A simple act with a transforming effect

“How strange it is that such a simple act – sitting motionless, calming the mind, and letting the heart turn toward realms beyond the ordinary – can have such transforming effects,” writes George Leonard in The Way of Aikido.  

This week we are looking at some of the key learnings from George’s book which apply to our lives beyond the aikido mat.  Today, we revisit the practice and power of meditation or mindfulness. 

O Sensei, the founder of aikido spent many hours in meditation and the practice is offered at many dojos as part of or in addition to physical aikido. 

Getting started in meditation is surprisingly simple, George tells us.

Wear clothing that do not constrict the body.

Assume a sitting position on a floor cushion with back straight and legs crossed or sit in a straight-backed chair.

Place hands on  knees, either palms up or palms down.  Or hands can be cupped in lap with thumbs touching (as they are in most Zen practices).

Gently straighten spine.  Relax shoulders.  The aim is an alert, yet relaxed posture.

In some forms of meditation, the eyes are kept closed.  It’s also possible to meditate with eyes open.  Maintain a soft and relaxed focus, looking downward as if gazing at a gentle stream.

Once comfortable, let belly expand with each breath.  Make sure the breath isn’t confined to chest. Anchor attention on the rise and fall of breathing. Focus on the lower abdomen and return to it any time our mind wanders.

Don’t try  to “stop thinking” – a daunting task.  Instead, remain calmly present to our stream of consciousness.  Witness each wayward thought and let it pass.

Some meditators simply sit still.  Others repeat a mantra, a word or phrase, to help focus attention and stop the verbal chatter of the mind. Still others count breaths.  

“The meditative experience of awareness beyond the ordinary sense of self can produce a buoyancy and calm that spills over into the rest of [my] life,” writes George.  As we continue meditating, we “may realize that [we] are more than any idea or mental picture, more than any emotion, more than any impulse, more than any bodily process, more than any pattern of experience with which [we] typically identify,” George states.  We “may find that this something more expresses itself in religious terms, or simply as boundless space or unbroken essence that connects [us] with everything.”
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Reflection:  As I prepare for a new year, how might a meditation or mindfulness practice benefit me?  

Action:  Commit to experimenting with a mindfulness practice today or tomorrow morning.

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