Unprecedented times call for unorthodox action. Many of our external activities have been removed and replaced by heavy isolation. Some may perceive this scenario as a negative, however there does exist a silver lining. Our daily life has never resembled the life of a monk more, than now. While we may not be able to explore the physical world, we can use our modern monasteries to dive deep into the mind. Grab your orange robes and listen up!
There exists hundreds of different types of meditation. Some are taught through apps or online, others through commercial organisations and few simply through the goodwill. Various meditation techniques will have different destinations. My interest has always been to find the most powerful meditation techniques that are open to interrogation and make complete sense. I’ve found that the older the technique the more it resonates with me. More specifically those forms of meditation written in the Buddhist texts as written by the Gautuma Buddha. They are pure and undiluted. I also want to clarify that Buddhism itself should not be considered to be a religion. There are no places of worship as there is no one to worship. Buddhists themselves acknowledge that Buddhism is a way of life and that the teachings are simply a practical manual to meet certain goals. As you read on you'll see that this manual is universal and can be practiced by anyone, independent of age, gender, religions, race, background, country and wealth. If you are seeking universal truths, it makes sense that the technique used to get there is also universal. Buddhism instructs you on the correct path without telling you the result, leaving that to be directly experienced for yourself. With that said, what does this path actually look like then?
Well, it’s actually called the Noble 8 fold path:
In this guide we will focus mainly on the middle section. Sila is morality, Samadhi is concentration and Panna is wisdom. Common sense can largely be used for the base layer of Sila. Right livelihood is to earn a living without harming others. Right action is to act in a wholesome manner towards others. Right speech means to not lie and speak kindly. A physical bully who lies and sell drugs cannot make progress along the path. The Sila layer prevents any more karmic dirt from accumulating with the upper 2 layers act to remove existing dirt.
Assuming you’re striving to be the best person you can be, you can now move on to Samadhi. The first step within this layer is Right Effort. You cannot climb a mountain just by looking at it. You will fall over many times so it is important to keep getting back up and persevering. Strong determination is considered the root of all achievement.
With the necessary inner fuel to walk the path you are now ready to move onto meditation. Right Mindfulness refers to the practical function of meditation. This is to be diligently aware of what is occurring in the present moment. For added clarity, I want to place great emphasis on pure awareness. No desiring this or that, simply being aware or observing a given object. With your role defined, we now need something to be aware of, something to observe. This is where Right Concentration comes in. You will become aware of your breath. More specifically, the subtle sensations caused as the air flows in and out of your nostrils. If you breath heavily through your nose, you will feel the air moving in and out. When you meditate, you will be observing the sensations in the nostrils caused by the natural breath, without having a desire to change it. If the breath is shallow, you observe that it is shallow. If the breath is more prominent in one nostril, you observe this. Whatever the state of your breath, your job is to simply observe.
As I’m sure some of you have experienced, it is incredibly difficult to observe your breath before a thought enters the mind. Our subconscious will be firing random thoughts up to our conscious mind causing interruption to our objective. Like a monkey following a banana away from it’s chores, it is likely the mind will wander and become involved in the contents of these thoughts. The awareness is lost. Eventually, your awareness will come back. When it does, place zero importance on the contents of the thoughts. They may be perceived as important, or random or delusional or weird, it doesn’t matter! Simple become aware that the mind has wandered and move your awareness back to your breath. When doing so, you can take 2-3 slightly deeper breaths before allowing it to return to its natural rhythm again. The mind is a tricky customer though. It will take us on yet another story, away from our breath. Again, we must regain control and come back to the task in hand. This is a cyclic process you will experience hundreds of times and why it is important to have the persistent effort described previously. Every time we come back to our breath, we are gaining mastery over the mind. A certain one-pointedness is slowly created.
It is important to know why the breath is the object of meditation. We are on the path towards truth and your breath is a direct representation of existential reality. Like the outside world, it is constantly in a state of flux, constantly changing from moment to moment. If we observe this flux within the body, we also observe a universal truth. Knowing this on a conscious level is easy, you understood right? Imparting this to our subconscious is the real challenge. This is also why we use the breath, it is a two-way link between the conscious and subconscious. We can begin imparting truthful seeds down into the weird and wonderful subconscious. To give an example of a wrong object for meditation, imagine what would happen to the mind if you were to watch horror movies for 10 hours a day for 10 years. It would likely become delusional and incredibly agitated. The same cannot be said if we were to use our breath.
For completion purposes, Panna involves going deeper into the mind using the one-pointedness obtained from the stage of Samadhi. Samadhi is like creating a sharp water jet wash and Panna is aiming this jet wash at impurities to wash them away. I will not talk about the precise technique of Panna as it is advised to learn under controlled conditions.
In terms of practicality, here are a few tips:
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position, on the floor, with your back straight. It is helpful to sit slightly raised (perhaps 10 cm off the ground).
Bring your feet as close to the body as possible. If your knees don’t touch the floor, you can place cushions underneath them. This will help support your knees and unnecessary pain for prolonged periods of meditation.
Tuck your chin towards your chest slightly so that if you were to open your eyes, they would gaze towards the floor ahead of you.
You can place your hands either on your knees or in your lap, with your shoulders relaxed.
Only if it is absolutely necessary should you use a chair. If you do use a chair, try not to use a back rest. An alert spine is an alert mind.
If you experience pain after a while, take a rest by stretching your legs and rest the relevant body parts. This should only be a few minutes. Continue to meditate whilst resting. Once you’re ready, return back to your meditation posture.
Set a timer so you’re not thinking about the time. Initially, 30 minutes is a good period to start with. Once you’ve set your timer, place it far away from you and resist the urge to check how long is left.
Finally and most importantly, make a strong determination to complete your meditation sitting until the timer goes off. Unless there is an emergency, there is no reason to cut your session short.
A few tips that I’ve found to be helpful from my teachers:
Trying to meditate and actually meditating (that is to observe your breath) are one in the same. Do not be discouraged if you experience your mind wandering often. With patience and perseverance, you will see incremental changes.
The goal of Samadhi meditation is to increase your levels of awareness first and redirect this awareness towards your breath. The goal is NOT to have no thoughts. Silencing the mind is a natural by-product of being aware and remaining impartial to whatever thoughts or emotions that arise.
If you want to make serious progress, you must practice daily. This really is the key to success.
Last but most certainly not least, I want to ask the question- Why even meditate in the first place? Well, there is an end goal to meditation and it’s called Nirvana in Buddhism. According to the Buddha, it is your very destiny to achieve Nirvana and meditation is the vehicle that takes you there. Nirvana is an experimental state of ultimate truth. It represents the biggest mountain you will ever face but also the greatest reward. We constantly look outwards for satisfaction yet no matter how many external goals are met, we still long for more.
What if there is a creator and this creator placed the secrets of life inside each and every one of us?