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Most of us have heard about meditation and mindfulness over the last few years, but how many of us truly understand how to practice this ancient art form passed down for thousands of years. This article is where I want to correct the balance and put straight some of the facts about this noble way to practice.
Most of the information I see on Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram is given freely but at the cost of heavily advertised websites, Click baited headlines to draw your curiosity in to only find a half hearted explanation and little to no advice. Most of these websites are written by wanna-be social media stars and there is a growing concern that meditation and mindfulness has become, or is becoming, a watered down version of a truly remarkable aid in the development of our human consciousness. An aid, that if understood correctly, can and will change your life dramatically for the better.
What can Meditation do for me?
Meditation has the ability to reshape your life towards a more peaceful, respectful and compassionate way to live. A life with less worry and less anxiety, a life where gossip doesn’t amuse or intrigue and fear struggles to reside. Meditation can calm and clear your mind like that of a still lake and reflect back a better version of yourself. And by searching within for that elusive happiness we truly can change the world around us.
My experience with Meditation
My experience with meditation has completely changed my life for the better. I have been practicing meditation for well over 15 years, a large number for some but a small number for others. In this time I have gone from a lost soul not understanding the way of the world, feeling like I didn’t fit in, or that something was wrong with me. I now have a life living completely satisfied and fulfilled, a life full of love and compassion. I now have a relationship with my father something that in my early life I did not and this is something I cherish dearly.
In these 15 years I have been trained by meditation masters such as Thich Nhat Hanh and from the direct descendants of the forest monk Ajahn Chah. I have been an ordained Buddhist monk for many years practicing in the seclusion of the northern forests of Thailand. I now wander the European countryside as a monk still searching the depths of my mind and all its wily tricks and parlour games it plays. I am totally addicted to meditation and mindfulness like a smoker is to cigarettes. Everyday I practice watching or observing the play of consciousness and it’s relationship to our experiences. Everyday I grow and learn more.
I am not enlightened and don’t pretend to be, I am enjoying the search tremendously and as so I have for a long time dedicated my life to understanding the truth of our human condition.
How to truly meditate
We have all heard that the art of meditation is to follow the breath. Breathing in, you really observe and feel the breath coming in. We need to be invested in this process of observance, completely absorbed and focused. See how the air passes through you nostrils, tickling the hairs in your nose, watch and witness the abdomen enlarge and the lungs expanding gently as a response. Breathing out observe the process as you would a movie get yourself involved and watch the lungs deflate as a response to you abdomens movement. Observe the air as it comes out through your nose, tickling those nostril hairs. And then the slight pause before we breath in once again.
This is just one step in meditation and is the foundation of all training it is called Samantha or Samadhi meditation. However this is just a foundation and only when our foundations are solid and secure can we start to build upon this to investigate and discover the real interplay between our thoughts and there corresponding actions. This is known as Vipassanā meditation. Translated as ‘truly seeing‘, or insight meditation.
Vipassanā Meditation is an observance of the our thoughts within the consciousness. We watch, without interference, how each thought arises from something and then passes away. How one thought leads to another and to another and then to another. Vipassanā Meditation is the observance of the minds three facts of existence, impermanence, suffering and non self as they reveal themselves through consciousness. Truths that once experienced as reality changes your whole way of life. Knowing this is not enough, experiencing this for yourself is the true purpose of meditation and one that can take minutes or sometimes a life time.
Vipassanā is an art form that takes a long time to develop and should only be attempted after many hours of Samantha meditation as described above. The reason is to develop the skill as an observer without interference so as to experience these truths for yourself. There is no point in just mere understanding, one must truly experience this birth and death for ourselves, experience the ever changing impermanence that exists in everything.
The most important factor to remember with meditation is to always be kind towards yourself. When we loose focus on our breathing, gently laugh or chuckle to yourself and bring back your attention. Try not to be harsh with yourself it is the journey that is far more important than the destination. Kindness goes an incredible long way in this world and something that if practiced towards ourselves helps elevate a lot of our problems.
Practice breathing meditation or Samantha meditation until you have got a solid foundation, a foundation where you feel present in the moment, grounded in the breath. Once this has become established then allow your mind to investigate, to clearly see with Vipassanā Meditation.
For any help or advice please feel free to contact me using the contact form provided in the menu. There is no pressure on your behalf and I am here to help. I have been lucky enough to be guided by Masters over my time and it would be a delight to help in anyway I can.
My personal journey in the search for enlightenment is one of roads less travelled, the path has had its fair share of wondrous surprises some associated with good others associated with bad, but in the end all are just the experience and even that I know I am not.
Over the last couple of months, Marley Moo (my little street dog) and me have for the first time in a long while had commitments to fulfil, the first was a family re-union held in Spain for my mothers birthday and the second was to house sit 8 dogs and 11 cats allowing a friend to travel back to England for his daughters wedding. Living with limited means such as money finding my way travelling 1,000km to meet with my family has taken 5 wonderful weeks of adventure, solitude and some incredible meditation spots, it has come with it’s fair share of surprises some associated with good some not so, but each is just an experience lived through my eyes, and as my meditation has taught me I am defiantly not the experience.
Over the course of 5 weeks my meditation had been gathering momentum allowing me to clearly see and truly understand the clear separation from each emotional state we find our minds floating between. If frustration was to take hold it seemed laughable to become all consumed with an experience I am clearly not. Just having. And as instantly with the spontaneity of a new born star or the very start of the thought itself it vanishes it is let go of.
My life just as anyone else’s life will naturally experience these emotional ups and downs, these roller coaster of events, moments of doubt, Anger, happiness, elation, Anxiety, Depression, loneliness or frustration, any of these emotional responses are just lurking there ready to consume our mind, no one is infallible or immune, but logically can we say that we are anger or happiness, isn’t it a more logical response to realise I am experiencing a moment of happiness, to experience a moment of anger but never lay claim to that which we experience.
Myself and Marley Moo have found our way back the 1000km to Portugal and spent a further two weeks looking after eight dogs and eleven cats. A rather more difficult task than I had first imagined. The first feeding time with the dogs was like a rugby scrum, the cats though were a little more dignified in their approached. Spending quality time with each animal everyday has been a wonderful experience, however along with the 2,000km distance travelling and pet sitting my time has been limited and I would like to apologise if there is anyone reading this who takes a regular interest in my journey for not bringing regular updates over the last two months.
I live with limited resources and funds, myself and Marley Moo rely completely on the universe, we are on a spiritual path of ones less travelled, everyday has become our gift and every moment more alive because of it, the more we let go the more freeing and freedom it brings. I choose this life because I wish to seek enlightenment, I have given up the trappings of modern society and choose to wander.
Marley Moo my adopted street dog found me one day whilst meditating and has followed me ever since, together we have found our way to Portugal and continue to seek enlightenment together. It would be my pleasure if you could join us on our path, follow me or even support me, I am always open to questions, criticism or advice.
Vipasana meditation or more accurately translated from the ancient language of Pali as ‘insight’ or ‘ clearly seeing’ meditation has been in use for over 2500 years, rediscovered by Gotama Buddha somewhere around the year 586BC he would go on to teach Vipasana and Samatha as two powerful meditation techniques used in conjunction with each other as the path to enlightenment.
Samatha meditation produces a calming effect which will compose and steady the mind allowing for great periods of concentration.
Vipasana meditation, with a calming and concentrated mind, allows us to see and understand the deep interconnection between mind and body, material and mental phenomenon, experiencing first hand how we produce our own suffering, and allowing for spiritual and personal growth towards enlightenment.
Vipasana became popularised for the ordinary men and women in Burma by the late 1800’s due to the influential buddhist monk Ledi Sayadaw he would make the teachings of the Satipatthana Sutra easily available to all with simple to understand translations. The Ledi Sayadaw went on to teach many students who would become meditation masters in their own rights monks such as U Narada (1868-1955) Mahasi Sayadaw (1904-1982) Ajahn Mun (1870-1949) Ajahn Chah (1918-1992) Nyanaponika Thera (1901-1994) and S.N. Goenka (1924-2013)
The work and teachings of the Mahasi Sayadaw saw mass popularity in the 1950’s from the west and further teachings from S.N. Goenka have firmly seated Vipasana meditation into western minds.
How do you practice Vipasana meditation?
As has already been said Vipasana works best with a calmed and concentrated mind and a firm foundation of Breathing Meditation should be established before moving on.
However like everything in today’s world we want things fast and instant, and this meditation can be done without any previous meditation foundation, it will be just a little tougher.
My meditation training and background come from the Thai Forest linage passed on from Ajahn Mun down to Ajahn Chah and his predecessors. It is from this linage I have learnt and it is stressed that Samatha meditation is foremost to establishing concentration to reveal Vipasana’s true insights.
Vipasana meditation as described in the Satipatthana Sutra.
The meditator should practice noting the object that arises in the mind the practitioner is reminded to be sharp with the noting as if hitting a ruler across your hand. Three times repeat to yourself sharply that which has taken the minds fancy.
Breathing in, note, Breathing in, Breathing in, Breathing in.
As you breath out the same sharp energy is repeated three times. Breathing out, Breathing out, Breathing out.
If and when the mind wanders the practitioner should note the distraction, if a sound, note, Hearing, Hearing, Hearing! then bring the focus back to the breath,
Breathing in, Breathing in, Breathing in.
If the mind wanders to body sensations the practitioner should note with sharp energy Feeling, Feeling, Feeling, then bring the attention back to the breath.
On every occasion of a distracting smell, note, Smell, Smell, Smell, then bring you attention back to the breath.
Whatever the minds turns toward note it with eagerness and sharp attention, if the mind starts to think, note, Thinking, Thinking, Thinking, then bring the attention back to the breath.
After time the meditator will see a distinct improvement in concentration with our minds wandering less, instead staying fixed onto the object with which it is directed.
At the same time the power of see only the two processes of the material and mental unfold which will give rise to the insight of impermanence (anatta) of suffering (dukkha) and the knowledge and understanding of non-self (anicca). The three marks of existence.
Experiencing a Vipasana Meditation Retreat
During a Vipasana meditation retreat the practitioner is expected to practice 14-16 hours of this continuous noting of the minds experience. The effect of noting moment to moment events has an enlightening effect on our minds, not only do we see clearly that everything is impermanent consisting of a birth and death, The First Noble Truth, but the linear concept of time we are so familiar with starts to diminish leaving us to experience the true joy and happiness with being present.
Having spent many rains retreats in Vipasana meditation I know how hard this can seem and how challenging a prospect it can be to those who are about to attend a Vipasana course. As long as you put wholehearted effort into your practice and are always kind towards yourself you will progress and sometimes rapidly along the road to enlightenment.
As with all meditation it always sounds way to easy and simple, if you have never tried meditation, it is one of the hardest but most rewarding things we can ever do. If you are having trouble with your meditation practice, don’t worry your not alone, please feel free to use my contact details listed for further help.
This simple technique of eagerly and sharply noting has the ability to reveal the entire makings of this known universe to you. I wish you luck.
If you have found this interesting, helpful or indeed fascinating then please share with you friends and family because after all
Breathing meditation is one of the simplest and easiest of all meditations to grasp, however the untrained mind will find it a lot harder than it sounds. The good news is just like going to the gym regularly you start to build those muscles up so to with meditation you powers of concentration become greater and meditation becomes easier. Always be kind and compassionate to yourself and let whatever happens be ok.
Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine, gently relax your shoulders and your neck muscles and softly close your eyes. Take a few long deep breaths and feel yourself relaxing.
Breathing in be aware you’re breathing in,
breathing out, be aware you are breathing out.
Repeat this for five or ten counts then start again. This is the basics of samadhi meditation. Some points to remember, try to keep the breath as natural as possible. If your mind wanders, be kind to yourself, and bring your awareness back to the breath and start counting again. Try this meditation exercise for ten minutes at first and slowly increase the time over a course of a few days. The most important thing is to always be patient and compassionate to yourself.
Body scan meditation
This meditation is usually done lying down but if you find you keep falling asleep it can equally be done siting in a straight backed chair. Find yourself a comfortable place, somewhere where you won’t be disturbed, lay flat on your back with a cushion under your knees this help keep your back flat against the floor. Your head needs to be comfortable, if you are using a yoga mat try without a pillow. Start by taking a few long deep breaths, gradually start to feel yourself unwind and relax, slowly, starting from the very top of the head notice any sensation that may arise. it could be itching, aching, tiredness, pain or stiffness, or any number of different sensations. Just notice, don’t interfere, don’t scratch or itch or fidget, just notice and be ok with it. Be gently to yourself, be kind, and be ok with whatever you feel. Maybe you feel no sensation at all and that’s ok to, there is no rule as to what you will feel. Just notice then slowly move down to your forehead, your eyebrows, cheek bones, ears, lips, chin, neck and shoulders, keep moving down through your body checking for sensations. You don’t have to start the way I described either, be inventive a move around your body to each new sensation that arises. Do this for 10 or 20 minutes everyday and you will soon see a remarkable difference in your stress levels.
A mantra meditation is the repetition or repeated use of a phrase, sentence or saying. In this example we will use the divine Om Mana Padma Um mantra, a Buddhist chant still very much in use today, especially with Tibetans Buddhists. The Dharma Haven Society have a great article on the mantras history and usage. This is the correct pronunciation of the mantra, although the repatriation is more important than pronunciation, OM (ohm) MA (mah) NI (nee) PAD (pahd) ME (may) HUM (hum). It is said the entire buddha’s teachings are within this mantra.
Now sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine, gently relax your shoulders and your neck muscles and softly close your eyes. Take a few long deep breaths and feel yourself relaxing. On the inward breath repeat in your mind Om Mana out the out breath repeat Padma Hum, On the inward breath repeat in your mind Om Mana out the out breath repeat Padma Hum On the inward breath repeat in your mind Om Mana out the out breath repeat Padma Hum. Try to carry out this exercise for 5 minutes minimum the benefits are worth every second invested.
Gratitude meditation is one of the best ways to overcome past traumas, being grateful for what we have in the moment allows no space for negativity, pessimism, doom or gloom. Finding things in your life to be grateful for may be a little bit harder to do for some, so if you have a little trouble finding things to be grateful for CLICK HEAR, this will help. Some of my personal Seven Wonders I love to meditate with grateful are, my adopted stray dog Marley, sometimes affectionately known as Marley Moo. He really is adorable and the unconditional love he has for me. It will put a smile on my face every time. I also love the great outdoors and enjoy a good long walk, taking in the fresh air is magical.
This meditation can be practiced at home or at work, so long as you can find a quiet place you won’t be disturbed.
Have a few ideas in your mind that you are grateful about, then sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine, gently relax your shoulders and your neck muscles and softly close your eyes. Take a few long deep breaths and feel yourself relaxing.
I slowly go through my Seven Wonders list spending a nice amount of time feeling all the sensations in my body and across my face. This can be done for just ten minutes and you will feel recharged, full of energy and feeling good about life. Simple yet effective.
The history of meditation, the oldest form of spiritual awakening there is, could be as old as antiquity itself. It isn’t however until the very first use of a form of the written language do modern historians find there first glimpse into this mystical tradition.
The earliest found written proof of meditation comes from the sacred Hindu Vedas dating from around 1700-500BC, to put that into perspective, this is from the Iron Age to late Bronze Age, the most famous reference is that of the Vedic Mantra known as “Gayatri” it describes meditating on the divine light of Savitri. The buddhist scriptures state how Gautama Buddha gained enlightenment through mediative techniques of the time, around 563BC, the masters of his time based there techniques on the very same Hindu scriptures. The Buddha however found them to be incomplete on his way to becoming enlightened and so developed his “middle way” meditation as way of gaining higher states of complete enlightenment.
It is from this period in history do we see that Buddhism gives rise to the spread of meditation, slowly moving from its Indian roots via the Silk Road, first to the East and into China, Nepal, Burma, Thailand and beyond. Confucius 551-479BC developed and further expanded on mediative ideas and techniques and would later pass them on. Taoism then developed from these methods and would spread far and wide throughout the entire of China finally reaching the shores of Japan with Zen Buddhism and zazen meditation around the 12th century.
The spread to the west again uses the Silk Road, at first spreading into Afghanistan, Turkey and then into Syria, it’s not until just twenty years before the birth of Christ and the invention of our calendar that we see the Roman Empire recording of meditative techniques and forms of spiritual exercises of the day, in its great library at Alexandra.
Islam has reference to meditation and meditation techniques, these first appear around the 8th or 9th century with the practice of Dhikr which involved the repetition of the 99 names of God. By the 12th century breath control was in practice as a mediative technique as recorded in the practice of Sufism.
And the Christians also developed some sort of meditation techniques by the 6th century, however it seems there meditation techniques contrasted all the previously discussed by not involving the repetition of any phrase and required no particular posture, which all the other scriptures without exception had practiced, bible reading according to the christians at this time was considered meditation. It’s not until the 10th-14th century do we see the practice of Hesychasm which involves the repetition of the Jesus prayer.
The modern western idea of meditation really starts in India in the 1950’s when easier forms of meditation were introduced and presented as relaxation and stress reducing techniques, these new ideas spread quickly to a busy western world, and by the 1960’s the hippy trail had started with young men and women finding there way into the Ashram’s of India, to learn first hand meditation and mindfulness. Famous bands like the Beatles popularised the spiritual meditation and mindfulness practices of today and with many eastern spiritual teachers becoming refugees during the sweep of communism across the east it hasn’t taken long before meditation practices and mindfulness training have become mainstream. It has become increasingly more difficult to find your way through the mind field of information out there. So where do you start.
What is meditation
Meditation as cited by the Oxford English Dictionary is “The action to focus one’s mind for a period of time, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation” and Wikipedia describes it as “a practice where an individual uses a technique of focusing their mind on a particular object”. Meditation in days of old was a passage to gain spiritual enlightenment, however today the word meditation or mindfulness can be over used by a commercial industry selling self help, relaxation and stress reduction.
The Benefits of Meditation are far more than just relaxation, yes it produces results of calming, compassion, equanimity and a general feeling of contentment, but if used as a regular practice true everlasting peace, contentment and wellbeing can be achieved through meditation and mindfulness.
The numerous scientific studies that have taken place over the last fifty or so years have shed light on The Benefits of Meditation and this mystical practice from the east. The benefits of meditation are far reaching. Increased concentration levels, reducing stress and anxiety, being more attentive, respecting others and nature, becoming kinder and calmer. Increased IQ levels, can eliminate sleep deprivation and will leave you with a deep sense of satisfaction and wellbeing.
So where do you start?
In the beginning it’s difficult to know where to start, there are so many types of meditation to choose from wether that’s focusing on the breath, Chanting a Mantra, Walking Meditation, mindfulness meditation or SittingMeditation to name but just a few. It’s good therefore to have a decent place to start.
No matter if you are looking for meditation to relax and distress or for further enlightenment, the best place to start is by having a regular practice. This can be from as little as 2 minutes a day to begin with and slowly increasing the time the more comfortable you get.
Another important factor is to find a quite place, somewhere where you won’t be disturbed, nature can be an excellent place to meditate but can also be difficult to find somewhere you feel safe and alone. Your own house or apartment is usually best.
For myself the morning is an excellent time to meditate, just after you rise, but equally as relaxing is the evening time, there is no set time just what suits your time commitments.
Position and posture
After setting aside a time slot and promising to keep to a regular schedule to yourself, posture and position are next to get right. No matter how old or inflexible you are there is a position for you to meditate in. The usual meditating positions are sitting, standing, walking or lying.
Sitting Meditation doesn’t just involved bending your legs into those funny lotus positions you see in the photos, it can easily be done from a straight back chair. The most important factor to consider is your own comfort. If you do sitting meditation on the floor, you can use either the full lotus or the half lotus positions or the Thailand/Burmese style cross legged position which as you sit cross legged you sit with you legs on the floor not on top of each other, be, this is to help eliminate the pressure to the knees and ankles that sitting with your legs on top of each other creates.
Walking meditation is one of the nicest ways to meditate, and for me personally I find it the most relaxing. First find an area where you are safe to walk, no obstacles in your way. With your back straight and your shoulders relaxed, keep your head and eyes looking forward but slightly down, about 6-10ft in front of you will do nicely. Now walk as slowly as you can, try to really feel the movements of each muscle as you inch forward. Walk for 20 or so paces then slowly turn back around, pause, and walk back again. Try walking slower than a snail, it’s most enjoyable.
Lying meditation is one of the easiest ways to fall asleep and isn’t really recommended for beginners. However lay on your right shoulder, with a hand resting under the head, a pillow can be used as required, legs slightly bent.
Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine, gently relax your shoulders and your neck muscles and softly close your eyes. Take a few long deep breaths and feel yourself relaxing.
Breathing in, be aware you’re breathing in,
breathing out, be aware you’re breathing out.
Repeat this for five or ten counts then start again. This is the basics of breath or breathing meditation also known in Pali asSamadhi Meditation.
Some ponts to remember, try to keep the breath as natural as possible. If your mind wanders, be kind to yourself, and bring your awareness back to the breath and start counting again. Try this meditation exercise for ten minutes at first then slowly increase the time over the course of a few days. The most important thing is to be patient and compassionate to yourself.
Meditation for kids
Meditation for children is one of the most beneficial activities you can get them to do, it can boost concentration levels at school, help with socialising, aid in confidence, it will help balancing emotions and will have an overall improvement in academic test results. You can start children meditating from a very early age, however the breath technique, described above, wouldn’t be a good place to start with very young children but teenagers would be able to manage quite proficiently. For younger children it is better to do guided meditations, almost like story time, we get them to use there already incredible imaginations to focus on one particular object of meditation. Games are also another great example. Imagining that as they breath out they are filling a big balloon with air as an example.
Other types of meditation
The other types of meditation that you will find all have great benefit include,Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation, SamadhiMeditation, Vipassana Meditation, Body Scan, TranscendentalMeditation and KundaliniMeditation to name just a few. If you are a beginner the best place to start is with the Beginners Meditation or breath meditation as found above. It is a foundation for further meditation techniques that need great powers of concentration. If you are more practiced and have a good routine then you will may feel as though you may want to explore some of the other methods listed. Just for you we have put together a resource page at the bottom which can help you investigate further.
Tips and tricks
When you first start to meditate you will undoubtedly come across a few niggling problems, maybe it’s the pain in your knees or back. Maybe you keep falling asleep, or you mind keeps wandering and you don’t notice. This section is hear to help. I understand first hand the issues with meditation I was a Buddhist monk in Thailand for many years. During the full moons for instance we were expected to meditate from 10pm until sunrise.
When your feeling sleepy rubbing or a light pinch of the ear lobes gives an instant surge of life through the body, try it.
Never sit in any position longer than is necessary. There are meditators that say the pain is a useful experience to learn. Yes it is, but your knees will suffer really badly, there is other pain that can better to learn from and not as damaging.
Make a meditation diary this helps keep you motivated. Make a regular time in your day of 10 minutes or even 20 minutes and keep to the same time, make it a habit forming exercise. It takes 21 days to form a habit and 90 days to make that habit natural.
Always be kind and patient with yourself, the times when you think your meditation isn’t good because your mind is distracted, can be the times of our greatest learning, compassion and kindness go a long way.
Spend a couple of minutes getting settled into a position, wiggle your bottom around until it feels comfortable on the tail bone, also known as the sitting bone.
For more on Tips and Tricks Page to the common problems that can arise in meditation. If for any reason you can’t find the help within these pages then please feel free to Contact Us and we will respond personal as soon as we are able.