{simple pleasures} Riding the breath

By Ingrid Fetell Lee


I’m new to this meditation thing. I first tried it last year, and though I saw the benefits really clearly, I struggled with it. I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be doing, and so I dreaded getting into it, and I had trouble with the breathing and the sitting.

Now, I’m trying again with a little bit more support. I spent a good part of last fall working with a Hellerworker, (an excellent experience, if anyone out there is considering it) and as a result my breathing is much calmer and I’ve found a posture I can sit in comfortably. I’m also working my way through Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness, which offers a 28-day program for easing into meditation. She gives very clear directions for the meditations which helps with the “I must not be doing it right” problem.

Breakthroughs come in the smallest of moments, and when they do it is a special, private kind of joy. Last week, my mind was restless the entire meditation until the last minute. And then, all of a sudden I tuned into my breath, calmly rising and falling, like ocean waves. It was like being in the ocean, buoyant — I didn’t have to do anything, I could just float on the beautiful sine wave that was moving through me. I don’t always find that spot, but I know it’s there now, and just the possibility of it makes meditation a very simple pleasure.

If you’re thinking about trying meditation and you want a very simple technique, this one from Salzberg’s book really resonates with me: Sit comfortably, and follow the breath. As things arise, which they inevitably will, you can divide them into “breath” and “not breath.” This helped me so much because it made it ok to have “not breath” thoughts, and stopped me from judging myself for getting distracted. Then it’s easier to let go of them and come back to “breath.”

Have any of you ever felt that “riding the waves” feeling I’m talking about? Curious to hear from other meditators — veteran or newbie — about your experiences…

Image: mine, from our recent trip to Hawaii (more on that soon)

January 27th, 2014


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    Discussion (6 Comments)

  1. Jeffrey Walker on January 28, 2014

    i love this description of your breath focused experience! I hope you keep us up on your mindfulness experience!


    1. Ingrid on January 30, 2014

      Thanks so much, Jeff! It will definitely be a recurring theme on this blog in the coming months.

  2. Sherry Crowson on January 28, 2014

    I had a similar experience of judging myself when I felt I was not “doing it right”. I stumbled on a meditation called the thousand petal lotus and sort of modified it for myself. I am a very word oriented person and found it difficult and stressful to try to meditate by emptying my mind, the words would just not go. I have a very visual imagination, so, using the thousand petal lotus image, I just put the word on a petal and move on to the next petal. At first I am very conscious of doing this, but after awhile, it’s like the words melt into the petals and disappear and I am unaware of the process. This is a very relaxing practice, and works well as long as I am comfortable. As I get older, it’s hard to sit comfortably for a long time, something always objects, but I value the time spent in this simple pleasure. When I first started, I had more than a few moments of “I’m there, wasn’t I?” because as soon as you realize you slipped into that “breath” state, you get startled out of it. That happens less often as you become more accustomed to the meditation. I have always found the time spent, and the practice worth the effort. Everyone has to find a practice that works for them; it’s not a one-size fits all endeavor!

    1. Ingrid on January 30, 2014

      “Everyone has to find a practice that works for them; it’s not a one-size fits all endeavor!” So very true, Sherry! I love your thousand petal lotus – how very joyful. I love the sense of abundance of that meditation – there are always more petals, no need to worry that your attention is finite or limited. I will give it a try!

  3. Nick Scott on January 28, 2014

    It is lovely to have those calm pleasant times in sitting practice. But the times when you are full of anger/fear/desire/boredom/sleepiness/restlessness/planning etc. are just as important, (but not as much fun). I find the biggest challenge is to not make a judgement about whether I am having a pleasant or unpleasant sensation but to have the same “friendly curiosity” about both. A curiosity that doesn’t pursue but just notices.
    I also find it is difficult not to worry too much about accomplishing. I am very project oriented, so I always think about completion and results but meditation isn’t about getting somewhere. (Even if we do seem at different moments to be getting somewhere).

    1. Ingrid on January 30, 2014

      Nick, thanks for the reminder about the value of meditation even in the hard times. I’m likewise very project-oriented, and when stressed or busy have trouble sitting still when I want to be in action, making things happen. But I come back to the idea that the real victory is being able to gently redirect my mind, and so even just getting myself into position is a win.

      I read something awhile back that helped me with the need to feel like I’m accomplishing. It talked about the need in life for “unmotivated celebration” — those moments where you just let go, stay present, and receive. I think about meditation as a form of unmotivated celebration, as is eating a really good meal, playing, enjoying the company of friends, etc. These things are essential in their own right — yet I know I’ve had times in life where I’ve forgotten that, and rushed through those moments to get stuff done. I’m trying now to slow down, constrain work to certain times, so that I can be more present and give myself permission to enjoy.


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