How to meditate: a step by step explanation
How to meditate
How to meditate is a step by step guide to a basic meditation. Learn how to calm the mind and develop concentration with mindfulness of the breath.
The purpose of this article is to give a simple beginners guide on how to meditate. Actually, how to meditate varies depending on the technique used. But to begin we can use a common and simple technique. Generally we learn a basic mindfulness of the breath meditation to begin with. This is because the first thing is to develop a means to calm the mind.
How to meditate: posture
In learning how to meditate, we begin by settling into a meditation posture. This may be sitting on a meditation cushion with legs crossed, or sitting in a chair if that is more comfortable. In either case our posture will be straight backed as this helps to keep the mind alert. If you are reclining in an armchair it may lead to dullness, daydreaming and even sleep. So a straight backed chair will be better in most cases. If sitting on a cushion you can adopt the easy crossed legged position. You may prefer to adopt the full lotus or half lotus positions depending on your flexibility. The most important thing is to be comfortable relaxed and alert.
As we straighten the spine the back of our neck will lengthen and so our head will tilt a little forward. (If our gaze followed our nose down it would be roughly directed at our knees.) We can be both straight and relaxed by allowing the natural energy of the spine to act like a pillar. It is as if the vertebra were a pile of coins stacked one upon the other. Then feel as though the shoulders and the rest of the body hang loose and relaxed from this upright pillar.
Your hands can rest one in the other upwards in your lap, or rest downward on the thighs or knees.The eyes may be either half-closed and unfocussed on visible objects. They can also be completely closed, whichever you find easier. If you tend toward dullness and sleepiness half closed may be better. If you tend toward distraction you may relax easier with the eyes closed.
Gathering your mind
Spend a few moments being aware of your seated position. Note the stillness of your body. Then your attention withdraws from the external world. Your awareness gathers inward. You disconnect from sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tangible things. Thus, free yourself from the pull of the external world, you settle within. Now your attention turns to your inner world, the contents of your mind.
You can allow your mind a complete holiday by letting it focus on one simple, single thing. Give complete focus to the natural rising and falling of the breath. Settle your full awareness on the breath. Allow the breath to flow as it would without making any effort to control it. As the breath fills your awareness, the flow of mental activity settles down. Distracting thoughts become less and less. You are content with observing the breath. There is no more excitable reaching for distracting thoughts. Be content to rest in the moment being the silent witness observing the breath.
Being in the moment you release yourself from the bondage of the past. Your attention is no longer caught in good and, especially, bad memories. You let go all the hurt of the past, seeing it as irrelevant to this moment of watching the breath. Let go of thoughts of last year, last month, the last day, the last hour and the last instant. Realize them as having passed. They will never to return again and are as insubstantial as last nights dream. Awaken from the dream of the past to the present moment where you watch the breath.
You also release yourself from projecting into the future. Let go of plans, hopes, aspirations and expectations. Thus release yourself from thoughts of next year, next month, the next day or the next instant. See that all thought into the future is mere speculation about what may come to be, and yet again may not. Let go of speculation and fantasy. Remain present, aware and focussed on the breath. Stay in the now with what is – observing the breath.
As you learn how to meditate your focus on the breath should be neither too tight nor too loose. Too tight will cause mental agitation and thus distraction. Too loose will cause mental dullness and thus a loss of clarity. Tune your awareness like a guitar string so to be not too tight and not too loose. Your attention will rest on the breath. Meditation is a state of relaxed alertness. You don’t try too hard and nor do you abandon effort.
As your mind calms and becomes still with the breath as its object, you will sense an opening of your mind. It is as though your consciousness expands, or at least becomes expansive. It broadens into a space-like awareness. This is a global, three-sixty-degree perspective with height and depth. Your awareness has moved out beyond the limitations of conceptuality. You will begin to feel as though the breath flows within your space-like awareness. This flow does not disturb the stillness of your vast and expansive awareness.
Then you will notice that the errant thoughts pop up from time to time. They also appear to your expanded awareness without disturbing its stillness. A rainbow appears in space and then disappears of its own accord. It does not disturb the space. Thoughts arise and subside like this. You witness from a spacious awareness. Thoughts no longer disturb the stillness of your awareness.
The space-like awareness has the quality of tranquility. This is the peace of a mind free of agitation and dullness. It is a mind freed from the compulsive need to follow conceptuality. No longer caught in random mental processes and reactions, you direct your mind as you wish. You have a real freedom of choice and action. Your thought processes no longer capture you and pull at you. They inform your awareness without disturbing your deep sense of peace. This is how to meditate.
With familiarity you begin to notice the blissful nature of this inner peace. It is a self-referred state of joy which bubbles naturally from within. This joy in its purest state is a spontaneous bliss. It requires no other conditions for its presence. By familiarizing yourself with it in meditation it can become your default state.
It is this blissful peace which comes to sustain your meditation practice. Any time you sit, you relax into bliss and peace. Meditation becomes a joy and no longer a task. Knowing that this is the outcome helps to motivate your initial meditation practice.
At first you may find that your meditation sessions are very distracted. There is more distraction and involvement in other thoughts than pure concentration. You may begin with a good focus on the breath then think, ‘Aren’t I meditating well. The last meditation session this good was during my holiday in Queensland. Lovely beach, but not as interesting as my trip to China last year. Fascinating place, but communist. I prefer the American approach. Although their politics are a big rugged I suppose.’ And on it goes through political analysis to the state of business and the latest sports news. Around the world in thirty seconds!
How to meditate: constant practise
Distraction should not be discouraging. It is quite normal at first and is the mind revealing its normal random conambulations. The secret to overcome this is practice. Every time that you find yourself distracted bring your attention back to the breath. Thoughts, sounds or physical sensations may distract you. Observe what has happened, let it go, and bring your awareness back to the breath. Develop this ability of letting go of thinking patterns. Bring full focus to the object of concentration. Each time you do this during a session of meditation you break down the habit of distraction. This will allow the mind to settle and come to rest on the breath.
With single-pointed concentration we can make progress in analytical meditations. Here we find meditations to uproot the causes of suffering and distress. We learn meditations to expand to the causes of happiness.
In meditation practice the mere fact of doing it has a powerful positive effect. It does not matter how unsuccessful or distracted you may think that you are. Consistent practise brings ever greater relaxation and focus. As you continue to practice daily the effect is exponential, until soon you are able to focus at will.
Daily practice in particular means that each day you put a break in the stream of random thought. This conditioning would otherwise continue to produce its ongoing shambles. Daily meditation combined with good motivation will definitely bring enlightenment.