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Monday, May 18, 2009

The Mind Must Sit Down.

When we speak of “taking your seat” for meditation, we often imagine sitting down in the lotus position—but more broadly,... The body can sit down, and the mind must sit down too.

–Arnie Kozak, from Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants

: I really like that last part that the mind must sit down too. I often stretch my legs, back and arms before meditating to prepare my body as well as regulate my breathing with some breathing exercises. However, after reading this simple yet profound quote (at least for me) I realized that I don't do much to stretch my mind before meditating so the body is relaxed, stretched and ready to sit but the mind is still in fifth gear. It helps explain why sometimes It takes a good portion of my meditation session just to get the mind to sit--let alone be mindful of the body and the present moment.

It's like trying to slow down one of those massive semi-trailer trucks (or articulated truck in the U.k.) when it is going at full speed. Even if you hit the brakes immediately upon seeing the obstacle ahead (incessant, circular, mental chattering) it takes awhile to slow the momentum of the heavy laden truck (mind heavy laden with thoughts). However, if the driver sees the obstacle ahead of time he or she can take the necessary precautions to ease into the deceleration.

I think therefore it is helpful to do some preparatory things to relax the mind to be able to ease it into meditation easier. Instead of just plopping down on the cushion after watching an in-depth movie or the news, reading the paper with all it's wild stories or talking gossip on the phone. In particular I am going to try and do some mental stretching before meditating like the physical stretching I already do. Some of these I already do but not with the idea of using them specifically for preparing the mind. These are just some examples of how I want to better use common "rituals" in Buddhism to aid my meditations. Remember, I am not a teacher and these are simply ideas that I am looking into to better enable me to get the most out of my meditation sessions:

Sit and look out the window to ease the mind into less thinking and prepare it rather for contemplation. Thinking as we know involves all kinds of judgments and variables that our mind spins it web with. However, contemplation such as looking out the window and watching the trees swaying in a breeze is more about sime observation, which settles and slows down the mind thus making it a great exercise for the mind before a session.

One thing that I already do is to bow three times in silence before meditating, which I do as a ways of paying homage to Buddha and my teacher. What I didn't realize before putting this post together, however, is that the bowing is a great way to train the mind to prepare for settling down. The mind reacts well to so-called, "sensory triggers" which when established into a habit can aid in preparing oneself for a state of mind like turning a key starts an engine. In this case the touching of hands together, feeling skin on skin and the act of bowing is a physical and mental way of telling the mind that it needs to switch gears, submit and letting go of control.

This goes for using a bell too, which I ring three times before meditating. The crisp, ring of the bell cuts through my mental chattering to focus my mind and slow down the thinking like a yellow traffic light warning cars to slow down and prepare to stop. The sound is like hearing a voice saying, "Listen, listen to the sounds of the present moment and return home."

Another thing I am going to do more of is chanting ahead of trying to settle into a deep meditation. This is mostly because I find that chanting relaxes and opens up my lungs to enable better breathing, which is critical in maintaining a deep meditation. Holding a hand on my chest while chanting is a direct signal to the brain that the body is relaxing and thus so should it.

Another trigger, which is very powerful is that of smell and incense (or a candle) is a great way to trigger relaxation in the brain, which helps relax the mind too and ease anxiety. It is also rejuvenating, which helps the mind stay focused and concentrate. Science has shown that incense can also help relieve depression thus being very useful in motivating a depressed mind to meditate. That's a big deal for me because I have chronic depression and often when I'm depressed I don't have the motivation to meditate, which is ironically the very thing that will help. So burning incense ahead of time to help ease my depression might just be enough to get me onto the cushion. It's worth a try!!

So there are others reasons why we Buddhists should do the "ceremonial things" besides because tradition dictates we do so. They are very helpful preparatory rituals that can enable a deeper and meditation.

~Peace to all beings~

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Debra-Dawn said...

I really enjoyed this post...

this morning after i got back from my early morning workout, I got my kids and husband up and we sat facing the window from 7am to 7:10am...

now my kids are all different ages but they all sat as still as they could...

I found it helped to sit facing the window...

but other suggestions are much welcomed: it might help to bow, light inscence, ...

thanks for sharing,


Dhamma81 said...


Great post on how you help get yourself ready for meditation. I enjoy the bowing and chanting myself as well. Like you said, the cerimonial aspect of Buddhist practice can really help one get ready for more formal practice. I can't use incense here since I live with a friend who wouldn't enjoy it but I light a candle next to my Buddha Rupa before my bowing and chanting. Be well now.

barry108 said...

Hi James,
Like others, I do a set of bows and also chant before morning sitting. Maybe it's just 'cause I've done it for quite a while, but the mind seems just as "lively" after bowing and chanting as it did before.

I'm not sure that we can really do anything to settle the mind, other than simply to be with it.

And maybe I'm a little suspicious about even trying to settle the mind. Perhaps it seems a little like manipulation for a particular effect. I dunno...

Terri said...

I think you're right on track... using the some of these rituals always helps me to get in the mood to meditate. I also sometimes make a point to read a simple poem about nature or Buddhism before meditation so if I am thinking about something, at least it's not about my schedule or tasks for the day.

They call him James Ure said...


I like to look out the window too. It's like a centering activity that gives me perspective of the bigger world than the concerns within my house.


Candles are great too. I light one as well, which reminds me of the meditation throughout the rest of the day as it burns long.


For me it's less about manipulating the mind and more about centering it.


Good idea of the poem. I especially like Haiku because of their short but effective way of opening the mind.

Pete Hoge said...

I agree...creating a transition
practice from daily activities
to the cuchion is essential.

I am going to Blue Cliff this
weekend...if you google "blue cliff" a blog of yours from 2007
comes up...


Spiv said...

The body responds to routine almost as matter of fact; it's simple conditioning. It's very helpful for things like this too. For instance I've had insomnia for most of my life (at least as long as I can directly remember, so at minimum 15 years or so). It helps to give your body all the signals that it's about to do something: Shower, brush your teeth, listen to some music of the same type, change cloths and then head to bed. By the time you get there (hopefully) the body is ready to rest.

The mind is still a part of the body, or at least largely affected by it. I have to say one of my "meditations" is, and will hopefully always be, a bicycle ride. The routine is simple: Take the bike down, check over the chains, headset and pedals. Put air in the tires. Walk the bike out and start. Within the first 100 feet I'm 'in the zone,' just pedal and breath. All things are on autopilot and I'm free of almost any thought.

It's not quite as in depth as a full-on meditation (can't deprive yourself of all sensory data, after all there are still cars from time to time, even on the back roads around me), but it's maybe 80%. It really helps to get me centered, and makes any meditation later on much easier to achieve. Kind of like a practice session.

Aerobic exercise as a whole does a lot of good for the mind anyway, IMO.

Renée said...

Very interesting comment, James! I didn't know anything about the meaning of the rituals and was rather opposed to it...
And you posted a very beautiful and mytical picture!

Placido said...

Meditation is a materialistic activity to achieve liberation. The stateless state doesn't bother about the means or about the guy meditating. It just happens unexplained.

One can meditate for 20 years and perhaps achieve it and another person only need 2 months.

I think there are no rules, no methods. It's a lottery and meditation just helps to increase our chances to have That. Instead of 1 chance in a million, you have 1 chance in 10 000. Something like that.

Trying to get That is a worthy, interesting journey even if you won't succeed in the end.

Tom said...

Fine post, indeed. I meditate, but do none of the preparatory rituals to calm the mind down. But having read this inspiring post, I am going to try some of these rituals.

The most effective "method" I've discovered for bringing some silence to the mind is to listen to it. See what it has to say. If you listen intently, you'll find that it has nothing to say. Amazing!


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