You always wanted to try it.
That deceptively simple practice called meditation.
But then you heard all this stuff about enlightenment and the countless techniques you can use to achieve that elusive state of consciousness. And now you’re even more confused.
Do I need to sit in full lotus posture? Do I concentrate on my breath or recite a mantra?
In this guide, I will explain what the goal of meditation is and what types of meditation exist.
Let’s start with the purpose of meditation.
Does meditation have a goal?
If you are already familiar with a few spiritual masters, it might confuse you.
Some of them tell you that the goal of meditation is something grand like spiritual enlightenment.
Then you listen to another spiritual master and he tells you you shouldn’t have any goal while you are meditating. That’s particular common among Zen masters.
So, who is right?
They are both right. Meditation is about focusing intensely on the present moment. In other words: It’s about increasing your concentration.
And you can only fully concentrate in the now.
If you concentrate on your breath, then you can’t think about anything else at the same time.
Goals are in the future, but you have to focus on the present moment.
Now you’re probably asking yourself: Isn’t the first spiritual teacher wrong if he says the goal of meditation is spiritual enlightenment?
That depends on how you define enlightenment.
If your definition of enlightenment is being as deeply alert of the present moment as possible and you don’t think about this during your meditation than you are on the right track.
And should thoughts occur, just take your attention back to your object of meditation as soon as you notice your loss of concentration.
In the beginning this will happen to you often. But don’t be discouraged it’s like that for every beginner. After some practice the gap between your thoughts will become longer. And they won’t annoy you anymore.
Don’t view your thoughts as an enemy.
Depending on your cultural background and personal preference you might have a favorite way to sit.
For example, a Zen monk might sit in seiza position.
Most people who are not used to sitting like this will find this posture uncomfortable. Maybe even painful.
And unless you are very flexible, you most likely won’t be able to sit in a full lotus position.
But that’s all right.
You can meditate just as well sitting on a chair. I recommend sitting on the edge. This way it will be easier for you to notice when your spine is not straight anymore.
Or alternatively sit on a chair without a backrest.
If you’re having trouble sitting straight, try to imagine your head is gently pulled upwards by a bunch of balloons.
Hopefully, you will realize it before you sit like this:
I don’t recommend meditation while lying on a bed. At least not in the beginning. It’s too easy to fall asleep.
Just make sure you feel comfortable and don’t force yourself into a posture you can’t maintain. Meditation is not an advanced yoga class after all.
How to start
Your meditation session doesn’t have to be long.
Especially if you are just starting out, you might prefer a short meditation.
I recommend 10–15 minutes. Preferably right after you wake up or right before you sleep.
That’s when your mind is most receptive. This way you will start and end your day with a relaxed mind. Calming your mind right before you sleep will also help you with sleep problems. Especially if your mind often keeps you awake at night.
If maintaining an intense focus on the present moment during the whole duration is not a problem anymore, you can enhance the duration to 30 minutes or longer.
At least if you can manage that much time.
But on what do you concentrate?
If you’re familiar with meditation, you probably now that a common meditation technique is focusing on your breath.
But that’s not the only way to meditate. Far from it. There are plenty of meditation objects you can focus on.
I suggest trying each of the following meditation techniques at least a couple of times.
You never know which one you like most if you don’t try them, right?
Let’s start with the obvious one.
There are multiple popular ways to focus on your breath.
The first is to concentrate on the entire breathing process.
Put your attention towards your breath and follow the entire breathing cycle. Notice how your abdomen changes as you inhale and exhale.
But don’t change your breath while you watch it. You notice that your breath will slow down after a while.
Try to watch every little moment of your breathing without losing focus.
The second way is focusing on your nostrils.
As you inhale and exhale, watch how your breath is making its way into your body and back out. Focusing only on a part of the breathing process like this might be easier for a complete beginner.
You can also count the duration of your in-breath and out-breath.
This one is popular among religious people. But some Zen masters also practice it.
First, you need a phrase to recite during your meditation. You can even combine a mantra with another technique. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh uses a simple one to assist him during his breathing meditation:
Wonderful moment.”Thich Nhat Hanh
As you can see, he uses the first word when he inhales and the second one when he exhales.
He also reminds himself to smile during his meditation. This is a great way to relax. It prevents you from taking your practice to seriously. A small hint of a smile is enough–like some Buddha statues have.
This is my current favorite.
Focus on the energy inside your body. There are three ways to do it.
The first one: Focus on one part of your body
You could feel the energy inside of your hand, for example. This is helpful if you can’t focus on your entire body yet.
If you do this for a while, you will notice how the energy isn’t static. The sensation continuously changes. It just feels static at first.
The second one: Free floating
You can also start at one body part and slowly change your focus to an adjacent body part. This way you can wander through your entire body.
If you notice any tension in your body, you can stop for a moment and imagine a warm golden light emanating from that area. Visualization is surprisingly effective. Just try it.
The third one: Focus on the entire body.
You might need to practice focusing on one part of your body for a while before you can do this one reliably.
Become aware of all the energy inside your body at once. If you are upset about something or you experience another strong emotion, you might notice this in certain parts of your body.
Let’s say you had an argument with your spouse today. If you meditate now, you might sense your emotions in your stomach. Or maybe it’s your chest. Strong emotions can often be sensed somewhere in your body.
If you notice this, calmly observe those feelings. Don’t get agitated–it will only strengthen it.
This meditation is part of an old Tibetan practice. Unlike most meditation techniques, you have to practice it with open eyes.
First you need an object. And then you position this object in front of you. For example, it can be a paper with a letter or a circle. You can pick whatever you like. Now you concentrate on this object.
Some monks don’t even blink while the concentrate on their favorite object. Even if tears stream down their face, they don’t blink. But don’t worry, you don’t need to be that extreme to make this meditation work for you.
Tibetan monks who practice lucid dreaming prefer using external objects for their meditation practice. This helps them to stabilize their perception of objects inside a lucid dream.
According to Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, there are three stages of Zhine:
During this stage you are constantly distracted by your own thoughts. You have to consciously put in effort to return your focus to your object of meditation. But don’t be so serious that your body tenses up. It’s a relaxed state of concentration.
By the way: Don’t let your mind trick you into thinking about your object of meditation. You’re supposed to look at it, not think about it!
During this stage, you don’t have to direct your attention away from your thoughts and back to your object of meditation all the time. You no longer have to force your mind to hold still. It comes naturally to you.
You feel relaxed and tranquil. If thoughts arise, they don’t distract you anymore.
This last stage doesn’t require an object anymore. You meditate on the empty space itself. You can practice this while looking at the sky. But you can do it anywhere, even in a small room.
Meditating on the space between you and the object instead of the object itself is an advanced technique that will only confuse and frustrate you, if you try it as a beginner. At least that’s how it was for me.
No matter which meditation technique is your favourite, don’t forget to practice regularly. Even short daily meditation sessions can be helpful. Don’t slack off.
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