I know that I ruminated on this topic in my post “The Elusiveness of Meditation.” Remaining present during meditation was the bane of my practice, for the longest time. I have not perfected a particular way to remain present while I meditate, but I do have a few tricks I’d like to share. Hopefully they will work for you. If they do not, feel free to tweak them for your own use or completely disregard them.
My first trick I borrow from my favorite Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. Again, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts Thich Nhat Hanh relates to his pupils that focus on and awareness of the breath is vitally important. He suggests a few things you might say to yourself to keep your mind focused on the breath. “Breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I am aware that I am breathing out.” Another that he recommends – which is my favorite – is, “Breathing in, I calm my mind. Breathing out, I smile.” This has a wonderfully simple and happy feel to it. Thich Nhat Hanh also reveals that the simple act of smiling relaxes many of the muscles in the face. You are doing yourself multiple favors by smiling. When my mind is bouncing here and there and everywhere I will begin focusing back on my breath and using the mantras taught by Thich Nhat Hanh.
On my home altar I have a stone candle holder in the image of the Buddha. There is a slight smile on the Buddha’s face. When I want to remind myself to relax and smile during meditation I will gaze at the Buddha’s face; his smile in particular, and I can’t help but smile in return.
Another trick I use to remain present is my own process. I recently purchased a mediation cushion, or zafu, from Amazon. When I meditate on my zafu I sit in the half lotus position with one foot resting on my knee. As a way to remain present in the moment I will give a mental rundown of my body’s position. “I am in the present moment as I sit on my zafu.” “I remain present during my meditation as I align my spine to sit up straight.” “I feel my legs crossed over each other as I meditate and remain present.” I will even mentally comment on any pain or irritation my body may be experiencing. “While I am present in this moment I feel the tingle of my foot as it falls asleep.” “I am present in this moment as I feel how my left arm itches.” I try not to focus too much on the physical feelings because then it becomes too easy to attach myself to those feelings. It is one thing to use a physical pain or irritation to maintain awareness of the present moment. It completely defeats the purpose if I allow myself to become attached to those feeling and begin to complain or whine. “My back hurts. My toe itches and won’t stop. I need water. I want a massage, etc.” Don’t let it become an excuse to let your mind wander and take over the meditation.
One last trick I use to remain present comes from Eckhart Tolle. You may remember him from his master class with Oprah Winfrey a few years back. His book, A New Earth, was an Oprah Book Club selection. He and Oprah did an online class for five weeks. Tolle’s ideas are deeply rooted in Buddhism (another experience that helped set me on my current spiritual path). In his book and during the online class Tolle suggested that audience members focus on the underlying energy that is constantly surging through the body. He insists that if you focus you can feel this energy as it moves through every single part of your body. At first I was skeptical, but when I truly focused I could feel it. It was like a tingle that I could feel in every digit, every limb, every organ of my body. After I’d been doing it for a while I could feel the energy pulsing through me. This awareness of my body allowed me to feel alive and vibrant. I still use this idea to help ground me in the present moment. It is highly effective. I’ll admit to you right now, it may take you some time to master this particular trick, but once you do, I promise you’ll be amazed.
Start by focusing on the crown of your head. It will probably begin by feeling like your pulse beating in the top of your skull. That’s the perfect beginning. As you focus more you will begin to feel the tingle. Once the tingling begins, move your focus to your forehead, then your eyes, nose, lips, chin, and so on down your entire body. If you remain focused on this task you will remain present. If you find your mind slipping and wandering, gently “shhhhh” the fussy baby, start back at step one and Thich Nhat Hanh’s breathing exercises until you are fully focused again.
My final suggestion is to download the mobile app, ReWire. I have mentioned this app several times, and I cannot talk enough about how amazing it is. You can use the ReWire tracks or you can use your own music. I mix it up from night to night and use both. I am particularly fond of ReWire’s track “Calm” and I love listening to Enya from my own music. The beauty of this app is it keeps you present during your meditation by allowing you to focus on the vanishing of the music track. When the music stops you just tap the screen of your mobile device. If you aren’t paying attention the mobile device will vibrate to bring you back to the present moment. If you are trying too hard to anticipate the next vanishing, and tap too soon, the mobile device will vibrate again. This app has worked wonders for me. I am extremely grateful to the Buddhist Geeks podcast that brought this app to my attention. I highly recommend this app, especially if you’re a techie like me.
Don’t try to be perfect in your meditation. It won’t happen. Your mind will always wander. You’ll have good days and you’ll have crappy days. Sometimes your mind will cooperate and others it will drive you bonkers. It is much like my yoga teacher, Lezlie, tells us at the beginning of each class, “focus on the body you have tonight, whether it’s energized and ready or whether it’s tired and needs calm; that is the body you are working with.” It is the same with your mind during meditation. Work with the mind you have at the moment, because that moment is the only one that matters. Just like each individual moment of your life.