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Then we use the breath to train in mindfulness of feeling. Releasing thoughts and coming back to the feeling of the breath automatically bestows some insight: “It is so hard, but this is how I feel.” What follows such awareness is a feeling of openness, gentleness, and curiosity. If we respond to the thought with “I am bad” or “These thoughts are making me feel worse, I must get rid of them,” meditation becomes a battle of sorts, and a feeling of pressure sets in.
Meditation is supposed to feel good. In fact, when we are simply being and feeling, we appreciate; we find that we are naturally less discursive and less critical. That’s because practice is different from conceptualizing. Most people meditate just with the head— “How am I doing?” Or perhaps they feel, and then think, “Well, what I am feeling cannot possibly be what the meditators are talking about.” When we do that, we are disempowering ourselves. We need to let go of our conceptual mind and be with the feeling.
To be aware of how our mind feels and learn to stay with it requires taking time out every day, even briefly, for a period of selfreflection. If you have a hard time sitting still, you can stand, or walk slowly—or even just find a nice chair where you can sit down, relax, and self-reflect. We all need that moment. Even though we are quiet and still, a lot is happening during this period of rest: we heal and we develop. It is how we learn and how we change.
Such moments of self-reflection are not especially encouraged in our culture. It is up to us to see their importance, especially as the world becomes speedier. Just as exercise is considered a normal, healthy thing to do for the body, self-reflection is a good thing to do for the mind. But because we cannot see the mind and heart, the benefits of meditation are not as obvious—and in our culture, it is hard to simply be. We are more inclined to always be doing. However, like the crops in the field, we all need a fallow period of enriching and gaining.
Meditation is a very personal experience. Even if we sit there for only five minutes, our mind is not doing nothing. We are exploring how our mind really feels, unconditioned by family, education, friends, culture, and even our concepts about meditation. Resting in this space is self-empowerment minus the ego. By contacting that open feeling, the inherently pure stream at the depth of our being, we are laying the seeds for those feelings of love to grow within our own consciousness. Then those potent seeds will materialize in our life.
How we feel is an important part of being in a community. If we can feel a little bit, then we know how somebody else feels. This gives birth to the thought of helping others. The great bodhisattva Shantideva says that there is not a better feeling and purpose than that thought. He instructs us to water that thought with the six paramitas: generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation/feeling, and prajna/intelligence.
When we are relaxing and feeling, we are being present, and when we are present and feeling, that moment is whole. Our mind knows how to be and how to feel, and the whole thing is one complete moment that we call happiness, pleasure. We know how it feels. However, if we do not know how happiness or pleasure feels, we are continuously looking for it, never able to appreciate its simplicity.
Feeling and being are not necessarily taught in school. That is why the meditation tradition has survived—so we can train in the ability to relax, to feel and embody our nature. When we embody compassion and kindness, we have potency and strength. Then even good posture is an expression of how we feel inside—not just something we are imposing on ourselves.
So let’s practice from the inside out. Taking time to feel the compassion and kindness at our core has an effect on our health, our state of mind, how we relate to our family, and how we work. No matter what is on our mind, we can find time in the day to feel where we are, and just be. We are not talking about being ourselves in an egotistical way. We are simply talking about being human. Goodness is always present, and with the practice of meditation, our feeling for it continues to grow.

Originally published in the March 2012 Shambhala Sun magazine. Click here to browse the entire issue online.

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