What Is Meditation?
Since the Buddha’s enlightenment during deep meditation under the Bodhi tree, meditation has been part of the practice all Buddhist followers.
Meditation in Buddhism is not sitting and daydreaming, or contemplating the day’s events. It is not staring into space, hoping that some spiritual hammer will land on the mind and suddenly free it from all problems.
Meditation for a Buddhist involves awareness of the experience; through meditation, we attempt to expand the consciousness and to raise it to a higher level (in order to unveil what is already here – reality-as-it-is).
How Do You Meditate?
If you can find a quiet place, then this is desirable, and choose a time where disruptions are less likely to occur. For some this will be late at night, and for others, the early morning is best.
Meditation is a practice that has a very long history, even before the time of the Buddha. Over time, in Asia, a sitting style called “the lotus position” developed to enable the back to stay straight in a position where it’s easy to stay upright for long periods. For many of us these days, the lotus position is rather uncomfortable (or not achievable!) and a straight backed chair or stool are useful. Check with an experienced meditation teacher if you want to try the lotus position, so that you avoid circulation problems with your legs.
Meditation can also be done walking, or lying down, although this is less recommended as most people will tend to fall asleep in this position. The main feature is to try to straighten the back and to balance the head on an upright neck.
If possible, wear comfortable clothes, and loosen any tight belts etc. The hands should be in an easy position, perhaps in the lap, one inside the other. The rule is that there is no rule, except that it needs to be a position where you are less aware of the physical body, and, effectively, it is parked in a safe and comfortable position.
Some Buddhists meditate with eyes closed, many keep their eyes half open so that sleep (the dreaded sleep!) keeps at bay.
Now you are able to begin the meditation. At first it will be strange and it may be better to undertake short sessions, a bit like not running the marathon if you’ve been a couch potato for several years. Work up to it and you will find that you will be able to sit longer as time progresses.
Once we stop, and switch off all distractions, we then need to reach a calm state.
At this point, the attention is turned inwards and both body and mind are relaxed. This is really much more difficult than it sounds, as we are used to having input from both sources. Every day, we are aware of our senses, and thoughts crowd into the mind at every possible moment. We fill our lives with talk, music, radio, television, computers, and books. Now, at this time, we must deal with the mind without that input.
Thoughts automatically stream into the mind, and strive for attention. As each thought arises, like a cloud on a clear blue sky, gently move that thought out of the mind, agree to deal with it later. It is useful at this point to focus on the breathing, and to be aware of a deep in-breath, followed by a relaxed out-breath.
There will be moments that follow where the mind is clear and calm, but there will also be moments where deep fears and suppressed emotions come to the surface of the mind. If this happens, acknowledge them with compassion for yourself and know that this is just a transition phase.
Often we are full of emotions such as anger. We need to accept those feelings and work with them until we understand each feeling and move it to one side without trying to suppress that feeling.
Various levels of meditation are defined by the Buddha, and the first one is where the mind is like a clear lake, with a pure underground spring bubbling into it from a great depth.
Loving Kindness Meditation
One of the popular structured meditations of the Buddhists is the meditation of Loving Kindness. Once a position of meditation is reached, we move through stages of compassionate and forgiving love. First, this is focused on ourself, and we think about our good points, and try to forgive or overlook the negative side. We focus on seeing ourselves loving and happy.
In the second stage, you give love and friendship to a close friend. This is usually quite easy to do, and it helps move the compassion we feel so that it will expand our relationship with the outside world.
Next, we think of someone neutral, someone we know but have no strong feelings for. Again, imagine that this person is receiving loving kindness from you and see that person as benefiting from that.
Moving on, we visualise someone who we have had difficulty with, and who provides us grief. Leave the problem area aside for the moment, and try to give understanding and perhaps some love to that person, without reference to their actions.
At this point, leave the individuals, and give loving thoughts to all those in your immediate area, then to those in the same town, and try to visualise love from yourself going to all living beings in the same country and then the world. If you feel ambitious, you may want to add the Galaxy but most of us stop at the world.
Sit quietly with these concepts and do not force the process. When you become aware of the world around you, then move back to normal awareness, but try to retain some of the calm feelings from the meditation.
It doesn’t matter how long the meditation is, and at first sessions may be as short as five to ten minutes. The ideal length of the meditation will ultimately be determined by your own pace of life, but it is important to meditate regularly, at least once a day, to make progress and have the benefit in each day.
The main benefit arising from meditation is the process of resting the mind and body in a peaceful state. This allows us to have a safe place to heal old wounds, past hurts, and current injustices. And in doing so, the meditative process will gradually release us from the hold these have over us.
Essentially, meditation has two aspects. Firstly, the slowing down of the body and the mind to a receptive state, and secondly, looking deeply inwards. With practice, the art of meditation may happen naturally, and begin to integrate into the everyday life.