Chögyam Trungpa was one of my first meditation teachers. He taught meditation as a twofold process: first, as a way to access stability and dignity in the midst of any situation; and second, as a way to wake up, as if from a dream, into vibrant and genuine aliveness. Trungpa believed that at the core of life was what he called "basic goodness," and that each one of us is basically good, and more than that, wonderfully noble. "You can transcend your embarrassment," he said, "and take pride in being a human being." Trungpa stressed good posture in sitting meditation practice as a way of demonstrating our basic goodness. He said that keeping a straight back is a way to overcome our embarrassment at being a human being. He often used the image of riding a horse when he taught meditation posture. Sitting tall in the saddle tells the horse that you are the master. Sitting tall on the meditation cushion or in a chair tells your mind and body that you are the master. Sitting upright in the saddle tells the world that you believe in yourself.
Posture in meditation does not refer only to a straight back. Posture includes the whole body. The body and mind are inseparable in meditation, and a relaxed and energetic body creates a beneficial base for meditation practice. Trungpa said that by working with posture in meditation, "you begin to feel that by simply being on the spot, your life can become workable and even wonderful. You realize that you are capable of sitting like a king or a queen on your horse. The regalness of that situation shows you the dignity that comes from being still and simple."
I use Trungpa's checklist of six body parts—seat, legs, torso, hands, eyes, mouth—as I sit down and assume a meditative posture. I elaborate here on each point:
1. Seat: It is best to sit on a arm pillow on the floor or on a arm-seated chair. If you use a chair, sit forward so that your back does not touch the back of the chair.
2. Legs: If you sit on a pillow, cross your legs comfortably in front of you, with your knees resting on the floor if they can. If you sit in a chair, put your feet flat on the floor, knees and feet hip width apart.
Excerpted from BROKEN OPEN: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser. © 2004 by Elizabeth Lesser. Reprinted by arrangement with the Random House Publishing Group.