Time to Sit!
We've discussed Openness: the peaceful, wordless wisdom that our meditation practice is about contacting. We've also talked a bit about taking an attitude of Openness—the most important takeaway being to completely let go of guilt and an "I-should" attitude around your meditation practice.
Now, let's see what all the fuss is about and start meditating! This article will guide you through a meditation session. Whatever you're sitting in is fine.
Stop When You Feel Like Stopping
We'll discuss getting into a regular meditation rhythm later on, including how long per day is ideal. For now, the important thing is: When you feel like stopping, stop. That means no meditating through anxiety, painful boredom, or the like: sit for a bit, keep doing it for as long as you're enjoying it, and then stop when you feel like stopping.
We make this recommendation because way too many people, myself included, have an immediate, visceral fear/avoidance response when we think about meditating. A big cause of that response is having suffered through hellishly boring neverending meditation sessions from when we were just getting started in our practice. Those experiences can cement meditation early on as something to be "endured, not enjoyed"; and once you've got that association, it's very difficult to unwind, even when later on meditation becomes just about the most enjoyable thing there is (at least sometimes). So for you, it's time to introduce—or reintroduce—meditation as something that's enjoyable, pressure/stress/guilt-free, and as long or as short as you want it to be.
On to the practice instructions themselves. If you've already got a strong sense of your own meditation technique, you can skim or skip the next section and simply start sitting.
The meditation technique breaks down into three categories: posture, breathing, and mental events. We'll go through each quickly.
Whatever you're sitting in or on is fine. Sit up with a good posture, comfortable and straight. An image you might like to imagine is the relaxed but upright posture you'd have while asking someone to marry you—not stiff, but not slouching, with a sense of dignity.
You may wish to close your eyes when you begin sitting. You can also do a "body scan" at the beginning to relax: simply pay attention to each part of your body, from toes to feet to ankles all the way up to the top of your head and back down, relaxing anywhere you feel stress or tension.
Feel free to shift around as you sit; you don't have to try to be perfectly still.
In basic mindfulness meditation, we use our breathing as the object of mindfulness: something we make it a particular point to pay attention to.
That just means that as you breathe in, you notice that happening, very simply, and as you breathe out, you notice that happening, very simply.
Following the breathing is a bit like the experience of riding a bike. When you ride a bike, if you've been doing it for a while, you don't focus super hard on your balance and avoiding collisions—but you do pay light, sustained, steady attention to those things. (If not, you fall off!) Another way to say this is that you're mindful of the act of riding a bike. And since that mindfulness is not too heavy-handed, you're free to enjoy the sights and sounds of the environment. So mindfulness of breathing is similarly light, steady, and open to the experiences in the environment around you.
If you like, you may wish to pay particular attention to the opening and relaxation quality of the outbreath. This doesn't have to be a big deal; just let yourself relax slightly (especially physically) as you breathe out naturally, like breathing a miniature sigh of relief. Over time, this can lead to a very enjoyable sense of relaxation and calm.
"Mental events" is a blanket term for the things that come up in your mind during sitting: thoughts, emotions, memories, plans, math equations, song snippets, and so on.
The instruction for what to do with mental events is simple: just let them happen naturally. Don't try to make them go away, don't try to make them stay. Whatever they are, just let them come and go as a natural process, just like the sounds in your environment.
It's also extremely important to know one thing about working with mental events in meditation: YOU SHOULD NOT ATTEMPT TO STOP THINKING DURING YOUR MEDITATION PRACTICE. Thinking that the goal of meditation is to stop thinking is probably the #1 reason people quit—because they rightly discover they "can't do it." I've written on this topic at length, and I'd really encourage you to read that article if you're experiencing meditation for the first time.
Lastly, there's working with "daydreaming" or "getting lost in thought" which is simply when a thought captures our attention and we lose awareness of the room, our breathing, our bodies, and so on. When this happens, simply notice it's happened and return to awareness of the breathing, your body, the room around you, and the steady stream of mental events.
Okay, that's it! Please give it a go. Remember, stop whenever you feel like it.
How Was That?
Hopefully this initial experience with meditation was simple, somewhat calming—and most importantly, not a grueling experience of "hot boredom," the get-me-out-of-here feeling that we may know from things like grade school and the dentist's office. If you enjoyed yourself, that's a good place for us to start together!
If you'd like to hear very similar meditation instruction in a couple of different voices, here are two good YouTube videos of different lengths:
I also recommend you get the free (well, free-to-start) Headspace app. It has a very good library of simple guided meditations.
Introducing The Second Facet: Precision
This article takes us into the second ThriVe Facet, after Openness: Precision. Precision is about helping your meditation practice stay on-target, and helping you work with potential obstacles that come up in meditation—so that meditation continues to be a deeper and deeper source of Openness in your life, and doesn't get stuck for too long in one or another rut. Precision is a sense of clarity, flexibility, experimentation, and problem-solving in your practice, and it's related to the formal act of learning from meditation teachings.