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Learn to Meditate Part 1: Getting Started

| 5/16/2014 11:26:00 AM

Meditation can be thought of as the art of awakening. Through the mastering of this art we can learn new ways to approach our difficulties and bring wisdom and joy alive in our life. By meditation’s tools and practices, we can awaken the best of our spiritual human capacities. The key to this art is the steadiness of our attention. When the fullness of our attention is cultivated together with a grateful and tender heart, our spiritual life will naturally grow.

Learn to Meditate

Some healing of mind and body must take place for many of us, before we can sit quietly and concentrate. A basic level of attention is needed to begin our healing, to begin understanding ourselves. To deepen our practice further, we must choose a way to develop our attention systematically and give ourselves to it quite fully. To learn to concentrate we must choose a prayer or meditation and choose to practice with commitment and steadiness. This practice instills a willingness to work with our quiet time day after day, no matter what arises. This is not easy. Many people would like their spiritual life to show immediate and cosmic results, much like flipping the remote to a television or changing an app on our phones. But what great art is ever learned quickly? Any deep training and knowingness develops in direct proportion to how much we put into it…. meaning we reap what we sow.

Woman Meditating
Photo by Fotolia/SolisImages

Think about this for a moment. Have you every tried to learn a musical instrument? I have recently picked up my flute again that I used to play in my junior high school days.  How long will it take to play well again?  In my early years, it took months of lessons once a week, practicing every day. I remember struggling to learn which fingers go for which notes and how to read basic lines of music. After some weeks or months, I could play simple tunes, and perhaps after a year or two I could play a chosen type of music. But to master the art, to be a part of the orchestra, I had to give myself to this discipline over and over, time and again. So if we want to learn something fully, to be the master of it, we would have to give ourselves to it wholeheartedly over a long period of time—training, an apprenticeship, a cultivation.

Nothing less is required in the spiritual arts including yoga and meditation. Perhaps even more is asked. Yet through this mastery we master our lives and ourselves. We learn the most human art, how to connect with our truest self. Geshe Michael Roach, author of The Diamond Cutter, calls spiritual practice manual labor. It is a labor of love in which we bring a wholehearted attention to our own situation over and over again. In all sorts of weather, we steady and deepen our prayer, meditation, and discipline, learning how to see with honesty and compassion, how to let go, how to love more deeply. 

Whether a practice calls for visualization, question, prayer, sacred words, or simple meditation on feelings or breath, it always involves the steadying and conscious return, again and again, to some focus. As we learn to do this with a deeper and fuller attention, it is like learning to steady a boat in waters that have waves. Repeating our meditation, we relax and sink into the moment, deeply connecting with what is present. We let ourselves settle into a spiritual ground; we train ourselves to come back to this moment.  This is a patient process. St. Francis de Sales said, “What we need is a cup of understanding, a barrel of love, and an ocean of patience.” 

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