Commusings: Meditation, Simply by Jeff Krasno

Sep 03, 2022

Or, listen on Apple Podcasts // Spotify


Hello Commune Community,

Today’s screed is equal parts essay and announcement.

Those of you who are more audibly inclined likely know that I host the Commune podcast where I feature a wide variety of interviews and lessons and also publish audio versions of these Sunday musings. Indeed, if you want to listen to the audio version of today’s essay – along with a guided version of the meditation below – you can do so here. And if you have feedback or suggestions, I am just an email away at [email protected]

First off, let me express my gratitude to the hundred thousand subscribers to the podcast. I deeply appreciate all the emails, the guest suggestions and the largely constructive feedback. Most of all, I love the flexibility of the podcast as it serves as a bit of a sandbox for creative explorations. Many podcasts are dedicated to excavating a specific topic. However, I simply have too many diverse interests and there are just too many inspirational people with myriad expertise out there to interview. For these reasons, I have veered away from a single-topic podcast. I am apt to go deep on the microbiome for a couple of weeks, then on a regenerative farming jag and then on a spiritual inquiry. So, thank you for your willingness to join this peripatetic journey with me. 

In that spirit, I am excited to introduce a new practice series to the podcast. Every Saturday, we will publish a specific well-being praxis. We’ll begin with meditation but may venture into other modalities such as breathwork, yoga, tapping, and Stoic contemplations, among others. While I will set the stage by providing some of the initial theory and lessons, we will soon draw from the vast array of pre-eminent Commune teachers to guide us through various practices and modalities. Of course, you can always access the full treasure trove of more than 1,000 lessons we have recorded over the years with a Commune membership at onecommune.com

The first episode contains this preamble as I want to properly set the stage for meditation. Future episodes will jump right into the practice. 

The upcoming practices I will be sharing are designed to be relatively simple, introductory meditations that allow you to wade into the shallow end of this ancient modality. You are already here, which indicates you are probably curious about meditation and likely aware of the multiplicity of benefits this practice offers. But, perhaps, for one reason or another, actually sitting quietly alone has evaded you. Hopefully, this series can help you establish meditation as a regular habit.

The word meditation itself can often carry unfortunate “new age” baggage. Imagery of wafting frankincense, Ouija boards and crystal pujas may appear in your mind’s eye. It seems like we all had that kooky, if loveable, basket-weaving aunt who used to chant kirtan naked in the tall grass. Or maybe that’s too auto-biographical? Regardless, I am here to dispel the notion that you need to be a card-carrying hippie, wear a saffron robe or commit to monasticism to examine the nature of your mind. 

That’s really what meditation is about – it’s an excavation of the mind such that you can garner greater insight into the nature of reality. And given that the entire experience of your life occurs as a product of your mind, it seems a worthwhile pursuit to take a deeper look at it. Meditation offers an opportunity to have a different experience of consciousness – not as a separate individual but as part of an interconnected web of life.

Certainly, cultivating a meditation practice can relieve anxiety and stress, assuage fear and ameliorate sleep. It contributes to your holistic well-being, reduces inflammation, aids digestion and bolsters immunity. Engaging with the practice long-term actually changes the physiology of the brain. Meditation has been shown to increase the cortical thickness or grey matter concentration of the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for memory and regulating emotions.

However, while the benefits are multifarious, this practice should not be undertaken in pursuit of achieving a list of personal goals. The primary purpose of meditation is to access the present moment. And, in regularly doing so, the beneficial outcomes will become self-evident. So, in this way, the process is the product. As you sharpen your ability to pay attention moment to moment, you will notice how the practice gradually begins to punctuate to your quotidian life. 

The second that you begin to contemplate all the potential improvements meditation may usher into your life, you’ve lost the plot. You’re living in the future. The point is to groove with the present moment – similar to how a musician or a dancer becomes absorbed in their art. It’s not about getting anywhere. When you focus on destination, then meditation, and life in general, becomes a dismal chore. At its very best, meditation is about flowing with the river’s current. It’s about being all here, right now. 

There is a common misconception that meditation is about turning off the spigot of thoughts. Certainly, many of us suffer from monkey mind, a state of being where thoughts are branches and our minds are swinging wildly from one to another. We have trouble focusing or just being quiet. The majority of us can’t make it through the shortest grocery check-out line without fidgeting for our phones. We have become addicted to occupying the mind. The mind is very useful, but so is my hand – and I am not obsessed with using it every millisecond. 

Meditation doesn’t turn thoughts off as much as it simply enhances our ability to witness them as phenomena arising and subsiding in consciousness moment to moment. We begin to witness thoughts in the same way we perceive sound or light or shadow. They are transitory happenings, coming and going. A meditation practice also helps us observe difficult emotions as passing phenomenon such that we don’t fixate on them or identify with them. We acknowledge them as they appear and wave at them as they disappear. We are the sky. Thoughts, feelings and sensations are clouds. We are the road. Emotions are the cars, bicycles and pedestrians. We are the pre-condition for everything that appears in a field of awareness. 

Humans have a penchant for fixating on thoughts generated from past experience and projecting those thoughts into the future as negative anticipated memories. 

For example, we might think about something bad that happened the last time we went to the doctor. And then we spend our time awash in worry about our appointment next month. In this way, much of our suffering is a phantom of our own projection. Because, most of the time, right now, we are totally fine. Meditation migrates us out of the narrative life of our torturous past and imagined future and into the experienced life of the present. 

In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali spells out the “purpose” of yoga. To be clear, Patanjali was writing about a very different kind of yoga than we are accustomed to in modern Western society. Modern yoga is primarily physical, derived from a branch of yoga known as Hatha yoga. There are postures – asanas – and physical sequences that move the practitioner between various postures. However, historically, asana is but one of yoga’s eight limbs. The balance of the limbs address ethics, meditation and concentration. For all intents and purposes, Patanjali was primarily describing meditation in his yoga sutras. In the second verse, Patanjali lays out meditation’s target with this simple phrase: yogas chitta vritti nirodhah.

Here’s the rough translation from the Sanskrit: 

Yogas: yoga is. 
Chitta: the mind.
Vritti: turning or fluctuating.
Nirodhah: ceasing

Yoga is the ceasing of the turning of the mind. Or, more poetically, yoga is the progressive stilling of the fluctuations of the mind

The Sanskrit meaning of the word yoga is to “yoke” or unite. By calming our incessant mental chatter, we can begin to yoke — cultivating a natural union within ourselves and between ourselves and the world. As you become immersed in the present moment, eventually the subject-object dichotomy that pits you as separate from the world around you begins to dissipate. This is a glimpse into the mystical terminus of meditation. Samadhi, or integrated consciousness, is a state of non-dualism at the end of the spiritual rainbow where the conventional notion of self dissolves and there is just the world. But samadhi and nirvana can wait as, for now, we dip our toe into the still waters of the practice. 

So, a quick disclaimer here, to address any impostor syndrome I may be feeling about leading these sessions on the podcast. There are hundreds of distinguished scholars and great masters who have devoted their entire lives to studying various traditions of meditation and understanding the phenomenology of the human mind. Commune has produced courses with Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, Deepak Chopra, davidji, Michael Beckwith and many others. I will begin to pepper in lessons from these great masters in upcoming episodes. I am a mere layperson in comparison. However, because I am a relative neophyte, there is a path we can walk together on the way to developing a deeper practice. 

These next few podcast praxes will conform to a few themes. We will be paying close attention to the breath, as is customary in a typical Vipassana practice. The breath is always with us – I suppose, until it isn’t – but while we are occupying this physical plane, the breath is at our disposal. Breathing is governed by the autonomic nervous system. In other words, day-to-day, it functions completely below the level of consciousness as a bottom-up behavior. However, it is the one component of the autonomic nervous system that we can also consciously control. And, in this way, it is a conduit to the subconscious. As thoughts, emotions and sensations appear in consciousness, sometimes pulling us into mental busyness, we will always return to the presence and rhythm of the breath. 

Over the course of this series, I will introduce some gimmicks that may help us move into transconceptual space – where we let go of symbols, words and abstractions and connect to the substrate of reality. These tricks include breathing patterns, the use of mantra and other sound producing artifacts such as Tibetan bowls. Olfactory stimuli can sometimes help calm the nervous system. And mala beads offer a way to take note of the breath. 

Some of the featured practices will be contemplative in nature. We will reflect on compassion, lovingkindness and virtue. We will contemplate our own mortality as a means for cultivating gratitude. We will step off the hedonic treadmill through the practice of loving what we already have. We will concentrate on focusing attention — something that has become increasingly arduous in a distracted and distracting world. 

How many us are pulled a thousand different directions with pings and dings from notifications and texts and social media? Technology has impinged on our concentration spans. The ability to focus attention is one of the most useful by-products of this practice. The aptitude to cultivate long-wave thoughts not only helps you get things done but it also builds discernment – the capacity to reason and delineate between fact and fiction, which is no simple task in the current environment. In many ways, meditation is a tuning fork for the truth. 

There are just two criteria for developing a good meditation ritual: a quiet place to consistently practice and a commitment to showing up. 
So, do your best to fulfill these criteria. 

Here’s a practice appetizer. Of course, when it comes to guided meditations, the written word falls short which is why I have recorded this and future episodes for the podcast (if you want to jump past all the preamble you just read and follow along to the meditation, skip to about 17 minutes in). 

Nevertheless, you’re here. 

Take a comfortable seat. 

This could be in a chair or on a cushion on the ground. If you’re already a seasoned practitioner, perhaps you can rest in some form of padmasana, or lotus pose, in which you sit crossed-legged with the bottoms of your feet facing up. 

However, if you are in a chair, like me, just plant your feet firmly on the ground. Try to maintain an erect spine but don’t make yourself too rigid or uncomfortable. 

Inhale through your nose. 
At the very top of your breath, hold it for a moment. 
Exhale, again through your nose. 

As you repeat this cycle, establish a relaxed rhythm of breath. You can count if you want … 4 beats on the inhale, a beat of hold, 4 beats on the exhale. But eventually you can drop the numbering and just let your body naturally establish a tranquil rhythm. 

For this practice, your inhales don’t need to be unnaturally deep. But they should be conscious. So, as you inhale, become acutely aware of the sensation of the breath itself. 

Close your eyes lightly and try this for 4 cycles of breath. 

>> 😌 <<

Where do you feel it most prominently? In one nostril? In both? More specifically, at the tip of your nose or up closer to the eyes? 

Do you feel it in your chest? 

What is the signature of it? Is it cool? Is it warm? 

If your breath was a color, what would it be? Visualize in your mind’s eye the air entering your nose, moving down your trachea and into your bronchial tubes. 

Feel the expansion of your chest as the air fills your lungs. Take this time to really get acquainted with all the sensations related to breathing. 

Make breath your best friend. 

Close your eyes again and try another 4 cycles of 4-count inhales and 4-count exhales. 

>> 😌 <<

By now, you may have noticed a thought or two puncturing your focus. No problem. Just let them appear and redirect your attention back to your new bestie – your breath. She’s always there for you. 

Okay, now let’s do 12 cycles together. As thoughts arise in consciousness, just witness them and return to the breath. 

>> 😌 <<

Who knew that counting to 12 was so difficult? I know it seems rudimentary, but if maintaining focus through 12 cycles of breath is the only practice you ever do, you will see, over time, a dramatic increase in your ability to concentrate. 

Thank you for taking the time to engage in this practice. It may be the only short respite from the world of dull care that you’ll have today. So, I hope you begin to treasure this time. And I guarantee that the peace you begin to feel during the practice will soon begin to punctuate your day in a most wonderful way. 

To receive our upcoming weekly meditations, please subscribe to the Commune Podcast:
 

 

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