Traumatic events are overwhelming to body and spirit while they happen, and we often remain out of contact with our bodies afterwards. We dissociate, distract ourselves, or otherwise avoid noticing what is happening within.
Meditation can create a safe space for re-establishing contact and gently noticing what is happening in the moment – even if what happens is distraction, dissociation, and unwillingness to notice. Everything is accepted without judgment – including judgment.
There, you’re meditating!
I had thought that meditation required physical stillness and a quiet mind. It was a revelation to encounter Zen Buddhist Cheri Huber’s gentle, non-threatening introduction to meditation in How To Get From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be.
She says (paraphrased): Sit comfortably, take three slow breaths, and notice what happens. Okay, now do it again. And again. There, you’re meditating!
Five minute experiment
When I first read her book, there was a lot of crisis and change in my life. As an experiment, I committed to five minutes of meditation every morning for a month. It gave me a small island of steadiness in a sea of change. After the month ended, I knew I wanted to continue.
Do you feel drawn toward exploring safe space for noticing? Check in with yourself about committing to daily five minute meditations for a specified length of time. It can be a week, or a month, or even just a couple of days. Try it, and notice how you feel about continuing once the experiment is done.
If you are already an experienced meditator, consider giving yourself even more permission to notice and embrace your actual experience in your practice.
In a formal group setting, someone keeps time and rings a beautiful bell or chime to alert you to the end of the meditation period. When practicing on your own, you can choose to use a timer or alarm, or take occasional peeks at the clock. It’s surprising how five minutes can stretch out or pass in a flash on different days.
There are only two instructions for this type of meditation. Both are intentions to carry with you as you meditate, rather than requirements for being successful.
- Sit (or lie or stand) with your spine aligned
- Count breaths from one to ten, and then start over at one.
Choosing a position
Look around for a location that feels sheltered and comfortable for your meditation experiment.
You may want to sit upright on a chair, sit cross-legged on the edge of a pillow, or kneel with a larger pillow supporting you. Perhaps full lotus position, with each foot resting on the opposite thigh, works for you. Standing, lying down, and sitting on the bed under the warm covers (my favorite for winter mornings) are also options.
You can also choose whether to gently close your eyes, or keep them open with soft focus. If you’re not sure, try it both ways. Which is more comfortable for you?
As you practice, notice what sitting (or lying or standing) upright means to you. Is it easy to let the top of your head float upward with solid support from your lower body? Do you notice any uncertainty about where upright is for your body? Notice what arises for you.
Now that you’ve chosen a starting position, it is time to bring your awareness to your breathing. Notice how you know that you are breathing in and out. Do you hear the breath, feel the air move in your nose, or feel your chest or belly move?
The goal is to notice your breathing, rather than trying to breathe in any particular way. As you breathe in, count “one” in your mind. Follow the breath in, and out. As you breathe in again, count “two“. Continue to “ten” and start over at “one“.
It is likely that at some point you’ll realize that your attention has drifted to your thoughts, and you are no longer counting breaths. Neutrally note “thinking,” and begin again at “one“. Whether you count breaths in smooth cycles of ten, or never make it to “two,” you are still meditating.
Noticing the body
As you settle into your chosen position and count breaths, you may notice sensations from your body: warmth, cold, tightness, ease, numbness, prickling, aches, releasing, shifting.
You may feel impulses to move or change position. Notice what those impulses feel like for you. Notice what happens if you choose to follow them, and if you don’t. Remember, this is safe space for noticing. You are still meditating, no matter what choices you make.
Sometimes, even in a five minute meditation period, intense restlessness arises. Notice what happens as you sit with the restlessness and wait for the meditation time to be over. Since this is all an experiment, you also have the option of ending early. Notice how it feels to have that choice, and how it feels if you exercise it.
Already doing it right
In years of daily meditation sessions, my body has learned more about sitting upright, and I count breaths all the way to “ten” a little more often. I keep returning because day by day, I’ve learned how it feels to already be doing something right, and gradually I’ve brought that acceptance into the rest of my life.
I hope you enjoy your experiment with already doing something right, too!
I highly recommend How To Get From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be by Cheri Huber. With stories from her students and from her own life, she demonstrates a more compassionate way of relating to ourselves, our problems, and our resistance.
Here is an introduction to formal Zen meditation, including photos of sitting positions: https://zmm.mro.org/teachings/meditation-instructions/