Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.
Meditation is a practice of beginners mind. It is a study of life as it unfolds, a study of our bodies, and our minds, both in the moment and in it’s conditioned response, the wandering, the worrying, the planning, the reactions. When we meditate we open a space of observation to witness whether we are “here or there”! In the beginning, it is fascinating, (or for some frustrating) to find that we are more often there than here, but with practice and a regularly renewed commitment we will eventually gain more mastery over recognizing and making a choice of where we want to be.
The thing that makes this difficult is our busy-full minds. We have been feeding this mind machine all our lives, every thing we’ve learned, every thought and every experience has been stored in our minds and stress, anxiety, overwhelm, even chronic illnesses are a sign that it’s time to clean out, recycle, dump, let go of and wipe clean this container and give ourselves a chance to feel what it’s like to not be operating at capacity all the time. The interesting thing is that this begs the question, is emptiness our natural state of being/awareness? Does our mind that we have filled to capacity have a core state that was empty at one time? Perhaps this is why when we do things like meditate or other activities that empty the mind we feel enormous relief.
A good analogy for meditating is like cleaning out your garage! We open the garage door and stand outside of it and see all the junk that we have packed in there for so many years. We can feel our breath change as the sense of overwhelm hits us, but we don’t have to go in there yet, we can stand our ground and simply breathe until that feeling settles within us, even resolves and transforms into the next feeling and the next. As we learn to deal with our feelings first instead of our thoughts our energy rises and suddenly we feel curious about what is in each box, each pile and can sort through it all CHOOSING what we want to keep and what we can let go of.
When we meditate we are practicing noticing, the breath-by-breath awareness of the new, the presence and the passing away of each moment. In fact the breath is the perfect guide to living in the moment, to riding that wave of impermanence.
A New Year brings with it the opportunity to give ourselves permission to let go and head out into the unknown of the future with some excitement, even with renewed plans, hopes and aspirations! Let’s make a New Years resolution together that we will practice allowing and accepting life as it unfolds by simply breathing in the new and breathing out the old, moment-by-moment, embracing and releasing this precious life by truly participating in it. Honoring it with our attention, blessing it with our breath, and even opening our hearts to all the possibilities that come with that!
Find a comfortable position with your back supported. It really is okay to be comfortable; this is not a punishment, or some austere challenge against you. It is very common in meditation class that beginners are worried about sitting in the “right way”, putting themselves in a state of tension and awkward unnatural positioning because they think that is what meditation is all about. On the contrary, it is about finding your natural self underneath all the tension. Noticing who you are, how you feel, underneath all the concepts and expectations. So I say, begin by being comfortable enough to just let go, let yourself be held, supported and relax into your body and breath.
Let your hands rest in your lap, unclasped, open palms either up or down. Lower your chin just slightly until you feel the back of your neck lengthen and the top of your head stretch toward the sky. Begin with three deep breaths, slowly and deeply breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth to signal to the body and the mind that you are settling in for the ride.
Move the breath through the body starting at the feet, this scan helps you tune into the sensations that are present now and your relationship to them. Breath into your feet, then up into your ankles, taking your time, using each breath to stop feel into the space and then move naturally on the next breath. Breathe into your shins and calves, your knees thighs and hips. Fill your low belly and low back with breath and release it on the exhale, softening as you go. Feel your sides, your ribs and middle back expand with breath, your chest and even under your arms. Widen your collarbones and release your shoulders down your arms and into your hands. Feeling the weight and sensations of your fingers. Soften your jaw as you breath, parting the teeth slightly, roll the eyes down softly toward the floor and feel the scalp and hair and back of the neck as your breath softens and flows naturally.
This is the moment. Each breath you take marking a spark of something new and a release of something old. Allow yourself to be with it, to follow it, to flow with it. When you feel yourself contracting with discomfort or wandering away from this flow, just gently bring yourself back, by deepening a breath, resettling back into this moment, and saying silently to yourself, “here”, on each breath, “I am here”.
Try setting a time for about 10 minutes at first, using the time to get settled in to your body and then to do the breathing and the body scan. Once you settled “in” let yourself just BE, follow the breath and feel the moments of flow and the moments of resistance.
Wishing you peace and ease.
Lori at OM