How to Meditate
Quick Beginner's Guide
Relaxation & Mindfulness
Unification of Mind
Integration of Presence
We’ll have to start with some fundamental questions first. Why should I meditate? Meditation will give you a glimpse into a mode of being and living that is beyond the limitations of thought and time. Read that again if you have to. The aim of meditation is spiritual enlightenment. The sense of peace and freedom people report in meditation comes from the gradual or instantaneous cessation of thought. Once the noise in the mind begins to settle, the natural by-product of this, is the discovery of an inner peace and still mind- unfabricated, pure and luminous.
Step 1. Physical Relaxation
Simply bring your awareness to each part of your body. Starting from the head down to your feet. It’s completely ok if the mind wanders. Just go back to the part of the body you left off on. Notice any sensations. Just have bare awareness of that part of the body. Notice that wherever you place your attention, a natural relaxation response occurs - that arm or leg begins to relax and open up.
Step 2. Mental Relaxation
Ball up your fist. Now simply open your hand. Now your palm is open. Meditation is like that- simply resting in open presence with or without an object. It’s easy if you don’t get in the way. Drop everything and gently attend to the object, the present moment and a sense of inner stillness. As soon as you’ve noticed that the mind has wandered, this means awareness and mindfulness has already returned. Whenever the mind wanders, like re-opening the fist again, gently re-establish mindfulness/presence.
Step 3. Meditation
Now that you’ve relaxed mentally and physically you have a couple options. You can either meditate with an object or without one. There are thousands of different meditation techniques. All with different objects, functions, and effects. Irrespective of what object you’re using the fundamentals are the same. Remain in relaxed presence with or without an object - that is meditation.
Initially you might be able to rest in mindfulness or presence for only a few seconds before the mind wanders, but gradually those seconds of continuous mindfulness will turn into minutes and at advanced stages even hours. It takes time for the mind to adjust to existing in a natural still state without effort. Most of the ‘work’ that goes into meditation is repeating the basics - remaining in presence, re-establishing mindfulness again and again and again. The process itself is enjoyable if you’re able to get expectations out of the way.
Whatever ideas you have about what inner peace is supposed to look or feel like will get in the way. Leave all that at the door and especially off the meditation cushion. Simply learn to enjoy the present moment during your practice. It might be the only time during the day that you’ll actually rest in awareness, the now, or your body.
Step 4. Integration of Presence
Once inner stillness or calming begins to arise in the mind, you might notice yourself spontaneously and randomly becoming mindful during your daily activities or even in your dreams. The average person might only have 15-30 minutes to dedicate to daily closed-eyed seated meditation. However, the rest of the day is an opportunity to deepen your practice if you’re skillful. As often as you can, rest in presence and/or tend to the meditation object throughout the day.
On long meditation retreats, participants are instructed to rest continuously on the meditation object, from the moment they wake up until the falling asleep. With a busy mind and a busy life, you might find that a bit challenging to do. Here’s a better way to phrase it: As often as you can throughout your day, relax, open up just like you do in meditation and be present. Of course that might only last until the next thing comes along and your mind goes out the door with it.
Step 5. Unification of Mind
What happens when you sustain presence with an object for extended periods of time? Internal luminosity can arise, feelings of peace, sensations of floating, etc. These are all side-effects of the mind calming, thus causing energy (qi) within the body to generate various reactions. As the mind becomes calmer and calmer you might notice your hands warming up, heat in your belly or cooling sensations in your legs and feet. These are all normal reactions attributed to the movement of energy and blood flow. The main point is to continue to remain present.
The unified mind is vastly more powerful than the wandering mind. By unified, this means collected. The mind is collected upon the object. Eventually, the mind becomes unified with the object, this is known as Samadhi. Bliss, unity, and immovable presence like a mountain. Depending on the tradition, the degree of stillness and unification of mind, Samadhi can even mean complete immersion with the object and thus the total absence of sense data from the physical body and mind.
Make it easy and keep it easy for your own sake. How easy it to notice your left foot? How easy it to notice your breath? Just notice. Notice for as long as you comfortably can. Meditation is not a process of doing. It is a process of un-doing and non-doing.
Drop the stories, drop yesterday, drop tomorrow, drop everything else and just take a moment to be right where you are. Avoid using strain since it only irritates the mind and causes more of a ruckus. Vast waves of stillness might not arise your first session or even on your 100th session. Learn to get out of the way. Learn to just watch. The way you’d gaze at a rose or a flower. Make it as effortless as possible.
What you’ll discover is that the mind itself, at it’s most fundamental level, is already present, already still, already whole and luminous. Resting in effortlessness, sooner or later you discover the source of the presence, peace and happiness you sought for so long.