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9 Tips to Better Meditation

In a recent survey, a lot of people wrote that mastering meditation was one of their biggest challenges. While real mastery no doubt takes time, here are nine great strategies to help you improve what you're already doing. Some you will have heard before, others most likely not. Either way, I hope to toss in something fresh and inspire you to action.

The article begins with preparing to meditate and then moves into the act itself. All of the techniques work – if you apply them. You can't do them all at once; but you can often do many together and get excellent results. Use them in whichever way works best for you.

Preparing to Meditate

Strategy 1 – Keep Your Back Straight

This is nothing new, but there are actually two reasons why a straight back will help you: 1) Energy will flow better up your spine and through your meridians (energy channels), 2) Your mind will be more focused.

Our posture influences our mind and mood, so a straight back is a message we can send ourselves that we are centred and ready for action. If we slouch, however, our mind will tend to drift into thought, causing us to daydream rather than meditate.

Strategy 2 – Make a Decision to Meditate Well

Our mind is a problem-solving machine – a great salesman who knows our every desire and weakness. We listen to it because it paints a picture of a better life – a life many rungs up from the one we currently live. 'Just listen to me,' it tells us, 'and I'll get you what you want (or help you avoid what you don't want!)'.

Now, what the mind tells us may, or may not, be true. The problem is that it in either case it doesn't like to shut up. It lays out a plan, it reiterates that plan, it repeats the plan, it gives us another plan, it repeats that plan, it goes back to the first plan, it goes around and around in circles and, even though we've already heard everything it is saying dozens of times before, it won't quieten down – even when we are stressed and desperately in need of some meditation relax-time.

Fortunately, we are not helpless – even if we are vulnerable. The mind only has power over us so long as it is selling us a 'better deal'. That is why we listen to it instead of meditating: because its promises are more alluring than the benefits we imagine meditation can give us.

But the moment we recognize that what we really need right now is meditation, that that is what we truly want – more so than any plan we're being sold – then, instantly, we regain our freedom and slip through our mind's grasp.

It's a bit like winning $3,000,000 on the internet in a lottery we never bought a ticket for. We'd like to believe that Microsoft randomly plucked our name out of a hat and is desperate to give us money, and we're tempted to give our credit card details so the money can be paid directly into our bank account; but the moment we're honest and admit that this dream will only lead to pain and suffering, and the moment we find the strength to act on this understanding and hit 'delete', then, instantaneously, the scam-artists lose their power over us.

So if you know that meditation is good for you. If you know that it will bring peace and relaxation rather than stress and anxiety, then hit the mental 'delete' key. Decide that what you get from meditation – at least for the next 30, 60 etc. minutes – is more valuable than what your mind can offer you in the same period of time; resolve to stand by that decision and then, the moment your mind whispers sweet promises in your ear as you try to meditate, gently inform it that you're not 'buying', that you've got something better to do.

If you can make a decision that meditation will offer you more (at least for the period of time you meditate) than your mind, then you'll find it a lot easier to stay focused. Not many people are interested in trading a higher for a lesser good.

Strategy 3 – Set Your Intention

Before you begin, set an intention to be focused. Set an intention to move into deep meditation. Then feel the force of these intentions in your body – feel them connect you to a deep place within.

Our thoughts and feelings are the seeds of creation. Think and feel something long enough and it will generally manifest in physical reality. So set the right intention and your meditation will flourish.

Strategy 4 – Perform a Ritual

Ever spent the first thirty minutes of your meditation session trying to settle down, mind racing out of control?

If – like all of the rest of us – you have, then rituals can help. They are a way to condition your body to enter a deep meditative state 'on cue'.

The idea is to consistently perform an action – it might be putting your hands together in prayer position for a minute, it might be bowing down to a Buddha statue, it might simply be spinning in a circle three times – and then immediately follow up this action with meditation.

If you do this often enough, then your mind and body will link the two actions (i.e. ritual + meditation) together and will immediately go into 'meditation mode' the moment you perform the ritual.

It is a bit like Pavlov's famous dog experiment. Pavlov noticed that if he consistently struck a bell immediately before feeding dogs then they would start to salivate even before they saw any food. All he needed to do was ding the bell and voila – they salivated in anticipation.

Likewise with meditation: do a ritual, perform meditation, repeat the process – and before you know it you will simply need to do the ritual for your body to start getting into a meditative state.

(Note: To explore this idea in more detail, please refer back to my recent newsletter on the topic).

Meditation Strategy 5 – Focus on an Object above Your Eyeline

If your mind is racing and you find it hard to calm it down, try focusing on an object above your eyeline. This could be a candle, a tree, a clock – anything. For some reason (don't ask me why!), staring up at an object in a relaxed manner helps keep the mind grounded (rather than flying off into Daydream Land).

Stategy 6 – Don't Beat Yourself Up

The Tibetans have a saying: "Trying to meditate without thoughts is like trying to have meat without bones." So stop getting mad at yourself when you do drift off into reverie during a meditation session. This is going to happen (either a lot, or at least from time to time), so get over it.

Beating yourself up over crappy meditation is one way to guarantee more of it. When you're getting mad at yourself you are hardly in a calm meditative state.

The more you can just accept whatever is going on and tune back into your meditation, the sooner you will reach the state you are aiming for.

So if thoughts gallop through your mind, try your best just to observe them and let them gallop away.

And if you get sucked into their slipstream, just dust yourself off at the first opportunity, refocus your attention and show yourself a good dose of compassion (remember the 5th Reiki Precept: 'For today only, show compassion to yourself and others'.

Strategy 7 – When You Feel a Strong Energetic Connection During Your Meditation, Shut Your Eyes and Savour It.

Humans tend to gravitate towards the highest pleasure, so if pleasant feelings arise during meditation, shut your eyes and savour them (like you would if you were eating a delicious piece of dark, organic chocolate). Open up and enjoy the feeling in every last cell of your body.

If you do this, it's unlikely you'll be pulled into the gravitational field of your thoughts and daydreams.

(Note: Some experts may object to this method as they claim you shouldn't react to sensations – good or bad. There is some wisdom to this and I don't recommend trying to recapture past pleasant experiences; but if a good feeling arises when you meditate, why not enjoy it? Isn't that being fully in the moment?

Whatever the case, experiment. You are not committed to doing the same thing every time.)

Strategy 8 – The Master Merge

A great technique for helping you to get into a focused meditative state is to imagine meditating in the presence of a master (the Buddha, Christ, Kwan Yin – whoever). Feel the energy of the Master. Let the Master's energy wash over you and raise your energetic vibrations.

If you wish, you can also ask meditation advice from the Master. Often you will get a helpful reply.

An additional tip is to imagine meditating at the foot of your Master in a beautiful sanctuary (a forest, a crystal place, whatever works for you). The soothing nature of this place will make it easier for you to relax and slip into a meditative state. If you return to this place often then it can even serve as a kind of ritual and make it easier still to enter into a deep inner state.

Strategy 9 – Expand Your Meditative Field

A brilliant technique for amplifying the depth and energy of your meditation is to imagine the energy it creates flowing out over another person, group of people or even place.

Let the energy of your meditation wash over your 'target', feel it merge with your target's energetic field, and intend that your taregt absorbs any energy that can benefit it.

Do this and you will almost always find that your meditation grows immediately stronger.

Conclusion

There is no absolute right way to meditate. So stay open-minded and flexible. The above techniques have helped me and others improve our meditation. Give them a try and see how they work for you.

At worst, you can go back to what you have always done.

(Jeremy O'Carroll 2011)

Meditations Involving Visualization Intro

If you have never tried any meditation before, the easiest sort is probably either going to be meditation with a mantra, or meditation through visualization. Visualization simply involves imagining you are somewhere else - or something else - and experiencing the scene.

You might be a bird, a piece of sunlight, yourself in a sunny field - any number of things in any number of places. What all meditations involving visualization have in common is that they take you out of your usual head space. That helps settle the mind and relax the body.

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The Sun and Bamboo Tube

Sit down comfortably and shut your eyes. Next, imagine you are seated at the bottom of an enormous bamboo tube being filled by golden sunlight that is shining in from above.

Feel the golden light wash over you until it begins fill you up with its soothing touch. Imagine it continuing to pour down upon you until its light merges with you and causes you to become light.

Your body - now light - continues to be filled by the golden sunlight until you start to expand outwards, growing larger and larger until your light ends up engulfing the entire world.

Sit in this expansive glow and feel yourself healing the world with your light. If you lose concentration or feel it difficult to maintain your expanded state of light, just return with your mind to the bottom of the bamboo tube and feel the sunlight wash over you once more.

When you are ready, feel your light-body expand until your glow is covering the entire world just like before.

Do this exercise for either as long as you can, or until you feel that the fever of your thoughts has dissolved and you are calm once again - master of your own mind.

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Merging with the Sun

Imagine flying through space towards the sun. As you approach, instead of being burnt by its rays you slowly merge with them.

You continue to move closer, your body becomes light, and you fly, always lighter, always clearer, first into the outer body of the sun and then into its centre.

At the centre of the sun you let what is now your light body expand until it is one with the sun.

Relax into the sun and feel any negative emotions or impurities getting dissolved by the intense power of the sun.

Soon you a clear and pure, just like the sun. All negativity has been cleansed and you are light and happy.

Float, merged with sun, for as long as you like or until you are relaxed.

If you lose concentration at any point, don't worry. Simply return your mind to where it now is: the centre of the sun! Feel yourself expand out and enjoy the golden glowing energy of the sun radiate throughout every cell in your body.

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Breathing into the Hara

In Japanese Reiki and many martial arts, the hara (or second chakra - located about 5-8 centimetres below the navel) is considered the key energy centre of the body.

As a result, there are many spiritual practices and meditations designed to strengthen this energy centre.

Breathing into the hara is a key meditation for Reiki practitioners and could be considered a bedrock upon which all other practice can be founded.

Technique: Sit down cofortably and settle yourself with your palms turned upwards on your lap. Breathe in and feel your breath flow down into your hara.

Feel your breath fill up your hara so that it expands (if possible to fill the rest of your body).

On your out breath, feel your hara expand (if possible so that its energy flows through your skin and merges with your surroundings [possibly even the whole universe!]).

Continue breathing in and out for as long as you wish. At first it may be difficult to bring your breath down into your hara; but with practice you will find that your hara grows more and more receptive. Soon you should find your breath fills and expands it with every inhalation.

For those that have done Reiki Level 2, you can draw the power symobl on the front of your body to help bring your breath down into your hara.

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Meditation for Helping Others - And Yourself!

This meditation exercise has an amazing ability to heal, possibly by detaching the mind's fixation with its own problems. A similar form is practised by Tibetan Buddhists today.

Exercise: Think of whatever issue it is that is troubling you. Now think of all the other people in the world who are afflicted by the same issue. Allow your awareness to spread out over the planet so that you can feel the anxiety and stress and pain of those suffering from your problem.

Next, imagine that your awareness is healing light. This awareness spreads out to cover the whole of the planet, and everyone on it who is suffering from the same issue as you.

Feel this golden light soothing those who are suffering; feel it sink into them and heal them.

Stay with these people for at least ten minutes (hopefully longer), covering them with your healing light. Then, feel your awareness come back to where you are and say prayer to universe. Ask it to heal everyone who is suffering from the same problem as you.

After that you will probably find that you are not so worried about whatever is troubling you anymore.

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A Meditation for Transcending Pain

Our default mode of behaviour is to shy away from mental / emotional pain. If something is hurting or troubling us we tend to either move away from it or repress it.

The problem with this manoeuvre is that while our problem might disappear in short term, in it is never actually solved.

As a result, what tends to happen is that it simply comes back time and time again to haunt us.

Imagine, for instance, a situation where you have separated from a partner. There is a lot of pain associated with the break-up, so everytime your partner comes into your mind you try to push alll thoughts of her away and forget her.

The result? You will most likely spend a good deal of everyday thinking about her despite your efforts. The moment you get rid of her from your mind she will back to torment you - just as powerful as before.

An Unlikely Solution

The best way to actually cure yourself of a painful thought or memory is to do the exact opposite of what we normally do: move towards it.

Instead of pushing away the painful emotions the thought brings with it, open up to them. Feel them to their very core. Offer no resistance. Become like a flower opening up to the sunlight of painful memories.

If you have the courage to do this, you will most likely witness a miracle. The thought that you most likely believed to be so big, powerful and horrible, loses its power. The negativity and pain just seem to dissolve until all that is left is energy - and a pleasant sort of energy, too.

This manoeuvre does take a good deal of guts - because opening up to a painful thought or memory is a bit like leaping into an abyss. But don't be fooled by the mind that screams out not to do it.

Jump and feel the immense freedom it grants you. Your body will thank you for it.

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