The Long Game
This article was featured in Yoga Journal as part of a meditation series by Richard Miller. This is his tenth in a series of 10 columns designed to help you create a lasting and impactful meditation practice.
How to make meditation a way of life. By Richard Miller, PhD
Meditation has countless real-life applications. The practice teaches you how to recognize and respond in a constructive way, rather than recoil or react impulsively. The benefits of sitting can be applied wherever you are, to whatever you’re doing, and with whomever you’re communicating with. But that doesn’t mean you should resign yourself to being trapped seated on your mat for endless hours. True, the teachings are designed first to be a disciplined practice, but then they and the benefit should carry into your daily life, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for the rest of your life. That’s why I invite you to make meditation a practice for the long haul, wherever life takes you. Here’s how.
Meditation is organized around core principles, including the notion that you are innately whole, that well-being is accessible, that your thoughts and emotions are messengers, and that awareness is key. But the most fundamental principle underlying meditation is that of welcoming. Welcoming is your ability to accept and respond gracefully to your every experience, as opposed to engaging a dismissive, reactive attitude. Welcoming each moment keeps you connected with yourself and others. It enables you to avoid knee-jerk reactions and remain at peace and in harmony with the world around you. Welcoming is like stepping back and getting perspective on a situation you remain intimately connected with your experience, but also know yourself as something more than your experience. This enables you to feel yourself as the spacious openness of awareness, which is different from simply being aware. When you are aware, the emphasis is on what you are aware of. When you are awareness, the emphasis is on awareness itself. As awareness, you are outside of judging, resisting, refusing, or trying to change experiences, feelings, emotions, and reactions that arise, even if resistance and refusal are what’s arising. You’re simply OK being in the moment.
Admittedly, it can be hard to feel welcoming when what you’re feeling or receiving is not especially comfortable, such as jealousy or anger. The sense of disharmony that accompanies uncomfortable feelings is part of life. So, think of disharmonious feelings as messengers that help you recognize there are actions you can take to be more in harmony with your body and mind. For example, when a virus infects you, you get a fever, which is your body’s way of alerting you to the presence of infection. In the same way, the emotional upset you may experience from, for example, coveting a friend’s job or wealth warns
you that your reality is different from your expectation. In these moments, you can consider the disharmonious feelings of jealousy and anger, as well as their somatic symptoms (say, a contracted stomach or a gut feeling that something’s not right), as messengers. These messengers are your body’s and mind’s way of getting your attention; they are disharmony’s way of asking you to stop, assess, and take action to help you restore health and harmony within.
So, when disharmony comes, don’t turn away or try to get rid of it. Refusing only leads to greater disharmony. Remember: Your willngness to welcome disharmony enables you to respond to what life is asking of you in the moment. The practice of meditation teaches you to realize this truth and provides you with the tools that enable you to locate harmonious responses, such as practicing patience and perspective, for every experience you have.
The complete practice of meditation
I like to think of complete yogic meditation in 10 steps, with welcoming interwoven into each one. You can practice each step individually, or approach them all together, sequentially, as a comprehensive meditation. Here are the 10 essential components that comprise the comprehensive practice of yogic meditation:
1. Experience the universal life force that has given birth to you and to the entire cosmos, and that provides you with a sense of value, meaning, and purpose.
2. Acknowledge your intentions.
3. Recognize your deepest heartfelt desire for your life.
4. Acknowledge your unchanging inner resource of being.
5. Welcome your body as sensation,
6. and as energy.
7. Engage opposites of emotion
8. and opposite thoughts
9. Invite joy and well-being into every cell of your body
10. Experience yourself as a unique expression of life, interconnected with the entire universe.
Each step is explained in detail in my previous columns.
Meditation, like life, is a journey. Be gentle with yourself. Nourish patience, curiosity, persistence, and perseverance. Know that countless others are walking the path of meditation with you. Feel their support and know that you can walk the path, too!
PRACTICE: A MEDITATION TO MAKE YOU WHOLE
Here is a daily practice to help refine your ability to craft beneficial responses to whatever life throws your way, and to bring lasting peace, no matter your circumstances:
With your eyes open or closed, welcome the environment and sounds around you: the touch of air on your skin, the sensations where your body touches the surface that’s supporting it.
Welcome every cell throughout your body to join and experience the underlying pulse or throb of the universal life force that is animating and enlivening every atom, molecule, and cell throughout your body and the entire cosmos.
Welcome and affirm the feeling of life flowing through you and giving you purpose, meaning, and value.
Welcome and affrm intentions for this meditation, as well as for daily life, that help you realize your heartfelt mission.
Welcome and affirm your inner resource, the unchanging well-being and feeling of security that make you at ease in this and every moment.
Welcome sensations in your jaw, mouth, ears, eyes, forehead and scalp, neck, shoulders, arms, palms and fingers, torso, legs, and feet. Welcome sensations in your entire body and feel your body as a field of radiant sensation.
Feel yourself as the observer of all the sensations that are present. Affrm: I am aware. I am at ease. I am safe and secure with myself.
Sense your body breathing, your abdomen expanding with each inhalation and releasing with each exhalation. On each exhale, affirm: I am aware and at ease.
Note and welcome emotions and thoughts that are present, without trying to change them. Welcome your experience just as it is.
If it’s helpful, note and experience opposites of the emotions and thoughts that are present, noting that these emotions and thoughts, and their opposites, are messengers inviting you to find the right actions to take in your life. Affim: I have within me the perfect response to each moment.
Welcome the ease and joy of simply being. Welcome yourself as the observer of everything that you’re experiencing.
Notice how everything is arising and passing away in your awareness. Welcome yourself as the spacious openness of awareness—undeniable, indescribable, everywhere, inside and outside.
Welcome the feeling of being a unique expression of the universe, while being interconnected with the entire universe. Feel the life force that has created the entire universe living in you as its unique expression. Sense everything as a unique expression yet interconnected through the underlying essence of life.
As you’re ready, open and close your eyes several times while welcoming your inner resource of well-being. Feel grounded and connected to yourself and the world around you. Feel the universal life force that is giving your life purpose, meaning, and value.
Eventually, come back to your wide- awake state of mind and body, allowing the feeling of well-being to remain with you as you move back into your daily life, feeling gratitude for taking this time to experience your health, healing,and wholeness.
Nourish your intention to make the practice of meditation your own. Be patient with yourself as you build a relationship with your practice enlightenment doesn’t happen overnight, but you will notice small changes right away. Feel free to utilize music, artwork, journaling, and other components. Take time to practice each step independently, as well as engage all 10 steps together. Allow meditation, over time, to be your trusted friend whom you can call upon in every moment, throughout your lifetime. The key to carrying the benefits of meditation with you into the long term is to practice regularly. Don’t forget to pass on what you’ve learned, too, so others are inspired to consider how meditation might work for them. Become a light for those around you, as we are all brothers and sisters together on this journey called life.
Richard Miller, PhD, is the founding president of the iRest Institute (irest.us) and co-founder of the International Association of Yoga Therapists.