Basic Concentration Meditation
Many people believe that they are not capable of meditation and give up before they even have a chance to try it out. It is a myth that you have to clear your mind of thoughts. In fact, working with our thoughts is a big part of a mindful meditation practice.
As we practice, our minds do learn to slow down naturally. Sometimes we may experience a certain kind of peacefulness or release. We may feel serene and fully present. At other times we may feel distracted or even agitated. As the great Tibetan Master once said, our minds can seem “like a tree full of drunken monkeys”;filled with a multitude of busy thoughts, leaping from branch to branch.
Instead of trying to make our minds quiet, we simply sit, breath and notice what happens. No GOALS and whatever happens No Big Deal!
Here are some of the essential components of a beneficial mindfulness practice:
It is best to sit on a meditation cushion or a chair that will allow you to support your own back. The spine is relaxed but long and extended. Sitting up beautifully in this way, allows the whole front of your body to be soft, so the breath can flow freely. We sit so that the knees are lower than the hips. The head is erect and the chin is slightly tucked, as if you were wearing a crown. The spine in your neck is aligned with the spine in your back, and the shoulders are relaxed. The hands are placed on the thighs in a centered place where they neither pull you forward nor press your shoulders back.
The belly is allowed to rest, with no muscular tension to “hold it in”. If you would enjoy sitting in a lotus position or any modified version of that, on your cushion, that is fine. Lying down is not recommended, because we tend to fall asleep in this position. And as the famous meditation teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn says; mindful meditation is about “falling awake”.
It is best to breath in and out from the nostrils. If you have a sinus problem or a cold, just do what feels right for you; breathing through the mouth as need be. It is very important to breath with the diaphragm. This is the membrane that separates your lungs from your lower body.
Breathing diaphragmatically means that the belly rises freely with the in-breath and gently falls with the out-breath. Although the lungs fill and empty with each breath, too, the chest really doesn’t move. Chest breathing is associated with stress and anxiety.
Breathing into the belly allows the nervous system to enter a calm and tranquil state where many wonderful healing processes occur. Mindful diaphragmatic breathing is the antidote to stress and anxiety!
In concentration meditation we are gently working with the mind to strengthen our ability to choose the direction of our thoughts. In this way, meditation practice is like going to the mental gym. The key here is to adopt the following attitudes which enable us to benefit the most from the meditation experience.
Gentle voice: In this practice we notice the quality of our inner voice. We invite ourselves to refrain from being judgmental, from striving for perfection, and from being critical of ourselves and others. Instead of: “Darn it, I just can’t stop thinking.” This is so frustrating. What is wrong with me? I’ll never get it...” We speak to ourselves with compassion and kindness: Hmmm, I notice a lot of thoughts. My mind is very busy today. So many things coming up!”
Labeling: We use this same gentle voice to label our thoughts when we become aware of them; “Thinking”. We say it in a light, kind way and then invite ourselves to come back to focus on the breath. If you hear anger or criticism, simply insist on a kind tone; just as you might if someone you love spoke harshly to you.
Breath: The breath is our anchor. It is our access to the present moment. When we develop the ability to focus on the breath; we realize that we really can influence our thoughts and our actions. This is the key to great power and emotional health. So, when we become aware of wandering away, time traveling into the past or the future; we notice, we gently label our thoughts, and we come back to focus, as best we can, to the breath.
Concentration meditation is coming into the present moment and residing fully in our minds and bodies. We have the opportunity to enjoy a deep awareness of all that is arising outside of us and within us. To fully enter into each precious moment we must create a safe and warm environment in our own mental world. We do this by refraining from striving for any particular result such as: serenity, less thoughts, no thoughts, bliss, or insight. We also choose to refrain from judgment and criticism of ourselves or others. We do have the choice to let go of goals such as “I want this to be a good meditation”; evaluative thoughts, and harsh criticism, such as “ this is too hard” or “I’m such a loser that I can’t quiet my mind”. When we refrain from this kind of thinking, we can experience a kind of liberation. Suddenly we have the inner space to enter the Now, and simply be.
Here are some helpful aids to beginning your practice:
Choose a place and time where you will not be interrupted.
Turn off your phone!
Invite other people to respect this time and space, and to support your practice.
Choose the amount of time you will practice today, and set a timer. Even 5 minutes can be very beneficial!
No matter what type of advanced meditation practice you choose, it is best to begin each time, with concentration meditation.
Here is your Concentration Meditation instruction, in a nut shell:
- Sit in the recommended posture
- Breath into the belly
- Sit with an attitude of compassion toward your self
- Refrain from striving, judgment and criticism
- Notice thoughts and gently label them “thinking”
- Insist on a kind tone to your inner voice
- Then return to focus on the breath when you can, and as best you can
Above all, may you experience great kindness from yourself and great benefit from your practice!