by: Katharine Kaufman
I thought to offer a small thing to you, to assist you with your meditation practice—a tip. Then I thought of another, and another. They are yours to evolve as you wish.
After I’ve found a quiet place where I want to sit down, an upright posture, figured out how high or low I should sit, how hard or soft the cushion, what kind of support I need under my knees, then I can rest. I feel the movement of my breath. I let my mind/heart be a filter. I let myself have thoughts. I feel things in my body. I cry a little, usually.
I met a teacher who said, “That’s extra.” It’s not right, all the crying. I can see her point. My father cried sometimes in a way that he couldn’t stop it. Like the time he tried to read to my brother and me, Hemmingway’s, The Old Man and the Sea. The first evening he read this sentence:
“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”
“Sorry kids, I can’t go on,” My dad said, after a few starts and stops of reading, crying, and laughing at his crying.
My father tried a second evening, and by the third, all we had to do is say the book’s title and he’d tear up.
Anyway, I like to cry a little.
I don’t use these tips on most days. But when I need something, oh! When I am desperate. When I hurt, When I can’t quite imagine going into the day.
After my father died, after my dog died, after the marriage dissolved. Oh yes! The anxiety because of my housemate and, oh right! When I broke my tibial plateau. When I didn’t have a job. When I was finding it hard to breathe, and tooth pain. Oh! Simple things like, I should clean this baseboard. I should clean this bathroom. I should teach a series where people sign up for a subscription. I should learn how to use Instagram. I should definitely clean my desk, call my mother. Then tips can be a great help and comfort. The tips help me feel that this practice is worth it. If that’s so, I am worthy too.
Here they are:
Place your left hand in your right, palms up, at your belly. When you have a thought, drop the thought physically (imagine). Boom. And another, boom. Feel the weight. ~ (Simon Luna, a Shambhala teacher, taught me this. The “boom” is mine).
#2 cradle the baby
When you are emotional, imagine you are cradling a baby (which is also you). (Thich Nhat Hanh)
#3 soften the eyes
If you’re looking at a wall or have trouble with the eyes open instruction, let the back of the eyes rest back in their sockets, back toward the center of the skull, and then imagine they drop down your back, like water. (Annabelle Boissevain)
#4 feel and breathe
Breathe in anger exhale anger, sadness, jealousy, fear. Not as a way to discard any emotion. The breath is the container. The breath holds it. (Thich Nhat Hanh)
#5 say hello
Say hello to your thoughts. Or like Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge did, say, “Hello, the Roses.”
# 6 give a cup of tea
In the same vein, imagine giving a cup of tea to your pain, thoughts, wanderings, emotions.
#7 belly breath
Feel your belly rise and fall with each breath. Return to the movement of the belly.
A tip is a small thing, not everything, not an entire lineage. A tip is a south corner of the topmost crooked edge of a rise of ice floating down the big river like a slow skiff. The tip is so small it almost melts away, becomes part of the stream.
Katharine Kaufman teaches Yoga, meditation, writing workshops, and contemplative dance in Boulder County, at Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado and online. She studied Yoga in Mysore, South India, and taught for many years at The Yoga Workshop and Studio Be in Boulder. Katharine is an adjunct professor at Naropa University. She holds MFAs in Performance/Choreography and Writing/Poetics. Katharine is priest ordained in the Soto Zen lineage of Kobun Chino and Vanja Palmers, Roshis.