The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime. – Sogyal Rinpoche.
Samatha, as it’s known in Sanskrit, or Shine in Tibetan, is the most basic and most common form of mind training practiced throughout various spiritual traditions of the East, and now the West. Translated as the “calm abiding,” Samatha meditation’s power is in its simplicity. It is the most effective anger management technique and anyone, without exceptions, can do it and should do it.
If you’ve ever tried meditating than you already learned something about your mind – it is like a restless monkey jumping back and forth between the thoughts always pulling you on the nose in ten different directions. Samatha meditation is designed to cultivate mindfulness about the monkey inside our heads, calm the mind and bring it back to focus now and here. When it comes to regaining your emotional balance, this is really all you need.
Ultimately, when this calm abiding meditation is also combined with Vipashyana (or Lagtong in Tibetan), or the insight meditation into the true nature of reality, the practice can result in establishing wisdom that extinguishes all mental afflictions by bringing about full blossoming of human qualities and realization of one’s true nature (aka enlightenment).
Samatha (Calm-Abiding) Meditation Instructions
There are a few techniques to practice Samatha but the most basic form that was passed to me from various teachers, and was taught by Buddha Shakyamuni himself, involves the following steps:
- Create a cozy, clean, and quiet environment around you, light a candle if available;
- Sit on a good size cushion in a meditation posture if you can (see instructions below);
- Focus your mind on your breath coming and going at the tip of your nose (area between your upper lip and the nostrils); deep naturally into your abdomen area;
- Count the breaths to 7, then 14, then 21 without allowing your mind to wonder away from your breath; if you minder does not wonder till you count to 7, then start counting to 14 and so on;
- Whenever the mind wanders, gently bring it back to the awareness of the breath flowing in and out.
- Sit on the cushion in the cross legged position if you can, with the right leg in front of the left or on top of the left (half lotus position); you can also sit on the chair; next point is more important;
- Straighten your spine as if you were stacking one vertebra on top of the other. Your spine is the main conduit of your central nervous system, when all of the inner energies are aligned your mind is most alert and awake, that is why it is so important to keep it erect;
- Relax your shoulders, keep the head evenly balanced and tuck your chin slightly inwards;
- Let your tongue touch the palate;
- Eyes can be either lightly closed gazing into space or can be shut completely;
- Palms resting one on top of another with thumbs touching lightly or both palms can be resting on your knees.
Note: counting is just an additional tool to keep the mind from wondering but it is not necessary and as your practice progresses and you achieve more stability you may stop counting.
Duration: start with 10 minutes a day. Once you feel you can remain in calm abiding for 10 minutes, then feel free to extend your sessions to 15 and 20 but not much longer. It is recommended to do a few shorter sessions per day rather than one prolonged session where one is half asleep.
When: it is best to do it in the morning as it will set a tone for your day but in reality it is best to do it whenever you have the time, just not around noon (mind is too busy at that time, very hard to focus.)
My mind is so busy, how can I stop the thoughts?
“Stopping thoughts” or “Emptying the Mind,” is the most common misconception about meditation. It is like saying “How can I empty the ocean of all the fish, plants, rocks and so on?” You see, the fish, the plants and the rocks are as part of the ocean as thoughts are part of mind’s nature. The most common comparison to the mind is the ocean and the waves; waves being the thoughts. Fish, plants and the waves are a manifestation of the mind; they come and go but the ocean always remains. It is within the ocean where all of this is taking place and if you take all of that out of the ocean then it wouldn’t be the ocean, it’d be a humongous puddle, void of any life.
So what matters is the awareness behind the thoughts, mind’s ability to be conscious of itself and everything in it. There will be days when you’ll have plenty of thoughts (oceans too get stormy) but they will come and go (the way the waves in the ocean do), and there will be days when you’ll have very few thoughts but don’t let this be an indicator about the qualiyou sty of your meditation. You’re training your mind to focus in various conditions, that is all that matters. It is extremely important you continue to practice no matter how you feel that day.
Shamar Rinpoche (The Path To Awakening) further explains: “It will happen that a thought will flash suddenly across your mind, then another, and another… this will interrupt the meditative state. At this point, rather than focusing on the thoughts as disruptive, study their innate nature. When their empty nature is recognized, mind will return naturally and spontaneously to its restful state. This process will become effortless, and eventually every passing thought will blend seamlessly into the unborn nature of mind as soon as it arises. In this profound non-dualistic state, each thought, instead of being experienced as an interruption or distraction, will be experienced as a spontaneous manifestation of innate wisdom.”
When will I start feeling the effects?
Everyone is very different and it will definitely depend on your effort. You can start experiencing more spaciousness in a couple of weeks but in a couple of months (after your brain has a chance to re-wire a bit) you’ll definitely feel that your perception is becoming quite different and you’re more present, here and now, have more emotional control, and enjoying what is.
“What agitates the mind and creates obstacles for meditation?”
I’ve read and can attest based on my experience that certain things we consume will destabilize our meditation. These include consuming garlic, onion, very spicy foods, excessive caffeine, alcohol, and practicing on the full stomach. All of these will either make your mind too dull or too agitated. That is why meditating first thing in the morning on the clear head works best.
“I am Christian, Muslim, Jew, and we don’t meditate, is there something else I can try?”
Actually, meditation is like exercising your mind. If exercising your muscles at the gym does not conflict with your religion then meditation should not conflict with it either. Most people feel a bit of resistance when they see meditation intertwined with some cultural aspects of the East but there really is no reason to confuse the two. One can straighten one’s back, breathe and meditate practically anywhere and in front of anything.
We train our minds in various ways, consciously or not. Samatha is the type of meditation that trains our mind to focus and to cultivate mindfulness, which is the most effective recipe for mastering emotions. People who meditate function better in life than those who don’t. If anything, you’ll only enhance your faith and become a better Christian, Muslim, Jew. Enjoy.