Nothing comes between us and the ability to meditate except the thinking, scheduling and remembering that most of us normally do and in return dominates our mental lives.
When starting meditation, one common mistake is to have a definite goal in mind and to pursue it endlessly. We might decide to meditate to combat stress, to lower anxiety or even to experience blissful states …although tangible goals, these also create fixed concepts which obscure the real experience.
The best approach is one of a relaxed “not knowing “and total open – mindedness. We can believe in the benefits of meditation but should avoid having fixed ideas how these will arise and what they will feel like. In this sense, mediation is a path without end. Once the practice begins, expectations must be put aside.
Zen Master Dogen described meditation as “just sitting “ and this means a total absorption in the practice of meditation itself , without intention or expectation, and without impatience or disappointment.
What is meditation?
Put simply, meditation is the experience of the limitless nature of the mind when it ceases to be dominated by its usual mental chatter. To experience the mind in this unclouded way is to experience our true nature, a nature that is naturally calm and serene. We come to a much deeper understanding of ourselves and of our own true nature. By stilling and calming the thoughts, meditation also stills and calms the emotions. Thought and emotion are inextricably linked in everyday lives.
A relaxed, focused concentration upon a chosen stimulus, attention is the underlying key to all meditation. Without this concentration there is no meditation. Whenever our minds are fully attentive in this way to one particular stimulus, with no random thoughts distracting us, we are entering into meditation. Only with constant practice does the mind begin to learn how to focus. After all, we have spent most of our lives training our minds to juggle thoughts and think of many things at once – work, home, family and friends. Inevitably, it will take a certain amount of time and application to fix this.
When the mind returns to thinking after a session of meditation, it is with greater clarity and renewed mental energy. In fact, we can watch our thinking like a detached observer and to recognize the tricks that the untrained mind normally plays to distract us from what we are doing or by recalling memories, arousing emotions or diverting us into fantasies and daydreams.
One of the first steps towards focusing attention is simple to sit quietly and still the body and then become aware of distracting thoughts. By watching our thoughts and learning to identify distractions, we begin the path of meditation.
Try this simple technique:
- Wear loose, comfortable cloths so you can move freely. Find a quit place where you will not be distracted and switch off any mobile devices – perhaps a peaceful spot in the garden.
- Sit comfortably on the ground – you can use a small pillow or folded blanket to sit on – with yours legs stretched out. Close your eyes and concentrate on relaxing each part of the legs. If you feel comfortable doing so please cross your legs;
- Turn your attention inwards and be aware of the thoughts and emotions that rise. Are you at ease or a little self – conscious? Do you notice any emotions or a change of mood? Is there a sense of excitement or are you bored? Is your head filled with distracting thoughts? None of these reactions are right or wrong, stop any judgement and just be aware of them.
- When you ready, gently open your eyes and rise calmly before returning to your normal routine.
This technique will increase body and mind awareness and should not just be confined to your sessions of sitting meditation, help the process by trying to return to full body awareness as often as possible during the day, particularly when you are in a stressful situation of some kind. Notice how your body tightens up, putting unnecessary strain on muscles, joints and ligaments. Then notice how grateful your body feels as you relax and let go of this tightness by focusing and relaxing each body part.
In summary, meditation is a lifelong quest but the benefits can be felt immediately. As David Swenson puts it beautifully in his book Ashtanga Yoga – A Practice Manual:
“We all tend to become lost in the world of immediacy, wanting instant or quick results. The real depth of yoga takes time and patience. It is like a tree growing in the forest. The strongest trees grow the slowest! Create a realistic practice that fits within the framework of your daily life.”