From a Yoga website, we can read:
“Meditation is a word that has come to be used loosely and inaccurately in the modern world. That is why there is so much confusion about how to practice it.”
As a Zen practitioner, I can certainly agree with this statement. For the past few years, I have witnessed a growing interest and questioning about meditation. But what is meditation? If meditation is obvious to those who are on a spiritual path, it is quite confusing for those who try to be familiarized with the concept itself. Here, I would like to shed light on the practice of meditation and suggest a friendly approach to beginners and to those who are curious about the subject. In this modern era where the need for inner peace and self-discovery is growing everywhere, meditation is not a hobby or a monk’s way of life – meditation has become a necessity.
Part of the “confusion” is that many holistic modalities in the late 20th century turned to meditation for healing purposes, thus creating a new trend of meditation that I call “healing” types. The goal then is not particularly spiritual as it is meant in the first place. Those “healing” meditations have benefited many people, and as such we should certainly acknowledge them.
As a reminder, meditation is first and foremost a spiritual practice whose goal is to quiet your mind, to bring your attention and focus on your higher self not the ego, bring forward the inner silence in you that allows you to connect with your higher self and transcend your binary mindset that keeps you in the “illusion” or the suffering mode of being. We are more than the physical body of flesh and blood. So, what are we? In that category we find Zen, Buddhism, Taoism, specific types of Yoga, and the like. They are based upon posture, breathing techniques, and focus of the mind on the breath/emptiness. To meditate is to look inward. In that sense, meditation is a spiritual journey – it has a beginning (the moment you start the practice) but no ending as you continue to discover your true self on many levels. If practiced on a regular basis, meditation certainly offers physiological and psychological benefits but the latter are not the goal of the practice of meditation. For practicality in this article, I will label this type of meditation “spiritual.”
On the other hand, “healing” meditations are about stress reduction, pain management, peacefulness & centeredness, chakras healing, energy balancing, etc. In so doing, the “healing” meditations use specific types of breathing, visualization techniques, postures and mudras, mantras, etc. By now, who knows how many more types of meditation have been derived from those “healing” meditations. It has become quite confusing. We very often use the phrase “Go, and meditate on it,” as if meditation was about thinking about a subject or issue. On the contrary, “spiritual” meditation is to empty your mind for clarity not to clutter it! In many holistic classes/training, you will be told to meditate before offering a treatment to a client (like Gassho meditation in Reiki). But it is not really meditation – it’s more a way to center yourself in the healing energy in order to become a clear channel. As you see by now, meditation loosely understood and limited to an “inward gaze” is not quite the same as “spiritual” meditation.
However, both types of meditation have their benefits and roles. I do not want to enter into a semantic debate over the concept “meditation” here. I simply wish to help people clarify what they are looking for. Another aspect that contributes to the confusion is that in the “spiritual” meditations, there is actually a variation of practices. For example, in Zen, we practice sitting meditation with the focus on the breath only. We chant sutras or mantras before the sitting meditation. While in Buddhism, chanting mantras may be considered meditation itself. In the spiritual practice of Qi Gong (yes, there are three types of Qi Gong: medical, martial arts, and spiritual), one brings together breath and posture, and more often stands than sits. It is meditation in action that works on your meridians and channels of energy in order to align mind, body and spirit to its highest level. Even sitting meditation requires the right posture that allows the alignment of the three centers of chi (upper, middle, and lower tandien). All of these “spiritual” practices generate health benefits in their own way.
All is good. It is just a matter of what you want to emphasize in your life. However, considering this chaotic reality we are experiencing now on the planet (in a good sense of the word), I would certainly recommend practicing a basic “spiritual” form of meditation. We need to change consciousness on the planet, and this is a good way to start. A paradigm shift starts with each and everyone of us.
Meditation is, in fact, much easier than you think. So, let’s demystify it and set you on the path to allow a transformation. I would like here to offer you a simple, easy way to develop your practice. If you are a beginner, try to be in the practice without any expectation. If you have expectations, you will build frustration and impatience – things never turn out the way your limited mind thinks. Let the process take you somewhere. If you are already practicing meditation, use this suggestion as a way to remind yourself of the importance of mindfulness – something new may come up to you. Here are three steps:
Three Steps To Perfect Meditation
Shift Your Mindset
You do not need to light candles, sit and devote hours to it. This is of course excellent but not for everyone. As such, it is not about creating space and time for meditation in your busy schedule but on the contrary to create space and time within yourself. Re-read that sentence. Meditation is an inner journey at your own pace. Shift your attention from outside to inside, find ways to open a meditation space within, and in your everyday life. You can always spend 5 minutes (i) focusing on your breath when walking, cooking, showering, or before going to bed. You can always shift your (ii) focus to the Now when you drink your coffee/tea, watch the rain in silence (instead of complaining about it). You can always try to (iii) feel Oneness when you shake hands with others (instead of judging); when you experience a difficult moment (create oneness with your higher Self to grow more; do not curse the universe); and when you eat your meals or walk in nature (feel connected as everything is made of atoms, just like you). You get the point. You need to open a space/time platform within yourself so your gaze will be different and you will not see the world split in two: “you” and “others.” Trust me: if you start going inward and making inner space, you will then create space/time in your schedule because it will come to you naturally. You will find time to sit and meditate to prolong the experience. This is the most difficult part of the journey – shifting your mind – because we all have beliefs, patterns, ideologies that shaped our mind and thus created filters in us. Meditation is about dissolving those filters. When you create inner “space/time” you need the support of your breath, which leads us to the second step.
Focus on the Breath
There are many types of breathing techniques. You can even check my previous articles in CureJoy. For the purpose of this article, I would suggest the standard one: breathe in with your stomach very slowly, hold 2 seconds, and breathe out very slowly. Ideally, it would be 8/4/8. The pause should be half of the in/out. If you are not used to control the breath, then hold in the pause for 2 seconds only – do not push it. Mind, breath and chi are connected. So, by focusing on the breath you also direct the chi inside to circulate properly. To focus on the breath helps you be in the Now. Remember that!
Your mind will always wander at some point. No worries. Refocus on your breath. Here are some tips to help you focus on the breath: you can (i) count your breath as mentioned above; (ii) use a reminder such as “I breathe in” on your inhale, “I breathe out” on your exhale (technique from Thich Nhat Hanh); (iii) use a mantra of your choosing such as “Nam Myoho” on your inhale, “Renge Kyo” on your exhale or “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” on your inhale/exhale; and (iv) use a gesture like making a fist on your breath-out and opening your hand on your breath-in. With time you will not need to control the breath. The breath will “breathe you” as we say in Zen. Breathing with the focus on the breath helps bring more consciousness in you. It is called conscious breathing that helps shift your mind. By focusing on the breath try to remain neutral with what your senses register. Be like a new born who cannot yet identify with anything around her because the brain has not been “shaped” yet – nothing makes sense, except the breath. If you hear the rain, just listen to the raindrops as if it were the first time ever. Know that with time in that inner space, you connect with your higher Self. And in that space is emptiness. As Zen master Su Bong (Kwan Um School of Zen) explains: “Human beings’ empty is: you and this world are separate. Buddha’s empty means: empty is not empty, empty is clear. In this, clear has everything. It has you, me, God, Buddha, dog, cat, tree, man, woman, good, bad, like and dislike, because everything is clear.” Clear mind means, then, to understand Oneness and be in it, in the Now.
Posture and surrounding
If you practice this technique on a regular basis, you will reach a point where you will naturally make time and space in your schedule to finally sit and meditate. For how long? It is up to you: start with 5 minutes and go up to 20 or more! In sitting meditation, your body can actually rest physically while being active internally for many benefits: regenerate cells, raise your vibration, balance energies in you, bring in more consciousness and expand your energy field, etc. – all of which is amplified by the breath.
Some people may use background music/mantras, candles, incense, etc. While these may be great for generating higher vibrations in your meditation space, you do not need them particularly. Use the music/chanting mantra before meditating as a way to prepare your space. Music may be distracting – you need to focus on your breath and hear your surrounding in order to develop a connection with it (famous Zen samurais were able to distinguish nuances of the wind in the bamboo forest). Meditating in silence “clears” your senses. Candles and incense have symbolic/esoteric functions but are not necessary for a beginner. As for posture, sitting meditation requires a perfect alignment of the three centers of chi in your body (one is below the navel, one is at the heart level, and one is your 3rd eye). This alignment allows better breathing, better flow of energy, and connection with earth and above. Some people close their eyes not to be distracted by outside. I would suggest keeping your eyes half close (and looking straight down in front of you) as you want to avoid drifting into the dream-world and need to connect with reality around you. If you practice that way, it will then be easier to remain mindful during the day no matter what you do.
I sincerely hope that this humble explanation on meditation will help you practice with awareness and better understanding. As I mentioned above, meditation is understood in many ways that may bring confusion to those who are new at it. Try this simple technique and remember that the practice itself is important to help shift your mind. You develop at your own pace. Start your journey now, and enjoy! I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.