I selected Let's Not Call It Meditation because of the subtitle—practical guidance for people who think they can't sit still and quiet the mind. That's me, and what I've realized by reading this book of wisdom is that I actually do meditate, while walking, cooking, and even when napping, not when I'm asleep but when I'm floating between consciousness and unconsciousness and noticing every thought that enters my conscious or unconscious mind as well as every body sensation I feel. This is heightened awareness, and I've been doing it for years without calling it meditation. Padme Nina Livingston may not agree that napping can be a meditation. I'm going beyond her words in thinking that it is.
In her preface, she explains that many people resist meditation because the word has come to mean so many different things. Eastern spiritual traditions describe it as a way to develop clarity, compassion, and awareness. In Western culture, it describes relaxation, self-hypnosis techniques, awareness practices, and visualization exercises that help heal. Livingston recommends dropping the word in order to drop the confusion. She calls it "practicing awareness" or "focusing" and then goes on to describe exactly what this feels like:
"Awareness is being open with what is. Awareness is also a word for feeling awake on all levels; physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Awake is when we get up in the morning with a clear mind and feel ready for whatever the day has in store. Our eyes, ears and senses are wide open. We notice details of how we re feeling, how clear the sky, or how defined each snowflake. We experience the smiles of others, and the humor in situations with a compassionate heart. Clarity, honesty, compassion, and gratitude are available when we are awake."
In other words, it's the opposite of feeling lost in what the author describes as "cloudy-brain." I have sometimes blamed my cloudy-brain on the aging process. Livingstone has convinced me that this is not so. It's all about learning how to be aware or how to focus, something that takes energy and commitment.
This book is structured around an image called The Flowering of Inner Growth. At its roots are seeds of experience. The stem begins with intention, longing, and energy. As it grows, the stem becomes the Light of Awareness, and then comes the flower. At its center is Balance, and the petals represent Gratitude, Humor, Curiosity, Creativity, 100% Responsibility, and Compassion for self and others. I love this image. I want all that the fully blossomed flower contains, and this book is a good source for moving in that direction. I recommend it to all who have, like me, wanted to meditate but felt frustrated trying.
Padme Nina Livingstone has spent most of her adult life as a wife, mother, and homemaker. She began her spiritual journey with Roshi Kapleau at the Rochester Zen Center, and continued to attend retreats intermittently for twenty-five years with Toni Packer at Springwater Center. She teaches awareness meditation and has a private practice in spiritual guidance in Rochester, NY. Padme writes a monthly column called Living with Awareness and enjoys writing for her website and email newsletter.
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