Saturday, March 26, 2011

How To: Meditate

 One of my teachers once told me that Buddhist monks began the practice of joining fore finger to thumb when meditating as a 'self timing' device. When their fingers parted, they knew they had done enough.
Picture found originally here.

I was lucky enough to go to a school that, while Catholic, was quite expansive and progressive in its religion teaching. Not being one myself, I wasn’t supremely interested in the religious studies we did which pertained purely to becoming a better Catholic, but I was really engaged by the other material we studied; profiles of all of the major religions and a few smaller ones, in depth studies of texts and practices and day trips to synagogues, mosques, museums and cemeteries.
During my time at school I had two wonderful teachers who taught us a lot about meditation practice. My interest in meditation really began with them and through my own research and further study has increased. Below are outlined some of my favourite ‘do it yourself’ meditation exercises.

Food Meditation or Eating Mindfully
We always did this meditation at school with Allens Snakes. To this day yellow snakes (only Allens though), are one of my very favourite things to eat. You’ll need food, preferably just one ingredient by itself, say a carrot or piece of cheese (or an Allens Snake!). This meditation uses questioning to keep you focussed and experiencing the present moment.
*Sit comfortably, close your eyes and focus on breathing deeply and settling your mind some.
*Take the piece of food and lift it to your nose. What does it smell like?
*Put the food in your mouth, but do not chew, just let it rest on your tongue. Does it feel heavy? Is it releasing any flavour?
*Slowly move the food around a little, you can squish it or suck on it if you want. Focus now on the flavour coming from the morsel, what can you taste? Is it sweet or savoury? Salty or creamy?
*Now you can chew the food, but still focus on the textures and flavours you’re experiencing. When you’re done, swallow it. What kind of aftertaste is left?

Listening Meditation
This one’s really simple. I usually find it best to lie down in a still room with the windows open. This is all about listening, so try and make sure there are no really loud televisions or music players near you.
*As you lie, slowly narrow down you’re ‘field’ of listening until you’re focussing only on the sounds your body makes; breathing, beating, pulsing, maybe twitching or lengthening as you ease into relaxation.
*Then, stretch your listening outwards, until you’re focusing on sounds from around the room. Does the furniture shift and settle? Is there a ticking clock or are there any animals making noises?
*Gradually, shift your listening outside the room. Can you hear neighbours talking? Birds in the trees and traffic passing by?
*Now focus on the sounds farthest away from you, see just how far you can hear. *Next you need to draw your listening back in, first into the surrounding outside, then back to your room, then to your own sounds, until all you can hear once again are the noises of your body.

Plain Old Meditation
This year I began practicing what I call ‘plain old mediation’ in earnest. All I literally do is sit on a flat floor cushion, legs crossed (although I don’t see that it would make a difference in a different position if you were sitting up straight and well supported) and breathe. I make sure that my breaths are long and slow, and that the exhalation is the same length as the inhalation (we have a tendency to breathe shorter out than in). Then I slowly start to let go of my thoughts, trying to slow my mind down a little and relax into the stillness until there are no thoughts and all I’m doing is sitting and breathing. I wouldn’t say it’s hard, but it’s not instantly achievable; thoughts whir back up the moment I let myself lose focus or get distracted. It’s definitely not something to get angsty about, and I think that’s where a lot of people get tricked up with mediation; the angrier you get about not being able to ‘do it right’ the more you’ll over think things, when thinking is something you’re trying to get a break from.

I don’t like to put a timer on my mediation, I can usually just tell when I’ve had enough and I think a buzzer or alarm would jar me about. I do like to see sometimes how long I’ve mediated for though, and so far my average is about ten minutes, which I’m pretty impressed by. I find that on the mornings that I do meditate I seem to have hours extra in the day and am incredibly productive. I’m able to focus clearly and don’t try to multitask and spread my energy around all day long. It’s definitely proven a great habit for work outcomes, and I think mentally as well.

I’ve done other types of meditation (think a two hour walking and bowing stint at a Buddhist monk-in-training temple) and have really enjoyed all of them. These three are my basis, DIY at home options, and a good place to start if you’ve never meditated before. Additionally, there are literally hundreds of guided meditation recordings on youtube, and if you’re finding it hard to lead yourself through I recommend you give one a go as well. Happy meditating!

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