Go ahead and treat yourself to a refreshing stretch. Extend your muscles from your head to your toes. Let go. Feel the revitalizing sensations. Assume an erect, but relaxed posture. Take a deep breath from your belly. Hold it for a few seconds. Slowly let it out. Breathe slowly and fully two more times. Before you do so, gently close your eyes. Pay attention to everything you do and feel.
Congratulations, you’ve just done a micro-mini meditation. If you wish to extend it, keep your eyes half closed, looking at an imaginary spot about half-a-metre away from your knees. Allow your breathing to resume its normal pace. Pay attention to it, but don’t force it. Count the out-breaths to ten a couple of times then gently let go of the counting. Just pay attention to how you feel.
When a thought arises in your mind, acknowledge it, then allow it to drift away. The thought might seem esoteric or mundane, don’t grasp onto it. It’s only a manifestation of mental activity. Continue doing this mental observation for as long as you wish, but don’t obsess over the measurement of time.
If you actually did this exercise, you’ve just accomplished core meditation practice. You can see there’s nothing far-out, occult, or special about meditation. It’s just a process of being present in the moment. It’s the act of paying attention. This is the gentle discipline of mindfulness.
Sogyal Rinpoche, in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, says “The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life.” Indeed, it is the best single thing you can learn. The benefits include the unfolding of your awareness of your entire existence. The best benefits are the feelings of wholeness and joy.
From our basic meditation exercise, a person can explore other types of meditation and contemplative practices. There are many types of meditation that people practice. A person can enjoy health enhancing relaxation techniques or look into the spiritual realms with more nuanced methods. If you like paraphernalia, you can utilize them. If you prefer stark simplicity, you can try that way.
If you decide to give yourself the gift of a meditation practice, there are many ways to do so. There are several sites on the Web that outline techniques. Some of the basic meditation methods a person can try include, but are not limited to these examples:
1. Breathing meditation, which is basically what was demonstrated in the opening paragraphs of this post.
2. Mindfulness meditation, this is an expansion of breathing meditation. The meditator “watches” the breath, then sights and sounds around oneself, then paying attention to thoughts and letting them go. The meditator is admonished not to judge or analyze any of these things.
3. Walking meditation, in its traditional form, you pay close attention to each part of the act of walking. This is done in a quiet area so you can walk very slowly and observe each motion and physical sensation made while moving. The meditator pays especial attention to the feet as they touch the ground.
4. Empty mind meditation requires the meditator to “empty” all thoughts from her or his mind and allow a sense of peacefulness to take over. This is the classic cross-legged posture or lotus-position we see in illustrations in magazine articles about meditation. The meditator sits in a quiet room so there are no distractions. The posture is erect but not tense.
5. Guided meditation, is done by sitting in the empty mind posture. The meditator listens to the voice of a teacher or a recording of a teacher. The message is along the lines of an hypnosis session. Soothing words evoke images of peaceful, calm, and idyllic scenarios. This is one of the situations where careful discernment must be practiced.
6. Religiously oriented meditation, is a way to deepen and expand ones spiritual life. This is when the twelve year analysis (see below) is most helpful. Many religions have their own types of meditative and contemplative practices. They are commonly found in some schools of Christianity, Islam, Judaisim, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other esoteric practices.
If you decide to use the services of an instructor or a guru to guide you along your chosen mental path, there are very important cautions to remember. Take your time and use good judgement when making up your mind about how and who you will learn from. Make sure the method and the instructor can fulfill your desired aims. Watch out for anyone who promises extraordinary results and attainments. Meditation is meant to enhance and simplify your life, not fill it with imaginary goals and fantasies.
If you decide that you wish to follow an esoteric practice, it is wise to follow the caution that you check out and examine a teacher for twelve years before you commit to her or him. Don’t become a passive, childlike follower of a teacher. We must take responsibility for the ways we conduct ourselves on our paths of inner discovery. If a teacher takes advantage of her students, this is a strong danger signal. If a practice claims to give special privileges and advantages to its adherants, that practice is suspect.
Sogyal Rinpoche has this further statement about teachers along with their religious or spiritual paths: “The West has become a haven for spiritual charlatans.” The “seeker” must analyze a teacher and path as objectively as possible. The student must look into the teacher’s scholarship and whether that teacher implements her or his teachings in conduct and experiences. It takes time and careful observation to discover whether or not a teacher and religious teachings are appropriate to follow. If her or his students treat the guru as some sort of messiah, the seeker’s BS detector should be activated. Be careful of sudden “revelations”.
National Meditation Month is a perfect time to determine whether or not you wish to begin or resume a meditation practice. If you’ve meditated in the past but let your practice go, now is a good time to reboot it. If you’re a newbie, take your time and enjoy your careful search for a meditation or contemplative practice that is right for you.