This is the third blog of our series, and this one has tips and methods on how to best learn to meditate, and why!
Before you start to meditate, try to answer these questions first:
What do you want to get out of meditation?
How much time have you got?
When is the best time for you – morning or evening?
You can meditate anywhere with practice, but if you are starting off, give yourself a fighting chance of keeping it up! Try to find a dedicated quiet space and a good time of day for you where you are least likely to be distracted (or fall asleep!), in order to learn the basics.
If you simply want to relax, unwind and recharge, simple breathing meditation ticks all the boxes. You can become very proficient in breathing meditation, although it is a ‘beginners’ meditation, because of its simplicity, you can take it to a level where you can profoundly change your daily life.
How to do it
- Find a quiet space
- Find a comfortable position
- (whatever position suits you, but be warned, it’s very difficult to stay awake if you lie down!)
- Take a few moments to become aware of the breath and let thoughts subside
- Watch the breath, simply focus awareness on your breathing
- Allow thoughts to come and go but don’t hold on to them or follow them
- Every time you find yourself following thoughts, come back to the breath
It is normal to find the distractions constant, and to find you have completely followed a train of thought, perhaps planned next week’s diary in your head, before realising and bringing the focus back to the breath! It just takes repetition and practice, but the good news is that it doesn’t take long to start to feel more relaxed.
Try to keep your meditations short, about ten minutes, until you feel you can extend them.
The result of breathing meditation is that it creates space in the mind, we can create some distance from things we are focussing on or problems we want to solve, so we can deal with them with a clarity of mind.
Breathing meditation is in itself a good way to relax and unwind and many people choose to make this their practice, but if you want to delve deeper into the mind, we can just use breathing meditation as a starting point. We can also use meditation to get a different perspective or focus on responding better to some situations. Meditation is amazing because it can help us focus on both the bigger picture and also zoom in on the smallest, subtlest parts of our mind.
See the bigger picture
Meditation helps us gain a sense of perspective, a valuable tool when we have got ourselves in a rut obsessing over something. The old saying “you can’t see the wood for the trees” is so true here. Meditation can help us take the step back that we need to see a situation with clarity and make some proper decisions. If you have ever been in the situation where you’ve explained a problem you have to someone and they have been able to see a solution that you hadn’t thought of, that’s often because they are far enough away from the problem to see it with clarity, making finding answers so much easier. The meditation where we focus on the breath, as explained above, is brilliant for this because focusing on the breath makes us calm down, and stop grasping on to problems, then we can start to contemplate what we are trying to work out without that grasping feeling which makes us too close to the situation. We are not turning away from problems or difficulties, just learning a method to deal with them with a calm mind.
See the smaller details
Not only does mediation help us see the bigger picture, but it can also show us the smaller one too. Through meditation, we can expose subtle workings of the mind which are normally hidden. The Buddhist analogy of the sky works really well here, we usually can’t see past the clouds, especially when there is a storm. But, as we see when we go up in a plane, beyond the clouds is always an expanse of clear blue. Our mind is very much like this – we have the day-to-day “stuff” going on all the time – an incessant chatter. We (understandably) become focused on this and our experience of life reflects the state of our mind – we feel that our emotional state is tied to this constant state of experiencing, making decisions, reacting, planning, etc. No wonder we feel so tired!
Through practising beautiful meditations such as the blue sky mind meditation, where after focusing on the breath, we imagine we are watching the sky, which we think of as our mind, and imagine the clouds are our thoughts. Rather than identifying with the clouds, as we normally do, we try to let them pass without holding onto them, and become aware of our real, peaceful mind being the blue sky beyond the clouds, still, peaceful, expansive. When we get used to this feeling we can start to access our ‘blue sky mind’ even out of meditation and then we can start to see the smaller details of how our mind works, the subtle ways in which we tend to focus on things which aren’t helpful, the way we react to experiences we have. We can start to see how we can change our habits by being in tune with our own mind so we aren’t caught out by unwanted “knee-jerk” reactions. Meaning we are less likely to have uncontrolled outbursts, say or do things we regret.
We all want to live in a more peaceful place, it’s good to know that there is a peaceful place all the time there in our own mind, and meditation is the skill that helps us access it.
If you are interested in learning meditation there are numerous resources available, it will be a case of trying out a few techniques and teaching methods until you find the one for you and which will fit with your lifestyle and beliefs. Here at the Hub some of us use Kadampa Buddhist meditations which are available in person at Centres around the world (www.kadampa.org) or online in the form of podcasts and live-streamed classes, along with accompanying Buddhist teachings and chanted prayers.
If you want to check it out you can find a basic breathing meditation led by a friend of ours here:
So why not give meditation a try and see how it works for you?