Meditation is an absolute necessity to the development and maintenance of a spiritual way of life. The spiritual path involves listening for answers, whether we believe they come from a Higher Power, our subconscious, or the Pleiades. We can’t listen if our minds are constantly running amok with thoughts, no matter how spiritual they might be. We need to be able to quiet our minds.Another misconception involves the nature of meditation itself. We may think of it as being something we must “learn” before we can begin to benefit from it, when in fact we all know how to meditate instinctively.
Have you ever driven most of the way home from work (sober) and realized that you remembered nothing about the trip — not only the trip, but perhaps what you might have been thinking on the trip, the songs that played on the radio — nothing? Have you ever come to with a start and realized that you had lost a few minutes? Have you ever been so deeply engrossed in reading a book, or listening to music, that you suddenly realized you had been oblivious to everything going on around you for several minutes — even hours? If you have had any of these experiences, you have been in a meditative state. We all do it, whether we call it hyper-focusing, daydreaming, or “lost in thought,” it’s all the same thing.
We are naturals at meditation and, since we already know how, the idea of doing so regularly may seem less of an ordeal. It really isn’t difficult, although it may require a bit of patience and acceptance to begin with. The trick — if there is a trick — is to learn to do “on demand” what we already know how to do unconsciously.
How To Do It
The first thing we need is a quiet place with a minimum of distractions. Many people choose a particular room, or part of a room, closing it off with a curtain or a decorative screen, and turning it into a special space. An electric fountain, wind chimes outside a window, incense, unstructured music — such as chanting or a foreign form of music with which we are unfamiliar* — may all be used to make our place special, different from our usual environment. Although we can meditate anywhere, once we are comfortable with the process, many of us have found that having a special place dedicated to the purpose can help us get into the right space, both figuratively and literally.
It is important to have privacy and comfort. Our area should be free of outside noise and visually uncluttered (a blank wall with a pleasing abstract print, perhaps). We can sit in a chair or on a cushion, but we should, in either case, sit upright. First of all, although we should try to relax, we don’t want to go to sleep. Second, we want to be able to breathe freely and comfortably, and we want to be in a position that promotes good circulation, as we will be remaining more-or-less motionless for some time. The third reason goes along with the idea of having a particular place in which to sit: we want sort of a “formal” situation, so that our subconscious mind begins to calm itself, with practice, whenever we assume that posture.
You may have noticed that I have not mentioned trances, or “going into” a state of meditation. This is because we are simply going to sit comfortably and allow ourselves to reach a state that is perfectly natural for every human being. We have no need for mumbo-jumbo, only the willingness to do what needs to be done. That is surprisingly little, taking much less time than the words necessary to describe it.
First we get comfortable in an erect, seated posture of our choice. We may sit cross-legged, in a “lotus” position, in a chair, or we can kneel and sit back on our heels. If we choose to kneel, we should use a cushion to elevate us so that we do not cut off circulation to our feet by bending our knees too much. There are special pads to kneel on (called zabutons) and cushions to sit back on (zafus), or we can improvise.
Our bodies should be upright. If we are in a chair we may move our hips to the back of the seat, but we should not lean back. Our upper body should be self-supported, our weight evenly distributed, our feet flat on the floor, our hands on our knees, or in our lap-never on the chair arms. If we are in a chair and have short legs, we should rest our feet on something so that the edge of the seat does not cut off circulation, but our legs should remain at an approximate 90-degree angle, and our feet flat on the floor. (Actually, an adjustable secretary’s chair is just about perfect for sitting — no accident there.) If we are unable to assume these positions due to age or disability, we do the best we can. The important thing is that we are comfortable, and able to maintain our position for a period of time.
After we are seated, we want to “settle in,” by moving our body back and forth and then relaxing to help achieve a position with as little tension as possible. We can wriggle our upper body, move our heat from side to side and up and down. Proper head position is achieved by keeping our body stationary and attempting to “reach up higher” with the top of our head, then relaxing and maintaining the head-erect position that results.
What we’re looking for is a position that will allow us to relax as much as possible, while remaining upright and more-or-less immobile. We can sit longer and more comfortably the fewer the muscles we have to utilize. A side benefit of learning to do this is that we can use similar positions to remain comfortable during almost any long period of sitting, such as a meeting, concert or at church services.
Once we’re comfortably settled in front of our non-distracting wall in our special space, we begin to count our breaths, silently. We do nothing else, counting on each exhalation. We breathe normally, counting up to five, and then beginning again at one. Inhale, exhale (one), inhale, exhale (two)…inhale, exhale (five), inhale, exhale (one) and so on. We try to think only about our counting and our breath. When other thoughts come along…and they will…we simply recognize that they are there, and return to our breathing and counting. Another thought — OK — back to breathing and counting.
There is a tendency to become annoyed at these thoughts that seem to intrude. There is no need. They are part of the process. They happen to everyone, even people who have meditated all their lives. Just recognize, do not dwell on them, and return to breathing and counting. There is no objective to this practice, therefore no way to do it wrong. There is nothing else to be done. Breathe and count.
To begin with it will be difficult for us to remain present in meditation for more than a few minutes. We should not push ourselves. However long we are able to do it, even if only four or five minutes, is OK. As we practice, we will find that we can remain longer. In the meantime, we can know that in this case practice does not make perfect. If we are breathing and counting in a comfortable position as discussed here, we are already doing our meditation perfectly. With time and practice, the feeling of our meditation may change, but from the first moment of sitting and breathing we are already doing it perfectly.
This form of meditation has been practiced in exactly this way for more than 3,000 years. Far from being New Age, it is ancient. No one knows how or why it works. In fact a great deal of research is being done in that area, because this practice is so beneficial to health. After we practice for a while, we stop wondering about the process. To seek to know why is to complicate it. Better just to sit and breathe. This is how things are. Thus.
*If we are going to use music, it should not be of the sort that might distract us; thus the use of chanting, or some “foreign” kind of music. The volume should be low. Music that we can “get into” should be avoided. Personally, I prefer music that is unstructured in the Western sense, like Japanese flute (shakuhatchi).