In my book, Maldives for the Mind, there is a whole section on how to meditate….which I hope you will read when it is published. For now, I thought I would write a post on that, because after all, it’s one of the most fundamental questions people ask.
Some time ago (2008 to be exact) I went to visit a Buddhist monk a couple of times at his beautiful Japanese garden. Pure Land is just outside of Nottingham, but when you enter the walls, it is as though you’ve gone through the gate to a secret garden and transported somewhere else. Over years and years he has cultivated the garden, working on it every day. It reminded me of meditation practice – the garden representing your mind, where the practice cultivates it every day. Instead of creating plants and trees, you clear space instead and your mind expands and grows.
After walking around the garden, we went into the house and around to the meditation room. Buddha Maitreya teaches a simple mantra; ‘just sit, just be.’ He elongates the word, just, so he will chant…’juuuuuuust sit, juuuuuust be’, in such a soft and rhythmic voice that it is as though you have been hypnotised. Sometimes when I meditate I say that silently to myself.
Meditation is not difficult, but the act of doing it often is. We are not used to sitting and doing nothing. We always have something to gain, an expectation to arrive at or a desire to fulfil. Simply sitting with no expectation does not come easy. Sitting and relaxing does not come easy and as human beings, we tend to gravitate towards what is easy and not what is difficult or uncomfortable.
For this reason I always say, just sit for a minute or two. Otherwise you will find the practice becomes a chore before you have given it time to begin.
We all have the same 24 hours in a day. What we do with them is of our own making. You will come up with lots of excuses why you can’t meditate and not having time will most likely be top of your list. Make the time. This is time for you and time to be at peace before the madness of your day begins.
I meditate each morning after my yoga practice (and after a cup of tea in between too). Morning and evening are the best times to meditate because it is when our mind is more open and receptive. It is a time when it is usually quieter too. It doesn’t matter what time of day you meditate, but if you can make time for morning or evening, you will find the practice easier to form a habit.
Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Don’t feel you have to sit in lotus position or cross legged at all. Sit in a position that feels comfortable for you – even if that is in a chair with your feet on the floor. If you need to support your back to be straight for a few minutes, that’s ok too. Sit and settle in for a moment or two. Wriggle around and do whatever you need to do to just be sitting comfortably.
You will most likely find that you are tense or your shoulders sitting far too close to your ears. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose and when you let the breath out through your mouth, allow your shoulders to drop and your body to relax. Do this for several breaths until you feel more relaxed. On a side note this is a good exercise to do if you feel stressed – just breathing in through your nose, breathing out through your mouth and relaxing your body, letting go of tension.
Once you have relaxed a bit, allow your breath to just fall into its natural, even rhythm and start to follow your breath. I don’t mean get up and run after it, I mean just notice it as you breathe in and as you breathe out. Your mouth should be closed and you are just breathing normally in through your nose and out through your nose. Indian sages say your nose is for breathing and your mouth is for eating. This is also how you breathe in yoga too.
You can close your eyes or open them, whatever feels comfortable. I do both. If you open them, have them half open and let your gaze settle to the floor a few feet in front of you.
If you struggle to follow your breath, just count 1 as you breathe in, 2 as your breathe out, up to the count of 10 and start again. You could also say silently to yourself, ‘SO’ on the in breath and, ‘HUM’ on the out breath, or as Buddha Maitreya suggests, ‘juuuuust sit, juuuuust be.’ Something will just resonate with you. Try the counting first and see how you get on. Over time you won’t need the counting, but to begin with, it helps.
One of the biggest myths about meditating is that you are meant to be clearing your mind of thoughts. Let me tell you now, that’s impossible! In Buddhism we refer to the mind as the mad monkey, because it jumps around from one thought to the next.We all think around 64,000 thoughts a day and most often when you begin meditation you will find you have more thoughts than you usually do, or at least you notice more of them. The practice of meditation is to bring your focus back to your breath. If that is literally every other second then so be it.
You will be counting as you breathe and you might get to 2 before a thought pops into your head. Simply notice the thought but take your attention back to your breath – counting again as you breathe in and out, or saying your mantra, ‘so – hum’. There will be times when before you realise it you have been sitting for a few minutes thinking about something that had popped into your head. That’s ok too. Thoughts will lead you off on a rabbit trail. Just notice them and always return your focus to your breath. Again, it is the practice of meditation to bring your thoughts back to the breath – the bringing back is the practice.
People often ask what happens during meditation, when you are focused on your breath. I don’t have a definitive answer for this because it is different for everyone. Let whatever comes up, just be and return your focus to the breath.
If you always remain a beginner you will find you always have something new to learn and meditation will become a great teacher. Be where you are in the moment, just sit, just be, focusing on your breath. Start there.
Buddha Maitreya wrote a little yellow booklet called Poems for Peace and here is a paragraph from one …
everything is sitting…
tree is sitting
mountain is sitting
flower is sitting
Meditation is flower
You can find out more about the Pure Land Meditation Centre & Japanese Garden…and Buddha Maitreya at the Pure Land website
[Image copyright Pure Land]