Basic yin-yang (the 'a' in 'yang' being pronounced as it is in 'father') philosophy teaches us that there is an inherent, dynamic duality to any isolated aspect/entity. Generally, this duo speaks, on the one hand, to the active yang, state, and, on the other, the substantiative yin, state. Easily accessible, this theory can be seen in any random event. Wherever there is visible action or movement, there is hidden substance and direction to fuel and guide that action. For every 'do'ing there is the innate ability that allows for it. [Picture of Taoist meditating]
In modern America, and perhaps all of modern civilization, there is near absolute emphasis on the 'doing' aspect of life. Most questions, issues, and problems are addressed by 'doing something about it'. Where there is obstruction, confusion, or weakness, the solution is near always sought via activity; the greater the problem, the greater the intensity of doing is required.
The pathogenic, disease causing, nature of this unbalanced approach to living is apparent, in principle, from the absence of counterbalance, and, in reality, we can see this approach leading to physiological and mental deterioration by the age of forty in most individuals. (For the sake of comparison, in traditional Chinese martial arts, such as Tai Chi Chuan where balance is sought, the practitioner grows stronger, quicker, and smarter with age.)
What is needed is emptiness. Simple to grasp, in theory, the exact opposite of doing is non-doing. It is rest and recuperation. It is 'allowing' instead of 'making happen'. It is yielding to external forces, instead of manipulating or overpowering. It is non-resistance. It is spontaneous flow.
Meditation, as I intend it here, means simple seated stillness. It is active engagement of the mind with the sole, simple purpose of sitting still, doing nothing. The body's stillness is used as a guide for the ever-restless mind. Initially, the 'drunken monkey' that is the rational mind bounces around ceaselessly from thought to thought, memory of past events to projection of future occurrences. As the body remains in stillness, however, the mind gradually slows to a simmer of mental activity. This may take months of 'practice' to accomplish.
During this state of calm, the being naturally and spontaneously reconnects to the source of peace and balance. This source not only rejuvenates energy and primal resources, it reconnects us to innate purpose and guidance. By calming the intellectual mind, we can come to know deeper truths that forever elude linear rationality.
Thus, in emptiness, we 'find' a source of renewable energy and of wisdom, to fuel and guide the activity of the yang doings in life.
Basic Meditation and Breathing Practice
[Picture of monk meditating] The following provides instructions for a simple meditation practice that can be done anywhere, anytime. This style of meditation is rooted in ancient Taoist and Yogic practices (see Sources and Suggested Readings). You may practice up to three times a day, for a minimum of five minutes each time.
1) Find a comfortable position
Traditionally, you could either be sitting, standing or laying down. You may sit cross legged, in traditional lotus or half lotus position, or in a chair. If sitting in a chair, sit on the edge (don't use the back rest), with both feet flat on the floor. If sitting on the floor, place a folded towel or blanket under you in order to slightly raise your hips. Sit erect, with your spine straight, head held up, and chin slightly tucked in. You should be able to sit comfortably, exerting only enough effort to maintain the erect posture.
Place your hands comfortably in your lap or on your knees.
If standing, please read the section on proper body mechanics under the title Easy Exercise. The body position is the same, except you may let your arms hang loosely at your sides for simple meditation practice.
If laying down, simply lay down on your back and relax completely.
Take a second to relax and let go of superficial stress, both physical and mental.
3) Focus on your breathing
Focus on your inhalations and exhalations, without trying to control or manipulate them. Simply follow the breath in and out.
4) Listen and feel for your heart beat
Try and feel your heart beating and your blood being pumped throughout your body. This may sound difficult and may take ten or fifteen minutes the first time you try it. Eventually, you'll be able to feel your whole body pulsate with each heart beat. If sitting or standing, you'll feel your body sway slightly.
5) Synchronize your breathing with your heartbeat
Inhale for six heart beats. Start filling the lungs from the bottom, expanding the lower abdomen, then continue upwards until you have a complete breath. Hold this full breath for three heartbeats. Next, exhale for six heartbeats, exhaling completely, then hold on empty for three heartbeats.
Continue this for as long as you wish and is comfortable.
Breathing should never be forced. Think of this exercise as 'guiding' the breath. If at any time you begin to feel anxious or slightly out of breath, stop and breath normally for several minutes before reattempting the exercise.
Few of us breathe to our body's full potential. The above exercise will help you regain this ability. The process may take some time and perseverance, however. Please practice regularly and sincerely. Even if you are only able to make it through steps two, three, or four, that is meditation in itself. Continue, working your way through all five steps, and benefits will follow.