Since I began my morning routine, I’ve dedicated at least ten minutes most mornings to a sitting meditation practice. This is very simple; I sit cross-legged on a pair of pillows and gaze out my living room window. I do not close my eyes. In front of me sits a small Siddhartha Buddha that my mother gave me on a crystal clock that was a gift from a former voice student. Once there, I “meditate”, and a meditation-timer-application on my phone chimes at certain intervals.
In general, I follow the meditation instructions laid out in What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula:
You breathe in and out all day and night, but you are never mindful of it, you never for a second concentrate your mind on it. Now you are going to do just this. Breathe in and out as usual, without any effort or strain. Now, bring your mind to concentrate on your breathing-in and breathing-out; let your mind watch and observe your breathing in and out…Forget all other things, your surroundings, your environment; do not raise or eyes and look at anything. Try to do this for five or ten minutes.
This is a basic concentration exericse. I’m not very good at it, to be perfectly honest. I began meditating off and on about ten years ago, and even so, my mind wanders. I do catch myself reaching for my coffee sometimes or staring at some detritus on the floor before I snap out of my mental wandering and return to the task at hand.
What has changed is my sense of the objective. Before, I was looking for some far out experience. Maybe I might feel euphoria or have some blinding insight or even a hallucination. Nowadays, I’m just trying to be present and dodge the self-congratulatory or self-deprecating thoughts that tend to arise and take me out of my immediate surroundings. Whether good or bad, those self-referential thoughts vainly arise to build some kind of edifice of the self that is permanent and unchanging.
When they become too much, I’ve learned to shut them down momentary with a loud mental “HERE” that reconnects me to the present. When I’m successful at this, it proves to me the words of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche:
As water clears when undisturbed, mind clears when undisturbed.
And from this point, if I ride this state of calm well enough, any insights tend to feel minor and obvious, and they are known without the mental trumpets blaring congratulations. It’s more of an internalized “huh” or check mark, and then I move on, knowing more clearly that many meditation practicioners have tread similar paths before and know things that I currently don’t but someday might.
I write this in hopes that, if you have considered meditation, you give it a try. Now, I do have a Buddhist perspective, but you don’t need to worry yourself about that. Meditation is not strictly Buddhist or religious in nature. You don’t even need to sit cross-legged unless you want to.
It’s very basic, and I suppose at it’s core it’s just you trying to be patient with yourself for a set amount of time with as few external distractions as possible.
This should be possible, but as I can attest, it’s harder to do once attempted. Many people after giving up the practice say something along the lines of “Meditation isn’t for me. I’m not the type. I tried, and it didn’t work.” But that’s more or less true for everybody. Sitting quietly with yourself is challenging, and it’s especially challenging if you have some goal in mind for what you want meditation to do to you.
There’s no real goal except those that you set for yourself, and any waypoints I’ve reached have felt very mild. I will not list any potential external benefits of meditation beyond saying this: there is something worthwhile about it. But it’s not a drug. It’s not going to fix your life in one go. It’s not going to make you a bunch of money. It can be easy some days and hard on others. It can be deadly boring. It is challenging. It can be sad or happy or frustrating. It can be nothing at all.
It’s just life, more quietly lived, in the present, in your own head, where you always are.