This morning when I was getting ready to meditate, I thought I would try something new. Just last night I downloaded a meditation timer app called “Timeless,” which has some great free features like goal-setting and progress tracking (which to some meditators seems a bit paradoxical) and some subscription-based features like meditation classes. I downloaded this app not for help in my own meditations, but rather because I am always seeking more meditation tools to help my students.
I will write a full review of this app after I subscribe to their paid features and take a few classes, but for now, the free features are working out just fine.
Changing Up The Routine
Okay, so the app was not the only new part of my morning meditation practice. At the advice of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, I lit some incense next to a small wooden Hotei statue (which most know as Fat Buddha or Laughing Buddha). I’m not “praying” to the statue, but it is there as a symbol and reminder of the nature of The Buddha.
So that makes two new things added to my morning meditation. I decided to add a third to get that magic symmetry in there. The third new thing I added this morning was mudra.
“Mudra” are specific hand positions, which are said to align the energies in the human body to perform in a certain way. For example, some mudra are said to alleviate back pain or improve concentration. I was using a mudra today called “vitarka” which is commonly associated with meditation: index finger pressed against the inside of the thumb while the other three fingers are either extended or relaxed.
I usually used dhyana mudra because it is highly comfortable for sitting meditation, but today I used vitarka mudra as a tool of focus. I did not assign the object of meditation as the mudra – I simply allowed the mudra to be without disturbing it.
The three new things I tried today were:
- Timeless meditation app
- Incense/Hotei Statue altar
- Vitarka mudra
I want to talk a bit about the altar. I started offering incense during meditation as a way to program my mind. Through the lens of neuroscience, over time the firm smell of incense can be used to trigger the meditative state of mind. This is why incense is so strong – it is designed to overwhelm the senses. This process takes some time. If you would like to do this, I recommend it.
Have you ever gotten a whiff of a smell and were instantly transported to a time and/or emotion in your life? That’s exactly how the incense meditation works!
Incense in Meditation
First, find some incense that is new to you, yet pleasing. When you go to meditate, bring this incense with you (and a lighter or match). When you sit down to meditate, ignite the incense. When the stick glows with flame, blow the fire out, and the embers will smolder – thus releasing the fragrance. Practice your meditation the same way you have been doing, and over time your mind will associate the smell of incense with the practice of meditation. Therefore, getting “into” the meditative state will be easier and easier.
The altar was kind of weird to me. I have never been the praying type, nor did I regularly attend any churches or synagogues as a child. The altar always seemed to me to be just praying to a statue, which I always attributed to something “bad” or “wrong.” That attribution stems back to hearing the stories of Moses and the people praying to the golden calf. Needless to say, setting up the Hotei altar seemed weird, and I always thought of Hotei statues as kitschy.
In meditation, my eyes are closed, so the altar’s purpose seemed null. I noticed thought after thought trail by pondering the statue. “Am I praying to a statue?” and, “Didn’t I hear something about not being a stone Buddha?” The trail of thought continued.
A genuine delight with the altar was revealed when the bell chimed (which was pleasant and short from the Timeless app) because I opened my eyes to see Hotei sitting there, smiling at me with his big, infectious grin. I instantly and involuntarily smiled back, ear to ear. Smiling like that made me feel pretty good. In fact, it made me feel okay.
If you’ve seen Mad Men, then you know the reference that advertising is not selling products, but it is selling happiness: the feeling that what you are doing is okay. Hotei gave me that feeling – or rather, I gave it to myself, inspired by that little wooden Hotei. I got the feeling that I did it right, which is huge.
Beginner meditators, including myself, sometimes struggle with the thought, “Am I doing it right?” or, “You’re doing it wrong.” These thoughts can be incredibly distracting. Once I saw the Hotei statue, I felt like I was doing it exactly right.
Or more, the way I do it is right for me.
To sum up, Timeless is ideal for unpaid features (for now, updates will follow including a full review). You can use incense for building neural pathways that connect the smell to a state of mind, and I found the altar was a strange yet rewarding experience. Try some of these techniques out for yourself – or all of them – and drop a comment below telling of your experience! We love to hear from our readers and will reply back personally.
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