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Guide: Starting Stage

A Guide to Starting to Meditate: 16 Methods

      You can divide the practice of meditation into three major life stages. This "Starting Stage" guide has several meditation methods for you to try.

        The practices shown here are ordered from easy to more difficult. The easier or more basic are nearer the beginning of this list, the harder ones nearer the end. However, you may find that you have a talent for a "harder" meditation method, so you are welcome to use any that you wish. If you want even more meditation methods, see the Guide to Energy Centers.

      There is no particular danger or advantage to which methods you learn first: simply choose what best holds your interest. Each method can be used by itself, alone; as one of several in a sequence that works for you; or in any combination that helps you or feels right.

1. Posture Meditation:

      What body positions best help you become calm, awake, alert, and focused? Try several for a minute or two each. Then use what works.

      All body positions should be balanced, comfortable, as free of pain as possible, and yet not cause you to sleep or become over stimulated. Basic possible positions include sitting normally, sitting on the floor cross-legged, lying on the floor or in bed flat (or with a pillow under your head, the small of your back, and/or your knees), standing, and walking (indoors or out).

      Try each and see which one keeps you alert but helps your body relax. However, if you wish to use meditation to help you sleep, then test the types below to see what best helps you do that. (See also “Posture.”)

2. Breathing Meditation:

      In your favorite body position, take three deep breaths, holding each for a count of several seconds. Then breathe normally, being sure that “normal” means deeper (not extremely shallow) breathes.

      You may start each breath by letting your lungs fill; or you may start each breath by pushing your stomach in to push the air out of your lungs, and then relaxing as air comes back into your lungs. Let your body breathe in this way slowly, deeply, in a relaxed manner. The depth and the speed of your breathing may be different from other people’s, or at different times, depending on how your body feels.

      Next, as you breathe, watch yourself breathing. You may simply watch in silence, or you may say, in your mind, or out loud, “I am breathing. Watch my breathing. I am breathing in. Now I am breathing out. Now I am breathing in” and so forth. Or, instead, you make count breaths. Continue in this way for five or ten minutes (or longer, if you wish). When you are done with your meditation, take a special deep breath and let it out naturally. (See also “Breathing.”)

3. Calming Meditation:

      In a posture that works best for you, while you breathe, relax the muscles that you do not need for the posture you are in. You may start from the top of your head and relax your muscles, one after another, working downward; or you may start from your toes, relaxing each set of muscles in turn, working upward. Do this two or three times, checking on the muscles, as some may tighten again without your knowledge. Once you have relaxed your muscles, continue to breathe, and tell yourself, “Now I have relaxed all of my muscles.” Become fully aware of what this kind of relaxation feels like. Tell yourself, “This is what relaxation feels like.” Maintain this feeling for five or ten minutes. (See also “Calming Meditation.”)

4. Transcendentalist Meditation: If you are more of a transcendentalist meditation person–one who finds the deeper, higher source of being outside of you, perhaps in nature or art–then simply try to create the conditions for such meditation by being more in nature or around art. Open yourself to nature or art as fully as you can. Let the experience, whether seemingly of a mental nature or of a feeling nature, come into you. Hold onto it, gently or fiercely–whichever works best. Let it descend or "jump" into you. Find the source in it, or simply enjoy it for ever more

5. Beginning Your Meditation:

      Use “1” through “3” above each time you start meditating. Soon you will use them almost automatically. You may need to go through these three steps more slowly if you try a new position, time, or location for your meditation. You may then try any one or more of the following. When you are done with the meditation below that you have chosen, take a special deep breath and let it out naturally.

6. Mantra Meditation:

      A “mantra” is simply a focusing word or phrase that is repeated throughout a meditation. You may choose any deeply meaningful word you wish, whether it is a special type of awareness or spiritual state or the name of a religious figure.

      For example, you might choose one of these words or another like them: “peace,” strength,” “joy,” “bliss,” “love,” “awareness,” “God,” etc. You simply go into a relaxed meditation state as described above, and then start repeating the mantra slowly and comfortably while continuing to breathe slowly and deeply in a natural way. You focus on your chosen word, its meaning, and its feeling as long as you wish. You also may change words.

7. Prayer:

      Traditional prayer is a type of meditation when said or thought with intent (not just said or thought while your mind pays more attention to other things). Whether your prayer has a religious connection or not, and whether it is full of words (see) or is wordless, it is a type of meditation.

      You can start–and make it deeper and more resonant–with any simple beginning meditation techniques, and then sliding into your actual prayer. Or you can use prayer to start, and then slide into deeper states of rest, peacefulness, or love while you dwell on the source of being, such as concentrating on the highest state of being either beyond yourself or the indwelling Self (see) or inner version of being-within. Your prayer may be long or short, organized or rambling, out loud or within your own head or heart, and with no general focus or with a focus on a specific point above or within your head or heart.

      Your prayer may be varied or repetitious (see “Mantra” directly above). You may direct it at a spiritual being of your choice, or you may simply express it in an undirected way, verbally or nonverbally. You may close your hands and body posture or open them, according to any tradition or simply what feels best to you. (See also “Prayer”; and see “Faith” in the “F” section or below in this numbered list of starting meditations.)

8. Memory Meditation:

      You may meditate, starting with good posture and good breathing, simply by recalling a moment that was, for you, one of the best in your life that you ever have experienced. It may be a moment of strong or even intense joy, beauty, peace, love, happiness, strength, or awareness. Recall it as fully as possible, letting the experience sweep through you once again. Let yourself go within it.

      Let it soak into your awareness for as long as you can maintain the memory–up five or ten minutes at a time. You may repeat this as often as you want and you may try it with several such experiences.

      The longer you can let yourself recall the memories the better they can become important ways of meditating. As you recall these experiences, you also may want to connect them with other meditation experiences: they can be starting methods for you, methods that you merge with other meditations, or final or ending memories for a meditation session. (See “Memory Meditations.”)

9. Centering Meditation:

      If you would like a center or point for your meditation, the most basic from which to choose are the four “energy centers” (see):

      Try focusing on each center. Meditation experts consider focusing on any of these four centers a safe practice. Choose the one(s) that work best for you. On which center can you most easily focus? Which one brings you deeper relaxation, calm, or awareness? Try the one you have chosen–or try all four–for five or ten minutes or more. For more details about each of these, see “Meditation Energy Centers” or the above name of each center.

10. Chain Meditation:

      If you have trouble focusing on the higher centers, above, then start with one or more of the lower centers and then move upward. For example, if you start with the heart/solar plexus center, you then can work your way up the chain, as slowly or quickly as you want, to the throat center, then the center between your eyebrows, and then, if you want to go higher, to the center above your head. As with steps “1”-“3” above, this “chain meditation” can be a good way to start a meditation. (See also “Chain Meditation.”)

11. Meditation on Emotion:

      Many try meditation to help with emotional turmoil. The first step is to meditate upon observing the emotion and separating it into its two components, which are the thought or memory on the one hand, and the physical sensation or physical feeling on the other. The second step is to dive into the heart of one or the other: focus on the thought or memory until it has less power over you, or dive into the physical feeling as if into a pool of water until it has less power over you. Doing this does not cause the emotion to grow, though it may seem so at first; rather, it diminishes its power or, at worst, makes it no stronger. This second step may need to be repeated a number of times.

      If, however, after a time this method is not–or is only partly–successful, then you may need to change other parts of your life: remove yourself from the cultural or social environments that trigger the emotion, begin daily moderate or strenuous exercise, and change your diet–drink more water, eat less sugar, and get rid of excess alcohol, caffeine, or other foods that affect you negatively. You also may try keeping a journal of feelings and thoughts each day.

      If these methods still are insufficient, then also see a doctor for a physical cause, consider physical therapy of some kind (physical therapist, chiropractor, acupuncture/acupressure/massage therapist, etc.), and seek a counselor or psychologist with whom to talk. Throughout these changes, meditation can be a valuable supplement. (See also “Emotion.”)

12. Meditation on Pain:

      Meditating on pain may bring relaxation, better circulation, and better natural healing by the body. However, if you are suffering severe or ongoing pain, you should consult a physician. To meditate on pain, focus on the center or area of pain. Let yourself relax as you do so–if you become increasingly tense and/or the pain suddenly grows much worse, then stop the meditation. As you focus on the pain, go into it, become aware of it, as if you are diving into a pool or, perhaps, examining a flower.

      Another technique is to imagine a healing color, such as green, encompassing the pain. As you focus on the pain, the area may begin to throb. This is not only natural but often helpful, as it can be a sign that more blood is flowing to the area. Maintain your focus on the pain as long as you can, and repeat as necessary. Also pursue other means of getting rid of the pain such as stretching, exercise, massage, and other types of physical therapies. If you cannot rid yourself of the pain after several days, consult a physician. (See also “Pain and Disease.”)

13. Relaxation Meditation:

      This is similar to the “Calming Meditation” above, but a little more advanced. It is best done when lying or sitting. Focus on a part (or paired parts) of your body such as one or both feet, hand(s), or the top of your head. Focus on the chosen area and allow a tingling sensation to enter it–or to allow the sensation of your heartbeat to enter it. Either type of sensation relaxes and soothes the muscles.

      Then move your focus elsewhere–to the other hand or foot, up an arm or leg, or down your head–developing the same sensations there. Eventually, over a period of several meditations, you may want to move your focus–and the sensations–closer to the core of your body, your trunk, and work your focus all over. If a particular spot is uncomfortable, you may focus especially on that. In doing so, it may help to bring your tingling or heartbeat to a spot near the discomfort, and then into the discomfort, sometimes doing this repeatedly.

      Many people use this meditation to fall asleep, which makes it useful as a sleep aid. Others find it a helpful break during busy activities in their day. It is a highly relaxing form of meditation that can be done briefly even when you are sitting in public without others knowing you are using deep relaxation. (See also “Relaxation Meditation.”)

14. Faith:

      Faith meditation is an openness to higher powers, beings, or levels. It is an active, engaged awareness that is focused. To have faith means that you open your mind and heart, sometimes more, to whatever highest energy level or highest spiritual power in which you believe or to which you feel a connection. You clear your mind and body as much as possible of normal or even unusual activities–pushing aside thoughts and feelings–to focus your awareness, yearning, or a sense of what we might call “waitingness” on your higher power.

      This type of meditation can be an active, seeking, searching, and pushing of your awareness toward your higher power. Or it can be a passive, but still clear, waiting in the midst of your mind, your body, your pain or problem, or your joy or love for something higher to come to it. (See also “Faith.”)

15. Awareness of Your Energy Sphere:

      Each of us has a field of bioelectric energy around us. Science can easily detect it up to two inches from our heads, and more delicate scientific instruments can detect it a foot or two from our heads. A meditation related to this is to simply picture your own energy sphere around your head–whatever size you want to picture–and let this sphere fill with peace, calm, light, or something else that is positive and easy to imagine.

      A second meditation that is similar is to to let this sphere fill with pure awareness, either within itself or looking outward. A third meditation that is similar is to imagine this sphere–and the positive energy with which you fill it–around your entire body. (See also “Energy Sphere.”)

16. Flow Meditation:

      Some meditators think of this as the “Be Here Now” meditation. Another name for it is the "Awareness-of-Each-Object-of-Awareness Meditation." You live in a constant flow of experience: sensing, remembering, thinking, feeling. During this flow, simply become increasingly aware of each element in the flow, each “object of awareness” that your awareness touches upon from second to second. Usually you can best start learning to do this in a still place with no body movement and closed eyes. As you try to be aware of each “object” upon which your awareness touches, don’t worry about what you’ve missed: just try to follow the present current, just as you might experience waves of water washing over you, or waves of music coming to your ears. (See also the “Flow Meditation.”)

17. Awareness of Awareness:

      This type of meditation is simple in theory but difficult to maintain for long in practice. For this reason, you may want to practice the previous “Awareness of Each Object” meditation, above. In an “Awareness of Awareness” meditation, you turn your awareness upon itself, watching yourself watch yourself. Beginners often find themselves becoming aware of brief periods of a second to a few seconds of seeming unconsciousness, which is normal. This type of meditation, if held long enough–for periods of fifteen seconds or longer–sometimes can create much relaxation or peace. (See also “Awareness of Awareness.”)

Pathways of Meditation

      On a final note, you may be interested in some of the major different pathways that meditators tend to take as they move toward the middle and end stages of meditation. For a list of these several pathways, see “Pathways of Meditation.”



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Text © 2017-2020 by Richard Jewell

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