Many people are becoming aware of the benefits of meditation, but not everyone is aware of exactly how to meditate. There are thousands of different meditation practices, and so finding a practice that you enjoy may require some exploration and experimentation. However, all authentic meditation practices should help you to bring awareness to the present moment, to your mind, and to your true nature as the awareness that is observing.
For this is the essence of meditation—to connect you with your true self, to awaken you from the suffering caused by negative and conditioned thoughts, and to make you more aware of the present moment in which you are living.
There are many visualization practices and guided meditations that can be wonderful to practice, but if they do not serve the purposes mentioned above, they are not likely to bring you true inner peace and freedom.
One type of meditation that helps us profoundly in cultivating a calm and peaceful mind is the practice of mindfulness meditation, traditionally known as shamatha meditation. Shamatha (a Sanskrit word that means “peaceful abiding” or “tranquility”) is the foundation of Buddhist meditation practice, however, similar practices can be found in traditions around the world, and you don’t have to have any religious or philosophical beliefs to practice it. The purpose of mindfulness, or shamatha, meditation is simply to stabilize the mind by cultivating a steady awareness of the object of meditation. It is also commonly referred to as concentration meditation.
Mindfulness meditation uses different objects as the focus of practice, and eventually, continued practice leads to practicing without an object of support, which allows one to meditate on reality itself in a relaxed and open awareness. Mindfulness is the foundation of Buddhist meditation practice because it stabilizes the mind, and it isn’t until the mind is quiet that we can really relax in the open awareness of our true nature.
Mindfulness mediation allows us to experience our mind as it is. When we practice mindfulness, we are able to see that our mind is full of thoughts, some conducive to our happiness and realization, and others that are not. It is not unusual that our minds are full of thoughts, and it is important to understand that it is natural to have so much happening in the mind.
Over time, practicing mindfulness meditation calms our thoughts and emotions. We experience tranquility of mind and calmly abide with our thoughts as they are. Eventually, this leads to a decrease in unhelpful thoughts, and an ability to relax with our experience as it is, whether that involves thoughts or no thoughts.
Traditionally, the practice is done in what is known as the seven-pointed posture. The seven-pointed posture of Vairochana is an ancient set of posture points that are said to align the physical body with our energetic body. The posture has been practiced for thousands of years by Hindu and Buddhist yogis.
The seven points are:
We all have different bodies and capabilities. So, it is important to adjust this demanding traditional posture to meet the needs of our own bodies, and not struggle to adapt our bodies to the posture. What is most important in terms of body posture is keeping the back and spine as straight as possible and remaining comfortable.
So, the seven points of a more body-sensitive posture could be:
If you are new to the practice, it helps to begin by doing shorter meditation sessions. Rather than trying to force yourself to sit for extended periods of time. Sit for 5 or 10 minutes at a time, and try to do so more frequently. Frequent, short sessions will improve the quality of your meditation and help you build confidence in your practice. Continue to lengthen the time as you feel comfortable, and eventually, once you discover the true peace and calm of just being and breathing in stillness, your meditation will become the most enjoyable part of your day.
However, don’t forget that meditation is not simply sitting for a few minutes or hours and then getting up and no longer practicing. Bring your mindfulness practice into your daily life, and observe your mind as it is in relationship to situations, people, and events. Because life is relationship, and meditation helps us to strengthen our relationship with ourselves, allowing us to be more present for all of the other relationships that we exist in.
If you’d like to learn more about meditation or how to start and maintain a regular meditation practice, our Introduction to Meditation course is a great place to start.
May you find peace within yourself, and may you bring this peace into the world.
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