Meditating is one of the simplest and yet, most difficult activities to do. It’s also one of the better mental exercises a freethinker can engage in to increase his or her own thinking skills.
(Author’s note: If you already know these steps, visit my next post: the top three concerns about learning how to meditate here.)
All you really have to do is sit down, relax, breathe, focus, and think about things. It’s like a walk in the park, only you don’t have to break a sweat. But like finding the time to commit to an exercise routine, finding the time to meditate daily can difficult, and making meditation a life-long activity requires an enormous strength of willpower. Anyone can meditate, but for those who really want to increase their mental prowess the more time you put into it the better your results will be.
One thing holding people back from meditating are the unknowns. Some common questions are: How long do I need to sit each day and how many years will it take before I see results? Which is the best way to meditate? Is there a scientifically proven way to meditate which doesn’t involve learning about a religious or philosophical system such as Buddhism?
When I was first learning how to meditate, I happened to be living in Alaska and there were no teachers to guide me. Books, videos, and the Internet were my only options. I learned one important lesson from this experience: There’s a lot of basic information available on a multitude of meditation techniques from divergent schools of Buddhist, Yogic and other philosophical practices. There are also several proven, scientific approaches one can use. But there’s little to no information about how freethinkers can develop a practice that incorporates the best of the centuries-old practices and the latest science in a way that is particularly suited to advancing one’s freethinking skills.
With this in mind my goal is to get freethinker’s off to a solid start by learning the basic techniques of meditation that are common to most practices and scientifically proven. Once a person learns these basics and a bit more about all the schools of thought and techniques that are available, after several months he or she will settle into their own tailored way of meditating that works best for them.
And every Monday, I’ll be posting additional thoughts, ideas, links, and other resources which most should find helpful.
Quick Start to Meditation
There are three components to meditating that are common to all forms of meditation: time, posture, and breathing. Learning the basics of these components will get you off to a good start in which you will experience results even after your first session. Here’s a quick but thorough rundown of these component.
The time you put into meditation will equate to the results you can expect to achieve. This is true of the duration of time you put into each session as well as the number of months and years you commit to the practice. I recommend that an individual commit to sit ten to fifteen minutes a day. Mornings or evenings seem to work best although any time will do. Most people find that their minds are less filled with distractions in the morning before they begin their day. Also, pick a location that has few distractions such as a quiet bedroom, patio, or other natural location. I recommend you use a timer (the “chimes” sound setting on smart phones works great) to signal when the time you selected is completed.
The optimal attitude to take when meditating is to strike a balance between concentrating and relaxing, and this will be reflected in your posture. Focusing with too much intensity and maintaining a rigid posture is not good. Neither is lounging on a cushy couch. Common postures are laying in the prone position on your back, sitting cross-legged on a cushion, or sitting with an aid such as a chair. Most teachers advocate sitting cross-legged on a cushion with an erect back, head titled slightly forward, with palms resting on one’s thighs or knees.
Some individuals who have not sat this way since grade school, however, might have difficulty sitting for prolonged periods of time. Initially, ten minutes should be manageable though, and the more you sit this way the longer you will be able to stay seated as the months progress. If you find sitting cross-legged too difficult, sitting on a chair also works great. You will not be cheating if you sit this way. If you use a chair, keep your back erect and off the backrest.
One of the most common ways of calming yourself when you are stressed is to take a few deep breaths. In meditation breathing is not only used as a way to relax, but it is the single most important physical action you can do to reach extraordinary heights of mental concentration. Which is why if do nothing else with meditation except learn how to focus on your breath you will reap wonderful benefits.
Eventually, you will settle into your own rhythm and technique, but until then I recommend trying the following breathing techniques: With your mouth closed begin by taking slightly exaggerated breaths through your nose so that you clearly hear and feel your breath passing through your nostrils. Focus on both the coolness of your breath as you inhale and the warmer breath leaving your nostrils as you exhale. You can also focus on the rising and falling of your stomach as an alternative. Count off about ten to thirty of these exaggerated breaths before letting your breath settle down into a normal intensity and rhythm. At this point continue to focus on both the in and out breaths, along with the associated coolness and warmth of your breath passing through your nostrils for the entire sitting.
When your mind wanders—and it will constantly at first—there are ways to get it back on track. The best way to do this is to simply acknowledge the thoughts, ideas, and emotions you may have been experiencing and then refocus your attention on your breathing. You can do this by choosing a word or phrase that best describes what distracted you and saying it in your mind without vocalizing it. Here’s a few examples. If you start to think what you should be doing that day say in your mind, “planning.” If you start to get fidgety say to yourself “distracted.” If you are distracted by a noise acknowledge the noise by saying, “noise.” If you feel pain think about the location and quality of the discomfort and say “pain.”
That’s it. Really. As far as learning the basics techniques in posture. These fundamentals will not only get off to a good start, but you carry you through the years to follow.
Ultimately, the goal of learning the best posture along with focusing on your breath is to train your mind to become calm and focused. Achieving this mental state is what will allow you to delve into your thoughts and mental processes with ever-increasing clarity.