Meditation and Mindfulness: a complete guide for beginners

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I was fortunate enough to learn how to meditate as a child, and, on and off,  it has been part of my life ever since. I have been meditating now for probably about 25 years, and I am convinced that this simple practice, which I will explain below, has given me an ‘unfair advantage’ in almost every aspect of my life: my ability to concentrate, understand and absorb information, in reducing mental distress and anxiety, and in my personal life and relationships too. Not that I’m perfect, and not that meditation will definitely solve all your life’s issues – that’s not what I’m saying – but I think life would have been much much more difficult for me, and for many others, without meditation and the physical, mental and spiritual benefits it brings.

I’m going to give you an outline of the practice and underlying principles of what worked (and continues to work) for me, and has also worked for many people I have shared this with.

My experience is that if you continue to meditate for 10 minutes at the same time everyday for two weeks you will start to notice significant improvements in various aspects of your life

The first time you (properly) meditate

If you have never meditated before or have never had a regular meditation practice, there’s a chance you may not enjoy it the first few times, or that you may feel it is not working for you. This is often true whenever there is an attempt to change established habitual patterns.

For example, if you eat chocolate every night then you will likely meet psychological and physical resistance when you try to stop or change this habit. Most people are addicted to doing and thinking, and meditation is a full-frontal attack on both of these, so attempts at meditation also often meet both psychological and physical resistance.

If you enter a meditation practice with your eyes wide open and actually expect to experience both of these forms of resistance, you are already well on your way to succeed. So don’t let the resistance put you off – realise that it is part of the course, and continue to persevere with the practice. It is well worth the effort.

My experience is that if you continue to meditate for 10 minutes at the same time everyday for two weeks you will start to notice significant improvements and changes in various aspects of your life – your ability to sleep, your happiness and stress levels, your relationship to food, your energy levels and your capacity for perspective and insight into everyday matters. If you continue to do this daily for 1 month, the improvements become more significant.

If you enter a meditation practice with your eyes wide open and actually expect to experience both psychological and physical resistance to the practice, you are already well on your way to succeed.

That said, not everyone is the same, and the main thing I would say is for you to try to do some kind of formal practice everyday, regardless of what it is, with the aim of physical and mental relaxation. This essentially means sitting with a straight back, relaxing your muscles, allowing your breathing to naturally slow down, and allowing your thoughts to reduce in quantity and improve in quality.

Some background about these techniques

Although I have often gone long spells without meditation, I often find myself returning to some basic techniques. When I was a young child my mother initially taught me basic pranayama (yogic breathing exercises), and then sometime after this she introduced me to a basic meditation technique. I used to do pranayama every night for 10 minutes before I went to bed and then I spent another 10 minutes meditating after that if I felt like it. At some point I also learnt some very basic yoga asanas (poses/stretches) and learnt to regulate my breathing in these poses.

In this article I’m not going to go into pranayama or yogic asanas – feel free to look these up too though if your are interested as they will likely enhance your meditation practice. But the point I want to convey is that what I learnt was very basic. Nothing fancy, no frills, no secret techniques or ritualistic initiations – just basic technique. But basic doesn’t mean ineffective. I have found that the more basic techniques are often the most powerful, at least that’s what’s worked for me. Feel free to find what works for you and let me know in the comments below if and how your experience has differed from mine – I’d love to hear from you.

It’s also worth noting that whilst my mother had a strong spiritual inclination, I was taught this method in a fairly secular context – ie. I was told that this would be good for my physical and mental wellbeing, would improve my mental clarity, etc. It was a few years later as a teenager that I came upon all the spiritual aspects of meditation and started to explore these things more, and I think that these basic techniques formed a good base and grounding from which I was able to explore more subtle aspects of life and my experience of it.

The method

There are various things you can do prior to meditation that will likely improve your meditation, which I will touch upon later on below. It is also advisable to meditate at the same location at the same time everyday in order to establish a ‘meditation habit’.

Now, without further ado, here is the basic method:

1) Posture

Sit comfortably with your back straight, either on a meditation cushion or chair, preferably with your knees lower than your hips which allows the back to naturally straighten.

Aim your gaze slightly down so that your chin is not too raised and position your head so that your nose is directly above your navel. This should allow for a straight upper part of your back.

Feel free to shuffle about your hips and roll your shoulders a few times so you feel comfortable.

Take a few deeps breaths and a few loud sighs to discharge any excess tension from the body

2) Technique

– You can meditate with your eyes open or closed, depending on what feels most comfortable for you.

– Gently allow your mind to focus on your breath and just notice the breathing. Don’t force anything, just gently direct your mind to your breathing.

– Allow you breath to naturally slow down. Don’t force anything, allow your breath to gently and naturally slow down.

– Allow yourself to feel happy and well (if you can). This is best done by relaxing and even smiling. Meditation is not meant to be a chore or hard work. So relax and enjoy. Don’t worry if it doesn’t come easy to start off – the more this is practiced, the easier it gets, and eventually it becomes second nature.

– If thoughts come, let them come. Just keep your mind on the breath which will take the energy away from the thoughts and they will naturally die down.

– If you get lost in thoughts, as you probably will from time to time (this happens to even experienced mediators all the time), then don’t worry, relax and come back to the breath.

– If you become frustrated or have some other feeling, then allow these feelings in. There is no need to forcibly push them away. Allow them to arise, and when you are ready come back to the breath.

– If you are able to do just this, then stay here, just follow the breath.

– If this is difficult for you then try one of two suggestions:

1) repeat a mantra such as the word ‘Om’ or the sound ‘Ahh’. Just repeat the work on every out-breath. This can be done by a verbal repetition out loud or an internal mental repetition. Try both and see which you feel more comfortable with. This forms an additional focus of attention and can allow for easier concentration and deepening of the meditation.

2) alternatively you can count the breaths. I recommend counting each out breath. Count a single 1 count for each breath up to 5, then for the next 5 breaths count back down to 1. If you lose your concentration or otherwise get distracted from counting breaths, then start again from 1.

Basic principles

The basic principles of this meditation are:

– relax, relax, relax

– remember to enjoy it – focus your attention but don’t stress and force it too much

– allow thoughts and sensations but don’t give them energy – instead focus on the breath.

– if there are strong thought patterns or feelings/sensations, then don’t try to fight them. Allow them to come in, be mindful of them, and when you can, come back to the breath when it feels right.

– if you lose concentration feel free to open your eyes or have a little stretch, but get back to the practice asap.

How to have a ‘better meditation session’

If you have trouble meditating, then try one or all of the following before your meditation practice:

-take a brisk walk or do some light exercise prior to meditation

-do 3-5 minute of chanting. If you don’t know what to chant, try chanting ‘Om’ or the sound ‘Ahh’ on every outbreath

-do some light stretches or a basic hatha yoga practice

-learn some basic relaxation breathing techniques or basic yogic pranayama and do these at the start of your meditation session

-do a ‘body sweep’ to consciously relax all the muscles in your body prior to meditation. Do this by allowing yourself to relax and then, starting at the top of your head, mentally go through all the parts of the body and consciously relax them. Places tension are often held are in the forehead, jaw, neck and shoulders.

Taking your practice further – spiritual enlightenment

There are many reasons people meditate – for improved mental health and intellectual functioning, for better sleep, to improve relationships, to improve problem-solving abilities, etc.

Of course there can also be a spiritual aspect to meditation. If this interests you there are many ways to take this forwards. One way is to gradually extend the meditation time to at least 30 minutes per day. Please explore this website which has many articles or attend one of my group meetings or contact me for a one to one if you wish.

Here are some other articles that may be of interest to you:

How to meditate for spiritual enlightenment

Q. How can one control the mind? Simple English please!

A meditation: how to transcend the ego in 4 steps

One size does not fit all

Remember, one size does not fit all, so try the above out, but find out what works for you. Above all, keep a regular practice, even if it is only 10 minutes per day, and listen to your heart.

Best wishes!

Krishnamurti: to be aware of inattention is to be attentive.

Continuing the series of Krishnamurti posts this week, the following is written by Jiddu Krishnamurti, taken from BULLETIN 4, 1969:

The physical organism has its own intelligence, which is made dull through habits of pleasure. These habits destroy the sensitivity of the organism, and this lack of sensitivity makes the mind dull.

Such a mind may be alert in a narrow and limited direction and yet be insensitive. The depth of such a mind is measurable and is caught by images and illusions. Its very superficiality is its only brightness.

A light and intelligent organism is necessary for meditation. The interrelationship between the meditative mind and its organism is a constant adjustment in sensitivity; for meditation needs freedom.

Freedom is its own discipline. In freedom alone can there be attention. To be aware of inattention is to be attentive.

Complete attention is love. It alone can see, and the seeing is the doing.

Jiddu Krishnamurti: the radio and music

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The following is Chapter 27 from Commentaries on Living: First Series by Jiddu Krishnamurti

The Radio and Music

It is obvious that radio music is a marvellous escape. Next door, they kept the thing going all day long and far into the night. The father went off to his office fairly early. The mother and daughter worked in the house or in the garden; and when they worked in the garden the radio blared louder. Apparently the son also enjoyed the music and the commercials, for when he was at home the radio went on just the same. By means of the radio one can listen endlessly to every kind of music, from the classical to the very latest; one can hear mystery plays, news, and all the things that are constantly being broadcast. There need be no conversation, no exchange of thought, for the radio does almost everything for you. The radio, they say, helps students to study; and there is more milk if at milking time the cows have music.

There need be no conversation, no exchange of thought, for the radio does almost everything for you.

The odd part about all this is that the radio seems to alter so little the course of life. It may make some things a little more convenient; we may have global news more quickly and hear murders described most vividly; but information is not going to make us intelligent. The thin layer of information about the horrors of atomic bombing, about international alliances, research into chlorophyll, and so on, does not seem to make any fundamental difference in our lives. We are as war-minded as ever, we hate some other group of people, we despise this political leader and support that, we are duped by organized religions, we are nationalistic, and our miseries continue; and we are intent on escapes, the more respectable and organized the better. To escape collectively is the highest form of security. In facing what is, we can do something about it; but to take flight from what is inevitably makes us stupid and dull, slaves to sensation and confusion.

…we may have global news more quickly and hear murders described most vividly; but information is not going to make us intelligent.

Does not music offer us, in a very subtle way, a happy release from what is? Good music takes us away from ourselves, from our daily sorrows, pettiness and anxieties, it makes us forget; or it gives us strength to face life, it inspires, invigorates and pacifies us. It becomes a necessity in either case, whether as a means of forgetting ourselves or as a source of inspiration. Dependence on beauty and avoidance of the ugly is an escape which becomes a torturing issue when our escape is cut off. When beauty becomes necessary to our well-being, then experiencing ceases and sensation begins. The moment of experiencing is totally different from the pursuit of sensation. In experiencing there is no awareness of the experiencer and his sensations. When experiencing comes to an end, then begin the sensations of the experiencer; and it is these sensations that the experiencer demands and pursues. When sensations become a necessity, then music, the river, the painting are only a means to further sensation. Sensations become all-dominant, and not experiencing. The longing to repeat an experience is the demand for sensation; and while sensations can be repeated, experiencing cannot.

The moment of experiencing is totally different from the pursuit of sensation.

It is the desire for sensation that makes us cling to music, possess beauty. Dependence on outward line and form only indicates the emptiness of our own being, which we fill with music, with art, with deliberate silence. It is because this unvarying emptiness is filled or covered over with sensations that there is the everlasting fear of what is, of what we are. Sensations have a beginning and an end, they can be repeated and expanded; but experiencing is not within the limits of time. What is essential is experiencing, which is denied in the pursuit of sensation. Sensations are limited, personal, they cause conflict and misery; but experiencing, which is wholly different from the repetition of an experience, is without continuity. Only in experiencing is there renewal, transformation.

Sensations have a beginning and an end, they can be repeated and expanded; but experiencing is not within the limits of time. What is essential is experiencing, which is denied in the pursuit of sensation.

 

A meditation: how to transcend the ego in 4 steps

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Meditation is healing and nourishing. It is like hitting the reset button, allowing us to recharge and connect with ourselves and with life. The essence of meditation is to be silent. Why? Because in that silence the everyday activities of thought are allowed to subside. We are then able to come into contact directly with life, with what is. The distorting filter of the thought-based ego is no longer in the way. Continue reading