Meditation: A Guide

I’d like to share the details of my practice from that first year or two. I hope you'll do some experimenting and find something that works for you.

Focus. Breathing is the most common anchor and it’s what I used starting out. There are lots of anchor options but I’m covering what worked for me, so you’ll need to do some digging if breathing is a triggering or painful function to focus on.

Sit. I find a comfortable seat, usually a pillow on the floor with my legs crossed loosely in front of me. Sometimes I use a kitchen chair and sit up straight and tall, away from the chair back with my feet flat on the floor.

Settle in. I set my timer, close my eyes and take 3 slow, deep breaths.

Breathe. I return to normal breathing and follow the air filling my lungs – the feeling of my belly expanding,hold, the emptying out and hollowing of my belly, hold, repeat.

Scan. I do a simple body scan checking in for any tension, noticing it, and being with it (“oh wow, my jaw is really tight. Okay…”). I start with the tiny muscles around the eyes; the jaw; the throat; the shoulders; the chest; and last, the belly.

Breathe. Then back to breathing — a deep inhale, and a long slow shallow exhale (twice as long as my in breath). Feeling the expansion and the shrinking in my belly I keep to the somatic experience. When I realize I’ve wandered into a thought, a story or a distraction I say to myself “oh, good girl, you noticed.” Then I slowly bring my focus back to the physical, present moment by feeling air filling up or emptying out from my belly.  

Re-focus. When my mind is wandering a lot (thinking of to-do lists; scripting imagined conversations, worrying about an email I should get up and send…) I count. Sometimes I count 1 for in, 1 for out, 1, 1, 1. Other times I count up to five and back down: breathe in on 1, out on 2, in on 3, out on 4, in on 5, out on 4, in on 3, out on 2, in on 1…

Finish. When the bell chimes, I try to open my eyes very slowly, looking at the ground first. I want to remember staying in my physical awareness and ease back into the flow of my day. This delays the inevitable jump back into mind — the place where I try to figure things out.

What Meditation is Doing for Me

So what? If I didn’t feel meditation making a difference in my life, I wouldn’t bother sharing it. It was a slow slow process but I found that meditation lets me sit with my anxiety and my worried thoughts. I can (usually) give those fears my attention, saying “yes, I’m here. What do you want to tell me?” It is a tool to return to my body and let my body interpret my state. Meditation helped me see the painful storylines I told myself about the future or past were constructs of my fear. The worrying eased up a bit because I had developed a pause. A silent little space between the world and my reactions.
My practice helps me be a bit more present — a constant work in progress. I’m able to listen better. I have the smallest insight into my shortcomings and some tenderness around them.

Regular practice can give me a sense of abundance.Creativity that I can tap into and share freely without fear that I won’t get my piece of the pie. It’s a very slow, cumulative process — I hope this is just the beginning of my journey.
In short, meditation is a glimpse of peace and that I can keep moving toward.

Resources close to my heart

Dharma talks and guided meditations:
Tara Brach
Dharma Punx
Dharma Seed
Arinna Weisman (queer feminist teacher)
Insight Timer App

Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hahn

Kathleen Cunningham