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Meditation

Meditate every day and as often as you can. It will change your life. Well, it'll change how you see life ...


Beginners


Start with a body scan: guided body scan meditation

Learn to relax.

Try zazen meditation. Do it regularly until you recognise the mind calming down. Enjoy the posture, relax into the body breathing.

Then, practice mindfulness, it is a major pivot in meditation practice and is good for life in general - guided mindfulness meditation

It's a good idea to keep gladdening the mind: guided meditation to gladden the mind

A happy mind is a useful place to meditate from. It helps settle the mind, and is a useful condition accessing deeper mental states.

More experienced meditators


Once you've been meditating a while, try jhana practice (more jhana here) or vipassana. It will lift the lid on your life.

Here's my personal walk through of the anapanasati stages:

Stage 1 - breathing and body
Stage 2 - pleasure and thoughts
Stage 3 - heartmind and equanimity
Stage 4 - wisdom and freedom

It's useful to do stage 1 a lot until you know the difference between being in the body and thinking about the body. I created an app on Google Play that contains the anapanasati instructions - it will guide through if you want it to.

Assorted practices for fun


If you want something easy to try, here's some simple ideas to experiment with/think about:

 Getting back into the groove meditation instructions
 Breathe in, breathe out, release
 Relax the mind
 Don't breathe out, just let it go
 Meditation sequence to stillness
 Rest in the gaps
 Using visualisation

Aim straight for the still point:
Go deep

Then go even deeper.

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Nituke

I'm not even sure if nituke is a proper word - it's a dish I came across when looking at macrobiotic cookbooks. Anyway, I like cooking things with weird names and this side dish has become a regular fixture in my meal plans. It's basically braised vegetables and it's very easy to do. I like to cook it with carrot, celery and Chinese leaf. Here's what I do:

Ingredients

3 carrots, cut into chunks
4 sticks of celery, cut into chunks
1 clove of garlic, mashed
1 red onion, cut into chunks
1/2 a whole Chinese leaf, chopped up
some chilli sauce
olive oil
soy sauce of some kind
toasted sesame seeds (if you can be bothered)
a splash of water

Method

1. Put a splash of oil in a saucepan or casserole dish.
2. Add the garlic, onion, carrots and celery
3. Turn the heat on, put the lid on
4. Let the vegetables fry gently for a minute or two
5. Add all the other ingredients apart from the Chinese leaf and sesame seeds
6. Let the vegetables steam gently for 10-15 minutes in the pan …

A standard view of the Jhana states (what happens when we meditate)

Here is a diagram of the Jhana states as they are generally explained. The first row consists of the Jhanic factors (I have compressed the first two, applied and sustained thought, into one called "Settled mind" to make the diagram more consistent). The second row are the first four Jhanas, and the bottom row are the formless states of mind. (If you click the image, it gets bigger).



So then, how do we use this kind of information as we meditate. Well, I spent many years wondering about various experiences that occurred during meditation and only when I discovered this information was I able to get a sense of the whole map. This was helpful.

Generally, I like to use these states not as a list of achievable things but as a conceptual map of what is possible with the mind. As you meditate, it can be useful to incline the mind towards contentment and wide open space rather than simply counting 10 breaths. Even though the depth of the actualized Jhana states is tremendously profo…

Meditation is simple

Here are the simplest instructions I know for meditation. It's a good place to start:

1. Find somewhere quiet and comfortable.

2. Pick something you want to rest your mind on: your breath coming in or out; staring (eyes half down) at an object; listening to a steady sound. As you breathe in and out, maintain relaxed attention on the object. Maintain attention on the object as you breathe in, as you breathe out and during the gaps in between.

3. Your mind will wander off.

4. Cultivate a laissez faire attitude to what is going on. Let things come and go. Return to gently to your object.


Do this for 10-15 minutes to begin with. Observe any relaxation that may occur: your body giving way, the mind calming.

From here, you can begin to investigate what is happening, but this is where you start.

A nice exercise in whole body awareness

It all starts with the body. Your body is your greatest asset.

Take a seat somewhere. Go inside your body and take a relaxing breath. Become aware of your body. Start at the feet and then expand from there. Sense your awareness of the body growing - become aware of the feet and legs; then feet, legs and torso; then feet, legs, torso, arms and hands. Have a sense of energy growing through the body.

Finally, as you breathe, hold your entire body in awareness - feet, legs, torso, arms, hands and head. Feel into a sense of openness and clarity. Notice any blockages in the flow of openness. Then enjoy three or more clear breaths. Nothing outside the present moment, you and your body.

During the day: try it standing up, or in everyday situations. Notice what undermines your attempts to do the practice.

Quick fix: attempt one full body breath before you begin your next task. Do it as often as you can.

How do I fix myself with mindfulness

This appears to be a common pattern. We do our mindfulness course expecting to be transformed, we feel a bit better on the course, a week after the course we find that nothing has changed. There's also the case of people who have been doing meditation for ages and yet they still feel as depressed and angry as they did when they started.

So then, what is going on?

The mind is a tricky beast. It is used to taking action and seeing immediate results. Mindfulness is more subtle than this. It is about seeing the relationship between body, feelings, mind and thoughts and how they come and go. There is no explicit result to be found, just an on going relationship with the thing that is us. However, the longer we observe ourselves the more likely we are to see wisdom arising. That is to say, we begin to see what is beneficial and what is harmful to us. We begin to take responsibility for ourselves and our own happiness - we are no longer simply victims of circumstance. We know what we nee…

What is mindfulness?

I like to have a crack at this every now and again because my appreciation of it seems to change as the years go by. This time I'll do it through a series of questions.

How do I know I'm being mindful?
The simplest way to do this is to label your experience as it happens. Keep it casual. Pay attention to what is going on and give it a label - sitting, seeing, thinking, feet, pressure, breathing. If you are able to label what is happening then you know what is happening. This knowing is mindfulness.
Is that it?
That's the beginning. Once you know what is going on you can begin to explore experience and what your mind is doing. This gives you some space around experience and this gap is where the freedom happens. This space separates out the details of your life from what you really are.
Why does it come and go?
The mind is a complex instrument that is rapidly switching between different modes of operation (for want of a better phrase). Mindfulness is not a mission critical thi…