Week 3 Teacher Notes: How to Meditate
7:00pm – Weekly Review
7:05pm – Course Summary
7:07 – Mindfulness of the Body Exercises
7.15 – Meditation 1: Exploring the Breath
7:40pm – What Happens When You Meditate / How to Meditate?
7.55pm – How to Replicate a Guided Meditation Experience
8:25pm — Homework Exercise
Focus is the act of applying attention to something. It derives from the latin tendere — to stretch toward. In meditation, focus is best thought of as letting the mind rest (upon something) as opposed to forced concentration — which leads to unneccessary effort and tension.
In meditation, what we focus upon is often referred to as the meditation object, or “anchor.” It doesn’t need to be a literal “anchor” though in most meditations it is (e.g. breath, sounds, body, mantra, candle flame). Instead, it could just be an intention to stay with, accept, and be open and receptive to your experience throughout the meditation. Or the intention to be curious about where the mind goes, or when it stays focused on the breath and when it doesn’t.
Such a focus, whether literal or figurative, allows us to exercise a little more discernment over the use of our attention. We can assess our mind-states and choose whether to continue with repetitive, unhelpful thinking, for example, or to bring our attention, however briefly, back to some simple sensory experience. Note that we always have the choice to continue thinking too, if we feel that thinking might be the useful thing to do. Meditation may be a place for processing, analysing and thinking through the issues and events of your day.
Awareness is that experience we may have in meditation when we notice that our mind is busy, full, flowing with thought — but the thoughts no longer bother us. Rather than flies buzzing around our head, crawling over our lips and up our nostrils, the thoughts seem as light and fluffy as cirrus clouds drifting quietly through the stratosphere.
Awareness will occur naturally and spontaneously during meditation. There will be times, for example, when, after thinking about something for some time, you will become less embedded in the thought process. The thoughts may just fade away; they’re done with, and your attention may drift towards the breath, sensations, sound.
Awareness can also be ‘artificially’ produced, by imagining that you are just watching thoughts pass by, using various metaphors. You could get a sense of your thoughts as traffic. Is the traffic busy, snarling, peak hour traffic? Or a Sunday afternoon drive? Or you could get a sense of your thoughts as music – is it a military marching band or an ambient soundscape? A common metaphor is to watch your thoughts as leaves floating down a stream, or as bubbles drifting away.
You’ll oscillate between focus and awareness in any meditation. Both are equally important and can lead to states of relaxation and clarity. They do, however, have quite different qualities.
On to Week 4.