I hear this all the time: “I’ve tried meditation but I just don’t get anywhere because I can’t slow my mind down. I can’t relax.”
Not unusual since most of us start this way. I was never given much instruction, nor did I see others getting advice about how to ease into meditation. The instruction was all about meditating itself. As a beginner, I was expected to come into the hall, take my cushion and get down to hard work. Most people can’t go from the frazzle of everyday living to slowing down to zero miles per hour. We stretch and limber up for physical activities; how about a way to stretch and limber up for meditating?
Here is what I suggest to make the transition from rushing to the meditation hall to getting well underway with meditation:
1. Once seated, take a few deep breaths, to an in-count of 4 or 5 and an out-count of 4 or 5.
2. Mentally tell the muscles of your forehead to “let go and relax.” Keep repeating these words and the command to your muscles to make your forehead (from temple to temple) as calm as possible. Give attention also, to the muscles over the eyebrows and at the bridge of the nose. Surprise yourself and see how relax you can get those muscles.
3. Extend the relaxing of muscles to around your eyes. Again, take the time to relax those muscles as completely as possible.
4. Relax your jaw muscles in the same way.
5. Relax the front of your neck, from under the chin to your chest.
6. Lastly, relax your tongue.
Now….begin your meditation practice.
I’m frequently asked what are the best books for starting mediation. I have settled on a short list of resources. Two of them are listed here:
The Calm Technique: Meditation Without Magic or Mysticism – Australian Paul Wilson came out with this book some time ago but it remains one of my favorites because it is so clear, simple, and precise in its introduction to breathing and mantra meditation. You will find this highly valuable book priced from 1 cent to about 2 bucks. Amazon link
Unplug for an Hour, a Day, or a Weekend: Create a Home Sanctuary with 32 Contemplation Cards, Companion Guidebook, 2 CDs of Guided Meditations is a complete look at mindfulness meditation. It comes in a fun format of: a booklet, two CDs, and “contemplation cards”. Perhaps I’m a sucker for this sort of packaging but it helps make the whole thing feel like an all encompassing experience. At any rate, this box of meditation is grossly under priced ($10) given what Sharon Salzberg includes in her instruction. Amazon link
Early in most of my workshops/trainings I go right to this point: imagination is different than meditation. The reason I start off there is because some people come to imagination work with meditation techniques. That is not the best way or the fastest way to get into one’s imagination. Classical meditation makes the assumption that we are too connected to our thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and other things going on inside of us. To counter this over connection, meditation masters long ago developed methods to: shut down inner chatter; slow down thinking; move away from our emotions; and let our bodies run in the background with limited attention. Not all meditation methods are the same but on the whole, most follow this pattern of disengagement. I use the metaphor of “emptying the cup”, that is, emptying ourselves of much of our daily content.
Ray Bradbury follows the approach of the imagination worker:
“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”
In imagination work we tip the cup over and see what is there. We don’t try to distance ourselves from it. Whatever it is: emotions, wanderings, thinking, dreams, fantasies, troubling and repetitive thoughts, etc. we let down the barriers and we open to it. Imagination works in a circular way. First it releases our ability to see what’s inside of us and then it frees the contents. This freeing in turns deepens our vision of the unconscious. Our enhanced vision increases more freeing as our unconscious trusts us with more content and delights in our interest. And on goes that cycle.
Summary: Imagination fills the cup. Meditation empties the cup.