Note: In 2018, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche became the subject of a number of allegations of sexual assault and misconduct and stepped back from the community he led, Shambhala. While Lion's Roar does not endorse him as a Buddhist teacher, we understand that some may want to access his past teachings in light of recent events, and so we are continuing to make this article from our archive of past issues available for those who wish to do so.
Meditation practice, says Sakyong Mipham, gives us time to slow down and really wake up to the naturally occurring love in our hearts.
Meditation practice is a period of self-reflection that offers an opportunity for us to feel. To feel is to be present, which allows for depth and insight to occur. By learning to feel, we can contact the inherent openness of our being—known as buddhanature or, in the Shambhala teachings, basic goodness. This universal nature is characterized by kindness and compassion. A successful meditation practice is one in which we intimately connect with this naturally occurring love in our hearts, and then embody it in our lives.
The ancient meditators realized that people needed a period of seeming inactivity to make any substantial growth or change. Generally speaking, it is very hard to change when we are on the go. When we are engaged in daily life, we may have the thoughts, “I wish I were kind, I wish I had not done it this way,” but it is very hard to change our habits. We need time to reflect on who we are, and how our mind feels underneath all the thoughts and emotions.
From the physiological perspective, we have sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. When we are on the go—running, talking, working—the mind is engaged in a sympathetic nervous system process associated with “fight or flight.” The parasympathetic system, like the heart pumping blood, is less visible, is associated with “rest and digest.” If we don’t balance these processes by giving ourselves time out to deepen and rest, we become wired, edgy, and emotionally sensitive.
Crossing our legs and sitting on a cushion is a good start, but meditation is not a process of osmosis; it’s one we need to engage with. It comes down to this simple point: if we do not respect what we are doing during the period of meditation, nobody will. Understanding what we are doing is called “the view,” and it is very important. It helps us build inspiration and feeling. If we don’t feel inspired to be present for our life, we will not continue meditating, and if we do not know how being present feels, we will not be able to rest with that feeling and help it grow. So it is important to know why we are sitting here, looking as if we’re doing nothing.
In the meditative tradition, we regard every feeling and perception as an opportunity to tune into the present moment. The reason we meditate is that most of the time we are too caught up in thoughts to feel where we are, and be there. To feel, we need to relax. By taking an upright sitting posture, we enable the body to relax and the mind to be awake. This is the first step in building a strong meditation practice.