There are many websites, books, teachers, schools, and organizations that promote their own brand of meditation. So what I offer here is my distillation of several methods. My suggestion is to start here and learn from your direct actual experience.
These instructions are designed to guide you through the daily formal sitting meditation. This is a classic approach that is offered by virtually all traditions. It’s main value lies in building the habit of meditating every day for a period of time.
It is the habit that is important and these instructions, if followed carefully especially if you are new to meditation, will help you develop the habit.
1. Find a place where you will be free from interruptions for at least 30 minutes. While the actual meditation sessions can be as little as 5 minutes, it is best to know you have 30 to work with. This creates a time that is open and relaxed. Compressing one’s meditation time into a quick 5-10 minutes without allowing some starting and ending practices will give the whole process a hurried feeling. This is not conducive to the quiet one at which one is aiming.
2. Take a comfortable upright position. This can be on a cushion with crossed legs, as is generally presented by eastern traditions. But it is by no means necessary. There is nothing inherently superior about this position. One can sit in a chair or even lie down. Lying down is generally not recommended as it tends to promote sleep. What matters is that the spine be erect as this promotes the ability to remain alert.
3. The hands can be resting in any position that is comfortable. The most neutral one is with the palms laying face down on the thighs or knees. This allows the arms and shoulders to relax by providing a feeling of being supported by the legs through the arms. It is good to experiment a bit with the hand positions. I have tried several over the years and found this one to be most preferable for me. However, I know people who prefer the classic positions of the palms turned up with the forefinger and thumb touching, or that of the palms resting in the lap with one palm cupped in the other.
4. The eyes can be open or closed. There are certain things to know about this, though. First, with the eyes closed the body gets the message that it is time to sleep. Seratonin can be released into the system and being able to pay attention can be that much more difficult. In addition, visual imagery can become more intense with the eyes closed and, combined with the sleep response, can have one slip into a mild dream state. This is not meditation. With the eyes open, one can be distracted by every object in the room, changes in lighting, movements in the peripheral vision. What seems to be a good compromise is to have the eyes slightly open to allow in some light and thereby avoid becoming sleepy, while not being as easily distracted by objects in the room. As one gets better at maintaining focus, the eyes can be open without distraction, or closed without dreaming. It is a matter of practice and personal preference.
5. The mind habitually moves from thought to thought. It is easily distracted by body sensations and external events such as sounds. Therefore, all the meditative traditions use techniques to anchor the mind. What is very important to understand is that these techniques are not meditation. They are methods to concentrate the mind in the here and now and keep it focused. While this is ideally done with as little strain as possible, it is important to develop the ability to notice what is happening with one’s attention and be able to direct it. My personal method of choice is to use the breath. This is used in most if not all meditation traditions because it is always with you. Some traditions encourage counting the breaths, some simply watch it. My suggestion is as follows:
– when you notice the mind has wandered into thoughts, simply take note of it by saying “thinking” silently. - follow this immediately by saying “breathing” and feel the breath at that moment. - each time you notice the mind move into thoughts, say “thinking…….breathing” with the corresponding movement of attention to the breath.
This method will do two things. First, it will bring the mind back to the breath right away. Second, over time it will set up a response such that when you say “thinking” it will almost immediately be followed by “breathing” and most importantly the mind will return to the breath. This sequence will become imprinted and you will simply have to say “thinking-breathing” in order to bring the wandering mind back without strain. It is this lack of strain that the method promotes. In other words, you don’t have to concentrate so much as merely say the phrase.
6. Simply do this for your allotted time. If you sit longer or shorter, that is fine as long as it is at least 5 minutes and is done every day. It is more important to sit daily than the length of time of your session. Over time and with consistent practice, the length of the sessions will get longer.
That is the essence of the method. While there are many aspects to discuss in terms of the experiences one has, this is what one actually does. I will certainly be discussing the experiences on this site, but it is most important that, if you are not already practicing, that you get started.
There is no need for meditation to be mysterious and portrayed as too difficult for everyone to learn. It is also not necessary to adopt a special belief system or even a set of concepts that so called “masters” and their followers tell you are required.
Just sit quietly as described, observe your experiences and reactions.