What is Meditation?
The word “meditation” means a lot of things to different things to people.
There are “guided meditations” where a teacher or a guide provides either a live or recorded verbal sequence of visualizations to help your mind and body align and go to a state of focused relaxation.
For some, the word “meditation” means to contemplate, to consider a concept, idea or issue with mental focus.
Meditation, as I understand it and practice it, is a bit different than these definitions. For me we can observe meditation through seated practice, walking practice and moving practice. For these purposes, I want to introduce you to the art and practice of “seated meditation.”
“Seated meditation” is an art and a practice. An art because it is an experience, a process and an expression of who we truly are in any given moment without prescribed, exact, predictable outcome. A practice because it is an act we must choose to engage in regularly in order to realize the benefits.
Seated meditation is the practice of coming to a comfortable seat with spine erect and willingness to just sit and be with your whole self.
Seated meditation is a practice of allowing what is to just be without action.
Seated meditation is an opportunity to cultivate our relationship with what I call “the gentle observer.”
The “gentle observer” is an aspect of Self that is able to notice without judgment and without action. I find that most humans have little if any connection with and awareness of this part of themselves; therefore, it requires a dedicated practice to cultivate this “gentle observer.”
“Mindfulness practice” is when we choose to notice, to pay attention without jumping to action or judgment.
We bring mindfulness practice into seated meditation in order to practice, to cultivate, to nurture, to expand the aspect of Self I refer to as “the gentle observe.” This is the part of us that can simply BE. This is where we find peace.
Now, let’s be clear… We don’t start sitting in meditation and instantly experience peace… Nor is there always peace in meditation even after years of practice.
There is a process and a practice that must be observed.
In the process of cultivating this “gentle observer” and the subsequent experience of peace, we encounter all the not-so-gentle aspects of Self and the non-peaceful feelings and experiences we have in the body, mind and heart.
Seated meditation is the ideal place to practice observing these not-so-gentle, non-peaceful sensations, thoughts and feelings. By observing, by increasing our awareness without action, reaction or judgment, eventually these not-so-gentle, non-peaceful experiences begin to fall away and we are left with a delicious state of BEING with what is… This is peace.
Once we experience this sense of peace, it is like a glorious glimpse… in Japanese this is called “satori.” We experience it but do not cling to it. We do not expect it or chase after it the next time we sit. If we anticipate it, expect it or chase it the experience will surely elude us.
Instructions on Seated Meditation
In the beginning of your practice, it is important to find a certain time and place in your life that is quiet and without interruption. Early morning and just before bed at night are ideal times.
Designate a specific place in your home as your meditation area.
Some people like to set up a little table of dedication to their practice to create a sense of sacred space with a candle, maybe an item that has special meaning to you and your own personal spiritual beliefs just as a reminder that meditation is your special sacred time with your own Self. This is not necessary, however.
In the beginning, bring a timer with a gentle chime. Turn off all other sound and vibration on your device and set a timer for ten minutes. This will help you to allow the timer to “mind the time” rather than your mind worrying about how much time has gone by. Ten minutes per sitting will be enough in the beginning.
Once you have practiced daily for 2 weeks increase the time to 20 minutes.
Eventually you will no longer need a timer because as your connection to your inner Self and your inner Knowing grows stronger you will intuitively know when your meditation has ended.
Sit on a firm cushion under your tail-bone in a comfortable cross legged position OR kneel with several cushions under you like a high saddle OR you can sit on a couch, bench or chair.
Just find a way to sit comfortably with the spine straight and do not allow the back of your head to lean against anything.
You can begin by resting the backs of your hands on your legs/knees with palms softly open in a gesture of receptivity and willingness to receive whatever your meditation practice has to bring you.
Some people like to observe a bow of respect by bringing palms together, aligning thumbs at the forehead or the heart and bowing forward in the tradition of the East – a way of saying to your own Self and what you believe in spiritually, “I am here, I respect, I enter this practice with reverence for all of Nature within me and outside of me.” (if you have a particular religion you observe you can include here what you believe in, i.e. Jesus, God, Allah, Divine, Kuan Yin, Saints, etc.) This is not necessary, however.
In this practice, I recommend you close your eyes in order to bring all the mind’s focus inward.
As soon as you close your eyes it is as if you have entered a new room and for many they immediately become aware of discomfort.
The body may be uncomfortable.
The mind may seem to race about.
You may have feelings or thoughts of urgency to get up and stop doing this.
You may have feelings and thoughts of judgment about what this is all about, how boring it is or how you just “can’t do this.”
I encourage you to sit THROUGH those feelings and thoughts. Notice them but do not allow them to hook you and pull you away.
Instead, gently redirect your noticing mind to how the breath flows in and out of your body so automatically.
Choose to be fascinated with the flow of your own breath. Watch it. Notice it. Focus your mind on the flow of your breath. Feel the sensations in your body as the breath comes in and out. Allow the natural breath to be your anchor, your home-base, your touch-stone in your meditation practice.
Each time your mind drifts away and you notice it has drifted, feel encouraged because as soon as you notice you have drifted away you have returned to the present moment. At this point, gently redirect your mind back to focusing on the flow of your natural breath here and now in your body.
You may find your mind drifts 1000 times. It is not how many times you drift away that matters, however. It is the returning to the present moment 1000 times that helps you to grow your connection to your inner Self and cultivate the gentle observer.
What Science Says about Meditation
- Meditation boosts immune function.
- Meditation is effective in addressing anxiety.
- Meditation helps with inflammation in the body.
- Meditation helps reduce and manage pain.
- Meditation increases your ability to feel compassion.
- Meditation helps heal depression.
- Meditation helps reduce and manage stress.
- Meditation brings healing levels of awareness to emotion and physical body.
- Meditation helps increase ability to focus and attend (good for ADHD)
- Meditation improves your thinking and memory abilities.
- Meditation helps increase and improve ability to regulate emotion.
Neuroscientists have discovered, through various technologically advanced means of assessment, that meditation stimulates increased activity in several parts of the left prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain associated with desirable emotions, such as happiness, enthusiasm, joy and self-control.
Interestingly, these same studies demonstrated a decreased level of activity in the parts of the brain related to undesirable emotions, such as depression, selfishness and a lack of happiness or satisfaction.(http://www.pnas.org/content/101/46/16369.full)
Meditation also produces a calming effect in the amygdala, that walnut sized part of the brain that acts as an alarm and trigger for fear and anger.
Meditation and mindfulness techniques are used by an expansive variety of people now that Science has proven its benefits. Corporate leaders are meditating and encouraging employees to meditate now. Medical professionals are more and more embracing meditation as a practice recommended for their patients. Many schools are beginning to encourage children to meditate. There are meditation classes taught in prisons now. Athletes often meditate to help with their sports.
The US military has been offering mindfulness training to personnel returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, in order to help them cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the psychological after-effects of combat.
Now… it’s your turn….
So, now that you’ve read about this and perhaps watched my video, I encourage you to dedicate time and space in your life every day to begin your own practice of seated meditation. Allow this to be your quiet, sacred time.
After you practice for a while and get beyond the initial bothers of “the monkey mind” you may find that during your meditation practice you experience emotion or even spontaneous movement in/with the body. If this happens, just feel it, allow it to be there and keep focusing on your breath. Do not give in to the curiousity that will arise. It is simply another level of awareness, acceptance and allowing. This will produce healing for your body, mind and heart.
If you need further support or instruction, please contact me personally.
Lynn Louise Wonders