Sunday, June 22, 2008

Meditation

Meditation is the single most effective tool I've ever found for cultivating calmness, positivity and self-acceptance. It's an ancient technique that's simple and free. In fact, it's so simple, I'm about to teach it to you in five minutes over the internet. I personally practice Zen meditation
several times a week, by myself and with a sitting group. Meditation is not fundamentally a religious practice, although it has been used by spiritual people in every major religion. Don't think you're patient enough for meditation? That's exactly why you should be doing it!


Let's start with posture. The main purpose of the meditation posture is to allow you to remain still for long periods of time without discomfort. I'll discuss two postures: cross-legged and kneeling. Before you elevate your mind though, you have to elevate your backside. Find something you can sit on- a firm cushion or a folded blanket will work well. Your pelvis should be at least four inches above the ground. Now cross your legs. Your knees should be lower than your pelvis. Adjust your posture until you can maintain a straight back without any muscle tension. You'll have to rotate the top of your pelvis forward slightly, curving your lower back in toward your stomach.

Now put your hands together so that your left fingers rest on top of your right ones, just above your lap. Your palms should face up. Now touch your thumbs lightly together. That's it! You are now sitting in a very nice meditation posture. It will get more comfortable over time as you adjust to it.

The kneeling posture is the same except you kneel and put the support under your pelvis, between your legs. Wooden 'seiza' benches work well for this, but are not necessary. Your pelvis should be at least six inches off the ground so that you don't hurt your knees. This is my preferred posture, but I'm admittedly in the minority.

Now that you know the posture, face a blank wall three or four feet away. You can also look at the floor (while keeping your head and neck straight) or anything else that isn't likely to capture your interest.

Try breathing 'into your stomach'. To do this, breathe using only your diaphragm, in such a way that it makes your stomach rise and fall rather than your chest. Breathe slowly and deliberatley, pausing after each exhale. Bring your full attention to the rise and fall of your stomach. That's it, you're meditating! Really. Don't get fancy: it's counterproductive to try to actively relax yourself or achieve some different mental state.

In Zen, we call meditation 'sitting'. We use such a simple word because that's all it is: paying full attention to the moment, while you sit. Just bring your attention to your breath. If your mind drifts, gently bring it back. Don't try to stifle your thoughts, just acknowledge them and come back to your breath. If you can't focus, that's normal.

Try this for 15 minutes at first. Every day is best, but do what you can. When you're more comfortable with the technique, increase your time to 30 minutes. Meditation is a practice that changes and ripens with time.

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