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The type of mantra-based meditation I’ve been practicing is taken from yoga science, which has its roots in the teachings of Swami Rama. I’ve been struggling to choose a meditation practice and have been flip-flopping between this y.s./mantra meditation and Buddhist/Tibetan forms of meditation. Last week at group meditation (mantra-based), I asked about deciding on a form and was encouraged to try some out but to really settle down with “the one”–that is, I was told, one would just feel right for me and be the right fit.

I feel as though the mantra-based meditation works for me, but have often thought that this is only because it was the first kind of meditation I really tried and the one I’ve had the most experience with. I know very little about the philosophy of yoga science and tend to read more buddhist philosophy books. And yet, it is not the buddhist forms of meditation the feel so “right” to me. Then, I tell myself, I should continue on the path of buddhist meditation because that one is more difficult for me and that meditation should not be easy.

But, since Wednesday, I’ve really given myself over to a mantra-based meditation. As one of the leaders of the group meditation would say, all that flip-flopping between forms is ultimately my ego getting in the way. And that comment got me thinking about how much we have to meet our ego head on during meditation (if we notice it, that is. But the more I meditate, the more I notice it.). I actually wrote a bit about this in my last post. Today also I kept butting heads with my ego during practice.

But I suppose that ultimately what little I know about yoga science makes sense for who I am and how I live. It is an integrative approach, a whole body approach. With its attention to the principles of Ayurveda and its roots in the teachings of The Bhagavad Gita, it certainly appeals to my interests. It’s just a slightly different path than the one I thought I was on.

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I stopped meditating for a period of almost three weeks; hence the lack of blog entries. It wasn’t good. I lost myself. I let my emotions run me.

I started again yesterday — committing myself *again* to daily meditation. Day number two today, and I can say that it has been quite a struggle, but that is understandable.

I don’t know a lot about meditation, but I’ve learned enough to know that when a person starts meditating (and I suppose this also applies when a person starts meditating *again*), the number of thoughts that arise are abundant and frequent. I know also to be kind to myself (but this part is much more difficult than the realization that the arising of thoughts is the norm). I’ve experienced much anxiety and have done much obsessive planning while on the bench.

Still, at least I’ve done it. I’ve focused on more breaths than I would have if I hadn’t sat there at all. And I’m slowly rebuilding and reconnecting with the discipline and awareness involved in meditation (and that is necessary in life).

I received a zen alarm clock for christmas from my parents. I’m using it primarily as a meditation timer, as my partner tends to be my alarm clock. That change is also talking some getting accustomed to (it’s very different than programming the time on the microwave). My mother’s close friend nearly spit out her coffee when she heard the term “zen alarm clock.” She thought it sure sounds like an oxymoron, which it does. Now every time I hear it chime I picture her choking with laughter on her coffee!

Besides the ringing of zen chimes, we have just rung in the New Year! I have many resolutions this year, but they can kind of all be summed up with the word “balance.”

In particular, I want to try to keep my work life and personal life/down time very separate this year. I am rarely able to keep those boundaries, because my work as a teacher can easily be a 24-7 occupation. (Certainly it is one of the main thoughts that occupies my meditating mind). In the evenings when I sit down in the living room with my partner to relax and unwind and move toward bed, I tend to run and grab my laptop for that last e-mail check. I don’t want to do that this year. I want to create more distinct and clear boundaries — the goal being that when I am not working, I don’t still feel like I’m working and/or I don’t feel the guilt that always accompanies the not working moments of my life.

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My latest stress is on choosing a form of meditation. Yes, I know, meditation causing stress is kind of defeating the purpose.

At the last group meditation, it was suggested that when you settle on a mantra, you should continue to use/work with that mantra for at least three months before you try another one. I felt okay about that because I used Om Namah Shivayah for a very long time (only supplementing it occasionally with So-Hum) before I started trying the Buddhist mantra of Om Mani Padme Hum, yet I have not settled on a regular practice. By that I mean, I practice regularly, but it’s more like design your own meditation. Sometimes I combine the half-open/half-closed eyes of the Buddha with a new age mantra. Sometimes I focus solely on the breath without a mantra. Sometimes I do a new age breathing exercise followed by a Shambhala style meditation, and so on. So far my knowledge of meditation is a strange combination of contemporary Western forms of Buddhist practice, with a little bit of ancient Tibetan forms, and some new age stuff mixed in.

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When I learned to meditate, which was a mantra-based meditation style, I was instructed to close my eyes. As I became a bit more familiar with Buddhist meditation, I learned that it is more common for one to keep their eyes half open/closed than having them closed all the way. This soon became an obsession of mine that took away (and continues to) from my meditation practice. Silly, I know. I know that gentleness and not getting so hooked the the precise nature of meditation is important, but I couldn’t stop getting caught up on the state of my eyes.

I tried to do Shambhala style meditation with my eyes gently open part-way, my gaze slightly out in front of me, and with a focus on my breath — letting go of the mantra. I found having my eyes open distracting, yet I told myself that this is part of the “training” that is meditation — exercising the ability to stay present despite distractions. I also completely understand the reasoning for keeping one’s eyes open — to stay awake. Meditation is a practice of being completely and most fully awake and present, so keeping one’s eyes open certainly seems key to doing that; however, I never come anywhere close to falling asleep when I have my eyes closed during meditation. I feel more comfortable with my eyes closed, as I am not worrying about gaze flitting here and there or about straining my eyes from being cross-eyed for so long. I am able to relax more deeply into the meditation when my eyes are closed, but I’m not relaxed to the point of a dream-like state at all. I recognize my thoughts more clearly with my eyes closed, and I’m able to then release them more readily. I’m more aware of my inner-self with my eyes closed, as I feel that is where the gaze is directed.

There are many different takes out there on the web regarding this question of eyes open or closed, but here are just a few:
The Shambhala.org site — “Technique of Meditation

Should I meditate with my eyes open or my eyes closed?

Meditation workshop

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Welcome to my meditation journal.

I began meditating regularly a little more than a month ago, after meeting a wondeful shiatsu practitioner who reminded me that “meditation is the best medicine.” Her intensity toward my own commitment to meditation just triggered something in me, and it stuck. I’ve been sitting daily ever since.

I knew (and know for that matter) very little about meditation. I had attended some free local meditation classes, which introduced me to a mantra based meditation. The class’ leader would begin by reading us a list of mantras, which she repeated three times each. She told us to just to choose whichever one we were drawn to, whatever resonated. At my first class I immediately chose “om namah shivaya,” having no idea that it is one of the most well-known, commonly chanted — an initiation mantra of sorts. Whatever the case, it worked for me.

Since then I have experimented with a few different mantras, in addition to trying out a shambhala approach to meditation as explained by Pema Chodron in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa.

The idea for this blog simply came out of the fact that often when I’m meditating and my mind does its wandering, I find myself reflecting on the act of meditation itself and almost composing blog-like entries in my head. Language is my living, so “writing” in my head is common for me. Still, as I let those thoughts go and return to my breath, the feeling of wanting to write them down remains. I figure that if I maybe start recording them, I’ll let them go more easily. Also, I am just easily entertained by some of the things the mind does while meditating, and thought the mind’s antics would make for good blog material. Here is today’s example:
I’m in the middle of “om namah shivaya-ing” when suddenly I am thinking how important it is to carve out the time to do this. “Carve” is the exact word that my mind uses to describe the act of making time for myself and my practice. This leads my mind to think of the billboard on the side of the highway with a Dunkin’ Donuts advertisement that reads, “Carve out some time for a pumpkin muffin.” I always read that ad, and with the accompanying picture of the latte and robust pumpkin muffin, it works on some level. Yes, I think, that looks inviting (though I LOVE pumpkin muffins, I hate Dunkin’ Donuts, but that, after all, is the magic of advertising). Anyhow, I NEVER made the connection between the word choice “carve” and “pumpkin.” (Did I say I do language for a living??). In fact, I often marveled at the simplicity of the ad and wondered why that statement exactly? Suddenly, today during my meditation, the wonder of Dunkin’ Donuts’ billboard advertising became remarkably clear. And I felt silly. And I had to just laugh at myself.

In addition to serving the purpose of recording the wildly diverse wanderings of a meditating mind, this blog is also an attempt to find out if I am alone in these random (and sometimes confusing and sometimes wonderful) meditation sessions. It’s to get me reading other material out there and interacting with others who are starting on this path and hopefully some who are futher along it and can share advice and insight. It’s also to help me keep track of the resources that are out there — linking to valuable site, retreat information, classes, and so on.

Please share your own experiences, leave a link to your own writings or resources on meditation, or comment on my various entries.

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