I’ve gotten quite a few inquiries about meditation recently. Some have come to me curious about the process and why I do it, interested in taking up the practice themselves. I promised to detail it in my blog so here it goes.
I started meditation three years ago as part of my Buddhist practice. It’s an essential part of Buddhism, the starting point for anyone seeking to practice though one can follow any religion, or no religion, and still meditate. The Pali word for meditation is bhavana’ which means ‘to make grow’ or ‘to develop’. When we meditate this is essentially what we are doing, we are developing our minds. There are many different types of meditation practice but they all stress one core concept, mindfulness of the preset moment. They all teach that if we draw attention to our thoughts and feeling as they arise then we will develop an acute awareness of ourselves, our true nature. As we become more aware of our true nature we will begin to reshape our habits . We will refrain from the patterns of behavior that result in suffering. Of course there is much more to meditation, this is just a simplified explanation.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been meditating for three years yet I was able to recognize the benefits very early on. It has helped me to develop a sense of inner calm and I have become more centered. I am certainly more aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I am more inclined to let things go. Most importantly, meditation has helped me to be less reactionary. I realize that I have a tendency to take things personally and I’m well-known for having a very hot temper. As I become more centered I am able to sort out what deserves a reaction and what does not. Not everyone or every situation requires my energy. This wisdom has saved me from creating unnecessary trouble for myself.
How To Meditate
First find a quiet, clear space where you wont be disturbed. Once a space has been cleared sit in a posture that is most comfortable. These two steps are very important, otherwise you will not be able to relax. In regards to the posture, there is no exact way to sit. Meaning there is no right or wrong posture. As long as you are sitting in a way that doesn’t obstruct your breathing. Some options include sitting on the floor crossed leg (Indian style) or back on your hunches with legs tucked underneath. For those that cannot sit on the floor I would recommend sitting upright in a chair or laying on your back on a flat surface. No matter which way you chose to sit it is important that your back is straight, head is upright, and shoulders relaxed.
Once you’ve got the space and posture just right take a few moments to relax your body. When you feel that you are relaxed and ready then focus on your breath. This is the best starting point for beginners. Again the point of meditation is being in the present moment and breathing is the best representation of this since we are always breathing at any moment.
The most basic breathing technique is the counting method. Count each breath as you breath in and out, going up to a specific number (maybe 10 or 20) and then counting back down once you’ve reached the number. If you find yourself counting past your designated number then that’s an indication that your mind is wandering and you are not in the present moment.
Of course sitting and counting your breaths may appear to be easy but you will quickly find out that it isn’t. Once you get settled your mind will start to wander. Feelings and emotions will arise. You may become distracted by sounds or agitated by the fact that you are sitting and doing nothing. This is very natural and will continue no matter how many years you practice meditation. When you notice these things happening very gently bring your attention back to your breath. There will be periods where your mind will not be able to settle and other periods where your mind will be extremely calm. Eventually, the periods of calm will be more frequent and last longer the more your meditate.
That is my very basic and abridged explanation on meditation. I always advise those interested to research and try different techniques until they find one (or a combination of several) that suits them. At times it helps to begin, not with sitting, but with a mindful movement practice such as yoga or Tai Chi or to combine these with a sitting practice. It also helps to join a sangha, or meditation group, as they provide outside support for practice. Lastly, I also encourage people to participate in meditation retreats.
A few great resources I always recommend to beginners:
Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
*Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace by Angel Kyodo Williams
*This is an awesome resource for POC Buddhist practitioners