04 May 2015

Meditation and the art of sitting

In traditional meditation circles it is said “if the posture is correct, meditation occurs spontaneously”. Really? Many of us may well be experiencing difficulty in the sitting. We go to meditate, sit - and encounter restlessness, discomfort, maybe even pain.

How then to simply sit and find the posture we take up for our meditation truly helpful?

Enter an old friend and colleague, David McRae. David and I worked together for many years back in the eighties, leading cancer groups and meditation programs.

So this week, in a guest blog with some great photos, David addresses “Meditation and the art of sitting”, but first

      Thought for the week

All of humanity's problems 
Stem from man's inability 
To sit quietly in a room alone

         Blaise Pascal 
         – 17th century French Philosopher

"Do you know what you are doing?" It's a common enough question in just about all fields of endeavour. While sometimes it can be an insulting question, and others it can be very helpful.

So lets be bold. When it comes to embarking upon meditation practice do we know what we are doing? Through some decades of teaching and personal practice I have found that it greatly helps learners if I discuss with them "what are we doing?", or in other words, what is meditation?

Here I am not talking about definitions of meditation; they can be unwieldy and dry. Let us be more practical and without any academic psychological or philosophical terms, examine what is meditation?

A starting point in some traditions is that the heart of meditation is SITTING. Zen teaching emphasizes that meditation is really just sitting, and then sitting some more.

By sitting we do not necessarily mean a special way of sitting, though a fairly straight upright spine is helpful, as is a posture that is quite balanced so that a good degree of relaxation is possible.

Otherwise, kneeling, being on a chair or special stool, or even lying down if your physical condition demands it are all okay. They can all qualify as 'sitting' for the purpose of meditation.

Why is an emphasis on 'just SITTING', or 'simply SITTING' so useful? Look at it this way. Often when something is tiring or stressing us we decide we need a break (providing we are self-aware enough to feel that).

So we take a break; a 'smoko' or a coffee break. Quite literally we go outside and have a cigarette, or we make a cup of tea or coffee. We might be sitting, but we are also sipping coffee or tea. Or we pick up a magazine, a bill or piece of mail or whatever might be on the table. Perhaps we have the radio on, or the TV; or we may be chatting to whoever else is in the room. There is nothing wrong with any of this and it may be somewhat restful.

But are we also capable of just SITTING without any of these preoccupations? Many people seem to find it pretty hard to “just sit” after thirty seconds or so.

Meditation is the art of having a 'smoko' break without the smoke, tea, coffee, magazine or anything else. It is the bare bones of having a break; it is simply SITTING.

The second element of the zen-like description 'simply SITTING' is that we find a way to stay with the sitting for a period of time. There are various suggested techniques, but in the end it is YOU finding a way that YOU can employ. And the simpler the technique the better.

Finding a way to do what, exactly? A way to stay physically and mentally with 'simply SITTING' beyond the first, second and third impulses to have a coffee, browse a magazine, turn on the radio or go to the fridge. And that means a way through the distractedness or restlessness that underlies all those impulses.

And there you have it - that's meditation.

Whether you are attending to your breath, to your body relaxing, to repetition of a mantra or something else it is in the service of encountering the mental impulses that would move you out of 'simply SITTING'.

Encountering your impulses and mental distractedness also has to be YOUR own way.

It may be a head on confrontation like an arm wrestle, but generally confrontation is not sustainable. More likely it will develop characteristics of witnessing your mental activity and busyness, flowing with it and allowing it to settle naturally. Something like surfing the waves, or a more subtle and responsive martial art like judo or aikido. It is your discovery and it will be your way.

So where have we come to with this enquiry into "what are we doing"? It seems we are sitting and surfing the waves of all that would pull us away from 'simply SITTING'. Hopefully this involves relaxing, and just possibly some moments of freedom from the tyranny of excessive thinking. Until of course we do choose to move out of sitting and into the rest of our day's activities. Having a coffee perhaps. Where's that bill I have to pay?

Guest blog by David McRae. Want to visit David's website? These days David lives and works in Coff's Harbour where he runs meditation groups and provides counselling. CLICK HERE


Winter Solstice Chanting and Meditation with Jarek Czechowicz

Saturday, June 20th, 8-11pm, Augustine Centre, Hawthorn

Another highly recommended opportunity to sing universal chants that facilitate natural meditation:

The light reveals our blessed way. 

The night is longing for the day. 
Awakening we pray: 
May these days be filled with love.  

Come for a comfortable and heart-warming celebration.

Buy tickets at: http://www.trybooking.com/hmon

Get more information at: http://www.jarekc.com/winter-solstice/

Join the event and Share it on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/events/466410683510863/



Meditation and the Inner Journey        8th  – 12th  June     Yarra Valley
This retreat brings together 2 powerful experiences - the deep natural peace of meditation, and a gentle process of introspection that will help you reconnect with your own inner wisdom.

For thousands of years, people have removed themselves from the busyness of daily life and entered into a retreat situation to meditate. Come, join like-minded people, be inspired, be renewed. Immerse yourself in meditation. Be guided, be nurtured. Take the opportunity to reconnect with your own inner wisdom and the essence of who you really are.

FULL DETAILS  -  Click here


Ruth and I have committed to presenting a series of ongoing, regular 5 day follow-up residential cancer programs for the Gawler Foundation. The first of these begins in the Yarra Valley this week, the next will be from 12th - 16th October. We will also present a similar 5 day follow up cancer program in New Zealand for Canlive - 9th - 13th November.

We will also present one comprehensive 8 day program (also in New Zealand for Canlive) CANCER, HEALING and WELLBEING, that will be well suited to anyone who has not done a program with us before. This program is on in mid May - see below.


Eight day residential program in New Zealand   May 15th  –  22nd , 2015

All welcome; attendance with a partner/ support person is ideal but not essential.

This program will lead you through all the self-healing options:
. Therapeutic nutrition
. Practical positive thinking
. Therapeutic meditation, plus the healing power of imagery and contemplation
. Accelerated healing
. Healthy, healing emotions
. How to get the most out of mainstream treatments and minimize side-effects
. How to be most effective as a support person/carer, and to look after yourself in the process.

I actually lead most of the main sessions, with support from Ruth and 2 exceptional New Zealanders. We live in for the full program so there is plenty of time for questions and personal interaction.

This program is organized and supported by Canlive New Zealand.


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