You always wanted to try it out.
This deceptively simple practice is called meditation.
But then you've heard all this stuff about enlightenment and the myriad techniques you can use to achieve that elusive state of consciousness. And now you're even more confused.
Do I have to sit in full lotus session? Do I concentrate on my breath or do I recite a mantra?
In this guide I will explain what the goal of meditation is and what types of meditation exist.
Let's start with the purpose of meditation.
Does meditation have a goal?
If you are already familiar with some spiritual masters, this can confuse you.
Some of them tell you that the goal of meditation is something great like spiritual enlightenment.
Then you listen to another spiritual master and he tells you not to have a goal while you meditate. This is especially common with Zen masters.
So who is right?
You are both right. Meditation is about focusing intensely on the present moment. In other words, it's about increasing your concentration.
And you can only concentrate fully on the now.
When you focus on your breath, you can't think of anything else at the same time.
Goals are in the future, but you need to focus on the present moment.
Now you are probably wondering: Isn't the first spiritual teacher wrong in saying that the goal of meditation is spiritual enlightenment?
It depends on how you define enlightenment.
If your definition of enlightenment is as accurately perceiving the present moment as possible and you are not thinking about it during your meditation, then you are on the right track.
And should thoughts arise, just turn your attention back to your meditation object as soon as you notice your loss of concentration.
This will often happen to you in the beginning. But don't be discouraged, it is for every beginner. After some practice, the gap between your thoughts will grow longer. And they won't annoy you anymore.
Do not consider your thoughts an enemy.
Depending on your cultural background and personal preferences, you may have a preferred way of sitting.
For example, a Zen monk might sit in the seiza position.
This seiza posture takes some time to get used to.
Most people who are not used to sitting like this will find this posture uncomfortable. Maybe even painful.
And unless you are very flexible, you most likely cannot sit in a full lotus sitting position.
But that's okay.
You can meditate just as well if you are sitting in a chair. I recommend sitting on the edge. This will make it easier for you to tell when your spine is no longer straight.
Or alternatively, sit on a chair without a backrest.
If you're having trouble sitting up straight, imagine a bunch of balloons pulling your head gently upward.
Hopefully you will realize it before you sit like this:
I don't recommend meditation while lying on a bed. At least not in the beginning. It's too easy to fall asleep.
Just make sure you are comfortable and don't force yourself into an attitude that you cannot maintain. After all, meditation is not an advanced yoga class.
How to get started
Your meditation session doesn't have to be long.
Especially if you are just starting out, you may prefer a brief meditation.
I recommend 10-15 minutes. Best immediately after waking up or just before going to bed.
Then your mind is most receptive. That way, you start and end your day with a relaxed mind. Calming your mind just before bed will also help you with sleep problems. Especially if your mind often keeps you awake at night.
When it is no longer a problem to concentrate intensely on the present moment throughout the duration, you can extend the duration to 30 minutes or more.
At least if you can manage that much time.
But what do you focus on?
If you are comfortable with meditation, it is likely that your focus now is that a common meditation technique is focusing on your breath.
However, this is not the only way to meditate. Far from it. There are many meditation objects that you can focus on.
I suggest trying each of the following meditation techniques at least a couple of times.
You never know which one you like best if you don't try it, do you?
Let's start with the obvious.
There are several popular ways to focus on your breath.
The first is to focus on the entire breathing process.
Focus your attention on your breath and follow the entire breathing cycle. Notice how your stomach changes as you inhale and exhale.
But don't change your breath while watching it. You notice that your breathing becomes slower after a while.
Try to watch every little moment of your breathing without losing focus.
The second way is to focus on your nostrils.
As you breathe in and out, watch your breath come in and out of your body. Focusing on a part of the breathing process like this might be easier for a beginner.
You can also count the duration of your inhalations and exhalations.
This is popular with religious people. But some Zen masters practice it too.
First of all, you need a phrase that you can recite during your meditation. You can even combine a mantra with another technique. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh uses a simple one to aid him in his breathing meditation:
Thich Nhat Hanh
As you can see, he uses the first word on inhalation and the second
one when he exhales.
He also remembers smiling during his meditation. This is a great way to relax. It prevents you from taking your practice seriously. A little touch of a smile is enough – as some Buddha statues have done.
This is my current favorite.
Focus on the energy in your body. There are three ways to do this.
You can feel the energy in your body.
The first: focus on one part of your body
For example, you could feel the energy in your hand. This is helpful when you are still unable to focus on your entire body.
If you do this for a while, you will find that the energy is not static. The feeling is constantly changing. It just feels static at first.
The second: floating freely
You can also start on one part of the body and slowly move your focus to an adjacent body part. This allows you to wander through your entire body.
When you notice tension in your body, you can pause for a moment and imagine a warm golden light emanating from that area. The visualization is surprisingly effective. Just try it.
The third: focus on the whole body.
You may need to practice focusing on one part of your body for a while before you can do this reliably.
At the same time, become aware of all the energy in your body. If you are upset about something or are experiencing another strong emotion, you may notice it in certain parts of your body.
Let's say you had an argument with your spouse today. Now, as you meditate, you may feel your feelings in your stomach. Or maybe it's your chest. Strong emotions can often be felt somewhere in your body.
When you notice this, calmly observe these feelings. Don't get excited – it will only make it stronger.
This meditation is part of an ancient Tibetan practice. Unlike most meditation techniques, you have to practice it with your eyes open.
First you need an object. And then position that object in front of you. For example, it can be a paper with a letter or a circle. You can choose what you want. Now focus on that object.
Some monks don't even blink while focusing on their favorite object. Even when tears run down her face, they don't blink. But don't worry, you don't have to be extreme for this meditation to work for you.
Tibetan monks who practice lucid dreaming prefer to use external objects for their meditation practice. This helps them stabilize their perception of objects in a lucid dream.
According to Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, there are three stages of zhine:
During this phase, you will be constantly distracted from your own thoughts. You have to make a conscious effort to focus on your meditation object again. But don't be so serious that your body becomes tense. It's a relaxed state of concentration.
By the way: Don't let your mind fool you into thinking about your meditation object. You should check it out, not think about it!
During this phase, there is no need to keep moving your attention away from your thoughts and back to your meditation object. You no longer have to force your mind to hold still. It comes to you naturally.
You feel relaxed and calm. When thoughts arise, they no longer distract you.
No object is required for this final phase. You meditate on the empty space itself. You can practice this while looking up at the sky. But you can do it anywhere, even in a small space.
Meditating on the space between you and the object instead of the object itself is an advanced technique that will only confuse and frustrate you if you try it as a beginner. At least that's how it was for me.
No matter which meditation technique is your favorite method, don't forget to practice regularly. Even short daily meditation sessions can be helpful. Don't let up.
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