To meditate on something is to let it fill your mind. All your attention is on that one thing. If there is a thought, it’ll be about that one thing. As proficiency grows, there’ll be fewer and fewer individual thoughts during meditation. It becomes an unbroken flow of attention towards the chosen object of meditation.
There’s a few implications from this definition. First, attention and thought are treated as different experiences. You can pay attention to something without necessarily thinking about it. Example: driving. During the journey, you pay attention to the road but rarely think about the movements and decisions. Most thought is on the rest of the day, or other things important in life at the time. Here’s another example: say you’re on a course, or in a meeting, and it’s a bit boring. You know you need to pay attention, but your mind keeps wandering onto thoughts of what to do later, or other more interesting stuff. Clearly, attention and thinking really are different.
The second implication is that meditation doesn’t have to mean emptying your mind. You can use nothingness as the object of meditation in an attempt to fill your mind with nothing. However, it’s usually easier to work with something that has a bit more substance. Most people focus on breathing. You could use sounds, or you could stare at or imagine candles or other images.
The third implication from our definition is that you have to be able to concentrate. And this can be difficult. As soon as you try to stay fixed on one thing, you’ll notice how easily your mind wanders. In your early days, your meditation practice will feel more like a thinking practice! The trick is to keep returning, keep returning, keep returning to the chosen thing you’re working with (usually breath).
So, meditation is profoundly simple in principle, but can be quite difficult to achieve. But, of course, it doesn’t matter whether you “achieve” it or not. Regular practice will train your mind to be less jumpy, and just a little bit calmer. And any progress in that direction is good progress! In a calmer mind, there’s space for consideration, objectivity and compassion. There’s just a bit of space to stop and consider before reacting: you’ll become just that little bit wiser in your dealings with yourself and with others. And that ultimately means that you’re more effective. Literally by doing less (in your own head), you’ll find a lot more gets done in your life as a whole. This is the foundation of your mindfulness practice, should you choose to go in that direction.
By the way, you don’t have to sit down to meditate. Sitting is a great way to start a meditation practice, and is very useful while you develop basic concentration skills. Later on, it’s a good idea to stand up sometimes. Standing up introduces physical pressure, and this is much more like real life. You’ll want to deploy the skills you’ve learned in life, in movement, and under pressure – so why not deliberately bring some in and stand up to meditate every now and then?
If you choose to stand then work with your weight: the weight of your head resting through the collar and the traps, falling through the centre line of your body. Your inner ankle under the inner hip, your outer ankle under the outer hip. A little lift through the soles of your feet and your pelvic floor. It’s never going to be a perfect stance and these are guidelines, but if you can find that balance sweet spot in standing and hang out there then you can invite your mind to do the same. Think of your Tadasana, or mountain pose. We go to classes and hang out in other postures – why not spend some time hanging out in that?
There are many, much more funky positions you can stand in. If you’ve ever practiced taiji, baguazhang or qigong then you’ll already know some. If you go to a full-on meditation class then they will teach you to walk whilst meditating – excellent! There really is a whole world to explore…and of course, if you prefer, you can just sit quietly for 10 minutes each day and keep it really simple.