I’ve been asked to write about some simple meditation practices that I’m familiar with and which are easy to practice. Quite a few of my friends are interested on this topic probably not least because I’ve talked about it a lot… but in addition to this I’ve noticed an expanded interest in self-inquiring and silencing the mind around the people I know. Also conscious eating and healthy food is a hot topic at the moment. But in this text I’m not going to talk about it. Let us concentrate on meditation, shall we?
There are many ways to meditate. In the West mainly, some of the most widely practice forms of meditation are Trancendental Meditation (TM; a lot of scientific research on this – check Charles “Skip” Alexander’s studies), mindfulness meditation, zazen, and loving-kindness meditation. TM derives from ancient Hindu Vedic practices and uses a mantra. On this text I am going to concentrate on a meditation technique similar to TM; to the I AM: Mantra Meditation. Mindfulness meditation cultivates open awareness and unobstructed, direct, and full contact with experience; it is the foundation of Theravadan and Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice. Zazen or shikan taza is the essence of Japanese Buddhist practice. These Buddhist traditions rest attention in the present moment, continually releasing thoughts into the essential formlessness of present awareness, most similar to the basic breath meditation practice.
So, in my opinion the easiest way to start is with the basic breath meditation and perhaps continue with I AM -meditation when breath meditation is something you already master.
Basic Breath Meditation
This is the most universal of all meditation practices. We’re always breathing, in every now. Have you noticed that when you need to relax or cut loose you take a deep breath and breathe it out slowly? Well, that’s quite normal and a perfect way to come into the present moment, which is always now. For beginners, it is a clear, direct, uncomplicated way to start a regular meditation practice. Breath meditation is one of the most elegant combinations of the two meditative capacities simultaneously: mental focus and open awareness. Concentration trains mental focus and stability, while open awareness relaxes, expands, and releases this mental focus into a free encounter with every present moment.
Here are short instructions for a basic breath meditation:
1. Sit quietly with an erect spine and breathe naturally.
2. Bring attention to the present moment and breathe, silently counting the breath. Begin counting your breath, counting the first inhalation as “one”, the exhalation as “two”, and so on.
3. Start over after you reach “ten”.
4. Between the in and out breaths, rest the mind. Pay special attention to the stillness between each breath.
5. Whenever your mind wanders (and it will!), go back to “one” and continue to count the breaths. Set an engaging, gently challenging standard: you can go back to “one” when you lose count or you can return to “one” whenever any thought arises, even if it hasn’t distracted you from the counting.
Each breath and count returns attention to the present moment, now. What is it to be fully and consciously present? How do you “be here now”?
As you count, each breath and each number is not data. It is just a reminder, a name for this living present moment.
Your mind will wonder, it is inevitable, a natural part of the meditative process, not “wrong” or a problem. As you continue to practice, your ability to focus will improve. Notice that mental states are always changing: everyone goes through phases in which their ability to focus waxes and wanes. Accept your thoughts, accept the internal criticism that will come while meditating and just return to your practice. Return to the infinite, mysterious, miraculous depth of the living present moment.
I AM – meditation
Notice your present awareness. Notice the images and thoughts arising in your mind, the feelings and sensations arising in your body, notice the objects arising around you in the environment. All of these are objects arising in your awareness! (you are not your thoughts, not the sensations you feel, not the sounds you hear nor the objects you see…)
Now think about what was in your awareness five minutes ago. Most of the thoughts have changed, most of the bodily sensations have changed, and most of the environment may have changed. But then again, something has not changed… Something in you is the same now as it was five minutes ago. What is present now that was present five minutes ago? Five years ago?
I AMness. That sense of I AMness is an ongoing, self-knowing, self-recognizing, self-validating I AMness. All the exterior and interior sensations, thoughts and emotions have changed but I AM is ever-present, radiant, open, empty, clear, spacious, transparent, free, always there, right now. All that is ever-present is I AMness. Every person feels this same I AMness – because it is not a body, it is not a thought, it is not an object, it is not the environment, it is not anything that can be seen, but rather is the ever-present Seer, the ongoing open and empty Witness of all that is arising. There is only and always this radiant, self-knowing, – feeling, -transcending I AMness, whether present now, five minutes ago, five hours ago, five centuries ago.
Now let’s go to the I AM mantra meditation step by step:
1. Sit in comfortable, upright posture, and let yourself settle. Then, use the words-sounds-meanings I AM or “Ayam”. Recall it every few moments or whenever thought arises (or you can use for example Finnish in this by saying quietly in you mind “minä olen” or “miii-nää-ooo-leeen”). Let yourself be carried by it. There is nothing you need to accomplish. There is nothing you need to get rid of. Just this, I AM.
2. If you drift, just recall the mantra, I AM. You will naturally come back to the present moment.
3. If you begin to experience an expanded quality of consciousness, that is fine. If you don’t, that is fine, too. Trust that it’s all part of the process. Don’t force it. Don’t try to make anything to happen or wish anything to be different. Enjoy it! Relax and let go into it. You may even say the inner sound of “Ayam” with various intonations in your mind…. (this often makes me smile and feel very good while meditating).
4. If thoughts come and if you get lost in them, don’t worry. When you notice that attention has drifted, just honor your intention to meditate, and return to I AM.
With these two basic meditation techniques known and practiced for thousands of years, you have made a decision to open yourself to the ever-present Spirit which is in you. In every one of us. Everywhere, right now. Always.
Recommended book & source: “Integral Life Practice” by Wilber, Pattern, Leonard, Morelli