If you want to learn to meditate, here are the basics of the practice explained, followed by a complete course given by a teacher whose teaching has been chosen to be spread in schools in Thailand.
Learning to meditate: the benefits of meditation
The benefits of meditation are many:
Meditation helps to find calm and serenity; it makes you more creative, gives you energy, allows you to manage stress better, enables you to make the right decisions, and can also bring you to enlightenment!
It happened to me to transform what seemed to me to be a big problem into a small gene just by meditating, emptying his head helps to see more clearly.
In today’s world, with all the visual and auditory stimuli (computer, mobile phone, video games…), noise, images and a lot of stressful information, learning to meditate has become a necessity for many people in order not to go crazy!
In an advanced society, meditation should be taught in school (this is the case in Thailand…).
Learn to meditate simply
Meditation is quite simple; you can just sit down with your back straight and clear your head.
One of the simplest techniques, which was taught by Buddha, is to focus all your attention on breathing, feeling the air coming out through your nose, feeling the air coming in through your nose, quite simply.
Thoughts will undoubtedly come to your mind, it’s normal, you have to realize not to cling to them and come back on the attention to breathing.
When your breathing is long, you must be aware that it is long, and when your breath is short, you must be aware of it too.
Your mind must be focused on your breathing; you must be well aware of its movements, its changes of rhythm.
Forget everything else, everything around you, and try to do this for 5 to 10 minutes.
Over time, as with any training, this will become easier and easier.
It is better to focus on the air coming in and out, but if it is too difficult for you, you can mentally repeat yourself with each breath:
“I breathe in, and I know I breathe in” slowly, all the way through it.
“I exhale, and I know I exhale” slowly, all along with the exhale.
Or “hooong” all along with the breath in and “soooo” all along with the breath out.
And you can meditate like that wherever you want, in the subway, on the bus or even lying down, which is an excellent way to fall asleep!
You will have trouble concentrating at first, and that is normal, but if you perceive it, it will bring you a lot in life!
You will be more focused, more calm, more intelligent and therefore more efficient in your work, in your life, and this will also help you to make better decisions.
The practice of meditation will also protect you from diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
This simple knowledge is enough to start practicing, but if you want to know more and learn to meditate with a master in this field, you can read on:
Meditation course by the venerable Henepola Gunaratana
This is a meditation course given by the venerable Henepola Gunaratana; it is one of his books “Meditating in Daily Life” that has been chosen and abbreviated in Thai to be part of the college program throughout Thailand.
“A good hour to start your meditation is early in the morning, before your daily activities.
A quiet place is desirable, but as there are few in the world, choose a pleasant place, and place a comfortable cushion on it.
Learn to meditate: postures
Choose a posture for your sitting practice.
Personal Note: Being well elevated (10/20 cm), on a good hard cushion (a meditation cushion or a raised cushion with books, a large stone…), makes the position more comfortable to hold.
The complete Lotus posture
The best, but most difficult, is the posture of the full lotus.
Cross your legs and rest each foot on the opposite upper thigh, sole facing upwards.
Place your hands just below the navel, with the curved part of your wrists resting on your thighs, and straighten the upper part of your body.
Your spine is straight, like a pile of coins, each vertebra just above the previous one. Your chin is up.
The posture of the half-lotus
Then lean forward and pull the cushion from behind. If you have difficulty getting your knees to touch the floor, rest one thigh on the curvature of the other foot.
Other positions easier to practice meditation
You can also sit with your leg bent down, with the left or right leg resting in front of the other on the floor.
Or you can sit on a small bench, such as those found in meditation rooms.
If all this is too difficult, you can sit in a chair.
Learn to meditate: keep the position
After choosing one of these positions, straighten your back and make sure it is vertical so that your chest can easily expand as you inhale.
Your position should be natural and flexible, not stiff.
Sit down carefully in your posture, as it is important not to change it until the end of the session.
Why is this important?
Imagine that you change position because it is uncomfortable.
After a while, the new position will, in turn, become uncomfortable.
You will want to adopt a new one, which will soon become uncomfortable as well.
In this way, you will continue to change, move, move from one to the other throughout your sitting, instead of reaching a deeper level of consciousness.
Use your ability to control and maintain your original position.
At the beginning of the session, determine the duration of your sitting meditation.
If you have never meditated before, start with about twenty minutes.
With practice, you can gradually extend the duration.
The length of your session depends on how much time you have and how long you can sit without pain.
Once you are settled, close your eyes; this will help you to concentrate.
Before meditation, the mind is like a cup of muddy water.
If you keep the bowl still, the mud settles, and the water clarifies.
Likewise, if you stay still, keep your body still, and focus your attention on your meditation object, your mind will calm down, and you will begin to experience the joy of meditation.
Learn to meditate: treat pain
Suppose you have followed the posture instructions and are sitting in the most comfortable meditation position for you.
Quickly, you realize that your comfortable feeling has disappeared.
Now you are in pain, and you lose your first determination, patience, and enthusiasm to practice meditation.
This can be daunting.
But be assured that your pain is mainly due to lack of practice.
As you practice, the pain decreases, and it is also easier to bear.
Therefore, use pain as a signal to renew your determination to practice more.
If the pain occurs because of a physical problem, such as a dislocated spinal disc or previous injury, then you must change your posture
– maybe sit on a bench or a chair.
But if the pain occurs in a normal and healthy area of the body, I suggest you try the following.
The most effective, but most challenging way to treat pain is to observe it.
Be with pain, be grounded in it. Feel it without thinking of it as “my” pain, “my” knee, “my” neck.
Just look at the pain up close, and see what happens to it.
At first, the pain can become stronger and frightening.
For example, your knee may start to hurt so much that you are afraid of losing your leg:
“he’ll have gangrene and will have to be amputated!”
and here you are wondering how you’ll manage with one leg.
Don’t worry about it. I’ve never seen anyone lose a leg to meditation!
When the pain you observe reaches its most excruciating point, if you wait patiently for, say, five more minutes,
you will see this frightening pain, threatening your life, begin to disintegrate.
The pain will turn into a neutral sensation, and you will discover that even a painful sensation is impermanent.
You can use a similar technique with psychological pain that may be due to guilt or traumatic memory.
Don’t try to push it away. Give him a warm welcome. Stay with her, even if a horrible scenario is going on in your mind.
Without getting lost in memories, continue to observe this psychological pain and see how it eventually dissolves, as well as the physical pain.
When the breakthrough occurs, and the pain disappears, you may experience significant relief, a peaceful and relaxing calm.
Of course, body pain or traumatic memory may reappear, but once you have gone through a particular physical or psychological pain, it will never return with the same intensity
and the next time you’re on your pillow, it’ll probably only appear later.
The second strategy for treating pain is to compare it to the pain you have experienced in your lifetime.
This present pain, although it seems so painful, is only a small thing compared to all the ones you have known and you have probably already endured much worse.
Also, there is this subtle feeling of dissatisfaction that persists night and day in the background.
Compared to these other sufferings, this little pain in the leg is not so great.
It is worth bearing it so that we can overcome the more significant and more pervasive suffering of life.
It is comparable to a splinter.
Removing a splinter hurts a lot, and yet you accept this evil to avoid a worse one later.
Likewise, you can accept this evil to avoid worse problems in the future.
Another approach is to think about the suffering that others endure.
At this very moment, many people are suffering physically and psychologically because of illness, vulnerability, separation from loved ones, or other serious problems.
Remember that compared to all these miseries, your pain is not so bad.
The fourth approach is to ignore the pain.
You deliberately focus your attention on breathing.
You can help yourself stay there by breathing quickly several times.
My last suggestion, only when all this has failed, is to move, but with great caution.
Gently play your muscles to see if the pain can be reduced with minimal change in your posture.
If the pain is in your back, realize that it starts to hurt when you are slumped forward.
If tension appears on your back, first perform a mental inspection of your posture, relax and then slowly straighten up.
Ankle and knee pain requires a special approach, as you must be careful not to create tension that is harmful to the tendons.
If you think that the pain may come from a tendon, first try to contract and relax the muscles above and below this joint, without moving or changing your posture.
If this does not provide relief, move the leg gently, just enough to relieve the leg and tendon.
You may be wondering what the point of bearing the pain is.
“I started this practice to get rid of my suffering.
Why should I suffer more during sitting meditation?”
Remember then that this is a kind of suffering that can lead to the cessation of all suffering.
When you carefully observe the onset and disappearance of pain and experience the bliss that follows its departure, your confidence in your ability to cope with pain grows.
More importantly, because your painful experience is voluntary and focused, it is an excellent training ground.
You are making a breakthrough through your resistance to life’s greatest sufferings.
Be patient. Perhaps you have never taken a meditative posture, or only occasionally.
Perhaps you are used to sitting in chairs or armchairs.
It is natural for you to feel some pain when you sit on the floor for the first time.
Have you ever climbed a mountain, have you ever ridden a horse?
Do you remember how your body felt the first time, or how painful it was the next day?
However, if you climb mountains or ride horses every day, you will quickly enjoy it without pain.
The same is true for meditation:
you have to continue and continue meditating, sitting in the same posture every day.
Learn to meditate: concentrate your mind
An excellent way to calm the mind and focus it on breathing.
Breathing is easy to find.
You don’t have to make a significant effort to achieve this: it continually comes and goes through your nostrils.
She is not involved in any emotion, any reasoning, any decision.
Keeping the mind on the breath is an excellent way to cultivate a neutral state of mind.
It is good to start each meditation with thoughts of benevolent friendship.
Some people sometimes can connect directly to such thoughts and address them to all living beings.
But more often than not, a method is needed to achieve this.
Start by directing your benevolent thoughts towards yourself, then slowly expand the circle of recipients to include all living beings.
I recommend reciting mentally or aloud the following text:
May I be well, happy, and at peace. May no harm come to me.
May I have no difficulties, no problems, and always be successful.
May I also be patient, courageous, understanding, and determined to face and overcome the difficulties, problems, and failures that are inevitable in life.
After reciting these sentences, repeat by replacing “I” and “me” with other people, starting with your parents:
“May my parents be well, happy, and at peace.
May no harm come to them…”
Then recite these same sentences for your teachers:
“May those who teach me to be well…”
Then recite them for your family;
then your friends;
then for people who are indifferent to you (those towards whom your feelings are neutral);
then for your enemies;
and finally, for all living beings.
This simple practice will make concentration easier and help you to overcome any resentments that may appear during meditation.
Then take three deep breaths.
As you inhale and exhale, notice the dilation and contraction of the lower abdomen, upper abdomen, and chest.
Take a deep breath to dilate these three parts of the body.
After these three deep breaths, breathe normally, letting the air out and in freely, effortlessly, naturally,
while focusing your attention on the sensation of air passing through your nostrils.
Most people can easily feel the breath on the edge of their nostrils:
However, some people, depending on their facial structures, may prefer to focus their attention on the sensation produced by the air touching the upper lip,
or in the nostrils, or the sinus area.
Wherever you are, be aware of the sensation produced by the incoming and outgoing air.
When you focus on breathing, you feel the beginning, middle, and end of each inhalation and exhalation.
You don’t have to make any special effort to notice these three stages.
When inhalation is complete, before the beginning of the expiration, there is a short pause.
Notice it and be aware of the beginning of the exhalation.
When the expiration is over, there is another short pause before the next breath begins.
Notice it too.
These two breaks are so short that you may not be aware of them, but when you are attentive, you can notice them.
In the beginning, the inhalation and exhalation may belong.
Go to it, but do not think or say “long breath, long breath.”
As you notice the sensation of long breaths and exhalations, your body becomes relatively calm.
Then, your breathing may become short.
Notice how you feel short breathing but again without saying “short breathing” to yourself.
Then become aware of the entire respiratory process from beginning to end.
Now, it may be that the breathing becomes subtle.
The mind and body become calmer. Be aware of this quiet and peaceful feeling.
Despite your efforts to stay focused on breathing, your mind can escape.
You may remember the places you have visited, people you have met,
friends you haven’t seen in a long time, a book you’ve read over time, the taste of the food you ate yesterday.
As soon as you realize that your mind is no longer on your breath, bring it back, and anchor it on your breathing.
Some people use labels, i.e., they put words on the phenomena that appear during meditation.
For example, the meditator may notice thoughts and then say mentally:
“thoughts, thoughts, thoughts, thoughts.”
When hearing a sound, the meditator thinks, “Hear, hear, hear, hear.”
I do not recommend this technique.
The phenomena you may want to label happen so quickly that you don’t have time to name them.
Labeling takes time – The time for thought to appear or feel, the time to think of words to conceptualize what you are aware of.
It is not possible to label something while it is happening. You can only do this when it has already been done.
Observing things as they happen and being aware of them is enough.
Attention teaches you direct knowledge.
It helps you to eliminate intermediaries, such as concepts and words.
These appear after awareness to communicate ideas, sensations, and feelings.
In meditation, however, you have nothing to express to anyone.
You know that seeing should be limited to seeing, that hearing is hearing, touching is touching, knowing is knowing. That’s enough.
By the venerable Henepola Gunaratana
A meditation lesson from the book: “The eight steps to happiness.”
A video about meditation
Tudong monk Prakru Samuphanyot Junthako explains why he believes meditation is so important.
Photo: Bradley Hook
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