By Saroj Dubey
Simply sitting in awareness of the movement of thoughts and feelings, is a powerful technique to experience stillness and peace, says Saroj Dubey
|Just watch the flow of thoughts as they arise and abate without interfering with them|
I often talk to my patients with psychosomatic symptoms and other lifestyle disorders about the benefits of meditation. They are eager to try it out but are often in a fix about how to start and what method to try, and are also doubtful if they can take out time for it. One patient told me that he had been trying very hard to concentrate and find the proper place and time but wasn’t able to meditate. I responded that maybe the problem was that he was trying a bit too hard and he should relax and lighten up a bit. I asked him if it was possible for him to find enough time and initiative to just sit. “Just sit, how will that help?” he asked incredulously. I patiently explained.
A Zen practice
The Zen practice of shikantaza or just sitting involves just sitting in awareness, where you leave your mind alone, stop thinking and in a way reach a point of non- thinking. Unlike other forms of meditation it doesn’t involve concentrating on an object like the breath or mantra. It is an objectless meditation where you sit and focus on all that you experience (thoughts, sounds or emotions) freely without resistance. ‘Just sitting’ as a meditation process is boundless, without a goal and continuously unfolding.
We have done it many times unconsciously. Often when we see a mesmerising mountain view, we sit on the rock and just stare, appreciating the grandeur and simplicity and the joy of just being. Or when we see the magnificent vastness of the ocean with the mighty waves breaking on the shores don’t we feel like just sitting on the sand and staring at the endless horizon? We can cultivate the same experience and benefit in our regular daily schedule.
Many people avoid meditation because they conjure up images of sitting ramrod straight with legs crossed and straining in an attempt to avoid thoughts coming. But when we do objectless meditation we are not trying to suppress our thoughts at all. Thoughts come and go because that is the function of the mind, and it would prove counterproductive to stifle them. At the same time one must not be hijacked by them either. One must not deliberately try to think nor try not to think.
A natural way to meditate
Mringyur Rinpoche elucidates about objectless meditation and the function of the mind in his book, Joyful wisdom. Objectless meditation is called ‘shamatha’ in Sanskrit and ‘shinay’ in Tibetan which means calm abiding which is to simply allow the mind to rest calmly as it is. The basic or natural state of the mind can be experienced by allowing the mind to be as it is, in expansive awareness. Awareness simply is, and the mind rests in the ‘isness’ of this awareness. In objectless meditation the mind is simply allowed to relax and sit back, as if resting after a long day of exertion. Just allow the mind to rest in the open present, not fixated on anything, non-judgemental, allowing whatever happens to occur, neither chasing any thought nor rejecting it.
The example that sprang to my mind on reading this was of our training days as medical residents where we would have to work continuously for 24 to 36 hours at a stretch. At the end of such a gruelling schedule when I returned home, I would plonk in the armchair letting out a huge sigh of relief and just let myself be for some time. We allow the mind to take such well-deserved breaks from its daunting and exhausting routine.
When we are just sitting in awareness, we allow the myriad arising thoughts in the mind to pass by and merely appreciate the emptiness of the moment. Dispensing with formalities, all we need is the intention of sitting (preferably straight without slouching) and allowing our thoughts and emotions to follow their course like clouds in the sky which arise, centre in and gently fade away. It is helpful to close your eyes but you can keep it open to the natural environment if you wish to. All that matters is your sitting in awareness. And when thoughts do come, whatever their nature, we shouldn’t be critical of ourselves but just accept and allow them to come and go. After completion when you get up, allow the feeling of stillness or peace to pervade you as you go about your usual activities. The difference between sitting meditation and simple day-dreaming is that you are aware of all that is going on yet at the same time not fixated to anything that crosses your mind. The method may sound too easy and there lies the challenge.
At your service always
As a society we extol the virtues of ‘doing’ while we are unfamiliar and rather uncomfortable with just ‘being’. The beauty of this method is that it can be done anywhere, at any place, whether there is silence or noise, solitude or crowd. The idea is to just be mindfully aware and touch that open, clear expansive sky in the process. Even as you read this, if you pause for a moment wherever you are and sit in awareness letting your thoughts float by, it is a form of sitting meditation. The effect of such a practice is subtle as well as profound. It shapes our mind and influences us the way the river shapes the rocks it encounters on its journey to the sea, slowly but gradually. Some of the people I talk to say that they are often overwhelmed by the countless thoughts invading their mind. And during such periods of restlessness they can’t imagine being alone with themselves. That’s the last possible thing they want to do. Indeed, it takes a lot of courage to sit with yourself in such a state of mind, but once you have taken the first step by moving in to your restlessness rather than backing away, you will find that your thoughts are actually evanescent and fleeting and not as solid as they seem to be. As Mringyur says just by looking at the mind you start changing what is happening inside it. Most of the time while commuting I close my eyes and sit in awareness allowing my thoughts to merge with the background traffic noise. I do it even when I am sitting alone in the office. During holidays by the sea or in hill stations, I am often tempted to pause and just sit on the sand or on a rock staring at the wonders of nature, absorbing all the sights and sounds around in serene silence.
This method of just sitting meditation can be used as a method to de-stress and alleviate anxiety as well as incorporated in formal meditation for spiritual progress. Our demanding and punishing schedules leave us with very little time nowadays but whenever we are whiling away time in the airport or platform, or getting bored waiting for an appointment we can use that time to just sit and meditate. This time which is universally available to all of us, can transform a frustrated barren place of waiting to something enriching and relaxing.
About the author : Saroj Dubey is a medical gastroenterologist practising in East Delhi and Noida. He is fascinated by the mind-body connection, holistic healing and spirituality.
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