I've been practicing meditation for over 30 years. I've had instruction from many masters and have logged thousands of hours of training and practice. But I still find it quite difficult at times. I'll share some meditation practices that I use when things are challenging for me.
To meditate means to become familiar, gompa in Tibetan. Some in recovery find being in the present moment an extreme challenge. To be still is to confront our own experience. We can't run or distract ourselves. If we're too afraid to do this, we're in pretty bad shape, because we're really being with ourselves. Is that so bad? You might not think so, but for some it's intolerable. Any attempt to meditate can cause high anxiety. But, what are we really afraid of? After all, it's just us.
One of the hardest moments for me is if I wake up from a nap in the late afternoon/early evening. On a recent trip to Thailand, I got pretty ill and had to spend a couple of days in bed. Hour after hour of laying in the bed is one of the worst times for my vulnerability to surface. I call these PTSD naps because I get really triggered and vulnerable to dark, negative feelings. I can usually get out of them by rushing out the door to the gym or a yoga class. When I can get to a class, I normally forget about the way I felt earlier. An intense cardio or yoga session "fixes" me until the next day.
But if you're sick, that's kinda hard to do.
In this kind of situation, all I can do is rely on my previous years of training and practice in meditation and dream yoga. Lay still. Follow the breath, relax. It works unless I get interrupted by noise, a sudden need to rush to the bathroom, or bad physical pain like a headache.
to get through this sickness, I had to come up with an integrated practice, which I'll share with you.
If we're new to practice, it may take some years of discipline of always going to our meditation place with our meditation group and doing our meditation in a certain way.
For many years my meditation practice was to "just sit". Be in the moment. Notice the physical sensations, the breath. Label the thoughts. Be present. It didn't occur to me until well into the second decade that, instead of passively watching, we can also cultivate something that will affect our state of mind. We initiate some aspiration, intention or action into our meditation experience. We can use mantra, visualization, directed breathing (pranayama).
That's not to say that we give up our practice of accepting the present moment. On the contrary. We do a little of cultivation, then rest in pure, naked awareness. In this kind of practice we alternate between effort, and non-effort.
For example, we can practice being still, silent and relaxed in whatever position we find ourselves in. We can't always be in a comfortable meditation position. So we should learn to practice in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. The Buddha talked about four moments; sitting, standing, walking, lying down. This is symbolic of all aspects of our lives.
A meditation session can last anywhere from a few moments to a couple of hours, depending on our situation. We can alternate between visualization, mantra, intention and being present in whatever position we find ourselves in.
This meditation is extremely helpful for dispelling that dark sense of foreboding that I described above. It's a powerful combination of different essence practices from more than one viewpoint in the Dharma; refuge, compassion, mindfulness, purification, accumulation of merit and wisdom.
Fill Up With Light, Send it Out
I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the sacred Dharma. I take refuge in the Noble Arya Sangha.
One breath. Inhale. One moment. Exhale. Relax.
After a period of watching the breath, or just being present, to imagine that your body is transparent. On the inhale, your container it fills up with powerful, bursting light. There are different colors of light related to different systems in yoga. Some are about chakras, others are related to elements. Yellow light is connected to the Earth element and makes you feel relaxed and grounded. Blue light is symbolic of space, and can really open you up to a sense of vastness. This is a good one to do when you feel that your energy is constricted. Green light is connected to the air element and is associated with the deity Green Tara. Green also creates movement of energy and helps free us up from obstacles.
Once you feel that you're filling up with light you can send it out those you love. You can optionally add the mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM to cultivate a sense of compassion for all beings. Visualize those you love, those closest to you. Cultivate the aspiration that they may be free of suffering and its causes.
Afterward, go back to observing the breath, or just sitting.
I hope this practice helps you as it has helped me. May we all be free of suffering and its causes.
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