Life is fleeting. Everything changes, including ourselves. We are constantly bombarded by the noises and colours of the busy world, yet in moments of quiet our mind is also filled with noises – thoughts which tear our attention away from what’s happening here and now. The past – good and bad – hopes, plans and strategies for the future, and thoughts of immediate irritation and pleasure all conspire to draw us away from experiencing each moment as it is. These thoughts can be useful but they can also blind us from seeing each present moment clearly, calmly, receptively, creatively, even lovingly. In thoughts our habits are reinforced, but in quieting thoughts, in silent awareness, genuine perception and positive transformation can happen.
Meditation is an exercise to relax the mind. In a true state of rest the mind gains energy. Meditation is an activity that expands a sense of awareness and appreciation, reduces anxiety, heightens creativity and increases problem-solving ability. Meditation exercises serve to quiet the mind of its non-stop dialogue so that it can be truly aware of its sensations, internal and external. These methods have been practised for thousands of years, are not elitist or exotic, are not a kind of self-hypnosis or mindless trance, but are simply directions that assist us to our natural state, unfettered by our habits, conditions or history. The most simple method of quieting the mind is to bring our attention to the process of breathing.
Like any training, in order to meditate one has to believe the results will be beneficial and achievable. In order to gain faith in the benefit of an activity, one looks at others who do it and see if qualities they have gained from it are ones we would like to emulate, or some employ logic or science to ascertain potential benefits…or you can try it for yourself, right now.
Bring your attention to your breathing, to the sensation of air moving past your nostrils. Feel your abdomen rise and fall. Feel your body from toes to head and relax any tensions found. Extend your senses and listen to the sounds around you without judgement. When thoughts arise simply acknowledge their presence and bring your attention back to your relaxed breathing. Meditation, like any training, takes effort.
It is often startling to see for the first time how constant and insistent our thoughts are. The process of bringing our attention to our thoughts is a beginning step to quietening them. By acknowledging them but not letting them carry our awareness from the present moment, thoughts fade on their own. Bring your attention back to breathing. Keep your senses relaxed and receptive. Here is awareness that taps the energetic wellspring of our full potential.
In Taiwan there are many opportunities to practice meditation in a more formal environment and receive inspiration and instruction on how to do it. In both Taoism and Buddhism, the most widely practised religions in the country, mental clarity and fluidity are crucial factors to personal development. Even the most minimal of investigations within Taiwan’s rich spiritual culture will reveal interesting gems. Puli has an array of vast temple complexes well worth a visit, running a variety of Buddhist programs in English, and the Dharma Drum organization, http://www.dharmadrum.org (founded by world renowned teacher Sheng-yen) offers courses of study as well as an insightful collection of books for all levels.
Urban Taiwan can be a hectic, aggravating place with traffic jams, heat, pollution and blaring loudspeakers. It’s easy to let irritation and stress negatively affect who we are. A regular meditation practice helps to keep us connected with our untarnished, grounded and genuine nature, so that we can be happier, healthier and more resilient people living creatively to our highest potential. For those who say they are too busy to meditate, Reginald Ray, author and lecturer, professes that he actually gains two hours of effective work when he meditates for thirty minutes, and Graham Goode, one of the world’s leading authors of literary criticism and an academic at the University of British Columbia recently said, “With my busy schedule I can’t afford not to meditate!”