The core of meditation practice is sitting in stillness and silence at least once a day, preferably twice a day for 20 minutes or more if possible.
As many people know, the essence of practice is to strengthen the ability to be aware of what is happening in the mind and body for sustained periods of time.
What is very important is to be aware of this simple truth. Some people will find their mind will quiet down fairly readily. Many others will find the mind keeps chattering away with one thought and distraction after another.
Do not be too concerned if you find yourself in the latter category as compared with those in the first. Most of us are in the second group.
In general there is a two part process. The first is to allow your interior experience to be your interior experience without judging whether you are “doing it right” or “doing it badly.”
It is this suspension of judgement and all the usual benchmarks about what is supposed to be happening that is the unique luxury of silent meditation.
This first part of the process allows you to simply notice…”there is tension, there are racing thoughts, there is anger, there is boredom, there is anxiety, or- there are repetitive thoughts going round and round like a dog chasing its tail.” It is enough to allow your experience to be what it is. It is enough to make simple notes: “there is impatience, there is patience, there is judgement, or-there is no judgement. There is calm, there is stress.”
This first part is called “bare attention.” Bare Attention is a simple observing and reporting process.
In the subsequent stages of meditation practice there is an application of active effort to supplant anger with compassion, fear with courage and calm, doubt with faith and conviction, sloth and torpor with an energetic, clear mind etc.
But in the early stages all you need to do is to sit and be silent for a reasonable amount of time, without trying to get to some imagined place of deep meditative peace, rapture, or vision.
It is not that one does not want to get to some very peaceful places and develop some penetrating and liberating insights. It is just that often there is no straight line to get there.
And, you cannot force progress to occur.
Neither do I wish to repeat a common modern, and very fashionable error, that one can reach states of deep peace by making an “effortless effort”
It is just that for most of us the key is to learn how to make the most skillful kind of effort.
This will help. What do you think should be happening? What is happening? What do you think should not be happening? What is happening?
Keep noticing the difference between what you think should be happening and what is happening. Keep noticing the difference between what you think should not be happening and what is happening.
And remember, nobody anywhere really knows much about this life and universe.
Not me, not you, not the most brilliant scientists, not the most devout pilgrims, popes or lamas.
At best all we have is some important clues which are, unfortunately, tangled up with many confusing errors, dreams, and allegories. More on this next week.
Will Raymond Author of “The Simple Path of Holiness” host of MeditationPractice.com