Meditation: A Simple Technique and How to Practice it
The benefits of meditation are innumerable. Primary among them is that with continued practice will come a significantly increased peace and a heightened ability to deal with the uncertain circumstances of your daily life. Meditation is not, however, a magical cure-all. To truly gain the benefits requires determination and perseverance. Ultimately, the practice of meditation becomes a tool that you incorporate into your each and every moment.
There is no one correct way to meditate. There is a broad array of methods, and individuals will practice in their own way - even if they are utilizing the same technique. In this article I'm going to present a brief introduction to the technique I have found the most effective and accessible.
This particular practice is based on breath. Why the breath? Think for a moment - observing the breath means you are indirectly observing yourself, what you are feeling and thinking in the moment. It's easy to see the link in more extreme examples. For instance, when you are angry your breathing changes. Sad? Breathing changes. Happy? Breathing changes. Your breath is actually changing for every thought and feeling you experience and react to - no matter how small, all the time.
Don't take my word for it. Don't take my word at all. But if it sounds intriguing, if it sounds like something you might like to try, simply give the practice a shot, then another, and then another. See how it works for you!
First, find a comfortable place to sit with your spine erect and your neck aligned. It doesn't have to be any sort of special posture. Some find that sitting on the floor - perhaps on a small cushion - can be the most stable, but sitting on a chair or a bench is fine. Don't compare yourself to others; don't compare yourself to an idea of what it should be. It's significantly more important that you find a relatively comfortable place to sit that also allows for proper alignment. Why? Simply, it's easier to concentrate if you're not in pain.
For this practice you want to breathe through your nose. Trace with your awareness or your finger a triangular area that begins at the tip of your nose and runs to the left corner of your lips, then to the right corner of your lips, then back to the tip of the nose. Within this triangular area the physical sensation of your breath will touch against a piece of skin. Find the place that stands out to you most. It could be right inside your nostrils, right outside, above your lip, on your lip... it’ll be different for everyone as our facial structures differ.
If you have difficulty in feeling the touch of breath with your normal, natural breathing, then breathe a little or a lot more heavily to feel a spot. It may be touching multiple spots, it may be touching only one spot. It doesn’t matter. Simply pick a place that you know the breath is touching, and even if you can’t feel it at first with your normal breathing, stick with that spot. Take a minute here to try that.
Once you've found a prominent spot that you can feel the touch of the breath or that you KNOW the breath is touching from your experimenting with heavy breath - stick with that spot. That's your place. Anchor your awareness there, that's what we're going to be practicing. Experiencing the touch of the breath as you inhale and exhale. Focusing in on that place where you can feel the touch of the breath.
Okay, you've got your spot. You're sitting properly and comfortably. Let your body relax into the position you’ve chosen and begin concentrating on the area where the physical sensation of the breath is within the triangle you traced. Don't read too much into these instructions, it's very simple. You’re not looking for anything special. You’re not breathing in a particular way. All you’re doing is feeling the touch of the breath as it is in a particular spot.
So, just observe the breath. The touch of the breath. The natural, normal, breath as you inhale and exhale. Be like a guard watching a gate - not allowing a single passerby through without noticing and observing. This takes determination and willingness. Don't consider this something you have to trudge through!
Naturally, as you practice, the mind will wander. For your entire life the mind has been conditioned to wander. It jumps to and fro, from past to future, from memory to fantasy. It has a reaction and an opinion of every single bit of stimuli that comes through your senses. When you sit down to focus on the touch of the breath, you are anchoring the mind, and the mind at first does not want to be anchored. And so it jumps away.
The challenges you face with the mind as you practice are called the five hindrances in Buddhism:
1. Sensory Desire - the mind wants to see, it wants to smell, it wants to hear, and it wants physical feelings. The mind will urge you to go and experience these things.
2. Ill Will - the mind will think of thoughts related to feelings of hostility, hatred, bitterness, etc.
3. Sloth/torpor - the mind will tend towards sleep, your body will feel heavy and dull, there may be feelings of depression.
4. Restlessness/worry - the mind will become agitated and uncalm.
5. Doubt - the mind will question whether the practice has any validity or use.
Understanding the many ways the mind will distract from the practice is helpful to keeping the touch of the breath as your top priority. Don’t concern yourself with the content of the distractions. Let the mind do what it will. If you notice that you have become distracted, gently return to the touch of the breath. If you decide to practice for 30 minutes, then for 30 minutes give the mind no credence. Trust it not the slightest bit. Your only job is to keep on returning to the touch of the breath again and again and again and again.
There is no need to force yourself to concentrate. There is no need to crack the whip upon yourself. Just keep on gently returning to the touch of the breath. This is the training of the mind. An untrained dog may struggle against its leash at first but will eventually calm completely. The mind will naturally become concentrated over time, all you have to do is keep on returning to the touch of the breath.
You may notice that you are simultaneously aware of the touch of the breath and the mind’s chattering. Good, just keep the breath in the forefront, again paying no attention to the content of the distraction. Touch of the breath, touch of the breath.
The practice is simple. We’re not searching for anything special. We’re not seeking a particular experience. Just keep on returning to the touch of the breath.
It's no more complicated than that. Continuity is the key to success.
Keep a regular practice and keep at it. Persevere. Make it an experiment for yourself - do you notice any changes in terms of the way you relate to the world? The results will speak for themselves.
Do you want these results? Do you want to know what meditation is all about? Do you want to know how something this simple can genuinely change your life in the most extraordinary way? How it can allow you to feel a degree of peace and love inside yourself that was previously unimaginable? Practice.
Create a schedule for yourself. 15 minutes 4 times a day. 20 minutes 3 times a day. 30 minutes twice a day. 60 minutes once a day. 60 minutes twice a day. Something that works for you, which you can stick to. A disciplined schedule will aid you in your practice and allow you to experience the results of the technique.
Remember, as best you can, meditate without expectation. Just make your top priority following the technique. And in this instance, coming back to the touch of the breath is your top priority. If you find yourself craving “results” during your meditation, just gently come back to the touch of the breath.
If you feel inspired to, try bringing this practice with the touch of your breath into your daily life, outside of sitting meditation. You can try feeling the touch of your breath while you’re working, playing, eating - at all moments in your day! There may not be the same focus, but just holding the awareness of the touch of the breath while you go about your day is very valuable.
Lastly, if you do have the time, I recommend an intensive meditation course such as a Vipassana retreat or another intensive meditation retreat- to really get a feel for it.
Have fun and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me!