The New Kadampa Tradition is an international association of Mahayana Buddhist meditation centers that follow the Kadampa Buddhist tradition founded by Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
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A couple of years ago my brother-in-law was serving in the Army, helping a farm community southwest of Baghdad to reorganize their local government. In spending 2 years with the leaders of this community, not only did he become acquainted with their societal customs, but he also developed a deeper understanding of Islam. Around the holiday season, he shipped me an incredible set of 'misbaha' or 'tisbah' through the mail. These are prayer beads which have a similar use to Buddhist malas/juzu beads; rather than reciting mantras or the three refuges, muslims usually recite the name of 'Allah' 99 times (representing his 99 names). He said these beads, worn by the political and religious leaders of the area, left their hand only when eating. For them it was a constant meditation practice, an external form of hesychasm (eremitic practice of repetitively praying while never vocalizing it).
Last week, I found these beads my brother-in-law shipped to me, and experimented with incorporating them into my sitting practice. The act of focusing on a particular object, noticing how each bead felt and how my fingers moved through them, helped maintain a mental composure I have yet to feel since starting this meditation challenge.
Has anyone tried using a meditation tool such as this to stay present? Maintaining a visual image in one's mind? Chanting a mantra? Baoding balls, even? If so, please share your experiences on how such tools have affected your ability to stay present, if at all.
In further discussion of meditation as a practice in 'presence', Pamela Gayle White provides a compelling insight in her article 'Pursuit of Happiness', pulled from our Meditation e-book, free for sustaining and subscribing members:
"When we meditate, we relate to that unsettling, ineffable commodity: the present. We train in letting go of thoughts and feelings as they arise, and settle back into the present: that gap between two concepts—past and future—that don't actually exist. We're simply being, here and now."
If you are finding it difficult to 'simply be, here and now' in your meditation month challenge, try experimenting with different methods of meditation. Rather than a cut-and-dry approach to sitting, incorporate a strategy that is most appropriate to your learning style. Are you a visual learner? Audio learner? Are you antsy? Try Walking! As for me, I'll stick with the beads for now.
You can also check out the Meditation Doctor, and post your questions about meditation techniques and styles.
Here's a video of Reggie Ray doing a meditation practice for the earth. Give it a try!