Welcome. Anyone Can Meditate.
by Jessica Lam Hill Young
(with adaptations from Mindfulness, Bliss & Beyond by Ajahn Brahm)
With the right understanding, anyone can learn to meditate with ease and well-being. The right understanding is that meditation is not something esoteric or mystical. It’s a simple practice that can be taken anywhere and in all conditions. It is is so simple that it can be summed up in a few words: “Just Observe, and Let It Be.”
“Meditation is not difficult. Not getting what we want from meditation is what makes us think it's difficult." - Sayadaw Tejaniya
PART 1: HOW TO MEDITATE IN THREE STEPS
Adapted from Mindfulness, Bliss & Beyond by Ajahn Brahm
Step One: Just Relax
Sit in a comfortable posture that you can maintain for 30 minutes, whether in a chair or in Burmese style. You can close your eyes or if you are feeling drowsy, half-closed eyes with a soft gaze a few feet ahead on the floor.
Scan your whole body for tension, especially around the neck, shoulders, and face, and deliberately relax them. Gently directing attention to areas of tension in your body can help the body to relax. You can also opt to do a “body scan” to relax the body by directing gentle attention to the body, part by part, from feet to head.
To relax means to not have any expectations or to control the experience, and to not focus, concentrate, or penetrate. Instead, it means to simply observe, watch, and be aware, or pay attention.
Remain relaxed and natural. “Just Relax” is an instruction you can come back to again and again anytime during your meditation.
Step Two: Establish Present-Moment Awareness
For most of us, coming into group practice after a busy day at work, our minds are jumping around past and future. So after relaxing your body, the first instruction is to give up the baggage of past and future. It sounds easy, but it’s not.
Abandoning the past means not thinking about your work, your family, your commitments, your responsibilities, your good or bad times in childhood, and so on. You abandon all past experiences by showing no interest in them at all. When you meditate, you become someone with no history. You do not think about where you live, where you were born, who your parents were, or what your upbringing was like. All of that history you renounce. In this way, if you are mediating with others, everyone becomes equal—just a meditator.
When you let go of the past, you will be free in the present moment. As for the future—the anticipations, fears, plans, and expectations—let that go too. The Buddha once said,” Whatever you think it will be, it will always be something different” (MN 113.21). The future is known by the wise as uncertain, unknown, and unpredictable. It is often useless to anticipate the future, and in meditation it is always a great waste of time.
The worst thing you can do during meditation is to wonder how many more minutes to go. When you anticipate the future by thinking, “How many more minutes until the bell rings?” you torture yourself. So be very careful not to pick up the heavy burden of “How many more minutes to go?” or “What should I do next?” If that is what you are thinking, you are not paying attention to what is happening now. You are asking for trouble. You are not doing the meditation.
To establish your awareness in the present moment, simply take it one moment at a time; learn to be comfortable, at ease, and content just for this moment.
What is there to be aware of in the present moment? At any given moment, our entire human experience is either thinking, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, or seeing. These are the six sense doors and you can bring your awareness to any of these, moment after moment.
Don’t think of meditation as a chore or something you should do because it’s “good for you.” Instead, treat present-moment contentment as one of the most important skills you can train yourself in. We train our bodies with weights at the gym; in the same way, we are training our minds to be at ease with whatever that’s happening right now.
So every time the mind turns to the past or future, gently remind yourself to let go of those burdens and simply pay attention to what is here now. The reality of now is magnificent and awesome. When you have abandoned all past and all future, it is as if you have come alive. You are here. You are mindful.
Step Three: Let It Be
Notice what’s happening moment after moment, non-judgmentally. Thinking, worrying, fantasizing, planning, memories, imaginary conversations, physical discomfort…no matter what is happening, resolve to stay with it and just let it be. Never think that meditation means to stop thoughts! To tell the mind not to think is like telling the body not to eat, for the very nature of mind is to think.
Instead, our job as meditators is to simply observe, be aware, pay attention in a relaxed way, no matter what is happening, liking or disliking.
For new meditators, you may find excessive thinking agitating. Just be aware thoughts are happening and come back to the present moment awareness. You can use body sensations as an anchor.
With enough practice, you can learn to be aware of thoughts and feelings impartially without being pulled into it. This is incredibly useful skill to have in daily life since you will really understand that thoughts are simply thoughts: they have no power over you. By training your mind in present moment awareness and contentment, you can learn how to have a strong, steady and peaceful mind no matter what is happening in life.
PART 2 - TROUBLESHOOTING
There is no such thing as a bad meditation. There is nothing we cannot learn from and to use as an opportunity to learn about our own minds. Below are two of the most common hinderances meditators face:
This is completely normal after a busy day! Don't add aversion to it, and see it as a good sign that you are relaxing. But this doesn't mean you should just take a nap - time to meditate is precious and it's best to keep your eyes open, with a soft gaze a few feet ahead of you on the ground. You can practice open-eyed awareness.
For experienced meditators, you can also try putting more energy into awareness, the "knower" that is knowing. Investigate the nature of drowsiness, how it affects the mind, and the wakefulness that counters the drowsiness.
Remember, don't torture yourself by wondering how many more minutes to go. Just pay attention to the NOW, one moment at a time. Can you keep your attention on just this moment, right now? That's all you need to do. Forget about past and future, the only thing that matters is this one moment, now.
If you are feeling restless, it is important to not follow that restlessness by moving your body here and there or doing something else. Make a firm resolve that this is the time for meditation, for training your mind in present-moment contentment and awareness, and nothing else. Let the mind be restless but keep the body still and just let this restlessness be. In this way, we can train our mind to be calm and content no matter what is happening.