With deep honor and respect for the origins of meditation, the earliest written records coming from the Hindu Vedic traditions, in India. And to all the subsequent manifestations and variations within Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Sufism, Catholicism, etc, including the modern Mindfulness practices of the West.
Retire to the center of your being, which is calmness. – Paramahansa Yogananda
Slip quietly out of the noose of your habitual anxious self, release all grasping, and relax into your true nature.
We are so addicted to looking outside ourselves that we have lost access to our inner being almost completely. In a world dedicated to distraction, silence and stillness terrify us; we protect ourselves with noise and frantic business. We are terrified to look inward. We may even think that if we do, we will be in danger of madness. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is really just one of the last and most resourceful ploys of ego to prevent us from discovering our real nature.
Learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well.
THOUGHTS & EMOTIONS
At the beginning, our minds are like a candle flame: unstable, flickering, constantly changing, fanned by the violent winds of our thoughts and emotions. Once we have found stability in our meditation, noises and disturbances of every kind will have far less impact.
Sometimes people think that when they meditate there should be no thoughts and emotions at all; and when thoughts and emotions do arise, they become annoyed and exasperated with themselves and think they have failed.
As long as you have a mind, you will have thoughts and emotions.
In the ancient meditation instructions, it is said that at the beginning, thoughts will arrive one on top of another, uninterrupted, like a steep mountain waterfall. Gradually, as you perfect meditation, thoughts become like the water in a deep, narrow gorge, then a great river slowly winding its way down to the sea, and finally the mind becomes like a still and placid ocean, ruffled by only the occasional ripple or wave.
When people begin to meditate, they often say that their thoughts are running riot and have become wilder than ever before. This is a good sign. Far from meaning that your thoughts have become wilder, it shows that you have become quieter and are finally aware of just how noisy your thoughts have always been. Don’t be disheartened or give up. Whatever arises, just keep being present, even in the midst of all the confusion. Keep returning to the breath.
When you meditate, breathe naturally, just as you always do. Focus your awareness lightly on the outbreath. When you breathe out, just flow out with the outbreath. Each time you breathe out, you are letting go and releasing all your grasping.
Each time you breathe out, and before you breathe in again, you will find that there is a natural gap, as your grasping dissolves. Rest in that gap, in that open space. And when, naturally, you breathe in, don’t focus especially on the in breath but go on resting your mind in the gap that has opened up.
In the ordinary mind, we perceive the stream of thoughts as continuous, but in reality this is not the case. You will discover for yourself that there is a gap between each thought. When the past thought is past, and the future thought has not yet arisen, you will always find a gap in which the nature of mind, is revealed. So the work of meditation is to allow thoughts to slow down, to make that gap become more and more apparent.
“When the past thought has ceased, and the future thought has not yet risen, there a gap …prolong it… that is meditation.” (Jamyang Khyentse)
When you practice meditation, rather than “watching” the breath, let yourself gradually identify with it, as if you were becoming it. Slowly the breath, the breather, and the breathing become one – duality and separation dissolve.
Keep your mouth slightly open as if about to say a deep, relaxing “Ahhh” when you meditate. By keeping the mouth slightly open and breathing mainly through the mouth, it is said that the “karmic winds” that create discursive thoughts are normally less likely to arise and create obstacles in your mind and meditation.
In meditation keep your eyes open, not closed. Instead of shutting out life, you remain open and at peace with everything. You leave all your senses—hearing, seeing, feeling—just open, naturally, as they are, without grasping after their perceptions.
If you are sensitive to disturbances from outside, when you begin to practice you may find it helpful to close your eyes for a while and quietly go within. Once you feel established in calm, gradually open your eyes, you will find that your gaze has grown more peaceful and tranquil.
With your eyes open, you are less likely to fall asleep. Meditation is not a means of running away from the world, or of escaping from it into a trancelike experience of an altered state of consciousness. On the contrary, it is a direct way to help us truly understand ourselves and to relate to life and to the world.
One practical tip in general is that whenever your mind is wild, it is best to lower your gaze, and whenever it is dull and sleepy, to bring your gaze up. Once your mind is calm and the clarity of insight begins to arise, bring your gaze up, opening your eyes more and looking into the space directly in front of you.
Whatever you see, whatever you hear, leave it as it is, without grasping. Leave the hearing in the hearing, leave the seeing in the seeing, without letting your attachment enter into the perception.
Your meditation and your gaze should be like the vast expanse of a great ocean: all-pervading, open, and limitless.
Do not focus on anything in particular; instead, turn back into yourself slightly, and let your gaze expand and become more and more spacious and pervasive. You will discover now that your vision itself becomes more expansive, and that there is more peace, more compassion in your gaze, more equanimity, and more poise.
The most essential point of the meditation posture is to keep the back straight, like “an arrow” or “a pile of golden coins.” The “inner energy,” or prana, will then flow easily through the subtle channels of the body, and your mind will find its true state of rest. Don’t force anything. The lower part of the spine has a natural curve; it should be relaxed but upright. Your head should be balanced comfortably on your neck. It is your shoulders and the upper part of your torso that carry the strength and grace of the posture, and they should be held in strong poise, but without any tension.
Sit with your legs crossed. You do not have to sit in the “full-lotus” posture. But be sure to sit on a cushion high enough that your knees fall below your hips. If you prefer to sit on a chair, keep both feet on the floor, keeping your posture as described above.
Rest your hands comfortably over your knees. This is called the “mind in comfort and ease” posture.
Quietly sitting, body still, speech silent, mind at peace, let thoughts and emotions come. Whatever arises, let it come and go, without clinging, attaching, or grasping.
NATURE OF MIND
Just as the ocean has waves, and the sun has rays, so the mind’s own radiance is its thoughts and emotions. Thoughts and emotions are the radiance and expression of the very nature of the mind. They rise from the mind and they dissolve back into the mind. Whatever arises, do not see it as a problem. Have a spacious, open, and compassionate attitude toward your thoughts and emotions. Before them, “Be like an old wise man, watching a child play.” (Dudjom Rinpoche)
When I am in the nature of mind, the ordinary mind is no longer there. There is no need to sustain or confirm a sense of being: I simply am. A fundamental trust is present.
The Buddha recognized that ignorance of our true nature is the root of all the torment, and the root of ignorance itself is the mind’s habitual tendency to distraction.
To end the mind’s distraction would be to end suffering itself; the key to this, he realized, is to bring the mind home to its true nature, through the practice of meditation.
What is the nature of mind like? Imagine a sky, empty, spacious, and pure from the beginning; its essence is like this. Imagine a sun, luminous, clear, unobstructed, and spontaneously present; its nature is like this. Imagine that sun shining out impartially on us and all things, penetrating all directions; its energy, which is the manifestation of compassion, is like this: Nothing can obstruct it, and it pervades everywhere.
The purpose of meditation is to awaken in us the sky-like nature of mind, and to introduce us to that which we really are, our unchanging pure awareness that underlies the whole.
PRAYER & MEDITATION
Prayer and meditation reinforce one another. Prayer is a way to give emotional expression to your deepest yearnings and aspirations. Prayer raises emotional energy and strengthens intention. Meditation brings attention and focus to prayer. Meditation devoid of emotion is pretty flat and doesn’t go very far.
Try taking a few minutes before you start your meditation and feel, in your heart, your own spiritual yearnings. Feel what leads you to practice, even if you can’t put it in words. Just feel it in your heart. When you touch the depth of feeling in your heart, you may be surprised at how deep or how strong it is. Rest with the feeling, not analyzing it, or trying to understand it. Just let it be there and let yourself feel it. Then turn to your meditation.
Take care not to impose anything on the mind. When you meditate, there should be no effort to control, and no attempt to be peaceful. Let go even of the idea that you are meditating. Let your body remain as it is, and your breath as you find it.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS
Everything can be used as an invitation to meditation. A smile, a face in the subway, the sight of a small flower growing in the crack of cement pavement, a fall of rich cloth in a shop window, the way the sun lights up flower pots on a windowsill. Be alert for any sign of beauty or grace. Offer up every joy. Be awake at all moments – to “the news that is always arriving out of silence.”
If you find that meditation does not come easily in your city room, be inventive and go out into nature. Nature is always an unfailing fountain of inspiration. To calm your mind, go for a walk at dawn in the park, or watch the dew on a rose in a garden. Lie on the ground and gaze up into the sky, and let your mind expand into its spaciousness. Let the sky outside awaken a sky inside your mind. Stand by a stream and mingle your mind with its rushing; become one with its ceaseless sound. Sit by a waterfall and let its healing laughter purify your spirit. Walk on a beach and take the sea wind full and sweet against your face. Celebrate and use the beauty of moonlight to poise your mind. Sit by a lake or in a garden and, breathing quietly, let your mind fall silent as the moon comes up majestically and slowly in the cloudless night.
You can transform the most ordinary of rooms or corners into an intimate sacred space, an environment where every day you go to meet with your true self with all the joy and happy ceremony of one old friend greeting another.
And then there’s walking meditation, reading out of a meditation book, spending quiet time and getting centered.There are also more formalized practices. Including the physical ones of martial arts and yoga. In the end it does not matter how we meditate. The important idea with meditation is this to: Be still so we can hear your Higher Power.(from Melody Beattie)
When thoughts arise, our attention collapses down onto the thought, and any sense of space and resting vanish. When a sound arises, we stop listening to the silence and focus just on the sound. When this happens come back into the experience of breathing and rest there. Rest, return, rest, return, rest, return. No matter what is going on in your meditation, there is an openness, a space in which thoughts, feelings, sensations and sounds arise. Rest in that space.
The first description I ever received on how to meditate was just this: Stopping. Try this anytime/anywhere. Or just set a 3 minute timer.
Remember: A method is only a means, not the meditation itself. It is through practicing the method skillfully that you reach the perfection of that pure state of total presence, which is the real meditation.
Buddha recognized that ignorance of our true nature is the root of all the torment of samsara, and the root of ignorance itself is the mind’s habitual tendency to distraction. To end the mind’s distraction would be to end samsara itself; the key to this, he realized, is to bring the mind home to its true nature, through the practice of meditation.
What you have been seeking is literally and exactly that which is reading this page right now.
Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn, Joan Sutherland Through The Dharma Gate, GOOP – the importance of meditation, Sakyong Mipham – motivation in the morning & at the conclusion of the day, Pema Chodron Unhooked, a Glimpse, Unfettered Mind, Gratefulness
*this “chewing of the cud” first compiled in 2013