Recently I’ve had a number of requests for tips on meditation techniques, so I’m going to take a shot at simplifying the means by which a meditator-to-be might find their way down the path to clear-minded joy, serenity and focus.
There are as many ways to meditate as there are meditators, and just a simple search of the topic reveals lots of good advice on how to go about it (here is a really excellent site). I always recommend Chapter Six of The Bhagavad Gita. It’s a four or five thousand year-old how-to that’s pretty hard to beat. In Teachings of the Buddha, edited by Jack Kornfield, you’ll find Zen Master Dogen’s “Practice of Meditation,” which is a very simple and direct suggestion for how to meditate. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali detail the paths and purposes of meditation. In Eknath Easwaran’s translation of The Dhammapada, there’s a great description of the four dhyanas, or Buddha’s stages of meditation leading to his enlightenment. It gives a very comprehensive idea or what we’re going for in its ultimate form.
If you get to the fourth dhyana your first time out, let’s just say you’re a real natural. Maybe you could give me some lessons?
Here are my personal suggestions:
Be comfortable, but not too comfortable. The object is simple, relaxed unity, not unconsciousness. Sitting in a chair is OK and is good practice for meditating on a train, a plane, or a bus, but making like a real swami, and sitting cross-legged in a half-lotus (if possible), is best. Obviously, it’s best to never be preoccupied by any kind of pain. You can do a simple image search to get the idea on optimum positions.
Sit on a cushion or folded blanket and on a slight slope is good too—where your feet naturally settle a bit lower than the base of your spine. Imagine that “golden string” pulling straight up your spine, tying to the crown of your head and drawing straight up towards heaven. Relax your neck and let your shoulders hang from your spine like a rack.
Sit in peaceful nature if possible, but if not, burn sage or mild incense and play recorded nature sounds, or these recommended CDs: Healing Ragas, Hon Sha Ze Sho Nen, Shamanic Dream, The Ultimate Om. All are favourites of mine—not too melodically involving. Vocal guided meditations can be very helpful, but are different from what I’m going to be addressing, which is: how do I just sit alone and make the “magic” happen?
The goals of meditation are twofold:
1) to become a witness to our thoughts, and separate our true inner-self from thinking’s imaginary fears and demands
2) to unite our true inner self with all Being, Love and Life in the Universe. No problem, right?
The problem often starts when we sit down to clear our mind, and it doesn’t just clear. We can’t just turn off our thoughts and go straight to that calm, peaceful nirvana that meditation can and will lead us into, if we practice, practice, practice. Like how you get to Carnegie Hall.
So here are three ways to deal with the challenge of a noisy mind, culled from my experience, that I hope you’ll find helpful. Nothing official—I pulled these categories out of the air, so they may be used elsewhere with a similar intention. They basically concern: what do we think about when we meditate, and how can it lead us to a serene and focused place?
Thinking is an overlying process that demands movement. Our minds can be relentless, hopping from subject to subject. Stringing together seemingly unrelated topics, or often dragging us unwittingly into difficult and upsetting areas, like the antics of an ex, or the politics of the office, or the world.
In what I call Analytical Meditation, the object is to observe our thoughts. You might begin by saying to yourself: “I’m going to sit and quietly think about my thinking.” Just watch how your thoughts form and come onto the internal stage in your mind. How they connect to each other, and where they lead you to. Are there certain feelings associated with certain thoughts that invariably inspire more thoughts and more feelings in the same direction? Does the process demand that your mind make an entire, often familiar loop through a whole set of strung-together thoughts, leading you back to some non-resolved state where you can begin all over—or start on some fresh, similarly inspired “thought package?”
This might take form as an internal dialogue that sounds something like this: “I’m going to sit here and meditate and relax my mind… but I’ve got to pay that overdue bill before my credit rating crashes! How can I “relax” my thoughts when I’ve really got some seriously bad stuff that’s about to… wait a minute… that’s my “I Have To Pay My Bills” thought-package. I recognize that one and I don’t want to go there right now. I don’t need to. I’ll avoid that thought-loop for the time being and go back to that calm, comfortable place in my mind between thought-packages. Thank you.”
The more you witness your thought processes this way, the easier it becomes to avoid certain thought-loops. We’ve all said to ourselves, “I don’t even want to think about it...” So in meditation, we become aware. We witness that thinking arise, the form it takes, and re-focus (or unfocus) away from it. It can be a good starting place to sit and softly keep this one small thought: “I only have this one small thought… I only have this one small thought… I only have this one small thought…”
So let’s get analytical. If I’m not that demanding thought-stream, if I can watch it, change its direction, re-focus it, if I can observe it, then who am I? Who is doing the witnessing?
It’s my true inner-self, that’s who. It’s the Me that’s connected to everything in a place of calm reason and being. That’s what we’re after—that calm space between thought-packets where we can rest and find our true serene and reasonable self. That’s the whole, calm, connected place called “unified consciousness.”
Of course, our default wants us to snap back to “reality” in a thought-stream that defines us by what we’re thinking, so Analytical Meditation requires a sort of vigilance, a disassociation from who we “normally” are. But the more you practice, the easier it gets and the easier your whole life will begin to feel, because you are no longer pulled around helplessly by your thought-stream, like a wagon with a runaway team of horses.
In Hinduism, the birthplace of meditation, this relates to Raja Yoga, The Royal Path and Gnana Yoga, The Yoga of Wisdom.
“The doorway to Divinity is… available as a direct experience in the exact split second of ‘now’ which is discernible between two thoughts.”—Dr. David Hawkins
Continue to Part 2 of the Meditation Tips series>>
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image: Yoga and meditation. Silhouette via Shutterstock