Meditating takes determination, patience, discipline, and a whole lot of other qualities we think we want, but usually don’t put the energy into developing because it’s painful.
Guess what, you’re already in pain so why not make something useful out of it?
Most people I’ve talked with about their meditative practice, say they started meditating to address some sort of pain. Whether it’s emotional, mental, or physical pain, they see meditation as their way out.
While they’re mostly right, meditation isn’t only about learning how to deal with pain. It’s a good practice no matter what your situation is. By the end of the book I’ll be exploring what exactly I mean by that, but I think it’s most valuable to leave the “here’s what you get out of it” until the end.
We will start with the basics of how to get started, then move on to explaining the history & evolution of meditation practice, and finally ending up with the benefits you get if you stick to your practice.
That way you have a much better context to understand what you get from meditating when you understand more about what it is.
Plus, everyone (including you) has their own reasons for meditating, and what they want from their practice. Maybe you’re trying to work through some kind of pain. Maybe you’re working on a new year’s resolution to be more “in touch.” Maybe you’ve seen the positive change a friend of yours created in their own lives after beginning to meditate.
Whatever your reason, it has brought you here, and I’m thankful you are sharing your time with me. I want this book to be a friend, guide, and confidante as you begin your journey with meditation.
Basically, this book boils down to: just sit there. That’s it. It’s that simple.
But boy, oh boy, it is not easy. You’ll find out soon enough. As the saying goes, “It’s not the knowing that’s difficult, but the doing.”
For most of my life I’ve spent most of my waking hours trying to understand the basic psychological processes that govern our choices. For the past decade I’ve put that knowledge to use entertaining audiences all over the world as a Mentalist.
Who better to show you what meditation can do for your mind than a mind reader? That’s what I thought too; nobody! Enjoy this peek inside your mind on meditation.
Thanks for buying this book, and may it provide you incredible value as you discover the truth inside you uncover when you can just sit there.
“I don’t know what to do with my hands.”~Ricky Bobby Talladega Nights
There’s a broad spectrum of thought on this part of the equation.
Some people think meditation can be done anywhere, anytime, in whatever pose you happen to be in.
Others think you need to sit in full lotus with your hands 2.54 centimeters below your belly button along with a whole laundry list of proscriptions for the “right” way to get your meditating turbo-charged.
I fall in the middle of the spectrum leaning towards the “there’s a right way to do it but let’s not get too obsessed with the details” side of things.
Think of meditation like a very slow motion gymnastics. There are tons of ways to do a front handspring, but some methods are more conducive to the exercise than others.
Meditating is the same way. It is a physical act that requires attention to detail.
So let’s get to the details.
There are a ton of ways to sit, and each has a fancy name depending on what tradition it comes from. Here I’m covering the basics, and explaining which way is best for people of different range of motion.
This is what most people think of when they imagine someone meditating “for real.”
Both feet are brought up and placed on the thigh of the opposite leg. Left foot on right thigh, and right leg on left thigh. Either leg can be on top of the other.
This can be a difficult position to get into if you don’t have flexibility in your hips. Problems creep in when people try to get their knees to bend sideways in order to compensate for their lack of hip mobility. Since knees only like to bend forwards and back, any sideways pressure can be quite painful.
In order to make this less painful, you can try strengthening your hips and leg muscles with squats and yoga poses. Relaxation-based stretching can help too. Getting a foam roller and using it on your leg muscles is phenomenal. If you’ve never tried one, treat yourself and buy one yesterday. It will definitely help work out any tight spots that are impeding your flexibility.
If Full Lotus can be so painful, then why do it? Nothing beats it in terms of stability. With both hips flat on the floor, you have a solid base to work with. One leg isn’t higher than the other requiring you to use some muscles more than other which can be quite distracting during your meditation period.
If you can’t comfortably sit in Full Lotus right out of the gate, don’t worry about it. Use another pose that works for now, and commit to getting your body into a more able place if possible.
Instead of both feet placed on top of opposite thighs, only one foot goes on top of the opposite thigh, and the other foot is tucked up under the other leg.
This pose allows people with reduced mobility a pretty good sense of stability without being too off balance from holding one leg held significantly higher than the other.
It is a little off balance, however, so it can be a good idea to alternate which foot is on top. This keeps your muscles from cultivating a preference.
This is nearly identical to Half Lotus, except no foot is placed on top of the thighs. Instead, both legs are crossed with the feet both on the floor. One foot snuggles up into the knee pit of its opposite leg, and the other foot rests along the floor in front of its opposite leg too.
This is usually where most people start, and if you find your knees won’t touch the floor in this position keep working on it. Your hip flexors are too stiff, and need some help relaxing.
This can be a wickedly painful way to sit.
You’re on your knees with your feet straight out behind you. You sit back on your feet with your shins in full contact with the floor.
People who are unaccustomed to this position will find it immensely difficult to hold for very long. There are ways to make it a little less torturous, and we’ll cover that later.
I think you can infer how I feel about the position.
If, due to mitigating circumstances, you are unable to sit in any of the above-mentioned positions, there’s always the chair.
Sit with both feet flat on the floor, your spine off the back rest, and don’t slouch forward, backward, or off to either side.
This is not a time to relax, but a time to keep your body in a fixed position as a demonstration of intent acted out through your body. If you find yourself reclining or relaxing in the chair, get back into position.
Whatever pose you choose, make sure to keep your back straight. The goal is to keep your spine upright so it takes little effort to maintain great posture.
Imagine a cable coming down from the ceiling and pulling up on the crown of your head. As you do this, you’ll find your back automatically assumes the right position.
During your meditation, you might notice your back is slumping. Gently straighten back up into proper position.
It’s the constant monitoring and checking in with your physical state that will comprise a big portion of your meditative practice. Getting these seemingly small details right is also a big part of meditation.
You’ll find all the small details are actually big points. . .
This is one I feel particular about, and I’ll explain my reasoning in a minute.
Both hands are turned palm up with the left hand resting on top of the right hand so that the second knuckles of both hands are touching. The tips of your thumbs should be lightly touching which forms an oval shape when viewed from the front.
This is hand position is called the Cosmic Mudra, but don’t let the name fool you into thinking it’s simply a flowery name given to an arbitrary hand position. The Cosmic Mudra provides a very functional purpose that I don’t find when my hands are placed on my thighs or anywhere else.
Here’s my reasoning.
The light contact of your thumb tips acts a barometer for tension. Too little tension in your body, and your thumbs will droop down until they’re in your palm. Too much tension, and they will be pressed too tightly together making them point up.
This functions as a great tool for checking in with your body during your meditation session. If you find your mind wandering, you can always check in with your body by bringing your attention to your thumbs.
Pay attention to the small details like this, and the big picture takes care of itself.
Place the tip of your tongue lightly on the roof of your mouth just behind your top teeth and keep it there. Now is not the time to poke around.
Should they be closed? Open? Looking up? Down?
I usually meditate with my eyes open. If I close my eyes it’s too easy to fall asleep, or let my mind wander with images I see in my mind.
If my eyes are open, I’m looking at what’s right here, right now, and forced to focus on nothing in particular.
Most people aren’t breathing right, which seems like a weird thing to say about a process we’re all doing 24/7. If it’s keeping you alive, that’s good enough, right?
Most people I’ve worked with are very shallow breathers. They take small breaths using very little of their lung capacity.
Instead, you should breathe with your diaphragm, deep into your stomach. Big, full breaths will help you relax, calm down, and feel more centered.
An exercise I enjoy doing is imagining my lungs are divided into thirds. Stomach at the bottom, chest in the middle, and shoulders at the top. I breathe in to fill up the lower third first. Then expand my chest as I continue bringing in air. When it feels like there’s no more room, I continue breathing in to fill my shoulders.
Hold full capacity for a couple seconds before slowly reversing the process. This is a great way to clear your head, but don’t do it too much as it may make you a little dizzy if you do it too quickly.
Any time you’re meditating, and you find yourself wondering what to do, it’s always acceptable to focus on your breathing. You don’t even need to change how you’re breathing; simply focus your attention on your breath.
See, breathing is one of the only automatic body processes we can easily control with our conscious mind. That’s why focusing on your breath can help alleviate the effects of anxiety.
Anxiety usually increases your heart rate, increases your blood pressure, and quickens your breathing. As you breathe faster, your breaths get more and more shallow as your chest feels like it’s constricting.
If you have the presence of mind to slow your breathing, you can take control of your body, and not let those automatic processes run away with you.
It’s a very simple, yet effective method of staying present.
One of the good things about meditating is how little equipment used to do it.
If you’re going to meditate by yourself in the privacy of your own home, you can wear as much, or as little clothing as you want. It’s your home, you do what you want.
Otherwise, make sure you’re wearing something that’s not going to constrict your mobility. Jeans usually aren’t going to let you get into the full lotus position.
You also want to make sure that what you’re wearing isn’t too thick. The fabric can bunch up in your knee pit and cut off circulation. While it’s not going to cause your leg to fall off, it will be uncomfortable when your session is over.
If you’re going to sit in in full lotus, half lotus, or Burmese position, you’ll want a cushion for your butt. In the Zen tradition this is called a zafu. (Mine is made of dinosaur fabric, and I love it.)
Sitting on top of a small pillow will help prop you up, distributing your weight evenly along your legs. This provides maximum stability.
If you’re on hardwood floors or thin carpet, you might also want a larger cushion to put down first. This will help keep your knees from getting bruised up from the floor. In the Zen tradition this is called a zabuton.
You can make do with cushions from your couch to start if you like.
Put your cushion a foot or two away from a wall. This gives your eyes something to focus on, but prevents you from being distracted by lots of things to look at.
What do you think about while meditating? Some people enjoy guided meditations that lead them through visualizations and breathing exercises. While they can be helpful, I don’t like guided meditations because they give your mind something to do.
Sitting down and staring at a blank wall for 30 minutes is incredibly boring. Your mind will try every trick it can think of to get you to stop, and it knows how to push every single one of your buttons. Your mind wants you to be doing anything else besides sitting there staring at that wall.
Meditating does not mean having no thoughts. While you’re awake you’re going to have thoughts. Meditating is not getting rid of all your problems. You’re always going to have problems even if you go live in the mountains.
So what is the use of meditating?
“That which sees cannot be seen.”
That’s a quote my high school debate teacher shared with the class one day. In addition to learning how to argue both sides of an issue, we often talked about how the mind works, biofeedback, and other topics of psychology.
Let me share what I’ve taken away from that quote after thinking about it for 15 years, now.
Every thought you have is not who you are. Whatever it is that is witnessing the thoughts, is who you are at the very core. That quiet awareness deep down that sees every thought that comes into your mind is who you are.
There’s a sense that even if you were born someone else, you’d still feel the same awareness of reality that you’re experiencing right now.
When you sit down to meditate, try identifying what is having thoughts. Sounds easy, but the closer you look, the less of “you” you’ll see.
Now you see why this meditation thing has been so interesting to me for decades.
When you sit down to meditate, dedicate your time to simply witnessing what goes on in your mind. As I said, meditating can be incredibly boring. Your mind would like to be doing anything but staring at the wall, so it will try to convince you there are better things to be doing.
Instead of entertaining every thought that comes up, simply relax and allow it to exist without giving it any of your imagination. Watch what happens with the thought. If you don’t put energy into developing a thought, it will slowly drift away into nothing.
As that thought fades away, another thought will come up. Your mind brings something else to your attention, hoping that this will be the thought that finally distracts you from the monotony known as meditating.
Allow that thought to appear, or disappear as it does naturally.
If you find you’ve chased a thought or emotion with your attention or you’re daydreaming about this or that, bring your mind back to your body. Check in with your posture, your hand position, or your breathing. Don’t just live upstairs in your mind.
Your meditation period is not a time to build your to-do list. This is time to teach yourself that your mind is under your control, not the other way around like it has been all your life.
Your mind might try to convince you this is a worthless exercise. Your mind might make fun of you and call you names in an attempt to get you to do anything other than sitting there. It might try to sweet talk and congratulate you, hoping that you’ll realize meditating isn’t something you need to do. This is called “monkey mind” as your attention leaps around from one thing to another in a desperate attempt to get away from the magnifying lens of meditation.
Your mind will try every conceivable approach possible to avoid having to sit there doing nothing.
And that’s exactly why you should do it.
Every time your mind attempts to coerce you, but you remain still, is another moment where you are building your self control and patience.
Further, meditation is a safe mental and physical laboratory where you get to play out every conflict you experience in your daily life. As you sit there motionless no matter what you think, you are cultivating patience and self control. It’s like you’re boiling away distractions and distilling your effort to its essence making it even more potent.
Itchy nose? Don’t scratch it, just sit there. Remember you didn’t email someone you were supposed to? Just sit there. It’s waited this long, it can wait another 30 minutes. Angry at yourself about that thing you did? Look at the anger but don’t act on it. Just sit there. Upset at what someone did to you? Recognize the emotion’s existence, and just sit there.
You learn to control your response instead of letting your response be controlled by your emotions and thoughts. Through meditation you build your small victories and soon your mind will be prepared for the bigger struggles of day to day living.
Another strange thing you may notice is the way your mind talks to you mirrors the way people in your life relate to you. Your mind might make fun of you like that bully in 7th grade did. It might try to flatter you just like that person who was trying to manipulate you did.
Just as you refuse to rise to the bait when your mind talks to you, you’ll start to develop the self control to do the same in your everyday life when you interact with others.
It’s incredible how much is going on when you just sit there, isn’t it?!
Hopefully I’ve shown that meditation is basically a micro version of your whole life, and the things you learn about yourself while sitting there are directly applicable in your life at large.
Also, I hope I’ve demystified what meditation actually is. Too often I hear people miss out on the benefits because they think it’s something it’s not.
So, let me dispel some misconceptions and objections I’ve heard over the years.
I can’t meditate because I could never have an empty mind.
As I said, having an empty mind isn’t really what it’s all about. Your mind will go into overdrive when you begin meditating, and it’s all about managing your reactions to that. Not zoning out into no-thought land.
I can’t sit in full lotus position
Doesn’t matter. Find something that works, and just sit there.
I don’t feel comfortable chanting.
I feel the same way about chanting as I do guided meditation: it’s a distraction. It has its place, but it’s not essential.
I feel weird about meditating.
You’ve internalized the judgments of other people about the process of sitting down and breathing. Don’t live your life based on what other people think. That’s my 2 cents about it.
I can’t sit still.
Try it. You can sit still for 30 seconds, and that will be 30 seconds more meditating that you did yesterday. Tomorrow shoot for 35 seconds. Eventually you’ll see that for the excuse it really it.
I hate sitting still.
Because you don’t want to face all that stuff going on inside? The sooner you face it, the sooner you’ll be free of its control.
I don’t have the time.
You have the same 24 hours in the day as the Dalai Lama, President of the United States, and the guy who panhandles on the street. It’s all a matter of priorities. When you make meditation a priority in your life, you’re building the skills needed to manage your time more effectively, and make choices based on your intention rather than reacting to what’s right in front of you. Manage your life, don’t let it manage you!
Now that we’ve covered what to do with your mind and body when you just sit there, I sincerely hope you give it a try long enough to see some results.
I’ve hesitated to espouse the benefits of meditation because it’s less about what you get out of it and more about creating the discipline to just do it.
Before I go, though, let me share some of the benefits I’ve seen in my life.
Meditating has reduced anxiety, depression, and adverse effects of stress in my life. I recognize that those are all emotions, and emotions are things that rise and fall away. It’s my reactions to those things that cause lasting pain, and now I can take a step back to evaluate the best course of action instead of reacting to what’s immediately in front of me. We call that self control!
Meditating has also put me in touch with some wonderful people. Meditating by yourself is a good habit, but meditating with a group can be an entirely different experience. It’s very strange to sit quietly in a room full of people also sitting without moving. There’s a sense of camaraderie and shared experience that feels quite intimate despite how seemingly solitary meditating can be.
Regular meditation has also made me more patient, understanding, and attentive. I can concentrate on the thing I’m doing right now instead of letting my mind monkey around wherever it wants.
Meditating has also given me a sense of perspective on life. No longer do I use my emotions as an excuse for bad behavior. I can see the consequences of my actions much more clearly and helps me see the bigger picture.
Further, once I knew who I was, and how my mind works, I found I had much more honest and meaningful connections with the people in my life.
If that all sounds like something you’d like in your own life, then stop thinking about it, and just sit there. There’s only so much you can understand from reading.
Now it’s up to you to put it into practice; you’ll learn so much more from doing than thinking.
So try it!
Just sit there.