Beginning a meditation practice
Think of sitting on the meditation cushion as a microcosm of how your mind operates all the time. You are just too busy to recognize what is actually going on. It is a rich opportunity to familiarize yourself with the mind and its contents. Meditation instructions appear so simple. After all, we all breathe automatically. Don’t be fooled. It can be hard to put the practice into action. The assumption is that following your breath should be easy. It is not until you sit down in silence that you come face-to-face with the wild nature of your untrained mind. It is often referred to as monkey mind. Puppy training is a perfect analogy for meditation training.
How do you train a puppy?
You train with love, patience and repetition. You would never expect Fido to learn how to sit on the first try. You start by asking him to sit. You walk across the room and what does he do? He follows you. He is doing what he thinks you expect of him. He doesn’t know you want him to stay. It is a brand-new concept. So, you smile and give Fido a gentle rub before bringing him back to the same spot you began and set the expectation again, “sit. stay.” And he follows you again and again. Finally, you recognize that you need to sit nose-to-nose and teach him to follow the command for short moments. You finish each attempt with verbal reward and vigorous petting.
Use the training as an opportunity to build the bond that will carry you through his lifetime. You just love on your dog regardless of how he performed. Obviously, I am talking about how you will train your mind.
Ten Steps to Begin a Meditation Practice:
- Set a reliable timer for 20-minutes and place it across the room.
- Sit in a chair without using the back. Spine upright. You can subtly rock back-and-forth and side-to side to find the best position, so you are not relying on your back muscles to hold you up.
- Let your elbows be out and away from your body to open the breathing channel. Check that the shoulders are down, the chin slightly tucked and place your tongue on the roof of your mouth (to reduce saliva production).
- Begin by allowing yourself to get in your senses. Spend approximately 5 minutes nonjudgmentally noticing sounds, sights, tastes, smells and sensations. This allows you to get out of the head and into the body.
- Inhale and exhale through your nose. Bring your attention to the belly. Note rising during inhalation and falling during exhalation.
- Just like the puppy, the mind will leave the focal point of the breath and begin to follow the thinking mind. When you become aware that this has happened, celebrate.
- Gently bring the attention back to the breath.
- Repeat steps 6 and 7 as often as necessary. This is a mindfulness meditation so the object is to recognize when the attention leaves the breath and when the attention returns to the breath.
- It is very important to stay as still as possible. Try not to scratch itches or adjust the body. Allow for one correction midway through.
- When the alarm sounds, imagine there is a bowl of honey on your head you do not want to spill. Avoid sudden movements. Start with small micro movements and gradually increase. See how long you can stay in the body and with the breath even after the session has ended.
- Reward, reward, reward. A cup of tea, small piece of chocolate, walk outside or play with the dog.
To develop the new habit pattern, it is best to practice at the same time each day. Celebrate each day that you sat, but never judge, compare or rate your meditations. Each meditation is exactly as it is meant to be. Embrace the journey with joyful effort!