Meditation is simple

Meditation is most often described as a simple technique to focus the mind on an object–your breath, or the sensations in your body, a candle flame, or a picture.  Practicing meditation is not complicated.  Perhaps the word itself, meditation, carries connotations more linked to the spiritual for some of us–insight, depth, clarity, simplicity, enlightenment.  It certainly is a practice that involves a stepping back from the hurly-burly of the daily world.
From the point of view of eastern contemplative practices, and mindfulness meditation originated in Theravada Buddhism (more on this below), meditation has a wider meaning that includes the sensory, cognitive, and imaginative.

That said, it can also be, as in mindfulness-based interventions, simply creating calm in oneself for a moment each day, affording oneself a space of stillness wherein new resources can emerge, an oasis from the emotional storms that can sap one’s mental energy.  Mindfulness is also–and this is probably unexpected–tuning in to one’s body, being aware of the constant flux of bodily sensations in the present moment.

Let us start. Choose a place where you will not be interrupted, as calm as possible.

Cushion or chair, it does not matter. Sit. If you are on a cushion, find a comfortable position with your legs crossed, hips higher than the knees, that are resting on the floor. To find stability, when you’re seated, try leaning slightly forward, then slightly back, to the right, to the left, allowing your body to adjust to the most stable position for you. Sit tall, like a tree growing towards the sky, your back and neck long. Take some time to find a position of sufficient comfort to sit still.

Stretch your spine from your sitbones to the top of your head, open your shoulders, then settle into the posture. Stable, like a mountain.

If on a chair, sit tall, feet squarely on the floor, back erect, not leaning against the frame.

Aim for a posture of wakefulness.  Relaxed and alert.

Hands wherever they are comfortable–on your thighs, on your knees, or loosely joined in your lap.  Gaze downcast, eyes half-closed, to avoid being distracted visually. You may prefer to close your eyes to attend to your inner sensations with greater ease.

Try to become aware of the sensations in your body.  Become conscious of  where your body is in contact with the floor, with the cushion, the weight of your body on the cushion/chair, of your hands on your thighs.

Now bring your breathing to the forefront of your attention. Breathe normally. Not trying to transform your breathing in any way, trying not to evaluate it. Staying close to the rising and the falling of the breath. The expanding and the contracting of the body accompanying the breath. Just the breath and the changes in your body as you breathe in and out.

There are places where your breathing is most noticeable, where it is most prominent. Maybe at the nostrils, or in the chest, or in the abdomen. Pay attention to the breath at that location.  For the moment, allow me to suggest the abdomen,  as an ‘anchor’ for the breath. See what the sensations in your abdomen are. How the abdomen relaxes outwards on the inbreath, how it folds back in on the outbreath. Notice your lower ribs expanding upon the inbreath, returning inward with the outbreath. Feeling the sensations–not imagining them, not visualizing them–sensing the movement as you breathe. This is how you can be fully aware and present in the moment: by being in contact with the physical sensations each breath creates in your body.

Maybe by now, a thought, an emotion, has drawn you away from your breathing. Not to worry. Very natural, this is what the mind does. Simply return to your breathing. Not giving yourself a hard time, not getting all het up because your attention drifted away. Gently but firmly escorting your interest back to the breath.

Gradually, you may find that your breathing is becoming more and more regular. Anchoring one’s observation on the breathing has a great advantage–it relaxes you.

This is what meditation is: a flow of awareness, of being present in one’s body, punctuated by moments where thoughts emerge and the mind wanders, then returning again to the breath.  Thoughts continue to emerge, even when you become more experienced at meditating. No problem.  Instead of being with the breathing, you may find yourself in a dialogue with a thought. Very simply, note what preoccupies you, and take yourself back to the breath, anchoring on bodily sensation.  If you persevere, and here is where self-discipline comes in, you will discover an internal quieting.

Begin by 3 minutes a day. You will find that your attention wanders, return to the breath.  Increase the time you devote to meditation. See where this takes you. You may want to bring it up to 10 minutes daily.

Meditation is an activity that one learns by practicing. You cannot learn meditation from reading about it,  you have to do it.  Doing it often, like once a day, will allow you to get a grasp.  Like any activity–learning to swim, throwing pottery, playing the piano.  The more you practice, the more you will reap the fruits of your efforts.  And the less you will be prone to doubt, as in This isn’t working for me or I’m no good at this.  Do not listen to that little voice that doubts.

Meditation can be learned in solitude.  However, it is best learned with some guidance, at least initially.  The advantage with a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course is that you can share your experiences as a novice in a group. Invaluable when you are starting out, and having to be very attentive to things you’ve never paid attention to before, like sitting still, or focusing on your breathing (except when there was a problem with it), or sitting with your legs in a certain position on a meditation cushion.  Trying to make your life take a new direction within 8 weeks involves learning new behaviors– and for that, practice is an absolute necessity.

You will learn different meditative techniques in the 8-week course: body scan, sitting practice, yoga, and walking meditation.  Each of us has his/her preferred meditation; one  practice may suit you better depending on the state you’re in.  Mind buzzing, impossible to sit still without fidgeting?  Back pain? Meditative walking may be the answer.  You find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, impossible to find sleep again?  Perhaps a body scan, with its focus on the body, part by part, can help you to simply be present with what is and maybe relax into sleep. The by-product of being present: slowing down the breathing, eventually calming the mind, being totally aware of the present moment.

The mystery with meditation is that one feels better.

How is that possible? Numerous research studies have found that mindfulness, which includes mindful meditation but is not only that, enhances health and well-being. See the website:

Center for Mindfulness

for the research done on mindful meditation.