This post is the fourth in a series focusing on my path to Christian Mindfulness. The series starts here.
At the second class of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) we were introduced to a simple form of meditation. We sat on a yoga pillow or chair in an upright position, keeping our body in a relaxed but vertical position. The instructor gently directed us to close our eyes and to focus on our breathing. We kept a non-judgmental focus as we breathed in and out, simply observing how each breath felt and where we experienced it. I noticed my attention focusing on my nostrils as each breath passed in and out of my body. (Afterwards I observed that this kept my observation safely near my “head” since this is my place of security.)
With the instructor’s gentle guidance I was able to stay focused. However, as her vocal instructions became fewer and fewer, my mind tended to drift away on wandering thoughts, “Am I doing this correctly?” “I did this once before in CPE, and it was different.” “Will this work when I go home?”
I was instructed that each time I noticed my mind wandering away to return my attention with gentle compassion to my breath. This was a frequent occurrence since I found my mind wandering off on some tangent ever few breathes. The instructor had warned us that no matter how many times our mind wanders, simple let go of the thought, idea or feeling and bring our attention back to our breath. I remembered the struggle I had had on the PCT, where my mind kept shifting to various thought streams. The solution was to consistently and gently return to the moment. Patience and perseverance were critical components.
Our homework each week was to practice this meditation every day, slowly expanding the amount of time we invested in meditation. By the end of the 10 week class, I was able to meditate for 30 minutes, though I continue to have wandering thoughts that distract me. I continue to patiently bring my attention back to my breath (or my sacred word.)
I thought of my mediation practice as a new form of prayer. Later that summer I would discover centering prayer that closely resembles this form of breath meditation.
Jon Kabat Zin, the principle founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Class, offers a guided meditation exercise at this link
Next post: The Key Ingredients for Meditation
I have done sitting meditation for many years. I found a Zen center in the Chicago area where I now go regularly, and have found it very compatible with my life as a Christian. Several months ago I gave a talk entitled, “A Practicing Catholic, Practicing Zen.” Whether it is Christian Meditation, Centering Prayer, or Zen meditation, it does serve to quiet us and open our hearts.