04 Mind and Body Contemplations

Reflections on Meditation – III – How to Get it Right

Techniques and tips from my experience.

Meditating is hard. It is not a natural trait of ours. While we are awake, the brain naturally keeps thinking, at some level. I have been attempting to achieve a thoughtless state in my daily morning meditation. I am currently meditating for only 8 minutes. Even that is a challenge to do well.

Each person’s experience, methods and effectiveness at meditating will, of course, be different. I am writing this blog on meditation technique with two intentions. The first is to share observations and thoughts from my experience, hoping it may help others. The second is to hear from readers their reactions, techniques and experiences as they may help me meditate better.

The Body

It is best to sit in a balanced and neutral position with no points of strain or pain in the feet, legs, back, shoulders, neck or hands. There is no real need to cross your legs like in a lotus pose. If you are used to it, fine, else just a simple leg crossing is fine. Sitting with back and head upright yet relaxed is good. The hands can be on your knees or in your lap, whichever is more natural for you. You need to find a pose which does not gradually start drawing your mind’s attention as you meditate.

The best time to meditate is in the morning. Our minds start becoming active in the morning, and as the idea of meditation is to focus the mind, it is probably most difficult in the morning. It is a good thing. Take it as a challenge, as it will only make your mind stronger. It will also set you up nicely for the rest of the day.

Try to find a quiet and comfortable place to meditate where you are least likely to be disturbed. You should use a timer so you are consistent and can increase the meditation time gradually in steps. Plus you will meditate and not wonder how much time has passed since you began :-).

The Mind

I have frequently read that one way to achieve an empty mind during meditation is to focus your attention on something. The idea behind this must be to stop our mind from thinking. I.e. if we focus on our breathing, we will prevent other thoughts. I thought of other options like feeling your heartbeat, listening to a steady sound or gazing at something to stop thinking. Wish it was so simple, though! Our brain is very capable of multi-activity. So even while we focus on one thing it merrily starts thinking at the same time about other things :-). So the strong-willed concentration of the whole mind on only the focus point is vital. With the ‘focus on breathing’ method, it does help to take a deep breath and slow down the breathing. Still, I have found the following more useful:

  • Focus on a word or phrase and repeat it mentally. E.g. I use ‘Just breathe’ or ‘Meditate’ or ‘Thoughtless’. ‘Om’ would be a popular choice, although I find other phrases more effective.
  • As your eyes are closed, look at what you can see in the darkness. You will see eddies and swirls and shapes that undulate and converge and move across the darkness. Just watch them and focus on them.
  • Visualise and gaze at the serene face of the Buddha
  • Imagine a 3D EEG graph that shows the thought waves throughout your brain as a grid pattern, with spikes for regions of higher activity. Then imagine that all the peaks gradually go down and the whole graph is just a hemisphere with a regular square grid pattern. Then keep it like that.
  • Imagine your two hands forming a circle around your brain to keep it still and quiet and keep inputs out of the brain.
  • Imagine your brain as a hemisphere glowing with white, peaceful light. Or as dark and empty.
  • Imagine every molecule of your mind has become static, come to a standstill. All forces are in perfect balance. There is no movement. There is nothingness.

It is okay for your mind to wander from the focus point. As soon as you realise you are thinking to bring it back to the focus point. Even this exercise strengthens the mind. 

You will find that even when you focus on one of the above and are not thinking of anything else, you are still thinking about focusing on the focus point! You are observing and noting yourself doing it. The idea is to remove even this self-observation.

Do’s

Be patient. The quality of your meditation and its duration will improve only gradually. Start with 3 minutes, increase it to 5, then 8 then 10. Meditating for more than 15 minutes at a stretch may not be possible for most people. It may even be counter-productive.

One day that feeling of knowing that you are in a genuinely meditative “nothing” state, even if only for a moment, will come.

You will not achieve thoughtlessness quickly. Your mind will start thinking, remembering, wondering, hoping, worrying…all the usual things it does. These are trains of thought. Focus on making these trains as short as possible. As soon as you observe one starting up terminate it as quickly as you can. Also, try to make your thoughts as simple as possible. It is better to be thinking ‘wish that dog would stop barking’ than considering some problem of nuclear physics. Having short and simple wanders from which you keep coming back would be a commendable start.

Be satisfied if you are achieving thoughtlessness or something close to it for even 10 to 25% of the session. Achieving 100% may be impossible for anyone. Getting to 50% could be your goal.

Just do it regularly, do it every day.

Don’ts

You will hear sounds like a fan, birds, neighbours’ TVs, people or vehicles. It is okay. Anyway, it is hard to get a tranquil place for meditation. Hear the sounds but don’t think about them and their associations.

The key is to aim to ‘be’ in a specific state, not to ‘do’ meditation. Be in the moment. Tell yourself that you don’t want your mind to move to the future or the past. It has to be in the now.

One of the things I start doing is thinking about the utility and purpose of meditation. But while doing it, we should just assume it has value. Trust that it works. You can think about it afterwards or before the next session, but not during the session.

Signs you are doing it right

You will realise that the observing of your mind has itself receded to the background. It has become tiny inside. You just know without explicit consciousness that you are close or at thoughtlessness. You will feel a sense of floating, of weightlessness. If you sustain this even for a few seconds, you may find that a pulsation or vibration starts and spreads through you, though your body and you alternate between feeling this and maintaining your peaceful mind state.

Once you get the hang of it, the passage of time will slow down. Even 8 minutes are seeming like a long time to me now, in a nice way. Each moment will seem like an eternity. But when the timer comes to an end, it will seem like the session passed in no time! You will feel like continuing, meditating more. Be content, and tomorrow you will do it again. Move on to your daily tasks, taking advantage of a slightly more improved you.

Each day your meditation will be slightly different from the last day’s. You will progress, learn, get more control, slowly quieten down.

You may not achieve advanced ‘Buddhist monk’ levels of meditative states. But any attempt, and persisting with any degree of it, will still go a long way to adding value to your life. Combined with other forms of self-improvement, it will form an integral part of your progress.

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