I wrote this after being tutored by a trusted friend about his meditation and long time Buddhist practice. He does not want to be identified because Shamatha meditation is best taught in person, according to his teachers. I figure the Web can help people get started though, so it’s OK to put this up. My friend has meditated and been very involved in a respected Buddhist organization for 35 years. He credits meditating with helping him cope positively with a disability.
If you get into it, seek out a Buddhist organization, go to classes, or find a meditation instructor. Training by an experienced instructor is needed to really learn how to meditate.
I was very surprised to find out that his meditation was not about quieting or controlling the mind, as I had assumed. So I felt like writing up a little bit on how one might try out meditation and see if they liked it.
- Not about: Quieting or controlling your mind. Or even closing your eyes.
- Is about: Getting to know your mind (AKA Mindfulness). Observing what you think and feel, no matter what that is. Experiencing your ego as more of a continuum than the concrete reality it may seem to be, or want to be.
Seven practices which are different from Shamatha meditation:
- Meditating on one object, word, or thought.
- Yoga: Not as much about mindfulness and more about exercise and breathing.
- Jogging: Doesn’t give as much time to examine thoughts in a focused way.
- Napping: Lets the mind go, but doesn’t pay attention to it.
- Sitting and thinking: Implies thinking about solutions.
- Losing yourself in creative work: Using the mind, more than studying it
- Losing yourself in repetitious work: Shutting off the mind more than studying it.
Why could Shamatha meditation or mindfulness training be good for people?
Because knowledge about yourself is good. Self-knowledge can help you ride your thoughts, feelings, and neuroses, rather than being ridden by them. It can build compassion and strength in dealing with others by practicing that skill with oneself. It sharpens sense perceptions by slowing down the speed of your discursive chatter, so that the world around you comes through more clearly. There is some scientific and medical evidence that it helps promote emotional stability, stress reduction and healing.
- Washington Post: “Meditation Gives Brain a Charge, Study Finds” By Marc Kaufman
- Harvard Gazette: “What can monks teach scientists? Psychology professor probes imagery with Dalai Lama.” By William J. Cromie
Here’s how my friend took me through my first meditation.
Start slow. Pick a very short time to mediate at first, perhaps ten minutes a day. If you like it, increase the time, but not so much as to make the experience unpleasant. Try to be in a place where you will not be interrupted. If you are, don’t stress, just start again.
Get in position
- Sit down on a chair or somewhere else comfortable. If you sit on a cushion on the floor, cross your legs if you can. If not, don’t worry about it. “Full lotus” position is not recommended, unless you have become comfortable with it in yoga classes.
- Straighten your back. Not rigid, but comfortably upright.
- Relax and drop your shoulders
- Place the hands palms down, one on each thigh just behind the knees. Spread your fingers loosely.
- Bring your chin in a little towards your neck
- Breathe a few times and relax
- Look slightly down and about 6-8 ft. in front of you at the floor
- Let your gaze blur and relax a little, but keep your eyes open
- Let your mouth stay open slightly, relaxed, with your tongue just touching the back of your upper front teeth if you want to prevent saliva build-up. Swallow as needed.
- Breathing normally, put your attention on the outbreath. Try to “be” the breath as it goes out and dissipates in space.
- As for the inbreath, disengage and let it happen by itself.
- When thoughts arise (which will happen very soon!) as much as possible let them pass through without feeding energy into them. Don’t evaluate: in meditation there are no good thoughts or bad thoughts.
- If a thought train carries you away (so that you forget that you’re meditating,) simply look at it briefly, acknowledge it and say to yourself: “Thinking.” Then go back to following the breath. No praise or blame called for: the point of meditation is to see what the mind does when left to itself. Don’t try to do anything with the thoughts that come up: just let them go by. Don’t try to stop unpleasant thoughts or prolong pleasant ones.
- Don’t expect dramatic results: meditation progresses at its own pace.
When you’re done, you’re done. That’s it! Get up slowly and shake your arms and legs a bit. The key is doing it every day if you can. You’ll find out within a few days if you like it.
- Find a human teacher
- World Buddhist Directory
- Main Shambhala web site
- Karme Choling, the contemplative center in Vermont
- Shambhala Mountain Center, Colorado
- Dechen Choling, in France
More Meditation Info.
- Similar Primer, with photos
- Transcendental Meditation
- Tai Chi
- Duke Healthy Meditation FAQ
- Worried Sick
- Women’s Health and De-stressing
- American Association of Family Physicians Mind Body Connection
- Harvard Study: “Meditation changes temperatures:
Mind controls body in extreme experiments.“
By William J. Cromie