My studies at Atlantic University exposed me to Jack Kornfield (Kornfield, 2008). Using his approach to meditation was like trying a favorite dish at a new restaurant. It was familiar, but with some new nuances. It has been a long time since I sat with the explicit direction of a teacher (from Kornfield's CD) in mind. In my past experience the approach was to recognize and let go of anything that arises during sitting practice (thoughts, physical sensations, emotions, etc.) Trying to enact this new style where you spend more time thinking about your distractions led me to lots of thinking about how many different paths there are and lots of reverie about my past meditations, instruction and experience. Oops, thinking, thinking, thinking...oops thinking some more.
For those who are new to meditation, take heart, you can't go wrong! Even those who have spent years in practice can still have wandering mind, idle thoughts and fantasies sneak in and catch them. What a playground the mind is. The neat part is to not let ego beat you for having a wandering mind or praise you when you have meditated 'really well'. That is all illusion and story telling by the voice in your head.
I like to sit for 30 minutes, in order to push past the natural 20 minute attention span of the average adult (this is how the Zen monastery trained me). For longer sittings, 30 minutes of practice are alternated by 15 minutes of walking practice. I use a timer so that I am not distracted by wondering how much time has passed. Time sometimes passes very fast and sometimes very slowly in my meditative experience. I like to use a Tibetan singing bowl to chime the start of my practice. The slow fade of the tone of the gong marks the passage from everyday mind to mindful sitting awareness.
As far as my schedule of meditation goes, 30 minutes of sitting while my partner tends the animals (we run a boarding stable) can vary exactly when it happens but usually after supper in the evening. I supplement this with walking in at least 10 minute intervals two or three times during the day, usually once in the morning and once in the mid afternoon, when afternoon sleepiness tries to creep in. I am presently commuting for an hour in each direction, and I try to use at least part of my driving time, to drive mindfully. In contrast to the Zen monastery that aims to be always mindful, but applies very strong rules to how and where to meditate, Shambhala training says to practice mindfulness meditation whenever you can, wherever you can, (even if you can only grab five minutes of meditation at a stop light!) So I really have peppered my personal practice with what I like about each discipline I have studied.
Hoshin, A. (1994). The straight path. Ottawa, Canada: Great Matter Publications.
Kornfield, J. (2008). Meditation for beginners. Boulder, CO: Sounds True Inc.
Trungpa, C. (1984). Shambhala: The sacred path of the warrior. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications Inc.