February 11, 2014

Meditation Month: What's in Front of You

Day eleven of our monthlong challengeJoanna Piacenza

February is Meditation Month! The Tricycle team members have challenged ourselves—and our readers—to meditate every day and blog about our experiences. We needed a little help, so we called in bestselling author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg to lead our meditation-themed retreat this month and speak to us on how to incorporate meditation practice into the workplace. We’re also featuring three meditation e-books: Tricycle Teachings: MeditationTricycle Teachings: Meditation, Vol. 2, and Tricycle Teachings: Commit to Sit. Last but certainly not least, back by popular demand is Brad Warner, known this month as our Meditation Doctor, here to answer any questions we have about our personal practice.


Have you ever tried meditating on a plane?

It’s about as stressful as it sounds. But I’m grateful I tried, because it was in this ball of stress that I realized an error in my approach to meditation practice.

This weekend, I took a much-delayed trip back to my adopted home: Boulder, Colorado. Meditation practice there is easy. In fact, it’s hard not to meditate in such a picturesque and Buddhism-saturated town. An early flight and layover, however, ensured that all of Sunday would be spent on planes and in airports—environments far from ideal for meditation.

But the Tricycle team is committing to sit every day, no exceptions. And this brings me back to my opening question: Have you ever tried meditating on a plane?

Yes, distractions are at an all-time low: no computer, Wi-Fi, or engaging conversations. But the physical environment—cramped, confined, and dehydrated—leaves something to be desired.

Oh yes, and also that penetrating fear of flying I’ve had since birth.

So there I sat, between a ski bum returning home and a snoring businessman, trying to breathe…not with the intention of focusing on my breath, but simply to calm down my fear-of-flight nerves. And everywhere around me, chaos. The flight attendant scolded a curious child running down the aisle. The sinking sun seemed to favor my left eye as a target and the window shade wouldn’t close. The seat in front of mine lowered down. The ski bum started listening to Bruno Mars.

I never thought Bruno Mars would be an obstacle to my practice. I should have known.

These conditions made me realize an error in how I view practice, as showcased in my last blog post. For years, I have tried to physically isolate myself to meditate. Closed doors mean closed minds, right? But perhaps this is the wrong approach.

Meditation Month is not about separating yourself from the chaos of everyday life to practice. It’s about finding peace within those hectic situations. Tricycle team member Max Zahn found peace in the mayhem of his environment and this same idea is at the center of meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg’s retreat this month, “Real Happiness at Work.”

It’s a lesson we can extend into every corner of our messy rooms and minds. Deal with what you have and don’t try to separate the peace from the chaos. 

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brainboy44's picture

I'm puzzled about the resistance reported here to meditating on long plane,bus or train trips?

Recently, I had a trip to Australia involving two four hour plane trips with a 15.5 hour one in the middle. My original, naive intention to meditate throughout the whole trip was not very practical, given the constant diversions and interruptions. By I still found that performing
"tuns" of about 1.5-2 hours each was easy, and found it very productive to spend much of these flights practicing, punctuated by walking up and down the plane. One aspect of intention I used was to view the confinement on the plane as a kind of "death experience" --- desperately not wanting to be there, but having no choice, and simply surrendering to the immediate situation. Practice as "refuge" .... I do this routinely on bus and train trips, but this was by far the longest attempt .... and I heartily recommend it!

onelove's picture

recent Daily Dharma by Lama Surya Das:

"Meditation, simply defined, is a way of being aware. It is the happy marriage of doing and being. It lifts the fog of our ordinary lives to reveal what is hidden, it loosens that know of self-centeredness and opens the heart. It moves us beyond mere concepts for a direct experience of reality"

seated meditation on a plane is one of the hardest!!

Joanna Piacenza's picture

Yes, it is. But what's life without a little challenge, right?

All best,

Richard Fidler's picture

You bring up good points: What constitutes meditation? How is meditation different from other behaviors? Is watching TV with full attention meditation or absorption? I have answers to these questions, but others may disagree with me. Here are points that must be observed in order to say a person is meditating:
1. The person must be still. Not moving. Not scratching, changing position all the time.
2. The meditation activity must take place for ten minutes or more. Two minutes won't cut it.
3. Awareness is the only activity allowed, awareness of surroundings, the body, and the breath. Whenever fantasy, discursive thought, memories or plans occupy attention, upon the meditator's becoming aware of them, they disappear.

Is watching TV wholeheartedly meditation? In general, I would say, "no." It usually violates number 1 and often number 3. Also, it is not devoted to practicing awareness: the viewer is absorbed in whatever is unfolding, but awareness is not the point. In meditation it is.

Emma Varvaloucas's picture

Hmmm, Richard, I definitely have to say that I disagree with you! Plenty of Buddhists across traditions practice walking meditation, for instance.

But if these rules work for you, they work for you.

Richard Fidler's picture

Yeah, I guess you're right. Though sometimes I wonder if walking meditation isn't just an excuse to get off the cushion and move around. I know that is heretical around here, but...

To me, the essence of meditation is paying attention to whatever comes up in the mind: memories, fantasies, plans, reminders, and so on. Awareness dissolves those things as they appear. In walking meditation, you are thoroughly aware of body and balance--it's like concentrating on a single thing--like a flame or a sound. That is OK, but it isn't zazen (which constitutes most of my practice). Thanks for stimulating a train of thought.

Joanna Piacenza's picture

Hi Richard,

These are great rules to live by, although some practitioners bend Rule #1 a bit...and by "some practitioners" I, of course, mean myself. Meditation puts my anxious personality to the test and I tend to fidget more than caffeinated toddler in a carseat.

I used to scold myself for this, but practice has taught me to be kinder to myself.

Still learning,