I started meditating in earnest in 2010. It was an odd time, looking back, to have started meditating. Things in my life were the best they had been since I was 18, and I felt life finally on a trajectory living up to the promise. In hindsight, when you are stable is the best time to start a practice. Life comes at you fast and hard, and if you have not established a practice in advance, you are unlikely to find that required peace of mind just picking it up when things are grim. I know there are many people who write about Meditation. I have not read but one book from Thit Nat Han and one book from the Dalai Lama. But together with an previous life in prayer – or at least, what I had understood prayer to be – and a good understanding of my needs, I put together a practice of my own.
Sharing your Meditative practice comes with some fear. Afterall, your methods are yours, your space and time are yours, the environment is yours, your mind is yours, and nowhere is this required to be more certain than in Meditation. Yet, it is a service to share, and if it is worth something to someone, it is for the better. I will ask you to decide.
Like most practices, mine starts with my breath. Specifically, I breath through my nose. For reasons perhaps personal or perhaps environmental, I am typically mouth breather. This, I think, likely helps with the effectiveness of my breathing in meditation. It gives my Meditative practice something distinctly recognizable, and when I, as moments arise, feel I am in need of more calm concentration, I can switch to my nasal breathing, and the benefits of my prior efforts kick in, at least to some noticeable percentage.
Like many practices, mine is one of concentration. I close my eyes, but focus my mind on something distinct, related to my breath. I have a mind that is not in need of generating ideas. I have a mind which is in need of organizing them, placing them, rounding them out. I therefore do not take a particular problem, a particular notion, a ‘mantra’ if you will, to my sessions. I don’t need it. I simply focus on something distinct to my breath.
I take a traditional cross-legged position, I straighten my spine as much as I can, and I sit. I do not need candles and incense. I do not need darkness or light. In general, I remove myself from electronics. I turn off the phone and computer. I try to find quiet, but some noise is inevitable, and the more practiced you are, the less important quiet becomes. I rarely have a timer. If you have a timer, make it an alarm to soft and quiet music. I do not use a mat, but you may be better served with a towel or rolled mat under your seat, specifically when you first start, as otherwise, you are likely to need to shift, move, or even stand, as your legs may fall asleep, you may cramp, or your joints and seat may hurt.
As you may guess, Alcohol impairs meditation. Nicotine and Caffeine, in moderation, do not. Some prescription medications make Meditation almost impossible. Others make it easier. You will have to figure these out on your own. There is no specific time of day for me. I am told by medical folks, that time of day doesn’t matter too much. But I like to know how I am, through meditation, shortly after my morning coffee; it can be a good mid-day reset; it can be a good post-work wrap up; it can help you, naturally, also to relax before bed.
It is a common idea that in meditation you should be either swatting away ideas, worries, distractions.. as they come up. It is another common idea that in meditation you are trying to listen to ‘your inner voice’. For my part, these notions don’t help much. What I try to do is, in fact, to clear my mind and concentrate on that distinct point related to my breath. This idea, together with the above, will get some people 80 percent of the way there, over time. What I find, however, is that if you are swatting away things which come up, you are missing valuable information about what is bothering you; and if you are trying to listen to your inner voice, you may simply lose yourself in it.
The trick, for me, is having learned not to ignore what comes up, but to resolve how and why it came to mind. Once I have resolved that, I can move along in peace with my focal point. The trick to this is to ‘catch yourself thinking’; if you catch yourself thinking – and what you are thinking about – then you can start to resolve the emotional, logical, and analogical path back to where the thought you caught, in fact, came from. This will tell you a lot about yourself. This process, however, is extremely delicate: it takes practice to master and it takes a certain ability to see yourself in the third person (and internally), which I don’t know everyone is capable of. Moreover, the practice of reconciling your thoughts may lead beginners to get worked up and move further from focus. For this reason, I do not chastize Meditation instructors if they tell their pupils to just ‘let your thoughts go’, but on the other hand, one is very much missing out if they do not attempt to reconcile the thoughts which come up during meditation, as they are commonly a key to understanding what it currently concerning you – whether you knew it or not.
A pass through this method, for me, will typically result in the ideas, to some extent, relenting. At which time, I am able to focus with little explicit effort. And commonly, at some point in this state, my spine will literally straighten up rather quickly and on it’s own. A few more minutes in this state is the immediate reward of my mental effort and effort to make time for the practice. The residual reward is that I am refreshed and ready for whatever is next in my day. The long term reward is that, because my breath is always with me, I can return to it, with a focal point, for a very brief stint, and take in again some of what I have given to the practice, as the stressful moments arise.
I have called this practice ‘tracing meditation’. It may have a different name for conisseurs of Meditation familiar with the Taxonomy. This name relates directly to the method of reconciling (tracing) the origin of those ideas which you catch. The cognitive benefits, besides stress reduction, are that you become much more fluid in being able to trace what may otherwise seem random products of person to person conversation, back to their real source. A very useful skill when you want to understand who is accountable for what, what presuppositions were made, and who may or may not have made a mistake in judgement.