In mindfulness meditation we are trying to achieve a mind that is stable and calm. What we begin to discover is that this calmness or harmony is a natural aspect of the mind. Through mindfulness practice, we are just developing and strengthening it, and eventually we are able to remain peacefully in our mind without struggling. Our mind naturally feels content.
An important point is that when we are in a mindful state, there is still intelligence: it is not as if we blank out. Sometimes people think that a person who is in deep meditation does not know what is going on—that it is like being asleep.
Each meditation session is a journey of discovery to understand the basic truth of who we are. What we are talking about is very practical. Mindfulness practice is simple and completely feasible. Moreover, because we are working with the mind that experiences life directly, just by sitting and doing nothing, we are doing a tremendous amount. Benefits of mindfulness meditation include stress reduction, psychological balance, higher levels of consciousness, and increased clarity and insight. In fact, mindfulness meditation actually stimulates new neural pathways from the hippocampus to the frontal cortex in the brain.
Creating a Favorable Environment
It is good if the place where you meditate, even if it’s only a small space in your apartment, has an uplifting feeling and is sacred. It is also said that you should meditate in a place that is not too noisy or disturbing, and you should not be in a situation where your mind is going to be easily provoked into anger, jealousy, or other emotions. If you are disturbed or irritated, then your practice is going to be affected.
Beginning the Practice
Meditate frequently but for short periods of time: ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes. If you force it too much the practice can take on too much of a personality, and training the mind should be very, very simple. Possibly meditate for ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening, and during that time, really work with the mind. Then you just stop, get up, and go.
We have to create a personal sense of discipline. When we sit down, we can remind ourselves: “I’m here to work on my mind. I’m here to train my mind.” It is okay to say that to yourself when you sit down, literally. We need that kind of inspiration as we begin to practice.
The energy flows better when the body is erect. People who need to use a chair for meditation should sit upright with their feet touching the ground. Those using a meditation cushion should find a comfortable position with legs crossed and hands resting palm-down on your thighs. The hips are neither rotated forward too much, which creates tension, nor tilted back so you start slouching. You should have a feeling of stability and strength. Your eyes may be closed; however, some may find it more comfortable to gaze upon an object placed in front of them.
The basic principle is to keep an upright, erect posture. You are in a solid situation: your shoulders are level, your hips are level, and your spine is stacked up. Use this posture in order to remain relaxed and awake. The practice of mindfulness meditation is very precise: you should be very much awake even though you are calm. If you find yourself getting dull or hazy or falling asleep, you should check your posture.
Mindfulness meditation enables us to become increasingly familiar with our mind, and in particular we learn to recognize the movement of the mind, which we experience as thoughts. We do this by using an object of meditation to provide a contrast or counterpoint to what is happening in our mind. As soon as we go off and start thinking about something, awareness of the object of meditation will bring us back. Many people use the breath as the object of meditation because it relaxes, however any image or mantra can be used to focus the mind.
As you start the practice, you have a sense of your body and a sense of where you are, and then begin to notice the breathing. The whole feeling of the breath is very important. The breath should not be forced, breath naturally. The breath is going in and out, in and out. With each breath you become more relaxed.
No matter what kind of thought comes up, you should say to yourself, “That may be a really important issue in my life, but right now is not the time to think about it. Now I’m practicing meditation.” Do not place judgments on your thoughts; simply accept them as normal thinking. It gets down to how honest we are, how true we can be to ourselves, during each session.
When we have a thought—no matter how wild or bizarre it may be—we just let it go and come back to the breath, come back to the situation here. This may happen many times, that is OK, just keep coming back to the process.