I frequently see recommendations given in response to a wide range of questions, that the inquirer should begin a meditative practice. Generally the next question then is, ok, how do I begin?
In the SMOP group last year we covered a series on meditation that began with an introduction to beginning meditation practice, and then went on to cover 8 specific kinds of meditation exercises. Whether you are new to meditation, or an experienced practitioner, you might find the introduction portion of this series of benefit.
Every modern book that I have read on meditation seemed to start with an instruction that you should, in effect, “clear your mind”. However, I have yet to see any practical method given on how to accomplish this, since thinking about not thinking is still thinking.
I was taught that the means to achieving a meditative state was not through attempting to clear the mind, but through the relaxing of will, allowing the entering of an altered state through a shift in consciousness. To accomplish this shift, at least in the beginning of your meditative practice, it is recommended that you consider making use of the following preparatory steps.
1. Use the same space/location each time you meditate. Use an area where you can be reasonably sure that you will not be disturbed by man or beast. An enclosed area or room dedicated solely to the practice of meditation is optimum, but generally not possible. Scheduling may have to substitute for seclusion.
2. Pick a time when you can do your meditation at the same time each day, one where you will not be disturbed by others who you share your space with. Be considerate of them by picking a time when you will not be placing restrictions/limitations on their use of the space. Most modern books/teachers on meditation recommend early morning to be the best time for meditation, the assumption being that after a night’s rest you won’t fall asleep as readily. For me, early morning works just the opposite, I just go back to sleep.
I have found that what the time of day is, is not as important as picking a time where you can meditate each day at the same time. It is important to establish a rhythm, at least in the beginning. For me, the best time turned out to be very late in the evening. That has provided me with several benefits, not the least of which is that I am able to carry portions of what I am working on in the meditation over into my sleep time.
3. Take steps to minimize distractions from the five senses, not by eliminating input, but by providing a single point of focus for each sense that can then be relegated to the background.
a. Sense of Touch: Wear the same clothing each time you do your meditation exercises. The clothing should be of natural fiber if at all possible. Cotton is generally the preferred material of choice because of its availability and reasonable cost. Other natural fibers such as silk or hemp are fine too. Your clothing should be as comfortable as possible, loose enough to not bind, close fitting enough to not bunch up, warm enough that you won’t get chilled from being stationary for a period of time, but not so warm as to make you uncomfortable. It may seem silly to wear the same articles of clothing each time you meditate but there is a reason for it which will be covered below.
b. Sense of Smell: Pick an essential oil or incense to use, and then use the same one each time. Whether you choose to use incense or oil, it must be natural in origin. Synthetics may seem to “smell” the same, but create noise at an energy level that can be disruptive to the process. A good Sandalwood incense or Sandalwood essential oil would be best for making contact with one’s Guides and Teachers, but due to its reduced availability from overharvesting; “pure” Sandalwood for a while became cost prohibitive, although it seems to have come down in price some at present. If you are comfortable with the scent, Frankincense Oil works very well, and, it has been my experience that Frankincense and Myrrh resins burned together result in a significant stimulation of the brow chakra area. Copal resin from Southern Mexico and Central America can be substituted for Frankincense and is milder (use by itself). To use an oil, place either a few drops in water in a heated diffuser, or just on a cotton ball in a small dish. Resin incense is burned on charcoal and definitely provides the strongest background scent (be careful of setting off smoke alarms though).
c. Sense of Taste: I found that starting the meditation with a cup of tea worked very well. The cup should not be too large, no more than 4 to 6 oz. This allows for most of the cup to be consumed in a relatively short period of time, and is not enough that the bladder will start making itself known prior to the completion of the meditation. I used Celestial Seasoning’ Sleepy Time Tea in the beginning, a mixture of Chamomile and Mints. The Chamomile is relaxing but bland, the Mint good for digestion and leaves the single pleasant taste that we are trying for here. Now I do my own blend of Chamomile and Peppermint.
d. Sense of Hearing: Certain types of instrumental background music or environmental sound works best. You are trying for “white noise”, a single sound to mask any external sound that may intrude, such as cars going by, etc. In the environmental sound cd’s, rain works very well, except for the occasional thunder that most studios seem to feel that it is necessary to include. Trickling streams, soft waves, etc. also work well. For music, do not use vocals in the beginning (selective vocals such as chants can be excellent for manipulating the type of meditative state later though). No matter how soothing the sound, whenever a human voice is perceived a part of the mind is automatically programmed to be set aside to process what is being communicated, even though you are not consciously aware of it.
e. Sense of Sight: Dim the lights, but do not use total darkness. In total darkness we tend to generate random images (sparks, flashes, etc.) that can be distracting.
4. You form your own ritual by following however much of the above process you choose to use in preparing to meditate each time. By the time you have settled into a comfortable position, and have finished sipping your tea, you will have in all likelihood made a transition from the mundane world to the one where you meditate. With time, as soon as you begin to change clothes, prepare the tea, etc., you will start this mental shift and reaching an” altered state” comes almost without effort.