I have just returned from retreat at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and I have to say it could not have come at a better time. I have been on spring break this past week, but my mind has certainly not been at rest. Since my retreat at IMS, my practice has faltered a bit, but this was a great refresher and has also given me some perspective on my practice since I have had some time to reflect on my experience at IMS, but it was also a much shorter retreat and had a different feel to it. From my experiences, I have compiled a list of some “stuff” that has really been working for me lately.
1. Samadhi (Concentration Meditation)
This is the first type of meditation I was taught. In this meditation, you pick a point of focus, typically the breath or your sitting points (ie your booty), and you keep your mind focused on this point for the duration of your meditation. When (not if) your mind becomes distracted, you simply notice it and return to your point of attention. I began my practice focusing on the tip of my nose because it was simple and I could feel a physical sensation for my inhales and exhales. Another form of this meditation that I have started to turn to is listening meditation, in which you become aware of the sounds around you and choose those as your point of attention. Even something as annoying as a car horn for the screeching of the train on the tracks becomes another point of awareness. Because a lot of my anxiety arises from concerns about my physical health, a lot of these issues arise when I focus on a body part (ie I constantly think I’m having a heart attack). By focusing on an external stimuli, I have been able to remain more focused on my object of attention. I have noticed that through this practice, my attention and concentration in other parts of my life, such as focusing in class or even just holding a conversation, has drastically improved.
2. Vipassana (Insight Meditation)
I have less experience with vipassana, but in the small amount of insight meditation I have done, its benefits have proved to be numerous, as this is the meditation that most yogis strive for (concentration meditation is a stepping stone toward this). It is an opening up of the concentration meditation, where instead of concentrating on a simple point of attention, one becomes open to all experience and sensations, all without judgment. When a moment of anxiety or worry arises, one simply notices and explores the sensations if he or she wishes. The intention of the meditation is not to leave a person devoid of emotion, but simply to allow people to become aware of their bodily states and perceptions so that they cause less suffering for the yogi because he or she has learned how to control them. On the T on the way home today, I started to have some migraine symptoms from having woken up at 7 in the morning and having eaten nothing but soup and bread the entire day. I had been practicing listening meditation because being on the T is a bit of an overwhelming experience. When I noticed that my head started to hurt, I shifted my awareness to the point where the pain began and became aware of the sensation. I then noticed that I was growing anxious because I hate getting migraines and I noticed that my heart was starting to feel tight. Then I realized that these were only sensations and sensations are temporary. My heart began calming down and the tension in my head drew its course and disappeared.
3. Metta (Loving-kindness Meditation)
Although its the title of my blog, I haven’t talked about metta very much. It is essentially a meditation mantra full of love and goodwill that one expresses toward oneself, then moves on to family and friends, neutral individuals, and finally their enemies. These phrases are as simple as “May I be well. May you be happy. May we all be at peace.” The idea is to start with the person it would be easiest to wish these intentions upon, even if it is not yourself, and gradually shift toward people who you may believe don’t even deserve these thoughts. Our instructor today, Michael Grady, said that he used the phrase, “May I be at ease” whenever he was feeling anxious. Its not a bad thing to have in your pocket to use on a bad or even a neutral day and the more you practice it, the more effect it will have. This is something I have not done often and I still have trouble doing (especially with myself), but I continue to strive toward it.
The chant that I originally learned on retreat at IMS can be found here in original Pali (the language of the Buddha) and in English along with a recording of the chant. I just randomly googled this, but it appears this person also first heard the chant at IMS!
May we all be happy and healthy