What is meditation?
There are many answers to this question, and to those who practice meditation it often seems as though there is no single definition that suffices. Perhaps one of the simplest answers is that meditation is the intentional practice of awareness. Many people practice meditation without putting the name “meditation” on what they are doing. Reading, prayer, journaling, gazing at a painting or a sunset, dancing, jogging, indeed just about anything can be experienced as meditation.
Here are basic instructions for silent sitting meditation. If you wish, begin with a short devotional ritual, which may include elements such as lighting a candle, burning incense, ringing a bell, crossing yourself, or saying a prayer of dedication. Sit upright in a chair, or on the floor in a traditional posture. If you sit on the floor, it can be helpful to use a cushion thick enough to keep your hips elevated slightly higher than your knees. Your spine should be held in a straight and comfortable position. Use some kind of back support if necessary. Avoid slouching or tipping your head too far forward, backward or to one side.
If you are sitting in a chair, it is ideal to sit with your hips slightly higher than your knees and your shins perpendicular to the floor. Sitting on the front edge of the chair prevents uncomfortable pressure on the backs of the thighs. For additional support, a cushion can be used between your back and the back of the chair.
Rest your hands in your lap or on your legs. Either close your eyes, or allow your eyelids to droop as you stare blankly at the floor. Relax your belly and take a few deep full breaths, paying careful attention to the air flowing in and out of your body. Be conscious of the entire airway and all the muscles in your chest and abdomen that are involved in breathing. Each time you exhale allow your mind and body to sink into a deeper state of calm and relaxation.
After the deep breaths, simply allow your breathing to settle into a peaceful and natural rhythm. Continue to attend to the breath. If you wish, think “in” as you inhale, and “out” as you exhale.
Allow your mind to become as still and quiet as possible. At some point it may no longer be necessary to focus on the breath as you become more aware of the stillness and quietness between and around your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. If you become distracted by anything, simply allow it to pass away as you return attention to stillness and quietness. If necessary, turning your attention back to the breath can help settle your mind.
When the time for meditation is over, take a deep breath and fully open your eyes. It is a good idea to massage and stretch your muscles before and after standing. If you began with a devotional ritual, you may want to end in a similar manner.
First, understand that distraction is perfectly normal and even experienced meditators can be distracted from time to time. When this happens it does not mean you are failing at meditation. If you think of it as failure, then you may become upset, and this would only further distract you from the stillness and quietness. If you instead respond to yourself with acceptance, understanding, and compassion, patiently and gently returning to your intentions as often as necessary, this in itself is very good meditation!
Second, if you want to build your ability to focus and concentrate, when you reach the stage of attending to your breath’s natural rhythm, count the breath like so: “in one, out one, in two, out two….” Do this through ten complete breaths. If you lose count, that’s okay; just start over. Be patient with yourself and in time it will come easily. Once you have developed this level of concentration, it will be easier to open to the stillness and quietness surrounding and between your thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
Most experienced meditators agree that a consistent yet flexible routine is best. Sitting in silent meditation at least once a day is usually most effective for establishing meditation as a meaningful part of your life. On the other hand, there are many people who practice sitting meditation only three or four days a week, but also practice meditative awareness in other if not all areas of their lives. When practicing silent sitting meditation, 15 to 30 minutes is typically recommended as optimal for beginners, though even 5 minutes can produce noticeable effects.
While this is a basic meditation method, please understand that meditation does not necessarily have to be like other aspects of our lives that require us to progress through stages of more complex and demanding tasks. It’s entirely up to you to decide what you do next, if anything. Some people practice nothing but silent sitting for their entire lives, benefit greatly from it, and have no desire for anything else.
Other posts on methods of meditation and prayer offered in this blog:
Online Christian meditation resources:
These selections of resources are not meant to endorse or promote any particular views or practices above others. They were selected for their potential to offer information on views and practices that are probably less well known among most American Christians, yet may have much to offer in the development of a richer internal experience of Christianity. Because Christianity is a religion with extremely diverse personal and communal expressions, it is understood that some of these views and practices may not be congruent with the beliefs of some Christians. The blurbs are taken directly from the linked sites.
As a global spiritual community it took form in 1991. But it continues the 30 year long work begun by the Benedictine monk John Main. His legacy is found in his teaching Christian meditation as part of the great work of our time of restoring the contemplation dimension of Christian faith in the life of the church. The mantra ‘maranatha’ that was John Main’s preferred recommendation to people beginning meditation is the oldest Christian prayer (it means ‘come, Lord’), in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, used by St Paul at the end of the First Letter to the Corinthians (16:22) and found in the earliest Christian liturgies.
Centering Prayer is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. Lectio Divina, literally meaning “divine reading,” is an ancient practice of praying the scriptures. During Lectio Divina, the practitioner listens to the text of the Bible with the “ear of the heart,” as if he or she is in conversation with God, and God is suggesting the topics for discussion. The method of Lectio Divina includes moments of reading (lectio), reflecting on (meditatio), responding to (oratio) and resting in (contemplatio) the Word of God with the aim of nourishing and deepening one’s relationship with the Divine.
The Jesus Prayer is very simple: “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The Jesus Prayer according to numerous Church Fathers is “essential” to our spiritual growth. The Jesus Prayer proclaims our faith and humbles us by asking mercy for our sinfulness. The Jesus Prayer is thought to be as old as the Church itself. The Jesus Prayer, says Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, “more than any other,” helps us to be able to “stand in God’s presence.” This means that the Jesus Prayer helps us to focus our mind exclusively on God with “no other thought” occupying our mind but the thought of God. At this moment when our mind is totally concentrated on God, we discover a very personal and direct relationship with Him.
The rosary is made up of two things: mental prayer and vocal prayer. In the Holy Rosary mental prayer is none other than meditation of the chief mysteries of the life, death and glory of Jesus Christ and of His Blessed Mother. Vocal prayer consists in saying fifteen decades of the Hail Mary, each decade headed by an Our Father, while at the same time meditating on and contemplating the fifteen principal virtues which Jesus and Mary practised in the fifteen mysteries of the Holy Rosary.
The Unity approach to prayer is affirmative, based on positive prayers and affirmations that have universal, interfaith appeal. Affirmative prayer is the highest form of creative thought. It includes the release of counterproductive, negative thoughts, as well as holding in mind statements of spiritual truth. Through meditation, we experience the presence of God. Prayer and meditation heighten our awareness and thereby transform our lives.
The Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) seeks to build up the church by making classic Christian literature widely available and promoting its use for edification and study by interested Christians, seekers and scholars. The CCEL accomplishes this by selecting, collecting, distributing, and promoting valuable literature through the World Wide Web and other media. Search this site for:
- The Cloud of Unknowing
- A Short and Easy Method of Prayer
- Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola