TIPS FOR MEDITATION
by Dr. Susan Nettleton
Naturalness—Consider meditation a natural process: something in us knows the meditative process. Teachers, instructions, and the experiences of others can be important and useful guides. Being open to learn and consider the guidance of others contributes to the receptive attitude that is important to meditation. Yet, meditation remains an inner experience and can be as natural as the act of breathing and heart beat; automatically there in the background, awaiting our recognition. We do not make ourselves meditate, we let meditation happen and cooperate with it by giving it our relaxed attention while our usual working mind and thoughts rest.
Consistency—While there are many facets and techniques of meditation, they almost all include a consistent practice. Consistency is key to training the physical body, as well as our mental processes. We learn and develop skill through repetitive practice. With time and experience, you may choose to change your meditation technique, but approach any change with a renewed commitment to be consistent long enough to know whether or not the change has been helpful to your practice. (Try 6 - 8 weeks of near daily practice.) Consistency includes:
- Time and place—With practice, you can meditate any place and at any time. However, meditating at the same time and place are powerful reinforcements to expectancy and learning that make meditation easier. Choose or create a comfortable place, where you won’t be disturbed. Aim for a consistent length of time that fits more or less into the same order of your daily routine (rather than a rigid time schedule). Also aim for even a few minutes daily, some place, on those days when you seemed to have no time for your meditation. Consider meditation an appointment that you have made with yourself.
- Position and Posture—Some traditions of meditation place great importance on position and posture. The most relevant factor in how you position yourself though is that you be in a physically relaxed, yet alert, state that you can maintain in relative stillness for your meditation time, on a daily basis. In cultures where sitting on the floor is common, meditation is associated with sitting crossed-legged or with legs not crossed, but seated on your heels, or meditating in a kneeling position. But meditation easily adapts to a chair position. From Hindu traditions, there is an emphasis on keeping the spine straight, which usually promotes alertness and better general alignment of the body. Lying down, although relaxing, is associated with sleep and the intention of meditation is to remain alert. It is important to distinguish the state of meditation from a state of sleep and not confuse the two. If however physical limitation or pain prevents you from relaxing while seated, then try lying down, keeping the meditation time separate from sleep time.
- Technique—There are hundreds of meditative techniques and practices, some more popularized than others. It’s important to not get confused or overwhelmed by the different schools of thought that are offered. Find a simple one that works for you and stick with it for a period of time (6-8 weeks). If in general, you feel better, stay with it. A generic starting point for meditation is to begin with muscle relaxation, from the bottom of your feet, step by step up the body, to the top of the head, voluntarily relaxing your muscles. Then, turning your attention away from the external world, use a point of focus for your attention, letting all other thoughts come and go, just gently bringing your thoughts back to your focal point. The focal point may be a word or phrase (for example, “Peace” or “Let Go”) that you mentally repeat over and over again as a mantra. When you find your thoughts wandering, just gently return to your focus. Other common techniques are visualizing an image that can be a point of focus, or simply watching and/or counting your breaths from 1 to 10 and then repeating the count throughout the meditation period. Your point of focus can have spiritual/religious meaning to you, but it is not necessary. As your meditation draws to a close, gently familiarize yourself with your physical body, your environment, and whatever activity you will be shifting to. Then go about your business relaxed, renewed, refreshed.
The One Minute Meditation—As you become more practiced at inner focus, alert and relaxed, try a one minute meditation in the midst of your day— while standing in line, waiting on the phone, or taking a brief break at work. This can allow you to disengage from the outer world for a minute and draw on the calm and peace of your ongoing practice. In a particularly stressful and busy time you may surprise yourself at how many “meditation minutes” you can accumulate, bringing you new stamina, calm, and insight.
Changes over time—Begin with 5-15 minutes of meditation a day, in 1 or possibly 2 sittings, increasing to 20 minutes a day. As a general rule-of-thumb, we suggest increasing your meditation by 5 minutes each year, in either one daily sitting or divided into morning and evening, depending on the rhythm of your day. What was confusing or difficult at the beginning becomes a clear practice over time if you let your process guide you. Meditation is a layered process in which you discover more and more about yourself, how your mind and thoughts function, and more subtle states of awareness. You begin to understand and free yourself from various emotional states by sitting with them in this practice. While there are many systems describing human consciousness, along with states and phenomena of meditation, they can be distractions. Too many pre-conceived ideas of what you are “suppose to experience” or ways of evaluating your “progress” only muddy the waters with unnecessary expectations. One of the common conflicts that the meditator faces is the struggle between the value of the inner life vs. the outer life—the idea that the time spent in meditation could be spent in other ways, often related to “fixing my life”. Meditation allows your mind to be clear; it brings about a state of clarity and peace. This helps establish a firm foundation of order in your world and harmony in relationships. You may be drawn to explore other teachings and traditions as a part of your process and as a part of a sharpened intuitive awareness. Our inner exploration through meditation affects our outer life. This is something that takes time to recognize; most often it is a gradual process of dropping our mental burdens and discovering new freedom as we find a point of peace with ourselves and our world.
- Allow the mind to become quiet, still, peaceful, clear, open like a pool of water. How do you make the water be still? Leave it alone. When water is still, we can see into the depths; we see clearly to the bottom.
- Meditation allows you the opportunity to suspend judgement, evaluation, and the pressure to always be connected to the outer world. Trust it.
- If you are still blaming the world or blaming yourself, it may be hard to sit quietly with yourself in anger and resentment. Forgiveness can dissolve the block. Surrender what you can’t forgive.
- Every meditation is it’s own good. Let go of the goal. Let go of forcing. Let go of struggle. Let go of comparison. Let go.
- Don’t just do something; sit there.
- You have the right to remain silent.