Crash Course To Meditation— My Lifetime Experiences with Meditation Practices - Part 1
A Little Background
As I had some free time recently and I was reading many interesting articles here on Medium, I decided to add my 5 cents to the topic of meditation, which still seems blurry and lacking practical information on what meditation or concentration techniques exactly are, how do they work and where you can find a teacher teaching it.
How it started
I was interested in meditation since the age of 14–16 and at those times of communism in Poland, with no internet or digital technology whatsoever I got my first ever book about meditation that I bought from a pilgrim I met “accidentally” while just walking around. The price was 2 PLN (around 0,5USD) and that was the exact amount of money I had in my pocket. The book looked like quickly printed on poor quality paper and stapled with 2 staples. The black raw letters on the front cover of it were saying: “Brief guide to meditation” by Johannes B. Lotz SI. The book was written by a German monk and indeed it was about meditation — Ignatian meditation. I didn’t feel like practising Catholic meditation at all, but the title of that book sounded like dreams came true for me at that time, so I started reading it in every spare time. Later on, I realized that some of the methods and techniques described in that book were similar to those also used in Buddhist Zen.
At that time my mind was garbage: full of different thoughts and emotions, always whirling, distracting with growing depression and anxiety on top of it. About a year after buying that book I was facing suicidal thoughts. I simply couldn’t live with such chaos in my head anymore. Thankfully, I got through it, I simply realized that I could keep myself alive and try those meditation things I had read about earlier. I felt like I don’t have anything to lose and that kept me alive and also after reflecting on the knowledge I gained about meditation practice so far, I decided to start practising every day.
We were living in a poor village and my room was close to the kitchen and living room. As all those noises were too distractible to me, I prepared a place for myself in the attic. It was a quiet and peaceful place, and also I had my vacation just starting over, so I kept sitting down there every day trying to simply focus my attention on one thing. As you already know, my attitude was like I had nothing to lose. Master it or die.
One Pointed Mind — For Those Who Cannot Focus
There are many ways of meditation, from Zen’s “simply sitting”, through prayers, mantras, dancing, singing and detailed visualizations to watching your thoughts or even what’s beside them — it depends on your needs. So, if you are like me — unable to focus on one thing, here are few exercises to practice.
One more thing: I think it is very important to feel like you were sitting alone at some distant village house’s attic. Without any music, social media, phone, TV or humans. If you can practise in wild nature, like in the forest, for example, good for you — if you are on the top of the mountain — even better. Anyway, turn off any notifications, rings or music. One Pointed Mind means there is only one point of focus for you, so — remove the rest.
I might be wrong, but I think this is the easiest, most natural way to calm your body and mind down and focus. Very good for beginners and that was also the exact exercise I started with. So, sit in a calm place, with spine straight (put your legs in a position you are comfortable with), with eyes open and gaze focused on one point on the floor about 1 meter in front of you. It may be paper with a black dot on it or a candle flame. I did both and stayed with flame (as it felt something more engaging to me). Now, with your gaze stabilized on one point start to breathe deeply and slowly. You are not in a pursue here, give yourself 5–10 breaths just focusing on how you feel the air coming through your nostrils, down through the throat and how your belly is getting rounded and tightening. Then breath out observing the process back to your nostrils. Try to experiences all the feelings as intensively as possible. Feelings, not thoughts.
Then start counting your breaths: breath-in, breath-out and that’s one, again, in-out — that’s two, etc. Count from 1 to 10 and then back from 10 to 1. Try not to speed your breaths, also remember not to move your gaze away from the point of focus. If you cannot get your way to 10 because you get distracted (as I used to) then start counting loudly, using your voice and after 2–5 minutes come back to counting in mind only. Or you can count breath-in as one, breath-out as two, etc. The goal is not to get distracted for as long as you can. If you can count breaths without distraction for 10 mins then start counting from 1–20 and 20–1, then 1–50 (no counting back) and finally 1–100. When you can count your breaths up to 100 without mistakes then you can go to the next practice.
Similarly, as in previous practice, you need a calm place and a point for focusing your gaze, like a flame. If you prefer to close your eyes (which wasn’t working well for me) then focus your gaze on one point in front of your eyes, under your eyelids. Don’t move your eyes from that point until you are finished.
Now, focus your attention on one word, or one thought. It might be the word “flame”, or “candle”, or “silence”. Something simple and supporting your focus. Now, start to breathe deeply as described above and with each exhalation say that word in your mind. The point is not to get distracted or forget about saying that same word every time you exhale. I Practiced it for 10–20 mins few times each day until I was able to sit silently focused on that one thought.
Remember to not move your body or your gaze away and as previously, if you need you can start by saying that word loudly on each exhalation and after few minutes start doing it silently.
So, the above two practices are those I started working with when I was a teenager. In the beginning, it was really hard for me to count these breaths even to 10 as my mind was playing tricky games with me shouting at me all these “so important” thoughts and emotions and trying to possess my attention as much as possible.
Therefore, you should be always aware of where your attention is at the moment and if it is on something different than the subject of your meditation practice. If yes, then just shift your attention back to your subject and continue. In the beginning, it will probably happen often to you, but don’t worry, this is part of the process. Just be aware, adapt and continue.
What I finally achieved was a calm and empty mind but after few years of such practice, I also started to feel that it doesn’t get me anywhere anymore. I also realized that having a constantly empty mind isn’t good for my studies at a technical university, therefore I abandoned the practice.
I didn’t realize that I was missing something very important and that lack of knowledge put me into a nihilistic experience. I thought that this is all that meditation (concentration) could give me — and I was so very wrong as these exercises are preparation of the ground for real meditation.
I am not any kind of self-made or certificated (in any way) meditation teacher. I am just another guy from the internet trying to share something that may be beneficial to those in need to understand what meditation can give us practically, how did I start my journey with it and what are the benefits. Therefore, I am also not a doctor and in this article, there is no medical prescription or treatment of any kind. I am just sharing my story and I am not responsible for your health and am not telling you to follow my advice blindly. For some diseases, meditation is not recommended as it may deepen the disease even more. Please talk to your doctor first.
Also, I didn’t write this article to offend any of mentioned traditions or meditation schools. I just wrote about my knowledge, experiences and what I gained from them. If you think I wrote something misleading please point it out in the comments below, so I can fix it (if your point is convincing).
To be continued.