By Sherrin Fitzer
I first became interested in meditation when I was in high school, but cannot remember how or why.
I bought the book called, How to Meditate by Lawrence LaShan. The rest of my memories are hazy. I do remember thinking that I could not meditate because I could not banish all thoughts from my mind. Unfortunately, I did not have a teacher or anyone to correct this misunderstanding.
It was over 20 years later that I revisited meditation, after a retreat at The Human Kindness Foundation. And I have been meditating ever since.
Posture is a good place to begin. There are many ways to sit for meditation, such as on a meditation cushion in a lotus position. There also is a Seiza position, kneeling with your legs under you and a cushion or yoga props between your legs. You can sit on a chair or you can lie down, but I would suggest lying down only if you will not fall asleep. I had to ban lying down in a class I facilitated at a prison, because some of the snoring was disturbing the other meditators.
Once you find a position that works for you—and remember you should not be in pain—there are some other aspects of posture to consider. Your spine should be straight and elongated, but not rigid. One way to do this is to think of a balloon coming from the top of your head, aligning your spine and holding you upright. Feet should be on the floor if you are sitting in a chair; do not cross your legs, knees, ankles.
Your posture and your body’s position can affect and reflect your inner world. It is beneficial to sit with a proper posture which gives value and dignity to your practice.
Hands can be resting on your legs or abdomen. Palms may be facing up or down. Some people believe that palms facing up indicate a desire to receive from the universe, while palms down is a symbol of releasing any concerns. There are many different mudras you can use with your hands. A mudra is a hand position, which can affect the flow of energy in the body.
As I watch people in my meditation classes it becomes obvious that some people have an easier time sitting still than others. Some people pick at their fingernails, twist their hair, shake their feet, and fidget in myriad ways. Re-read the title of this article. It is important to be still. If you become aware of your fidgeting simply stop, again and again. If you find yourself in pain, by all means adjust your posture if you choose. Simply move slowly and mindfully. The question often arises whether or not we should scratch an itch during meditation. Strong opinions exist on both sides. I say your choice. If you choose to sit through an itch without scratching good for you. If you choose to scratch again do so slowly and mindfully. It is interesting to see that when you choose to sit through pain or an itch and simply observe it, it may change, and you may find that it eventually disappears.
Okay, we are seated. Now what? We choose a point of focus. The focus can be on your breath or on short phrases or words called mantras. If you are using your breath as a focus, count each breath as you exhale repeating the word “one,” 1 and 2, or count to four and repeat.
If you prefer a mantra the possibilities are endless. A mantra can be as simple as “OM.” You can choose a mantra from your religious beliefs. “Om mani padme hum” is a classic Buddhist mantra. An Islamic mantra is “Only in the remembrance of Allah can the heart find peace.” A Christian mantra can be as simple as “Lord Jesus, help me.”
Thích Nhất Hạnh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author, and peace activist has published many beautiful and simple mantras.
What usually happens next is that you discover that you have forgotten what breath you are on or you have been planning your grocery list. Your mind has left its point of focus. That is all right. Do not judge yourself or beat yourself up. This is natural. It is great that you have become aware of it. Simply bring your mind back to your breath or your mantra. Think of it like training a puppy. When a puppy wanders away you gently bring them back. Do this again and again and again—as many times as you need to.
Pema Chödrön, American Tibetan Buddhist, ordained nun, author, and director of the Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada, has spent a good portion of her life teaching and writing about meditation. She confesses that she is a horrible meditator. She has said that “if it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.”
While Chodron says she is a horrible meditator, there is really no such thing. She simply means that despite all her years of meditating her mind still wanders and she has to bring it back to focus. This state is sometimes called monkey mind. The important point is that we sit. Try not to judge your meditation session. Do not label one “bad” and another “good.” Let go of expectations. If you happen to have a deep spiritual experience during one sitting, you will certainly be disappointed if you expect to have one every time.
People recommend sitting at least 20 minutes two times a day. Some people choose to sit longer; some sit only once a day. What people appear to agree on is that it is better to sit ten minutes daily than to sit for 30 minutes two times a week.
So if you have not done so, I hope you give meditating a try. If like me, you tried and believed you could not do it, I hope this information helped. I have discussed only an infinitesimal amount of information about meditation. You can find lots more info here at The Tattooed Buddha.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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