How to sit like a mountain
The practice of seated meditation holds special significance in Asian spiritual and artistic traditions. An image of Gautama the Buddha, Shiva, or Guanyin seated in meditative equipoise evokes a powerful resonance within us. There is recognition of some inherent aspect of ourselves. Something inside us says, “I want to feel like that. I want to be like that; so serene and collected.” We intuitively know that we have this Buddha-like quality within us. How do we bring it forth?
As we embark upon our own practice of seated meditation, a subtle resonance pulls us ever inward toward the Center of our own Being. We discover that Buddha is not a person, Guanyin is not a deity, Shiva is not an external image. These are mirrors reflecting what is shining within us all the time. Buddha is the qualities of presence, clarity and calm. Guanyin is our own compassionate heart. Shiva, our own pure awareness. Each reflects aspects of our own intrinsic nature. On the path of rediscovering our Buddha-like clarity and calm, seated meditation is one of our most powerful tools.
The seated meditation position offers stability, comfort, and a near perfect balance of poise and relaxation. The attentiveness necessary to maintain a naturally aligned sitting position supports sustained focus and relaxed alertness. The relative ease most people experience while in the seated position allows for the possibility of a graceful transition from doing to Being.
The Sanskrit word asana means “seat,” and refers to the cushion a yogi sits upon to practice meditation. Asana also signifies any of the numerous bodily positions used in yogic practices. Yet the word asana implies much more than the shape and location of the body. A student once asked the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, “What is the best asana?” He replied, “Abidance in the Self is the only true posture.” The Maharshi’s loaded response hints at the importance of what we might call embodied presence.
As it turns out, remaining in our original nature is what matters most. If we strike an esoteric yoga position and lose our original breath and original posture, we have temporarily forfeited our original nature. In other words, we have lost sight of our natural way of being and breathing. Although such an asana may be technically correct and even display superior flexibility, balance, or strength, if we are not truly seated in our Center of Being, the pose is considered counter-productive in terms of spiritual cultivation.
We must apply the same caution to our seated meditation position. If our seated position becomes forced — our spine ramrod straight, or our legs forced into full lotus with screaming knees — our practice will serve to strengthen self-delusion and ego-clinging. Sitting, as with all aspects of inner cultivation, must first and foremost be a natural expression. We start where we are. With daily practice, our posture, breathing, and mental state will go through various changes. Our hips will open, spine will find more freedom, and legs stop falling asleep as easily. It takes time. Our thoughts, emotions, and sensations will go through innumerable transformations as well. The mirror is being polished. The store-house of latent tendencies is being emptied.
When we sit, we forget our external ambitions, we forget our personal preferences. We let go of conceptual toys to entertain the mind. We remain attentive to our posture and breath, moment by moment. We take refuge in the Vital Center and embrace the living moment as-it-is.
Poised and still, we sit like a mountain.
Calm and serene, we rest like an ocean without waves.
Attentive and bright, we shine like an eternal flame.
This is the spirit of sitting.