Awake And At Rest

Rest in natural great peace
This exhausted mind
Beaten helpless by karma and neurotic thought,
Like the relentless fury of the pounding waves
In the infinite ocean of samsara.

Nyoshul Khenpo

In the recent Time Magazine cover story on meditation, writer Joel Stein, in describing a group meditation experience, expressed surprise when the group stopped for a break after 20 minutes. He wrote, “I would not have guessed that sitting on a cushion is an activity that requires a break.” Sitting on a cushion doing nothing should be easy, huh? It is an interesting comment from someone who portrayed himself as a novice meditator. Frequently, beginners find meditation hard work. So do many experienced meditators. Maybe we should adopt Mr. Stein’s ‘beginner’s mind.” Why should sitting be hard?

There is a story of an old Buddhist monk who died seated in his meditation position, and when the last breath left him, he did not move. He merely remained sitting as if he were still meditating. Perhaps that is the model of meditation we should follow. Let the sitting be so effortless that no effort is required to maintain the position. Let our minds be so still that no effort is required to remain calm and awake.

If we are struggling to maintain our meditation position, we haven’t gotten the correct position yet. Ideally, the body would be balanced, so that the head floats upon the neck and the spine holds up the whole works without strain. In a good meditation position the body supports itself. That’s why sitting in the lotus or half lotus position is often recommended. The crossed legs become a firm foundation for the rest of the body like the base of a pyramid supports the peak. When you are piling rocks, the pyramid shape is always the most stable. When you are meditating, a similarly well-balanced position is optimal.

While the body should be stable, balanced and at rest, so should the meditator’s mind. Meditation offers the possibility of taming the wild mind. Letting go of turbulent thoughts, the meditating brain sends signals to its component parts to suppress processes related to fear and anger, and it tells the body/mind to rest and recuperate.

Some of us tend to fall asleep when our minds become calm. That’s a reason to meditate sitting up instead of lying down. If you need sleep, then maybe you should sleep, but if your intention is to meditate, then inviting a state of full awakedness would be better.

Find your preferred meditation position and spend some time becoming aware of your balance point. See if you can find that position where the least effort is required to be upright and still. If you notice muscle tension, see if you can adjust your spinal position so that the tension is reduced. Maybe you need more arch in your back for instance, or you are slumping over somehow.

As you breathe in and out use the phrase “Awake… at rest” to remind yourself of the state you seek. As you breathe in, think the word “Awake.” As you breathe out, think “At rest.” Let the word “awake” remind you to stay alert, positioned and breathing so that you stay awake. Let the phrase, “At rest,” remind you that you intend to be calm, stable, and free of strain.

Back to the Interlude Home Page


© 2003 Tom Barrett