How to Meditate and Develop a Spiritual Practice
Do you want to know how you can become more “spiritual”? Meditation is a wonderful path. It will quiet your mind, improve all of your abilities, enhance your creativity, bolster your resistance to the stressors in this world, and improve your relationships. Not to mention that it will also bring you more inner peace, which is really what it’s all about. Meditation is quite simple but it takes practice and discipline. Here are the steps:
- Sit still in a comfortable position with your spine straight, your head balanced on your spine, and your arms and legs uncrossed (turn off your cell phone first).
- Breathe naturally but start to become aware of the sensation of your breathing in and exhaling. Also begin to notice the sounds that you hear, the temperature and feeling of the air, the texture of your clothes against your skin, etc.
- Begin to “surrender your thoughts.” The way to do this is to use an “object” or what I call a “vehicle”. The vehicle could be your breath or a mantra(a mantra is a sanskrit word; if you wish, feel free to repeat the word “ohm” to yourself out loud first and then silently) – both of which are very popular and frequently used in Buddhist practice – or any visual cue such as the flame of a candle, or even the sensations in your body, and continue to focus upon the object, returning your attention to it over and over and over again when your mind slips back to the thoughts that your “monkey mind” (that constant chatter that seems incessant) generates. If the question is: How do I Meditate?, this is the short answer.
Many people consider themselves “spiritual” these days and that’s great. There’s a lot more interest than ever before in non-organized religious paths to our higher purpose and being. Most would define spirituality as a connection with a “higher power” or “source” other than themselves. So you can spend your free time in the “New Age” section of the local Barnes and Noble or Borders reading about spiritual topics, which is a fine thing. However, in my opinion, it’s not a substitute for your “spiritual practice”.
A spiritual practice requires that you acknowledge and take steps to deliberately address your mind’s inclination towards its addiction to thought and the resulting emotion. In fact, the greatest addiction in the world is the addiction to thinking. That’s not a typo and it needs to be underscored — our greatest addiction is our addiction to our identification with and focus upon our thoughts and even our feelings or emotions. Read Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” or “The New Earth” for more on this. The things that we think and the disturbing emotions that we feel are part of the ego’s system. They are not real on a cosmic or spiritual level. You could say they are illusory. But they feel incredibly real because experientially and energetically they are. Just as dreams are real as experiences, so are our thoughts and feelings. But they are part of the world of illusion because, just as clouds block the light of the sun, our thoughts and feelings block a deeper level of “knowing”.
I’ve noticed that my deep interest in things spiritual and metaphysical has little, if any, bearing on the level of consciousness in which I spend my days. What does have bearing is my “work” on deliberately disassociating my identity from my thoughts and feelings. To continually remember that they are not “who” I am, rather, they are “what” I am experiencing. To be a witness to those thoughts and feelings is to rise up above or below (however you perceive it) the level of ego and take it all in from a different plane. A more spacious place, a very still and yet profoundly transformative place.
The answer to so many questions is always the same: be still, breathe, and surrender your thoughts. This is meditation. It’s also mindfulness. These are just words, though. Don’t get caught up in the words. It’s about an activity in which you repeatedly notice and dissociate from your thoughts. You become the observer behind the viewer, the observer behind the hearer and the thinker and the one who feels and analyzes and interprets. You simply witness what’s going on.
This takes practice because it’s 100% antithetical to the way we are trained from the time we’re small children in grade school to use our minds. That’s why it’s called a “practice”. It’s about being present, being aware of your energy or vibrational frequency, not being controlled by your thoughts and thus, reminding yourself viscerally (not mentally) that those thoughts are not, in fact, Who you are. The transmutation or transformation that can happen does not occur at the level of thought. There’s an alchemy that happens. But it’s at a different level than we spent virtually all of our time in this world.
So the practice is about dissociating from one’s “monkey mind’s” mental and emotional machinations, from ones ego.
Again, there are different ways to do this. Using an “object” to focus on is the most popular way out of a sea of thoughts and feelings. And again, probably the most popular object is ones breath. Listening, feeling it viscerally, being mindful of it. Another is the inner sensations of the body, essentially the internal energy which may be experienced as a pulse, a wave, a vibration, possibly a sense of warmth or some type of a sensation. We can’t think our way out of our “problems” or out of our mind. As Einstein said, we can’t solve problems using the same consciousness from which they arose. Feeling them is a step in the right direction. Even better still is “vibrating” with them or experiencing them as a type of energy. That is, feeling the energy of your present state and sitting with it.
This may not make any sense to you because most of us do it so rarely, if at all. When mental activity returns in the form of a thought, simply notice it, identify that you’re in thought or thinking and deliberately, gently and without reprimand of any kind, return your attention to the “vehicle” or “object” that you have chosen, and travel once again out of the realm of thought.
Don’t worry if this is difficult to do. Also, don’t think of a thought as “bad”. It’s part of our human condition to have a stream of what feels like incessant thoughts. When you let go of a thought, enjoy the sensation as though you are letting go of focusing on a cloud passing above, or seeing a soap bubble popping, revealing the space behind it that it blocked from view. Most importantly, don’t stop doing this practice if you feel you’re not doing it “right” or that it’s “not working”. Those are clever and often successful attempts by your ego to trick you out of being present. Don’t fall for it. The ego would like you to stay in discomfort, to have a sense of separation from others and from your notion of God or Source or Spirit. (If that sounds weird or strange, stay tuned because I’ll talk about that in another article.)
A mere 15 minutes a day is often recommended (this may feel like an eternity some days). I can’t stress enough how important it is to simply sit still and be with the energy underlying the feelings and thoughts. You may feel that nothing is happening, that it feels worse even. Remind yourself how much of your life you’ve sedated, controlled, or created drama in order to escape these sometimes uncomfortable vibrations of just simply being present. Finally, try offering yourself some rest from the illusory escape from all the above typical distractions such as television, internet, alcohol, addictions of all kinds, and even the addiction to resentment or pain (also known as the “pain body” coined by Eckhart Tolle in his work). Give it some time, because your patience with yourself is deeply connected with your compassion for yourself, which is the ultimate healing agent and the path to forgiveness. You may not think that you need to forgive yourself or others but we all do. Because we all have anger, judgment and guilt. And these are what separate us from the Light of God, of Spirit. These emotionally addictive states (anger, judgment, fear, guilt, even sadness) are part of our ego’s habitual process and focus (unless you happen to be an enlightened master).
Remember that most often, thoughts precede and precipitate feelings or emotions. The word emotion is from the word “emovere” or disturbance. (From this paradigm, joy is not an emotion; it is the absence of emotion, a sense of the underlying calm.) So emotions are nothing but disturbances in the calm, ripples on the surface of the lake. When you exit the realm of thought, you begin to exit the effects of thought, i.e. the world of emotions and more thought. Thought leads to feelings, which lead to more thought, and so on. But the above practice is a good start to extricating yourself from an illusory world that causes much pain and distress, as well as physical ailments and dis-ease.
Keep at it. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself. And you don’t need to buy anything or take workshops or collect self-help books to do it. Begin right where you are. This is the path.