Self Transformation Through Meditation
|II Four Step Guide|
Meditation is a very powerful tool. Some things meditation helps develop are your concentration, your sensory awareness, your ability to be in the moment and flow, your ability to deal with negativity, to become less validation seeking, less reactive, and generally become more balanced overall. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to establish a regular meditation practice – if you do, it is testament to your tenacity and wisdom.
There are a lot of different kinds of meditation out there and a lot of them are bound up with various ideologies, religious practices, and traditions. There’s also a lot of dogma and a lot of conflicting information. If you do some research you will learn that some forms of meditation are used as means of worship, while others are used to develop your concentration. Many non-secular meditations are used purely to help you relax. Finally there are a few types of meditation that focus on developing your faculties for awareness and equanimity (“a state of stability or composure arising from a deep awareness and acceptance of the present moment”)
equanimity are the most powerful and all lead to self-transformation.
Self-transformation through meditation? How? There’s an important paradigm I want you to consider before you continue reading this article. Understanding it will help you gain the context you need to see how and why meditation is so useful. Being conscious, aware, sentient, could be defined as ‘awareness as perceived through the senses’ There are six senses you can be consciously aware of: what you see, hear, taste, smell, feel in your body (balance, pain, temperature etc.) and think in your mind (thought, memories, future projections etc.)
Some things are perceived but you remain unaware of them. If you’ve ever daydreamed or just driven past your exit on the highway you know what I mean. You only have so much processing power and your brain allocates it according to what has value to you. When you drive past your stop you’re not processing fully what you see. As you sit in your chair you’re not processing the tactile sensation of the socks on your feet, the temperature of the room, or the perspiration on your forehead. When someone is talking to you and you’re not listening it’s not because the sound isn’t entering your auditory canal and being received by your brain – you’re simply not processing the information.
Just like your senses you have the ability to be aware of your mind – thought space if you will. Much of what happens in your mind is subconscious. The so called subconscious mind is actually not subconscious; you are just unaware of it. In the same way you do not process certain bits of information because they are not valuable or are too subtle is the same way you are not tuned into the happenings of your subconscious mind. Certain meditations, including the one explained in this guide, give you the tools to dive into your subconscious mind and introspect objectively.
As you move along the path you will learn how to calm down your mind. As you tune into your senses you will become more aware of the mind-body phenomenon. You will see how your body affects your mind and how your mind affects your body. When your body is tense, your mind is agitated – you will learn this first hand very early in your meditation practice.By slowing down the body and relaxing you will subsequently slow down your mind.
In this state you will be able to observe the most subtle sensations on your body and the most delicate thoughts in your mind. If you ever lied to yourself, live through your ego, screw people over, or cheat on your values – it will all become very clear to you. There’s no ignorance in meditation – You are shining a flashlight into the dark corners of your mind. Deeper meditations allow for deeper insights. By taking advantage of the mind-body phenomenon, you will reap the benefits of this connection in other activities of your life as well, such as during exercise.
Meditation is a very powerful tool to transform your perception and understanding of reality. You will hit many real milestones along the way if you decide to begin a regular practice. Eventually you will have such a strong understanding of your own emotional system and how you are wired that life will become easy to you.
Challenges that would throw you off before, no longer affect you. Grief and loss are no longer debilitating and traumatizing. Your ability to be happy in the moment, whatever it may be, is greatly increased. Eventually you will no longer fear death – not through ignorance, but through an understanding. This is why meditation is such a powerful tool for transformation.
II. Four Step Guide
Before you begin you need to handle your physical logistics – For your meditation sessions you should be in an area free from distractions. You should be shielded from bright or distracting light. Sit cross-legged on a cushion of about 3 inches (for comfort) with your back straight up (makes breathing easier) You do not want to be in a chair and you do not want to be lying down (explained later)
Step 1 – (Develops Concentration)
If you have no experience with meditation you are going to need to develop your concentration first. Without it you will not be able to maintain focus long enough to see tangible gains, and you will not be able to go deep enough into your meditation without drifting off. As you begin your session take three deep, long, extended in and out breaths and clear your mind. Make the intention of your session to be on your meditation and not on the preponderance of things going on in your life. Now, focus your attention on the feeling inside and around the rings of your nostrils. Your objective is to become aware of your own breathing… without consciously controlling it. It is likely you will have some difficulty at first – your instinct will be to start breathing consciously. Keep trying and you will get it. At first you will doze, you will wander, and you will do everything but keep your attention on the breath. Soon, though, you will get it.
Recommended Sitting: 10-15 Minutes
When to Advance: After you can regularly hold your focus undisturbed for greater than one minute.
Step 2 – (Develops Concentration, Develops Awareness)
Continue as step one explains but now you will begin developing your faculty for sensory awareness. This is very, very important and the key to successful meditation. As you sit there concentrating on your breathing through the nostrils you will expand your awareness to the small area above your upper lip and on your nose. Your understanding of the concept of awareness will develop with your meditation practice. As your attention sharpens you will begin to notice all kinds of sensations on that small area of your nose. Just observe. Sensations may include perspiration, temperature shifts, an itch, maybe a feeling of dryness… you may not be able to put a discrete label on what you are experiencing – just observe the sensations. As you develop your concentration and awareness you will be able to notice finer and finer sensations – after you reach this stage you can move on to step 3.
Recommended Sitting: 20 – 30 Minutes
When to Advance: When you become in tune to the finest sensations around your nostrils and upper lip (As in the air flow around the room and the temperature difference of air going in and out of your nostrils) You should also be able to hold your focus undisturbed for several minutes.
Step 3 – (Develops Concentration, Develops Awareness)
Now is where you really start to meditate. Begin your sessions with a few long deep breaths to relax and slow your mind a little. Then spend a few minutes following step two – simply observing the breath and the sensations around the nose.
Now you will begin feeling sensations all around the body. Just like you began to observe the sensations on the nose you will now peruse the entire body, one small part at a time.
Begin with a small area on the very top of your head – focus your awareness on any sensations you feel and just observe. If you cannot feel any sensations then maintain your focus on that area for a minute or two. Move around all areas until you have felt every part of your scalp. Before moving on take a moment and resonate your awareness over the entire scalp – simply try to become aware of any sensations from an itch to a dry scratching feeling. Next move your awareness to your face. Feel your forehead, then your eyebrows, then your eyes, your nose, your lips, your cheeks, and your chin. After you have passed over every area again let your awareness resonate before moving on.
Follow this formula for every part of your body. Both arms, legs, torso, neck, and your head. It should take about 10 minutes for you to pass through all parts of the body. This is why it is important to develop your concentration first – otherwise you would never make it through the process of self-observation without drifting off. Once you have finished a full pass from head to toe take a moment and try your hardest to be fully aware of your whole body – all sensations, subtle and gross. Let it resonate for a moment then repeat the process again only this time in reverse order – from toe to head.
Recommended Sitting: 30 Minutes
When to Advance: When you can finish a full three to four passes through the body without losing your focus. At the end of a session you should be able to easily feel awareness in your entire body.
Step 4 – (Develops Concentration, Develops Awareness, Develops Equanimity)
Congratulations, it is a major milestone to reach this stage. It takes a lot of hard work to get to this point, but you did it – all the prior steps lead up to this point – the real work of meditation. This is a lifelong practice that promises to overhaul your very experience of reality. Again, you may be able to read this and understand conceptually how it will help you, but until you understand the truth from your own experience it will not influence your intentions and decision making.
You will now increase the length of your sessions to thirty minutes to an hour – preferably twice a day. This may seem strenuous but keep in mind that regular meditation lowers your sleep requirement per night, helps you fall asleep very quickly, and makes you more productive during the day – among all the other benefits it includes.
When you begin your sessions now you will assume a position and make a strong determination not to move for the entire duration of your sitting. You will not open your eyes, adjust your posture or squirm around. The point of this is to develop your objectivity – you will feel intense itches or maybe your leg will fall asleep or maybe a pain in your knee from a sports injury – anything, just don’t move. You want to learn to observe the sensations you’re experiencing objectively without reacting. This is an important skill you will develop with practice.
Like step three you will pass your awareness throughout your entire body, only now you will add in the inside of your body. Start at the front of your chest and pass your awareness through and out the back like an arrow striking through your body; then again through the legs, and the arms and the skull. As you completely pass through each part of the body again let it resonate. If you have developed your awareness properly you will be able to feel your heart beat, your muscles, the fiber from your clothes on your skin, your bones, the temperature, and the heavy flow of blood near your heart and the subtle pump of blood through your appendages.
After you have reached that stage you should now be able to pass your awareness through your body with a free flow. Imagine a barrel of molasses being poured over your head as you sit. If you cannot pass your awareness this easily throughout then begin again with one body part at a time and go through them systematically (step 3).
It’s very, very important that during your mediation sittings you don’t move, react or adjust. Focus on becoming just a point of awareness. Your ego will habitually try to put a label on your experience, to interpret it or compare it to others. It may crave a certain blissful sensation and feel aversion towards painful sensations. Your objectivity is your equanimity. Learn to observe the sensations and your experiences objectively without slipping into your mind. If you effectively develop this ability, your life will be radically transformed.
So that’s it. Take your practice seriously and make sure you fully understand each step before moving on. This is very real and if you do it properly and consistently, you will see results.
Recommended Sitting: 30 – 60 minutes (Twice a day)
When to Advance: If you maintain the consistency and discipline it takes to reach step 4, then your spiritual pursuits will begin to take you in directions beyond the scope of this simple guide. From this point on, you should seek out spiritual teachers to expand your understanding and awareness even further.
Okay so how the heck is just being aware of what’s happening in my body for an hour a day suppose to radically transform my reality?
Example – Imagine you’re on a long road trip and you’re absolutely miserable. You haven’t eaten and you’re dehydrated. There’s a pain in your back from sitting up so long and the a/c is broken so you’re sweaty and stuffy. You sit there slowly covering the miles until eventually you come across a sign that says, “your destination – 10 miles” Suddenly things don’t seem so bad! Your spirits are up and the last 10 miles seems to fly by, ahhh the misery of bondage and the freedom from liberation. But does the fact that you knew 10 miles were left have anything to do with how you actually felt – in your body?
If the sign wasn’t there you’d have remained miserable until you surprised yourself and reached the town. So what was happening in your mind is the variable, your perception – the label you put on what you were experiencing was the source of your misery. This is how we operate for our entire lives. Some people are particularly prone to multiplying their misery (these would be the pessimists and negative people in the world) others maintain their objectivity as they experience reality.
Meditation teaches you how to observe your senses without escaping into your mind to interpret, label, judge or compare them (functions of the ego) Meditation also teaches you – through firsthand experience – the ever changing nature of reality. Everything you have ever experienced follows the same formula; it arises, it stays, and it passes away. As you meditate your understanding of impermanence is what allows you to objectively observe reality. Your attachments to your possessions, your money, your status, your image, your identity, and even your life all fade away. As you go through life you have this understanding, awareness and you always maintain the balance of your mind. No longer do you suffer from the impurities of the masses: greed, envy, hatred, anger, arrogance – because they all stem from your mind and your ego.
I hope you appreciate this guide and I encourage you to seek out spiritual teachers, but most of all I encourage you to maintain your regular practice. This guide offers you the tools you need to begin. The middle and the end is up to you.