How to Meditate Before You Sit DownIt's hard to believe I'm saying this, but two years ago, I wrote this post about the purpose of meditation in a spiritual practice. If you're absolutely brand new to the spiritual path, I encourage you to read it, and I encourage you to check out most of the starting out section. It's important because it will help you to set appropriate intentions and to get the right mindset for developing your spiritual practice. Meditation is a beautiful part of a spiritual practice, and millions of people have done it for thousands of years. So something must be working right for people. But in Western Society--a society absolutely lost in the constant grasping for goals and experiences--it's easy to sit down expecting results. This is not what meditation is about. You are not here to achieve a completely quiet mind or attain enlightenment/spiritual ascension/kundalini awakening/spiritual awakening or some other transcendent idea. You are here to sit and be present with you.
Results May Vary From Your MeditationBe forewarned, that what you will find in you meditation will vary from person to person. Sure there are similarities and common themes among all of us, but everyone is different. Consequently, everyone has different experiences, and different emotions, thoughts, and sensations come up during the course of meditation. People can get really uncomfortable. People may check out or fall asleep. People may go into a trance state. People may try to count down the seconds until they can finally get this stupid thing over with and move on with their day. Lots of things go on in this space, which in and of itself can be humbling. To suddenly see just how much noise, intensity, and potentially pain and suffering is going in you on when you are just sitting can be humbling. Which is why a little bit of courage and self-love is really important as you step into this space.
Getting Ready to Sit and MeditateI know, you're like, "My God, he still hasn't gotten to the meditation part yet." Well, I have, actually. This preparation work is all part of the meditation. Coming into the space is just as important as being in the space of meditation. Partially, this is because you're cultivating a more peaceful state of mind for your whole life. Meditation is practice. It is practice for living a peaceful and compassionate life in your everyday world when things get hectic, cruel, upsetting, scary, overwhelming, and all the usual stuff that life does. So really, if you're not expanding your idea of meditation beyond what may happen with your eyes closed for 30 minutes, your mindset is still too small.
I'm not telling you that life is going to be easy and that you will simply blissfully float about through your days because you accept any of these ideas and are meditating. As always, I'm challenging you to create your own opinions and to go to your inner knowing to find what feels true in my words. I am saying that the seated meditation you do once a day is just the beginning of learning how to meditate because ultimately mediation is the process of living every moment of your daily life in mindfulness to the best of your abilities.
Creating the Space for Your MeditationEspecially if you're brand new--awakening or not--finding a quiet space to meditate is really helpful. You will very likely have a lot of internal distractions to get comfortable with and to notice. If you are parent, you may have to meditate before the kids get up, after they go to sleep, or during a lunch-time break at work. For most, I generally recommend meditating in the morning for a half hour in a quiet part of your apartment or home. I don't believe in focusing all your meditation energy on one night with a meditation group. Meditation groups are wonderful, and they're excellent for developing spiritual community in your life. However, meditation should never be something that is somewhere else. Having a meditation practice at home is incredibly important simply from the idea of knowing that that space is close at hand. Meditation is not something that you have to go somewhere else for. In the best possible world, you have a meditation group and a personal practice at home.
Guided Meditation, Chants, and VisualizationsOnce you've got your space for meditation, you may want a focus point like a little altar or something. Some people like to create these. It's not something I'm into them, but you can put pictures of Jesus, Buddha, and other saints on a table to create one. But most importantly, now it's time to sit. The basics of meditation are essentially this:
- Sit with your back straight to allow easy breath, blood, and energy flow
- Close your eyes (although this isn't necessary. Some people will have a soft gaze focus)
- Adjust your body with micro-movements (You're not supposed to be suffering, but fidgeting is just a part of an unsettled body. Try small movements to help ensure some body comfort)
- Repeat step 3 for 15 minutes if you're new. Thirty minutes is better.
Now, there are numerous styles of meditation. Chanting can be helpful to drown out the noise of the mind or to work on opening up your voice. Finding a guided meditation online to listen to can be another way to focus your mind, and visualizations can be yet another way to focus the mind. There are many different ways to meditate, and I encourage you to find one that works for you. In general, they are all helping to re-trained the mind, and I believe that there are all sorts of interesting studies out there about physiological and psychological benefits of meditation. However, I'm not really interested in setting that framework. I simply want to encourage you to do what all these different types of meditation techniques are doing: be present and pay attention.
Pay Attention, Pay Attention, Pay AttentionBeing present in meditation--and ultimately this is cultivating the space for awakening--has a lot to do with just paying attention. Your attention is like a candle. It illuminates what is going on in your life. Most people aren't paying attention, and when their minds are really busy and chattering away, they get upset. They think they're doing something wrong. You're not. You're simply beginning to notice the big mess in your inner house. Look at all the stuff going on in here. Part of paying attention is owning this self-created mess.
But let's go one step at a time. Because it's easy to get upset by the mess, and it's also easy to get lost in the mess again. So your mind starts running around and around around. Come back to the breath. Focus again. Focus again in this moment. The great thing about the present moment is that it's always here. You can always start again. And we are all always starting again. We aren't here to stop the mental chatter by imposing a new set of ideas and spiritual practices. We are here to notice and to pay attention. Change is coming, but not right now. Especially if you're new to a meditation practice, it's important to build the practice and the discipline of meditating. Then the changes you do need to make start to become clear.
Leaving the Space of MeditationPerhaps the least talked about part of how to meditate is how to leave it. A lot of traditions encourage you to bow. That's usually directed to a teacher in a group setting or an altar if you have one. Sometimes it's directed to the inner teacher. Some traditions will have you make a sound like "Om" to close the space. Those are wonderful things to do, and I encourage you to find something appropriate for you.
Then step out of meditation mindfully. Come out from that space, and see if you can carry a little more of that peace into your daily life with you. See if you can be more mindful with the many different elements of your life. We all know what happens when we get going too fast and are distracted. Accidents happen. People get hurt. We get hurt. I always know that I'm getting ungrounded when I start hitting my shins on the corners of my bed frame. Ouch.
So the meditation isn't just something you do by yourself and then forget about for the rest of the day. It's a space that you are learning to cultivate and carry with you throughout your life, and the more you do that, the more at peace you may begin to feel within yourself. I can't guarantee that though. For some of you, you're going to have to walk through a lot of inner darkness to come to that peace and love. But it is possible. It is available, and it's all right here waiting for you in this moment.
Where else could it ever be?
Today's lovely flower photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. Please feel free to check out her beautiful work on this flickr link.