The four basic elements involved in most meditative techniques are: a quiet place to meditate, a comfortable or poised posture, an object to focus on and a passive attitude.
- A Quiet Place — It’s important for you to find a place that will let you be completely relaxed. Try to eliminate as many noises and distractions as possible. Remember to turn off your cell phone. This is your own personal time out for the day from all the stresses in your life. There are many different places where you can practice meditation — your backyard, the beach and a meditation center are just a few. However, a comfortable spot in your bedroom is just as good. You want put on music that makes you feel serene and peaceful. Many people like to have a small running water fountain, for the sound of running water is very soothing. Lighting the room with a few candles is also an effective way of ‘setting the mood’ for your meditation time.
- Proper Posture — Maintaining a proper posture is a main component of meditation. Without one, your body might become tense and unable to relax, and you may also experience back pain. Although meditation is possible in any position, sitting is the most common and the easiest. The key is to keep your spine straight and feel steady and comfortable. Sitting straight is better than lying down, because reclining can easily lead to sleep during meditation. However, if you often suffer from back pain, lying on your back with your spine straight will be the better option for you. Beginners often are most comfortable sitting in a chair. There are several classic seated poses, but sitting cross-legged works fine, particularly with a small pillow to sit on to make you more relaxed. Wear comfortable clothing.
- An Object of Focus — For concentrative meditation, the meditator must choose a single thing to focus upon. The gentle inhale and exhale of breathing or a repeated mantra are the most common, but sounds, colors, uplifting thoughts or a religious figure can also be used. If you choose to use a mantra, it’s best to use a word with positive and relaxing connotations, like harmony or peace.
- A Passive Attitude — This is the most important element for successful meditation. A passive attitude is one in which nothing has any consequence. External distractions and internal thoughts are recognized but looked at informally and indifferently. Let them come and go, of no more consequence than small clouds passing across an expanse of sky. When you do find your attention wandering, simply bring it back to your focus object. Remember to stay relaxed. It’s okay to become momentarily distracted every so often. The more often you meditate, the easier it will be to let go of your thoughts.
The following is an example of a simple meditation procedure:
Sit in your quiet place in the position that is most comfortable for you and close your eyes. Roll your shoulders back and down and gently lift the chest. Keep your neck long and the chin tilted slightly downward. Relax your muscles sequentially from head to feet. Starting with your forehead, become aware of tension as you breathe in. Let go of any obvious tension as you breathe out. Do this as you concentrate on each part of your body. Even if breathing is not your object of meditation, you should take slow, natural breaths. If you choose to use a mantra, you may repeat it quietly or silently as you exhale. Plan on meditating for a specific amount of time. Ten to 20 minutes is ideal. More experienced meditators may choose to meditate longer. Using an alarm is not recommended. It is better to open one eye and check the time when you feel you are close to finishing. After you finish: Sit quietly for a minute or so, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes open. Do not stand for one to two minutes.
Due to the high pace of life in the Western world, it is not always possible or desirable to sit for hours a week in meditation. Accordingly, it sometimes makes sense to meditate around your everyday life, developing an awareness of the transience of reality and clearing the mind as part of your existing routine. This involves being intently mindful or aware of sensations as they arise during the course of your day. Initially, it is best to focus on trying to achieve this in relation to just one or two activities a day. Following this it will be possible to develop an awareness that is carried with you in everything you do.
This can be started relatively easily by choosing an activity which you intend to become intently mindful of and resolving to undertake that activity with an absolute awareness of the sensations that accompany it. For example, you could choose to become mindful of the drive to work in the morning, feeling the sensation of driving, while resolving to not become distracted along the way. You will soon note how much more pleasurable this is than commuting with a head full of worries about yesterday, the day ahead and so on.
Zen Master, poet, peace and human rights activist and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the most beloved Buddhist teachers in the West, offers a practice of “mindfulness” that is beneficial for people of all faiths. He encourages us to practice mindfulness meditation throughout our day, when we eat, when we wash the dishes, when we go for a walk and when we sit.
Follow his guidance for a walking meditation. Take small steps. Focus your attention on your feet as you walk, and not on your thoughts. If thoughts come, just note them briefly, and get back to concentrating on your walk. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that the feet can walk on the Earth as if they were kissing her. He has also said, “When I walk, my heart is at peace, my feet embrace the Earth, and my eyes embrace the sky.” Walking meditation is a good practice for slowing down so that we can appreciate what is around us, and be in the moment. A good verse to recite while walking is, “I have arrived, I am home in the here and in the now.” We arrive at home with each step.