When you sit with strong intentionality, the body itself makes a statement of deep conviction and commitment in its carriage. These radiate inward and outward. A dignified sitting posture is itself an affirmation of freedom, and of life’s harmony, beauty, and richness. Sometimes you feel in touch with it; other times you may not. Even when you feel depressed, burdened, confused, sitting can affirm the strength and value of this life lived now. If you can muster the patience to sustain your sitting for even a brief time, it can bring you in touch with the very core of your being, that domain which is beyond up or down, free or burdened, clearsighted or confused.
This core is akin to awareness itself; it doesn’t fluctuate with mental state or life circumstances. It is mirrorlike, impartially reflecting what comes before it. This includes a deep knowing that whatever is present, whatever has happened to shake your life or overwhelm you, will of itself inevitably change, and for this reason alone, bears simply holding in the mirror of the present moment – watching it, embracing its presence, riding its waves of unfolding just as you ride the waves of your own breathing, and having faith that you will sooner or later find a way to act, to come to terms, to move through and beyond.
Not by trying so much as by watching, by letting things be, and feeling them fully moment by moment. Mindful sitting meditation doesn’t aim to escape; it’s about facing challenges, not denial or absorption. Instead, embrace challenges, facing pain or confusion, observing over time without succumbing to immediate thoughts. You seek understanding simply through bearing the situation in mind, along with your breath, as you maintain the sitting posture.
In the Zen tradition, one teacher (Shunru Suzuki Roshi) put it this way: “The state of mind that exists when you sit in the right posture is itself enlightenment. … These forms [sitting meditation] are not the means of obtaining the right state of mind. To take this posture is itself the right state of mind.” In the sitting meditation, you are already touching your own truest nature. So, when we practice sitting meditation, first and foremost it means sitting in such a way that your body affirms, radiates, broadcasts an attitude of presence, that you are committed to acknowledging and accepting whatever comes up in any moment. This orientation is one of non-attachment and unwavering stability, like a clear mirror, only reflecting, itself empty, receptive, open. This attitude is contained in the posture, in the very way you choose to sit. The posture embodies the attitude.
This is why many people find the image of a mountain helpful in deepening concentration and mindfulness in the sitting practice. Invoking qualities of elevation, massiveness, majesty, stillness, rootedness, helps bring these qualities directly into posture and attitude.
It is important to invite these qualities into your meditation all the time. Practicing over and over again embodying dignity, stillness, an unwavering equanimity in the face of any mind state which presents itself, especially when you are not in a grave state of distress or turmoil, can provide a solid, reliable foundation for maintaining mindfulness and equanimity, even in periods of extreme stress and emotional turmoil. But only if you practice, practice, practice.
Although it is tempting to do so, you can’t just think that you understand how to be mindful, and save using it for only those moments when the big events hit. They contain so much power they will overwhelm you instantly, along with all your romantic ideas about equanimity and knowing how to be mindful. Meditation practice is the slow, disciplined work of digging trenches, of working in the vineyards, of bucketing out a pond. It is the work of moments and the work of a lifetime, all wrapped into one.
-His Holiness Swami Advaitananda