Meditation is very different today than it was during the time of the Buddha where even committed Buddhists did not meditate. Meditation was seen as a specialized activity for monastics only. Devoted Buddhists contributed money so that these full-time residents would have the free time to devote to meditation.
Things have changed considerably since then. Now, meditation is more of a mainstream activity, much like Yoga. Anyone can do it! Here, I have put together some tips to help improve your meditation practice, or to help you get started.
1. JUST DO IT!
Some years ago I came across a t-shirt that said JUST DO IT, and underneath, in smaller letters, Later. That’s not the way to go about meditating, or anything else for that matter!
Procrastination is about getting started. Once you start, the activity develops its own momentum, and carries you forward. You do not need a Zendo, a special room, or a special time of day in order to meditate. Just sit straight on a chair, on a folded blanket, or on a firm cushion. I have even seen a meditator who uses a beach ball to sit on! I do not use a timer, but I notice that my iPhone has a timer in the Clock app. How long? Anywhere from five minutes to twenty minutes or more. Do not underestimate the power of a five-minute meditation! Even five minutes will help reset your energy and your focus.
2. EASE YOURSELF INTO IT
Unavoidably, our minds are full of the concerns of the moment. If you find that these same concerns continue to run in your head when you sit, you can prepare yourself by “changing your mind.” Just a few minutes of reading an appropriate text such as a page from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step (available as a free PDF file on the web), or listening to one of my practice songs (available free at mindfulnessmeditationcentre.org, click on BOOKS then Buddha’s Book of Meditation) will get you in the right frame of mind.
3. AS YOU SIT
You can start with one of the guided meditations on the same page as the songs above. Or you can start by following the breath. See if you can follow the whole cycle of a breath, from the in-breath, to the outbreath. Meditation is a physical activity; it is an antidote to our tendency to be in our thoughts rather than in the moment, at least in the beginning. Note that being alive is a physical activity as well! Bring your attention to all the physical sensations of breathing, of sitting, and of being where you are. Fill your heart with appreciation for this moment, and find a measure of contentment with things as they are now. If you wait for everything to be perfect, you may never experience contentment! Instead, find contentment where you are.
4. ENJOY THE BREATH!
Ordinarily the rhythm of our breath follows our thoughts. It may be irregular and staccato, and we are usually not even aware of it. As you take a few deep breaths with awareness and continue focusing on your breath, within five minutes the breath becomes steady and regular. Notice this happening, and enjoy it. It is a peaceful feeling, and one of the payoffs of meditation.
Meditation often goes in cycles, and at this point, you may feel the intrusion of thoughts.
The thinking machine in your head is getting impatient. Often it is not even thinking, it may be something more akin to “wording.” There is no problem solving or conclusions that are the earmarks of thinking, just words and more words. You may open your eyes a bit—just enough to let in some light. Let the words roll on, like a radio in the background, and keep your focus on the breath and on physical sensations, including visual sensations of light and color.
5. GIVE YOURSELF FEEDBACK
As you end your meditation period, notice how you feel. Notice if your state of mind is different from what you started out with. Let go of expectations such as that meditation should go on for longer periods, or that it should proceed a certain way. Expectations can get in the way.
Mindfulnessbell.org is a good resource if you would like to meditate with others (recommended), or if you want to get some help. Click on COMMUNITY to see if there is a center near you.
Meditate outdoors when you get the chance. It is a good way to let the magic of nature soak into your spirit.
Do not let time constraints stop you. You can even use the time you already have: turn the SNOOZE button on your alarm into a MEDITATE button. Just sit up in bed, tuck the pillow under your buttocks, and meditate. Start the day peacefully and positively.
The effects of meditation are cumulative. You will notice the difference after only a few months of practice.
Above all, enjoy the time spent on the meditation cushion—a time without obligations, a time when you can listen to yourself, and get to be more intimate with yourself.
Joseph Emet is the author of Sleep Better With Mindfulness Meditation (Penguin), Buddha’s Book of Stress Reduction (Penguin), and A Basket of Plums, Songs for the Practice of
Mindfulness Meditation (Parallax Press). These three books all have forewords by Thich Nhat Hanh. His newest book is Buddha’s Book of Meditation: Mindfulness Practices for a Quieter Mind, Self-Awareness, (published as Mindfulness Meditation in the UK (Souvenir Press)) and Healthy Living, also published by Penguin/ Tarcher
(March 2015). His book on sleep has won an award as the best self-help book of the year in 2012, and has been translated into 9 languages. The French version is entitled En pyjama avec Bouddha, and is published by Les Éditions de l’Homme.
Joseph started the Mindfulness Meditation Centre in 1997, because he had found the practice of mindfulness very helpful in his own life, and wanted to share it with others. On January 14, 2003, he was invited by Thich Nhat Hanh to receive the Lamp Transmission as a Dharma teacher. His Dharma name is Dwelling in Peaceful Concentration. He has been trying to live up to that name ever since. Joseph has trained several thousand people in mindfulness practices in large and small groups, for organizations, and in private sessions.
Joseph holds a Doctorate in Music from Boston University. He has been certified in Reality Therapy Counselling with Dr. William Glasser, and has been a Fulbright scholar. He has been a long time T’ai Chi practitioner with Master Lee Shiu Pak, one of the original Yang school students.
Buy a copy at Amazon HERE
or on their own website: http://www.souvenirpress.co.uk/product/mindfulness-meditation-joseph-emet/