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A successful meditation practice requires balancing polarities: focus and letting go, structure and freedom. You need to work with guidelines for posture, concentration, breath awareness, self-inquiry. But you also need to know when it is time to let go of the "rules" and follow the signals that are coming from your own consciousness. And this requires openness, creativity, and discernment.
So I offeryou here a few essential principles for navigating this paradox and for finding your own best meditation practice. Some are basic. Others are subtler and might be new to you. They will help you to skillfully walk the edge between structure and freedom, between tradition and experimentation, so you can engage for yourself the essential mystery at the heart of meditation practice —how, by doing "nothing" with radical attentive-ness, you can enter into the very heart of love and wisdom.
GET COMFORTABLE The first principle for successful meditation is to make yourself physically comfortable enough to meditate for at least half an hour at a time. The one absolute rule for meditation posture is that your spine be erect. As long as your spine is straight and your chest is open, comfort trumps form. This might sound radical if you've been trained in classical yoga or Zen, but trust me—at least in the beginning, it's more important that you are able to forget about your body while you're meditating than that you train yourself in postural perfection.
Use props to support your hips and knees and, if you need to, your back. If you're on the floor, make sure your hips are elevated at least three inches above your knees, so that your back doesn't round. If sitting on the floor is too uncomfortable, sit on a chair. If it's hard to sit upright, sit against a wall and stuff pillows behind your lower back. Use as many as you need to support your spine and push you into an upright posture. Your aim is not to create a perfect meditation asana, but to support your body so it will let you turn inside.
Next, choose a simple core practice, and do it daily until it becomes a habit. Your core practice is your base, your foundation for turning the mind inward. Doing the same practice everyday establishes a groove in your consciousness, and this groove becomes a pathway into the deeper layers of yourself. For a beginning meditator trying to establish a practice, this is imperative. But even experienced meditators benefit from having a clear protocol for signaling the mind that it's time to turn inward. From there, you can play with other practices, always with the knowledge that you can come back to home
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base. When you're beginning a meditation practice, start with 10 minutes and increase your meditation time i minute a day until you've reached a half-hour. This will allow you to cut the basic groove of practice. If you want to go deep in meditation, you often need to sit for at least 45 minutes to one hour to get quiet enough to sink deeply inside. But, here's the good news: A daily 20-minute practice—especially ifyou do it twice a day—will improve your focus, stabilize your emotions, give you access to a deeper level of creativity, and treat you to more prolonged glimpses of your peaceful source.
YOUR CORE PRACTICE So how do you find your core practice? Traditional meditation paths make it simple. The teacher gives you a technique, and you're required to do it for a certain amount of time —months or even years—before you're encouraged to try anything more elaborate. But most meditators don't operate within that kind of traditional framework anymore. We live in a spiritual smorgasbord —a world so rich with juicy, alluring, and available meditation practices thatyou could spend years trying them out. You go to a retreat and are taught, say, lovingkindness meditation. Oryou're given a mantra or a practice of silent "Who am I?" self-inquiry. You engage the practice deeply while you're on the retreat. You even practice with it for a while at home. But then the glow of the retreat wears off, and you learn another practice in yoga class, and you do that one for a while.
And so it goes, until you begin to feel thatyou "know" 10 or 20 techniques, that you've been there and done that with many of the classical practices of the great meditation traditions —but you aren't really poised in your interior Self. To use a well-known metaphor, you're drilling so many wells thatyou don't go deep enough to find water.
So how do you find the right core practice for you? If you don't have a teacher, the best approach is to deliberately try out several classical practices. Take enough time with each one to feel your way into it, and notice the results. A practice is working for you when you find that it activates
Your goal is not to become a master of technique, but to allow yourself to enter the natural state of meditation.
the meditation current. Another of the paradoxes of meditation is that the technique itself is merely a portal. Your goal is not to become a master of technique, but to allow yourself to enter the natural state of meditation.
Most core practices fall into five basic categories: mindfulness, mantra, inner body, visualization, and self-inquiry. Breath awareness as a practice is actually a metacategory, since nearly every form of meditation involves attention to the breath. Each type of practice trains your
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