How exactly do you Meditate?
After the previous post I got a few messages asking me to explain exactly what my meditation practice is at the minute. I am no expert, so take all of the following information in the spirit it is offered. This is what I do and it seems to be working well for me. Hopefully it could work for you too.
The meditation I am doing now has a few elements to it, which either I do on different days or split my daily meditation time up into each part. I’ll break it down and explain each part.
Starts with getting comfortable.
There is so much talk about posture and which one is best, and I have certainly worried about doing it right a lot but ultimately I think the best posture is one you feel comfortable with. All postures are going to end up being uncomfortable if you do them long enough so I don’t see why you should start with a particularly uncomfortable pose. I did Zazen for a long while and I just hated it. Mostly because I was never comfortable. I was constantly worrying about my posture – was my back straight enough? was I leaning too far forward? – and if I did ever get comfortable I’d worry about that. My meditation became ALL about posture, and it was useless and I hated it. Now, some will say that overcoming the pain of posture is part of meditation, and more power to them. If the only Meditation posture that was allowed was Zazen or something similar then I just wouldn’t meditate. I know this, I tried Zazen and gave up after a few months of absolutely hating the practice. You might love the Zazen posture, so try it before you discount it.
But there is also too comfortable too. Some people lie down to meditate, and I tried that – It worked for a while but ultimately, despite my previous convictions, I just kept falling asleep. Or I would get so tired during the meditation that I was just constantly fighting off sleep rather than following the breaths. But again, try it and see how it works for you.
Now, I sit on a nice cushion, legs crossed (but not lotus), hands in lap with thumbs touching, and I rest my back against the couch. I tried leaning against a wall and I didn’t like it, and I also every now and again try Zazen once more only to be reminded of the horror. I’m settled on my posture now, but am open to any change that I may want to make in the future.
Pick a posture that you like and which you feel you’ll be able to be consistent with. Sit in a chair if you want.
And then just I count my breaths
I count 1 on the in-breath and 2 on the out-breath, all the way to 10 and then I start again. Any time my mind wanders I just gently come back to the breathing.
I always thought I was doing Meditation wrong. I thought it was all about having your mind empty of thoughts, being totally free of thinking or something similar. While that may be the goal of meditation, it is not the practice. Meditation is gently putting your mind backto your focus (your breath, mantra, candle flame or whatever you have chosen) after you notice that your mind has wandered. That’s meditation.
When you start thinking of the bills that have to be paid rather than counting your breaths, you just go back (gently, don’t berate yourself) to counting the breaths. That’s meditation. If you notice you are thinking about bills that have to be paid and then continue to think about them, then you have stopped meditating.
Other Meditative Techniques –
This is making a mental note of every sensation you have in real time and saying or naming what it is. I still try to keep focus on the breath but instead of counting I say RISING as I breath in, and FALLING as I breath out. However, now every time I notice my mind goes somewhere else I NAME IT – Thinking, pain, fear, noise, dreaming, remembering, relaxing, sleeping, memory, etc. and then go back to the breath.
This is known as Insight Meditation. Ultimately you are looking to notice that all sensations that arise have three characteristics:
Loving Kindness is basically wishing yourself well, then someone you love well, then someone who is neutral well, someone you hate (or dislike – the Worthy Enemy) well and then the whole world/universe well. I know a lot of my LHP readers will probably turn off from this bit as it is a bit white light and New Age, but I would suggest you at least try it. I also know that some people will have a problem with wishing someone they dislike well and I get this. I see it like forgiveness – you do it for you, not for them. It’s to help you stop carrying all this shite around. But if that is still not working for you, pick someone who just annoys you supeficially and use them instead.
I use these statements but there are plenty of variations. Put I/You/All in the blank spaces. I tend to say these with the breath, saying each in my head but go with what feels best to you.
“May ___ be well, May___ be peaceful, May___ be safe, May___ live with ease, May___ be happy.”
You really can build up a sense of love, bliss, safeness and happiness around you with this technique. I do it going down the street too with people I walk past or interact with in shops. It’s nice and it makes you focus less on negative thoughts.
Adapted Centering Prayer
Cistercian monk Father Thomas Keating, was the founder of Centering Prayer, and it if you look into it you may very well be put off by it’s aesthetics or nomenclature. However I do an adaptation of Centering Prayer where instead of surrendering to god, I surrender to my Highest-Self/HGA/Daemon/whatever that is. I find this practice immensely rewarding, healing, relaxing and comforting.
Again, I won’t go into what exactly the HGA is, as that is several books worth of information and there are a million books on the subject already. However, currently I see the HGA or Daemon as the perfected me. The being that I eventually become when I have gotten past all the shite and idiocy that goes along with being human. The perfected human. If you believe in reincarnation then you could see the HGA as the final destination. If you don’t buy into Reincarnation then just see the HGA as the person you will be when you get past all your issues and wooes.
Pick a word or a symbol for your HGA and repeat it over and over, just like a mantra, as you let go using it in the same way you would focus on the breath. Alan Chapman, who I got this adapted technique from suggests you start by saying “I consent to the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” but say what suits you.
I try to do noting when I remember to during the day. I name things as I feel them – anger, fear, stress and try to locate them in my body and then just feel them out – I look deeply into them, see that they are separate from me, impermanent, and unsatisfactory.
Meditation was the game changer for me, at least that’s how it feels at the minute. Other than that the other big thing that I am trying to do is be easy with myself. It’s OK to be gentle and caring with yourself and also know it’s OK to feel shitty and depressed. Life sucks a lot of the time and often a sane reaction is to get sad about it – But meditation, loving kindness stuff, Centering Prayer and all these things can make it a wee bit easier, or at least it does for me. I assume I am not special.