Position Yourself for Success

Karen asks: I’m a larger person. Do you have suggestions for meditating in positions other than on a comfy chair?

Yes. Of course. Lying down, legs crossed in double lotus position on a cushion, one leg bent with ankle pressed against thigh and other leg stretched long either with back supported by a wall or unsupported, feet flat on the ground and butt on a hard chair. Whatever position works for you is the perfect position in which to practice meditation. That is strictly my opinion and not the opinion of many a practitioner. 

After I'd been meditating for a few months, I attended a class in the Brahmrishi Yoga tradition in meditation and philosophy taught by a well regarded teacher. He'd studied in India with an even more regarded teacher, a swami who had reached enlightenment, something it seemed everyone in this class was very much interested in achieving.

Meditation was an enigma and as far as I could tell, our teacher was not interested in making it any less mysterious. The other students were a mix between meditators who had already studied with this teacher and those who were just beginning to try to crack the meditation code. There was a lot of discussion about how difficult it was to stop the distracting and continuous parade of thoughts in our heads and some advice as to how the repetition of a mantra word could be used to tidy up the mind clutter. This teacher's path to meditation required a strict adherence to difficult tasks that might eventually, if practiced enough, lead to Nirvana.

The first thing we were instructed to do as we began to meditate was to sit cross-legged on cushions, our backs unsupported. If your nose started to itch, you were not to scratch. As thoughts formulated in your mind, you were to repeat the phrase sohum (pronounced so-hung), a Sanskrit word loaded up with mystical properties. 

Of course, my nose itched as soon as I closed my eyes and within two or three minutes, my back started to throb. I repeated the mantra over and over and tried to avoid concentrating on not scratching my nose or rearranging my legs to better support my back. The Sanskrit mantra did not allow me to transcend my discomfort. When the twenty minutes of meditation had finally passed, I opened my eyes wondering if the other students would admit they had been as uncomfortable as I had been.

Some did, although they assigned more blame to themselves than I thought necessary. Sitting in an uncomfortable position is painful and although perhaps one day we may find ourselves in a position where we can meditate without regard to the physical sensations in our bodies, it may not be productive to start out that way. 

I sense Karen might think the comfy chair method of meditation is not quite a respectable way to meditate. That somehow to meditate authentically requires a specific posture andmindset few of us are capable of achieving. I can't say whether sitting uncomfortably increases the quality of your meditation. I don't do it so I don't know. The first couple years of my practice I sat on a couch with a pillow under my feet to bring the floor closer. I'm not large, but I'm short. The pillow helped. Now I usually sit in a cross-legged position on my bed, my back resting against the head board. 

Occasionally I meditate in the overstuffed arm chair I inherited from my grandfather. It is an important piece of furniture (ball in claw wooden arms and legs) and the place he would go when he wanted to relax. I can picture him perched in his chair, smoking a cigarette, jet white hair swept straight back and looking at me as I entered the room as if I were amiracle. I find security in Grandpa's chair and I fit quite nicely with my legs crossed, but my legs are short and this works for me. For now. 

I am far from the poster girl for meditation. The image of the blissed out chick in yoga pants, sitting straight and unsupported on a cushion --that's not me. If that position works for you, I'm impressed. But if you're starting a meditation practice to impress me, you can do the comfy chair method and I'll still admire you. 

Truthfully, I'm kind of a sloppy meditator and casual about my practice except for one thing: I sit in stillness for twenty minutes just about every day. 

Whatever you can do, Karen, to make this a less awkward and more accessible practice is excellent. What I do, I do not consider difficult. I believe in sitting (or lying if that works for you) in any position that makes it easy to sit in stillness. 

Make it less awkward, make it less stressful, meditate comfortably, but meditate. 


Meditation Sticker When I sat in Lee's living room and she taught me what she knows about meditation, she insisted I not call her my teacher. She once scolded me, as only a former  high school English teacher could, for referring to her as a guru.

I used to say: Everything I know about meditation I learned from Lee.  But now I see why this is not true. Every time I sit down to meditate, it is a new meditation and new chance to find stillness, to find the way to my center. No one can really teach such a thing because it is within each of us to find our own way. But those of us who have cultivated a habit of sitting in stillness every day can encourage others that they too are able to do the same. It is not magic. It is not mysterious or esoteric or only available to those who  have scaled the mountain and sat cross-legged for day upon uncomfortable day with the guru. It is available to everyone and it is available to you.

What Impends: Days Two Hundred Ninety-Eight - Three Hundred Two

Sleepless night for lots of us last night, I suppose. Unfathomable grief everywhere. I sit and meditate and a mantra pops in my head and I don't like it: What Impends. The words claw at me and I bat the thoughts away. But still. Does impend always indicate doom? Can serenity impend? Joy? What impends. As mantas go, it's more of a statement than a question. I look for the connection and the connection is there, although on the surface it makes no sense. I guess that's the way of meditation, connections grow organically and later I may see the logic. The connection is to art: high art that requires work to appreciate. I have issued a challenge to myself to consume what does not come easily: symphonies, poetry, complex fiction, postmodern art. What is the connection of art to a full-blown tragedy of epic proportions? I have no idea.images

Questions without Answers: Days Two Hundred Eighty-Six - Two Hundred Ninety

As soon as I sit down to meditate, my reflex is to resist. This routine reflex has been even more pronounced over the past couple of days. I coax myself with what I think will be a soothing mantrasat, chit, ananda. No go. I pacify myself, talk to myself as if I were a small child: It's okay. You can do it. Try again. I try a new mantra: at ease, at ease, at ease.  Meditation is self-reflection without the questions. At least, during the meditation, I do not ask the questions. But now, after it's over, the questions multiply in geometric progression.

  1. Why the extra level of resistance now?
  2. Where does it come from?
  3. What am I trying to tell myself?
  4.  Where do I even begin?
  5. What is that vapor of emotion and why can't I figure out what it is?
  6. Why am I  a mystery to myself?
  7. Will this meditation thing help me resolve the mystery of me?

If only meditation provided a few answers. It doesn't, at least for today it doesn't.

Instead of answers, I'm left with more questions.

8.  How will I learn to be at peace with more questions?

Blue question mark

A Little Incensed:Days Two Hundred Seventy Eight - Two Hundred Eighty One

These holiday weekends make it tough for me to find my 20 minutes. My routine is disrupted and I want to devote every second to my friends and family. I confess: it's been 3 days since my last meditation. I am not Catholic, so the ritual of confession has always fascinated me. My ideas about the rite come solely from the movies and I suppose the reality of the confessional is far from my Jewish girl fantasy. I imagine the incense and an ornately carved little wooden booth. I imagine entering that  enclosed tiny space, my face hidden by a screen, but in reality I'm not anonymous at all. The person on the other side of the screen, who will listen and sit in judgment of my laundry list of wrongdoings and missteps, knows exactly who I am (at least that's the way it seems in the movies).  How terrifying to have to admit those things no one wants to ever admit. Here's where the fantasy takes over: terrifying, but there's something thrilling about the secrecy and the admission and of course, the blanket of forgiveness being offered up by the priest. I just had to face up to what I did wrong, say it out loud, and the deed evaporates.

English: I cropped this from the image to the ...

Here's another fantasy. Would that the world was a place where people would be humiliated by skipping their daily meditation. What would it be like if instead of saying it has been three days since my last confession, people would have said it has been three days since my last meditation?

Meditation cannot absolve sins, but it can take you to a place where you can begin to forgive yourself. I have often heard victims say they forgave the person who harmed them and once they let go of their anger, it gave them a sense of relief and renewed energy. It seems the same would have to be true if we can acknowledge our disappointment  and anger in ourselves and then let it go.

Just let it go.

Am Yisrael Chai: Day Two Hundred Seventy One

Israel is under siege and  my Facebook page is filled with reports of friends running to bomb shelters. I sit down to my stillness this morning and the thoughts will not stop. It is worry, pure. War and worry. Today's mantra: Hebrew, not SanskritAM YISRAEL CHAI.

Thanks, Lee: Days Two Hundred Sixty-Three - Two Hundred Sixty-Five

Unrelated (or is it?) synchronicity: There's a novel I've been working on for the past, say, fifteen years. I know. In my novel, the heroine's name is Lee.

Lucky for me, I was able to meet up with Lee yesterday. Lee (the non-fictional version) is my friend and supporter in all things meditation. This encompasses a lot.

The process Lee teaches works well for me since it is simple and flexible. By flexible, I mean there is no way to fail. As Lee likes to say, she has been doing this for forty years, but every time she sits down to meditate, it is a new beginning. The beginning, or as I like to call it pre-failure, is the place of perfection. As a writer, it is the place where the idea is still in my head, there are no words on paper, and all is lovely possibility. As a meditator, it is the place of the blank and the vast. Erase everything and begin again.

When we got together yesterday, as usual, Lee had insight into my meditative journey. She is a reader of my blog and noticed that in my last post, I wrote about my natural affinity for the Sanskrit words Sat, Chit, Ananda. (Deepak Chopra translated this as existence, consciousness, and bliss.)   I loved the way the words sounded and for some reason the phrase stuck in my head. Sat, Chit, Ananda became a natural mantra for me.

Lee knows that my usual mantra is "Who am I?" I use these words to coax away my thoughts. The question comes from other discussions I've had with Lee. She has encouraged me to seek an answer beyond the superficial. Yes, I am wife, mother, daughter, lawyer, teacher, widow, writer. But beyond those trappings, who am I? And so, I have said the Who am I mantra for many months.

Lee is not a believer in coincidence. How powerful to ascribe intentionality. How powerful to observe the obvious.

"You asked, Lori. Who am I. Now, you have your answer."

Thanks, Deepak: Two Hundred Fifty-Six - Two Hundred Sixty-Two

My friend Simone signed up for Deepak Chopra's twenty-one day meditation challenge. As I'm a person who's easily influenced, I joined her and signed up too. Turns out, as expected, it's an onslaught of impersonal emails from Deepak where he provides, concisely, a meditative topic to think about and a suggestion for a thought upon which to center your meditation. He also provides a Sanskrit mantra, as well as its English translation. The mantra for today was: Sat, Chit, Ananda; translation: existence, consciousness, bliss. I am a skeptic and a cynic and it's hard for me to immerse myself in the gobbldygook of spiritual pablum. But here is what grabbed me:

Today, we will consider the three levels of existence—mind, matter, and spirit. Mind is the reasoning level that tells us that we can or cannot be, do, or have something. Matter is the physical world around us that shows us the results of what we hold in our minds. Spirit is the deepest domain, the place of our interconnectedness with the infinite mind of the universe. It is the field of pure potentiality.

Well said, Deepak. Meditation does lead me to that deep domain of interconnectedness. Since I have begun to meditate, the channel between me and what is outside of me has opened. I receive more information and energy from outside and I think put more information and energy out there. This is a difficult thing to explain since it's very subtle and reeks of being new agey.

Before I meditated today, I thought about what Deepak wrote. Then I looked at the suggested mantra and thought: no way. Use the words "existence, consciousness, bliss" to bring myself back to my center and away from the thoughts in my head? This would never work for me. But when I sat down to meditate, guess what popped into my head unbidden? Sat, Chit, Ananda. How was this Sanskrit mantra available in my head when I had only read the words once? Not only did I remember the words and say them to myself, I liked the sound of the words and the words themselves brought me focus.

That's cool.

English: Roy Harter with Deepak Chopra.

Intimidate to Meditate: Days Two Hundred Twenty Nine - Two Hundred Thirty One

Here's the thing: What has always inhibited me about meditation is the loftiness of the concepts, the instruction to cease mind chatter, and the discomfort of sitting cross-legged on the floor with no back support. A couple of nights ago, I attended a class in the Brahmrishi Yoga tradition in meditation and philosophy. There were about twenty of us seated on pillows on the floor in an empty social hall. The teacher, Bill Milcetich, has been at this for a while and has thought long and hard about his place in the universe. It was obvious that Bill is a beloved and respected teacher. Those in the room who knew him were a bit in awe. After all, the man had studied with Swami Bawra in India, talked about the transformation of his life like I'd talk about switching brands of sneakers, and seemed to be in on intimate terms with enlightenment. His book, Kapil's Samkhya Patanjali's Yoga, actually the second edition of his book, is an attempt to clarify the teachings of Patanjali. This is a serious man with a serious task.

The descriptor attached to Brahmrishi is realize oneness in all. As Bill spoke about this concept, in a deep and thoughtful way, he discussed many concepts in great detail: the place on top of the skull where energy enters and reflects consciousness and nature (Chitta), how our bodies are made of particles and energies that have been cycling and recycling until they form our bodies, our temporary containers of our soul. He spoke about happiness as an end goal. I think he didn't mean happiness, per se, but a peaceful state where a person finds their comfortable place in the context of the universe.

He gave us a mantra to say as we all struggled to sit for fifteen minutes cross legged on the floor. Soham ( pronounced so hung) is a Sanskrit term laden with meaning and vibration. Im not so clear how the vibration occurs in a word that is not spoken aloud, but never mind. The words meant nothing to us newbies, we were to inhale to so and exhale to hum for the next fifteen or so minutes. We did our best.

There was no cheer leading here. No encouragement to treat ourselves as small children, to tell ourselves to go ahead and try again. We'll get it the next time. No explanation that it's natural for a mind to click away in thoughts, mundane and profound.

Meditation does encourage us to think about concepts beyond the ordinary, to understand the extraordinary, to realize the oneness. I admire Bill's grasp of the philosophies surrounding meditation, but I also think that allowing oneself to sit in the quiet can help get to the philosophical places more handily than the philosophy can get one to the meditative.