Demystifying meditation: Think of it as a mindful pause
The practice of meditation is an integral part of Buddhism beliefs. However, meditation need not have a religious significance. Many people enjoy meditating for peace and serenity. In any case, meditation practice helps you develop concentration (being focused) and mindfulness (being purposely aware). Here are some simple suggestions for sitting meditation, followed by some comments on meditation practice.
Please note: While the type of practice described below is very important to many mindfulness traditions, it is by no means the only way to approach mindfulness training.
There are many ways to sit for meditation. The simplest one is to sit on a chair. Pay attention to your back: don't slump against the back of the chair, stay as straight as possible without straining. Let your hands rest on your lap. Close your eyes gently, so your gaze is turned inward.
Breathe slowly, and feel the breath going through your body. As you feel the breath, let go of any tensions you notice. When you feel tension during your meditation, breathe into it and let go of it.
Observe your breath:
A simple meditation practice consists in paying attention to your breath as it goes in, and out of, your nose.
You can also count your breaths: "1" as you inhale, and exhale. "2" with the next breath... After "10", you go back to "1": the object is not to count to a high number, you're just counting to remain focused on the breath.
Observe your mind wandering:
Observe how, even with the best of intentions, your mind wanders. Thoughts come in. You lose track of counting your breaths. This is OK. Just notice it, and gently refocus.
Sit for 15 minutes:
Plan to have an alarm ring in 15 minutes. This will probably feel like an eternity to you. You may feel restless during the meditation: "Are we there yet?", "Is the alarm malfunctioning? It should have rung a long time ago." Over time, as you feel more comfortable, you will probably want to experiment with longer meditations.
Do it regularly:
Meditation "works" when you do it. Most importantly, it has a cumulative effect over time. As you meditate, you become more familiar with the inner chatter in your mind, and more able to connect to yourself beyond this chatter. As a result, you feel more present in life. So it is a good idea to practice regularly, at least a couple of times a week.
A few comments about meditation practice:
Sitting meditation is not the only approach embraced by the Eastern mindfulness traditions. For instance, instead of sitting, you can be doing a walking meditation. Instead of counting your breath, you could be meditating on a mantra, or a koan…
Whatever technique you use, the practice of that technique gives you some of the benefits of meditation. But this doesn’t mean that meditation can be done any old way. The specifics of what you do matter: Unless you focus your attention on a given technique, you may be relaxing, daydreaming, free-associating… you’re probably not meditating.
As you practice more, you get more and more of the benefits of meditation. You train your mind to get into that focused mindful state.
Practice: There’s something very simple, and also very difficult to grasp, about the concept of “practice”. You define yourself by your practice. For instance, a frequent practice is to observe your breath going in and out.
Observing your breath: paying attention to each inhalation and exhalation. Counting, silently, one, two,… through ten. And then starting again at one. Strange how easy it is to find yourself at “eleven” (or “fifteen”, or more) because your mind wanders out, you’re just counting mechanically, you’re no longer focusing on gong back to “one” after “ten”.
The key word is practice. Paying attention. Observing what happens in your mind.
It’s not that counting per se (even counting your breath) is especially spiritual.
What is important is that, as you pay attention to counting your breath, you become more aware of the inner chatter of your mind. As you become more aware of it, noticing and gently struggling with it, you gain a sense of who you are, behind that chatter.
What is spiritual is the experience you have of a deeper sense of who you are.
So, you get my point: the key word is “practice". As you go on with your practice (say, counting your breath) you get more and more the opportunity to observe what you are, to be who you are.