There are 3 stages to the process of meditation.
The initial learning of meditation can be quite easy: Find something you are passionate about. Pay attention. Focus all your attention on it. Over time build your focus.
That is why most people are very attached to their work and hobbies, they can lose themselves in it. And from the letting go, have calm. But does this translate into less suffering or greater happiness?
To a point. But if you are wanting to reduce your suffering and to be in the world, have relationships and be happy, it helps to know what your mind is doing, how you are reacting, and to practice your interactions with others. Meditation brings us in, teaches us to monitor our thoughts and through insight and awareness, helps us to learn to trust, to be more calm and to live with a fuller heart in the world.
Ultimately, though, the practice of meditation requires us to sit still and pay attention to our thoughts. To see what we fill the mind up with can give us great insight into what makes us suffer in our daily life. Meditation is not necessarily to restrain or control “bad thoughts, bad feelings, or bad anything” but to see what is here, to allow for it and then to let it go. At Kripalu, we call this BRFWA: breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow. When we can sit, and BRFWA, we can gain insight into what makes us suffer. This is the stage 2 of meditation. In this stage we are developing what is called the “witness mind”, the mind that observes the thought forms, rather than engages or reacts to the thought forms.
The thought forms that make us suffer fall into 5 categories:
As we sit in meditation, we watch where the mind wants to go and then bring the mind back to a center focus. It can be the breath, a sensation of the hand or upper lip, or even watching the sensation of the body. This may seem less pleasant than really paying attention to an exquisite glass of wine or making love, but losing oneself in focus is not the same as seeing how your mind works. For meditation to progress and suffering to lessen, focus and allowing for the mind “to be” are both essential.
And one more essential point here: to really “allow the mind to be”, we must learn self compassion. This comes from watching the voices of JUDGEMENT that say, “I shouldn’t feel that way, I have been practicing a long time and why am I feeling like hell, I hate that person, I hate this, this sucks” etc. Because sometimes we really do feel that way, our thoughts and feelings really do suck and to not allow this blocks what is truthful. It is not that we hold onto it, we just let it be, see what it is, see if that is really true…and then let it go. When we block what is truthful, it sticks in our craw like a fish bone in the throat, and can become over time an “issue in the tissue”. When we learn to have less judgement on ourselves and our internal experiences, this will translate into greater and greater ability to listen not only to ourselves but to those around us. And who does not want to be listened to deeply?
This is where true listening occurs. Where judgement ceases, all barriers between the mind and its focus dissolve, and everything is still, no thoughts. This stage is defined as “samadhi” or bliss. In this place, we experience ourselves and everything around us as one. We can achieve this place but it is important to remember that this state is temporary. Unless you really are enlightened, in which case you would probably not be reading this blog.
For “how to meditate”, a few resources and teachers I have found very helpful.