This is a letter that I wrote to my niece. She had just started to meditate and asked for some tips:
Meditation has the power to transform your life in a way that is unimaginably magical. This I know from direct experience. God has no religion anymore than the wind or sun does. However, the love that pervades this universe is knowable…in fact…it is who we are. Even for the atheist, research has shown that the transformative powers of meditation are indisputable. From pain management to the regulation of emotions, meditation works. Regardless if you are looking for a little peace and stress relief or if you are searching to discover the magnificent and powerful energy that dwells within you, meditation is a benevolent and beneficial practice that heals and strengthens.
Meditation is a practice to enjoy. Whether playing golf or violin, anything that requires skill is not as fun in the beginning. Meditation is no different. However, if you are fortunate enough to really commit to the practice, over time it will yield great fruit. People sometimes ask me, “Why do you meditate?” And I say, “For the same reason a surfer surfs or a singer sings…the bliss is incomparable. I meditate because I love to meditate.” However, this was not true in the beginning…it took some work and commitment to really enjoy the practice.
Here are some practical pointers:
- Find a time and a place when you won’t be disturbed. I have to meditate before the family is awake or after they are in bed. The best time to meditate is between 3 and 6 am because much of the world is quiet.
- Trust yourself and start off at a pace that fits your life. Some people start off with five minutes of meditation and gradually work up to longer periods. Consistency is the key. If you can meditate consistently, even for short periods, you will begin to experience change. If you can work up to an hour a day, people will begin asking you, “What are you into?” and you will begin to experience the world in a new way.
- Find a comfortable posture: You may want to sit in a chair with your feet flat or crossed-legged on the floor. The key is that your spine is elongated and that you are comfortable.
- Set an alarm: Find an alarm with a very pleasant sound like a chime. Commit to sitting for a certain time…say five or ten minutes at first and set your alarm. Eventually you may not want to use the alarm, but it can be helpful in the beginning.
- If you’re meditating with young children, just tell them, “We are going to practice Still, Quite, and Good Posture for three minutes.”
- First, check in with your breath and body: When you first sit down, release the tension in your breath. Take a few deep breaths and let go of any tension in your body…go through your entire body and let go…from your feet to the muscles in your face…release the tension.
- The natural breath: Once you settle into a comfortable posture, become aware of your breath. Check and see if your breath is relaxed. This is important because we hold tension in our breath. From the time that you breathed your first breath, your breath has risen and fallen. It comes in…then goes out. The breath doesn’t need any help to do this…it does it on its own. Simply becoming aware of this process will guide you to the breath that is right for your mediation. You may want to start with a few deep inhalations and long exhalations. Then let your breath take its natural rhythm.
- The mind and emotions: The mind is going to have wonderful thoughts, mundane thoughts, and terrible thoughts. Initially, the mind is going to have thoughts that may make you want to get up and thoughts that may make you cringe. One of the great blessings of meditation is learning what is called “detachment from the mind”. You are not your thoughts…you are the one witnessing the thoughts. Whatever thoughts come up in your mind…good, bad, or indifferent…let them go. In the same way that you watch a cloud in the sky without any attachment…let your thoughts come and go without getting involved with them. Tell your mind, “You can think whatever you want, but I’m not really getting involved with you now…I’m relaxing my breath and meditating.” Slowly, as your meditation deepens, the mind will no longer bother you…in fact it will become your friend. This may take a little time. Do not try and stop your mind from thinking! Let the mind settle in its own time…great love and beauty exists within regardless of whether the mind is thinking or not.
- Sound: If you really think about the mind, it is a bunch of syllables, sounds, or energy in your head. You can actually use this energy as an aid to meditation. Sound is everywhere…we hear a dog barking next door, the thoughts in our head, and even the sound of our own breath. Yes, if we could get quiet enough, we could hear our own breath coming in and out. I suggest that, in meditation, you find some simple and benevolent syllables to silently link with your breath. There are phrases from many traditions used in meditation: A-men “Truly”, Mara-natha “Our Lord, come!”, Om “The sound of silence – the primordial sound”, Sohum or Soham “The sound of the breath”, and many others. Find a word or simple phrase to silently link with the incoming and outgoing breath. For example, “Sooooo” on the in breath and “hummmm” on the exhalation. This practice can be used as a tool to bring you back to “letting go” and back to your breath. This practice is very helpful. Use it if it works for you.
Meditation is the practice of prayer and surrender…this is prayer without asking for anything…it is the experience of silence in the midst of noise. Meditation is the pure experience of divine love…true communion. For the atheist you can say it is the deep experience of wholeness or pure love. Regardless, it benefits not only the practitioner, but everyone in their sphere as well. Enjoy meditation as you would enjoy any of your daily activities.