2020 so far has been a roller-coaster, to say the least. Wildfires, escalating tensions with Iran, an impeachment, Kobe’s death, volcano eruptions, locusts, a global pandemic, economic slowdown, racism and police brutality,…
All of these events, whether or not we are directly affected, can constantly weigh on our minds. Many of us have experienced to varying degrees symptoms of stress and anxiety, leading to fatigue, loss of concentration and sleeplessness.
Over the past two months, Dr. Chee Hong Young has been hosting biweekly guided meditation sessions to help us understand how to strive for calm and happiness in the midst of the fear and uncertainty that’s happening all around us. Having experienced the peaceful concentration that comes from drinking tea with awareness and attention, I began my own journey to establish a space for healing and restful peace. Here, I want to share my takeaways from building a meditation practice into my daily routine.
First, an introduction to mindfulness of breathing
During the last two lectures, Dr. Young introduced the meditation practice of breathing with awareness-attention, otherwise commonly known as mindfulness of breathing meditation. This practice was passed down from the Buddha, who also taught his path of training the mind through developing morality, virtue, universal love and compassionate wisdom. It is worthwhile to approach the meditation practice with a feeling of gratitude and thankfulness, which can empower us to draw upon the inspiration from the fearless and peaceful wisdom of the Buddha and his teachings.
To begin, choose a meditation posture that works best for you, where you can be in a comfortable, relaxed, but upright and anchored position. A relaxed body is the prerequisite to a concentrated mind
The Full Lotus: with left foot over the right thigh and right foot over the left thigh
The Half Lotus: with just one foot over the thigh of the other leg
The Open Position: both feet down on the ground
You can also choose to be seated in a chair. If you do so, sit naturally straight and try not to lean back into the chair unless you have to due to health reasons, as that may induce drowsiness. It is important to stay alert and aware during meditation. Your feet should be firmly planted on the floor. You may choose to lightly close your eyes, keep them open or half closed.
If you get uncomfortable or feel pain at any point, do not fight the pain. Stretch out your body and adjust so that you are comfortable before going back to the position of your choice.
You will be introduced to three stages of breathing meditation.
Before beginning the meditation practice, it helps to take 3 deep breaths to settle your awareness. Then, breathe as you normally would, with your attention centered on your breath, without forcing any changes to your breathing pattern.
Inhale and exhale as you normally would. At the end of your exhale, count 1. Then, inhale. At the end of your next exhale, count 2. Count at the end of each exhale, up to 10. Then, count from 1 again. If at any point in this stage you lose count of your breath, start from 1 again.
At the beginning of your inhale, count “1, 2, 3…”, so on, up to 10. Similarly, if you lose count at any point, start from 1 again.
After some practice on Stage 1 and 2, you may begin to feel that the counting gets distracting. Thus, when you are confident of your breath awareness, let go of the counting, and just be aware of your breathing.
In the beginning, practice with just Stage 1 and 2. Once you are more confident with the meditation practice, add on Stage 3. Meditate for about 5 minutes in each stage. When you are done, stretch out, and you will be ready to face your daily activities ahead.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Each meditation practice is different, because our bodies and our minds are subject to different conditions and causes every day. Some days, my mind races with thoughts, and other days, it is more settled in the moment. But with each meditation practice, it becomes just a little bit easier to call attention to the breath. When I first attended the guided breath meditation with Dr. Young, 10 minutes felt like eternity – it can be hard to sit still and be focused on one element! Admittedly, that level of concentration is still difficult, but I am now truly grateful for the time each day that I spend away from the screen, away from distractions, to discover more about myself.
Self Awareness Leads to Better Self Care
Self-care is a popular topic these days, and we have all heard to some degree about how we can practice self-care, but sometimes we still get so caught up in our anxiety and worries that it’s hard to even notice where we are hurting or how we are feeling. When we meditate mindfully, with awareness and attention in the moment, we become more self-aware, both of our body’s sensations, and of our mind’s distractions. We learn how to take a break, pull the mind out from being aimless, caught in draining emotions. If we are aware of what’s happening, we can intervene there and then as we feel these emotions arising in our minds, thus disengaging from the negativity. I believe that only with better awareness, can we then be equipped to exercise self-attention, self-care, and self-love. When we know that feelings are impermanent, we can then condition the arising of positive mental states and the joyful mind to support our wellbeing.
These days, I’m beginning to find subtle changes in my physical and mental well-being: my muscles are less tense, I fall asleep more easily, and my emotions are more regulated. This doesn’t mean I don’t get distracted or feel emotional with all the things going on around me, but I know now that I can look inwards to find some peace when I feel overwhelmed
A Kinder, More Compassionate World
It seems counter-intuitive, but I believe that by bringing our attention inwards through meditation, we will also be able to create more positivity in the world around us. As Dr. Young mentions, one key practice to condition our arising of positive mental states is the cultivation of goodness. By doing good deeds and spreading positivity to people around us, we can enjoy a confident and joyful mind. Conversely, if we do harmful deeds, our minds will be burdened with regret, insecurity, and fear of reprisals. Thus, our intentional actions leave strong imprints on our minds. When we have caring consideration for ourselves and for others, we can then develop a mind which is more easily at ease.
Be True (and Kind) to Yourself
For me, meditation is a journey to discover more about myself, not to force myself to become someone I’m not. There really is no “right” way to meditate, to think or to feel. Our minds and our bodies all work in different ways, so ultimately, our experiences should differ as well. If you find it easier to meditate in a certain position, do that. If 15 minutes of meditation is too long for you, try 10, even 5 minutes. If you’re plagued with passing thoughts and distractions, don’t beat yourself down for it or suppress those thoughts. Notice the thoughts, and let them go. It’s easier to build concentration and awareness when we accept what our mind and body is telling us. And finally, if you just can’t get into meditation, that’s ok too. Just start with a nice cup of tea.
ABOUT DR. CHEE HONG YOUNG
Dr. Chee Hong Young holds a doctorate in Chemical Engineering. He began his working career as a university lecturer and later spent twenty-four years in the petrochemical industry, where he started as an engineer and progressed to managing the development of multimillion dollar engineering projects.
He has been practicing meditation and studying the Buddhadhamma since his University student days, and has given numerous public talks in Singapore and Malaysia on the subject.
In 2016 he published a book titled: An Approach to Living and Joyful Growth, available on Amazon.