How To Start And Sustain Your Meditation Practice: 5 Simple Guidelines
“How can I learn to meditate?” It is music to my ears when clients ask this question, because it means that they are beginning to understand the value of bringing meditation into their lives. Human beings ultimately want to be happy. It takes maturity, born from life experience and spiritual wisdom, to realize that true happiness cannot be lastingly found in things outside of us. Money, fame, status, relationships – these fleeting pleasures are all transient and cannot gives us true inner contentment. Real happiness is a way of Being. It can only be found in the Self. How can we access this? Through meditation – turning the mind inward, away from external distractions, to experience who we truly are, thus unlocking an inner peace beyond the restless cogitations of the mind. Many feel overwhelmed at the thought of starting a meditation practice, but meditation is actually quite simple.
Starting your meditation practice
1. Set a regular time. The first thing to do is set a regular time for your practice. As with any sport or activity that you are trying to train in, establishing a routine strengthens intentionality and consistency. The best time, which is used by monks and spiritual aspirants, is just before sunrise. This period between 4 – 6am is referred to as the ‘Brahma Muhurta’ time. It is when the mind is most calm and receptive. Meditating during this time will improve the quality of how you experience your day. If the early morning is impossible for you, choose any other time during the day. The important thing is to set a workable time and stick to it.
2. Keep it short to start. Start with 5 – 10 minutes. Attempting to dive into a 1-hour meditation when you are only just beginning, is like attempting a marathon while only just learning to jog. It is not wise. Over time, you will naturally lengthen the time as you experience the joy of meditation. The most important thing in the beginning is regularity, not duration.
3. Set up a meditation space. It is helpful to have a quiet room or area that will be your meditation space. As you meditate, your vibrations will fill that space and make it easier each time to go into stillness. Set up a little shrine, with pictures or symbols of great saints, a little candle, some incense, a cushion if needed, flowers or plants. This creates a conducive ambiance of peacefulness. If you do not feel drawn to do this, or do not have a specific space, please do not let this stop you. What ultimately matters is your sincerity and regularity of effort. You can meditate in any quiet space that you have, without any fuss.
4. Use a technique. Meditation is not a blanking of the mind. It is a focussing of the mind, to ekagrahata. One-pointedness. From doing this, one attains mastery over the mind and is able to connect to a place of Being or consciousness beyond the mind. There are many different techniques, such as gazing at a flame, visualizing a holy saint or symbol, mantra chanting, or simply keeping the attention on the breath. These are all designed to bring the mind to a point of focus. Choose the one that appeals to your nature. The essential points are:
- Sit comfortably, either cross-legged on the floor if possible, or on a chair if not.
- Keep the spine straight and the neck in line with the spine. Relax all tension.
- Keep the eyes gently closed. This minimizes sensory distraction.
- Bring awareness to the breath. Notice the depth and pace of your breathing. Allow the body to breathe slowly, deeply and naturally. This has a calming effect on the mind and relaxes the whole body. The more calmly and fully we learn to breathe, the more tranquil and present we become.
- It can be effective to start with a heartfelt prayer or mantra if you are open to this.
- As you go into your technique, remember to keep the mind relaxed but focussed. The idea is not to go to sleep, but to be present and aware.
5. Be patient with your practice. The Bhagavad Gita says “Seek not the fruit of your actions. Pitiful is the one who seeks results”. Practice and non-attachment are the way to Self-realisation advised by the Gita. This means not judging your practice as a ‘good meditation’ or a ‘bad meditation’, or seeking phenomena such as visions or powers. Otherwise meditation becomes just another form of egoic endeavor, instead of liberation from ego into Being. Simply show up for your practice with faith, patience, and perseverance, and the fruit of your efforts will be taken care of. May you be blessed in your efforts.
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