#4: Commit to Sit

(Adapted from the work of Matthew Geiger)

The Prompt:

For this journal entry, practice meditation or chanting of some kind for twenty minutes for five days in a row.  If you are religious, you might use a meditation or chant from your own tradition.  If not, you might try one of the Buddhist forms, such as the chant Om Mane Padme Hum or the “Counting Breath”meditation printed below.  Or you might try a non-religious form, such as a syllable or word repeated each time you notice yourself having a thought or emotion. Keep a journal of observations about this practice each day.

Is it difficult?  Easy?  Does it become more difficult or easy with practice?  Does the time seem short or long?  Are there any recurring distractions?  Are the distractions internal (recurring thoughts or feelings) or external (a dog barking, a train whistle blowing)?  What was your mind like before, during, and after each of the sessions?  Did the experience change over the five days?  What did you take away from this experience?  Keep in mind that this is a practice, which means we shouldn’t let ourselves get caught up in “getting it right.”  People practice these things for years before they become expert in them.  On the other hand, there are often benefits that pop up immediately.  Be open to those as well. 

Counting Breath Meditation:

Sit with a straight spine and focus on your breathing—your involuntary, unforced breaths.  Notice and count each breath from one to six, and then start over again at one.  You may choose any number you prefer that is below ten, and you may choose to count each in-breath, or each out-breath, or to count the in- and out-breath together as “one,” “two,” “three” etc.  Whatever method you choose, stick with it.  Set a timer and do this for twenty minutes each day.  Write about what you experience each day. 

The Context:

“Ever mindful, he breathes in, and ever mindful he breathes out.  Breathing in a long breath, he knows ‘I am breathing in a long breath’; breathing out a long breath, he knows ‘I am breathing out a long breath’; breathing in a short breath, he knows ‘I am breathing in a short breath’; breathing out a short breath, he knows ‘I am breathing out a short breath.’”

–The Majjhima-nikaya

Two of the most common practices in Buddhism are meditation and chanting.  These practices, and similar rituals from other traditions, such as drumming, dancing, and repetitive prayer using prayer beads, have been shown to alter the frequency of our brain waves from their normal, waking, “beta” frequency, to “alpha” (found during relaxation and meditation), “theta” (found in deep relaxation and dreaming), and even “delta” (dreamless deep sleep) frequencies.   These techniques have long been used to obtain “mystical” and other “peak experiences,” as well as just to calm the mind and help us to become more of an observer of our thoughts, emotions, and sensations, rather than a hostage or victim of them.  This is a well-documented stage on the way to nirvana.