How to Meditate
My reply to a Reddit question. I think this is the best I've done so I'm saving it.
How to Meditate:
- Set a timer for 5 minutes. Later you can go longer but in the beginning 5 minutes is plenty.
- Sit comfortably, but upright and preferably with minimal support. Chair or floor or cushion, what suits you. You can lie down but that often leads to napping rather than meditation.
- Take a deep breath, hold for a beat, and let it go slowly. Take a few more slow, deep breaths and as you breath in feel the expansion and as you breath out let your body relax, especially your face, jaw, etc. Note that relaxing does not mean slumping. Slumping leads to sleeping.
- Let your breath go back to normal and place your attention on it.
- Keep your attention on your breath until the timer goes off. Feel the sensations of breath coming in. Feel the sensations of the breath going out. Feel the pause between. Focus on the area of the body where you feel the breath most strongly, generally abdomen, chest or nostrils. Feel the little tingles and tiny subtle sensations of the breath.
- Notice that your attention is no longer on your breath. Your mind has wandered off to think about lunch or that thing yesterday (or tomorrow). You have failed at step 1 and that's just fine because everyone fails at step 1. I would bet money that lifetime monks like Thich Naht Hahn and the Dalai Lama fail at step 1 though I'm sure they fail less. That's okay because step 2, noticing that your mind has wandered, is victory. Most people never notice when their mind wanders and it wanders during every waking moment. Enjoy a tiny moment of joy and then go back to step 1. You'll fail again but's fine because when you notice, you win again. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until the timer goes off.
A couple of key things to practice as you meditate:
- Letting go: Your mind wanders a lot. Like really, really a lot. There is a part of your brain , the Story Teller, ST for short, that is responsible for making up stories about everything that happens, and many things that don't happen and that part of your brain is really, really good at it's job. Most humans go through life believing everything that ST says but you'll learn that the stories are just stories. You don't have to believe them. As soon as you become aware that a story is in progress you can let go of it. The same goes for emotions. Those are bits of brain that don't have language but they're trying to get you to do something. Without language they do it by making you feel something. And then ST makes up a story about the feeling and you believe it. But you don't have to. You can observe the emotion without engaging with it, without making up a story. You can let go.
- Non-judgement: Not judging is a very important part of meditation. When you fail Step 1 there is a near instant reaction from ST telling you that you are a bad a meditator, a failure, or that this is a waste of time. Don't fall for it. Just be happy that you noticed and go back to watching your breath. Don't be excessively happy, just a little pat on the mental back and back to it.
This is meditation. You sit and you fail Step 1 over and over and over but it's okay because you win at Step 2 over and over and over. This constant repetition trains your brain so that one day you're out in the world and something happens and ST starts to tell a story and you notice. You notice that you're telling yourself a story that's going to make you sad or angry or maybe even happy, and you don't judge yourself for it, you just let go. Because you practiced that over and over and over.
There's more too it of course, and less, but I think this is a good starting place.