If you’re a stressed, busy person who feels the need to learn meditation but the idea of finding 30 or 40 minutes to meditate is itself stressful, this CD is for you. Short “power meditations” such as these – between three and nine minutes in length – can be highly beneficial for busy people. Each practice teaches a specific and powerful technique for quickly transforming the mind, encouraging the rapid development of calmness, spaciousness, and relaxation.
MEDITATION 1 – GROUNDING THE MIND
As soon as you try to meditate you begin to see just how unruly the mind is as it wanders here and there in a seemingly random way. This gives us an opportunity to see how much of the time we live on automatic pilot. When we’re on automatic pilot the mind often manifests thought patterns such as blaming, anger, frustration, doubt, avoidance, and anxiety. These kinds of thoughts cause us suffering, but often we’re not even aware that we’re suffering.
Mindfulness is the antidote to life on automatic pilot. Mindfulness is an attitude of conscious awareness of our experience in which we take responsibility for our own mental states. The starting point for developing mindfulness is to consciously become aware of the sensations of the body; the aspect of our experience that it’s easiest to become mindful of. Of course what happens is that the mind starts to wander. At this point we’ve lost our mindfulness, and are back on automatic pilot. Becoming distracted is inevitable and nothing to be concerned about. What we do when we realize that we’ve been distracted is to step back into our present moment experience by becoming aware of the body once again. When we notice that the mind is indulging in regret, frustration, or anger about having been distracted, we simply note that these things are happening and return to the body. Over time we start to notice that the mind is calming down, that the body is relaxing, and that we’re feeling more content.
This practice is your “home base” and creates a foundation for every other meditation practice that follows. I’d suggest coming back to this one over and over. [Download this file here]
IN DAILY LIFE: Keep bringing your awareness to the body as you go about everyday activities. You may find it useful to keep your awareness focused in the hara, which is a point two finger-widths below the navel and the same distance into the body. The hara is the physical center of the body, and keeping our awareness focused on that point helps to center and ground the mind.
MEDITATION 2 – OPENING THE MIND
This is a simple yet effective practice that illustrates how the way we pay attention changes the nature of our experience. We have different ways of looking, both at the external world and, more metaphorically, in the mind, and the way we look determines the nature of our experience. We can look in a tight, narrow, focused way, which leads to physical tension inner tunnel vision and mental strain, or we can look in a more open and receptive way, taking awareness right to the periphery of our vision. Looking in this way leads to greater relaxation and calmness.
So-called “tunnel vision” is associated with the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the so-called fight or flight response and leads to stress. The more open, receptive way of seeing, by contrast, promotes activity in the parasympathetic nervous system, which brings the mind, body, and emotions back into a state of rest. [Download this file here]
IN DAILY LIFE: Going into peripheral vision is something that can be used during “down time,” helping to create a resting space during the day, or can be used as to stay relaxed while engaged in presentations and public speaking.
MEDITATION 3 – BREATHING IN, BREATHING OUT
While Meditation 2 (“Opening the Mind”) shows us that how we pay attention affects the mind, this exercise teaches us that what we pay attention to likewise affects our mental and emotional states.
Paying attention to the physical sensations of the breath is probably the oldest form of meditation known. The breath has the advantage that it’s always present, that it’s an experience of the body, which helps to ground the mind, and that it’s intimately connected with our emotional states. Simply bringing the mind patiently back to the breath over and over again will have the effect of calming the mind and resolving stress. (We don’t, in this form of meditation, control the breath in any way but simply allow the breath to find its own pace). [Download this file here]
However, there are different effects on the mind depending on whether the in breath or the out breath is paid attention to. When we emphasize awareness of the out breath, for example by counting after each exhalation, we tune in to the sense of letting go that takes place every time we breathe out. Each exhalation involves a sense of physically letting go, and this has the effect of calming the mind. On the other hand, the act of paying attention to the in breath through counting before each inhalation makes us aware of the sense of expansion and energizing that takes place each time we breathe in. This tends to have a stimulating effect on the mind, helping us to be more alert and focused. [Download this file here]
IN DAILY LIFE: Any time you have a pause in your activities, such as between tasks or when sitting at traffic lights, or when you realize that you’re becoming stressed, bring your awareness to the breath. If you feel in need of a calming influence, begin counting out breaths. If you sense that you need more energy, count before each in breath.
MEDITATION 4 – INTERCONNECTEDNESS
A sense of being isolated from the world saps our confidence by making us seem small and insignificant. This meditation is a reflection on interconnectedness, in which we reflect on how the breath connects us with other living things. For example each out breath helps to create rainforests, and the air you are breathing right now comes from the forest. Rather than seeing yourself as isolated, you can come to appreciate yourself as part of a greater whole. This realization can be very empowering. [Download this file here]
IN DAILY LIFE: Pause before you eat or drink anything, and reflect upon not only where the food came from but on the many people (farmers, transportation workers, store employees, etc) who were involved in bringing it to you. The next time you pass a tree, give some thought to the fact that the tree is partially made up of carbon dioxide that you’ve breathed out in the past (and is therefore partly you) and that you contain oxygen that the tree has given out (and so you are partly the tree).
MEDITATION 5 – PROTECTED BY LIGHT
At one time I worked in a Buddhist printing cooperative in Glasgow, and when things got stressful I would find it useful to look at a poster that was on the wall. The poster depicted a scene from the Buddha’s life, in which he is experiencing his spiritual awakening while seated under the Bodhi tree. At that moment he experiences doubt and begins to question his right to experience the bliss and insight that is arising in him. Iconographically and mythically this is portrayed as an army of demonic forms assaulting the Buddha by firing arrows, and hurling rocks, spears, and other weapons at him. However the Buddha is protected by an aura, and whenever the demons’ weapons touch this aura they are transformed into beautiful flowers that fall harmlessly to the ground. I found that by imagining that I was similarly protected by an aura, my mind was protected against stress. The sources of stress were outside of me, and the aura protected me from any harmful influences.
This protective aura can also be used to provide a sense of cherishing others if we expand our own aura to embrace others around us or if we imagine people in distant places surrounded by their own protective auras. Interestingly, caring for others has also been shown to reduce our own stress. [Download this file here]
IN DAILY LIFE: As you go about your daily activities, and especially at times of stress, visualize your protective aura and imagine that external sources of stress cannot affect you. Extend your protection to others by embracing them in your own aura.
MEDITATION 6 – HEALING LIGHT MEDITATION
Appealing to a “higher power” is common in all meditative and prayer traditions, even in nontheistic traditions such as Buddhism. Exercises such as this one, in which we imagine that we are receiving light and love from an external source in the form of a ray of light that touches the heart, tap into the powerful resources of the unconscious, making more energy available for coping with everyday life. [Download this file here]
IN DAILY LIFE: In any periods of down time, close your eyes, bring your awareness to the heart area, and imagine that a ray of loving light is flowing to your heart. If it helps you to see this light as coming from a religious source then feel free to do so, but it’s okay to be “creatively vague” about the source of these qualities.
MEDITATION 7 – BEING IN THE MOMENT
Anyone who has tried meditation has realized – perhaps with a certain amount of shock – just how much the mind wanders. We bring our awareness to the breath, which seems easy enough until we realize that for the last five minutes we’ve been daydreaming. The mind likes to wander. Much of this wandering is remarkably useless and even bad for us. We spend a surprising amount of time wishing that the past had been different, or worrying about things in the future that we have little or no control over. Mindfulness keeps on bringing us back to our present-moment experience, which in reality is the only thing we have. The past is gone and the future is just an idea. All we ever have in our experience is this eternally unfolding present moment. When we start to realize that every experience is unique and will never happen again, we begin to value our experience – and the present moment – more than ever before. [Download this file here]
IN DAILY LIFE: When you find yourself thinking about the past or future, come back to your present moment experience – sensing the body, your breathing, and noting how you feel – and realizing that thoughts about the past and future are just thoughts. You are here, now, so cherish this moment for it will never come again.
MEDITATION 8 – MEETING PAIN WITH COMPASSION
A lot of our suffering is self-imposed. We take an original painful episode in our lives – perhaps something that has been said to us that we didn’t like – and we replay it over and over again, in effect forcing ourselves to repeat that suffering. And we take the suffering further by creating stories – stories about our own unworthiness, thoughts about how these things shouldn’t happen to us, angry thoughts about revenge, thoughts about further things that might go wrong – that cause us further pain.
Mindfulness has been shown in medical and therapeutic contexts to lessen anxiety and stress by reducing “rumination”. There are benefits to cultivating the quality of acceptance so that we can allow a sense of hurt to exist in the heart without spiraling off into thoughts that only multiply the discomfort we feel. [Download this file here]
IN DAILY LIFE: When you find that you’ve called to mind a circumstance that’s caused you pain, see if you can accept the unpleasant feelings that have arisen. Moreover, see if you can wish the hurting part of you well, embracing it in a field of tender care.
MEDITATION 9 – THREE MINUTE BREATHING SPACE
This short meditation – even more than the others on this CD – is designed to be brought into daily life. The three-minute breathing space is an opportunity to pause momentarily amidst the day’s busyness, so that you can regain a sense of balance. First we step out of automatic pilot by noticing what’s going on in our experience this very moment. We then bring awareness to the breathing, letting go on each out breath. Finally, we expand awareness back into the whole of our experience, including our experience of the world around us, before returning to activity. [Download this file here]
IN DAILY LIFE: Just do it! Take three minute breaks from your daily schedule, perhaps in pauses between tasks, or as breaks when things are becoming stressful.