When I began meditation back in the early ’70s, the most common reason for beginning the practice was to ‘get experienced.’ The counter culture was still roaring and the experiences hoped for ranged from the psychedelic to the holy. People wanted beautiful visions, magical experiences, even occult powers. Meditation became an alternative to drugs, a way to recover from broken relationships and the disappointments of failed politics. Nowadays, motives seem more pragmatic. People want to ‘visualize’ success in business or other endeavors. Self-knowledge for its own sake seems to have moved higher on the list of priorities. Om Tat Sat! We are evolving.
No matter what your motive for trying meditation might be, giving it a go is a good move. I never tell anyone their motives are wrong because meditation is self-correcting. I never tell beginners they won’t get what you are seeking, however improbable because the chances are pretty good that you will get it if they are determined. However, as your practice deepens, you may find that your initial motives drop away, or melt into a wider or deeper vision of yourself. Initial motives may be replaced by more meaningful aims. Meditation is particularly adept at replacing false notions of self with a more substantial and satisfying identity.
Sadly, this deeper satisfaction does not usually come with mystical visions or psychedelic revelations. If that is what you seek, you will probably have to wait for those experiences to empty out of you before a more stable and reliable self-knowledge dawns. Then gentler insights will rise from the silent depths of your being and whisper their truths to you just at that moment when you lose track of your thoughts and no longer notice physical sensations. At that time, you will enter into a deeper personality – The Silent Observer that is the real you.
Right now, we are far, far from this deeper self. Our mind rattles on and on, our anxieties and restless desires generate at constant disturbance within. Sometimes we think we like this disturbance. It makes us feel ‘alive,’ or so we think, but for a time it must be silenced, if a deeper identity is to be felt. This will take time, patience and diligent practice, but there’s no getting around it. This deeper self and a profound inner silence are constant companions.
Sitting in silence is called Shikantaza in the practice of Zen. To enter Shikantaza we have to ‘drop off body and mind.’ This means willfully turn your attention away from inner noise, from physical, emotional and mental distractions. Stop feeding it by giving this noise your attention. Fix your gaze upon the silence within. If you do, you’ll be surprised at the treasures the float up out of that silence.
Want to try Shikantaza? Find a quiet place. If you have a home altar – perfect! If not, the backyard or a chair facing a blank wall, in a quiet room will do. Sit on a firm cushion that gives good support. Your sitting should be as still and quiet as possible. If you’ve never meditated before, aim for ten minutes and follow these steps…
1 – Hydrate, go to the bathroom, bathe and change clothes if necessary. Silence your phone.
2 – Stop thinking about what you must do after meditation! Relax and give yourself the freedom and space to concentrate exclusively on your meditation.
3 –Use a chair or a floor cushion, whichever is most comfortable. Sitting cross-legged on a fancy cushion will not help you meditate if it isn’t comfortable.
4 – Now, take your seat, resolving not to get up until you’ve sat for the full allotted time, whether it goes well or not. There is no ‘bad meditation.’ Every effort works through unconscious resistance and leads you inward toward ultimate success.
5 – Sit upright, in a relaxed posture. Take a few deep breaths and feel yourself settle into you seat. Avoid slouching, but don’t strain to achieve perfect posture. Alert and relaxed is the goal.
6 – Gradually allow your breathing to become quite normal. Now, turn your attention inward. The heart chakra and the so-called ‘third eye’ chakra are both good entry points for your concentration, but you want to ‘penetrate’ them. Go deeper into yourself, don’t focus on the surface of the forehead or chest. There is infinite space within you, go to the very heart of that inner space.
7 – The surface consciousness will try to hold you and prevent you from going deeper. (This sounds crazy, but it is true. The sooner you show your body and mind who’s boss and refuse to be distracted, the sooner thoughts and unwanted sensations will loosen their grip on you.) Each time, you realize you’re been distracted, calmly disengage from the distraction and refocus yourself inwardly. Do this over and over again. It will take time and practice, but once you master this technique, it will yield valuable results. Practice once every day, twice or more when you are inspired.
NOTE: If you find that distractions overwhelm you, shift your focus to your physical breath. The sensation of breath will help you grow calmer. Follow your breath closely as it goes in and out. With practice, in time, you’ll be able to go back to Shikantaza. You can also try this guided meditation for inner peace from the Pilgrimage Yoga Youtube Channel to support you on your meditation journey.