How to meditate

Contrary to popular belief, meditation does not need to be a complicated exercise. True, there are contemplative modes which can be quite involved, requiring a strong capacity for focus in the meditator, but when we are working with calming and centering meditation simpler is better. For the most part, you simply need to develop two skills if you are going to feel like you are making progress with your efforts:

1 - The ability to bring your attention to an object or idea of your choosing. For instance, if you’ve chosen to focus on a repeated word (as with mantra meditation), that word is what you are primarily aware of. This isn’t really hard, is it? You can do it right now: just close your eyes and think of your own first name. Repeat it to yourself two or three times, focusing your attention on just that word. That’s all there is to that skill some objects of attention are more demanding than others, and you can continually become better at directing your attention, but there is little complexity to this task.

2 - The ability to monitor what your mind is doing. Sometimes called ‘mindfulness’, proficiency in this skill is just as critical as with the first. Through mindfulness, the meditator catches on quickly when thoughts or impressions other than the chosen object of focus steal the attention. If you’ve ever read a book for more than a few minutes, or if you’ve focused on a task at work or in school, you’ve demonstrated this capacity. For purposes of meditation, you’ll need to make this even stronger, but it’s important to recognize you don’t have to invent a whole new ability to make meditation available to yourself.

Without developing these two skills, any effort at meditation is likely to be mere daydreaming and reverie. Pleasant and relaxing, sure, but not it’s not meditation.

The following steps are very simple, but they are the heart of calming and centering meditation. They’ve been the backbone of just about every interior practice of every spiritual tradition in human history, and work directly to develop the skills of focus and mindfulness:

1 - Find a time and place where you will have few outside interruptions.

2 - Establish your object of focus. It can be a word or sound, an image, or a physical sensation (the feeling of your breath moving in and out of your nose, the beating of your heart, etc.).

3 - Spend a few moments taking stock of your current perspective – feel how you are sitting, see the room in front of you, and hear any background noise. After you’ve established this grounding in ‘now’, allow your eyelids to gently lower. Some people and traditions prefer completely closed eyes, others prefer the lids only half closed try both for yourself and see what kind of impact each has on your concentration.

4 - Turning your consideration inward, place your attention upon your object of focus. For this exercise, there is no need to think about that object, or analyze it. Simply watch it, hear it, or feel it. Just experience it.

5 - When thoughts other than the simple experience of your object arise – and these could either be thinking about your object or about something else altogether – simply recognize them and return your attention without a lot of fuss or drama to your chosen point of focus. Do this repeatedly throughout the time you’ve allotted for this session.

6 - When your time is up, allow your attention to spread from your object of focus to all of your physical senses. In step number 3 you used the sensations of the current moment to help guide you to a more interior perspective. Now use those same sensations to guide back to a more exterior point of view. Keep this gentle and relaxed.

7 - Begin moving your extremities, shrug your shoulders, shift your back – nothing abrupt, but wake up your body and return completely to the world.

And that, in a nutshell, is how you practice centering meditation. Here are some additional tips which you might find helpful:

* Once you are done with the session, do your best to maintain that sense of alert relaxation as you move through your day. After all, the ultimate goal here really is to impact your entire life any insights or personal growth that is limited strictly to the meditation session provides very little value.

* Especially in the beginning stages of your practice, choose an object of focus which highlights one particular sensory channel: kinesthetic (bodily feeling), auditory or visual. Involving more than one sense gives your mind license to jump around, which short circuits your efforts to develop the strength of your concentration. There are more involved practices where you will employ the full range of senses, but give yourself the chance to develop some measure of one pointed concentration first.

* In a related note, experiment with each of the three primary senses as you try each of them you might find one which is most helpful in promoting single pointed concentration (note: it might not be the sense you would initially guess, so be sure to give each one a shot). Take advantage of that finding, making that particular sense the foundation of your early training work.

* Use your brain’s desire for pattern to help you by creating a schedule and sticking with it. If you practice concentrating your attention at the same time every day, your brain will begin to expect the exercise, welcoming it.

There is a whole lot more which can be covered: other modes of meditation and what to do when you are NOT meditating, to name just a couple. None of that matters much without this foundation, though, so spend some time becoming familiar with this flavor of interior practice and make it something you can feel very comfortable doing.

If you have any questions around this mode of meditation (or the other two primary modes of analytic and generative meditation) please feel free to email me at - I will be happy to assist you.


Chris B