We have all seen the photos of people meditating in luxurious surroundings. Sometimes they are on a special fancy-pants cushion purchased just for this purpose. Sometimes they are on a mountain top or beside a lake or otherwise in a location that is instagram-worthy. The worst possible outcome of this is that the images strike our fancy (or awakens our desire) while also freezing us because (of course) we don’t own the fancy-pants pillow and don’t know where to get one, or we live in a normal situation and cannot access a mountaintop/lake/don’t have money to go on retreat/don’t have time to drop everything and stare into the Swiss mountains and so we shrug off the very idea of mindfulness as a good but too glamorous or unattainable practice for the likes of us.
Mindfulness meditation is about the mind, not where we are or what we are sitting on. I admit that being outside can help, I highly recommend it certain times of year, but I think just about any park will do. Living in Ottawa I find the rivers and even the canal are bodies of water sufficient for meditation, so too are the countless parks with trees and flowers (and for those of you with wealth to own a yard, maybe even your yard). All over our city there are benches.
This post is a paean of sorts to the humble bench. It can be wood or metal or cement or built into a rock, it can be in memory of someone and have a special little plaque, or it can be plain, it can be multi-coloured or brown, as long as it can hold you up it will do.
One element of benchness that I appreciate is the backrest…while meditating breath is very important and a straight back increases our lung capacity and so sitting with a straight back is a very good idea to help us meditate, thus many meditate sitting bolt upright without any support. Can we admit that for many of us this is a hurdle, and mostly an unnecessary one? What happens if I meditate while my back is supported? Will the meditation police come and arrest me? Will someone grab a photo of me and publish it online in a bizarre attempt to shame me? I ask these to stress how ridiculous our worries can be.
Just sit on a bench, under a tree, by water, facing flowers, whatever, and count as you take 5 slow deep breathes, feel the air coming in and out of your lungs. As your mind settles feel the ground, the bench, and yes the backrest supporting you. Settling into whatever you like, a biblical passage or prayer, a chant, or a posture of listening.
I promise you, the plainness of your environment will be ok, the quotidian reality of your bench will work, it may even become your favourite bench over time. Some Holy places are “holy” thanks to their repeated use for holy purposes. The point is to get started, to figure out what you really need (keeping this as simple as possible) and just, ahem, do it.