“Meditation is the breath of your soul. Just as breathing is the life of your body meditation is the life of the soul” ~ Bhagwan Shree Rajnesh
Anyone who was ever once new to Buddhist practice knows how overwhelming it can be to know where to start. Often, our well meaning guides along the path say, “If there is one practice you should do daily, it’s this one!” If I had tried to do all of those ones, I would have had 17 hours of daily practice!
So where do you start? Here are two simple meditation practices, easy for the beginning-est of beginners that I humbly offer as your starting point.
In everyday life, mindfulness means being fully present in the moment. Being aware of the flowing moment, as it’s happening – as opposed to daydreaming, planning, regretting, or reliving. But on the cushion, mindfulness is more about directing your attention to a familiar object for a prolonged period of time.
The most common familiar object? The breath.
It’s so easy you don’t even need to close your eyes! Right now, pause your reading and direct your attention to the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. This is meditation in one of its most basic forms.
Most schools of Buddhism have their own form of mindfulness breathing. In Sanskrit it’s known as Shamata and in Tibetan it’s Shinay. “Shi” means tranquility and “Nay” means to abide.
The purpose of this calm abiding practice is to strip away all that is extra in your mind and bring you to experience the true nature of your mind – clear, spacious, and luminous.
To practice, simply sit in your preferred posture and direct your attention to the breath. You can focus on your belly, chest, nostrils, or follow the whole life of the breath as it cycles from inhalation to exhalation. When your mind wanders, bring it back. When your mind wanders again, bring it back again.
One of the most common misconceptions of meditation is that we need to stop all our thoughts. But that is a bit like trying to stop all the waves in the ocean. It’s impossible.
So what we are trying to achieve is rather than rid our mind of all thoughts or get carried away by them like a drifter on the ocean, we want to let them float past us without us latching on to them. In other words we want to be able to sit on the beach of our minds as we watch the waves of our thoughts move past us.
The key to progressing is to not clamp down and try harder when the mind wanders. The true nature of your mind is a relaxed state. Focus instead on balancing the effort of focusing your attention with relaxation. And when it seems as though your practice is getting worse, congratulations! That’s your sign of progress.
As you head toward your clear and luminous true nature you’ll start to notice how congested the traffic in your mind is. And when you notice this, remember: just bring it back to the breath. For we never really know how messy our houses are until we take the time to do proper spring-clean!
Chances are you already do this all the time. Ever been outside at dusk and noticed the full moon rising and the stars shining brilliantly? Ever come upon an unexpected sunset and paused to watch. This is nature meditation. All you need to do to make your practice more meaningful is to add a little intentionality.
We can use nature as a tool to heighten our awareness, calm our bodies, and connect to the divine. It’s as simple as the appreciation that you bring to a beautiful mountain view, a garden, or the sound of birds waking up in the morning.
We are built to resonate with nature and each time we pause to have an intentional encounter something wakes up inside and we take a step closer to our true natures. There are two ways to practice this.
The more formal is to go out into nature; your favorite “happy” place or your own backyard and use your senses to connect. Get still, close your eyes and soak it in.
Feel the temperature, the breeze, hear the sounds around you, smell the fragrance that Mother Earth brings to your particular spot. Then open your eyes and put your full attention on your surroundings.
Don’t label, just appreciate. Don’t evaluate, just experience. And when the mind wanders? Bring it back to the breath!
And congratulate yourself when you remember to do this for this is the holy grail of meditation. Remembering to bring the mind back benefits you immeasurably.
For example when you meditate regularly for a while, then find yourself in a situation that is your kryptonite, all your buttons are pressed yet you remain calm and just deal with it & move on. That is the gem of remembering to come back to the breath.
The second way to practice is spontaneously. When you’re taking your morning walk, stop, as they say, and smell the roses. When the moon catches your eye, stop and say hello, allowing a few seconds to be still and connect with her. These small moments add up and increase our ability to connect and get calm when we need to.
Meditation is a rewarding practice and depending on your goals and your focus can take you in a number of directions.
Grounding yourself, raising your spiritual connection and awareness, realizing various elevated states of being, and even enlightenment itself are all destinations on the meditation path. May these techniques be a humble beginning for your journey.
If you would like to go deeper we run spiritual holidays to India & Bhutan which focus on getting to know yourself through meditation as well as getting to know other cultures. Sign up to our newsletter to be kept up to date and for more essential tips on living a more peaceful life!