Over the next paragraphs, this blog will teach you 8 foundational steps to creating a sustainable and effective mediation practice. I’m going to sort through a lot of fluff that is out there around meditation and demystify it at the same time.
Much of this is a commentary on thoughts from Swami Rama‘s book “The Path of Fire and Light” which outlines how to develop a meditation practice with the following 8 distinct steps.
Swami Rama just brushes over these steps, so it seems more like he’s giving a general skeleton and its the practitioners job to go put it to the test and figure it out for themselves.
Luckily for you, I’ve distilled much of it down. But, remember, meditation is the practice of self study. There is no substitute for that.
Step one: Practice sitting in meditation at the same time everyday to develop new patterns and new grooves in the mind.
What are grooves?
Grooves are your mind’s tendencies. So, if your tendency is to go into negative thoughts you’re going to start to replace this with positive thoughts. Start to send yourself into these positive grooves, these positive ways of being, these positive ways of thinking.
This is where you will hear teachers say: “change your breath to change your mind.”
As you start to develop more positive grooves, more positive habits, and more empowering beliefs, your life will begin to go in that direction. How could it not? If your thoughts begin to go in a different direction, your life will follow.
As within, so without. It’s as simple as that. Now that may not be easy, but it is just that simple.
Step two: Learn to have an internal dialogue with yourself within your mind.
This is the basis of a meditation practice.
When you start to watch your mind and your thoughts, you then begin to realize that well, if I can watch my thoughts and if I can witness my thoughts then I must not be my thoughts. That’s powerful.
A new thought starts to creep in “I must be something greater.” Even if it’s only one molecule of difference between my thought and myself, that’s all I need.
Since I have the ability to witness it, that means I am not my thought. If you are not your thought, well then who or what are you? Well I would say you are something far greater or something far more vast. You are eternal.
You could then call that consciousness or that you have a Soul, as you have the ability to to take a step back.
This is how you begin to take control and power over your mind. If you are not your thoughts then you get to see that thoughts come and go. Every thought that you have , whether you think they are good, bad or indifferent are all created by you. So start to choose which ones you want to believe.
Is this thought real? If it is, if you agree with it, if you like it, then continue and go with it. If you don’t like it, take a step back and make a change and realize that it’s no longer true to who you are.
Step 3: Develop a still, steady and comfortable posture for meditation.
I know for me this was one of the hardest things when I first started to meditate. How do I sit still when my body and mind want to do exactly the opposite?
Well, as you will learn over time, when you begin to sit more regularly in meditation you begin to still your mind and body naturally. They start to learn what to do and as one stills, the other follows.
Still the part of you that you have more ease accessing first.
Now, if that’s too hard then we start with something like yoga. So we begin to still the body first, release it of its physical tensions, its hang ups, its old patterning and its pains. Then the mind will have an easier time sitting still.
I think for each practitioner it’s going to be a different path of which one do they need to access first. I’ say which everyone is easier for you to access first, start there and then the other one will follow.
Something my teacher says is: “Drain your mind to drain your body” and “Drain your body to drain your mind.” She’s saying exactly that, start with either side of the coin and it will have an effect on the opposite.
In essence it doesn’t matter where you start. Just start. Why make it harder on yourself if you don’t need to?
Step 4: Develop a pattern of serene breath.
What is he talking about, serene breath? What does serene mean? Serene means smooth, even, easy. Just like water.
If my breath becomes serene, it then becomes smooth and easy just like water. Then, like we talked about before, guess what else does? Well, my life does, my experience does, my transitions from one thought to another do.
Transitions from one conversation to another or from one movement to another all become more smooth and graceful. Even arguments becomes smoother and more serene because that is the now nature of my breath, my mind, and my life.
One of the basic teachings of tantra is that you change your breath, you change your mind, and you change your life.
So, if you want to start to have an effect on your mind all you need to do is to start to change your breath patterning. Then you will start to develop what’s called one to one breathing or “Sama Vrtti.”
We then start to develop an equal breathing pattern of maybe a four count inhale and a four count exhale. That may not be easy. That may take six months or a year or two years to become adept at. But once you do, you’ll start to realize that your life starts to shift and becomes more balanced.
If you are an “Exhaler” and you breath out more than you are breath in for example, then you might say you’re constantly giving to those around you more than you are giving yourself.
One to one breath will teach you how to take in more and how to take care of yourself.
Inversely, if you are an “Inhaler” by nature and you spend a lot of your time filling yourself up, then one to one breath will will to teach you how to give back to the world and not take so much for yourself, so you’ll find balance as well.
This is what I really think Swami Rami is talking about with “serene breath”, a finding of balance between the in and the ex, the give and the take, and being the the one who nurtures and the one who is nurtured.
There is a balance between the polarities. And it all starts with your breath.
Step Five: Develop or cultivate some Sankalpa or determination.
Another word for Sankalpa is intention. So if we can live our lives through intentionality we begin to live our lives through a state of inside out instead of outside in.
You’ve heard me say before; “As within so without”. If my Sankalpa is to be present, then that’s how I will show up the external world.
If I start to deviate from that, if I start to be un-present or if I start to wander off into my thoughts or judgments, well now I can see I’m no longer living in line with my intention and that I’m no longer present.
I’ve veered off to the left. Let me release my thought and release this negative pattern. Let me go back to center line which is my Sankalpa, which is present moment awareness.
Now, maybe your Sankalpa is to be happy, to be free, to be vibrant, or to be loving, it doesn’t matter what you pick. You pick the intention that works for you. There’s no right or wrong intention. It’s just the one that’s right for you in the moment. Go ahead set that one and then follow it and live it!
This is how I think we really begin to affect our lives. Live from intentionality. Live from an internal state of Knowing what you want and then create that in your external world.
Know that your your thoughts will follow your intentions, your energy will follow your thoughts and your actions will follow your energy.
If you want to change your actions and your results, start from the inside out with a simple thought, word or feeling and your life will follow.
Step 6: Learn to let go of any distracting thought that comes into your mind, you should not retain it there.
Don’t brood on it, no matter how good or how bad it is.
A simple math for this is the Buddhist meditation of “Thinking, thinking back to breath”. You sit meditate, listen to the sound of your breath, get it serene, sit back and watch the show.
As your mind wanders off into a thought; good, bad or indifferent, it doesn’t matter. Release it. Come back to your breath. Just continue that, and notice. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a good thought or a bad thought.
If we start to play the judgement game with our thoughts then we’ve already lost. There’s no good or bad thought in meditation, simply witness the thought.
Realize you are not your thoughts, turn back to your breath. Use that practice “Thinking, thinking back to breath”, it’s a nice and easy one. You’ll start to notice the old monkey mind, the piece of the mind that never wants to stay still and never wants to be in the present moment, and always wants to be everywhere except for right here and right now.
You can learn a lot about your mind by just by sitting and watching and asking it to come back to the present moment.
As you start to do it for 5, 10 or 15 minutes you start to find that there’s less jumping from thought to thought and there’s less monkey mind. There’s less chasing the proverbial squirrel. There’s simply just more being present.
Step 7: Introspection, inspect your thoughts.
I Like this one. This is something as simple as looking at a thought and saying to your self: “Is this a positive thought or is this a negative thought?”
If it’s a positive thought that’s working for you, if it’s working for your life, your relationships or your health, then do more of that.
Increase your positive thoughts, increase your positive ways of thinking and decrease your negative ways of thinking and your negative ways of being. This is how you change your life inside out.
In Buddhism, they say you want to increase your positive qualities and you want to decrease your negative qualities.
A question I like to ask myself and to students when a thought comes into the mind is: “Is this true?” If it’s true and you want to keep that thought, then keep it.
But what you may find is that this thought isn’t true. This thought isn’t who I am. It’s only 95 percent true. Well, all you’re doing is looking for a little chink in the armor so that you can start to break it down.
Now you can dive in to be more introspective, to have more perspective and then you decide from there whether to make a change or not. If you want to increase, decrease, let go of or alter it, that’s up to you. Do whatever feels right to you in that moment.
Do more of what makes you feel good and what fills you up and less of what doesn’t. That’s basically what we’re getting down to here.
Step 8: Witnessing
You have to learn to witness the things of the world. When you are not identifying with things of the world, you become this Seer.
This is the ability to step back and develop witness consciousness. This is all leading to the same thing; developing the ability to see your thoughts, create space between them and have the perspective to say: “I’m not my thought, I’m something greater”
As you harness this ability, you get to develop a sense of being in the world but at the same time being above the world. I don’t mean that in a judgmental way, it’s just that you more or less get to watch your personality have likes and dislikes. You get to watch its arguments, its fun, and its attachments.
You then, as the Spirit or the Seer get to witness all of that. You get to realize that you are not just your personality. This is how we can start to live gracefully in the world even when times get tough.
We can still be steady and easy regardless of our experience. This is “The eye of the storm” teaching, where everything around you in the external world can be swirling, but you from the internal world can still be steady and easy.
For me, this has been one of the ultimate teachings of yoga over the last decade. If you are in a yoga pose for example and it’s tough, it’s just discomfort. It doesn’t mean that you need to have freak out.
If we can take these teachings and apply them to our lives, we’ll then guess what? Life gets more steady, life gets easier. Take these eight steps and apply them.
Start by sitting with yourself in meditation. Develop your introspection and your awareness, then you will be able to sit back and witness yourself in a far greater way. If you start to practice daily, you’ll find your life start to shift in a very positive and transformational way.
Take these teachings and go test them. At the same time, have fun with them. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously along this path.
I’ll end with a quote form my teacher, he says: “Stay off the path man, because the path will fucking kill you.”. He’s saying that it’s important to not draw pictures of how it’s all supposed to look. The key is to just be present with it all and continue to learn and grow.