Traditionally meditation can be divided into two categories: meditation with an object and formless meditation without an object.
What follows is a brief introduction to the meditation technique called Calm Abiding meditation, which is also known as Shamatha (Sanskrit) or Shiné (Tibetan). Calm Abiding meditation falls under the category of meditation with form or an object.
To practice Calm Abiding meditation it is important that we sit in a comfortable and relaxed position. Our posture should be comfortable and upright but not rigid or uptight. We can sit on a cushion with our hands placed gently on our knees, or perhaps on a chair with our hands on our knees if that is more comfortable. The important thing is that we are comfortable and awake—as opposed to being comfortable and ready to take a nap.
Open Your Eyes
This brings up another important point: our eyes should be open and our gaze should be slightly downward towards the tip of our nose. It is essential that our eyes are open. There are many different kinds of meditation traditions and it seems that some traditions seem to prefer to meditate with their eyes closed. But that is not the case here. It is essential that we understand the Calm Abiding technique and keep our eyes open.
Focus on an Object
In Calm Abiding meditation we gently focus our attention on an object like our breath, a flower, or perhaps a statue as a way to train and tame our mind so that it is not constantly reacting to the thoughts and emotions that we experience. This technique allows us to stabilize our mind by practicing gently coming back to the breath, for example, instead of becoming caught up in the story in our head. By coming back to the breath we begin to experience a sense of health and well-being instead of being seduced by the mental events that our mind often churns up.
Calm Abiding meditation is traditionally recommended as a foundational or preliminary practice to later practices such as formless meditation practices like Pristine Mind meditation, which we will explore in the future. It is important that we first learn to develop a stable mind through Calm Abiding meditation before we begin to explore more advanced practices.
It’s Okay to Have Thoughts
A common misinterpretation about meditation that people often have is that they believe they should not have thoughts when they meditate. It is important to understand that the point of Calm Abiding mediation is not to have “no thoughts.” The point is to recognize our thoughts as simply mental events by coming back to our breath and the present moment. We are not trying to eliminate thoughts as if they are bad. We are simply learning not to react and impose meaning onto our thoughts. Thoughts will certainly arise, but Calm Abiding practices allow us to train our minds to not respond to them in an impulsive manner and simply to come back to the breath. The more we practice the technique, the more an experience of calm abiding unfolds naturally.
Let Thoughts Dissolve
Sometimes people find that when they first start out, it can feel as though they are having more thoughts as a result of trying to meditate. But the truth is they are simply becoming familiar with or mindful of their thought process. Normally we go through our day under a bombardment of thoughts without realizing it. When we begin to practice Calm Abiding meditation it may seem that we are experiencing more thoughts than usual and we can feel overwhelmed or like we are “doing it wrong.” But this is normal and not a problem at all. It is simply another opportunity to come back to the breath or whatever object we have chosen to focus on and let thoughts dissolve.
How Long to Meditate
People often ask how long they should meditate for. The example of physical exercise really applies here. In order to get tangible results from physical training you need to do more than 20 minutes of running or lifting weights or yoga. Usually 45 minutes or an hour is what is suggested. The same time frame applies in meditation. Try to aim for at least a half hour to 45 minutes for each session, with the understanding that if you only have 20 minutes or less that is also fine. As you develop familiarity with your practice you will naturally find a rhythm that you are comfortable with.
1. Sit in a comfortable position with your hands on your knees.
2. Open your eyes and place your gaze downward toward the tip of your nose.
3. Gently focus on your breath as a way to come back to the present moment and not entertain or get lost in your thoughts.
4. When you notice that your mind is wandering or caught up in mental events simply come back to your breath.