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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Sit Still

AA039964If you listen carefully to my meditation instructions, you might detect a contradiction. On the one hand, I de-emphasize the posture because I don’t want people to get deterred by the physical difficulties of sitting. On the other hand, I encourage everyone to sit still and to resist the reflexive tendency to scratch every itch. Sitting practice opens to a new dimension when you are not compelled to relieve every discomfort that comes your way.

So, which is it? Don’t sit still or sit still? Perhaps the contradiction is avoided by viewing the transition from not worrying about the posture to being still like a rock through time.

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I have observed in my own practice that whenever my attention leaves the present moment to explore some story, my body starts to move. I re-adjust my posture, crack my back or neck, and scratch itches without realizing it. I recently came across some notes on embodied cognition, a fascinating field of research that confirms that many of our concepts reflect embodied states. Giving someone the cold shoulder or a weighty idea are not just flourishes of language, they represent actually embodied states. That is, people feel colder when they are socially rejected; a clipboard with important ideas feels heavier.

These findings from embodied cognition have implications for meditation practice too. If the body is moving, perhaps the mind is moving. If the body is still, perhaps this gives the mind a better chance to be still. I say a better chance because we certainly no that it is not a guarantee. The physical posture of sitting becomes an embodied metaphor for stillness. You come to understand the potential for stillness in the mind by experiencing stillness in your body.

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If you read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, you will find detailed instructions on how to sit. In fact, these are pretty much the entirety of Shunryu Suzuki’s meditation instructions. The practice of sitting and sitting still is the practice. If you start out trying to sit in a rock-solid technical way, you might be deterred from practice. This is why I de-emphasize posture for beginning students. However, if you don’t eventually work at becoming still, your practice will get stuck.

At the same time, you can get stuck by focusing too much on the physical posture. Some people are just good at sitting and the mind can still be off the leash. As with everything, we seek balance. Try to firm up your posture and notice what effect this has on the mind.

Enjoy sitting still!

  • http://Facebook.com Shukla Kar

    In meditation, sure need certain discipline to calm our mind to a level of concentration, where the person actually loose the distractions of mind. That stage itself is so peaceful, so much in harmony of our inner self that we wouldn’t even be aware of any feeling or sensation. When we reach this point of concentration, we are in a blissful stage of experiencing the celestial light through our third eye! People of this stage almost always find their Blissful stage within a few seconds of sitting for their meditation!

  • http://louellabryant.com Ellie

    Thanks for this reminder. Nina LaRosa led a wonderful practice with me a week ago where she had me rate my sitting comfort on a scale of 1 to 3. Three meant I was “in the zone” and not at all stressed about scratching an itch. One meant I really, really wanted to move or, in my case, cough. Two meant I wanted to move but was able to resist. I alternated between 1 and 2 for most of the session, but paying attention in that way helped me better understand the practice of being in the body in the moment.

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