Illustration from “The (Forever) Beginner’s Meditation Companion”

From “Mindfulness Mediums” a section of my newest book, “The (Forever) Beginner’s Meditation Companion”

“…In meditation, we’re always mindful of something, like our moment-to-moment experience or our anchor (if one is specified or chosen).

Anchors are specific objects that we are mindful of or concentrate on during practice. Usually, an anchor is the thing we continually return focus to, such as the breath, a mantra, a body sensation, or an image we visualize in our mind’s eye or rest our gaze upon.

In both meditation and life, what we experience about ourselves and our world comes to us as:

Thoughts (mind as medium)

Sensations (body as medium)

Feelings, moods (emotions as medium)

Perceptions (senses as medium)

Breath

Thankfully, we’re not fully mindful of all of these all day, every day. (Just imagine how exhausting life would be, and how muddy our picture of reality would appear.)

Just as thankfully, we’re not able to be 100% mindful of just one thing while the rest of the world is 100% shut out. (That would be dangerous, for one thing.)

Instead of the all or nothing approach, we use mindfulness in a more balanced way. We direct our mindfulness towards something, observing what it does while still having some awareness of other things going on in the background.

What we find to be real in any given moment depends on what we are and aren’t mindful of, as well as which medium our mindfulness is occurring through.

Let’s return to the train conductor in order to explore how our version of reality is determined by what we’re aware of. Imagine the conductor’s view as the train rolls through the busy city and then into the desert.

If the conductor is overwhelmed with thoughts (like financial worries, for example) his experience of driving the train through the city and the desert might be overshadowed by thinking about how much money’s in his bank account, when he’ll get his next paycheck, what bills are piling up, how he’s going to ask his friend for a loan, how he’ll explain everything to his spouse, and what he might do next.

Now imagine meeting the conductor at the train station afterwards. As he steps out of the train you say, “How was the trip?” He might say, “Really stressful,” barely remembering the city and desert. His thoughts are overshadowing his senses.

Now imagine the conductor is an aesthete, with a taste for beauty and sensory-indulgence. As the train rolls through the city, his eyes feast upon all the glitter, noise, movement, and modernity. His senses are working overtime to drink it all in.

Then, as the city fades into a wide desert panoramic view, he gasps. His eyes blink, adjusting to the vast open space.

He takes a deep breath, soothed by the quiet. His eyes sweep through the vastness searching for an object.

“Hmmm, nothing … nothing … then….”Ah, a deer on the horizon. Amazing!”

This conductor is still having thoughts, but the sight and sound of the journey pouring through his senses dominates his reality. His thoughts are actually supporting his senses, helping to make reality even more meaningful and real to him.

Now imagine this aesthete conductor actually has the same financial problems as the worried one. Their financial reality is the same, but their versions of “what happened on the train ride through the city and the desert” are quite different. Yet each version is equally real to each conductor.

Now imagine these two train conductors as one person who has made the same city-to-desert journey two different times, experiencing the two different moods on each trip. The reality of the first trip was stressful, while the second was a feast for the senses.

So it is with meditation. If we choose to be mindful of body sensation, our experience of reality will be different than if we’re mindful of emotions. The medium is the message. What message we hear (or what version of reality) depends on what medium is transmitting the message.

But there’s more.

Mind, body, emotions, senses, and breath aren’t actually separate from one another. They are all interlinked in the web of personal experience. The breath moving through the body creates sensations we can feel, sound we can hear, and emotions we experience. When we become emotionally overwhelmed, our breath, body, mind, and sensory perception change dramatically.

Our experience of mind, body, emotions, sensation, and breath is forever changing. We can practice the same meditation a dozen days and have a dozen unique experiences.

Why does all this matter?

When we find ourselves at a crossroads, we see we have choices in which direction to go — the way of mind, body, emotions, sensation, breath, or combinations of these.

At this point, we see our freedom and the responsibility required to skillfully make the most of it.

We’re responsible for where our mindfulness goes as we practice and the reality our choices help create. These choices shape our practice and influence our lives.

The choices we make about which mediums we’re mindful of directly influence how well we “get along” with our practice. Direct your mindfulness according to what supports your needs and intentions.

Which medium is the right one for us will become apparent over time. The more we practice through different mediums (just like taking different routes), the more we begin to find the way that’s right for us.

Honesty is one of the most helpful tools in determining which way is right for us.

One of meditation’s superhero powers is nurturing honesty. It really can be that companion who sets you straight when you’re kidding yourself. “Tough love” isn’t fun to receive, but deep down we know that the truest friends are those who lovingly call us out.

An honest meditation practice can be this true friend.

Let’s now take a closer look at mind, body, emotions, senses, and breath…”

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