Introduction to Meditation

As I sat down to meditate tonight, I thought I would make a short audio clip of the process of meditation. When I decided to try meditation for the first time in 2003, I had difficulty finding anything online to help me jump into meditating. I ended up reading a fair bit in books and then eventually finding some online resources, before finding a meditation group almost a year after I started my practice.

The waves were quite loud behind me while I recorded this and a car or two went down my wee road. Jack Kornfield has commented on how thankful he was about the road next to where he started meditating, as it helped his practice. I honestly don’t notice the waves or the rare car passing, once I am focusing on my breath.

I once told a friend that meditation was the greatest gift I had ever given myself. It has allowed me to have a new relationship with myself – or perhaps has allowed me to return to one from before my mind became so busy.

Remember – meditation is a practice. Keep practising and you will start to see the benefits.

Singing Bowl

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New singing bowl (note B) for #meditation.

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Tibetan singing bowls are a fantastic aid for meditation! I bought mine last year and it has been such a help to my meditation practice. I ring the bell at the start and end of practice, with the starting sound very helpful in my entering a meditative state. I focus on the ringing as long as possible, until it cannot be heard any longer and then I shift focus to my breath.

There are many examples online. This one might be of assistance, if you want to experience the effect before getting your own bowl:

Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness or Compassion Meditation can take a few forms and I will focus here on the one I practice most. Why would we need to focus on compassion? One reason is many (or most) of us do not practice enough compassion with ourselves. For some, this lack of compassion can be the hateful voices of others that we have internalised in our lives. For others (like me), while there are no overt voices, there is a pushing of oneself to always be doing and accomplishing more. I think of this as analogous to a rider with a whip, constantly beating and spurring oneself on further.

Other people might imagine that they love themselves, but they imagine that they don’t have love for others. I do not believe this is the case. If you truly love yourself, that love will overflow to others. Loving-kindness meditation supports this view, as in the example below, the focus begins with the self.

So, we need love for ourselves and when that love is nurtured, it will overflow to others. An entire therapeutic intervention has been created called Compassion-focused Therapy, which looks at the mental and social rewards of growing the parts of our minds hard-wired for compassion and nurturing. If you are curious, you can search for this counselling modality yourself, including the therapist who created this modality, Paul Gilbert. Another option? The Compassionate Mind is available here.

The Compassionate Mind, by Paul Gilbert
The Compassionate Mind, by Paul Gilbert

Loving-Kindness Meditation Practice

Find a place where you can meditate with some privacy and where you won’t be distracted. Sometimes, I have this compassion meditation as a full session and sometimes I practice compassion meditation just before sleeping. The latter puts me in a very good frame of mind for sleep.

Loving Yourself

First, focus on yourself. Imagine that you are feeling love for yourself, as you would for another person. Some people find this awkward, as they have never done it. I can assure you that it is a wonderful feeling! All of the love that you feel for your parents, your spouse, your child or another, you can focus back on yourself. It creates a warm and radiating feeling. If you have difficulty doing this, don’t be discouraged and certainly DO NOT reprimand yourself – that is the opposite of what you are doing here! Be kind to yourself. Love will come, in time. Spend as long as you need to with this and don’t rush to the other steps. Just stay with this for awhile.

As you radiate love, say this:

May I be well. May I be happy.

May I be healthy. May I be at peace.

May I be free from pain and suffering.

Loving Someone Close to Your Heart Already

Second, once you have experienced love for yourself, think of someone you love dearly. Radiate love to them, thinking of how much this person (or other animal) means to you. Imagine that you are sending them love, across the distance between you. Wish the best for them.

As you radiate love, say this:

May [person’s name] be well. May [person’s name] be happy.

May [person’s name] be healthy. May [person’s name] be at peace.

May [person’s name] be free from pain and suffering.

Loving Someone Currently Unimportant

Now think of someone for whom you have no significant feelings. Perhaps someone at work who you hardly know. Take the love that you have radiated to yourself and to someone dear to you and project these feelings to the person relatively unimportant to you. In all of these examples use a name (excluding yourself). This makes the experience more “real”.

As you radiate love, say this:

May [person’s name] be well. May [person’s name] be happy.

May [person’s name] be healthy. May [person’s name] be at peace.

May [person’s name] be free from pain and suffering.

Loving Someone for Whom There is Hatred

Now, finally, think of someone you hate, despise or are otherwise hostile towards. This can be a difficult part of the meditation for some, but that suggests it is a part that can be worked upon.

Take the love that you have radiated to yourself, to someone dear to you and to the person relatively unimportant to you and project this love to the person you do not like. This can seem “fake” at first, but stay with it. Imagine him or her in need of love, of being worthy of love.

As you radiate love, say this:

May [person’s name] be well. May [person’s name] be happy.

May [person’s name] be healthy. May [person’s name] be at peace.

May [person’s name] be free from pain and suffering.

This loving-kindness may not seem natural at first, but that is why you practice anything – to make the unnatural second-nature. You will find that your heart grows in love over time towards yourself and others and your kindness will bring its own rewards.

That you may find the peace that is already within you!

Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns
Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns

Opening Your Heart

There is a thing that happens when you open your heart – you are vulnerable. Some say that this makes you weak. I disagree. A person with a heart open to the pain of others has to process these feelings, not shutting them out, but rather sitting with them and, sometimes, sitting with the people experiencing the pain. I have been opening my heart to the suffering of all, not just those who look like me. It has changed many things in my life.

Over the last weeks, like so many others, I have been watching online coverage of the bushfires in Australia. They have been going on almost four months and there is no end in sight. As of today, 20 people are confirmed dead and experts at the University of Sydney say that half a BILLION animals have perished in the bushfires. So much suffering, on such a scale!

I have found myself more edgy than usual – and more emotional. I had to stop and realise what has me upset. I am Australian and as I think of the terror and suffering in Australia, it begins to wear me down. Opening your heart to others can be painful, yes, but it is much preferable to creating a world for yourself where you only focus on yourself.

I will be discussing loving-kindness meditation soon. It allows you to expand your heart, from your own self, to those you love, to those for whom you have indifference to – finally – those you may hate. Opening your heart to empathy, compassion and kindness not only makes life better for those with whom you find yourself in contact, but it helps you to develop a part of your mind – a loving and soothing part – that many do not know the joy of developing within themselves.

Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns
Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns

Focusing on the Breath

There are many things upon which you can focus when you meditate. Candles can be powerful and soothing, but not always available or advised (e.g. while on an aeroplane!). An image of the Buddha is encouraging – although I find this image is not the best for me. The rising and failing of your chest suits some people as a focal point. Hearing yourself saying OM with each breath out can be good. I have tried all of these (and more) and when my mind is racing, OM can help but my general preference is to focus on the movement in and out of my breath.

Why? It is always with me. It can signify letting go. I can focus on it anywhere, including while above the clouds over the South Pacific.

Some imagine that meditation is meant as some sort of “out of body” experience (and sometimes it is one), but the point is to create a mindset that you are able to maintain when not in meditation practice, making your whole life more centred, grounded, insightful and peaceful. By focusing on my breath in mediation (actually, the feeling of my breath moving in and out of my nose), I am later able to enter this meditative state relatively quickly while focusing on my breath on the train, while sitting on a park bench or anywhere else that I wish.

Meditation is also part of mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions, including Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, and can be used with counselling to help clients become more grounded and to see their fleeting thoughts come and go, realising that they are more than just their thoughts.

Wellington Meditation Practice
Wellington Meditation Practice

When I want a change, I can still meditate with the Buddha, a candle or – as in this case – with both.

Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns
Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns