“Meditation is what happens when you sit with the intention to meditate”
What’s your image of meditation? What words does it conjure up for you? How might you feel? Many might imagine someone sitting on a rock with a background of a calm sea, with their legs crossed and arms extended and resting on their knees with each index finger and thumb touching. Or on a yoga course after a yoga work-out. Or do you get the idea that’s difficult and only for terribly spiritual or flaky people? You might have tried it and given up, with all those thoughts and no calm, peace and serenity.
People often have very high standards by which they judge meditation, and often they are standards by which they then consider themselves to have failed. Thus, those words quoted above were very liberating for us. This is what we were told when my wife and I attended a meditation course. It might not be what you expect. However a key part of meditation is letting go, and one thing to let go of is our judgements about meditation, as indeed judgements about just about anything. It’s here that we can get into a space of acceptance, including accepting all that can come up in meditation, including our judgements.
There are of course lots of schools of meditation, lots of prescriptions about what it should be acccording to those schools. I don’t want to get into all that, because they can fit with various people’s belief systems that they like and feel attached to. I’ll just focus on what a simple meditation can be like and how we can make it happen.
First you will probably sit, although people do do other forms, like walking meditations. Personally I’d recommend sitting for at least 20 minutes, with practice, and ideally then extend that to whatever works for you, half an hour, 40 minutes or an hour. Busy people might not be able to given themselves much time, but then we live in a time-constrained world and there’s an argument for creating the time and then finding we have the time.
So you’ll be sitting a while, and so it pays to have a comfortable, but not too comfortable, seat which supports your back. You might get rather aware of discomfort and then that can be part of “what happens”. It can become something to let go of. In time you may well not notice it.
It’s good to have an upright posture, and hence a small cushion at your back can help. You might want something warm to put over you if it’s cold or you get cold. Shawls are useful.
Hands are often placed on the lap, resting lightly. Some people place their hands one on top of the other, each facing upwards. Or you can have your hands resting on your thighs, and you might even do the finger/thumb placing mentioned above, with your hands still resting on your thighs.
You could sit on the floor, cross-legged. You will probably want a cushion, with at least a mat beneath. I prefer a chair, but then I’m a Westerner and my hips don’t do crossed-legs postures.
Comfortable arm-chairs can be used. However, I’d caution against too much comfort. It might help send you off to sleep and you might not want that. Some meditations can feel like sleep, and a useful test is if you “come to” at the alloted time feeling reasonably awake, or very sleepy. The first might feel like a kind of meditation, the second like sleep.
So, part of what happens in your meditation can be just sitting there for a while. Nothing inherently “wrong” with that. You at least sat with the intention to meditate.
Or you can get all your thoughts, opinions and views about that, which may serve you, and they may not. From a meditation point of view, they are just thoughts.
Thoughts, breathing and a mantra
What very many people will say about meditation is that what they get is a whole lot of thoughts. You might spend yur whole allocated time thinking about some issue, and come away frustrated. “That wasn’t a meditation”, you might think. More thoughts.
Thoughts can be like that. We sometimes call this kind of meditation a “shopping list” meditation. You could run through your schedule for the day like this! They can happen a lot. The trick is to not be attached to them but learn to accept them when they happen and find a way to let them go or at least become unattached to them. Thus meditation teachers often say that one can learn to regard them as white clouds in the blue sky that float across your awareness and dissolve. What can happen here is that you can learn to be aware of thoughts, to observe them, but not be caught up in them. After a while they can go on in the background, but in a sense they aren’t “you”. You can discover that you are more than your thoughts.
A classic tool in meditation is to use the breath, to feel the sensations of the breath, breathing in and breathing out, and really noticing and observing your breath. When you get caught up in thoughts, you can return your awareness to your breath. And keep doing that.
You can use your breath for various things. One can be to breathe in to any tension or anxiety and then breathe out and release the tension or anxiety – or any other stuff you’d like to let go of. Including any judgments you might have about meditation. You are so much more than your judgements and and not-so-helpful feelings.
It is often good to start your meditation with a little deep breathing, down into the diaphragm, and breathing out long, and then settling into a pattern of regular breathing as suits you.
Many people also use a mantra, often from various spiritual traditions, both Western and Eastern. There are masses. They’re not obligatory. One can repeat the mantra on the in-breath and out-breath, or across both in- and out-breaths. Again it can both help to motivate you, as you might get inspiration from the mantra, and it can help manage thoughts. As with observing the breath, once you notice yourself engaged in thoughts, you can simply return your awareness to your breath and your mantra. Again, keep doing that.
The intention to meditate
I’d suggest that one key is to sit with the intention to meditate, allowing what happens but with the intention to continue the kind of procedure I’ve outlined here.
I’ve avoided trying to define meditation. More head stuff, when the idea is to let go of all this intellectualising. However, this guy on this link has a good approach, although personally I think he talks too much! I like the space created by silence. But you might like it – a lot of people do.
Intention is a powerful tool. It is the focused direction of the mind on a purpose, employing the will. It is creative. When we intend, we harness the forces of the universe behind our intention, to bring it into reality, but not being attached to it. Instead we allow it to happen, trusting in the creative process. We might take action according to the intention, but we’re not engaged in fear or anxiety about it, but trusting that it will happen. This too is a thought, but it’s a powerful one.
So, one sits with the intention. Lots may get in the way, like life. Interruptions, noise, cats, children, the phone, someone at the door. Do we allow ourselves to get caught up in that, or let it go. It’s good to make arrangements so that these things don’t interrupt you in practical terms. Then all you have are your thoughts about them, and your feelings. Like guilt, worry, anger, and the rest. A bit like life.
You can get your whole life going on as you meditate. And then you can just notice it – and return to your practice. It’s superb way to learn to be more calm, unattached, accepting, and aware.
I think it is important to practice it. Every day, on a regular basis. Keep doing it. Yes, really, every day, even when lots seem to get in the way. That too can be part of the mediation, and what needs to be let go of. That’s when people start to get the benefit. Regular, sustained practice.
It changed my life.