What Exactly is Meditation?
Meditation is a special method for familiarizing our mind with positivity, or virtue. The more familiar our mind is with positivity, the calmer and more peaceful it becomes. When our mind is peaceful we are free from stress and mental discomfort, and we experience true happiness.
If we train our mind to become peaceful we will be happy all the time, even in the most difficult conditions. But if our mind is not peaceful, even if we have the best external conditions we will not be happy. For example, if we are out having a great time with friends, and then we get upset about something, all peace and happiness automatically disappears. Therefore it is vital to train our mind through meditation. And one of the best ways to learn is using breathing meditation.
A Simple Breathing Meditation
The first stage of meditation is to stop distracting thoughts and make our mind clearer and more lucid. This can be achieved by practising a simple breathing meditation. We choose a quiet place to meditate and then sit in a comfortable position. We can sit in the traditional cross-legged posture or in any other position that is comfortable. If we wish, we can sit in a chair. It is important to keep our back straight to prevent our mind from becoming sluggish or sleepy.
We sit with our eyes partially closed and turn our attention to our breathing. We try to breathe naturally, preferably through the nostrils, without attempting to control our breath, and become aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. This sensation is our object of meditation. We should try to concentrate on it to the exclusion of anything else.
To start with, our mind will be very busy, and it might even seem that the meditation is making our mind busier; but in reality we are just starting to notice how busy our mind actually is. There will be a great temptation to follow the different thoughts as they arise, but we should resist this and remain focused single-pointedly on the sensation of the breath. If we notice that our mind has wandered and is following our thoughts, we should immediately return it to the breath. We should repeat this as many times as necessary until the mind settles on the breath.
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The Benefits That Come From Meditation
If we practise patiently in the way described, gradually our distracting thoughts will subside and we will experience a sense of inner peace and relaxation. Our mind will feel lucid and spacious and we will feel refreshed. When the sea is rough, sediment is churned up and the water becomes murky, but when the wind dies down the mud gradually settles and the water becomes clear. In the same way, when the incessant flow of our distracting thoughts is pacified through concentrating on the breath, our mind becomes unusually lucid and clear. We should sit with this state of mental calm for a while.
Even though breathing meditation is only a preliminary stage of meditation, it can be very powerful. We can see from this practice that it is possible to experience inner peace and contentment just by controlling the mind, without having to rely at all upon external conditions.
When the turbulence of distracting thoughts subsides and our mind becomes still, a deep happiness and contentment naturally arises from within. This feeling of contentment and well-being helps us to cope with the busyness and difficulties of daily life. Much of the stress and tension we normally experience comes from our mind, and many of the problems we experience, including ill health, are caused or aggravated by this stress. Just by doing breathing meditation for ten or fifteen minutes each day, we will be able to reduce this stress. We will experience a calm, spacious feeling in the mind, and many of our usual problems will fall away. Difficult situations will become easier to deal with, we will naturally feel warm and well disposed towards other people, and our relationships with others will gradually improve.