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Meditation 101: Developing a Practice

By Marie Oser, Managing Editor
July 12, 2011
File under: Relaxation Techniques, Spirituality


Meditation is an art. It is the art of taking control of the mind.

The aphorism “Prayer is the act of talking to God, while meditation is the act of listening,” is an excellent description of the kind of mind we develop through meditation.1

But in order to listen, we must first quiet the mind.

Sounds easy enough… Just stop thinking…Stop thinking about anything and everything.

Unfortunately, the modern mind is plagued with endless chattering, as it flits from thought to thought. Our busy lives seem to capture every waking thought and action from dawn to dusk.

Perhaps you have tried to meditate but were easily distracted. It’s easy to drift off and daydream, concerning ourselves with worry about things in the past that cannot be changed and events in the future, which may or may not happen.

Oftentimes our thoughts seem to be spinning in circles.

Buddhists call this the ‘monkey mind;’ A mind where thoughts swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl.2

Taming the mind, actually controlling the mind, rather than being controlled by it takes practice. Meditation is the practice that will calm that frisky mental beast.

Meditators speak of their “practice;” the time set aside every day to sit quietly and meditate. Now, you may think that it is not possible to squeeze yet another activity into your already busy schedule.

Most people who meditate for just ten minutes or so, perhaps early in the morning or at lunchtime find that they are better focused have less anxiety and are more productive.

While it is not necessary to sit with legs folded in a half or full lotus, it is important to sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight.

The best way to develop concentration is to focus on the breath, breathing in and out slowly through the nostrils.

Some find it helpful to concentrate on the sound of the breath as it rises and falls in the abdomen. This is both visual and auditory.

Gazing at candles can be a useful tool to capture the mind’s attention. After a time, if you close your eyes, the flickering flame will continue to dance in your head.

As you intone “OM” as a long rounded vowel with each breath, it can be helpful to count the breaths, one through four, starting over again, one to four and so on.

If you get to five, six or eight, you have lost concentration. This is a simple way to train the mind to stay on track.

If mind chatter creeps in, don’t get frustrated. It’s all part of the process. Just breathe out any distracting thoughts and visualize the inhaled breath as pure white light that you draw into your heart center.

Meditate with purpose. Focus your attention on a single intention, such as healing yourself or others from a mental or physical difficulty.

Meditate with others, either with a partner or in a group. There are meditation centers in cities and towns in countries around the world.

Dedicate the merit you have accumulated to others. The more we give, the more we receive and a common dedication is the heartfelt hope for world peace.

For Buddhists, loving, kindness and sharing merit are recurring themes. “May all living beings be happy” and “May all living beings be free from suffering” are oftentimes invoked at the end of a meditation.

Don’t become stressed, no matter what happens before, during or after meditation. The experience is what it is. Relax and repeat often.

Health benefits associated with meditation range from reduced anxiety and an increased ability to concentrate to elevated mood.

The more you practice the more rewarding will be this rejuvenating and invigorating form of deep relaxation.

Marie Oser is a best-selling author, writer/producer, host of VegTV and a member of the Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Center in Westlake Village, CA.  Follow Marie on Twitter

1 2Eat Pray Love, Viking Press, February, 2006 ©Elizabeth Gilbert

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