Meditation

Awareness is revolutionary!

Do you recognize the feeling of being totally absorbed in something? You’re so wrapped up in it that you are barely aware of your surroundings, and time seems to stand still. You can look up from your book, or your painting, or your programming (or whatever) and realise that several hours have passed without your even noticing it.
This is one of the most effective states of mind to be in. When you focus on one thing, you can completely push distractions out of the way. Your mind comes alive and you can be at your most creative.
Meditation can be incredibly relaxing – but it’s not about relaxation. Nor is it about emptying your mind as some people fear. By meditating effectively on anything you cultivate a keen alertness, a sharp and healthy mind. Mindulness is not a forced concentration – but holding an awareness of something in your mind. You will be able to apply this kind of awareness to other things – like ideas – to great effect. 

Place

The first thing to address is the place you will do it, and your physical position. The meditation can take 20 minutes or 40 minutes – so you need to find somewhere where you will be comfortable and undisturbed for this time.

Posture

Your posture doesn’t matter too much – any position in which you can remain comfortable. Many meditation manuals recommend kneeling, with a big cushion under your bottom and your hands folded. They usually warn against lying down, because meditating can easily send you to sleep .
You might want a clock easily visible from your position, so you can tell how long you’ve been with minimum of disruption.
Having settled on a comfortable position let your awareness move from the bottom of your body upwards.
Start by being aware of the soles of your feet and your toes. If you can, try and feel each toe individually. Next move your awareness to the whole of your feet and your ankles.
Travel slowly up through your body, dwelling for a few seconds on each part. As you do this try to consciously relax your body, letting tension drain away.
Move up from your calves to the back of your legs, thighs and up. As you get to your stomach, back, and then shoulders you can move to the arms. When you’ve gone through the elbows down to your fingers you can move to the neck, face, and head.
This whole process shouldn’t take more than a few minutes and can be very calming.

We teach and practise two meditations. One meditation we do is:

1. The Mindfulness of Breathing

The focus of this meditation is your breath – the air coming into and out of the body. This is neither as easy, nor as dull, as it sounds.

The Technique

It’s not a meditation on the process of breathing, nor the feeling of the body moving – but on the breath itself. This is most easily done by breathing through the nose and feeling the breath as it enters or leaves the body.
The meditation is divided into four stages. You should decide at the start whether you will do a twenty minute meditation (five minutes per stage) or longer – say forty minutes (ten minutes per stage).

Stage 1

In the first phase we count after the breath. Count (silently in the mind) in the pause between breaths, from one to ten. Breathe,  count one, breathe, count two. When you get to ten, start again at one.
The counting helps centre the mind. It makes it easier to maintain concentration on the breathing.
If you find your mind has wondered (it will!), gently bring your attention back to the breath and start again from one. You may find you do this many times but it’s nothing to get worried or frustrated about.

Stage 2

When you guesstimate that the stage is over, move onto the next stage. Checking a clock will disrupt your meditation slightly. The first few times you do it, five minutes will feel like an awfully long time. When you are able to let go of distractions and get drawn into concentration – you’ll wonder where the time went.
In stage two, you change to counting before the breath. Breathe then count, breathe then count.
This change helps break the rut and refocuses the mind.

Stage 3

In stage three you stop counting altogether and follow the breath in and out.
This frees you up more to focus on the breath.

Stage 4

In this final stage you focus on the breath at the point where it actually enters the body. This will usually be inside the nose.
This stage is quite a bit harder than the other stages. It can be one of the most effective though, because it draws your attention into a single point.

The second meditation is:

2. The Metta Bhavana

or the Development of Loving-Kindness Meditation. The name comes from the Pali language. Metta means ‘love’ (in a non-romantic sense), friendliness, or kindness: hence ‘loving-kindness’ for short. It is an attitude,  something you feel in your heart. Bhavana means development or cultivation. The commonest form of the practice is in five stages, each of which should last about five minutes for a beginner.

Stage 1

In the first stage, you feel metta for yourself. You start by becoming aware of yourself, and focusing on feelings of peace, calm, and tranquillity. Then you let these grow into feelings of strength and confidence, and then develop into love within your heart. You can use an image, like golden light flooding your body, or a phrase such as ‘may I be well and happy’, which you can repeat to yourself. These are ways of stimulating the feeling of metta for yourself.

Stage 2

In the second stage, think of a good friend. Bring them to mind as vividly as you can, and think of their good qualities. Feel your connection with your friend, and your liking for them, and encourage these to grow by repeating ‘may they be well; may they be happy’ quietly to yourself. You can also use an image, such as shining light from your heart into theirs. You can use these techniques — a phrase or an image — in the next two stages as well.

Stage 3

Then think of someone you do not particularly like or dislike. Your feelings are ‘neutral’. This may be someone you do not know well but see around. You reflect on their humanity, and include them in your feelings of metta.

Stage 4

Then think of someone you actually dislike — an ‘enemy’. Trying not to get caught up in any feelings of hatred, you think of them positively and send your metta to them as well.

Stage 5

In the final stage, first of all you think of all four people together — yourself, the friend, the neutral person, and the enemy. Then extend your feelings further — to everyone around you, to everyone in your neighbourhood; in your town, your country, and so on throughout the world. Have a sense of waves of loving-kindness spreading from your heart to everyone, to all beings everywhere.
Then gradually relax out of meditation, and bring the practice to an end.

There is a common illusion that we’re in control of our own minds. To have to admit otherwise may seem a great loss. When we begin to meditate how long is it before the internal dialogue starts up, and your mind starts chattering ? It’s easy to not realise that this is the way we spend most of our time.
This mental chatter is a state of distractedness. The mind drifts along on the winds of its own making. It can be hard then to rest our attention on one thing for any length of time. The constant chatter masks what really goes on in the depths of ourselves. Meditation is a practice that can calm our experience and offer a transformation.