Begin by finding a comfortable position on a cushion or chair. Once you are seated, you can shift around gently until your body assumes a posture that is upright, stable, and relaxed. If you are on a cushion, it helps to sit on the front third so that your pelvis can slant slightly forward, allowing your knees to rest on the floor. You’ll notice how this pushes your back upright like a small child peeking over a garden fence. It takes no effort at all; you don’t have to be stiff or rigid. You can simply rest in this natural posture, which your body finds all on its own. Let your shoulders and arms hang towards the floor, resting your hands gently in your lap or on your knees.
Once you feel alert and at ease, like you can sit attentively with minimal effort, take some time to fully arrive in this room. Look around, up, down, and side to side. Notice the details of the furniture. Take in all the lights and shadows. Survey the faces of those around you; make eye contact. Glance up at the texture of the ceiling. Observe the dust on the floor. Hear the sounds coming from within the room and outside. The calling of birds. Shifting bodies. Wind in the trees. Allow all these sounds to pass through awareness leaving no trace behind. Know where you are. Be here.
Satisfy your curiosity about where you are. Let the mind settle into the space so that it has no reason to wander off with the sights and sounds around you. After giving your mind free reign to dance about the room, you’ll notice how it comes back to you naturally. It has checked things out. It knows that it is safe. It can rest and be at peace now. Soften your gaze to a spot on the floor just a couple feet in front of you. You can focus on a part of the pattern in the tile, or wood, or carpet. You can find a pebble or piece of dirt or a shadow. Or, you can rest your gaze on a part of the floor that is completely featureless. Just let your eyes rest. Give them a chance to be still. Let everything in your peripheral vision fuzz so that nothing remarkable is left.
When your eyes are resting naturally, your body is still, and your mind is quiet and alert, notice the sensations of your breathing. Pay attention to your abdomen raising from the diaphragm; air entering your nostrils, passing over the back of your throat, and filling your lungs. Stay with your breathing in that brief moment between breaths, when all is still and all is quiet, then follow the sensations as your abdomen falls and air flows out your nostrils a little warmer than before. Even as perceptions, feelings, and thoughts arise in the mind, let your breathing keep your awareness grounded in your body. There is no need to get carried along by or push away anything that comes to mind. They will come and go on their own. If it helps, you can silently remember the gatha, “Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.”
After you can take about 20 or so breaths with this gentle kind of awareness, without getting swept away by thinking, close your eyes. From here on out, you’ll be sensing with the body and feeling with the heart. They eyes have no work to do right now; they can rest completely. Expand your awareness of breathing to embrace your whole body, surveying it from head to toe. In any place you notice tightness or tension, breathe out and give a conscious thought towards releasing. Feel it soften as if it is melting. Spend several moments checking in with your body. Bring to mind the parts that generally go unnoticed. Remember their names. Contemplate all the wonderful things your body allows you to do and send it your love and gratitude. Wherever your body is unwell, give raise to a feeling of compassion and promise your body to take good care of it. Appreciate whatever degree of good health you have.
Your body gives you so many gifts every moment of the day. Realize that right now in this moment, you have a chance to give your body a gift in return – the gift of rest, of total relaxation, of peace. Feel the frame of your skeleton supporting the weight of your body and release every single muscle holding tension. Let your shoulders droop to the floor and your head tilt slight forward on your neck. Soften your brow; invite a little smile to bloom on your face. Feel the vastness of the earth supporting you underneath. Take refuge in the solidity, the inclusiveness, the kindness and compassion of the ground of this planet. Release all of your stress and tension into the earth. Know that the solidity of the earth is also in your body. Recognize the stability of your posture - how it gives you a grounded feeling. Acknowledge the calm of your breathing – how it makes you at peace and at ease.
Now you can come totally back to yourself and your body, giving it thanks and compassion. Place your left hand across your lower abdomen and surf along the waves of the breath – in and out – for several moments. Then, gently rest your right hand on your heart, feeling it expand and contract in tandem with your abdomen like a teeter-totter rocking back and forth. Embrace yourself like a mother holding her baby with pure kindness and gentleness. Absorb yourself in how your abdomen expands in your arms. As your abdomen retreats, your arms follow as if they are saying, “I will stay with you.” Get a sense of how you are being embraced, and, at the same time, you are the one who embraces. Remember that you have been hugged like this before in your life. Even if it was just the nurse after you were born, there was a being in your life to whom you were the most important person even if just for a moment. Bring to life the feeling of that moment. You deserve this love. Even if no one else has ever been able to give it to you, you deserve this love.
Now, with your body grounded in a feeling of tenderness and your mind anchored in your breathing, loosen the rope a little so that your memory can call up the past. Remember being a small child – how open and curious you were. Remember how vulnerable and resilient you were. You could cry your heart out when your ice cream fell to the dirt then in the very next minute be laughing and chasing friends around the playground. Life was simple. Recall how you relied on your guardians and caregivers. You were safe, mostly. People around you did their best to satisfy your needs, even if they weren’t perfect. Remember all the dreams and imagination you had. How you could entertain yourself with a fantasy game, how you made adults laugh with your innocence. Rediscover the epiphany you had when you learned that your teachers didn’t live at school. Delight again in butterflies and teacups, in tadpoles and fart noises. You were going to be an astronaut, or a doctor, or a marine biologist, or a firefighter. Smile to this child. Hug this child. Remember who you were.
When you’re acquainted again with this fresh and bright-eyed being, pass in review the events of growing up. Life got complicated. The people around you weren’t as reliable as you thought. You became aware of their struggles. Sometimes, people could hurt you or make you feel afraid. And these hurts and traumas stayed with you. Somehow, you got the idea that you had to earn the love and respect of other people – that you had to be worthy. Remember all the ways you tried to fit it. How you yearned to be accepted and noticed. Feel again the desire to take care of someone and to be taken care of. To just have someone who you could count on to be stable, to be permanent. See the faces of the people who have passed through your life – family members, friends, teachers, romantic partners, colleagues, associates – like thoughts in your mind, like clouds in the sky. Embrace yourself and hold the burden of acquiring responsibility. Breathe with the anxiety that came as you learned to worry about the future, about how other’s thought of you, about whether or not you could be accepted and loved and safe.
Notice that you never asked for any of this. You never requested to be given a body that is constantly subject to pain and pleasure and craving, that becomes awkward with puberty, that ages and deteriorates. You never bargained for a mind that agonizes over details, that can find no place of security outside itself. You didn’t design life to be constantly changing, unpredictable, and unsafe. You were just a kid; you didn’t deserve this. No one deserves this, and yet it happens to everyone. This is a noble truth. This is how you grow your love and compassion. You know that everyone suffers. And you know what it is like to suffer.
You have already met so many challenges. Think back on how some crises and dilemmas consumed your life, your every thought and emotion. Now, some of them are barely more than a memory. You have shown determination and perseverance. You cried when you needed to cry, laughed when you needed to laugh, rested when you needed to rest, and worked when you needed to work. You’ve retreated and advanced. You’ve faced tough decisions and moved from confusion to clarity. You’ve forgiven and forgotten; and, you’ve remembered and become wiser. Hold yourself and recognize your strength. There are wounds, still. But, you know that you can heal. You have healed before. Smile. You’ve done the best that you could.
Come back to your breathing. Root yourself again in your body sitting on this earth. The past has blossomed and withered. All that’s left are the seeds it has dropped in your consciousness. It is up to you whether to water them or not. Turn your mind now to the future – not far – just enough to see the next couple days, weeks, maybe months. What challenges do you face there? Are there people in your life who don’t have it together? Who are unstable? Unsafe? Is there insecurity in your relationships? Is there uncertainty about the future, bills to pay, tough decisions to make? Are you being taken advantage of or abused? Are you being unloved? Is someone you care about suffering? Have you made a mistake you regret? Have you lost a loved one?
Now, through your breathing, come back to the present moment. Embrace yourself in your own arms and know you have the strength and resources to meet these challenges. You have met them before. There are people in your life you can reasonably rely on. There are relatives, teachers, friends, and service workers you can ask for support. You can asked to be listened to. You can be understood. Even if there is no one else, you have yourself and the earth to rely on. Right now, strong emotions might be stirring inside. But, look at you. You’re solid. You’re stable. You’re not losing it. You can embrace your difficult feelings. You can always love and come back to yourself.
With these next few breaths, hold yourself a little tighter. Tell yourself, “You’re ok. I am here for you. I will never give up on you. I will always care about you. I will always love you simply because you need love.” You can now slowly open your eyes. Be gentle; don’t move to suddenly. See the room around you now fresh and new. See yourself as fresh and new.