It is the ninth day of the Real Happiness 28-Day Meditation Challenge. I meditated 5-10 minutes every morning and 20 -30 minutes at night on work nights as planned, except for one night when I came home late. My initial intention was to shut off the TV and computer at 11 PM to meditate and I came close to this goal. There were a couple of nights that it was more like 11:30 or 12, but overall, I was still winding down and going to sleep earlier than usual.
At night I was doing both the breathing meditation and meditation on emotions from the CD in Sharon Salzberg’s book, Real Happiness. During the 14 minute breathing meditation, I noticed that I was able to maintain concentration without difficulty. I encountered problems with two aspects of breathing: the first was that focusing on the breath led to breathing a little heavier than natural, and the second was that I couldn’t just focus on one aspect of the breath, like the air flowing through the nostrils or the rising and falling of the abdomen. My struggle was to decide when to just be mindful of my breathing exactly as it was without trying to change it and when to try to change my breathing to try to make it lighter and to try to improve my single-minded focus.
In reading Real Happiness at Work, I discovered some wisdom to help guide me in this. In chapter 1, there is a balanced breathing meditation that focuses on cultivating both tranquility and energy by striving for a balanced state of mind that is both calm and alert. Finding this balance involves finding the middle way between being too relaxed and falling asleep and too intensely focused and breathing heavily, as I was doing. Sharon suggests using the image of holding delicate, fragile glass in our hands; if we hold it too loosely it will fall out of our hands and break and if we hold it too tightly it will shatter in our hands.
I decided that it made sense for me to set my intention before I start the breathing meditation each night to focus either on balanced breathing or mindful acceptance of my breathing as is. For the next week of the meditation challenge, I am going to focus on balancing my breathing and then decide where to go from there. Mindfulness will still be an aspect of this practice because I will still need to mindfully accept the quality of each breath once I make my best effort at balance.
The instruction to focus on one aspect of the breath created a different challenge for me. I thought I was having trouble with it when I not only focused on the air flowing through my nostrils, but also noticed my abdomen rising and falling. Sharon’s analogy of looking for a friend in the crowd was helpful to me in understanding how to approach this. My new understanding is that I do not have to block out all other aspects of the breath. It is ok to notice the crowd even though I am looking for my friend. I can still notice other aspects of the breath in the background, even while concentrating on the aspect of the breath that I choose to focus on.
In what ways do you need to work on balance in your meditation practice or your life? What can the lesson I learned teach you about seeking the middle way?