(This practical exercise is excepted from my book Lighted Clearings for the Soul)
There are many forms of meditation practice, and ultimately each person must find the technique which best serves him or her. But what is even more important than the particular technique you choose is that you actually do some form of meditation. Some people engage in an endless search for the perfect technique, and never actually get around to practicing any technique on a regular and consistent basis. Almost any technique, practiced regularly with the intention of cultivating mindfulness, will bring results. For those readers who already have their own techniques of meditation, I urge you to begin or continue some form of regular daily practice. For those readers who do not yet have a favorite form of meditation, I will outline one simple and effective technique below. If you are not doing any other form of meditation, I would urge you to practice this on a daily basis. Even if you wish to find a different technique for yourself, you can benefit from doing this technique in the meantime. But insofar as mindfulness is the starting point and foundation of any journey of self-discovery and growth, I urge you to actually practice some technique of mindfulness meditation. A mere theoretical understanding of the how and why of meditation will not bring you any concrete benefits — “knowing all about it” means very little unless you actually do it.
Before You Start
- You will need a timer you can set for at least 15 to 20 minutes — preferably one with a gentle alarm that will not startle you.
- You will need 15-20 minutes of uninterrupted time. Select a time when you are alert and not sleepy — do not meditate right after a meal or just before bedtime. Since you will want to be consistent and regular, it is can be helpful if you meditate at the same time every day. Some people will claim that they simply don’t have an extra 20-30 minutes in their day to do something like meditate. But there are a lot of ways you can create this extra time for yourself. You may find, for instance, that cleaning up your diet gives you extra time —when there is less junk food and sugar in your diet, you tend to need less sleep and to have more energy. Regular exercise also results in more energy. Other ways to create extra time for yourself include getting up a little earlier, watching less television, spending less time reading newspapers or novels. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with these pastimes. But examine your priorities. You may decide that discovering a worldview that can bring you greater peace and happiness is more important to you than another 30 minutes of watching television or reading a good mystery. You may also find that when your moment-to-moment life is more satisfying and fulfilling, you feel less need to “escape.”
- Remember that the time you put into these exercises is time you are investing in yourself, in the quality of your life. Give yourself some of the best time of your day. For instance, if you are a morning person, give yourself some of your early time when you are at your best and most energetic. Don’t simply give yourself the tired leftovers after you’re too exhausted to do anything else. Basically you are deciding that you are worth some of your best time. This is not a matter of becoming selfish and egotistic. Remember that the first rule of lifesaving is, “Don’t let the lifeguard drown.” Whatever care and nurturing you give yourself, you ultimately give to all those you love and serve as well.
- Try to find a quiet, well-ventilated place where you will not be interrupted. Ask your family and friends to respect your privacy during your meditation time.
What To Do
- Do some gentle stretching exercises to loosen up and relax. Then take 3 slow deep breaths, each time filling up and emptying your lungs as completely as possible.
- Sit up straight but relaxed. If you sit on a chair, use a hard chair with a straight back, and sit all the way to the back of the chair. You may find it more comfortable to place a small pillow in the hollow of your low back, If you sit cross-legged on the floor, you may find it helpful to sit on a small pillow or cushion.
- Gently let your eyes close. It is OK if a little bit of light comes in, but you shouldn’t actually see your surroundings.
- Gently place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, about half way back.
- Completely relax your whole body. Start with your face and proceed to your neck, chest, arms and hands, back, abdomen, pelvis, legs and feet. Each time you breathe out, let the tension go in the part of your body you are relaxing. After you are relaxed, let your awareness gently remain in your abdomen.
- Set your timer for at least 15 minutes. After you push the “start” button, watch it for a couple of seconds to make sure it is beginning to count down.
- Let yourself breathe naturally, slowly, and evenly. Pay attention to every moment of each breath coming in and going out. On your first exhalation, mentally say, “one”; on the second exhalation, “two”; and so forth up to “four.” Then on the next breath, go back to “one” and start again. Continue watching your breath go in and out, and counting up to four until the timer goes off. If you lose count, it doesn’t matter — just go back to “one” and keep going.
- Don’t move or fidget.
- If you find yourself distracted by a thought or sensation, gently let it go and refocus on counting your breaths. Don’t try to fight the distraction or criticize yourself for it. Simply focus your effort and attention on counting your breath as consciously as possible. Focus your energy on doing what you want to do, rather than on fighting against what you don’t want to do.
- The goal of meditation is not an empty mind, but a peaceful and centered mind that is aware of itself. Ultimately, even to speak of a “goal” is somewhat misleading, since you are sitting quietly simply in order to sit quietly.
- Don’t evaluate how you are doing. Simply do your best, breath by breath, while you are meditating. When you are finished, go about your day. A “good” meditation can be defined as one that you have actually done.
- Don’t think of your meditation as a chore or an obligation that you “have to” do. Rather, think of it as an opportunity to be peacefully present, to enjoying resting in the truth or openness of the here and now for a few minutes.
- Many of the changes meditation can make in your life are gradual and subtle. Make an agreement with yourself to practice daily for at least a month.
A Helpful Quotation
The more faithfully you listen
to the voice within you
the better you will hear
what is sounding outside.
And only he who listens can speak.
Is this the starting-point of the road
towards the union
of your two dreams —
to be allowed in clarity of mind
to mirror life
and in purity of heart to mold it?
(Image by Free-StockPhotos.com)