From Mind Training by Ringu Tulku*
The following excerpt outlines one method of practicing calm abiding meditation. If you are new to this, it is best to seek the guidance of a qualified practitioner at first if possible.
All meditation methods have the same purpose: to keep us in the present and to introduce us to the mind. We are not trying to stop our thoughts but to feel less trapped by them. The earlier we catch ourselves from falling in with habitual patterns and getting entangled the better, and one of the most dependable techniques for preventing this is awareness of the breath.
Usually we breathe without taking any notice but in this technique we watch the breath, following it as it flows in and out of the body. We keep calm. We are not trying to accomplish anything. We just allow the mind to use the breath to settle. We do not have to supervise our senses or our thoughts. If something distracts or interrupts us, we let it pass. Staying mildly aware of our breath, we observe it without getting too absorbed by it.
Meditation is like taking a holiday. We have permission to give up planning and worrying. We are off duty. It is time to relax and slow down. Too much effort with our practice makes us too tight, and that is no use, but allowing the mind to go completely flat is not the answer either. If we are not alert we will fall asleep or our attention will wander without us knowing it. We are trying to find a balance, neither too tense nor too sluggish. The Buddha gave precise instructions concerning the “seven-point posture” for meditation. Adopting this posture helps to straighten and stabilize the body in support of the mind. The physical position for meditation is important but sitting cross-legged is not absolutely necessary. We can just sit comfortably.
The body is our environment. It reflects our state of mind. We know from reading other people’s thoughts in their faces how much is expressed in our mouth and eyes. The mouth is especially revealing: gritting our teeth or being tight-lipped means we are trying too hard or holding something back. The mind becomes open and quiet by releasing tension in the face and neck. When we are not wound up or straying between the past and the future, the meditation gradually brings us into the present moment—grounded in our body.
It is a good idea to start a meditation period by breathing twenty-one times. Breathe in, hold the breath for a short while, and breathe out. This helps to quiet the mind and bring it back to the body. We place our hands on our lap, thumbs touching to balance the shoulders and prevent ourselves from leaning to one side or another. This is important because if the body bends and the spine is not straight, certain negative emotions are intensified.
The chest is expanded for deep breathing. We tilt the neck slightly forward with the chin tucked [slightly] down. The teeth and jaw are held loosely and the mouth is relaxed with the tongue touching the upper palate. The eyes are focused at a distance. In the Tibetan tradition, we keep the eyes slightly open, looking down at first, but after a while it may help to close the eyes briefly or gaze into the distance so we do not become too withdrawn. This physical arrangement gives our meditation practice a secure support. There is a suppleness and a feeling of peace. It is effortless. We imagine ourselves like a bundle of hay, cut loose. These lines describe a simple approach to meditation:
Rest without going into the past.
Do not follow past thoughts
Or gather up thoughts of the future.
Stay in the present.
Let your senses be open
And let the thoughts flow by.
Remain in alaya.
Our everyday mind is often extreme. Either we are excited and overflowing with ideas or we feel bored and tired. If we rest in the alaya state [immediate present] during meditation, our thoughts and feelings are less turbulent and the mind stays collected but alert.
* Ringu Tulku. 2007. Mind Training. Pp. 63-66. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion.