Learning to meditate is a creative
process of persistent enthusiastic effort in becoming familiar
with functional minds such as the minds of compassion and
the wisdom the knows emptiness. Being able to meditate deeply
is not something that will naturally happen over night. Would
you expect to become an artist or musician after just one
Artists and musician's have their tools of the trade,
as do meditators. What are these tools? Below is a list along
with short explanations of each. However the list is by no
means an exhaustive list.
There are external Buddhist tools for meditation such as
A dedicated room or place within a room.
Table for books and meditation manuals.
and there are internal Buddhist tools for meditation such
An appreciation of the benefits of meditation.
Awareness of attention.
So lets now expand on each of these a little.
A dedicated room or place within a room for meditation
It is useful to have a dedicated place for your meditation
practice. By having a dedicated place for meditation you are
saying to yourself:
I believe meditation is an important and worthwhile activity.
I see the advantages it can bring to my life, my family and
everyone I engage with throughout my life. For this reason
I believe it is important enough to have it's own dedicated
You will also be reminded every time you walk by the room.
There are other benefits also besides these for instance;
When I was young my grandfather, who we called"green
pa" because he had a green car, had a shed in his backyard.
My grandmother knew that when he was in his shed he could
not be disturbed. My grandfather use to build things for people
out of wood. It was like a meditation for him. So similarly,
we need our own shed - a meditation shed. A place where we
can build things like the minds of compassion, wisdom, equanimity
and develop the skills to really help others.
You don't need to sit on the floor or in a crossed legged
position to meditate. Meditation is a mental activity not
a physical one but, you do need to be comfortable. If you
are not comfortable it will be difficult to develop a deep
and stable practice. So when you are first starting out, pay
attention to how your body feels. If pain arises, try and
fix it by adjusting your position slightly. However don't
fuss over this process. Don't spend too much time worrying
about the pain or discomfort. Otherwise this checking could
itself become an obstacle to meditation.
Also, sitting in a chair is permissible. However sitting
as the great meditators of the past did is best if you can.
Why? Because adopting a cross legged position is a powerful
signal to yourself that it is now time to meditate. However
if you are sitting in a chair make sure it is not the same
chair you use to have afternoon naps, as your meditation will
probably just turn into more sleeping.
Also the cushion is to keep you comfortable. It is not a
fashion item, or a decorative piece. Don't turn your
meditation practice into another worldly activity.
There are two types of meditation blankets. One to keep you
warm and one for keeping your hands comfortable. If you are
too warm by having too many blankets wrapped around your body
this can induce sleep. So make certain you are comfortable
and warm while leaving some space for the air to flow around
your body. Remember your meditating not sleeping!
The second type is for your hands. Place a soft piece of
fabric or a fold of your blanket under your hands, this will
help your mind relax. The sooner you relax the quicker your
meditation will develop. However meditation is not just about
deep relaxation, so don't allow yourself to fall into
the abyss of sleepiness. It is very much like tuning your
mind. Too tight and conceptualization will occur, too loose
and you will end up wasting time in the fogginess of laxity.
In this regard meditation is a creative ongoing process of
adjusting between too tight and too loose. So have fun learning
If you live in a noisy area try using ear plugs.
This tool is simply to allow you to read guided meditation
manuals or writing notes without having to get up from your
meditation seat. Not all meditation is about only focusing
the mind. You can meditate on subjects that are quite subtle
and difficult to understand. So you might need a couple of
books handy in order to consult.
An appreciation of the benefits of meditation
This tool cannot be overemphasized. However an appreciation
of the benefits of meditation can only develop over time as
you see first hand the benefits. So given this some what difficult
premise, that is, an appreciation of the benefits of meditation
can only come after you see the benefits of meditation, try
and research articles or stories of the benefits of meditation
in order to inspire. If you like biographies, read the biographies
of great yogis like Milarepa. If you are a science type, find
articles on the science of meditation or http://www.danielgoleman.info/blog/2008/01/01/the-inexplicable-monks/
to inspire you. The point is, many have said there is benefits
in learning to meditate. However the only way you can verify
these benefits is to learn to meditate yourself.
Reading inspiring stories will help develop an aspiration
to engage in meditation. Aspiration is the key to a successful
practice. Without an aspiration to engage in meditation, even
if you have all the external tools of the trade, the best
cushions, a dedicated room, a beautiful meditation table made
of fine antique timber, you will still find yourself watching
television or finding some excuse to not meditate. It's
amazing just how sophisticated some excuses can be. Don't
get fooled by them.
Awareness of attention
Are you aware of your thoughts right now? Probably not. As
you are reading this your mind is engaged in the process of
reading. But, there are other things going on that you may
not be aware of. I'm not just talking about being mindful
per se but, rather a broader class of attention. It might
even be classified as intention. I think it is more like being
attentive of your intentions. What does that mean? If your
intention is to sit down to meditate, be certain that is what
you end up doing. Don't spend your time worrying about
money, or your job, or your children or your broken finger
nail or whether your football team is going to win on the
weekend. If you come up with some cool new idea for a project
that will help get you a great new job. Jot down the idea
while remaining seated, then continue meditating until you
finish. Then start thinking about the idea after that. Actually
this can be an issue. Because as your meditation deepens you
will find that creativity can increase. So watch out for this
one. Don't let yourself go off day-dreaming or speculating
about the future. Be attentive of your intention to meditate.
Through this, stability will develop. Stability is a lack
of being here, there and everywhere! Stability will arise
at the same time as conceptualization decreases. But conceptualization
can only decrease if you do not engage it. It is a little
like ignoring someone who is standing near you asking the
same questions over and over again. If you ignore them long
enough they will eventually go away.
For this reason it is also good to meditate at the same time
of day, each day. This will allow you to develop the habit
of meditating rather than spending this time stressing over
things that can, in the end, be dealt with later.
This tool is the meditators engine. It is the one thing that
will get you out of bed early every morning to meditate. It
is closely linked with appreciation. So when you feel your
enthusiasm waning, go back to internal tool # 1 and read something
The more you appreciate the results of meditation, the more
your enthusiasm will increase. But, be careful because too
much meditation can be a large factor in destroying enthusiasm
for meditation. So be smart with how much meditation you do.
If you are new to meditation aim to meditate everyday for
at least 20 minutes and, build from there. The goal would
be 3-4 hours a day everyday. When you get to this point. The
problem won't be trying to meditate it will be stopping.
Patience is a necessary ingredient to a successful meditation
practice. It is not only a willingness to practice. It is
a steadfastness in the face of difficulties. When meditation
gets boring, patience will be that voice in your head encouraging
you to keep trying. It can be your best friend in meditation.
Always there with kind words to help and encourage you along.
When you have patience you can except difficulties without
resistance. And if you have no resistance you will become
irresistible! Just joking.
The point is be patient, with the right motivation, meditation
can be the best thing you can do with your life. Wisdom, compassion
and knowledge of how to help others will develop naturally.
Then you can be of use to both yourself and others. Does that
sound like something worth campaigning for? Geshe Loden my
teacher often says, most people only campaign for this life.
Thinking about having more money, a better car or a better
looking body. Not so many campaign for better future lives!
Which one do you want to be?
The topic of Buddhist wisdom used as both a method for the
use within meditation and as the result of meditation, will
be covered in an upcoming post entitled Buddhism as Philosophy.