Meditation and its Philosophy in Plain English.

Meditation is a nuanced subject and practice, but there are some core elements common to most traditions . This guide reflects my own experience in the Buddhist/Yoga tradition and the most useful ideas that I have worked with. I do though feel it is not necessary to be allied to a tradition or religion to explore meditation, especially for those of use inclined towards humanism and a secular approach to exploring these matters. The framework and container provided by a tradition or religion maybe well be helpful , especially to get started ( they often have a lot of centuries of practice behind them) , but it may equally be helpful to keep a neutral open minded position to avoid pre-conceived notions on experience and confirmation biases.

What are we practicing and why ?

To steady and quieten the body and mind so that we can can start to see clearly the dynamics of our thoughts, emotions and feelings and how they play out within us, and are the driving forces that create our habitual states of being and determine much of how we feel our life goes. With practice we can create more space around our inner experience, have greater insight into it, and then exercise more choice about how we live and act ; in other words to create a freer more relaxed life, even in the face of challenging circumstances.

Settling and Steadying the Mind and Body .

Steadying and settling the mind requires training as many of us are trained in distraction and constant stimulation. This is achieved by learning to be ‘in the body’ by scanning and feeling into it ( if this is difficult some train in yoga asanas or other body/mind movement discipline will help ), and simultaneously learning to concentrate enough on an object ( for me the breath ) for long enough that the superficial busyness of the mind starts to settle.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position on a meditation cushion or bench or chair, close your eyes ( though softly open is possible too), scan through your body from your head down and feel clearly into the contact of your sitting bones with the ground as one of the anchors to keep you steady.
  2. Take a few deeper breaths to form a connection to the feeling of the breath at the nostrils , chest or belly – whichever is easier to focus on.
  3. Allow the breath to breathe itself including the natural spaces at the end of the exhale and the top of the inhale ( a practice in itself – try to avoid ‘taking’ the breath)
  4. Apply a laser focus onto your chosen place to feel the breath and resolve to keep it there. At the gap at the end of the exhale feel into your sitting bones and feel and let them ‘drop’ deeper into your seat to keep you present before the inhale returns.
  5. Each time you notice you have drifted into thought ( a cause for celebration , not a failure) then repeat the process of scanning the body and then reconnecting to the next breath. This IS the process of mental training and will need to be repeated many times even after a lot of experience.

Seeing Clearly our Inner Experience.

Once the mind has settled then it becomes more possible to see more clearly what is going on inside of us. A traditional analogy is that of a lake , when the surface is choppy and the light low it’s not possible to see below the surface, when the surface settles and the light is good we can see way down include all the activity under water. There is an aspect of our consciousness traditionally called ‘The Witness’ that is able to dispassionately observe our thoughts , emotions, feelings and accompanying physical sensations and contractions, and how these are all feeding into each other and potentially creating our world view and and habitual ways of being both in mind and body.

What is all of this ?

Most of these thoughts, feelings , emotions, sensations and physical contractions are self referencing in some way : I , me , mine, my etc . They represent our socially constructed self , our identity , how we have learned to perceive ourselves mostly in relation to our family , society and culture : man, woman, other , sister, brother, mother , father, son, daughter , grandfather, grandmother , employment (or not ) identity and multiple other self images and attachments we have created of and for ourselves. In more hardcore Yoga and Buddhist traditions we leave all of this behind to merge into a source consciousness . But for the vast majority of us these social identities carry real meaning and importance so a balance has to be struck between valuing these identities and living our lives, but carrying them more lightly and holding them less tightly ( in both Yoga and Buddhism attachment ( or perhaps over attachment ) leads to suffering ). Everyone experiences this , so understanding it within ourselves increases our empathy with others.

The Art of Relationship to our Experience.

In meditation we learn to see all this being acted out within ourselves and therefore often also being enacted in the world around us and our relationships. We may also notice that these identifications may cause tension and contractions , literally physically at times, that we can practice letting go of as we notice them arise.

Can Everyone Benefit ?

Is a question that has to be asked as it may not be good for everyone to dive straight into a meditation practice. If life has been very complicated for us , or we have experienced extreme trauma we may need the help of a psychologist who are experts in our socially constructed experience before we go into ourselves and our inner experience. But for many of us meditation can help us gain perspective, heal the normal hurts that most of us have experienced and live more freely. Mind training, clear seeing and letting go are skills we can learn and transfer into day to day living over time to help create a freer and easier life.

If you are interested in in exploring more of this there are many meditation groups around in both Buddhist , Yoga and other traditions. Secular Mindfulness ( although Buddhist in origin) is also a way into practice. If you are interested in my Yoga retreats which in part include meditation you can find them here

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