A Step-by-Step Guide to the Art & Science of Meditation
by Jyotish Novak
Meditation is a simple process which can be done any time and anywhere you can interiorize your mind. It is not based on dogma, faith, or ritual but is concerned, like science, with experimentation and experience. Just as science seeks to uncover the secrets of nature, meditation seeks to discover truths about the nature of consciousness. Its tools, rather than microscopes and oscilloscopes, are concentration and intuition. While nothing is needed for meditation except a willing and inquiring mind, there are a number of things that can be done to make the search easier. The following are helpful aids.
Set Aside a Special Area for Meditation
It is very helpful to have an area that is used only for meditation. It will help reinforce a meditative mood and, over time, will become filled with meditation "vibrations." A small room or closet is ideal as long as it can be well ventilated. If you don't have enough space for a whole room, then set aside a small area in your bedroom or some other room that can be kept just for meditation. Your area can be kept very simple - all you really need is a small cushion or a chair to sit on.
You may also want to set up a small altar with a picture or pictures of those great souls who particularly inspire you. Many people also like to have a small candle for evening meditations and perhaps an incense burner. Your altar can be elaborate or simple according to your own tastes. A pure heart is, in any case, the true altar.
Cooperate with Natural Forces
There are certain natural forces which can either help or oppose your efforts. Magnetic forces in the earth tend to pull one's energy down. Certain natural fibers serve as an insulation against these forces just as a rubber coating insulates an electrical wire. Traditionally, yogis sat on a tiger or deer skin, but it works nearly as well to cover your meditation seat with a woolen blanket, a silk cloth, or both.
Especially good times to meditate are dawn, dusk, noon, and midnight. At these times, the gravitational pull of the sun works in harmony with the natural polarity of the body. It is somewhat easier to meditate at night or early in the morning while others are asleep. Thoughts have power, and the restless thoughts of people around you will have a subtle tendency to make your meditations more restless.
Develop Good Habits
Good habits will be the major force in determining whether or not you benefit from the science of meditation. A bold statement, perhaps, but a true one. Good intentions and bursts of enthusiastic devotion will dissipate unless they become translated into daily habits.
The first thing you need to do is settle on when it is convenient to do your meditations. In choosing a time for meditation, regularity is the most important factor, so set a time when you can be consistent. Meditate every day. Even if you meditate only five or ten minutes at a time, at least start! Better yet, try to meditate fifteen to twenty minutes twice a day in the beginning and then increase the time gradually; but don't go beyond your capacity to enjoy each meditation. Depth of meditation is more important than the length of time spent. As you progress you will find that you naturally want to meditate longer. The more you meditate, the more you will want to meditate! Once you have chosen a time for your meditations, stick with it until a strong habit has time to form.
For most people, the best times are just after rising in the morning and just before bed at night. These times are the least likely to have scheduling conflicts, and it is easier to re-program the subsconscious mind, where habits are rooted, just after or before sleep. Many people also like to meditate before lunch or after work, before eating dinner. Wait at least a half hour after eating - up to three hours after a heavy meal - so there will not be competition for energy between digestion and meditation.
A very helpful means of increasing the length and depth of your meditations is to have at least one long meditation each week. Your long meditation should be about three times as long as your normal ones. If you are normally meditating for twenty minutes at a sitting, try, once a week, to meditate for an hour. Not only will you find that you can go deeper in the long meditation, but your usual twenty minutes will soon begin to seem short.
Group meditation is also very helpful. If possible, try to find a group of people who meditate regularly. The encouragement of others who have been meditating longer than you is a very powerful spiritual force.