Posted by Jay Suthers on September 12, 2014
In part one of this series, I introduce you to meditation through definitions and by dispelling some of the myths about meditation. In part two of this series, I discuss the benefits of meditation and why I think we should all be practicing some level of meditation every day. In part three of this series, I explain some simple techniques that will help anyone get started with their meditation practice.
In this final article on How to Meditate, I will dig a little deeper into more advanced meditation technique. After reading the third part of this series you will have learned to use the breath to relax and some simple counting to maintain focus during meditation. The mind wanders easily and never stops thinking about things. You will quickly find yourself thinking about the day's events or "to do" list. Use the breath or the count to gently remind yourself that you are meditating and draw yourself back into your meditation.
There are many things you can do to prepare for meditation and they all relate to calming the mind and settling down. In part three I talk about ensuring that all the possible distractions are literally turned off. Morning meditation is great because you wake up without a day's worth of thoughts to get after you and you have not yet turned on all your technology - TV, cell phone, radio, and what have you.
If your meditation time is in the evening, you will want to turn off the technology at least an hour before you meditate. Make sure anyone for whose needs you are responsible has been taken care of and knows you need your quiet space.
One advanced technique may be something you do before you even sit down for your meditation practice. This may include some yoga or a practice of chanting. Yes, actually singing. Singing is a great way to focus the mind since it involves concentration on the rhythm, melody, and words of the music. In the Hindu tradition, this is known as Kirtan and generally involves the repetition of a simple phrase such as Om Namah Shivaya. This is known as a Mantra and it means "I bow to Shiva" where Shiva is the first God of the Hindu faith. I is not meant as Idol worship, but as reverence to God.
If you are of the Christian faith, you can find similar types of music such as your favorite Hymn. And, you don't have to sing it on key, with all the right words, or perfectly at all. It is simply engaging in a practice that will set the stage for your meditation. I've found a version of the Our Father set to a simple melody through the Lutheran Church that I like to sing a few times and then hum as I slowly go into meditation.
Once you begin meditation, you can use a Mantra or other short phrase as a point of focus in the meditation. Again, in the Hindu tradition, repetition of the Mantra Om Namah Shivaya can be used. Similarly, in Centering Prayer, a Christian meditation practice, you can use a short phrase that is meaningful to you such as God is Good or Amazing Grace. The phrase should be short enough to fit into a normal, relaxed breath.
This is a particularly powerful technique since our minds love words and using words as a focus can be very effective at maintaining focus. To make it a meaningful meditation, however, you have to eventually stop speaking the words, whispering the words, and eventually thinking the words. Remember that this level of focus is designed to calm the mind in its sea of thoughts.
The next thing that can happen during meditation is the tendency to get sleepy or to just fall asleep. One technique to help with this condition is to be sure that you are sitting comfortably, but also actively. That is, sitting in an upright and mostly unsupported posture so that falling asleep would likely cause you to tip over. Generally, as soon as you feel yourself tipping, you will regain consciousness and remind yourself that you are meditating. But, don't be disappointed with yourself if you actually fall asleep. It happens and, with practice, you will discover techniques to help you keep alert enough to maintain your meditation.
After you complete your meditation session, you may want to do some stretching or yoga to re-energize yourself. Whatever you do at the end of your session, you must be gentle with yourself and allow your awareness to slowly come back to the real world. Smile, feel happy, and feel content that you have completed the meditation and always be positive about the experience even if it wasn't your very best meditation session.
Above all, be patient. I've been practicing meditation for 20 years as of the writing of this article and there are days I have great meditations out of several days of mediocre and sometimes seemingly useless meditations. In some sense this is like your stock portfolio - somedays you make big gains and other days you have some loss, but in the long run you make steady gains. This is a learning process. Learning techniques that work for you and postures that help you feel comfortable are all part of the process. Make it a lifetime process.
I hope this short series of articles on How to Meditate has been helpful to you. I would encourage you to explore meditation through books, groups, and CDs. But, always be mindful of the instructor that is too rigid and trying to severely control your meditation process. However the pace goes for you, it is exactly right.
Thank you for reading,
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