The aim of these tips is to share some of my practical experience to perhaps help other beginners towards some very sublime meditations.
Before you read this, let me first say that I am a novice / beginner meditator. I have been meditating for around 2-3 years, with some sizable breaks when life just got too busy.
My practice is 99% breath meditation, known as anapanasati (inhalation and exhalation awareness). Its a really simple practice – you just watch your breath very closely while counting the breaths.
1. You don’t have to sit on the floor
The meditation practices I first learnt involved sitting on the floor, crossed legged or some variant. I have spent hours in this position and it’s taken many, many hours, far too many hours actually, to recognise that it’s not always the most conducive position for my meditation.
An issue I have is that crossed legged is often too painful for my body, notably my back and neck. I find myself feeling that pain instead of concentrating on my breathing. So… recently I noticed that some of the most ‘easy’ meditations (and I think easy is a good goal to have) came while sat on a chair, a park bench or something similar. The key is to take away that struggle against any pain so as to enable a much more peaceful practice.
So reluctantly, I shook off my ego and that dogged determination to ‘not be a chair sitter’, and in doing so, I found some lovely meditation moments.
Tip: Make sure the chair is fairly upright to avoid a slouch and associated lack of wakefulness.
2. Count with meaning
One really helpful technique in meditation is to count breaths, typically counting to 10 then starting over. The technique goes like this, “one“, an in breath, “one” an out breath, “two” an in breath, “two” an out breath, etc. The idea is that having that focus stops your thoughts from wandering, and it does, somewhat, until it becomes mechanical.
So, what I find really helps is to focus on the task more keenly. Try to pick out that absolute spot where the breath begins and ends, trying to nail it and count precisely that moment. Watching the ‘in’ breath begin, then attentively watching the breath closely for the exact moment that the ‘in’ breath stops. Finding that spot precisely and with that precise moment then counting the breath, “one” and start to exhale. Then again, back to attention, watching, waiting, sharp attention, to find that exact spot, then counting “two”. So trying to really stay with the breath attentively watching.
For me, the act of really concentrating channels my attention and keeps that very clear focus on the breath. It’s given me some very calm and sharply focused meditations. It’s a wonderful moment to feel a very deep concentration on the breath that arises from concentration.
3. Sometimes it won’t work as you want
It won’t, its just won’t, you will think too much, you will get distracted, you will expect too much and it will just not happen. That’s fine. Meditation can be like that. I like to think of the practice in these moments as really working on the technique. Working on the breathing and the counting in the midst of thoughts and distractions, so its the basics of trying to keep focus that’s the technique. A teacher once told me, ‘the mind is like a naughty puppy that needs to keep being brought back to sit down’. Meditation can be like that, just accept it and keep bringing the puppy back to sit. Every so often the puppy stays still.
4. You don’t need a perfect environment
I used to really struggle to find the right environment, too noisy, too windy, too cold, too warm, too smelly, too sunny, too cloudy, and so on. Time to wheel out the cliche, Just Do It! I did, and I liked it. So try meditating in some public places, place which by definition are out of your control, it can be really quite pleasant. Yup, its noisy at times, its a bit wild, but really those issues are no worse to deal with than the wildness and noise of thoughts in the mind. So long as some basic conditions are met, such as bathroom needs, warm enough, then its workable. Obviously I am not advocating finding noisy places to spite yourself, but it does not need to be perfect to work out well. You will be surprised and what can happen if you sit down with low expectations and meditate.
5. Have very few expectations
Which brings me to the last tip and the simplest. Don’t expect much. In fact, really don’t expect meditation to go well or do anything. It does not owe you anything just because you think it should or might. I would say more, but honestly, overthinking expectations is part of the problem. Just sit, meditate, don’t expect anything, count, breath and accept whatever happens. If you have this open attitude – then what ever happens is fine – and paradoxically its impossible for it not to be good, but don’t expect it!