Here’s How You Can Start To Meditate Like A Monk
Yoga and meditation were simply meant to be. Together they sit comfortably shoulder to shoulder in the pantheon of great double acts, legendary names like Lemon and Mathieu, Martin and Davis Jnr, Astaire and Rodgers, Peanut Butter and Jelly. Like all these names, they are the Yin to the others’ Yang.
Meditation is an integral tool in every yogi’s quest to truly explore and understand those yoga buzzwords; mindfulness and enlightenment, words that I suspect a lot of new (and even experienced) yogis may struggle to explain in full.
Meeting A Tibetan Buddhist Monk
What wonderful luck then, for someone like myself, setting out at the beginning of his journey, to embark on his first week of yoga and find a Tibetan Buddhist monk visiting Blue Osa for the first time in its short history. Who better to help me traverse those first tricky mental obstacles and guide me onto my own path of enlightenment?
His honourable Lama Phurbu Tashi Rinpoche is the founder and spiritual director of the Gampopa Centre in Annapolis, and lives and teaches out of Maryland, USA and Jakarta, Indonesia. At the age of 13, he was recognised as the reincarnation of Tsatsa Khenpo Thubten by the Bo Gangkar Monastery. He completed his ten-year studies and his traditional three years, three months, and three-day retreat in India. He is also an author. His book on vegetarianism ‘The Lamp of Scriptures and Reasoning’ was praised and recommended by the Dalai Lama himself. His new book is entitled ‘Mind and Meditation’. Having the opportunity to listen to Lama speak all week was a truly special treat. As he teaches authentic Buddhist schoolings, it was both interesting and enlightening to hear him talk about meditation and to share life lessons and stories. Sometimes we meditated, sometimes we chanted and prayed. Whatever the exercise, simply being in Lama’s presence was a truly enriching experience – one for which I am forever grateful to Blue Osa and the universe for providing.
So why do we meditate? Well, one of the first things I picked up from Lama, was that a healthy mind can be as important in many cases as a healthy body. The purpose of combining yoga with meditation is that it provides the potential to attain enlightenment. First, however, it is important that we come to understand our minds. He said:
“We don’t understand this world, or the meaning of our lives. We constantly seek liberation from this. It is important that we first understand our own mind. Enlightenment means doing just that, waking up and understanding our own minds.”
So there you go. Sound easy?
So why is it SO hard? I imagine, if you’re like me and just starting out with yoga, that you find meditation incredibly difficult. Getting comfortable, clearing our minds, it’s just so hard to relax. I’m a hectic, fidgety mess most of the time, and when I finally think I’ve attained the correct Zen state, the clock ticks so slowly that when I triumphantly open my eyes, what I thought was twenty minutes turns out in reality to be a measly five! Luckily Lama was on hand to teach me some sound basics on how to begin my meditation as well as some interesting theories on direction and focus during the practise.
To start then, aside from ensuring you are comfortable, adjust your posture to create length in the spine and open up the heart – you can refer to the ten points of meditation further on this post. Lama also gave us a few tips on where we should tilt our focus. One of my favourite Lama quotes was when he told us that it was important to centre ourselves in the now. He used the analogy of a baby. A new born baby has no past to dwell on, and its brain has not developed enough for it to grasp the concept of a future. It lives only in the now. Be like that baby, but be aware, Lama tells us. Don’t try and think on too profound a level, another common mistake. Keep it simple.
According to Lama, meditation in the Buddhist teachings is not simply the act of clearing the mind or trying to attain enlightenment through self-understanding. It is also a medium to direct energy in the direction of individuals or groups. It is a means of creating good Karma. Before I lose you, let me explain. Lama tells us that some of the simplest and worthiest subjects to allow our minds to coalesce around during meditation are called the Four Immeasurables.
The Four Immeasurables:
The first immeasurable is Love. In this instance, we wish sincere happiness on a sentient being or group of sentient beings without any exception. By sincere we mean, as an example, the love a mother might hold for her child. She sincerely wishes that her child be happy at all times. Starting small, directing love to an individual or loved one, allow your love to expand out in ever increasing concentric circles; wishing happiness to your family, to your yoga or meditation class, to your country and finally wishing sincere happiness to all sentient beings in all the realms of existence.
The second immeasurable is Compassion. In this instance, we wish in all sincerity that all sentient beings be free from suffering. For example, when a mother sees her child is seriously ill, she is moved by compassion and sincerely wishes him to be free from pain and suffering. Again starting small to eventually include all sentient beings in all the realms of existence can fulfil compassion as an immeasurable. Taking time to consider a world without suffering after we have wished it in sincerity can help us to attain further good karma.
The third immeasurable is Rejoice. In this instance, we are rejoicing in the happiness and good fortune of all sentient beings. It guards against jealousy. As an example, a mother will rejoice in her child’s success and happiness in life. Once we can sincerely rejoice in the happiness and good fortune of all sentient beings in all realms of existence can we fulfil rejoice as an immeasurable.
The fourth immeasurable is Equanimity. In this instance, we sincerely regard all sentient beings as equals. For example, as the mother’s child grows older and gains more independence and in turn gains more responsibility, she still wishes that child love, compassion and rejoices in their happiness and good fortune but respects their new life by letting them go and not clinging to them. To fulfil equanimity as an immeasurable, we must regard all sentient beings in all realms of existence as equals by choosing not to cling to past karmic relationships formed with friends, families and loved ones, instead welcoming all others without bias.
By following these four immeasurables during meditation, it guarantees that every second spent in meditation is of value as each subject brings good karma. To put this in some sort of perspective, according to Buddhist teachings, to contemplate feeding 1000 hungry people is worthy of as much karma as the physical act of feeding those same 1000 people!
I’ll leave you with a ten point beginners guide to meditation that I have constructed using Lama’s teachings. May it help you to relax, gain focus or attain enlightenment on your path. Namaste!
10 Point Guide to Meditation (2-8 encompass 7 points of mediation posture)
1. Make Time! Ensure you have at least 15 minutes spare. Don’t allow your mind to convince yourself you have something better to do!
2. Legs. Sit with your legs crossed, if possible with each foot placed, sole upward on the thigh of the opposite leg. Remember, it is most important to be comfortable. Listen to your body!
3. Arms. Hold your hands loosely in your lap, palms up, right held in the left with your thumbs lightly touching to form the shape of an oval. Shoulders and arms should be relaxed.
4. Back. Sit straight-backed, try to gain as much length to your spine as possible all the way through your third eye and crown with your chest and heart open. The use of a block or a cushion to sit on can often help to ensure the back is straight and relaxed by lowering the knees. Feel free to experiment!
5. Eyes. Although closing the eyes is acceptable, in the long term it is more beneficial to keep them half open to prevent sleepiness. With the eyes open, focus with a soft gaze on the floor, around six inches front of you. As you improve you can focus on larger objects, the ocean, a forest, or a meadow?
6. Jaw. Relax the jaw, unclench the teeth. Lips lightly touching. Maybe try a light smile (optional!)
7. Tongue. Rest the tongue on the upper palate with the tip lightly touching the back of the upper teeth. This prevents saliva flow and the need to swallow.
8. Head. Incline the head naturally to match your gaze aimed just in front of you. Positioning the head too far forward or tilted too far back can contribute to focus problems, sleepiness or sluggishness.
9. Breath. Your breath is crucial to successful meditation. Slow breaths in and out through the nose. Concentrating on the breath is a brilliant way to allow the mind to relax.
10. Focus. Be it simply concentrating on your breath or attempting to use the four immeasurables, the important thing is not to aim for anything too profound. Relax, enjoy the opportunity to spend some quality time with just you and your body!
The wonderful thing about Blue Osa Yoga Retreat and Spa is that although the guests and the instructors always move on, there are always new and equally interesting people arriving to learn from. I thank Lama for being so generous with his time and wisdom in allowing me to learn.
About The Author
Chris Barkess is a blogger and aspiring author in his thirties. He also drives trains in his hometown of Newcastle, England.
His love of travelling brought him together with his fiancé, Holly, another like-minded travel nut, and the love of his life. Together they embarked on an adventure in 2015 to explore Latin America where they fell in love with Blue Osa Yoga Retreat & Spa.
Aside from writing – his undisputable first love, Chris enjoys reading, running, football, and being fully immersed in nature. He is a self-proclaimed Stephen King fanatic.
Chris admits to having been initially sceptical and openly dismissive of Yoga until he realised the benefits it had to offer him; physically, mentally and spiritually. He now recognises the depths to his ignorance.
“The ultimate ignorance is rejecting something you know nothing about, yet refuse to investigate” – Dr. Wayne Dyer