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Excerpt from "Relaxing Into Meditation"

by Ngakma Nor'dzin

Meditation & Relaxation

A group of sixteen people sit in a circle on plastic schoolroom chairs. Their eyes are closed; their hands rest in their laps. Surrounded by the chaotic decoration of a textiles classroom the group has an atmosphere of stillness. The only sounds are slow and gentle breathing, or the occasional cough. After ten minutes, the group leader silently raises a bell, and—after a pause of a few seconds—strikes a single note with the bell’s clanger. The pure sound echoes through the room, gradually dying away.
Slowly—as the sound fades—each member of the group begins to stir, opening their eyes, stretching their limbs, and smiling at one another. “Good evening everyone. How has your meditation practice been this week?”

This was a typical scene for the opening of one of my relaxation and meditation classes for several years. School rooms are never entirely satisfactory for teaching practices such as meditation but this textiles classroom was one of the better ones. I offered the class as an attempt to bring the practice of meditation—in particular—to a wider audience.

Meditation is a life skill – like taking exercise or learning how to cook. It is a skill that enables anyone and everyone to live their life more fully and more happily. If everyone meditated for a few minutes every day, the world would be a more peaceful and friendlier place.

When I first taught meditation through my local community education programme, I called the course ‘meditation for relaxation’. However I realised quite quickly that this title was misleading. Meditation does ultimately lead to deep mental, emotional and physical relaxation that is beyond ordinary expectation. The practice of meditation however, requires commitment and discipline which is not specifically relaxing in itself – certainly not initially. Relaxation could almost be said to be a by-product of meditation and it is perhaps unhelpful to approach it from a desire to be more relaxed. I therefore renamed my class ‘Relaxation and Meditation’ so that I could make a clear distinction between meditation and relaxation and offer both to my students.

When enquiring into peoples reasons for joining the class, practically every person in all classes replied that they felt meditation would help them to relax and would help them
cope with stress. People want their lives to be more peaceful and therefore more enjoyable. They seek contentment and the ability to retain that sense of contentment whatever is happening in their lives. As I said earlier, although meditation certainly leads to relaxation
ultimate and total relaxationits practice may not be immediately relaxing.

In fact meditation practice can be quite demanding because of the necessity to focus and concentrate. It can also be challenging because the development of greater self-awareness through meditation can be a little disconcerting.

Hence in this book I begin our journey towards discovering ultimate relaxation by teaching relative relaxation. I begin with relaxation and breathing techniques specifically aimed at creating relaxation of the body and calmness of mind before embarking on meditation practices which may be more demanding.

Through the years that I have taught meditation classes—both as a Buddhist teacher and as a community education tutor—I have found that people expect meditation to be a solution to their problems. This was another common factor that arose amongst many of those attending my classes: a need for relief from exceptional personal circumstances such as illness or bereavement. People attended the class in the hope of finding help with a particular personal problem. A period of life with an unusual degree of stress or difficulty however, may not be the best time to try to begin meditation practice and in such circumstances it will certainly be better to begin with relaxation techniques. It is in fact preferable to have established a degree of stability in ones life and relief from immediate painmental, emotional or physicalbefore beginning meditation. Hence I begin this book with relaxation techniques to allow us to arrive at a starting point for meditation.

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