Very often, we approach learning something from the perspective of succeeding. We want to do it right and well.
But to effectively learn to meditate, we will, at some point, need to throw away the idea of getting it right. In a sense, we become the child over and over again in meditation. Having a child’s mind, we can allow ourselves to be open to what is here in the moment.
There are two types of meditation. The first type of meditation is that which trains the mind to have a single pointed concentration on a word, a chant, an image or on the breath. This is by far the most popular type of meditation, you will find this in many churches with prayers, yoga studios, and ashrams. Examples of this type of meditation are found in the Catholic Church with the rosary, Transcendental Meditation (TM) with a one word chant, Buddhist Malas (prayers beads), Kirtan (song chanting), and most yoga traditions through prayer, chanting and pranayama (breath).
The second type of meditation is where “we allow”, letting thoughts, sounds, images, anything that comes to the mind drift by. Very often as the person sits in this type of meditation, there mind will drift and then stay lodged in a fantasy or some current life situation. The whole meditation can come be this in fact. The idea here is to acknowledge when we become engaged in a story, and then to let it go like a balloon to the sky. This is a very powerful form of meditation where deep insight can arise from allowing for things to be as they are. An example of this type of meditation is Vipassana Mindfulness Meditation.
Regardless of the type of meditation, it is important to prepare the body for sitting. The original purpose of yoga, before it became a “physical” practice in the West, was to prepare the body for sitting in meditation. The idea behind the use of yoga was to align the body and its energy body, so that toxicity could be released from the body so that the mind would not be distracted. Having said that, any type of movement really can do, from running to calisthenics to stretching.
And lest it sound separate, movement in of itself can be the meditation. Having a movement practice that brings us into greater awareness can be the meditation itself. But for the purposes of this article and learning, we are making a differentiation between physical movement and sitting meditation, despite the fact that there should not be, at least with yoga.
Focusing on the breath is also beneficial. Focusing on the breath can bring the mind in and aid in letting go of external distractions. Physiologically, centering breath work aids in calming the mind and body so that meditation can occur with less difficulty. One style of focusing breath is listed on this site under 1-2-3-4.
Without doing either, one can still meditate, however it leaves the body and mind more open for irritations and distractions and can actually serve to make some imbalances worse. Our body and the nervous system is the vehicle with which we can receive and connect; helping it to settle in, is a favor you to do yourself.
With movement and the breath taken care of, sitting for meditation occurs with an upright posture. Some advocate sitting in crosslegged or lotus position. In the west, because we are not raised to sit this way, our hips and knees are not trained for this. Allow yourself a chair or pillows or props if you are uncomfortable. In any of these positions, keep your self sitting up tall and relaxed. A too rigid mind yields a too rigid body, so make sure you are supported if need be.Regardless of how you prepare and what type of meditation you choose, it is important to have the mind of a child and to be open to what presents itself. If you find that you become frustrated, and meditation “is just impossible”, then imagine yourself as a child seeing a flower for the first time. Allow yourself to be in the freshness of your self, and be kind, as no one else can be to you at that moment.
Some other tips for your meditation practice:
- Have a beginning point. You can use a gong, timer or sound, and/or light a candle. A set time for meditation helps to train the mind and body as well.
- When first starting meditation, it is helpful to choose a type of meditation that fits your cultural proclivity. So if you are Jewish, Christian or Muslim and are used to prayer, then choose one word that has meaning and focus on this one word.
- Have an end point. Use the same thing that started your meditation, gong, timer or sound. And/or blow out the candle
- Be nice and start with a shorter time such as 5 minutes and go to community meditation groups where there is a longer set time.
To support yourself in a meditation practice, find yourself a community and a mentor. No one should have to learn to walk alone through the forest of wisdom, although many of us try and end up in frustration. There is nothing wrong in connecting with others and having support. The basic fundamental tenet of Buddhism is the 3 Refuges or 3 Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha. You will find this component of teacher, teaching, and community in Catholicism and all major world religions. It is perhaps why they have succeeded, by calling upon the need of our own humanity to connect vertically to a higher teacher, yet live on the planet within a body of horizontal connection namely a teaching and connection with others. With meditation and prayer, we can manage living on the planet with greater ease and happiness. This ultimately is the purpose of meditation, the connection of above (God, higher self) with self and another in an integrated fashion.
May all be well, may all be safe, may all have ease in body and mind.