Since I started writing for Purposeful Living Center back in October, I’ve had several people ask me how I meditate. I find myself hesitant to share my practice with these people because I know everyone’s meditation rituals are personal and tailored specifically to fit their own psychological framework.
Furthermore, the last thing I want to do is discourage those who just started a practice or are aspiring to practice because it’s taken me two and a half years to get to where I am today. It can be incredibly disheartening to compare your practice to those you admire. Trust me, I know.
When I look at individuals who have been practicing for decades I can’t help but feel like my practice is somehow less substantial than theirs. I know that my practice is perfect for me and it’s exactly where it should be, but that doesn’t always stop me from feeling inferior and perhaps even hopeless from time to time.
Thus, as always, the old adage holds true: those who compare, despair.
So with that word of caution in mind, let’s talk about how I meditate. Because the truth of the matter is, I do see the value in sharing my practice with others. For some, my practice might offer new ideas. For others, the simplicity of my practice might inspire you. Either way, as long as you know my practice isn’t THE way, but rather its ONE way, I am more than happy to share my process...
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my practice starts with a ritual. I use this ritual as a means to focus my mind and get me into a space of awareness for my formal sitting session. As it stands today, I meditate every Monday through Friday for 30 minutes each session. Sometimes, if I feel like I need it, I will throw in another 20 minutes at the end of the day before I go to bed.
Now, why did I choose 5 days a week for 30 minutes? To be honest… I don’t know. But for whatever reason, after months and months of iterations I’ve found this to be the sweet spot for me.
People often ask me if there is an optimal time for sitting. In other words, how long does one need to sit in order to know it’s working? I usually tell these people that the best amount of time to sit is however long you can commit to sitting. For me, I started with just 6 minutes and I eventually worked my way up to 30 minutes. For some, even one minute sounds strenuous. If you’re one of those people, that’s ok! Start with 30 seconds or whatever amount of time feels right. The point is to separate yourself from all guilt and make a commitment to sit – even if it is only for a brief amount of time.
The beauty of mediation is that it’s self-rewarding and the more you do it, the more motivated you become--not the other way around. Even if you start with one minute just once a week, as long as. you stay committed to that one minute, you will see positive impacts in your life that will encourage you to increase the durations of your practice. Stick with it, trust the process and the practice will become easier over time.
Posture is definitely important, but for those of you who only recently started to meditate, I would encourage you to focus more on your mind first. Posture is something you can perfect over time but the core concept of meditation is to observe the mind. For me, I’ve found it best to wait until you’ve nailed the fundamentals of a formal mediation practice before you start tinkering with your posture.
Nevertheless, I have indeed established a standard posture for my practice. Over time I’ve found that sitting upright in a chair works best for me. Usually, I support my lower back with a small pillow while keeping my spine upright at a 90 degree angle. My hands are typically resting on my legs and my feet rest softly and evenly on the floor. The posture might look goofy but its effective and has worked for me the last two-plus years.
Again, no matter what posture you choose, you're simply trying to find what works best for you. If it feels best to lay down, do it. If it’s easier at first to do a walking meditation, do that. There is no set “right” to mediate. Just start doing it and you can work out the kinks down the road.
Once I find my posture I focus my attention on a golden Buddha statue that sits on my meditation station and I take 5 deep breaths. On the 5th breath I state an intention for my session and close my eyes.
I use an intention as another way to get in the right mindset and hone in on the task at hand. Often, my intentions sound like “May I learn something during this session and not simply get through it,” or “May I greet each thing that arises in me with kindness and love,” or “When I see my mind wandering, I will be kind to myself and hold myself with compassion.”
Once I close my eyes and state my intention I try and settle into my surroundings. To do this, I take a couple of deep conscious breaths and focus all of my attention on the sensations I feel. My goal at this point is to pinpoint the miniscule details of sounds I hear and even the smells I smell.
Once I’ve acclimated to the immediate space around me, I then take my attention away from the external world and into my own internal world. For me, the most effective portal to enter this world is through my body and this is when one can argue my practice really begins.
Usually, I like to start by doing a body scan. The objective here is to check in with my body and truly feel my physical form - tightness, stress, anxiety and all. My scans start at the top of my head and I then work my way down towards my toes. During this portion of the session, I try to the best of my ability to focus my attention on all the sensations that reside at the top of my head all the way down to my bottom of my jaw and throat before moving on to the shoulders and arms.
After I’ve felt my head and arms, I then make my way down my back and through my chest and gut. My gut is usually full of all kinds of sensations as I’ve found that this is where I hold a lot of emotional baggage. The point however, is not to try and change the feelings in my body or gut but rather, to see them clearly and objectively.
Once I divorce myself from any narratives I might have about the feelings in my core, I then move on to my lower body where I feel my groin, legs and toes, one by one and the body scan is over.
If my mind is relatively quiet I can complete the body scan in around 10 minutes. On the other hand, if my mind is super active it can take a solid 15 minutes to get through the entire body scan. This is because I won’t move on to the next part of my body until I can feel my attention in each area properly.
After my body scan I move to what I like to call the “meat and potatoes of my practice.” In this part of my meditation practice I use a technique called “noting” to help observe my mind. Similar to my body scan, the goal is to simply see what’s arises with complete objectivity.
I use my breath as an anchor and feel the breath as it goes in and out of my body. All I’m trying to during this time is keep my attention on my breath as long as I can. Inevitably though, my mind wanders and when that happens I have an opportunity to create space and awareness.
The practice of noting is simple. First you establish an anchor (like your breath) or a place where you would like to focus your attentions. Then, every time your mind wanders away from your focal point, you make a small “note” of it and bring your attention back to your anchor. It’s that simple…
The key with noting is that you watch out for the “second arrow” when you see that your mind has wandered. It’s all too easy to start beating ourselves up when we notice we aren’t aware of our anchor. However, if we can hold ourselves with compassion and leave the moment behind us, we can create tremendous space between our thoughts and emotions. As always that space is where the magic and growth happen!
To close the mediation I bring my attention back to my body and then back to the outside world. I open my eyes and take in the experience I just had as well as the surrounding environment. The end of my sessions are almost as if I’m doing my practice in reverse order (mind, body, outside world) and by the time my alarm goes off I’m ready to ease my way into the day ahead.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my mediation practice. By now, I hope you can see that there is no right or wrong way to start your own practice. Whatever works best for you is what will help you the most with your meditation practice. The goal is to tailor your mediation experience to fit your own personal needs.
Lastly, learning how to meditate is a personal experience but it doesn’t have to be an individual proposition. So, if you have any other suggestions or would like to share you meditation practice with us please leave a comment below! You never know, your insights might inspire someone to take positive action in their own lives.
Until next time, many many blessings.