What is a meditation and how to meditate?

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Meditation, this mystical and mysterious word associated with an image of sages, sitting somewhere deep in the mountains, isolated from the real world. But what exactly is the meditation? Is it really something so strange, something so far from a normal life?

Monk meditating in the forest

What is a meditation

Many people imagine a Buddhist monk (most likely a Shaolin :D) sitting in a lotus position when they hear the word meditation. It is indeed most associated with Buddhism or yoga exercises, all from the Asia. One however doesn’t have to be a Buddhist or a yoga practitioner to meditate. Meditation is everywhere! All the religions know meditation, many other spiritual teachings know meditation, even martial arts know meditation. So what is it?

Meditation in seiza position before karate training

I am definitely not a master or a guru in any religion. I have not studied all the meditation techniques around the world but I spent some time researching various types and opinions on this topic. I have tried many techniques and what I want to share with you is just my personal opinion. I am a Christian and I when I have started to meditate, one friend told me that I should immediately stop. She said “Meditation is a dialogue with devil!” I was not aware of any talk with the devil but whatever. There are many people meditating all around the world and everyone has an unique feeling of what the meditation is.

I believe that meditation is simply, the true perception of reality. If you ask me what do I think about energy and chakra meditations, some drugs inducted or natural euphoria states, special breathing exercises and impossible yoga positions, chanting of various texts and mantras, I’d say that none of that is a meditation. However everything can become a meditation! Let me explain. Meditation is in my opinion a state of a perfect focusing on one thing. It’s a state when one calms down and takes a control over his own thoughts. That’s all. It doesn’t matter what he does, it could be singing, training or even working. It’s however much more difficult to stay in a meditative state when doing some activity. Some activities are simply more suitable and support reaching the meditation better than the others, but the actual goal is to turn one’s whole life into a meditation. To be aware of his own mind all the time, to do everything consciously, viewing the reality as it is. Simply to become enlightened. That is in my humble opinion the ultimate goal of a human life.

Meditation techniques

Without further adieu, let me describe some of my favorite meditation variations:

  • Zazen – Shikantaza (or I call it simply a Silence)
  • This is the king of meditation techniques to me. It’s the simplest and yet the most difficult one. The world shikantaza literally means just sitting. And that’s it! I usually sit down cross-legged and relax. The core of this technique is to get rid of the mess in one’s head in order to clearly perceive the reality. One can have closed eyes or slightly opened (even widely opened but that can cause new thoughts appearing, good practice is to sit against a single colored wall). Try to become empty. Don’t get involved in any thoughts. If you do, then start again. Don’t ignore anything though. Look at it (meaning your thoughts and inner feelings) and let it go. In other words, this meditation is simply to be. By the way, imagine a lake. When it’s too wavy, you can’t really see what’s in the water nor the reflection of yourself. Our goal is to make the surface calm and flat as a mirror. Try to imagine such water surface in your head.
  • Relaxation
  • As simple as it sounds. Lay down in your bed, make sure the temperature is pleasant to you (if it’s a bit colder make sure to cover your body or at least legs since your body might cool down a bit). When doing this meditation I prefer listening to some kind of calm music that somehow resonates in my heart (Don’t listen to any generic so called meditation & relaxing music if you don’t feel any connection to it. Better to listen to something that makes you happy even if it doesn’t sound calm enough.). Now with every exhalation, relax all your muscles. Start from your legs or head and focus on releasing any tension in all the muscles along the way. You can also imagine your body parts being extremely heavy, like from a steel and then becoming extremely light such as clouds.
  • Here and now
  • Remind yourself of your past and then throw it away. Think about the future, your plans and fears and throw it away. Be right here and right now! Feel the body. Look around yourself, listen to all the sounds, focus on the smells, feel the texture or the objects around, feel the body functions, heart beating (when you are calm enough, you can even hear it), breath, blood circulating… Look at your body parts, touch them and feel them. There is nothing else but the present moment.
  • Exhaling the bad
  • This is very useful when you’re having a lot of stress or even helps when being sick. During every inhalation imagine you are inhaling love, light and peace. Imagine some shiny substance filling your whole body, regenerating every cell. During exhalation, imagine you are letting all the negative things out with the air from your lungs. All the illnesses and bad thoughts, all the fears and grudges are coming out, leaving your body.
  • Guillotine
  • This is a technique well known in yoga tradition. Imagine that you lost your head. Be it a beheading by guillotine, sword or whatever. But don’t focus on this act too much, it’s not about creating some morbid visions :D. Now imagine that the head is gone and your mid is now situated in your heart. Literally remind yourself that the head is gone, imagine it not being there. You will feel how with your brain also left all the thoughts and all the worries of every day's life.
  • Why
  • If you don’t feel like relaxing too much and dicing into some calm states this is a perfect meditation you can do for example while walking around the town. Choose one fact about yourself (something you’ve done and regret, some personality trait, the activity you are doing right now…) and ask yourself “Why?”. Why am I doing this right now? Why am I like that? Why did I do that? Then answer yourself and ask yourself again, questioning now the answer you gave yourself and keep going like this deeper and deeper. You might find out some very interesting things about yourself. (this meditation was a bit inspired by an anime called Neon Genesis Evangelion :D)
    In a book Journey to the West by Wu Cheng-en is an interesting part where a Bodhisattva is talking a man-eating monster:
    There are the five kinds of food−grains, and they are sufficient to assuage hunger, so WHY eat people to keep alive? When the monster heard these words it was as if he awoke from a dream...
  • Mirror
  • Look at your own reflection in the mirror. Look right in your eyes and stay there for minutes. After some time you might see how your face changes or simply feels like it’s not yours at all. It’s a nice way to see some of your thoughts appearing visually in front of you. WARNING! This method might be a bit dangerous and might cause some unpleasant visions.
  • Reviewing
  • At the end of the day, when lying in the bed. Go through the day again and review all your actions and events that happened. Dalai lama once said that this is a very effective meditation which can help us to improve ourselves every day. Take the advantage of everything that happened, even seemingly negative things. Everything is an experience and can serve as a step on our personal growth. Analyze what was good and bad, how better could you behave in various situations or what was the right reaction.
  • Death
  • This type of meditation is not for everyone but in many traditions it is considered one of the most valuable techniques. Contemplate about death. How everything in this world is born and dies. There is always a beginning and the end. Even for you. Many masters actually sought some creepy places like graveyards since it was the most suitable place to realize the truth about one’s existence in this material world.
  • Every day's activities
  • As I foreshadowed above, meditation can be anything. What is important is to focus on the activity you do without any disturbing thoughts. Do it with love, here and now.
  • Prayer
  • If you are religious, especially one of the monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism or Islam you surely pray to God. This is a great meditation as well. You not only evaluate your own deeds but also calm down to have this talk with your Father.
  • Energy and chakras
  • For this type of meditations it’s better to have someone to lead you or at least study some advanced techniques. The most common and harmless method is to visualize your body to disappear. Feel only some subtle vibrations of energy flowing inside you and around you. Take a look on chakra system and focus on each chakra. Just stay there for a while, don’t force any pictures or feelings, just let your mind dwell in that place for some time and go to another one. Feel the aura around your astral body.
Simplified chakras and energy meridians

Here are some additional tips and advice.

  • Always stay relaxed. There shouldn’t be any tension in one’s body or any stressful thoughts. If you’re not relaxed, spend some time before the actual meditation just by relaxing your body and mind.
  • Do not force anything! One wise person once said that “Monks doesn’t meditate, he just waits for the meditation to come.”
  • The easiest way to get rid of the thoughts is to focus on breathing. Pay attention to the pause between exhalation and inhalation. That moment has a huge significance in many meditation traditions. Another very useful technique is to imagine the thoughts as pictures on a photographic film. Let them come, take a look at them and then send them away. As if they were just passing by without you getting deeper into them.
  • Meditation is not a passive vegetative state where you dull your mind. It’s an active process where you are getting acquainted with your own mind.
  • You can meditate anywhere but the best place is in the nature.
  • Breath with your nose instead of mouth. Try to breath “into your stomach”. When you breath in, your abdomen should move forward (expand) and vice versa.
  • Don’t get angry because people don’t understand or mock you because of the meditation. Always remember that love and compassion is the most valuable mediation of all. Never let meditation techniques isolate yourself entirely from the other people (not talking about becoming a sage at a deserted place, which is something out of scope of this article) or even feel hatred. In other words, you shouldn’t meditate for selfish reasons.

Benefits of meditation

So why would you meditate in the first place? There are many benefits to meditation. Here is a list of those that I find most important:

  • Uncovering the truth about the reality
  • It’s not usually how we see it. In fact, it’s impossible for a human being to perceive the whole reality around us with all the consequences and reasons behind everything. Nothing is entirely bad or good. Meditation can help you find always what you need when looking at things without emotional affection.
  • Getting rid of stress
  • Health benefits
  • Mind and body are not two separated and isolated things! One example, there are some alternative way to cure warts. One of them that I’ve heard is to shout at them or imagining them to dry out and fall off. It worked for me in a few days after months of useless treatment.
    There are many studies about health benefits of meditation. It can help you avoid heart attacks, sleep problems, high blood pressure, digestion problems, balding...
  • Living a happier and more peaceful life
  • Becoming able to correctly react in any situation
  • Getting rid of unnecessary fears and worries
  • Helps with fighting the depression
  • Increases one’s energy, endurance and productivity
  • One can become more sensitive to subtle energies
  • Well, some people meditate in order to gain some healing abilities and some supernatural powers. There are stories about masters who achieved this in the history so this is a valid reason too I guess but it shouldn’t be the main purpose.
  • and many others...
Lotus position meditation in the nature

So I hope this has been helpful to some of you. I have reserved 30 minutes per day solely for meditation, usually every morning. I also meditate during the day simply when I feel like it and have some time. It’s good to make a schedule in order to make meditation a habit. The goal is to meditate the whole day during every activity which is however not that easy. At first when one tries to meditate, it’s like 1 minute of meditation and 29 minutes of wandering in thoughts and trying to calm down :D. It’ll eventually get better, so just don’t give up! You’ll feel the effects of meditation on your life immediately.

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