Quick Guide to Learning Meditation
The key points to practice Buddhist calm-abiding meditation are:
- Motivation – You should aim to meditate in order to bring positive qualities into your own life and the lives of others.
- Environment – You should meditate in a clean, quiet environment where you are unlikely to be disturbed.
- Posture – You should sit in a comfortable position so that you can be as still as possible, such as cross-legged on a cushion.
- Object of concentration – You should gently focus your mind on an object of concentration, such as the flow of the breath.
While it is best to receive direct guidance on how to meditate from an experienced meditator some instructions are provided below if you want to learn to meditate.
Place and Time of Day to Meditate
The place you choose to meditate should be a quiet, uncluttered space. The best time to practice is first thing in the morning before breakfast. Meditating at the very beginning of the day has many benefits. It allows the spacious and relaxed mind you develop in meditation to flow into one’s attitude throughout the day.
Ideally, you should meditate each day so that the continuity of the practice can transform your mind. Sessions of around twenty minutes work best for beginners, although don’t worry if you sit for a slightly shorter or longer.
The best meditation posture is to sit cross-legged, in the half-lotus or full lotus position. The most important thing is to be comfortable, so if sitting this way is a challenge you can just sit cross legged or in a chair. To avoid getting sleepy make sure you sit upright with a straight back.
A firm cushion is best, about 5-6 inches thick so your knees are at the same or lower level than your hips.
There are 7 main points for the meditation posture:
- Your legs should be in half or full lotus
- Your back should be straight
- Your neck bent slightly forward
- Your right hand resting lightly on your left
- Your mouth should be closed, but relaxed
- Your tongue resting lightly on your palate
- Your eyes should be slightly open, focused on a spot on the ground five or six feed in front of you
Key Steps in Meditation Practice
1. Rest the mind on the breath
To learn to meditate we start by settling the mind by concentrating on your breathe As you breath in and out, simply be aware of the flow of breath, as it enters and leaves the nostrils.
Keep gently bringing your mind back to the breath, when you notice the mind has wandered away to a thought, sound or other distraction.
Thoughts are a manifestation of the energy of mind, just as ripples on a pond are a manifestation of the energy of water. You should not try to block thoughts, since it would be impossible. However, you should neither follow nor dwell on any particular train of thoughts that may appear.
All kinds of thoughts will arise in meditation. They can vary from what you have been doing today, to plans for the future to any number of surprising topics.
Don’t worry when your attention wanders from the flow of breath. This should not be regarded as a fault, but rather the natural activity of mind.
The meditation practice is gradually training your mind to settle, through continually returning your attention to the breath.
2. Count the out-breaths
A further support when practicing this meditation is to mentally count each time you breath out.
Begin at one and when you reach twenty-one you should start back at one again. Once again, as soon as you realize that you are no longer concentrating on counting the breath, you should bring the mind back and start again at one.
The aim is not to get to twenty-one but to allow the mind to calm down.
A danger of this meditation is to worry about thoughts, which can result in a very tight mind that just tries to suppress them.
Calmness of mind is something that is not created artificially but is a natural quality of mind. The meditation is just a means to allow this quality to manifest.
You have to maintain a balance between a relaxed but focused mind, a sense of which is gradually developed through experience.
3. Don’t judge your meditation practice
As the practice develops, you may begin to notice that on some days the mind is very agitated and resting seems very difficult, while on other days the mind seems very calm and resting is very easy.
Don’t worry if the meditation seems bad. But also don’t assume you are progressing if the meditation seems good.
In reality the mind changes from day to day and minute to minute, sometimes agitated, sometimes calm. Therefore there’s no need to figure out if you are meditating ‘correctly’ today or not. Just simply practice following the breath throughout all states of mind.
4. Developing your meditation practice
After a six or eight weeks you should begin to be able to settle the mind by counting the breaths. Then you can gradually drop the counting technique and simply follow the breath. Finally, one will be able to let go of even this observing the breath
This basic instruction on learning to mediate should be complemented with reflection on other teachings, such as the four thoughts. If you practice in this way, the qualities and benefits of the dharma path are sure to develop.