One conscious breath in and out is a meditation. – Eckhart Tolle.
This past month in NYC, Geshe Michael Roach offered a talk about the benefits of meditation and ways to develop insight about one’s self through practice. Geshe Michael is a renowned Buddhist scholar and meditation teacher and was the first Westerner to attain the degree of Geshe, the highest level of academic achievement for Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. He has written numerous books and articles and founded The Three Jewels, a yoga, Dharma, meditation and outreach center in the East Village of Manhattan.
While much of the wisdom and compassion that Geshe Michael shared at a free lecture at Lincoln Center was profound and rooted in thousands of years of scholarship about various aspects of meditation, one of the most tangible themes that he touched on was the value of committing to even a short meditation practice.
As a Geshe, he studied for over 20 years in Tibetan monasteries and has undergone training in deep levels of highly specialized and esoteric meditation practice. And yet, as he introduced the discussion on ways meditating can help change our relationships with ourselves and the world around us, this teacher emphasized the value of even a 5 minute practice. He joked at one point that when he times his practice he targets 5 minutes because “that’s as long as I can really meditate for anyways.”
But despite the lighthearted delivery of this theme, the value of his message cannot be underestimated. Meditation is often associated with habits of long sitting practice on a cushion in complete or relative silence with very rigid or prescribed techniques. (And certainly, when practicing regularly we may find it available and beneficial to dedicate ourselves to longer sessions.) However, the essence of beginning a practice is the dedication to doing it regularly, with sustainability, and with a gentle approach that does not discourage the activity. This is one of the most important aspects of building a foundation for meditating.
The key thing about starting with just 5 minutes is that no matter what else is going on in our lives, regardless of family, career and social obligations, we can easily make space to find five minutes. In fact, one of the suggestions is that we find five-minute intervals throughout the day. Even for those of us juggling multiple commitments, we can usually connect with five-minute gaps to catch our breath and get centered again. And although five minutes may not seem like much, the benefits of regularly practicing even for short intervals can be amazing.
A regular practice can help us to check in with what’s going on internally so that we are not just functioning on autopilot. Particularly when our very busy lives demand sustained mental engagement on various tasks, it can be so helpful to take a step back, to really see how our minds are functioning, to observe the qualities of our thoughts and feelings and not just follow them. We begin to know ourselves differently, to become friends with ourselves and with whatever is going on in our hearts and minds. In this respect, it is wonderful to recognize that meditation can be an act of love: Being present with ourselves, not trying to change anything or take anything away.
And a regular practice also can help us to develop insights about our sense of balance and ways me might be developing attachments to material things, to pleasure seeking, to food, or to other gratifications that provide temporary distractions. We can begin to see where our minds might be grasping and clinging for some relief, and maybe to understand what is really at the heart of that relief-seeking.
So even if committing to a meditation practice has felt cumbersome or intimidating in the past, perhaps discovering ways of seeing it as more attainable–and sustainable–can help to provide the necessary motivation to really embrace it. There is a vast universe inviting us to come inside and discover what can be seen.
Written by Gabriel Woodhouse for bodono.
Gabriel Woodhouse is one of the teachers at Three Jewels which offers free meditation classes every weekday morning and on Friday evenings. Three Jewels functions as a Meditation, Yoga, Dharma, and Outreach Center for the community. More info at: threejewels.org