It is a good idea to stick with one position for your hands per meditation session, so as not to get distracted by the switching-mudra game. It's very easy to turn anything into yet another way not to do the simple work of meditation. At the end of a meditation session, many traditions suggest raising the hands palm to palm and bowing. This is a way to indicate respect and gratitude for having meditated. It is also a way to experience a sense of humility as we bow to the universal forces of wisdom and compassion.

5. Eyes: Some meditation traditions recommend closing the eyes during meditation; others suggest keeping them open and directing the gaze downward, four to six feet in front of you, focusing on a point on the floor. Some suggest keeping a soft, unfocused gaze. I meditate with my eyes closed. You can experiment and see which way affords you the best relaxation and concentration. If you find that closing your eyes makes you sleepy, keep them open. If you find that keeping your eyes open is distracting, close them.

6. Mouth: We hold a lot of tension in the jaw. Let your jaw drop right now. Open your mouth wide, stick your tongue out, then close your mouth. Massage your jaw area from your ears to your chin. Now notice the difference. You can do this often during the day as a way to release tension. During meditation, it is not unusual for tension to gather in the jaw. The Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh recommends smiling slightly, while you meditate, a great way to keep the jaw soft. Or you can drop your jaw and open your mouth several times during meditation.

Understand that the pain or tension you may feel in your body as you meditate is both physical and psychological. If you experience pain, constriction, restlessness, or all of the above, do not be alarmed, and do not take the attitude "no pain, no gain." Adjust your position slowly and mindfully as many times as you want during a meditation session. The point of meditation is to be relaxed and awake. Therefore make sure you are comfortable, and at the same time sit in a way that keeps you alert.

At a meditation retreat I heard Thich Nhat Hanh answer a man who said he experienced pain in his shoulders and neck the minute he sat down to meditate. Thay asked the man if he felt that same pain the minute he sat down to watch television. He said that he did not.

"How do you sit when you watch television?" Thay asked.

"I usually sit on the couch, with my feet folded under me," said the man. "But after a while I may switch my position and stretch out my legs."

"How long do you watch television?"

"Oh, about an hour."

"Do you stay awake for the whole hour?"

"Yes," said the man.

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.  


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