Meditation is a healing process that involves mindfulness–an awareness and recognition of the present–where you are now–that you enter into with an attitude of peace, love, and acceptance. Meditation is made up of two components. One is vipasyana (looking deeply inside to gain insight and liberation from suffering) and the other is shamatha (stopping the rush of emotions that deprive us of peace). Shamatha has three functions, which are the preconditions of healing: stopping, calming, and resting. For many, meditation can seem too remote an experience to understand and do but it is really not so hard.
There are those that say that Buddhism was the earliest form of Humanism, so I offer the following from Thích Nhất Hạnh, the renowned Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist.
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Stopping and Calming
In The Heart of the Buddhist’s Teachings (1998, p. 26), Thích Nhất Hạnh summarizes Buddhist teachings on how to calm our minds and bodies so that we can look deeply at them as a 5-stage process. To learn, I suggest finding a quiet place where you feel safe and comfortable. Then take a few deep breaths, breathing in slowly and out slowly, naturally, watching your breath. Then allow your mind and awareness to go to your problem; in the example below it is anger.
1. Recognition – If we are angry, we say “I know the anger is in me.”
2. Acceptance – When we are angry, we do not deny it. We accept what is present.
3. Embracing – We hold our anger in our two arms like a mother holding her crying baby. Our mindfulness embraces our emotion, and this alone can calm our anger and ourselves.
4. Looking deeply – When we are calm enough, we can look deeply to understand what has brought this anger to be what is causing our baby’s discomfort.
5. Insight – The fruit of looking deeply is understanding the many causes and conditions, primary and secondary, that have brought about our anger, that are causing our baby to cry. Perhaps our baby is hungry. Perhaps his diaper is piercing his skin. Our anger was triggered when our friend spoke to us meanly, and suddenly we remember that he was not at his best today because his father is dying. We reflect on this until we have some insights into what has caused our suffering. With insight, we know what to do and what not to do to change the situation.
Resting is the 3rd function of shamatha. Once we have calmed our inner voices, we then can rest. Thích Nhất Hạnh teaches when animals in the forest are hurt, they find a resting place to heal. They do nothing else. We humans often think that when we are hurt we must do something, we must go somewhere, but when we do we are not resting, we are simply shifting the focus of our minds and taking the energy needed to heal and placing it elsewhere. When we meditate we rest. Resting can be done when lying down, when sitting, or when walking. But the essential aspect of the meditation is that it is not hard work or labor, it is resting. Imagine you are a pebble that has fallen in the water and see yourself drifting slowly down to the bottom of the stream and then to settle there, calm and at peace.
When I was a young woman I had a friend who had a squirrel monkey. The monkey was everywhere. It was on the lamps, the tables, and the drapes. It loved the drapes. Later when I heard of the concept of “monkey mind” I would always think of this little squirrel monkey. I particularly thought of it when I would try to meditate. Meditation can bring such a feeling of peace but getting there can be hard and it takes practice. Then I found this video by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche a Tibetan Buddhist master. I do not hesitate to show this to the people I work with to help them understand what meditation is and how to conceptualize doing it.