On a therapeutic level, meditation reduces stress and chronic pain, improves sleep and mood. You are more present, more relaxed, more peaceful, healthier and happier.
On a deeper level, meditation helps you see beneath the surface and changes the way you think. Your thoughts come into line with reality and this has profound repercussions on your life.
The following eight tips will guide you on how to start and carry on meditating.
The body is the coarsest aspect of the mind and the easiest to train. If your posture is relaxed yet upright, this influences the mind to become the same. Correct posture is the basis of meditation and is very important to successful meditation. Whether sitting on a chair or on the floor with crossed legs, sit with your spine and neck upright. To keep your neck straight you can tuck the chin in very slightly. If your spine is not erect, this will influence the mind negatively so your mind will tend to wander and you may fall asleep.
Place your hands in your lap with the palms facing up, the left hand supporting the right. Also curl your tongue up so that the tip rests against the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. This helps to calm the mind as when the tongue is controlled inner chatter is more subdued. This position of the tongue also helps to prevent excessive salivation which can happen when the mind calms down.
Your eyes can be slightly open and gazing down or closed whichever you find works best.
2. Meditation Object
Most of the time we are half-asleep as we are hardly present. We are so pre-occupied with our thoughts that we do not notice what is going around us. Meditation keeps you awake. It allows you to notice the thoughts disrupting your mind so you can settle them and carry out your life with full attention. Meditation is a wonderful gift of staying awake so you can live life fully. You miss most of your life because you are somewhere else, rambling in your mind.
To stay awake and aware of what is happening you need to keep your mind focussed on a meditation object. This will keep it anchored in the present which where all of your life is carried out. The easiest meditation object is the breath. Keep your attention fixed on the sensations of the in- and out-breaths where they make contact with the nostrils. To help you keep your concentration make a soft mental note “in” on the in-breath and “out” on the out-breath. The value of having a focal point is that it helps you become aware when you have drifted away and are no longer in the present. Its strength as a reference point is augmented by the noting technique. As soon as you are aware you are no longer focussed immediately but gently return to awareness of the breath, i.e. hurry slowly back to the breath.
If a train of thoughts, a sensation or sound becomes strong enough to be in the forefront of conscious, then make it the meditation object. Place your attention on it with the appropriate noting, “thinking, thinking”, “sensation, sensation” or “hearing, hearing” respectively. Here the mental note is repeated twice to gently strengthen the mind’s focussing power. Carry on with this provisional meditation object until its vibrancy weakens and then return to the primary meditation object, the breath.
If you become heavy and sleepy, use the noting “sleepy, sleepy” but now be vigorous and sharp with the words. Use them like a dash of cold water in your face to wake yourself up. Only be vigorous and sharp when you have to rouse the mind. Otherwise be slow, gentle and relaxed.
The training of focusing the mind is dynamic and flexible. Never forcefully use willpower to rigidly keep the mind fixed on the primary meditation object. Focus on whatever is in the forefront of consciousness and return to the breath as soon as you can. With this gentle, unhurried yet disciplined technique, the mind becomes reassured. With time will gradually calm down and become more available to you.
3. Strong Emotions
If, during meditation, you experience strong emotions, such as desire or anger, they will definitely be in the forefront of consciousness, vigorously agitating and disrupting the mind. Make them your meditation object using the noting technique “desire, desire” or “anger, anger” to help you keep your focus. As soon as you can, return to the breath.
There is a tendency to desire the desire, to become angry with anger, depressed at sadness and frightened with fear. In particular you may linger when there is desire and become harsh with anger. To gradually wean yourself away from this when you notice you have become entangled in emotion, immediately apply the noting technique but do it gently, especially with anger, where you almost lazily and casually note “anger, anger”
This way you neither suppress nor become caught up in thoughts or emotions.
Outer noise, inner chatter and talking tend to scatter and fragment the mind. With silence the pieces start coming together. The mind becomes more harmonious and at peace. Music and talking are inappropriate in meditation if you see meditation as a journey to greater awakening and liberation. They distract or entertain you away from what is happening so you can never resolve it and move on. With silence you experience what is happening. You get to know it and understand how to deal with it.
5. Length and Frequency
Start with short sessions of ten or fifteen minutes and meditate more frequently. Remember you can easily keep the momentum going by doing informal meditations of short five-minute sessions during the day wherever you are. No one will be upset because you are silent and peaceful. Gradually increase the time of your sessions while decreasing their frequency. The mind often starts calming down after forty minutes of meditation so you should aim for forty-five to sixty minute sessions twice daily.
6. Place and Time.
You can meditate anywhere and at anytime. It is not necessary to sit down in a formal meditation posture and close your eyes. You can meditate while waiting for the bus, getting onto the bus or missing the bus. You should practice being aware throughout the day by gently focussing on whatever is in the forefront of consciousness. Just know what you are thinking, doing or experiencing while you are thinking, doing or experiencing without becoming too perfectionist or tense about it. Accept what is happening without judgement or commentary. Judgement or commentary will distract you so you will never see what is actually happening. You will never learn how to encourage positive mind states and avoid negative mind states. You will stand still and not make any progress. This is what happens when you are half-asleep. You cannot be present and cannot be effective. With time you will become better and more practised at being in touch with yourself. If you forget to be aware, as soon as you realize this, re-establish awareness.
When you are at home you can have more formal meditation sessions where you can meditate for a longer period of time without being disturbed. If you have had a particularly difficult day, when you meditate at home after work, you may need two or more sessions before the mind calms down and comes to terms with the events of the day. The mind needs this opportunity to digest and clear the day’s activities. If it does not do this, thoughts back up and clog the mind. You can not learn as you are not getting the opportunity to observe and therefore habitually repeat the same mistakes.
7. Be Reasonable and Gentle
Do not punish yourself because your mind is unruly. For a whole lifetime it has been accustomed to agitation. It has been neglected and never been properly cared for. It has had to endure the pain and pressure of a lifetime’s backlog of unresolved thoughts and experiences. It will take time for it to adjust to the discipline of a new routine and calm down.
When you start meditating, it may seem that the mind is becoming even more agitated and you may think meditation is bad for you. It is not becoming more agitated. You are becoming more aware and for the first time you are seeing how disturbed the mind is. Storms of thought have always been rushing across the surface of the mind but you did not realize it.
8. Allow the Mind to Flow in Your Daily Life
Keep your focus on whatever is passing through the forefront of conscious, do not follow it. As when sawing a piece of wood, the eye remains focussed on the point of contact of the saw with the wood and does not follow the saw up and down, in carrying out your daily life the mind stays focussed on whatever is presently flowing through the forefront of consciousness without trying to follow the contents of consciousness either into the past or the future. There is no need to ponder over them as your life can only be lived out in the present. If you spend time in the past or the future, large chunks of your life go missing. While doing your daily activities, just allow thoughts and experience to flow through the mind while observing them with care and interest. Be a peaceful observer. Do not run backwards and forwards following after thoughts and trying to hang onto experiences. If you have to recall something from memory or plan for the future, be aware that you are performing this function.