Meditation requires a basic understanding that helps in practicing meditation in a better way. Proper understanding will also enable the meditator to reap maximum benefits of meditation.
1. Where to Meditate?
Our surroundings have a direct impact on our state of mind. A clustered place like a traffic jam will make us tensed whereas a quite and clean place like a temple will make our mind quite and feel relaxed.
Therefore, Meditation, which aims at relaxing the mind, should be practiced in a calm, peaceful, clean and pure place. One can set aside a special corner of a room for the purpose of meditation. This place can be furnished with objects or icons that have spiritual meaning for example, developing a little altar or shrine.
Meditation can also be practiced outdoors. One can meditate on a beach listening to the surf crashing upon the rocks or one can walk through a shaded forest trail with a cathedral of trees overhead or stand near a stream with water playing over the rocks or a waterfall…or watch the moon rise, the dark sky or birds fly overhead.
2. The right Posture for meditation.
Although the classic posture is to sit with the legs folded and hands resting quietly on the lap or the knees, the key is to find a way of sitting that is comfortable. Remember, one can meditate anytime, anywhere.
3. Position of eyes during meditation.
The eyes, if possible, should be kept open during meditation. Since, the aim of meditation is to keep all of the senses open and aware. The goal of meditation is not to fall asleep, but to find a state of "relaxed alertness." The eyes should be kept soft, that is, one should not focus on anything particular. Notice how your thoughts wander. Dont attempt to control them. Observe them and do not judge them.
4. Duration of Meditation.
The concept of meditation is to make one experience a state of mindfulness and alertness. It is not how long one practices that matters but what matters is that whether one is able to relax and connect to the soul during the course of meditation. Beginners should try short sessions of five to ten minutes try short sessions twice a day. Also, one should try to fix the same time every day for meditation. With practice one can slowly increase the duration of meditation. However, early mornings (4-5 am) and late evenings (7 pm) are considered the best time for meditation as during this time, the environment is calm and quite and the level of disturbance is also comparatively low. You will notice a marked difference in your capacity to focus in a few weeks. This is the stepping-stone to awareness.
5. Four Basic Techniques to Practice Meditation
The techniques described here are meditation practices rather than meditation itself, which is often described by experienced practitioners as "a state of being - a state of receptivity without expectation, a merging with the Divine." All of the techniques are practiced to get to this final merged state.
Therefore, meditation practice is not meditation. One might practice meditation for years to achieve a meditative state of being. An experienced meditator might meditate for an hour to achieve a few moments of meditative consciousness.
- Follow your breath
This is the most universal of all mindfulness techniques. First, exhale strongly a few times to clear the base of the lungs of carbon dioxide. It is helpful to review the technique for following the deep breathing method of imagining a lotus blossom residing in your lower abdomen; as the breath fills the belly, the petals of the blossom expand; as you exhale, the petals close back up.
- Observe an object
Allow your mind to rest on an object. If you follow the Christian tradition, you may concentrate on an image of Christ, the Virgin Mary or the Holy Spirit. If you belong to the Eastern spiritual traditions, you might reflect upon an image or icon of the Buddha. You can also use a candle flame, flower, crystal, or other object that has meaning for you. Lightly allow your attention to sit there, quietly and peacefully.
- Recite a mantra
A mantra literally means "that which protects the mind." So reciting a mantra protects you with spiritual power. It is also said that when you chant a mantra, you are charging your breath and energy with the energy of the mantra. Again, choose something with meaning for you within your spiritual tradition: recite the Rosary, for example. Recite the mantra quietly, with deep attention, and let your breath, the mantra and your awareness become slowly one. Focus on the sound and try to become that sound. You can use the word OM to meditate. The sound of Om should originate in the stomach and should touch each corner of the body till it comes out.
- Do a Guided Meditation.
Guided meditation is akin to guided imagery, a powerful technique that focuses and directs the imagination toward a conscious goal. (Think of a diver imagining a "perfect dive" before he leaves the platform.) Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk who is a scholar, poet, peace activist and author. He suggests trying a very simple - yet profound - guided meditation that you can learn by yourself. This will help you focus on your goal and allow you to achieve it.
6. Difficulties while Meditating:
Meditation helps improve health and life in many ways. The technique of Meditation requires discipline, practice and patience. Most of us are not used to silence, being alone, sitting still for long periods of time and being directly confronted with our own body and mind. Meditating enriches our life, but it takes some time to get used to it. Meditation makes us more alert and more attentive and the result is that we not only experience the pleasant aspects of life more intensely, but also the things that we used to hide away or the things we used to run away from.
Fortunately this is just an ordinary and temporary stage and most people do not experience any problems when they start to Meditate. If you do experience problems when you are Meditating, try to accept them. Think of the words: what you resist persists. View the discomforts as challenges that help you to deepen your Meditations instead of destroying them. Many of the experiences can give us important messages about our body and our mind. If we fall asleep, we may be tired. If we are busy arguing in our mind there may be conflicts that we have to solve. View every problem as a challenge or as a message that we still have to learn something. Of course we advise you to use your common sense in dealing with your problems and if the discomforts really become too big you should stop in time or take things a bit easier. The following are the most frequent discomforts faced during meditation.
- Mind goes haywire.
If the mind is not disturbed it is spontaneously blissful, just as water. It is by nature transparent and clear. The mind in meditation can be compared to a jar of muddy water- the more we leave the water without interfering or stirring it, the more the particles will sink to the bottom, letting the natural clarity of the mind shine through. So take care not to impose anything on the mind. When you meditate there should be no effort to control, to be peaceful.
- Body becomes restless and back becomes sore.
This happens due to lack of preparation. It becomes difficult to sit for a long duration in the same pose as the body is not used to it. This is where yoga comes in - by which a person can prepare his body to remain in a particular meditative pose for the desired duration of time. According to Integral yoga a routine of asanas, yoga nidra and pranayam should be followed prior to meditation.
- Expectations are too much.
If you think mediation means instant peace, or that it shall clear the hassles of the mind in minutes then you are wrong .The state of meditation does not mean a warm, fuzzy feeling, a mind full of loving thoughts. If you hope meditation will cure incurable diseases in several weeks, again you shall be wrong. The first thing about meditation is that you should not have any expectations. Every person comes with a different mind set when starting meditation. One person may be close to inner space and others may be years away from basic relaxation. There shall be doubts and confusions, all of which will be solved by practice and dedication in time.
The idea of Meditating is that at the same time we are relaxed and alert. But it often happens that as a result of being so relaxed people fall asleep or have to fight sleep. In the first place you should ask yourself where your fatigue comes from. If you do not get enough sleep or you are very tired as a result of a busy week, we advise you to take a nap and catch up on your sleeping. In other cases you had better just continue Meditating. Be aware of the possibility of falling asleep and after some time you will experience that it occurs less and less frequently that you get sleepy during a Meditation. It may help to meditate in a sitting position instead of a lying position and to keep your eyes open during a Meditation. If you should ever feel very sleepy or musty in the morning or after your work you should try to take a cold shower before your Meditation. It will work miracles.
For many people it is not so easy to do nothing at all. Ask yourself if you are really bored or if just your mind is bored. In fact also boredom is nothing more or less than a thought or a feeling. If you get bored during a Meditation you are not in the NOW and the best way to deal with this is acting as if you discover a thought and then return to your object of Meditation. Just as you do with many insight Meditations you can also give the idea of being bored a name. Look at how your body reacts when you are bored and make it a challenge. It sounds simple, but we know it is difficult. Still we advise you to view your boredom in this way. Experience shows that the more often you meditate the less often you will experience boredom.
Many people say that they are not patient enough to Meditate. The paradox is that these are exactly the sort of people that need to Meditate, especially when they feel restless. First of all it is important to know that at the beginning of a Meditation the mind is often still very restless. During the first few minutes we are really tested by our mind with thoughts like: I am not in the mood for it, today is not such a good day, there are problems at my work or in my private life, what am I going to do after my Meditation, etcetera. After five to ten minutes you will discover that your mind becomes more and more calm and clear. This means that we must not give up and trust that after some time our difficulties will be over. If once in a while there are really great problems with Meditating because you have an over-active mind you should first of all consider switching over to a simpler Meditation technique that is more concentration oriented. Another solution is making your restlessness a challenge. You can observe thoughts, give them a name, and observe the reactions of your body to restlessness. Accept your restlessness. It is all part of the game and if you begin to fight it or to resist it, things will only get worse. Maybe your restlessness gives you the message that you should finally tackle a certain problem, conflict or situation in your life. If you are able to turn your irritation about your restlessness into a challenge, you will see that your restlessness often becomes less.
- When thoughts are painful.
When during Meditations there are always very painful thoughts entering your mind this can be extremely unpleasant. When we are Meditating we suppress the things that we do not want to see, know or feel less and less. Sometimes these suppressed thoughts come to the surface when we are Meditating. This is often only a temporary problem and it often stimulates us to learn how to deal with these thoughts and how to solve these problems. View this process of Meditating as having a tooth drawn out. Sometimes painful, but when it is over the pain is gone. We use the observing of our thoughts during our Meditations as a way of looking at our pain without getting totally absorbed by it. You can observe painful thoughts, give them a name and observe the reactions of your body. Accept the thoughts and use this temporary pain to soften the continuous pain. If you can turn the perspective of being carried away by the painful thoughts into a challenge, you will see that your restlessness becomes less. Unfortunately we have to make one important side-note. For 95% of all people Meditating is useful or at least not harmful. But people that suffer from schizophrenia or other serious mental diseases should be careful with Meditation. There is a danger that people that suffer from this kind of diseases will get even more entangled in their own inner reality as a result of Meditating and that Meditating can worsen the sickly behaviour. We advise these people not to Meditate, to consult a doctor or to Meditate only under very professional supervision.
- Uncontrolled muscle movements and spasms.
It sometimes happens that when we are very relaxed we experience vibrations, spastic movements and the trembling of muscles or parts of the body. In such cases we look a little like a swan that after a fight kicks the tension and energy off its body with its wings. In general this is fine and not something that you should worry about. When it is over you may experience a feeling of liberation or total relaxation. Let the movements happen and do not try to control them. If you should experience it as very unpleasant, slow down a little and if necessary stop the Meditation session.
- Visions and other sensations.
If during your Meditation you should experience visions, a trance experience or other sensations, that is often a sign that your concentration is deepening. But do not forget that during Meditations you are supposed to be awake, alert, focused and relaxed. Visions and experiences where your mind leaves your body are called Makyo in Zen. They are considered products of the imagination and no more than an illusion. Let the feelings pass away, observe them, accept them but do not be carried away by them. Physical sensations like twinklings in your skin, noise and rumbling in your stomach are signs of relaxation because when you are very relaxed the blood supply in these areas increases.