different journey – one in which we can find our kinship with Bud and let his excitement be contagious. We will give way to new ideas, and fortify our belief in this air space that has up until now escaped our radar.
How We Sit, or Not
Any meditation book, and most meditation teachers, will ask you to begin your practice with good posture. You will hear about sitting on the floor on a mat with your legs crossed and your back straight, making yourself as comfortable as possible. Or, you will learn about sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands resting on your thighs, palms up. Just as the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree – the tree of enlightenment – you are encouraged to adopt this dignified and traditional position. If you are someone who has no trouble sitting like this for hours at a time, then you are off to a running start.
But for many of us, this position means discomfort and frustration, and can cause us to avoid meditation all together. Sitting perfectly straight might just be the one thing that keeps you from even trying meditation. If physical pain or discomfort distracts you, then you won't be able to stay in meditation for the long haul, and therefore won't eventually learn (ironically through meditation) not to be ruled by the pain. If you have a history of physical issues, keeping your legs in one position can cause such incredible tension that you will want to run screaming from the room. Not so conducive to a quiet meditation practice.
So, in the interest of bringing meditation to everyone, I am going to break the rules and incur the wrath of thousands of years of tradition. If you have difficulty sitting the traditional way, I suggest that you find the most comfortable position possible to begin your exploration of meditation. And I mean any position. I started out in my bed, slightly bent over a very large mound of pillows. Every few minutes I would adjust the placement of the pillows – a type of pillow art. After a while I would move to the mat on my floor and take a position that is a little like child's pose, then I would finish off with a complete flat on my back look. All the while playing a kind of homemade meditation tape that I had put together from a mix of lectures I had heard. Sounds wacky and unorthodox but it worked. I was physically comfortable enough to bypass the physical discomfort and fall easily into this new world of meditation.
The rewards have been immense, and if at all it took was a little break from tradition, then so be it. I would rather see someone, who is struggling with meditation, create a new way to meditate, instead of avoiding the whole thing all together. Customizing and then customizing again is the key to staying with meditation for the long haul. Please find positions and methods that work for you. If you do choose to lie down, falling asleep can be an issue, so be creative. Find a position that encourages you to stay with the exercise but doesn't lend itself to sleep. Also, don't be afraid to switch positions. You can keep your eyes slightly open to stay more alert, with your gaze slightly down. If sitting up works better for you, then do so with comfort. No matter what position you choose, try not to have your arms tightly folded into your chest. It is best to keep your arms somewhat open, so your heart is in it.
This customizing is similar to my approach to yoga. I teach that the exact physical position is not the most important aspect of yoga. I know that some yoga teachers will disagree with me but I have found that physical restriction will stop us from experiencing the essence of yoga – the union of our bodies and minds in order to know a greater wisdom. So we find a way to be comfortable in a yoga pose. Not surprisingly, giving ourselves this freedom allows for a deeper, more rewarding yoga practice.
So when it comes to a meditation practice, if sitting straight works for you then by all means do so. If sitting straight is uncomfortable but tolerable then by all means try it for awhile, knowing that you can choose to watch the discomfort as it surfaces, then quiets down, and then melts away. If sitting straight is intolerable and thus keeps you from ever trying meditation at all, then please create something new for yourself.
Finding the Time
It seems hard to find the time for a new practice. Or is it that we don't make the time? For many, the difficulty arises with the sitting posture. But when we give ourselves permission to take any position that is comfortable, what then will keep us away?
Sometimes it is our busyness. When we run around being busy, it is difficult to stop and mindfully look inward, because the running habit is powerful and familiar. Keeping on with our endless activities is a well-enforced habit. But when we do learn to stop and look inward, we will find a still, tranquil place that is worth the effort. Stopping is like waking up from a dream and realizing that we are in a different state of consciousness, one that feels okay. So instead of worrying about finding the time, let's rest assured in the belief that we will want to find the time.
When I can't seem to find the time, I go back to the basics and do what is easy. First thing in the morning before I get up, I simply try to be mindful of my body on the bed. I feel the weight of my bones against the sheet, the sensation of my skin against the pillow, and the movement of my body as I breathe. That's all – just a few seconds of noticing. A few minutes of this morning mindfulness brings great insight into how my body and breath work together. And every now and then, I give some thought to the issue of finding, or rather not finding, the time. And I will ask myself for a different answer for why I say, I should meditate but I don't have the time. What would make meditation one of those pleasures that I can't wait to do? If we think of the small comforts we grant ourselves, the ones that allow our shoulders to drop and our breath to melt, then we might come up with a new answer. Whether it is taking a hot bath, walking in the woods or sinking back into an old armchair, we need to get a clear picture of what it is that allows us to let go, and then what kind of meditation would allow us to do so. As we progress through this book we will be developing a meditation practice that so resembles comfort and relief, that we will be eager to practice.
What We Are Talking About
So far, I have used words such as meditation, mindfulness and present moment. Let's simplify these terms. Meditation is about calming the mind, finding an inner stillness and peace, and achieving clearer states of awareness. Mindfulness can be described as an acute awareness of our present moment or action. To meditate is to be mindful and to be mindful is to meditate. They are both about being present, being focused and being aware of what is going on right now at this time, on this day, in this present moment. When we are mindful, we have full awareness of each step, each breath and each touch. Mindfulness brings us into our body where we can have a physical understanding of awareness. We lift the cup, button our coat and touch the door handle, all with deep seeing and feeling, knowing each sensation and movement. If we think of a first kiss we know mindfulness. We know and remember sensation, touch and warmth. We find our way to acute awareness of our lives through meditation. And through meditation we find a quiet that allows for mindfulness. Through mindfulness we find a sweet acceptance of what is right in front of us.
Excerpted from Falling Into Easy by Dee Willock Copyright © 2011 by Dee Willock . Excerpted by permission of O BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 How It Started 2
Chapter 2 Watching 11
Chapter 3 Stepping Back 43
Chapter 4 Stepping In 79
Chapter 5 So Where Are We? 110
Reference Guide 116