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The first time I experimented with meditation was over 30 years ago. I was never really successful at developing a consistent and effective practice until my most recent attempt, which began about three years ago. I would like to share some of my observations regarding these last three years. First, the idea that a meditation practice is a series of experiments seems to align well with my experience. I have heard that the Buddha suggested that direct experience is the best teacher. Any reference to the Buddha should probably be prefixed with a warning that this is my version of the Buddha. I doubt very much whether anybody can really say for certain this is what the Buddha said or thought. You try an approach and if it seems to work you incorporate it into your practice. It may be practical to have a teacher direct you around failed paths based on his experience, but someone has had to have an experience in order to see what will and will not work. A problem might arise if the experience of a teacher, based on his or her direct experience is so specific to his or her experiential context that it fails to generalize to his students. In that case, the students are taught a failed path which they will eventually have to be overcome.  Over the 30 years that I have been exploring meditation, Buddhism and other meditative traditions I have read an immense amount of material pertaining to the theoretical philosophy and psychology of meditation. You might say I had a very good blueprint of the house I want to build. I poured over catalogues of materials. I looked at parcels of land with just about every view imaginable. I even invested in the tools of carpentry and masonry.  Yet, I have not until recently driven a single nail into a single board. It has always been an imaginative practice with no real work involved.


I wish I had made a plan to finally cut the first board, but the truth is that my current practice just happened. It began about three years ago when I found myself having to teach groups of addicts in a treatment center how to use relaxation techniques. After making several failed attempts with these groups I happened upon Dr. Thompsonís Brainwave Suite. I started to use the Alpha tape with very tense addicts. While it helped them some, I ended up gaining from the exercise as a sort of collateral affect. I began, for the first time, to really be able to hold still for periods of about 15 minutes. This was something of a minor miracle since I have never managed this feat in any of my past attempts at meditation. I used the tape for about a year in relaxation groups. Repeated exposure to this tape helped me to start becoming relaxed enough to consider trying to meditate in a more traditional manner.


All my previous attempts at meditation had floundered because I was too restless to sit still. This would mark the beginning of my meditation practice. I decided to try to sit still at home on my own. After I established that I could sit quietly listening to BWS for between five and fifteen minutes, I decided to go to work, to hit the nail with a hammer for the first time. I created a place in my upstairs bedroom that would be set-aside specifically as a meditation spot. This place is a pleasant space with an altar on which I have placed a variety of ambience creating items. There is a pleasant looking Buddha, an image of Jesus for my wife, candles and incense. I created a scene for meditation.

  The next problem I encountered was what would be the most sensible posture for me. I am an arthritic, fifty seven year old who does not bend well. I tried a lotus posture. I could do it if I was propped against a wall. If I sat away from the wall my back ached badly. I realized that if I looked forward to pain and unpleasantness I would not last long. I tried sitting in a chair, but while I felt natural, it seemed wrong in some way. The kneeling position was perfect. My back could be straight with out discomfort. I realized that my torso needed to be erect in order to breathe comfortably and when I kneeled breathing flowed easily. This was not true for me in the seated posture or in the lotus. I wonít even go into the leg discomfort in those positions. Eventually, the kneeling position caused tendonitis because of the weight of my body resting on my ankles. I tried many work a rounds to solve this problem, but to no avail. I finally invented a seat that Iím sure others discovered before me. This simple wooden seat allowed me to sit in the kneeling position while it bore my weight thus saving my ankles. My back could be straight on the seat, freeing my breath to flow without too much effort.

  My approach to meditation as I said was experimental. I tried mantras first, but did not feel as if they were my cup of tea. I settled on the oldest and simplest technique, mindfulness training. I decided to approach the project in partial actions. The first step would be to learn to follow the breath. I began by using an approach I found recommended fairly often, counting the breath. The idea is to breath naturally. This is not a breathing exercise, but a mind training exercise. You let the breath be itself, but as you inhale, you count one, for the first breath, then two for the second breath until you have counted up to ten. Once you get to ten, you start back at one. You count either the in or out breath. Now this sounds pretty easy, but you would be amazed how hard it is to keep your mind on the task. The exercise is designed to help build concentration and the focus is the breath. When you lose count, you return to the breath and begin again. Basically, you canít count and think. Your mind will begin to drift to a thought or a plan and you just pull it back to the breath. This exercise turns out to be very powerful because as you do it you become more and more concentrated until you can follow the breath without the counting. I counted the breath religiously for about a year. Another difficulty I encountered was pushing the breath or following it? It is very difficult to discern. Sometimes I would discover I was practically hyperventilating because I was pushing so hard and others times the length of time between breaths seemed excessive. I would discover I wasnít letting myself breath, resulting in having to gulp air to catch up. The best policy is to follow the natural flow of the breath with the count. Just let the breath go and give each breath a number label after it has passed. It is not a breathing exercise.

To Be Continued



























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