When to meditate?
On a regular basis is best. Make it part of your routine like brushing your teeth. It is best to do it at the same time every day, whatever time of day that happens to be, but it isn’t strictly required. I do it in the morning every day before I go to work because I have a time slot I can easily allocate. However, evening actually works better for me. So I am working towards twice a day.
How long to meditate?
You can do whatever you want, but if you want to ease into it, start with several minutes at a time, like 5-7 minutes. Over time you will become more comfortable with it, and it will be easier to go longer, like 10, 15 or 20 minutes. The amount of time is not directly related to the quality of your meditation. A good meditation is not necessarily a long one. Sometimes your best meditation is also one of the shortest. You’ll find that you come back from meditation when you’re ready, and if you’re called back early, it’s ok. Don’t worry. Just DO it.
Meditation and religion
Is meditation a religious thing? What is the connection (if any)?
Meditation is often done to increase one’s spirituality, to come closer to God. Meditation is used in many religions, if not most of them. Strictly speaking, meditation and religion are not connected. But meditation and religion often go hand in hand. Focusing your thoughts is one place where meditation and religion meet, as meditators often focus on God, or aspects of God based on their definition.
What is meditation like?
Well, probably a little bit different for everybody. And it’s a little different every time you do it as well. But when you first start doing it, you may find your mind racing with thoughts, things left over from your day (or day ahead of you), various miscellaneous things, or perhaps anxiety that you have to be thinking the right thing or meditating the right way to get something out of it. As your thoughts race by, try to separate yourself from them, watch them go by, as if you were merely a spectator. Gently guide yourself back to whatever you decided to focus on, and don’t browbeat yourself about it. Focusing on your breathing can help you relax. Experience your breathing – let it become slow, even and relaxed.
Over time, as you meditate more frequently and regularly, the thoughts won’t be racing by, they’ll be walking by. Eventually, the thoughts stroll by every so-often. As the thoughts slow down, you’ll experience your feelings more. You’ll begin feeling (if you haven’t already) the peace and harmony that mediation brings. In mediation, you might go places, see various things, and feel things.
What are those things? They’re different for everybody, and impossible to generalize. However, I can give you an example of my own. There is a place I like to drive to by myself every so often. It’s a beautiful place. From my car, I can see the high cliffs and water, although it is impossible to walk to it. When I go there I feel peaceful and filled. One evening during meditation, I went there. I could see the cliff and the water, and could feel the peace of that special place. I was standing in mid-air near the edge of the cliff, over the water.
It is possible to see, hear, feel, smell, or taste in meditation, almost like you do during normal waking existence. Your experiences are internal to you instead of external, that’s all. For example, I saw the cliff face and the water in my mind’s eye. If someone (in my meditation experience) would have been standing next to me in mid-air and would have said hello, I would have heard it in my mind’s ear.
What does your mind do during meditation?
This is by far the hardest question to answer. Meditation is like rest, but it is done with awareness, unlike sleep, which is rest without awareness (practically speaking). In meditation, you don’t have to focus on anything in particular, although people often do so because it helps.
Generally, you focus on whatever brings peace and harmony to you. You can use your imagination and create a special place or object (or whatever) in your mind, and go there in your meditation. It can be commonplace or special, uniquely yours. Some meditation methods use a special sound that is repeated (a mantra) to bring focus.
Listening to soothing background music is a common meditation aid. Guided meditation is where a leader and the sitters focus on the leader, who takes them through a peaceful, pleasant experience using various visualizations and the like. Guided meditations can be live and are available in recorded formats as well.
There is plenty of room for creativity and experimentation to find what works for you. Don’t be afraid to let your mind go. Start with something that you think will work for you, try it several times, and if you find it too distracting instead of relaxing, try something else. Or use nothing at all, just sitting in the quiet works too. In any event, don’t worry. Just DO it.
Tell me more about what meditation is like – where do spirits come into this, if at all?
Spirits will often show you things in meditation. Mediation can be an opportunity for your guides, teachers, and loved ones a chance to come through. The trouble with it is that far too many people are looking for the literal, a “lightning bolt”. They’re looking for something that will blow them out of the water, and they miss the boat entirely, for exactly that reason. I’m sure there are people who have meditated many years and are still looking for the lightning bolt, some type of sign that will tell them without question that God-by-their-definition is in their presence, or some other rock-solid, indisputable verification of the truth of their thinking.
What you typically get in meditation is far more subtle. Experiences like my trip to the cliff and water are far more common in meditation than any of the things people commonly expect, such classic religious images, religious symbols, clergy, and the like. It doesn’t mean you can not get that kind of stuff. Just don’t dismiss the value of the cliff and water because it’s not a “lightning bolt”.
Posture for meditation
Posture – how to sit?
As far as how to sit, posture is not an overriding thing – you don’t have to do the full lotus position like monks do in order to meditate. Generally, you want your back to be straight and relaxed but not stiff. You can cross your legs or not, but I prefer uncrossed. As far as your hands go, it is best to put your left hand over your right – your left hand has less nervous energy in it and will help settle down the right. If your primary hand is your left, then reverse this.
The truth of the matter is that you can meditate in nearly any position. Your hands don’t have to be in a particular position. Your legs don’t have to be in a particular position. Your back doesn’t have to be in a particular position. The general idea is to be relaxed.
Monks (at least Zen monks) often meditate as they go about their daily work. So don’t go worrying about exactly how to arrange your body parts in the chair, floor, or other place you decide to mediate in. To quote a famous Zen master, Yoda (from Star Wars) “There is no try. Do.” So don’t confuse yourself about it. Don’t try to do it, just DO it.
How do I sit?
I sit on the floor next to my bed with my back to the bed. The bed helps keep my back straight – a wall would be as good. I used to sit cross-legged (Indian style, not half or full lotus) and put my hands together, left over right. Lately I have moved to a comfortable chair where I sit legs uncrossed, hands on the chair arms, back supported and relaxed, and basically straight. It seems to work better for me.
About what you get in meditation (content)
I am getting various things in my meditations. What should I make of them?
Most of it takes place in the mind, which is why it is so hard to talk about. You usually don’t have the same meditation experience as any of people you may be meditating with, so there is no one to verify your perceptions, to say “yes, I experienced the same thing, so it must be true”. You have to decide for yourself how you are going to handle these experiences. So, as I see it, you can do one of several things:
(1) Deny it all – whatever experiences you have don’t really affect you either way, and therefore don’t matter
(2) Deny it all – you decide that you are crazy and stop meditating
(3) Accept it all as “divine” – believe that everything you experience must come from spirit(s) and/or God as you define God
(4) Run away – get scared & confused, fear for the the worst, and therefore stop meditating
(5) Carefully consider – remember what you experience and try to sort it out, knowing that any given portion can be coming from either your inner self or from spirit(s) and/or God as you define God.
Number 5 is the way to go. Stay somewhat detached from your experiences, take them in, review them, think them over, and drop them into the back of your mind for later. Some people find that maintaining a log is helpful because they can go back over the months or years to see what patterns (if any) have developed.
Find what works for you in meditation. Try things. Keep what works for as long as it benefits you. Toss aside what doesn’t. Change things when it is needed. Don’t obsess over the particulars of how to and when to meditate. Don’t obsess over your progress or (apparent) lack of it. Don’t obsess about analyzing and understanding the meaning of each experience you have in meditation.