What is meditation?
There are many types of meditation. The one definition that fits almost all types is to "Consciously directing your attention to alter your state of consciousness." There's no limit to the things you can direct your attention toward... symbols, sounds, colors, breath, uplifting thoughts, spiritual realms, etc. Meditation is simply about attention... where you direct it, and how it alters your consciousness.
What is the purpose of meditation?
Traditionally meditation was (and still is) used for spiritual growth...i.e.
becoming more conscious; unfolding our inner Light, Love, Wisdom; becoming
more aware of the guiding Presence in our lives; accelerating our journey home
to our True Self... our Spirit.
More recently, meditation has become a valuable tool for finding a peaceful oasis of relaxation and stress relief in a demanding, fast-paced world.
Other uses include:
General Guidelines for Meditation
What Meditation Does to You
Meditation is a way to change your attitude towards life.
The act of practicing meditation changes you from inside. It takes a lot of
work, but slowly you become more relaxed and more connected to people.
Regular meditation makes us a more relaxed person. Things donít bother us as much. We get less angry and worry less. Meditation makes us a more patient person. By being aware of how our mind works we see patterns in the way we think and approach things. This makes me more aware of our faults. Noticing these faults is the first step towards fixing them.
We recognise and accept our faults. By accepting whatís wrong with us we become more honest with ourselves and a more genuine person overall. We become less prone to being manipulated and controlled by others. In addition we become more tolerent towards other people also recognising their faults and limitations. Because of this, people annoy us less and we find that we become closer to the people we care about.
How it works
The basic idea behind meditation is that it is an exercise that lets you enjoy life at that particular moment and teaches you to respect things the way they are. We tend to live life in a vacuum. So busy doing things and going places we are not able to enjoy just being alive.
The way it does this is that when you meditate, you become aware of the moment and diminish all else, the more you practice on clearing your mind and being at peace with yourself the better you get. Until every thing falls silent for a brief moment and you experience total harmony with your sorroundings.
Gradually you gain awareness and the mind becomes silent. There are two fundamental steps to meditation. First, you try to pay attention to the breath going in and out of your nose without controlling it. You just watch it. If your mind wanders and you start thinking about something else, when you notice that your mind wandered, you bring your attention back to your breath.
The second thing that you try to do is to accept how you are doing. If you can barely pay attention at all, you just accept it without getting annoyed. This sounds easy but itís incredibly difficult because it is contrary to the way weíve thought our whole lives. When you try to do something, if you do it well, you are happy. If you do it badly, you become unhappy. Even though it doesnít really matter how well you are doing, just by trying to pay attention, you will want to do it well out of habit.
You may accept how you are doing for a little while, but inevitably something will come up in your mind that you donít accept. You may become bored, or tired, or uncomfortable, or you will want to feel differently than you do. You just have to try to accept these feelings. Of course you wonít be able to do this. Meditation is an exercise where by practicing, you get better at what youíre practicing. In meditation you practice accepting things the way they are and gradually you get better at it. If you meditate regularly, you will become more accepting of how your meditation is going. This will carry over into your life and you will become more accepting of things in life. The more you meditate, the more accepting you will become.
You might wonder how being more accepting of how you pay attention to your breathing will have an affect on the rest of your life. In order to approach meditative silence we must realise that we are all a bundle of conditionings-fixed ideas, prejudices, and automatic responses. Most of this has occurred by the teachings of others. Through the gap that the silence of meditation creates we will be able to examine all these conditionings eventually finding and accepting who we are and what our purpose in life is.
Becoming more accepting of things not being the way you want affects so many different aspects of your life. You become more accepting of things not going the way you want in life and people not acting how theyíre "supposed to" act. These are the main causes of anger in life so you become less angry in circumstances that tend to make you angry and less angry in general. As you become more accepting of things not going how you want, you start to feel more like, "Whatever happens, happens. Iíll deal with it." This helps get rid of the natural fear of the unknown which tends to keep people from having a full life because theyíre afraid of the negative possibility of new experiences. In the same way, it helps get rid of peopleís fear of change. As you become less fearful of the unknown, you become less fearful of the future being different from how you want. And when you arenít afraid of the future, you can enjoy the present more fully.
In addition, you become more accepting of your moods. When people are unhappy, angry, or just donít feel how they would like to feel in any situation, they tend to get annoyed or upset by the way the way that they are feeling. This makes the situation worse and it becomes more difficult to come out of the "bad" mood. So when you become more accepting of your moods, you tend to come out of bad moods quicker. Overall, you become more relaxed at your core because your whole attitude towards life gradually becomes more relaxed. You also become more accepting of who you are so you won't try as much to act like something you're not.
This leads to a gradual
transformation where you begin to feel like you are becoming the "real"
you. As I said before, you also become more accepting of your faults so you
become more honest about yourself which makes people respect you more.
Because of their ego, many people aren't willing to admit faults that they have
instead blaming things on other people. Pretty much everybody does this to
some degree. Accepting the fact that you do something that is wrong is the
first and arguably most important step to changing that behavior.The world is populated with people who sometimes do things that are
wrong. Even the people you care about most aren't perfect. The more
you accept people for who they are, the closer you feel to them. Gradually
you start to feel compassion instead of anger. This makes you feel more
connected to the people you care about as well as people in general. This
doesnít mean once you start meditating you wonít get angry and just feel
compassion for everyone. It just means that gradually some of the anger will be
replaced. Itís a long road. But if you practice, thereís very little chance that
you will say, "My life is better, but it wasnít worth the effort."
You might ask why you should use your breath as the object of your attention. One reason is that your breath is both conscious and unconscious. You can control it or let go of it. In meditation, you try to let go of it but you will often find that you are controlling it. This is further practice in trying to do your best at something and then letting go of the outcome. Because in life, you canít control the world, you can only do your best work to get things to the situation you want. In the end, the more you let go of the outcome, and accept the things that are out of your control, the happier you will be. Itís like that old saying, "Give me the serenity to accept the things I canít change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
The second reason that you use your breath as the object of attention is that your breathing is directly related to your mindset. When you are relaxed, your breathing is relaxed, when you are nervous, your breathing changes. There are so many nuances in the way your breath changes related to your thinking. So by paying attention to your breath, you are indirectly looking at your mind. And by practicing accepting how your breathing is, you are indirectly practicing accepting the way your mind is.
How to Practice
Firstly a few general remarks. When you are trying to do something, there are many different ways that your mind might not accept how you are doing. For instance, you might not accept that you are not paying attention well, or if you are doing what you are trying to do well, you might not accept that although you are doing well now, this will change, and you will have difficult periods. This non-acceptance of change can manifest itself as an attachment or clinging to the present situation. When you are paying attention better, as well as accepting your shortcomings in your meditation, you will notice patterns of thought that are deeper in your mind. Things that you were aware of on a subconscious level but didnít really notice. These wonít manifest themselves as revelations, (although this is possible) but rather as another way that you wonít accept how your meditation is going. So paying attention better will let you work on your mind at a deeper level. The ironic thing is that the desire to pay attention better actually makes it harder to pay attention. The stronger the desire, the harder it is. Ideally, you would try to pay attention well, but not hope for an outcome.
You can sit with your legs crossed, but itís not necessary. If you do, you should sit on an incline or put a pillow under your butt. This will help keep your back straight. You should sit in a comfortable position. If itís not too uncomfortable you should keep your back straight. You shouldnít lie down because youíre a lot more likely to fall asleep. I meditate with my eyes closed to reduce distractions, but there are people who meditate with their eyes open. There are different schools of though on this, both work, so you should just pick whichever one you like.
You should just try to pay attention to the breath going in and out of your nose. If your breath is deep, thatís fine. If itís shallow, thatís fine. If itís relaxed, thatís fine. If itís not, thatís fine. Your job is not to judge or to control, just to observe. If you can feel the breath touching the inside of your nostrils, then you should feel it. If you canít feel anything, just notice when it is entering your nose and when it is leaving. It doesnít matter how well you can pay attention, only that you keep trying to pay attention. Your mind will wander, and it's shocking how quickly it will wander, often after less than one breath. When you notice that your mind has wandered, bring it back to your breath. When it wanders again, bring it back again.
The goal is to work at it without caring how it goes. However, you will find that you do care how it is going. As you practice and try to accept how it is going, you will improve and you will become more accepting of how you are doing.
There are many different ways you may not like how your meditation is going. You might get frustrated at your awful concentration; you might get bored; you might feel angry, sad, upset or annoyed; you might want the meditation to relax you and get frustrated that this isnít happening, or countless other things. The way to deal with these is to realize that this is how meditation works. Itís supposed to bring up these feelings so you can learn to accept them. When you work out, you use weights that are difficult to lift because that is what makes you stronger. Itís the same way with meditation. Itís designed to be difficult.
Usually you canít just accept that you donít like how itís going. Hereís how to work at it. Letís say you notice that you are annoyed because you donít feel like sitting anymore so you have the desire to stop. You realize that you are not paying attention to your breath but thinking about how you want to stop meditating. At this point you should try to pay attention to your breath realizing that it is more difficult because you are annoyed. Just try to do the best you can given the fact that you are annoyed. You might not even be able to go back to your breath well. Just to to do the best you can understanding the fact that it is more difficult simply because you are not accepting how you are doing. By doing this, you learn to better accept the thing that is making it difficult.
As time goes on, you will develop a more relaxed form of
concentration. This may seem paradoxical because we normally associate strong
concentration with a tense, furrowed brow type of image. Meditation changes the
way you view the world, so many of the analogies that people use to describe it
can at first seem contradictory. As you begin to practice, these examples begin
to make more sense.
Sometimes when you are meditating, you can have strange experiences. You might experience emotions for no apparent reasons. You might see lights or your body may feel like itís a single point. You might have visions pop into your head. There are countless different things like this that can happen, and they all make it harder to pay attention to your breath. If they do happen, you should treat them like every other distraction and try to pay attention to your breath as well as you can given that something is distracting you.
If you become relatively focused and accepting of your meditation, you will start to go deeper into your mind. This will cause you to notice mental patterns of non-accepting that you were previously unaware of. This makes it very difficult or uncomfortable to pay attention because you have to deal with something consciously that was previously in your subconscious. You probably wonít know what this pattern of thought is, but you will definitely notice how it affects your meditation. If you accept how it affects your meditation, but still work hard to pay attention, you will deal with this deeper mental habit and be able to work on even deeper levels of your mind.
The way you are meditating can change from minute to minute and from day to day. It can be frustrating to have what you consider a very acceptable meditation one day and one that you are unhappy with the next day. The goal obviously is to accept that it changes from day to day, and itís not going to be how you want it to be. If this is frustrating for you, you should deal with the frustration the same way you deal with frustration while meditating. Realize that the goal is to accept the changing nature of your meditation and not get frustrated. This may not work and you may still be frustrated. Then, try to accept the fact that your mind reacts to certain things with frustration, and thatís just something you have to accept (or at least try to accept.) If you work at trying to accept that your mind reacts with frustration, anger, aversion, or other unpleasant emotions, you will become more accepting of these feelings and they wonít be as unpleasant.
A method some people use to focus
There is a method that some people use to focus easier; however, it does have a major drawback. Instead of just paying attention to their breath, they count their breaths up to four. The first time they exhale, they count one. The next time they exhale, they count two. After they count the fourth exhalation, they go back to one. This makes it easier to focus; however, instead of observing your natural breathing, which is a reflection of your mind, you are observing the count that you are creating so you are not observing your mind as directly. You have to make the decision which method you use.
Bringing Meditation into life
If you practicing regularly and work hard when you practice, you will gradually become more accepting of things and experience the benefits of meditation. However, you can also work when you are not meditating to bring the benefits into your life. Letís say you are in a situation where you are experiencing something unpleasant. Like you are stuck in a traffic jam and you are upset that you have to wait and you are angry at yourself because you were too lazy to check the traffic report. Look at the things that you canít control like the traffic, and the fact that you didnít check the traffic report (because that happened in the past) and try to accept them as they are.
If you canít accept them and you are
still angry, realize that the fact that your mind created anger is out of your
control right now. Try to accept the fact that you are angry and realize that by
practicing this you will become more accepting so in the future this type of
situation wonít be quite as unpleasant. One way that often helps to accept the
emotion is to observe the effect that the emotion has on your body. In the same
way that fear creates a sensation in your stomach, all emotions create
sensations in your body. Observe how the anger or frustration affects you
physically while you are experiencing it. This method can have incredible
Using negative experiences to develop your attitude of acceptance has another benefit as well. As you begin to realize that these negative experiences can be useful, it starts to feel like there is a positive side to them so they don't seem all bad. Meditation helps you feel more connected to people in general.This feeling is one of the great benefits of meditation. When you act selfishly and screw other people over, you are working to subconsciously develop an attitude that is directly opposed to this feeling of connectedness. When you act selflessly, you are working to develop an attitude of connectedness and therefore enhancing the benefits of your meditation.
How much should you practice
Obviously, the more you practice, the better. It is important to keep a regular practice. I would suggest starting at not less than four days a week for at least fifteen minutes and gradually increasing the time you sit for. But I donít know for sure the minimum amount needed to have an effect. Some people do it twice a day. Thatís even better.