The popular view of meditators is of someone believing in an esoteric religion sitting on a cushion in full lotus pose, staring at a candle, chanting mantras in an incense smoke-filled room with their hands positioned in arcane ways. The stereotype is an apt one. Many years ago, it was this image I wanted for myself.
It was easy to buy some candles and incense. After some shopping around, I managed to find a zafu cushion. I’d already learned a few mantras by heart. I just couldn’t get into a full-lotus asana for very long. After a minute or so, the sharpest, most painful charlie horses always afflicted the arch of my left foot. So, I settled for sitting in half-lotus, or American “Indian Style”.
One of my friends is a Tibetan monk. He laughed in recognition with me when I told him about my first efforts at trying formal meditation. He confessed that he once had similar notions, too. Although Jigme practices formal meditation twice each day, he advised that I don’t need to follow his example because I am not a monk.
He repeated the same instructions that many secular or religious meditation teachers use. What is important, is to be physically comfortable but not sloppy. Keep the body erect with the spine straight but not tense. One’s head should be evenly balanced. If the lotus position is uncomfortable, then it is not helpful to sit in that manner. If necessary, a bench or chair is OK. One should be in a quiet, clean place, indoors or outdoors. The best approach is to keep meditation simple. One does not need candles, incense, statues, or esoteric beliefs.
There are many techniques we can use. There are plenty of magazine, Web articles, and YouTube videos for you to choose. Sample a few of them to find out what works best.
Sometimes when I sit in formal meditation, I automatically envision the old-fashioned Railroad crossing crossbar sign I used to see on rural gravel roads. The instructions are perfect for any type of meditation, formal or informal: 1. Stop 2. Look 3. and Listen.
Although meditation appears easy, most meditators will say it is simple but not always easy. The more one practices, the easier it gets. If you actually want to practice any formal meditation, you need to cultivate the habit. Again, there are many sources for instruction, so I won’t state them here.
The best part of formal meditation is that it is the “gateway” activity that leads to casual, informal meditation or mindfulness practice.
Some people mistakenly think that meditation blanks the mind. What actually happens is the active process of calming the mind. Achieving the silent mind is somewhat difficult, at first, yet when you attain it, you will find it to be very powerful. When a thought or mental vision appears in the mind, you make a conscious decision to let go of it. I used to imagine thoughts and visions as clouds passing through my head. I simply allowed them to float away past the horizon. We always have thoughts, we don’t become zombies.
Another common mistaken belief is that meditation is supposed to enable special “psychic” visions or revelations. Actually, this is a sign that the practice is being misused, and ones motivation is misguided. The most significant and profound part of meditation is to clear ones notions of being special. If you wish to become a prophet or psychic, there are esoteric religious books and teachers for that. That sort of learning is not something I desire.
The most useful lesson constantly learned through formal or informal meditation is that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs.
If you are new to formal meditation, don’t become discouraged if you cannot immediately let go of your thoughts. It takes time and practice. Jigme says that even Tibetan monks sometimes experience the same difficulty. It takes time to learn good habits. It is worth the investment of that time.
So, what is informal meditation? It is the ability to follow through and maintain the mindfulness that is rediscovered each day from formal meditation. It is easily practiced by taking a moment or two, several times a day, to just stop, look, and listen.
Maybe you already do this. If so, you can answer yes, to the headline, “Do You Meditate?”.