Meditation is an exercise in reading oneself. Many times in life I have experienced certain emotions without understanding why. When I am disciplined in my meditation practice I find that I am better able to comprehend feelings and consider their source.
Practicing meditation does not guarantee a life without sadness, anger, or loneliness, but it does have an incredible potential to help us cope. Meditation can help to dissipate habitual negativity found in both your inner landscape and in the world that surrounds you.
In the past I was really hard on myself for not practicing "correctly." There are as many styles of meditation as there are spiritual organizations, and some include rigid rules for what one should and should not do during meditation.
While these rules are sometimes beneficial, being hard on myself during meditation only brought me further from peace of mind. Remember that many of these cultural practices were developed in societies with strict hierarchies and motives straying far from mindfulness. My personal practice, therefore, is a Frankenstein approach. It works for me and I think will suit you well, too. Here’s how I do it:
How to Practice Seated Meditation
Sit in a comfortable position. For me, this is usually cross-legged, but it varies. Sometimes I like to meditate laying down with my legs propped up against the wall. It depends on your mood and your body. The most important thing is that you are comfortable and able to breathe freely. Maintaining a straight back, relaxed shoulders, and balanced head and neck will allow the breath to flow easily.
When I am in a seated position I like to rest my hands in my lap with palms up or down depending on the intention I have set for that particular practice. Palms up indicate an energizing experience, while down is for becoming more grounded.
Setting an intention is not necessary, but it is useful. The intention may change during the course of practice. Though I prefer to remain as still as possible while meditating, it is okay to change position if it is simply not working for you.
Once you have adjusted into a comfortable position, just breathe.
It is nice to focus on the breath, but try not to influence it. Notice what your breath feels like in your lungs, throat, and mouth. Perhaps your breath is attached to a certain feeling or mood. Allow any sensation to arise while staying with the breath. After a few moments of this, my breath usually becomes more even, and I allow the mind to wander.
Many people seem to understand meditation as an “emptying” of the mind. My understanding differs. I believe it is an opportunity to accept whatever goes through my mind, and let it go. Sometimes a thought or feeling will repeatedly return to the forefront of your mind, and this is just fine.
For example, I have been raising a puppy for the past six months. This has required an incredible amount of energy, patience, love, and time away from a consistent meditation practice. Lately when I sit down to meditate, the stress I accumulated while house-training Homer swells. Some of the time this stress will take the form of nagging thoughts or intense exhaustion. I allow these thoughts and feelings to pass through my mind. Rather than judging, I simply let them float by. After all, meditation is not a practice in being analytical.
If you have trouble trying to calm your mind when meditating, visualizations can be a big help. After receiving bad news, for example, the inside of your mind might be the last place you want to go. But by conjuring up a memory of a place where you felt comfortable, you can foster peace within your inner landscape. Maybe you are able to construct an imaginary place that comforts you.
An example from my mind:
Imagine being in a muddy body of water with your eyes open. As the water becomes clearer, you are able to see the tiny particles of silt and sand settling down to the bottom. You see the sunlight coming through the water, and feel it warm your skin as the water becomes more clear.
Some days the detritus in our minds will take longer to settle than others.
A huge part of my practice has been in becoming less judgmental. Like all mental and emotional habits, being judgmental is learned. The good news is that we can unlearn habits! It just takes discipline, diligence and of course, practice.
Timing your meditation session can be useful. When I first began meditating, ten minutes felt like eternity! Try ten minutes for a few days, then up your session to twenty minutes!
Seated meditation—what I have described here—is but one form of meditation. I believe that many of us meditate without realizing we are doing it. Sometimes this happens when we experience an endorphin rush during exercise, or through the flow of creating a piece of art. While these activities are wonderfully beneficial, I believe there is something special to be gained from a silent, seated meditation practice.
Perhaps it has to do with the necessity of surrendering. For me, surrendering means letting go of control. Control of our relationships, our pleasures, our pasts; both the good and bad parts of life. A seated meditation practice offers us a safe space to surrender the ego's control on our minds. We are able to unlearn egocentric habits and embrace mindfulness.
"The bridge between suffering and grace is surrender." -Unknown
About the Author
Brooke Sycamore lives in Paoli, Indiana, where she enjoys going on long walks with her dog Homer, and her cat Nadine. She and her partner Sam grow vegetables for market. Evenings and weekends, you'll find her practicing yoga and meditation outdoors, or else geeking out over '70s sci-fi.