Thursday, 7 July 2011

Head jerks as an aid to meditation

When we begin to practise meditation regularly we tend to experience two problems: sleepiness and distraction.

Sleepiness occurs when the mind becomes dull.  At worst we may actually be nodding off to sleep, but there is a more insidious dullness that is harder to work with.  When the mind is simply dull we may actually feel that we are meditating quite well because we are not being distracted by thought.  The space we are in however, lacks sparkle and presence.  We are not really alert and aware.  If there were to be a sudden loud noise—for example—we would be startled out of our sluggishness in a disturbing and unsettling manner that is often disproportionate to the intensity of the shock.  The same loud noise if we are present and alert might still startle us slightly, but such a shock would create a greater sense of awareness once the physiological reaction had subsided.

Distraction is when the mind is full of thought and/or every little twitch, sound, itch and change in light or temperature prevents us from settling into our meditation.  We sit, but seem unable to get comfortable – the cushion is too hard, our knees hurt, our shoulders ache, the sun is too bright, we have an itchy nose, and suddenly writing a shopping list, work projects and memories are intensely fascinating.

There are a number of simple meditation aids that we can employ to combat sleepiness and distraction and the one I am describing in this post is called 'head jerks'.  Head jerks take just a few moments to enact and lift our energy out of dullness, or settle our mind from distraction, so that we are able to truly engage in our meditation practice.  This exercise involves moving the head sharply so care should be taken to prevent neck injury especially if you have a neck problem.

For sleepiness and dullness, place your chin on your chest and sharply and quickly raise your head upwards three times.  Then return to your meditation practice.

For distraction, raise your chin slightly and then bring it down sharply and quickly towards your chest three times.  Then return to your meditation practice.

This simple meditation aid can be used more than once in a session.  We need to use common sense however.  If I have tried the exercise two or three times and am still sleepy, perhaps I actually need to go and rest.  Perhaps it is not the best time of day to be practising meditation and I need to try a different time of day.  If I am still distracted having tried the exercise two or three times, perhaps it would be better to practise yogic song or a physical practice for a while and come back to silent sitting later.

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