Sitting in meditation is an exercise in trying to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. As human beings we have been conditioned toward wanting to be comfortable all the time, physically and emotionally. We measure our happiness and success by how comfortable we are and we strive endlessly for more. What we may not realize is our endless addiction to comfort has actually made us more stressed, impatient, intolerant, and judgmental and keeps us from being connected to the present and experiencing life as it is.
But what of happiness, is it possible to be happy when we are uncomfortable? Are we willing to be uncomfortable and see if we find happiness, or patience, compassion and even acceptance within our discomfort? This is where meditation comes in. The benefit of training yourself to stay on the spot even when you are uncomfortable, to be the observer and to wait patiently develops the quality of attention that can change your whole experience of your life from one of striving to one of accepting. It makes sense that happiness naturally abides in accepting things.
Meditation is an opportunity to discover what we are truly made of, without striving to “be something” other than what we are! Do we have an inner source of gentleness and kindness and caring? Are we born with a natural reservoir of happiness and content? In traditions that use meditation as a path of self-discovery, the idea is that, these qualities are already in our nature and we have somehow forgotten them in the race for comfort, that by struggling and striving we have lost touch with ourselves.
When we meditate we sit in a place of observation of how things are and notice how our minds react to everything, with thoughts and impulses driving us to act for or against what we observe. As we continue to practice staying with the breath and learn to interrupt the patterns of thoughts and reactions, we begin to notice that a lot of our discomfort exists in our minds and not so much in what’s happening in the present moment. As we continue to follow the breath and observe the body sensations we might find discomfort, sometimes even pain and by tuning into it and tapping into our natural source of attention and with patience, we might find a small adjustment like loosening the jaw, or softening the belly or extending the spine alleviates the pain.
Its all well and good to observe when things are but the big challenge comes when it doesn’t alleviate that pain and discomfort. Can we sit with it and work on letting it be and access that inner place of gentleness and kindness and caring towards how we really feel in that moment. Meditation then is an act of tuning into to our essential selves that exist underneath all the striving for comforts and feel good experiences and can embrace wholeheartedly the full range of our human experience. The benefits then can be an easier going, flexible, open way of being with life, a flow between comfort and discomfort, meeting it all with the same gentle awareness and acceptance.
Sit with your back supported and let your legs be heavy and your feet grounded on the floor if you’re sitting on a chair. If you like to sit on the floor, prop your hips up higher than your knees so your back doesn’t get too tired.
Let your hands rest in your lap, lower your chin slightly and soften your jaw. Allow your gaze to rest on the floor in front of you, or close your eyes, whichever you like.
Begin by taking 3 deep breaths in through the nose and out slowly through the mouth. Then allow the breath to shift to your nostrils, observing how the breath feels going in and out. Just witness it and try not to change it but allow your mind to follow it in and out. If your body feels uncomfortable anywhere try moving your mind and your breath more deeply into that spot and imagine filling that area with breath and watching the tension empty as you exhale. Be patient, if it doesn’t change, let it be what it is. If the pain or discomfort doesn’t go away right away notice how your mind wants to get into the mix and start commenting on what a terrible experience your having! See if you can stay with the breath, let the thoughts go, and fill the space with breath, then empty the space, just minding your breath and allowing things to be exactly as they are. After a few breaths see what has changed.
Continue this practice anywhere from 6-18 minutes. Set a timer for 6 minutes and if you feel like you can go longer, do another 3 minutes, increasing by 3 minute increments as you feel ready. This is a great practice for developing concentration and gentle abiding in an uncomfortable situation without having to do anything about it!
Wishing you peace along your way!