by Bill Scheffel:When we first sit down to meditate, we cross a boundary not unlike the one from dreams to waking in the night.
To meditate is to experience a categorical shift in our being, it is to come infinitely closer to being itself.
Yet in the first five minutes of meditating it seldom feels like this. Instead it typically feels like we’ve gone from being in mild traffic to driving a highway in Mumbai. If thoughts were cars, we’re suddenly experiencing a million of them.
Why is this?
It is traditionally said that when we begin to practice, we experience our thoughts as if we were standing behind a raging waterfall (a version of Mumbai traffic). This is not because we are thinking more, we are simply experiencing the amount of thought that is normally occurring in our mind – but it takes the contrast of sitting still and doing nothing to recognize this.
Living Within the Paradox
So, the first thing to do is not to fight against our thoughts, much less judge ourselves for having them.
It is ironic how long it takes to not judge ourselves for having thoughts. As more than one teacher has pointed out, having thoughts means that we are alive! There is nothing wrong with thinking.
Yet to meditate is to live within paradox. On the one hand, it is crucial to accept our thoughts, on the other hand, only as thoughts diminish does clear seeing begin to dawn. Truly, we must embrace this paradox. Doing so means to both accept and exert. Acceptance is the expression of self-love, exertion is the expression of commitment through practicing mindfulness.
The Body vs the “Body-Body”
Back to those first five minutes. One of the first things we can become aware of is the difference between body and what Chogyam Trungpa called “body-body.” Body, as we normally experience it, is a collection of concepts, opinions, ideas, attitudes. In other words, we’re just up in our heads.
We experience this intensely in those first five minutes. Gradually, breath by breath, minute by minute we begin to experience body-body. Gradually we make contact with our actual body: a pain in our sacrum, an anxiety in our belly, a fly on our nose. Recognizing the pain, the anxiety, the fly is experiencing clear seeing!
If we are speedy, tired or both, we might journey through those first five minutes lying on our back. Truly! An actual nap might be just what we need. Then meditation.
On the other hand, we could meditate for five minutes (or longer) in the deeply nourishing somatic posture of lying down (it helps to have the knees up, held together with a yoga strap or scarf). Close the eyes, and with each breath let the body relax, let the nervous system discharge, let the breath enter the lower belly.
In the first five minutes of meditation we experience, at least in glimpses, all the potentials of meditation, all of the journey that we can or will eventually take. Sometimes those “first five minutes” are all the minutes we have. Five minutes of meditation can be in itself a complete, potent and beautiful session.
And remember no matter how long one has been practicing, those first five minutes are usually crazy.
Bill Scheffel is a writer, creative writing teaching and videographer who has directed Shambhala Training since 1980. Bill was a student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and taught classes in meditation, creative writing and poetry at Naropa University for thirteen years. Currently, Bill teaches online classes in creative writing and the I Ching. For more on Bill see Vertical Time Yoga.