February 17, 2010

Meditation Inspiration: Stephen Levine

One book I am currently inspired by is A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last by Stephen Levine. In it, he discusses our anxiety, fear, and resistance to death and dying. He encourages us to come to terms with our own death in order to truly live life in the time we have left. The book includes a series of meditations, contemplations, and exercises on fear, gratitude, forgiveness, and the process of dying.

The first exercise in the book, one that I have been working with in my own meditation, has to do with the physical effects of anxiety and fear on our body.

It is called Soft-Belly Meditation. Here is an excerpt:

Soften the belly to receive the breath,

       to receive sensation, to experience life in the body.
Soften the muscles that have held the fear for so long.
Soften the tissue, the blood vessels, the flesh.
Letting go of the holding of a lifetime.
Letting go into soft-belly, merciful belly.
Soften the grief, the distrust, the anger
         held so hard in the belly.
Levels and levels of softening, levels and levels of letting go.

Soft-belly is the practice that accompanies us throughout the day
      and finds us at day's end still alive and well.

I have found this meditation (and others in the book) very helpful. My experience is that once I bring my conscious attention to the tightness in my body, much of it will melt away on its own. However if I don't consciously focus on it, I can go a long time with the tension building up before I notice it. When it builds to a certain point it actually makes me anxious. I feel anxious and I'm not sure why. This meditation reminds me to step back and pay more attention to what is going on in my body, to acknowledge it, and to let it move through me rather than holding on to it.

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