Setting Your Goals

The secret to getting ahead is getting started. ———Mark Twain 

So you would like to learn meditation.  To aid you in transforming your initial enthusiasm into skills, based on experience of many meditators who have passed this same way, this blog offers some preparatory advice before we embark on the meditation practice itself. 

At the outset, it should be said that each person has his or her own rate of progress in meditation—some are faster, some slower.  However, whatever your rate of progress, just like learning to fly an airplane, you need to put in a certain amount of ‘flying time’ to master the skills.  If you dedicate enough time and have a proper understanding of the technique, before long you will start to see progress at your own personal pace. 

How can I make sure my meditation is regular? 

Meditation will be of limited use to you if you practice it on-and-off. The key to success in meditation is keeping the promise to yourself to meditate once or twice every day. You need to set aside a realistic amount of time each day to meditate. The table opposite recommends daily durations for meditation starting with twenty minutes per day and gradually increasing over the period of two months.  The recommended times are based on the usual lengths of time beginners can sit comfortably, in a half lotus position on the floor. If you feel comfortable, you can certainly meditate for longer than what’s suggested––but be realistic. Set a start time for your meditation and stick to it. When it is time for meditation, stop what you are doing, find a quiet place to sit, close your eyes and meditate.  The most important thing is to fix the habit of meditation in your daily life and meditate in that period of time every day. Maintain the consistency of your practice. Meditating regularly, every day, is of inestimable value. 

Do I have to meditate at a special time of day? 

Pick a time (or times) of day for meditation that you know you will be free at the same time each day.  If your house is usually busy with demanding children or pets, choose a time that is usually peaceful. Times of the day which have proved popular amongst meditators are the morning and evening.  If you choose to meditate in the morning after rising, you should do a little exercise to refresh your body before sitting down to meditate. This will give you the perfect start to your day. If you choose to meditate in the evening, like before going to bed, meditation will help you to relax your mind, allowing you to make the most efficient use of your mind, allowing you to make the most efficient use of your time asleep. In fact, it could be any other time of day that’s suitable for you—experiment, explore. 

Do I need to have a special place to meditate? 

You can meditate anywhere you choose. You can meditate at home, or, if you prefer, in a spiritual meeting place if you find it has a conducive atmosphere. You can meditate alone or in a group. Simply make sure that the environment is peaceful–a place where you won’t to be interrupted. Secondly, the ambient temperatures should be comfortable-not too hot and not too cold-you will be the best judge of the temperature for yourself. 

Which method of meditation should I use? 

Just as different people like to eat different sorts of food, it is no surprise to find that different methods of meditation suit people of different temperaments. Part of our task as beginners in meditation is to find out which sort of Dhammakaya meditation suits us best. From the summary of meditation techniques in Table I you will see that there are a total of five variations of meditation described. Follow the techniques in order. Spend two weeks, meditating at least once a day, to familiarize yourself with each of the techniques. At the end of ten weeks you will be in a good position to choose which technique suits you the best. If in doubt, choose the simplest form of meditation which suits you, with the meditation described in Chapter 6 as the ideal. 

Sitting posture for meditation 

The ideal sitting posture for meditation is the half-lotus position. The ‘half-lotus position’ means to sit upright on the floor with your back and spine straight–cross-legged with your right leg on the left one (see diagram page 29). You will almost certainly find that sitting on a meditation mat, cushion or pillow will make your position more comfortable. Ideally both your knees should touch the floor–together with your bottom form- ing three points of a triangle which distributes the weight of your body. Such a position is often awk- ward for beginners, and in fact looser variations such as sitting with your legs to one side or sitting on a chair are also effective alternatives for beginners. Your hands should rest palms-up on your lap, and the tip of your right index finger should touch your left thumb. When meditating, try to avoid wearing tight clothing which might impede your breathing or circulation. If you feel uncomfortable during your meditation, you may change position. 

Being a good teacher to yourself 

At the outset it should be mentioned that to learn meditation from a book, alone, rather than from a teacher in a group, puts you at a slight disadvantage. You may have no one to answer your questions when you are curious, and you may have no one to give you encouragement when you feel lazy. However, if you are self-disciplined and follow the instructions in the book carefully, through self-observation you can go a long way towards being your own teacher in this meditation technique. Unlike some other forms of meditation, you can practice Dhammakaya meditation without a teacher without fear of straying from the correct path. There are three factors which you should bear in mind as you study meditation, to re-assure yourself that you are on the right track: 

  1. Awareness: you should always have self-awareness, never losing consciousness or having diminished consciousness. 
  2. Feeling: the feeling which accompanies your meditation should never deviate into an unpleasant feeling. 
  3. Focus of Attention: when you concentrate your attention, it should always be inside the body, not outside. 

If you monitor these three factors, you cannot go far wrong with meditation. However, it is advisable to discuss and verify your experiences with qualified teachers of Dhammakaya meditation from time to time—at the very least to receive encouragement and re-assurance that you are on the right track.

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