|Find a quiet place where you can be alone; on your bed or sofa, for instance.|
I know, I know: you hear the M word and you think of yoga tops and chanting OHM into your belly button while you sit cross-legged on the floor, with painful knees and ankles. Perhaps you’ve done it before and experienced nothing but stuff going on in your brain – two songs at once and your shopping list for tonight. It all felt like a bit of a waste of time. And how do you even know if you’re doing it right?
Meditation is checking in with yourself, just to sit still and be alone. If you can do that for 20-30 minutes, consider yourself an expert.
There is no need of candles, bowing, incense, mood music, chanting, none of that. There is no need to take any special posture*, to become vegetarian, stop smoking or swearing, or to buy a special cushion or robes or anything. Meditation is not zoning out, it’s not reaching a higher plane.
It’s also said that to meditate, you need to be sitting in the lotus posture* without moving for half an hour. People say that you need to empty your head of thoughts, you need to clear your mind completely and you absolutely HAVE to watch your breath. But in fact those are nothing but hindrances to a regular meditation practice.
The only real trick is to sit down. Do you think you can manage that?
A woman in a meditation group once complained to her teacher that she couldn’t be expected to meditate every day, as she had small children, a job and, dang it, a social life to take care of. Her meditation teacher pointed out that the Dalai Lama runs a country in exile and a world religion and meditates four hours a day.
The French philosopher Pascale said that man’s greatest tragedy was that he is not capable of sitting by himself in his room for half an hour.
But the key that unlocks the whole issue is that it’s not something you have to do, you just do it because it’s a pleasure, a special treat, a gift you give yourself. Only you can do this for yourself. No-one can do this for you, because coming back to yourself is like returning to your true home.
The three “musts” in meditation are:
This doesn’t mean still like a statue. If you get an itch, itch it, and if your knees hurt, then move your legs. That’s fine. Just don’t stand up and walk around. If the phone rings, ignore it. Be sitting down in a comfortable place, say, a sofa or your bed. You can meditate lying down, you can sit, whatever position is going to be comfortable for you for about half an hour, or maybe just 20 minutes, that’s okay. (If you are meditating in a group, though, you really must stay completely still as you will distract the other practitioners.)
So this means not on a train, not with other people in the room (unless it’s a meditation group). No phones, no computers, not answering the door, just staying still and alone.
This one means that you turn off any music, radio, TV, everything, even chill-out meditation music. You don’t need any props – that’s the point. You don’t have to soundproof your room or close the window – in any event, even if there is no sound outside you will hear your heart beat and your breath, so there really is no way to be completely in silence; the silence injunction means just no singing, humming making a noise or talking during meditation. That being said try to find a quiet time of day; if there is drilling or loud music coming from outside your space, you should choose another time.
Some things to not worry about:
What if thoughts keep coming up? Isn’t that wrong? How can you stop that?
The answer is that your mind is supposed to have thoughts, they just occur, that’s what your mind does. It’s natural and normal. Not having thoughts means you’re dead! Just keep coming back to the awareness of yourself. It’s like cleaning a mirror. Dust falls on the mirror; you keep cleaning them off.
Eventually, after about 20 minutes, you’ll stop having thoughts and you’ll find that your mind spontaneously becomes silent, like flakes of snow in a snow globe. You can’t rush it. Be aware of the thoughts coming in to your mind and leaving your mind. Notice, if you can, the spaces in between your thoughts. But by all means do not think you’ve failed if you have thoughts, you are not doing it wrong. Just come back to the present moment with patience for yourself. It’s like asking a monkey to sit still, it just can’t. But you can watch the monkey of your mind, that’s okay.
And how about if you have a memory that’s painful?
Emotions are like thoughts, we experience them spontaneously. Don’t chase them away, just let them come and go. If they really disturb you and make you unhappy, you can cry. If they make you happy laughter is okay too. If you have very bad emotions and memories that prevent you from being happy, I recommend Teal Swan’s Healing the Emotional Body video on YouTube. We have emotions and thoughts for a reason, because we need them. It’s more than just okay to have them. It’s what you do with them that defines you.
How do you know if you are doing it right? When can you expect to start seeing results? Can you measure samadhi?
There is no attainment in meditation. It’s just a thing you do because it’s pleasurable to sit by yourself for a while every day, just checking in with yourself – apart from the health advantages, of course. The more you stress over how well or badly you are doing, whether or not you can calm your mind and still your thoughts, the less pleasure and therefore benefit you will get from meditation. But, yes, after a few weeks you will become happier and healthier. You might also find that your opinions on things change as you become more aware of who you are, and more used to having peace of mind as a baseline for your life.
It’s just not working! I’m so distracted! Am I one of those people who just can’t do it?
If there is no sense of calm even after 20 minutes, and you just feel that this is a big waste of time as your frustration builds, try counting your breaths. Count the out breaths, up to ten, then again up to ten, and so on, until you find that your mind (inevitably) calms. If you lose count, go back to one, or pick up where you last left off. You are not going to get punished for doing this wrong! There is no need to change your breathing other than to make sure that your ribs are expanding slightly as you breathe. Remember: the more you stress out about having thoughts or how “deep” you are going or whether you are doing it right, the more you are not doing it right. Meditation is a lovely island of peace you can escape to every day.
What if I have an enlightenment experience? Could that happen?
Yes, it could. But remember that enlightenment is part of the process, it’s a threshold we pass through on the way to the ultimate goal. Getting hung up on spiritual achievements, such as being able to read people’s minds, see their aura, have a dhyana or satori experience, they are traps that keep you from your ultimate goal: liberating all beings from suffering! Everything else is just a distraction. An enlightenment experience is a real hindrance because you will always want to re-create that, and it becomes a big block to enjoying meditation.
Bells and Whistles – optional extras for an enhanced meditative life
Dedicate your practice. Before you start, join your palms and bow. Dedicate your practice to the higher good, the Bodhisattvas, God, Jesus, the wellness of the universe… Then at the end, do the same dedication again. If you are practicing meditation because you are interested in Buddhism, the book to read is Zen Master Seung Sahn’s book Compass of Zen.
Okay so sitting in a lotus, half-lotus or Burmese style position with a straight spine and the correct hand posture really IS important if you want to enhance your meditation practice – I kind of lied about that. Now you have read all the way down to the end of the page, you obviously have the focus needed for sitting in a really good upright posture for the full 30 minutes. If you want to know more about meditation and the correct posture but you can’t get to a class, THE book to read is Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki.
More Add-ons – psychic toys!
Once you have had some practice and you have a feel for what it feels like to just sit still for a while and you have the posture thing under control, imagine the fun you can have! you can try connecting with your guardian spirits, having out-of-body experiences, chanting before, during or after, shamanic journeying, healing the planet, healing yourself or a friend, forgiving an enemy, reciting psalms… *With the proper training*, you are a psychic Lara Croft! Meditation is the essential foundation for any kind of spiritual life, whatever your calling, that’s why you must learn to enjoy it.
The most important thing is getting yourself onto the cushion, as my teacher says. Whatever gets you to meditate is good. If you can do it twice a day that’s great, once a day is also good. Whenever you can, that’s the style that’s good. Meditation is a treat you give yourself, not some horrible chore that you must do because your doctor told you to as part of a “new you” health regimen. It’s a moment of stillness, silence and solitude. It’s the absolute real thing.
For the liberation of all the universe. May all beings be free.
Has this post helped you? What helped you to meditate in the past? Comment below: