Meditation is not as esoteric as you might think. It’s just sitting quietly and watching your mind without getting carried away by your thoughts — many of which are anxious, fearful, and self critical. If we get a rest from this swarm of anxious thoughts — we can begin to relax.
Beginning — How Should I Sit?
Sit in an upright position. Maybe you can sit in full lotus, or another recommended cross legged posture. By all means do so. But if you can’t, just sit in a chair. That’s what I do because my legs just can’t manage anything else. Sit forward on the seat, not touching the back rest, feet flat on the floor, body upright. Keep your eyes open in soft focus, looking down at about a 45 degree angle. Rest your hands, palms down, on your knees. Here is a site which shows all the possible ways to sit in meditation from beginners to the most advanced.
You could just sit like this for five minutes, no technique, just you sitting alone in a room doing nothing. But many beginners would have a difficult time doing this. This is single tasking in the extreme. It’s fishing without the boat, the rippling water and the wonderful scenery. Just you, your chair and a quiet room. The mind has a tendency to roam.
So as beginners it’s good to have some training wheels to keep our mind from veering out of control. The most convenient aid is the breath.When I went to the San Francisco Zen Center for the first time I received Zazen (meditation) instruction. My teacher taught me to count my breaths to give me an anchor for my Zazen. He said you need an anchor because if you try to just sit and watch your thoughts (the most advanced practice), they’ll run rampant and you’ll end up captured by your thinking instead of settling into the present moment of each breath.
Our breath is with us 24 hours a day for our entire life. There’s nothing more basic and necessary for us. So here we have a ready made meditation aid. That’s why counting the breath is usually the first step in many meditation systems. Here’s how I was told to do it.
Take a few deep breaths and then settle in, and slowly count each exhalation: one…two…three…four…five. You should fully exhale so each inhalation comes naturally. If you lose the count, go back and start with one. When you get to ten, start over at one. This is all you need to do.
Try to relentlessly lock your attention onto each number of your counting. Visualize each number. If you lose the count, don’t criticize yourself. Just begin again at one. Using this technique, your breathing becomes orderly and your mind becomes orderly as well. This is meditation 101.
After doing it for a few weeks you may have times when the breath counting starts to become easier. When it’s just you and your breath, your vision narrows, your breath is calm, the room seems quieter. “I’m starting to get it!” And as soon as you say that to yourself — the feeling is gone and it’s back to the beginning again. But on the days when it comes easy — and the days when it’s all you can do to just stay seated and finish your time — just do your allotted time without evaluating how it’s going. Meditation takes practice, and the practice is the goal. That’s the beauty of it. You can’t fail.
At some point you might be able to take off the training wheels and just sit and watch your thoughts without getting caught up in them. But start with breath counting and see how it goes.
Meditation for Beginners — A few tips:
- Start with just five minutes a day. Do it every day and at some point you will naturally want to increase the time.
- There is not good or bad meditation. You are just sitting down and watching your breath. The process is the goal. Imagine yourself in the Paleolithic era, sitting at night, staring into the campfire. No electricity, no devices, no television, no goal. Just the fire, the stars overhead and your thoughts, your breath, your body.
- Keep your meditation practice to yourself at first. Some people will not be supportive.And worse, you might find yourself listening to someone’s war stories about their 7-day silent meditation retreat, when you’re struggling with five minutes a day. You don’t need that.