Tricycle, the leading independent journal of Buddhism in the West, and Sharon Salzberg, one of the notable western Buddhist teachers, team up to create a meditation program designed for busy individuals with hectic schedules.
Commit to Sit challenge is a rigorous set of meditation instruction is based on the Vipassana tradition. It is one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques, believed to have stemmed from Buddha’s own practice. This at-home retreat provides preparatory instructions and an easy-to-follow practice schedule for those who are thinking about taking up meditation or those who prefer to add a twist to their daily exercise.
If you have decided to rise to the challenge, here is glimpse of what’s in store for you in the next four weeks:
Week 1: The Breath
Getting air in and out of your lungs- the right way- is an essential technique of insight meditation. This week is all about focusing on inhalations and exhalations to secure a calm and peaceful mind that will allow introspection and gaining of insights.
The crucial part of this practice is your awareness of breathing. Take few, deep breaths. Focus on where you feel the breath- through the nostrils or even through the rising and falling of your chest. Finding yourself occasionally distracted is okay. Simply re-focus your attention on the actual feeling of breath. This reconnection is very important in breathing meditation. Don’t analyse or think about the difference of one breath to another, simply let go.
Schedule: Do this for 20 minutes in the morning and evening from Monday to Friday.
Week 2: The Body
You are going to focus on body sensations and incorporate it into the mediation practice, together with the breathing techniques from the previous week.
Working with Pain
This week’s focus is on working with pain. How we deal with it in meditation is a basic indicator of how well we react to the obstacles and challenges of life. One of the Buddha’s greatest teachings is that of growth, decay, and death. Experiences of pain allow us to firmly ground ourselves in the certainty of the death of our body.
If there is physical discomfort in your practice, this technique will allow you to open up to it. It is important to take note of the general area, nature, and intensity of the pain. Do you feel it in your back? Is it a burning or a piercing sensation? Where do you feel the discomfort distinctly?
Once you have established these, follow the shift of intensity that the area may undergo. This is will strain the mind. When that happens, focus on the general area or your breathing. Alternating your attention between breathing and the unpleasant feeling will keep your energy and alertness from decreasing.
Your relationship to pain is often determined by your failure to deal with it. Resistance is what makes painful situations intolerable. However, limitations must be set. Knowing when to stop is necessary in maintaining balance. It will help you to be ate peace not only with the pleasant side of life but the unpleasant as well.
Look for a place that is ten or twenty steps in length. Stand at one end of the path and settle attention in the body. The walking period is divided into three: walking in slower-than-normal speed, even slower, and either finishing on a faster or a gradually slower pace. The central emphasis here is feeling the sensations.
Use markers such as “one, two” or “left, right” for the first section. For the second section, divide the step into two—the up and down. Pay attention to the lifting and placing of your feet. You may decide on how you want to proceed on the third section. You may choose to pick up the pace or slow it down. Always be connected to the movement of your muscles. Being distracted by other matters is fine, just as long you shift back to your body sensations.
Schedule: Continue seated breathing meditation for 20 minutes twice a day (morning and evening). Add a twenty–minute walking session for each day. Do this from Monday to Friday.
Week 3: Emotions & Hindrances
The past two exercises instructed you to disregard emotions and hindrances, and to focus on breath and sensations, instead. This week, you’ll learn how to properly deal with them.
There are five classical hindrances to meditation practice: desire, aversion, sleepiness, restlessness, and doubt. In handling them, you have to know the following:
– What is it?
– What does it feel like?
– What is its nature?
– Why are you feeling it?
Being familiar with how an emotion manifests in your body and how you act it out is beneficial to this exercise. By answering these questions, you explore the inner machinations of a particular hindrance and your reaction to it.
The first step of this exercise is recognition. As you experience a variety of emotions, you must learn to recognize them but not identify with them. Instead of saying, “I am happy,” say “This is happiness.”
The second step is acceptance. It is easier to deny feeling an emotion specially if it is unpleasant, but you need to accept and feel them as they are. Acceptance will pave the way for the third step which is nonidentification with the emotion. You must acknowledge that emotions arise from a specific condition. They are stimulated by corresponding triggers. And most of all, they are fleeting.
Schedule: Practice seated meditation for thirty minutes in the morning and in the evening. Include two periods of walking meditation, of any length, in the course of the day. Pay particular attention to emotions and hindrances, working with them according to the instructions above. Do these from Monday to Friday.
Week 4: Thoughts
In this final week, you will turn your attention to your thoughts. Through the last method, you will continue to develop what you have learned so far.
Nothing distracts us more from meditation than our thoughts. They consume us in a way that we often do not notice. To turn them into objects of meditation, we must observe the difference between being lost in thought and being mindful of it.
How? First, imagine your mind as a blank screen. For five minutes, notice how one thought progresses to another, and count each. Some may arise with feelings or experiences while others are more subtle. Watch them with mindful awareness.
Categorize your thoughts. Are they judging? A memory? Take note of how your body responds to each thought. You can also name the top ten “tapes” that are always playing on your mind. Acknowledge a thought’s manifestation. The emotion that accompanies it may give an insight to why it is often recurring.
Schedule: Increase your seated-meditation commitment to forty-five-minute sessions in the morning and in the evening. Also include two periods of walking meditation, of any length, in the course of the day. Do this from Monday to Friday.
This is a challenge. In order to finish it, you must have the guts, discipline, and commitment. Try it out and see the wonders that reflection and meditation may bring.
You can also try out this wonderful book from Sharon: