A Meditation Mantra for July 4th
By Janet Nima Taylor at the Temple Buddhist Center in Kansas City, Missouri
Setting off fireworks may seem like an odd time to practice meditation, but what better time, really, to be fully present and in the moment? The heat of summer is a wonderful time to practice the three key components of a flexible July 4th practice: Concentration, Natural Awareness and Positive Imagery.
Many people think that meditation is just a process practiced while sitting quietly in the pretzel position. Thank goodness that we have many more, even better opportunities to practice these time-tested tools! Here’s how to integrate several mindful techniques into any meditative moment of any day – whether you are commuting in traffic, playing golf or watching fireworks with our family.
First, begin with Concentration. As you are reading these words, stop for a few moments and be aware of the tiny sensations of breathing in and breathing out. You can have your eyes open or closed; either way is okay. Concentrating on your breath for a few moments actually lowers your blood pressure and can help decrease the stress hormones in your body. To get started, you might even breathe in counting to four, and breathe out counting to six. A longer out breath automatically slows down your heartbeat.
It’s normal that random thoughts and feelings, even sounds and sensations, will arise when you practice concentration. Instead of trying to ignore them or push them away, try incorporating them into the meditative experience by imagining each one to be nothing more than a cloud floating by in the sky. Notice the distraction and then return to focusing on your breath. You can practice concentration while you flip the hamburgers on the grill, or while sitting poolside watching your children play.
Second, we can practice being more aware of our surroundings. To initiate Natural Awareness, gently gaze straight ahead for a few moments, expanding your peripheral vision. Pick an imaginary “spot” about three feet in front of your eyes and focus, then expand your awareness to radiate out in all directions. This practice is sometimes called Neutral Curiosity. When family and friends and overwhelming noise and conversation in midst of a party, surround you, this practice helps you be more present and calm in the midst of it all.
Third, we can practice cultivating positive emotions, or Positive Imagery. Whenever families or friends are gathered, a myriad of situations arise. We can use whatever happens as a chance to cultivate a sense of loving-kindness and compassion. In fact, neurological research proves that imagining positive emotions creates more positive neural networks in our brains, enabling us to more naturally and more often experience them.
What better time to try to be present than when a Roman candle whizzes by your head?
Happy Fourth of July.
To download podcasts or read up on a home meditation practice, contact Taylor, author of “Meditation for Non-Meditators.”
Tags: fourth of july, home meditation, how to de stress, how to meditate, Janet Nima Taylor, meditation, meditation tips, meditative practice, positive imagery, positive thinking, self awareness, Temple Buddhist Center