So you have finally decided that you want to begin meditation? – Congratulations! That first step though small is more difficult than it looks. After all why meditate when there are so many options out there to relax, get entertained, learn or exercise. What is so special about meditation? Well, think of it as an exercise for your brain muscles. The journey of meditation begins by “knowing yourself”. So before we learn how to meditate, it’s important to understand that walnut size matter in our head – the mind.
Once a disciple asked his Master, "Why do we thank God, after the meditation." The Master answered, "We thank God because finally the meditation is over."
I would start with some encouraging words – if you are assuming that today you start meditating and you will immediately be able to do meditation successfully, YOU ARE WRONG! So much for the encouragement, well the fact is our mind already has a number of muscles built through our lives & even before our lives (through evolution of our species). In meditation lingo, these are called tendencies. Meditation can be extremely tricky and frustrating, because you are trying to remove the layers of conditioned mind built over thousands of years. We all know how it feels to swim against the water current.
Socrates explained this beautifully, “Whatever you know – how do you know? Somebody has told you. How does that person know? The battle of duality in mind about rights and wrongs that goes in our minds all the time, how do you resolve it?”. One way is to contemplate on it till it resolves or make the mind so still that you can see through and identify the truth. Like the water in the pond when its still and all the sediment has settled down, can you see the earth below it, so it is with state of mind. Meditation is the beginning of that journey to a “still mind”.
For most people, mind is like a child. When you take your first step in meditation, when you start putting in efforts, you realize that the mind doesn’t stop talking. Just the way you cannot bind or confine a child, you cannot do the same with your mind.
So we will do the same that we do with a child, set some ground rules that the child “has to follow”. Through these rules, we help the child learn how to do something productive. So let’s get started with some basic rules.
|How to Meditate….||Correctly|
|…with Resolve||Take a vow of 5 mins daily meditation for 40 days|
|…with Right Posture||Practice to sit in the meditative posture with discipline for the decided amount of time. Only a still body can help the mind become still.|
|…be friends with Your Mind||Deal with it patiently and gently by not being too harsh.|
|…by being Virtuous||Practice four basic virtues – compassion, empathy, self-discipline and gratitude.|
|…by finding your style of meditation||Decide the type of meditation you want to follow considering your temperament and inclination.|
The first basic step to meditation is making a resolve. An example is a simple resolve to start with daily 5 mins or 10 mins meditation for next 40 days. Come what may, I would meditate daily for 5 mins for next 40 days. Persistence and self-discipline is the key here.
The key elements of correct meditative posture are designed to help you get your mind still without losing awareness. So what is the correct meditative posture?
Please don’t be disheartened when you realize the difficulty of sitting in this posture for more than a few minutes. There are numerous exercises and yoga stretches to improve the flexibility of your stomach and leg muscles to improve your physical stability in this posture. For a more detailed explanation on posture, you can read this blog post – Posture in Meditation. If a video explanation is better, you can view this YouTube video and practice all elements explained.
Being friends with your mind is just how you would be friends with a child when you have a goal to ensure that the child is safe, yet doing some productive. Just like each child is different, so is each mind. Please do share your experience & if you need help in the comments below.
Why practice virtues? As we earlier said, meditation is about exercising mind. And you cannot really exercise unless you have a good health. A good healthy mind needs the vitamins of these virtues – compassion, empathy, self-discipline and gratitude. If you still need to be convinced, here is a short read on what compassion really means & what it does to you?
Next is to know what type of meditation you would like to take up. There are two fundamental types of meditation – Concentrative Meditation & Contemplative Meditation. Depending on your inclination and temperament you can choose the type you like.
The basis of meditation is mental exertion and mental relaxation.
For any type of meditation you take up, the key is to maintain balance during the practice. When you meditate, you realize that your concentration is wavering with thoughts and you end up following your thoughts, or you are feeling lazy, at that moment stop. Visualize a bright light or a flower or a planet and reset your concentration. And then gently exert your concentration. Example: If somebody asks you how much is 16 times 5, unless you exert mentally, you won’t be able to answer. Same way, in meditation you gently exert to concentrate and then relax and maintain the concentration. Remember, the moment you entertain a thought, the mind will start to converse and chatter. That’s why it is important to know when to stop. It needs alertness and mindfulness. Both come with practice.
Concentrative Meditation – It is focusing and maintaining concentration on an object. Example- Concentrating on breath. Maintaining the focus on the breath. This type of meditation calms you down. You may want to read more about it here.
Contemplative Meditation – Contemplative Meditation starts with a basic question to contemplate on – Who am I? The practice usually involves eliminative & affirmative contemplation. Eliminative meaning – I am “not”. Essentially you negate “I am not the body”, “I am not the mind” – These are my servitors. I am eternal and beyond. “I am not a man or a woman”, “I am not young or old”, “I am not a father or a son (or a mother or a daughter)” – These are mere classifications…I am eternal and beyond. And then there is affirmative “I am the supreme. I am. I am always He. I am the Eternal. I am stainless”, “I am beyond honor or dishonor. I am beyond the dualities of good and bad.” The full list of negative and affirmative prompts can be read in the book – A Million Thoughts.
Both practices are designed to free you from conditioning. In one, you free yourself by watching it, in second you free yourself by negating & affirming. Eventually you realize that you don’t have to be a slave to your conditioning. Many times, mind is just talking due to conditioning, like a child. Not necessarily it always means something. The key is practicing. Practicing dispassion towards your desires, thoughts, relationships, society and self would lead to good meditation.
The biggest myth about meditation is that, “Silence will happen to me with practice of meditation.”
You don’t meditate to become silent, if you are silent then you will be able to meditate. For example, if you are angry with somebody and you think that you will now sit and meditate and the anger will go away, try it. The moment you sit with that anger, the anger would actually grow & may even grow out of proportion.
You have to inculcate some basic virtues in life to aid your meditation practice. Compassion, Empathy, Self-Discipline and Gratitude. When you practice these virtues you slowly start to achieve the “Asana Siddhi”.
Asana Siddhi is the ability to sit in a meditative posture for as long as you want. Patanjali says, “Only once you have achieved the Asana Siddhi, you can move to the next step. That’s practice of breathing”. With practice of breathing comes the withdrawal of senses. Like how the tortoise when it withdraws all its limbs within, you start to withdraw your senses and you are able to build your concentration in meditation. You are able to sit with alertness and concentration.
If you managed to start meditation, a common question is when can I expect to see some results/changes? The answer is same as for any other skill – only when you have practiced for 4000 to 5000 hours of meditation, you will start to see the results of your efforts. Prior to that, you may have some experiences but those may or may not be due to your practice of meditation. Keep in mind that practice is about playing the shot at your will & not necessarily getting a good shot sometimes!