On one level, meditation is a tool. It can help combat stress, fosters physical health, helps with chronic pain, can make you sleep better, feel happier, be more peaceful, as well as be present.
But on a deeper level, meditation is a doorway into the unknown. It can help us get a sense of the mystery of who we are.
When you start meditating, you will notice how unruly the mind is. I remember being quite shocked by this! I noticed that my mind was all over the place. Profound thoughts about my past or future jostled with mundane thought clips about what groceries I needed to buy. Some time afterwards I would come too and notice that I had spend 15 minutes running a painful memory over and over. It was like sitting in a crazy cinema!
So, if you’re starting out with meditation, please don’t beat yourself up about your wild mind. It is a natural condition. In time you will learn to work kindly with the barrage of thoughts and you will find some clarity and peacefulness.
Here are some simple tips on how to start meditating. Maybe those of you who already practise meditation could please add your comments of what has worked for you.
Whether you sit on a chair or cross-legged on the floor, make sure that your spine is upright with head up. If you are slumped your mind will drift. Mind and body are intertwined. If your body is well-balanced, your mind will also be in balance. To straighten up, imagine that your head is touching the sky.
Try and keep you eyes open. Open eyes allow you to be more present. Just lower your eyes and let your gaze be soft. If you close your eyes you will be more likely to drift away on thoughts and stories. However, it’s important to do what is comfortable for you. Some people find closing their eyes much more effective. It’s good to experiment and see what feels best for you.
In ordinary consciousness we are hardly ever present. For example, sometimes we drive the car on autopilot while being preoccupied with thoughts. Suddenly we arrive at our destination and don’t remember anything about the drive!
So, meditation is a wonderful way of waking up to our life. Otherwise we miss most of our experiences because we are somewhere else in our mind! Let’s take a look at what focus is. In ordinary life, we tend to equate focus with concentration. That’s like using the mind like a concentrated beam of light. But in meditation, that kind of mind isn’t helpful. It’s too sharp and edgy. To focus in meditation means to pay soft attention to whatever you place in the centre of awareness. I suggest using the breath as a focus. It’s like a natural door that connects ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. Zen Master Toni Packer says:
Attention comes from nowhere. It has no cause. It belongs to no one