At the end of 2019, I began casually practicing mindfulness meditation. Just over a year later, it's become a nearly essential part of my routine; it provides me an off-ramp to ease back into my personal life after an eight-hour (often longer) workday. Some folks have expressed interest in hearing more about this routine, so I thought it would be helpful to chronicle my experiences: the good, the bad, and the frustrating.
Buddhism has been an interest of mine for several years now, and I have a particular affinity for the simplicity of Zen Buddhism. It strips away a lot of the religious/spiritual elements more common in forms of Buddhism found in Tibet, for example. I sometimes use the term Zen meditation, when it is probably more accurate to refer to it as mindfulness meditation. This type of meditation focuses on being aware and present for each passing moment. Contrary to popular belief, it's not about emptying the mind or teleporting to some sort of astral plane. It's just you, paying attention to your breath and letting whatever happens, happen.
I've invested in a meditation mat, known as a zabuton, and a zafu, or cushion. Amazon has several at a reasonable price. Together, the combination looks something like this:
Typically, practitioners will elevate the rear of the zafu — usually with a blanket — that gives it a downward slope. I do the same with a nearby blanket. Next, I sit on the front third of the zafu and adjust myself into the half-lotus position. I can sit in full-lotus, but not comfortably for more than just a few minutes. Once comfortably seated, I breathe.
It would be easy to write an entire post just about breathing, so I'll keep it simple. I start with a few deep breaths to get into the right frame of mind and help relax my body. After that, it's a matter of breathing in and out and staying focused on the breath. Many recommend counting the breath, but for me it is distracting, and get discouraged when I lose count. Your mileage may vary, but simply remaining aware of your breath can suffice.
Ambience is important, but there's no "best practice" of which I'm aware. My preference is a dimly lit room with some light background noise. I use an app called ZenOto, which offers a variety of sounds from nature, bells, chanting, etc... It's got some other features I like, too. One feature that I really like is the ability to view a tally of the hours I've spent meditating over the past year.
I'm going to make you a promise: you will become distracted many times during meditation. Distraction is part of the routine, and so is re-centering yourself on your breath. The key is to acknowledge the distraction and then return to the breath. Some days, I encounter more distractions than others. Here are the distractions I remember from today's session:
- A confusing coding scenario I encountered during work
- How to tackle a home invader and wondering if I would slip on the laminate floor as I tried to attack them. That would suck.
- Writing this blog post
Those are just the highlights, as I'm sure there were many more that I cannot recall at the moment. The point is to not get discouraged. Part of mindfulness is returning to the present moment, even if you have to do it 100 times. Over time, the number of distractions, or at the very least, their effect on you, should decrease. After a year, I'm not sure if there's been a marked decrease, but it's not a race, so I remind myself each time that this is an exercise. The goal is simply to be mindful and keep practicing, not to become a renowned Zen master. (That would be a pretty cool outcome, though!)
Virtually anyone can practice mindfulness meditation. The zafu and zabuton aren't necessary, and instructions exist for sitting in a chair, and probably even lying down. If you're thinking about it, try it. The worst that can happen is that you don't enjoy it.
Here are a few resources that may help you dig in more, if you're so inclined:
You can also search the web as it is teeming with meditation. Include the terms "mindfulness" or "zen" as part of your search query. One last piece of advice: check out the works of author Thich Nhat Hanh. He is an expert in mindfulness and has written a great deal on the subject. I have a few of his books on my shelf.
Have fun! I would love to know about your experience, or if you have your own advice. I am not an expert and am still learning.