During the recent forest fire in Idyllwild, my wife Jacquelin and I had to evacuate. We took our newly adopted rescue dog, a female red chow we named Tashi, and headed out to the coast. Of the many offers of places to stay for the duration of the fire, we decided to go to my 78-year-old uncle Bob and his wife Barbara at their home in Camarillo.
Bob is my father’s younger brother. He strongly resembles my father physically, and both brothers worked as probation officers for Los Angeles County. But whereas my father was manic and doing his own thing for the last 25 years of his life, Bob is happily married, involved with his children and grandchildren, and lives a calm and contented life. A few weeks ago he had a minor stroke, and though he looked and moved without any impairment, he still had some loss of peripheral vision and occasional periods of unsteadiness. But he is in remarkably good shape with a daily exercise routine of weight lifting, running, and swimming. His physical therapist had recommended meditation for his post-stroke recovery.
So when my wife and I pulled up with our dog and car full of possessions, uncle Bob immediately asked me to teach him meditation. He had heard me give a talk on meditation several years ago at a Change Your Mind Day celebration in San Luis Obispo, but he had never tried it. He also had a copy of my first book,Unlearning Meditation, but had loaned it out to a friend.
I have encountered this situation many times before: a person waits until the “right” time to start meditating. In his case, it was a stroke that had finally spurred him to try. I began thinking about how to introduce my approach to meditation to him, which I call Recollective Awareness meditation [link to column]. Each individual person who is introduced to it requires consideration, if not at the very beginning, then certainly after they have reported on their meditation sitting. Since my uncle was doing it for his physical health, it would be better to focus on his body rather than on his thoughts and emotions. Normally I would be interested in exploring thoughts and emotions with a student during the post-sitting interview, but because he is a close relative, I felt more comfortable steering the meditation practice in the direction of bodily awareness with a greater acceptance of thoughts and a higher tolerance for unpleasant feelings. We could go into his thoughts and emotions at a later point, once his sitting meditation practice has become more established.
My mind was on other things my first day there, what with the fire threatening our house, so I waited until the following morning to begin his instruction. Bob gets up early and usually has an hour or two alone before his wife wakes up. So I decided to start him off with the habit of meditating right after he gets out of bed. I didn’t want him to practice where he watches TV or where someone could disturb him, so we sat in the living room. Bob sat in an upholstered chair with a pillow behind his back and I sat in a similar chair opposite him. I gave him these beginning instructions:
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