My heart and I would like to be
In our spiritual life.
As the prayer suggests, it is good to keep the attitude of a beginner in the spiritual life, in the life of prayer and meditation. Does this mean that we do not improve, that we do not make any progress? No, not at all! It means that we should always remain as enthusiastic, as childlike and as cheerful as we were when we began our meditation journey. If we can keep this kind of attitude towards our inner life in spite of obstacles that we may encounter along the road, that is a sign that we are making real spiritual progress. Being a beginner in the spiritual life means being always ready to learn something new, to be open to new possibilities, to seek new ways to refresh our meditation practice.
I shall forever remain
On the self-transcendence-road.
I know quite a few very experienced meditators who are more than ready to affirm that they are still exploring and discovering the immensely vast world of meditation. What I find most inspiring about those people is that, even after decades of meditation, they are still very enthusiastic and devoted to their practice—ready to learn and share what they have learnt.
In the first article on “Meditation tips for beginners” I shared Sri Chinmoy’s guidance on finding a place and time for the meditation practice, as well as my own related experience. In this article I will share meditation tips that I find useful for the meditation process itself.
Meditation tip: Relaxation
A very important preliminary to the meditation practice is being relaxed—keeping our bodies and minds free of tension. The body and mind are interrelated, as we always observe, and one influences the other. If the body is tense, the mind will be full of anxious thoughts, which in turn influence the body, making it more tense. And again, when we relax both physically and mentally, we become calmer, letting go of the countless thoughts and problems of our day.
Posture. The first thing is to find a comfortable posture that keeps our spine as straight as possible. It does not matter whether we sit on a chair or cross-legged on the floor. One can meditate very well while seated on a chair. Our posture should not obstruct our breathing or make us tense. Very often we tend to strain our shoulders, neck, face and belly, so these are areas we want to keep as stress-free as possible while choosing a posture.
It may happen that we need to adjust the posture we choose in the beginning of our meditation, but we should avoid constant movement, which will disturb the meditation process. In his book The Silent Teaching (pages 46-47), Sri Chinmoy suggests that “your inner being will spontaneously take you to a comfortable position and then it is up to you to maintain it”. From my own experience I can say that sometimes the body seeks a posture that offers only relaxation and at the same time obstructs meditation. Over time, though, as our meditation practice becomes more and more regular, the body assumes the proper posture from the very beginning.
Breathing. Breathing is a very useful tool that will offer us a relaxed body and calm mind. We should breathe through our nose into the middle and lower belly, using our diaphragm, rather than doing upper chest breathing. This may be difficult at first, but after some time we will definitely notice that diaphragmatic breathing is more relaxing than upper chest breathing.
We should try to breathe as slowly and deeply as possible, without strain. Our breath should be so calm that if there were a tiny thread hanging in front of our nose, it would not move at all.
As we breathe, we let go of all the tension in our body. The only important thing at this point is to breathe and relax the body. We can continue this process as long as necessary.
If you try this kind of breathing, at some point you may start to feel that you yourself are not breathing—you are a mere witness to your inhalation and exhalation. Or perhaps you will feel that you are just taking part in the breathing process. All of this means that your body is quite relaxed. Try to consciously dwell on this feeling for a while. Then you can try to relax your mind in the same way. You can breathe in peace and breathe out any tension or disturbing thoughts from your mind, along with anything that you feel is superfluous.
Meditation tip: Smile
What will give You joy?
Just a smile from you.”
There are various reasons why a smile is so important in one’s spiritual life. And there is at least one reason why a smile is important in life in general. A simple smile has the capacity to take away, or at least diminish, the strength of all our problems. This power is physical as well as spiritual. What happens physiologically when we smile? Our hormonal system releases endorphins and we immediately feel better because of this physiological reaction.
If we smile during meditation, it helps us to step aside from our thought flow and to shift our attention from our chatting mind to our silent heart. Sometimes it may happen that we are not able to relax our body when we try to meditate, because it is restless and we keep changing our posture, while our mind is full of distressing thoughts. Every meditator faces these challenges in his meditation practice, at least in the beginning. But there is one thing that can come to our rescue, and that is our own simple and sincere smile. When we smile sincerely, half, if not all, of our mental burden lifts. In turn, our body naturally becomes more relaxed.
Meditation tip: Smile
Every morning, look at yourself in the mirror. In the morning you may not be able to keep your eyes open, but you can smile, smile. While smiling, try to keep your eyes open. You will look so beautiful! If you can start smiling right from the morning, you will have a wonderful day.
To me, smiling is a unique and very powerful meditation tool. I tend to be very tense in everything that I do. Whether I am running, cycling, walking, writing or talking to people, my mind and body tend to be tense. Even in my attempts to relax myself I can be very tense! Because of this tension that I naturally have, it can be hard for me to calm down and meditate. That is why a soulful smile is so important for me. When I am caught in the body-mind bond, when I cannot relax yet I want to meditate, I simply keep smiling. In so doing, I feel myself connecting with a deeper source within me and becoming stronger inwardly.
Meditation tip: Gratitude
Believe it or not,
Has the capacity
To turn all my calamities
Into divine blessings.
What actually is meant by gratitude? “Gratitude” in the spiritual sense does not mean saying “thank you” to someone who has done something for us. A pure feeling of gratitude comes from our heart, and it does not expect anything in return. It is being grateful for whatever we have, spiritually and materially. We might have just very little, but if we are sincerely grateful for what we have, that is true gratitude.
What is the connection between meditation and gratitude? We could say that gratitude is something that strengthens our meditation capacity and deepens our meditation experience. Step by step, gratitude exchanges our expectations, calculations, doubts and impatience for sincerity, enthusiasm and aspiration to reach something and to become something.
Most people (myself included), even before sitting down for meditation, usually have in their mind an idea of what their meditation should be like, an expectation. When the meditation session is over, it may happen that our meditation has not met our expectations, and naturally we feel frustrated, discontented and unsatisfied. This is the moment when gratitude comes into play. When our expectations have not been met, let us just take a moment to feel grateful. Our mind may ask: “Grateful? For what?” Here is a very valid answer: “I feel grateful for my sincere attempts to make progress in my life of meditation.” We can also be grateful because at this particular time when we could have been doing almost anything else, whether watching TV or unnecessarily surfing the internet, we have chosen to meditate. If we are really sincere, we can find many things to be grateful for.
Just one smile
From my gratitude-heart
The beauty of the universe.
To conclude, I have shared some meditation tips that I find useful for beginners—and that includes permanent beginners, which I aspire to be! I believe that these can be useful for more advanced meditators, too. Some may seem harder to master, some easier, but it is just a matter of practice. With each meditation attempt we cover more of the distance between our present life and our goal of spiritual perfection. Meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy used to compare learning how to meditate to learning how to walk. If a child quit trying after his first unsuccessful steps, he would never learn how to walk, march and run. Similarly, whenever we encounter an obstacle in our practice, we just go forward any way we can. We do not have to think of what does not work for us. After some time, when we look back, we will notice that we are not at the starting point anymore—we have advanced on our meditation journey. And there is ever-increasing satisfaction in continuing the journey.
Meditation tips for beginners page by Emanuels