So this is the first post with real information straight from a serving monk. Novice Chai Vang is a Buddhist monk who started from a very early age,, as is the case for many novice monks. I actually received this information from him last year when I was teaching English, and was a pleasant surprise. He had been writing all of this out for me without me knowing and then before I was due to leave, he handed me about 10 sheets of paper, all written in very good English.
Bear in mind that it is a completely different script, so no mean feat!
Novice Chai Vang is a pretty smart cookie and I remember him as being one the first students I had, to pick up the hidden meanings in metaphors. I wanted to try and teach them to read between the lines of certain things and I used the parable of teaching a man to fish, you will feed him for a lifetime.
There is also a section on Buddhism itself which I will also use later on, but for now I will stick with the meditation part.
I have also added some of my own thoughts and taken away some things, as well as cleaning it up a little bit. However, if you want to see the original content written by Novice Chai Vang himself, there is a gallery below.
Make it a formal practice
You will only get to the next level in meditation by setting aside specific times (preferably two times a day) to be still
All of the novice monks, full monks, former monks and lay people that I have spoken to have all made this point very clear: In order how to meditate with purpose, you need to set aside a certain time or times of the day to dedicate to meditation.
Now this doesn’t have to mean that you will need to keep several hours of your day free for this, but it does mean that for at least around 5-10 minutes possibly morning and night, you should stop, sit down and focus on your breathing.
In order to make anything a habit, you must do it day in, day out. There will be days when you just do not have any time. That is OK, we all do. There will be times when something has happened that has knocked your schedule well out of place and it is just not possible to do anything else but damage control. That is also fine, believe me when I say that it has happened to me on many occasions here in Laos.
Actually the correct name of Laos is: Laos P.D.R, which many joke either means: “Laos, People Don’t Rush” or “Laos, Please Don’t Rush”! Either way you get the idea that plans are not things one can do here!
However, what it does mean is that apart from the odd day that it seems the entire universe has conspired against you, you must actively make time for meditation.
Actually, once you have pushed away some unnecessary clutter to make way for your meditation, you will feel like you can achieve more and better use your time. Your mind will be laser focused, sharp and ready to take on and overcome anything.
- Schedule at least 10 minutes, two times a day (morning and evening) to meditate
- Don’t kick yourself or worry too much that you may miss one or two sessions, it happens
- Think about what you do in the day that is excess baggage that could be better used for something else such as mediation
Stretching loosens the muscles and tendons allowing you to sit (or lie) more comfortably. Additionally stretching starts the process of “going inward” and brings added attention to the body
We all know how a really good stretch feels.
It opens up the rib cage and pops all of the air out of the gaps in our bones. It feels wonderful! [footnote]Unless of course you over-stretch and pull a muscle. I have done this on several occasions and pulled my upper back, which is incredibly painful. So do i slowly and know the limits of your body and the stretch.[/footnote]
It also loosens your muscles and makes them more pliable and flexible. This is is very important for meditation as it means you can breathe correctly and deeply. It also results in less wired muscle feelings which can disturb you from the important task ahead.
It is also interesting that Novice Chai Vang mentions that stretching begins the process of going inwards to your body. I must admit that before I spoke with these guys about how to meditate with purpose, I never really gave this any thought!
It does make sense though, because when you are stretching in preparation for an activity, either sports, meditation or otherwise, you become very conscious of every little pang of pain and popping of air and the sensation of each muscle. You feel muscles you forgot existed and remember old ones that have always given you trouble.
You reengage with your own body and realize that it is like meeting a dear, old friend once again after many years apart!
Of course when we talk about stretching, it is not the extreme kind that you would do before hard, physical activity. No it is rather that you can loosen up a bit. I will go through meditation preparation in another post, but if you can imagine raising your arms up in a similar fashions to when you wake up in the morning. Also some very light lunges for the legs and you should be ready to go!
- Stretch before you meditate to relax the muscles and make them more flexible
- Reengage with your body and remember all of the body parts that you never knew were there
- Use this time to really focus on your body
Start with the breathing
Breathing deep slows the heart rate, relaxes the muscles, focuses the mind and is an ideal way to start practice
I know how to breathe. You know how to breathe (I think), so why do you need to know that you must start with breathing!?
Well, as with everything in life, and other things related to spiritual things, there are more shades of grey and subtleties attached to the art of breathing.
In order to really get the most out of your meditation, breathing is pretty much key. You must keep it in a regular and steady fashion.
however, when you first begin, it will be more difficult than you think to keep a steady rate going. You will want to take big deep breathes in between bouts of shallow breathing. Over time you will start to really control the way in which you breathe during meditation.
As the main focus of meditation is on focusing the mind and pushing away all the unimportant things that clutter up your mind, breathing is the vehicle that lets you do this.
As you become better and better at mediation, your mind will let go of more and more useless information. This is as a result of really thinking about your breathing.
The more you focus on your breathing, the easier it will become to really go deep into yourself and focus your mind onto the present. You will not think of the past, nor project into the future. you will only be in the present and this will be something new. Many of us never really truly live in the present. So clouded are we by the problems of the past and the fickle ever changing future, that being still in the present moment will be a breath of fresh air, (pun not intended)
After a week or so, you should begin to normalize your rate of breathing and really start to recognize the effect it has. This effect also spills over in to your normal life and after a while of disciplined meditation, you will start to breathe in more air and your body will feel fresher.
Your muscles will be stronger, your lungs larger and your body will have more stamina. This is great for many reasons, but you could take this new found health boost and really put it to good use by beginning an exercise routine.
I will discuss about exercise and the effect on our minds that it can have. You may already know but certain types of exercise are almost meditative by themselves.
- Breathing deeply will help to focus your thoughts
- Learning how to breath correctly will not happen overnight, but after many sessions
- Mastering the art of breathing will have effects that spill over into the physical world and make you feel healthier
How to meditate with purpose
Beginners must understand that meditation is an active process. The art of focusing your attention to a single point is hard work, and you have to be engaged
Very similar to previous points, meditation is a process with no real end. Of course one could say that Nirvana and enlightenment are the ends, but for many of us including myself, we will not be dedicating our entire lives to this process but would like to reap some of the benefits.
If you are reading this and are really motivated to follow the correct path and attempt to achieve enlightenment, then good on you and I sincerely wish you all the best.
That said, even though many of us only want to start the journey without reaching the destination, we still have to be disciplined and keep a routine as much as we can.
Imagine if you started to build a model ship. You may get the satisfaction from the building rather than the end product, but if you only ever did a bit of building here and bit of building there, you would probably never the fullest satisfaction from it as you could have if you had really gone for it.
To really get your mind to become calm and quiet you must focus on only a single thing, your breathing and your body. This sounds much easier than it is. To become proficient at blocking out outside sensations, you must work hard and find a balance between your life and making time for mediation.
After a while [footnote]remember you will only get true benefit after a certain period of time and every is different[/footnote] you will see that finding time will become easier because of your previous discipline, you will find that your mind has become more efficient at organizing your life.
- Outside sensation will creep into your thoughts, but you become more proficient at blocking them out over time
- You must make time and meditate at least everyday in order for you to reap the benefits and to train your mind to focus on a single thing
- The more you practice, the better you will become
Don’t let frustration creep up
This is very common in beginners as we think, “hey what am I doing here” or “why can’t I quiet my damn mind already.” When this happens, really focus in on your breath and let the frustrated feelings go
You what is the number one thing that stops us from being experts at anything?
It is frustration. We give up and move on because we got frustrated and decided that the thing we were doing wasn’t worth the effort.
how many times have you started anything, only to give it up out of frustration for not getting better. Perhaps you started learning a language, or a new skill and after a few weeks you thought that you were not making good enough progress so gave it up?
how about then feeling frustrated that you gave it up? Well we have all been there. I am currently learning Lao and let me tell you it is damned difficult. I have been learning for around a year and although I have improved slightly, I do not think that I am good enough for the amount of time i have been learning.
I am also learning to use Adobe’s suite of very complicated design software which takes time and is incredibly frustrating. More to the point, finding time to write these articles and write them well is difficult.
It is when we can overcome these feelings of frustration and get our heads above the waterline, that we will start to improve ourselves completely.
By focusing on your breathing you will be able bring yourself back into the correct line of thinking. It doesn’t matter if you lose all your concentration and have to begin again, just start once more with your breathing.
Actually, if you are going to try hard at anything, I would say make it meditation. Once you have mastered the technique and are regularly meditating, you will find that the frustration you find in other things will also melt away.
This will result in you being able to speak several languages, learn to code on a computer, write that novel you have always wanted to do, deal with your annoying co-workers and really become the type of person you want to be. All your frustrations will disappear and you will be able to concentrate and focus more.
- Keep in mind that frustration will creep into your mind as you meditate, it is how you deal with it that counts
- If you find yourself getting frustrated, concentrate on your breathing
- Once you have practiced a while, meditation will help you to concentrate on other aspects of your life and really improve it qualitatively.
Feel your body parts
A great practice for beginners is to take notice of the body when a meditative state starts to take hold. Once the mind quiets, put your attention to the feet and then slowly move your way up the body. Include your internal organs and use them as an indicator that you are on the right path
We mediate for both the mind and the body.
The mind is a long term process that will improve over time. We know our minds well, we live within our own minds for our entire lives! What is not so obvious is the body. We rarely ever listen to the cries of our bodies. When our eyes are tired, we continue to read, when our back is aching, we stay seated, when our skin is dull and bland, we continue our bad diets.
When was the last time we really heard what our bodies have to say? For me I would say I don’t think I have ever really listened properly. I have heard my body, just not listened to it.
Meditation gives us a great opportunity to listen to the language of our bodies and to understand what we may need to change.
Does your back hurt, is your stomach constantly in cramp or do you have a headache? All of these questions should raise legitimate concerns, but rarely ever do we try to find a solution, we just keep pushing on.
OK so I am definitely not saying that mediation will cure what is ailing you, but it can help to find the location and root of the problems. However there are some things that meditation is brilliant at curing, the main one that comes to mind is the persistent and body ruining issue of stress.
I will cover all of these in other posts, but I will very briefly say that if you have stomach problems and are the type of person who gets nervous or anxious a lot, give meditation a proper try and you will love the results!
As soon as you have created a rhythm with your breathing, start to scan your body from your feet up to your head. I like to imagine a kind of sci-fi scanner going over my body parts and all the way to the ends of my toes and fingers. I then think of a kind of ball of light inside me going through my organs and finally finishing at my head.
However if you find that your breathing becomes erratic and out of rhythm, stop what you are doing and focus on your breathing again.
This is very frustrating, but you must learn to start all over again and lose the progress you made, but it is worthwhile to do this in the long term.
- Meditation will help you to listen to your body
- Feeling your body parts as you meditate will help to focus your thoughts and connect with your physical body
- Only begin to scan your body once you have created a breathing pattern and your mind is not distracted by outside influences
Although many of us think of effective meditation as a yogi sitting cross legged beneath a bonzi tree, beginners should be more experimental and try different kinds of meditation. Try sitting, lying, eyes open and eyes closed etc
They heading says it all really.
If you are a complete novice, it is probably best to begin with the basics and work your way up. But if one way is just
not working for you, don’t think you are doing wrong if you look for another way, there are many great resources out there on the web which can help you to find your own way.
That said, experimentation is a really great way to help you to continue a routine of mediation. If you are uncomfortable or cannot relax when you meditate the traditional way, you may be more inclined to give up. if you can find a method that really suits you then hopefully you will want to continue.
As Novice Chai Vang says in the quote above, you can try sitting down, either on the floor or on a chair; you can lie down and keep yours eyes open or closed; whatever is most relaxing for you.
I would also add that there are other form of meditating that you can try that have nothing to do with this kind of obvious meditation. For example, anything you can do that is repetitive and simple, something that can take your mind away from the past and present is a good way to start.
you can try yoga, Pilates, exercise that makes you concentrate on one thing. Many people say that doing the laundry or ironing can be meditative. When I used to iron my clothes, I found that I would get into a kind of pattern and then my mind would stop wondering.
Of course if you can start with the traditional methods then you will benefit in other ways such as being able to do it anywhere. if you find some very obscure way to meditate then you might not be able to continue when you are away from your things.
Also as with anything, if you can learn “basics” you will be on surer footing when you want to get more advanced and serious.
- Try to learn the obvious way of meditating before you try anything advanced
- If you are really struggling to focus your mind after several weeks of consistent meditation, do not be afraid to try other ways, the internet is a fantastic resource for this.
- I think that many of you reading this will not be meditating to become professional yogi’s, so don’t worry too much about all of the ins and outs.
Phew, OK so that was a long one! Hopefully you can get some value out of this post and really put it to good use. The next post about meditation will be about how to actually do it! I know that I have done it the wrong way around but I am still learning about all of this as well!
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