To read or to write about meditation is nice, but it is meaningless. The only way to know what meditation is about is to do it. Now this doesn’t have to be a weekend or a ten-day silent Vipassana retreat. You could try ten minutes every morning for a month or so. Ideally the length of a meditation is somewhere between forty and sixty minutes. This feels right. This is the length most meditation teachers recommend.
I personally think that every person would benefit from meditating. With the exception of someone who is mentally imbalanced. Now we get to the question ‘Why meditate?’ There is no better answer than to experience it yourself.
The nice thing about meditation is that you can do it regardless of religion or belief system. Most religions and spiritual beliefs actually include meditation in their practice in one form or another. This makes meditation universal. That is not so strange because it is all about calming your mind. Especially in the hectic world of today with all its stress and thousands of choices to make, a person deep down understands that it is a good idea to be calm.
‘So why doesn’t everybody do it?’ The answer is: ‘your ego.’ Your ego does not think that it is a good idea. Your ego thinks mediation is boring and a waste of time. And your ego fears that if the meditation makes you calmer it will have less to do, and the ego likes to keep busy.
Your ego makes sure you think incessantly in circles about this or that problem. It worries about the past and the future. The ego is fearful about what could happen to your family, to your city, to your country, to your religion, to your world. It thrives with conflicts and wars, endless weighing of options, it wants you to fit in, it wants you to check continuously how others around you are doing and where you stand in relationship to them. Some of these things are good of course, and the ego helps us in certain situations.
Face it, you have 24 hours in a day, you sleep, you work, you drink tea with your friends. There could be time to meditate. See it as a bit of mental yoga, a mental stretch program. Someone said that thoughts are like fluffy clouds in the sky, slowly passing by, and meditation creates more space between these thought-clouds. It’s calming.
When you start to meditate your ego will come up with all kinds of hindrances. It likes to do that. But the only way to experience meditation is by doing it. To experience it. Then decide for yourself if you want to continue meditating regularly.
Let me introduce a simple but extremely effective meditation:
- Sit on a cushion with a straight back, or sit on a chair with a straight back and your feet flat on the floor. For different ways of sitting and exact descriptions, check any book on meditation.
- Your position should be strong and stable, and you should be able to sit in that position without moving for the entire time you decide to sit. When you sit down you might wiggle a little so that you sit upright and comfortably.
- Then sit still. Focus on your breathing. That’s all you do. Feel air coming in through your nose and out through your mouth or nose. Don’t force your breathing, breathe naturally. Focus on breathing in and out.
- Very soon a thought will come up. This can be any thought. ‘Why am I doing this?’ ‘It is not working’ ‘I have to get the kids to school’ ‘What are we going to eat tonight?‘ ‘What if my friends saw me sitting like this.’ I have to buy tomato sauce and garlic’ ‘Where am I going to buy the ingredients?’ ‘When do I have time for that?’ ‘I have to call my friend’ ‘Last year we were trekking in the mountains. What a view. The air was so fresh.’ A smile forms on your face. ‘Oh, I am meditating.’
- After some time of focusing on your breathing you could become submerged in a train of thoughts again. But when you realize this, you go back to focusing on your breathing, again and again. A meditation teacher said once: “Let thoughts come and go but don’t serve them tea.” The more you meditate the easier it will be to stay with your breathing. With practice comes skill.
- Thus you meditate till the timer goes off. You can stretch your legs. You might think ‘That went well,’ or ‘I was thinking all the time. I focused on my breathing only a few times’. But now the interesting thing happens: even if you think you did a lousy job meditating you probably feel calmer anyway. And you might experience a moment during the day when a calm comes over you in a situation when you normally would have become agitated. It’s worth a try.