This letter is a communication between Dorothyann Coyne, a Deep Spring Center teacher, and her grandson about meditation.
An email from Dorothyann’s Grandson: Grandma! I loved having brunch with you too. I just finished reading your whole letter. Thanks for putting down in words everything we talked about. I’ll do my best to start following these practices. Some I already do, but there is always room for improvement, and some I really haven’t spent much time with.
Thanks again. Much love! I’ll see you again soon hopefully.
Your grandson 🙂
On Thursday, August 11, 2016, Dorothy Ann Coyne <[email protected]> wrote:
Dearest Alex — Thank you so very much for the lovely brunch we shared the other morning. I so enjoy spending time with you. Love anticipating it, love being with you, love remembering it. Crazy eh? Guess I simply love you.
You asked me about meditation. So you hit me right where I truly live and I’m going to type into this email a bit of general instructions that you can look over and maybe they will serve you as you de-stress.
First of all, know that you can quiet the mind, spirit and inner agitation whether “sitting, standing, walking or lying down” to quote the ancient masters. And there is no special place you have to be. The old instructions mention leaving town and going to sit under a tree. There is no doubt that nature gives us the most supportive place, but, not to worry, you can find the inner peace on a train, in a bus, at your desk, walking from here to there, standing at a window, stopping anywhere and just being there.
Sometimes I teach a curious an acronym — BRFWA — doesn’t spell anything but sums up the qualities of this practice. I learned it in my yoga training at Kripalu. It stands for breathe, relax, feel, watch and allow.
BREATHE — This is so basic it would seem unnecessary to mention. But the breath is truly the link in the body/mind loop. We change our whole autonomic nervous system when we observe and take control of our breath. We literally move from fight or flight to easy does it. At any moment, we can stop and take three conscious breaths. At any time when we have stopped and are trying to unwind, it will be the breath and the clear awareness of the breath in some detail that will settle us down. So “know if you are taking in a long breath, know if you are taking in a short breath, know if you are letting out a long/short breath” quoting the Buddha directly. Find the apertures in the breath. Rest there. Just let nothing to be happening. Return to this breath awareness at any moment in life that gets tough. This can be done at a party with a drink in your hand.
RELAX — As the central experience of meditating mindfully is to simply be able to let the stuff of the mind some and go with no attachment, I am convinced that relaxation is what makes this all happen. A great time to practice is after a workout. I use my yoga for this, but I could see stopping after a good run or time in the gym. At those moments, the body is a bit used up and so willing to be still. A still body encourages a still mind. At the very least some stretches, loosening of the shoulders, releasing the jaw, getting comfortable are all strategies that bring us to the optimum place to “sit” which may or may not be in a chair.
FEEL — The body is always in the present moment and returning to a clear knowing of how the body is will pay dividends. Some masters advocate a scanning of the body — mentally sweeping one’s awareness from head to feet and back again. We can let this careful experience of the body help relieve any mental stress that is bugging us. Along with the awareness of how it is with us physically is the knowing of what’s going on with our emotions. Just noticing any anxiety, fear, wanting of things to be different somehow — here is the heart of the practice.
WATCH — OK so we’re just noticing, just watching. No judgement, comment, no decision making. Just a strong feeling experience. I also think that huge doses of kindness to oneself can come into play here. This is especially true if pain, mental or physical, is present. And even more especially true if the pain or distress is self inflicted. And in just observing things as they are we let go of controlling the situation. In classic instruction this is often called “choiceness awareness.” We really have no idea what the mind is going to cook up next or what itch or body sensation will surface. But here we have taken a time-out, however brief or long, to simply be with ourselves. And we’re paying attention. This whole business is not asking of us something we do not know how to do. We can notice. We can pay attention. Simple. Easy even. But practicing it regularly is rather unusual you could say.
ALLOW — One teacher I’ve learned from says that this whole practice is like being a child again in the back seat of the car. You are not controlling this experience and really have no say in where it’s going. I remember times in my parents car very vividly even to this day. Often I would be pressing my nose against a window in the back seat and just seeing what was going by with no particular energy. As I have practiced again and again watching my mind bring up thoughts and stories and observed sounds, smells or body sensations around me, I have become stronger and stronger in the ability to allow the world, my life, to unfold as it does — to allow the meditation experience to unfold as it does. This does not mean that I have become a passive ninny but knowing what’s happening and allowing it without resistance gives me the ability to then work with the moment from a place of peace. I no longer have to “try” or force events in my life. And when a truly big moment comes (grandpa’s death) I am right there, not running from it, not wishing it away, but simply present. From that stance, I can operate with some clarity and effectiveness.
Well, my dearest one, I can only hope that these words are helpful to you. Your grandfather and I began to learn such things in our early thirties. So you are ahead of us already asking to know this stuff in your late twenties. I can only say that this practice so very much contributed to real happiness in both our lives. And I know you realize the inner strength, fortitude that he had as he faced the end of his days. Deep happiness, less struggle and suffering, clear strength — pretty wonderful payoff for a few minutes a day of stopping to relax and breathe.
I wish you well with all this and am right here any time to talk about it again.
Love you so dearly, Grandma