One of the most common things I have heard in my four years in recovery programs is, “I really would like to meditate, but I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m not very good at it anyway.” I, too, felt this way about meditation. It wasn’t until last year, I started working the Refuge Recovery program that my meditation practice took a real, tangible turn for the better. Learn how to meditate in nine easy steps!
“I’d like to meditate, but I don’t know how!”
The Refuge Recovery program is a Buddhist inspired path to recovery. One of the key tenets of this program is mindfulness meditation. The cool thing about the program is that they give very detailed and specific instruction on how to start a mindfulness meditation practice. The first thing you’re encouraged to participate in, when learning how to meditate, is “Mindfulness of the Breath/Body”. In present time awareness, being as friendly and non-judgmental as possible, we focus our entire attention on the sensation of breathing. When the mind wanders, we bring it back. Then the mind will wander again, and we bring it back. Through the practice, two things happen:
- We learn to focus our attention on a stimulus that is always happening in the present moment (the sensation of breathing).
- We teach our mind to notice when it wanders and redirect back to the point of focus, effectively training the concentration “muscle” of the mind.
The key word to learn how to meditate is practice. It takes a lot of practice for us to cultivate present time awareness and to stay with the breath. The Buddha himself referred to the tendency of the mind to constantly wander, judge, cling, and avert as the “monkey mind”. By training ourselves to sit in the upright position and simply focus on the sensation of breathing, we begin the practice of training our monkey minds to settle so we can be fully aware of the present experience. In order to engage in this practice, we use nine simple steps:
- Find a comfortable way to sit that is upright, but comfortable. You want to be able to have full range of breath, but not laying down. You don’t want to fall asleep. Rest your hands in your lap or on your thighs.
- Bring full attention to the present time experience of your sitting body; begin to locate your ability to focus and pay attention.
- Start from the top of your head and very slowly use your attention to scan your body downward through the face, neck, shoulders, and so on, and release any tension that you feel in your body.
- Once you feel more relaxed, focus your attention on the vital sensation of breathing. Each breath, in and out, is keeping you alive, right in this very moment. Each breath is gift.
- Bring your attention to the place where you feel your breath the most vividly; it could be either at the base of the nose, the center of your chest, or the rise and fall of your belly.
- Focus all of your attention on the spot you choose, and try not to skip between points of focus. The key here is to focus attention on one point for as long as possible, and when the attention wanders, return to your spot of focus (we call this an anchor).
- Simply watch the breath entering and exiting the body, or rising and falling in the body for as long as possible. When the attention wanders, with a kind and friendly intention, just return to the breath. In the beginning you will feel like you are constantly having to return, but so does everyone! Be kind to yourself!
- One tool that helps stay with the breath is to count in and out breaths. When you breathe in, count 1, when you breathe out, 2, in, 3, and so on. Once you get to ten, start counting backwards to one again. You will soon realize that it is quite difficult to arrive at ten, but it is a very good goal in the beginning.
- After spending as much time in mindful awareness of the breath as you deem suitable, give thanks to yourself for taking the time to practice in such a way. Give yourself a bow, and try to do a little better next time!
Through this simple practice you too can learn how to meditate, and the entire foundation of a beautiful and transformative meditation practice can be built. If one cannot stay with something as simple as the breath as they progress in meditation, it will be harder for them to focus on other things later on. It is very important for anyone starting a mindfulness practice to start with this meditation first. You will soon find that this simple practice is a powerful tool to anchor you at any moment in the day, and recharge your mental batteries so you can build a beautiful and successful life.