Hi, I just happened to finish writing a guide on how I meditate and I thought I’d share it with you. A lot of what’s in it has already been said but there is some new stuff:
Learning to Meditate - A Place To Start - July 26th 2005
There is a component of the mind called the Surface Mind - I believe in one form of Buddhism it is called the Monkey Mind. It is the component of the mind that constantly chatters away all day, reminding you of things you have to do, commenting on things around you, worrying about things, and generally talking nonstop. The goal of this meditation is to quiet the Surface Mind. It takes regular practice for many months for most people to even begin to be able to do this, but the results are well worth it. You feel a profound silence within your mind - for me it feels like I am beginning to touch on something very vast when I am able to start to come close to attaining this silence. The silence grants a clarity to your thoughts that can stay with you for the rest of the day. I would like to add that I am not very skilled at this meditation at all, having only done it daily since November, for 15 minutes a day. I am very eager to see what other benefits there are as I get better at it.
Step one - relaxing the body
I usually start out with controlled muscle relaxation. Start with your feet - curl up your toes really tight and tense all of the muscles there as tightly as you can, hold for about 5-10 seconds, then let go of all of the tension there. Then do the same thing with your calves. Keep going up until you’ve tensed and relaxed all of the major muscles in your body.
Depending on how tense you are you may want to go through your whole body more than once.
Another thing you can do is to just focus on a part of your body, studying it and trying to feel where any tension is in it, and then consciously let go of it. Or pretend that you’re cutting off contact with that part of your body and it doesn’t exist. My friend imagines that they’re breathing in “positive energy” that flows into the area they’re trying to relax, then when they’re breathing out they imagine a cloud of dark-colored tension flowing out of the area and exiting with the breath.
Step two - quieting the mind
Once you are done with the controlled muscle relaxation, begin to focus on your breath. You can focus on what it feels like inside you, or what it feels like as it’s passing through your mouth or nose, it doesn’t matter…if you want, pick a different sensation. Before I started doing it on my own the past few months I meditated with a group of people; most of them used their breath as a focus but there was a guy who focused on the feel of the backs of his eyelids. If you do choose to focus on your breath, try to focus on one part of it…like the air passing through your nostrils, or your stomach rising and falling…for most people it is too unnecessarily difficult to use the entire breathing process as their focus.
If you grab onto a thought, and start thinking about things you want to do that day or worrying about things…just gently bring your focus back to your breath as soon as you realize it, if necessary telling yourself you’ll deal with it after you’re done. (Telling yourself you’ll deal with the thought later is usually more effective than simply denying the thought your attention…the surface mind deals much better with delay than with simply being ignored.) Most people lose their focus and let their thoughts wander many many times during meditation, even people who have been meditating for years have trouble with this. Just gently bring your focus back, and do your best to not follow any of your thoughts. Eventually you will get to the point where you feel merely the pressure of a thought beginning to form and distract you, and before your attention has even begun to follow the thought, you will immediately return your focus to your breath. The idea is to use the focus on your breath to hold onto a strand of consciousness while your body, and in some ways your mind, relax and fall asleep.
This meditation can be used to induce trance. A description of trance:
Trance is the state where your physical body is asleep but your mind remains aware.
There are two components of trance - an entranced body and an entranced mind.
I haven’t been able to entrance my mind very well. I have gotten to the point where my thoughts and consciousness feel a little different, sort of like they do when I am lucid dreaming, but have never gotten very deep into this state. So I can’t comment on this component of trance much.
An entranced body is caused by first relaxing it as much as you can, and then keeping the surface mind quiet. The better the mental silence is maintained the more quickly the body will fall asleep. A mental technique can also help get the body to fall asleep, but I don’t use one so I can’t comment much on this either. I can say that many of the mental techniques I’ve read about involve imagining yourself sinking or falling - for example one of them involved trying to create a feeling that you were on an elevator that went down a floor with every out breath.
I’ve only gotten my body entranced a few times, and that was because I happened to find myself aware while in that state as I woke up slowly in the morning, so I can’t comment on that much either, but here is what it felt like for me:
It feels like your body is very heavy, or you might have no awareness of it at all. Sometimes you’ll just have a real general body awareness - if you try to focus on your hands or feet you’ll just get a buzzing sensation where they’re supposed to be, and it usually isn’t even shaped like the body part your trying to focus on.
If you let the state continue, you can lose the feeling of your body entirely. It feels like you are drifting through a black void. Holding onto consciousness past this point for me usually results in me entering a dream, fully aware that I’m dreaming.
More personal experience and tips -
I like to listen to loud music while practicing sometimes, to increase my ability to concentrate. I know I’m doing very well when I can tune out the music and not have my mind respond to it in any way. This way when I need to meditate to relax or concentrate on a problem, I can go somewhere quiet and do it much more effectively.
In the first month or two meditating felt like a waste of time and was very boring. The more intent you are able to become on your chosen focus, and the less surface thoughts are able to intrude, the less boring you should find it.
If your surface mind is impossible to subdue only using the breath, try adding something else to your focus. Control the rythm of your breathing or repeat a word on every out breath. If you are only shooting for mental relaxation running can also help with controlling the surface mind’s intrusive thoughts.
Try not to get too frustrated if you think you’re having a hard time doing it correctly; the whole point of this meditation is to let go and relax. I’ve found I gain skill at a rate that satisfies me when I practice for about fifteen minutes a day.
Eventually you may find something begin to happen that is pretty intriguing IMO - you may begin to percieve mental “structures” in your mind. I for one percieved a thought-bubble beginning to form that kept out surface thought and allowed me to come closer to the silence more easily. I could feel surface thoughts even when they were just thought-pressures, trying to peirce the bubble, and this sense allowed me to stop some thoughts short by returning my focus to my breath before they could even begin to form into words.
A Few Warnings:
Although many people come to love the feeling of mental silence and the clarity that comes with it once they are more skilled at this meditation, some people find that the silence puts them in touch with things from deeper in them that they aren’t ready to face. This hasn’t happened to me, and so I can’t offer much insight on it, but I thought it needed mentioning.
Some Christians believe the trance state, and astral projection (percieved out-of-body travel) which I think can rarely happen spontaneously from within the trance state, are evil, so if you’re a Christian you might want to check your Bible before trying this. I believe some Muslims and Jews may think that trance and astral projection are evil too but I’m not sure.
(edit - this is not a thought-blocking excercise. This paragraph is a leftover from the guide I wrote originally, when I was trying to block my thoughts back in 2003. I’m taking this paragraph out of the guide.) Because you are learning to block your thoughts, it may be tempting to block your negative thoughts to prevent yourself from having negative feelings. Don’t do this because these thoughts will build up and come crashing in on you eventually. It is also possible to be blocking negative thoughts without being conscious of it, so you need to be careful. (/edit)
Also, many scary things can happen when in the trance state. They can’t hurt you, but can really scare the shit out of you. They include but probobly are not limited to:
- hearing voices
- hearing scary animal noises (barking, growling) or percieving that there are dangerous entities nearby (I have yet to be able to tell whether these perceptions are actual spirits or hallucinations, but in any case they can’t hurt you.)
- feeling boneless, like your body is made out of water (imo this is pretty cool)
- feeling hands on your arms or legs - sometimes it may feel like they are trying to make you astral project by pulling you out of your body; just wake yourself up if this happens and you don’t want to go.
- feeling wind blowing past you, even if you are inside and there is obviously no wind
- sleep paralysis
Keep in mind that the trance state, unless it is a deep trance (which does not happen by accident…I have never gotten into a very deep trance), or unless you are sleep-paralyzed, is easily broken. Also, even a light level of trance for me has NEVER happened during this meditation on accident. If you feel you are drifting too “deep” for comfort, wake yourself up a little by letting the surface mind chatter some.