by Sharon Gutterman, Ph.D.
In my last blog post for Awaken Everyday, I shared how I came to practice meditation. Now I’d like to share how to meditate. Let me begin with my favorite definition of meditation:
Meditation is the willingness to come back again, again, and again to an object of concentration.
Meditation is not blanking out the mind. This is not humanly possible. Rather, when practicing meditation, we notice the fullness of life coming and going. We are not tuning out; we are tuning in to the present landscape.
Meditation practice begins with non-judgmental observation of life as it arises and passes away from moment to moment. When you find that your mind is being judgmental (pushing away thoughts and feelings it doesn’t like) or clinging (holding on to that which it does like), simply observe that this is occurring. Breathe. Your breath is a convenient object of concentration, a place to return to, your anchor and home base.
And so, sit in a comfortable but still position, back straight but not rigid. Take a few deep breaths and make any adjustments you need in your sitting posture. Smile. Then begin:
- Becoming aware of the in breath and the out breath
- Being aware of any sensations in a particular area of the body
- Sensing the body as whole and just sitting
- Noticing silence and sounds
- Observing as best you can thoughts and feelings as they move in and out of the mind moment by moment, not getting involved in their content but observing them as thoughts and as feelings that move through your mind like bubbles.
- Gently bringing the mind back to attention in the present moment when you notice you are drifting into fantasy, memories of the past, plans for the future, stories, etc. Come back to your breathing. If it helps to focus, count the breaths or pair a calming phrase with each breath.
It’s helpful to set a timer and sit quietly in this way at regular times once or twice a day for 15-30 minutes. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Practice as if your life depended on it because it surely does.” By meditating every day whether you feel like it or not, you encourage a sense of strength and balance to develop in your life which goes beyond moods, emotional turmoil, and busyness. A greater ability to be calm and mindful slowly develops. Your decisions and responses become more thoughtful and less reactive and impulsive.