What is it?
There is a large diversity of traditional and contemporary meditation practices to be found. Generally, buddhist meditation encompasses a variety of techniques that are practiced in order to develop tranquility and insight. Some might say meditation is a means of transforming the mind to encourage the development of concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things. We invite you to explore and try some of these methods for yourself.
Basic Meditation Instructions (mindfulness of breathing)
- Sit with your back straight and eyes closed.
- Try to feel the sensations in your body of each breath coming in and going out.
- Wherever you feel the sensation most clearly is the place to focus your attention for the duration of the meditation period.
- Your mind will wander; this is normal. When you realize you’ve wandered just gently bring your attention back to the sensations of each breath.
- Continue (attention, wander, gently return) for the set amount of time you have chosen for this period.
Further Exploration: teacher instructions:
Basic Breath Meditation Instructions, Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, Jack Kornfield
A Guide to Walking Meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh
Zazen Instructions, Zen Mountain Monastery
Meditation Instruction by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
The basic technique is that we begin to notice our breath, that we could have a sense of our breath. The breath is what we’re using as the basis of our mindfulness technique; it brings us back to the moment, back to the present situation. The breath is something that is constant-otherwise it’s too late.
We put the emphasis on the out-breath. We don’t accentuate or alter the breath at all, just notice it. So we notice our breath going out, and when we breathe in, there is just a momentary gap, a space. There are all kinds of meditation techniques and this is actually a more advanced one. We’re learning how to focus on our breath while at the same time giving some kind of space to the technique.
Then we realize that, even though what we’re doing is quite simple, we have a tremendous number of ideas, thoughts and concepts-about life and about the practice itself. And the way we deal with all these thoughts is simply by labeling them. We just note to ourselves that we’re thinking, and return to following the breath.
So if we wonder what we’re going to do for the rest of our life, we simply label it thinking. If we wonder what we’re going to have for lunch, simply label it thinking. Anything that comes up, we gently acknowledge it and let it go.
There are no exceptions to this technique: there are no good thoughts and no bad thoughts. If you’re thinking how wonderful meditation is, then that is still thinking. How great the Buddha was, that’s still thinking. If you feel like killing the person next to you, just label it thinking. No matter what extreme you go to, it’s just thinking, and come back to the breath.
Walking Meditation by Sharon Salzburg
The essence of walking meditation is to bring mindfulness to an act that we normally do mechanically. In this meditation, we bring our attention to the basics—the sensations of our body moving through space. You may practice either inside or outside. Be sure you have enough space to walk at least twenty steps at which point you’ll turn around and retrace your path. If it’s possible, you can also do your walking meditation outdoors where you won’t need to turn around. While you’re walking, your eyes will be open, and you’ll remain fully aware of your surroundings, even though your focus will be on the movement of your body.
Start by standing comfortably with your eyes open at the beginning of the path you’ve chosen. Your feet are shoulder-width apart, your weight evenly distributed. Hold your arms at your sides in whatever way seems comfortable and natural, or clasp your hands lightly behind your back or in front of you. Now settle your attention into your feet. Feel the tops of your feet, the soles; see if you can feel each toe. Become aware of your foot making contact with your shoes (if you’re wearing them) and the sensations of your foot making contact with the floor or ground.
Now you’ll begin walking. Remain relaxed but alert and receptive. Walking at a normal speed, focus on the movement of your legs and feet. Notice that you can focus on the feeling of your feet touching the ground and at the same time be aware of the sights and sounds around you without getting lost in them. The sensations are like a touchstone for us.
After a few minutes, see if you can slow down a bit and be aware of what it feels like as you lift the heel, then the whole foot; what it feels like when you move your leg through space and place your foot. Make a simple mental note each time your foot lifts and each time it touches the ground to anchor your attention. If you’re outside you may find yourself distracted by people moving around you, the play of sun and shadow, the barking of a dog. That’s okay; just return the focusing on your feet touching the ground. After a few more minutes, slow your walking down further and divide the step into three parts: lift, move, place. It might take a while for you to get used to this new pace and cadence: lift, move, place, and come to rest. Only then lift the back foot.
You may feel a bit wobbly—and the more slowly you move and the more aware of your feet you become, the more unbalanced you feel. If that happens, speed up a bit. Do the same if your mind starts wandering a lot, or you’re having trouble connecting with your bodily sensations. Experiment with pace until you find the speed that best allows you to keep your attention on the feeling of walking—the speed that allows you to remain most mindful.
And after twenty minutes or so of walking, simply stop and stand. Notice what you feel at the point where your feet meet the ground; take in what you see and hear around you. Gently end the meditation.