A short guide for beginners:
- Find a quiet place to sit where you won’t be disturbed. One of the purposes of meditation is to escape distraction from sensory experiences, so finding solitude is essentially mandatory. Later you’ll be able to apply the skills of meditation anywhere, even in a crowded room or while driving, but for now peace and quiet are key. If you can find a room with few distractions, that’s great. Turn off you phone, iPad, computers and smart watches – for the next few minutes you’re just going to tune into the present moment and be fully with yourself.
- Find a comfortable seat where you can sit undisturbed for at least 15 minutes. It takes at least 15 minutes to really get into a good meditation: find a chair, cushion, or pillow that you can sit on for at least that long. If you cannot sit up straight for 15 minutes, you can lie down or recline, but if you do lie down you’ll need to be extra vigilant of distractions and dullness. People use specific meditation cushions, but you can also sit in a normal chair or use a yoga bolster or other firm pillow. The objective of meditation is to build the skill of concentration and focus our attention towards our inner world, so make sure you’re seated comfortably.
- Set up a meditative body posture. If you are sitting on a chair or cushion: you’ll want to sit with your center of mass about 2/3 of the way to the edge of the seat. Sitting towards the edge of the seat allows your knees to fall below the elevation of your hips. Getting your knees below your hips is one of the most important aspects of the meditation posture, so make sure you play with this and get it just right for your body. Try sitting on your cushion or chair without any intention to meditate and just see if you can find the sitting position that requires the least amount of effort to maintain. This can take a few minutes and some trial and error, but it will save you a lot of back pain and general discomfort later on. If you’re lying down: try elevating your knees and tying them together with a belt or yoga strap, letting your feet rest flat on the ground. It’s important to note here that everyone’s body is different, so experiment on yourself and find what allows your body to remain comfortable. Work with the posture over several days, continuing to check in at each meditation session and if you’re feeling discomfort see if you can adjust the posture to be more comfortable and relaxed. Just as we train our mind, we must train our body, and that takes effort. Eventually our body remembers the posture, though, and muscle memory makes it easier and easier with time.
- Set the intention to meditate, uninterruptedly, for a specific length of time. Decide how long you’re going to meditate. At the beginning of each meditation session, after you have adjusted your posture, remind yourself verbally why you’re doing this. Setting the intention for the meditation is like the huddle before a football play: the team has to gather themselves into a unit and decide on a course of action. We decide up front, getting all the different scattered parts of our brain into the huddle, what we’re going to be doing for the next block of time – for now, that’s going to be sitting quietly and focusing our attention on the breath. Just as in the football analogy, if we don’t set our intention, the various sub-components of our mind disagree on what is supposed to be happening and we will fumble the ball. (By the way, these multiple fractured sub-components of your personality lead us to the fundamental nature of a distracted mind. A distraction is nothing more than one sub unit of your consciousness overriding another part with its own conflicting agenda.) Set the intention for your meditation this way: “For the next [x] minutes, I will not voluntarily move and I will keep my attention focused at my breath. I will ignore any distracting thoughts and impulses, and now devote my full energy and attention to calming and stilling my mind.”
- Begin to direct your attention to the sensations of the present moment. Once you’ve set your intention to meditate without interruption, begin to direct your attention towards the present moment, the thoughts and sensations flowing through consciousness right now, how your body feels, the cool sensations of air as it flows in and out of your nostrils. Begin to ignore everything else in the room. Anytime you do get distracted, drop the distraction as quickly as possible and return to simply paying attention to the present moment.
- Begin ignore everything except the sensations of the breath. Start to pay less attention to your thoughts, trying to identify as quickly as possible thoughts that would like to captivate you and make you forget your intention to still the mind. If you hears sounds outside – a child screaming, a bird chirping, a car honking – without categorizing or passing a judgement about the sounds, just allow those sounds to pass through your consciousness as quickly as they pass through the air. Your mind will naturally fix itself to certain sounds and thoughts, these are called sticky distractions. Sticky distractions are harder to let go of because they don’t seem like distractions at all but really compelling reasons to go on thinking or even end the meditation and wander off to accomplish something. You might hear the doorbell, or your dear neighbor outside who you’ve been meaning to talk to. Try to overcome the impulse to act and think in this moment, if you can.
- Narrow the scope of your attention even further to the breath at the nostril. You may not get to this point on your first meditation, but you will eventually as you master the previous steps and they become easier and quicker to get into. Now we begin to narrow the scope of the attention even further, from the sensations of the breath to only the sensation of the breath at the tip of the nostril. This even further concentration of the attention system attenuates the already growing capacity for directed attention. Though perhaps you were aching and uncomfortable with the practice when you first started, you’ll eventually be able to sit quietly for 15 minutes without a problem. As your sitting posture stabilizes and you’re able to sit for longer, you’ll continue to go deeper and deeper in to this concentration practice until radical shifts in consciousness start to appear after your sessions. You’ll start to notice rapid shifts in mood and mind-wandering for a few minutes up to several hours after you meditate. At that point you’ll want to work on condensing all of this practice, which at first can take 15 minutes or even longer, into only a couple of minutes. This is when meditation will really start to “crack open” your life, you’ll be able to sit quietly for a couple of minutes here and there and have profound shifts in mood and attention, which is exactly what you’ll need to tackle the hardest moments of your life. Now that you can automate this process and achieve a stable, deeply concentrated state in just a couple of minutes, you are a completely different person and the world is a completely different place. Welcome to life beyond suffering, and unconditional happiness.
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