The Basics of Seated Meditation

In seated meditation, we set aside the many things that have occupied us in the day past, or are on our mind about the day ahead. This is more than just making time for something we like to do. This is saced time, time we spend even though the work can sometimes be difficult. Sometimes the reward seems far away, and sometimes we are quite excited about having validated the teaching by our own experience. Regular seated meditation makes this possible.


Choose a place where you will not be disturbed for 20 to 30 minutes. Sit in a chair that has a reasonably straight back and is firm enough to support and not so comfortable that you will fall asleep in it. Set a time to ring 20 or 30 minutes from the time you start it. Digital watches and handheld devices have them. Try not to use a mechanical timer, as these can be noisy and less accurate. Be prepared to meditate for the entire period you are timing.


There is no right time of day to sit. Different times have their advantages – early in the morning, on a break during the work day, arriving home, before bed. The important thing is that the task gets done.


Sit without slouching and naturally straight. Don’t strain to sit up as straight as you can. Doing so may leave you spending you meditation period fighting with your posture. There is no need to sit on the floor, with or without a cushion. In the Buddha’s day and in his part of the world, sitting on the ground was a cultural norm. In the West in the 21st century, we use chairs.


Our meditation object while doing seated practice is the feeling of the rise and fall of the abdomen, which comes from breathing. To keep track of it, note it in your mind when the abdomen rises and falls. When your abdomen rises from filling with air, note “rise” silently. When your abdomen finishes falling due to your exhale, note “fall” silently. Do not breathe stronger or lighter than normal, and don’t say “rise” or “fall” out loud.


So what happens when you start to do this? Most new meditators discover that they can’t keep their mind on the rise and fall for very long – sometimes for just a breath or two. What’s important is not that you keep the mind on the breath; rather, it’s that you learn to bring the mind back when it wanders – and wander it will.


So, as they say in AA, “Keep Coming Back.” The mind wanders, you bring it back. It wanders again, you bring it back again. If you can determine what took you away from the breath, or where you’ve wound up, you can note it with a silent label before going back to rise and fall – “thinking,” “hearing,” “worrying,” “itching” for example.


It’s like teaching a puppy how to sit. You set the puppy down and say “sit” and the puppy walks away. You pick the puppy up and set him back down in the same spot and say “sit” and the puppy walks away again. How many times will you have to do that? Probably dozens at least. Finally the puppy will sit on command. You don’t beat the puppy with a newspaper, or hold him down.


Training the mind is like training a puppy. The puppy shows he has a mind of his own, as your mind shows just how much more unwieldy it is than you previous thought. Inventing little tricks to get the mind to stay settled in the short term won’t work. Just like with teaching the puppy to sit, you have to be patient, and focus on bringing your mind back to the rise and fall gently when wandering. Beating yourself up over having a wandering mind is not productive.


You are not sitting to get and keep a perfectly tranquil mind. You are focusing on doing what needs to be done to bring about an end to suffering within yourself. When you see things more clearly as they are, you see for yourself that nothing lasts and that craving is pointless. You only need to have enough tranquility as is needed for observation. You do not need to be a perfect meditator to become enlightened!


You don’t have to observe, and identify everything that comes through your sense bases. You will encounter “intercuts” that simply come and go while you are focused on the rise and fall. You don’t have to stop and label these normally. However, if you find yourself bothered by repeated appearance by them you might want to mentally note them.


Try to keep movement to a minimum when sitting. Don’t scratch, or react to your body’s sensations. Learn to see that they will go away on their own. Don’t open your eyes to check your timer to see how much time remains. Your sitting period will be over when the time is right


Don’t rush away when your alarm goes. It’s a good idea to write down a few lines in a journal about how your practice went. Such a record can be useful to discuss with your teacher at your next interview. Sometimes we bias our report towards the results of one or two sessions. A fuller picture helps your teacher to suggest changes that will be of most benefit. With that completed, gently rise, make a few easy stretches and move gradually into what is next in your plan for the day.

Jason Smith is a Customer Analyst at Economical Insurance doing process analysis, business analysis and business consulting. He is also an insight meditation teacher and author currently taking on new students. Anyone who wants to learn about and practice the Buddha’s way to enlightenment can reach him at Jason lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and is willing to consider working with students from outside this area by phone or Internet.


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