There are a few people who have written me asking about meditation and developing a meditation practice, so I decided to share some thoughts about a few things. I do a practice of attention that’s based in Zen and Tao principles, is simple, and oriented towards use in daily living. In daily structured practice I sit and maintain attention on where I am in time and space. I breathe deeply and attend to the whole pattern of breathing, this brings me to the body and the environment. The attention then drifts away and focuses on the streaming thoughts, I notice, and come back to exactly where I am, and repeat, as necessary. So there’s the environment, the ever-changing stream of thought, and my sense input. I’m doing absolutely nothing but sitting and noticing. Like a frog on a lily pad. I’m not attempting to change or manipulate anything. It’s a simple direct way to stay present in vicinity of the body and breath. My structured meditation period is built on paying attention to exactly where I am in both space and time, then folding that into my daily experience. Paying attention is the founding exercise for any other meditations or meditative activities. All meditation relies on the focus of your attention no matter what brand name it comes under. I have chosen to avoid clinging to a specific sect or spiritual teaching, although I did train in Zen, Tao, and Shamanistic paths, and use them as a baseline experiential source.
The word practice has definitions as both noun and verb. The verb definition is to repeat something until satisfied or you get it right. The noun version is application, so I carry the perspective of meditation with me wherever I go and apply that to my life experiences. In my practice of attention I’m centered on application. The repeating of structured meditation is useful at first to establish routine, but after a time can become another addiction and something you feel you “must” do, which only serves to support conditioned personality as a “good meditator.” One can look like a good meditator and never be in a meditative mode or develop a meditative perspective in life. Meditation is not the goal, developing a perspective in life by using meditation is my aspiration.
This is not meant to be a “how to meditate” informational document. There are lots of people who are willing to offer that and discuss techniques through books and the Internet. There are many kinds and types of meditation, lots of various teachers of different paths and beliefs. Some are about “directing and training” the mind, complete with exercises and teachings specific to controlling the mind. There are encouragements to follow the breath or focus on an object like a candle. There’s lots of information on the internet and YouTube concerning how to position the body that have visual examples. It’s all open to you experimenting while you establish a practice. But remember, there are no right or wrong ways to experience meditation, just as there isn’t a “best type” of meditation practice. All information is for building your own structured practice and not another ego centered container of must’s and should do’s.
Establishing a period of structured meditation is not difficult, challenging, or particularly mysterious. I think most of us have had moments in our lives when we wanted to find some private time, be alone, take a breath, and relax into the act of plain existing without any pressure. It’s the state I call “A Human, Being.” That phrase, a human being, could very well describe a structured meditation if I do away with trying to control the stream of thought or manipulate the experience. My path of meditation involves direct noticing of where I am and how I am sensing in the current moments. The idea is using the meditative practice of paying attention whether I’m sitting on a cushion or grocery shopping. Meditation, for me, isn’t about training anything, particularly what is constantly referred to as the “mind.”
Here’s why. For a long time I thought that I consciously produced and controlled the thoughts that would rise in the stream of thought. I was convinced I was consciously generating thought and in control. I was sure there was an “I” who was separately observing and manipulating thoughts. I believed I could choose about what and how I think. But, in my ongoing experience, that whole concept was false. After practicing meditation for years and paying attention to the stream of thought, I noticed that thoughts rise, one after another, and I don’t consciously manufacture or choose each thought. They are produced subconsciously and I receive them consciously. If you don’t find that truthful then do this, stop thinking. If you try to stop thinking you will notice that you can’t. The stream of thought keeps producing an apparently endless stream of thoughts. So the idea that I can choose, control, watch, or manipulate my thoughts, isn’t truthful in my experience. That doesn’t mean my system’s not generating the thoughts that rise internally, just not in a manner that is under conscious control.
If a thought rises about thoughts, it’s just another thought in the linear stream of thought, the most recent until the next rises and attention turns to it. I can contemplate an idea continuously by constantly and consistently returning to the idea. I usually use a written phrase, a recording, or some means to keep the idea in front of me. I notice when I hear or read something, the stream of thought provides related information about and around the subject. Even then I don’t control what rises about the idea but simply pay attention to what comes up. I’m not consciously developing those thoughts, I am attending to them as they appear.
Neuroscience has many theories about thought but amazingly few facts or actual specific processes about the creation. They know that there are chemical and electrical paths that appear to be creating and interpreting sense input. This means that thought is generated at near the speed of light and molecular exchange. That’s amazingly fast and any musings about the precise process remain hypothetical. There are billions of bits of information being passed every second in the human brain. We simply don’t know much about the process of thought production or exactly how senses are interpreted or manifested as thought.
So, the meditative perspective is the difference between sitting on a beach, zoned out, drifting into future and past, and attaching to what rises in the stream of thought, or sitting on a beach paying attention to how absolutely sensuous the sand, water, sun, wind, sound, and temperature feel in those moments of experience. The first is the experience filtered by thought, the second is directly noticing sense input and environment, a direct sensing and engagement. When meditating, notice when you drift, engage attention to breathing, and return. It’s like those times when you’re reading a book or watching a movie and suddenly noticed that you lost attention and were drifting, your attention was engaged with your floating streaming thoughts. When you notice that, and return to the book, you experience a clarity, and a distinctly different presence. That’s it. The Meditation process is to pay attention, notice the drift, and gently return to proximity of body, breath, and attention to these moments.
Only three components are needed to establish a structured practice, intent, time, and having a place that’s available. When establishing a structured practice it’s probably helpful to try to meditate around the same part of the day. That helps to establish the initial routine. Remember that meditation is not limited to sitting. There’s standing, walking, and laying positions for meditation. I feel it’s important to use the various positions we encounter in everyday life situations. Experiment and see what works for you. The important part is to establish a routine and habit of meditating. Cushions, bells, incense, candles, and ambient sound may be added, but not in the least bit crucial or necessary for a structured practice. You can start by sitting on a chair. The encouragement is to dress comfortably if and when you can. Always engage directly where you are with what’s available. There are no set rules of engagement in meditation.
It’s good to remember that Meditation isn’t some drudgery that feels forced. Forcing or making oneself meditate is not discipline or training, forcing yourself is conditioned personality-based ego attempting a self-improvement program. Meditate because you desire the experience, not because you think you must meditate in order to gain anything. Meditation is not about gaining any special states, it is the art of “A Human, Being,” and the noticing of our own existence. We can develop it and use it in every aspect of our lives.
In my experience, there is no “official” amount of time that will produce specific results. Amount of time spent doesn’t matter, meditating longer doesn’t mean better, that’s another ego trip masquerading as dedication. When meditating in a group, a set time is simply a way for everyone to begin and end in proximity. But in your individual practice, let your experience dictate the amount of time spent. Consistency means more than the length of time. Five or ten minutes daily works to establish a practice. From what I have experienced, a short daily practice establishes consistency faster than lengthy but erratic practice. A “less is more” situation. After establishing a structured practice, the time spent meditating will be up to you. Meditating within a constant fixed amount of time is limiting and becomes a container. It’s easy to become used to that specific amount of time and ego will struggle sitting through the time instead of paying attention and sitting engaged with the time. Time will become the focus instead of the experience. I encourage placing value on the experience, not the time spent.
Try meditating with your eyes both closed and open, experimenting with how each one feels. I personally keep my eyes slightly open, because when I close them the hypnagogic mode, or pre-dream state rises, and there’s a greater opportunity to lose attention and fall asleep. Long periods of meditation enable a drift towards, and then playing in, the stream of thought, instead of attending to experience. For me meditation is about paying attention and noticing what the senses deliver outside the stream of thought by focusing directly on sense experience. That path avoids those intellectual concepts and stories that are so exhausting.
I have the opportunity to engage the meditation of attention anywhere when I focus on experiencing and attending from exactly where I am in the moment. I find the stream of thought continues to scan relentlessly, drawing attention, and so practicing means to notice that, and return to the moments I am experiencing. The simple act of noticing exactly where and how I am in these moments clarifies all experience, it’s relaxing, and at least for me, an act of balancing life.
So, give it a go and see where the experience leads. If I can assist in any way, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will respond ASAP. Take care of you and all you love.