How to do meditation
“In the spiritual life, it is when we meditate on the heart that we make the fastest progress…”
– Sri Chinmoy
How to do meditation
Once a zen monk gave a lecture on meditation. He was seated in meditation while the audience came in and continued meditating when everyone was seated. For about twenty more minutes he maintained his meditative silence. Then he looked up at the audience, and said: ‘This is meditation. Any questions?’
As most spiritual masters will agree, the essence of meditation is not something that can be taught by words or techniques. Real meditation, they say, is taught in silence. That’s hardly any help if you came here to learn how to do meditation. But rest assured, we’ll not send you away without some practical advice.
How to do meditation: posture
The first thing to bear in mind when you start to meditate is the posture. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an advanced yoga practitioner or sit in the lotus-position to learn proper posture. The main thing is to keep your back straight while meditating. If you don’t have back problems it is best to sit on a meditation cushion. You are close to the ground which provides a nice, grounded feeling when you meditate. However, if you would rather sit on a chair, that’s fine too. Just keep an active sitting position, so try not to lean your back against the back of the chair. When sitting on a chair do not cross your legs, but have both your feet firmly planted on the ground.
When you opt for the meditation cushion, bear in mind that in the beginning few weeks you may experience some physical discomfort, since your body is not used to sit cross-legged. This discomfort may come in the form of sleeping feet, restless legs or painful knee joints. One way of dealing with this is to consciously accept the pain and discomfort and to ‘meditate though it’. You will notice that if you can consciously accept the pain, it will lose its sting and becomes less intense. However, if the level of discomfort is too high and is taking your focus away from the meditation, you can stretch your legs, shift to another posture or continue meditating on a chair.
What to do with your hands? You can rest them on your knees or in your lap when you meditate. Another option is to fold your hands in front of your chest. This is called the anjali mudra, a position where you contact your spiritual heart, the centre of inner peace and love located in the centre of your chest. Folded hands also invoke a feeling of devotion and gratitude, which help you to meditate better.
How to do meditation: eyes & breath
If you can, try to keep your eyes half opened and half closed during meditation. The risk of meditating with your eyes fully closed is that you can easily drift off, and instead of meditation you will be enjoying a nice nap. If you keep your eyes a little open, you keep the connection with the world around you, while the closed half of your eyes is in touch with the world within you. In this way you balance the outer and the inner world, and your meditation can be most effective. You may find that it takes some time to become comfortable with this eye-position, but practice makes perfect.
Perhaps the most important part of the meditation posture is the breath. While meditating try to breathe in as softly, gently and silently as possible. If someone were to hang a piece of thread from your nose, that piece of thread would not move. Try to leave a short pause both after you breathe in and after you breathe out. However, don’t do anything that feels uncomfortable. If you feel you aren’t getting enough oxygen, then just change your way of breathing until you feel comfortable.
If possible try to breathe through your nose, since that way it is easier to breathe gently. Also, the nose acts like a filter that purifies the air before it enters into your lungs.
Heart versus mind in meditation
Once you feel familiar with the meditation posture, you can start to meditate! In general there are two places in our being where you can meditate: the heart and the mind. According to meditation master Sri Chinmoy the heart is by far the best, since it already embodies many good qualities that can help us in our meditation, like peace, joy, purity, devotion and the feeling of oneness. The mind often houses negative thoughts and ideas, which makes it a much more difficult place for meditation. Also the mind is by nature very restless, whereas what we want from meditation is peace. For these reasons the heart is the best place to meditate. “In the spiritual life, it is when we meditate on the heart that we make the fastest progress,” says Sri Chinmoy.
Here, when we use the word ‘heart’ we don’t mean the physical organ, but the spiritual heart, which is a subtle centre of spiritual energy (also called a chakra) located in the middle of our chest, about two fingers above the sternum. The spiritual heart or ‘heart-chakra’ is actually located at the place you point to when you say ‘I’. According to meditation masters and yogi’s the spiritual heart is the seat of the soul, which represents our inner divinity, our true self. So by pointing at our heart when we talk about ourselves, we intuitively feel that that is the place where our true self abides!
How to do meditation:
A meditation exercise
There are many exercises that teach you how to do meditation on the heart. The following exercise by Sri Chinmoy is both very simple and very effective.
Imagine that every time you breathe in, you are actually breathing in through your spiritual heart. Feel that there is a subtle opening or filter on your sternum that allows the oxygen to flow into the centre of your chest. Then hold your breath for a few seconds and feel you are preserving the breath inside your spiritual heart. Finally, when you breathe out, feel that the oxygen is leaving you through the crown of your head. The crown-centre is another chakra or centre of spiritual energy that is used in meditation.
After a minute or two imagine that when you breathe in instead of oxygen you are inhaling infinite peace. Peace is a strong, calm and soothing quality, which is also full of life-energy and dynamism. Feel that you breathe in this peace through your heart, and when you hold your breath, feel that the peace is flowing through your entire body, spreading peace through all your limbs and cells. When you breathe out, feel you are letting go of all restlessness and stress inside you, and feel this restlessness is leaving you through the crown of your head.
Finally, imagine you are breathing in cosmic energy through the heart, and breathing out all your lethargy and fatigue through your crown. During the exercise, whenever thoughts arise do not follow them, but just let them drift by as if they were clouds in the sky. Each time you find yourself thinking, just gently return your focus to your breathing and the particular qualities you are focusing on.
How to be regular in meditation
When you can so this exercise every day for about 5-10 minutes, after a few weeks of practice you will notice some very encouraging and positive signs of progress. You will find that you become more peaceful and that your reactions are less impulsive. Your mind will become clearer and purer, and you find that you live much more in the here and now.
Once a king heard about a rare fruit that grew in a remote part of his kingdom. According to those who had tasted it, it was the most delicious fruit in the world. The king was curious to find out what the fruit tasted like, but he didn’t feel like looking for it. “Since I am the king, I can ask my subjects to tell me what the fruit tastes like,” he said.
So the king summoned the subjects who had tasted the fruit to his palace, and asked them to explain to him what exactly the fruit tasted like. If they would succeed to transfer the wonderful taste to him, the king promised he would richly reward them. Many people came before the king and tried their utmost to explain the taste of the fruit. But no matter how eloquently they spoke, they couldn’t transfer the taste of the fruit satisfactorily. The king finally realized that there was no other way to find out how that delicious fruit tasted than to find the fruit himself and eat it.
Meditation is like this exotic, delicious fruit. Although libraries have been written about it, in the end words fail to transfer the real experience of meditation. It is something that you have to try out for yourself. You can certainly read to get inspiration, but don’t forget to practice regularly and diligently!
Abhinabha Tangerman has practiced meditation for over 18 years under the guidance of his spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy. He works as a freelance journalist in home town of Amsterdam, The Netherlands and is also an avid marathon runner with a personal best of 2:27. His other hobbies include playing guitar, singing and writing poetry.
How to do meditation