When I first started working full time as a tarot reader and Reiki practitioner, I had a Reiki client who was discussing meditation with me. She wanted to have a daily meditation practice and had been successful with a meditation practice in the past, but was having problems currently. I asked what the difficulty was in renewing her practice. She replied that due to some back injuries, she could no longer sit up straight comfortably. I said, well, does it help your back to lean against a wall or chair back? Yes, that helped. Well, can you meditate sitting in a straight back chair so you can lean against the back? Well, the problem with that was her feet didn’t touch the floor. I can relate to that, I’m short! So I answered, from experience, well, can you put a cushion under your feet? Well, yes, she hadn’t thought of that–but aren’t you supposed to sit forward in the chair with your feet flat on the ground?
Ok, I saw the problem: getting best practices confused with “only” practices. Every time we learn something, we’ll learn a best practice for that new thing. But it’s not necessarily the only way to do something. And with something as personal as meditation, we sometimes need to be able to be flexible in our expectations.
Posture for Meditation
Best practice is to sit forward to the edge of the chair, spine erect, feet flat on the floor, with an alert but relaxed posture. This is for seated meditations done in a chair. But there are a lot of different styles of meditation, often each with their recommended posture.
Best practice for Japanese meditations, such as Joshin Kokyu Hô taught in Reiki, is to sit in seiza, which means correct sitting. Seiza is kneeling, or sitting with your legs under you, keeping the spine erect. Kneeling on a soft rug, tatami mat or zambuton can be more comfortable. Also, a cushion like a zafu (straddle it to sit in seiza) or a seiza bench can lift your butt off your legs and take some of the strain off your knees, making this more comfortable for longer meditations or if you’re not used to sitting in seiza.
Although there are a variety of benefits to meditation and different approaches to what we are trying to achieve in meditation, one of the main goals is to bring a sense of stillness, presence, mindfulness, and objectivity to our awareness. To that extent, meditation does not end when we stand up from our seated practice, but must be brought into all aspects of our lives. So to say that you can only meditate in a particular posture is absurd—it is imperative that we be able to meditate in all postures that our body gets itself into throughout the day. The reason we have best practices in posture is to find a position that keeps the body relaxed, awake, and comfortable so that our physical form doesn’t interfere with quieting our mind. So if the posture that is commonly taught does not quiet the body but increases its complaints, your best practice would be to find a different posture to use.
Daily Meditation Practice or Meditating Throughout the Day?
So if our ultimate goal is to meditate all day, why bother sitting in the morning? A friend told me once that he was in a constant state of meditation and so didn’t need to have a specific daily practice. I could see in his energy that he was not meditating but dissociating, and I’m guessing anyone could see that there was something off about his statement. What I have discovered in my practice is that the time I spend in sitting meditation is necessary to maintain the meditative awareness throughout the day. If I don’t sit, I lose the day-long experience of stillness and connection and the higher level of energy that courses through my body.
The other important reason to have a dedicated meditation practice is to develop discipline. One ritual book I have suggests that to start meditating, first practice simply sitting still, not moving, for five minutes—just paying attention to your body and your natural impulses. Once five minutes is easy, you can advance to longer periods of sitting. This is about bringing awareness to the body and learning to control impulses.
Sit for a short time; then take a break, a very short break of about thirty seconds or a minute. But be mindful of whatever you do, and do not lose your presence and its natural ease. Then alert yourself and sit again. If you do many short sessions like this, your breaks will often make your meditation more real and more inspiring; they will take the clumsy, irksome rigidity, solemnity, and unnaturalness out of your practice and bring you more and more focus and ease.
Gradually, through this interplay of breaks and sitting, the barrier between meditation and everyday life will crumble, the contrast between them will dissolve, and you will find yourself increasingly in your natural pure presence, without distraction.
Then, as Dudjom Rinpoche used to say: “Even though the meditator may leave the meditation, the meditation will not leave the meditator.”
Meditating Alone or With Others?
I think it is important every day to sit alone and in quiet, or with the simple noises of life. Meditating with others creates an overall blending and lifting of the energy, which is wonderful. (Personally, I think group work brings the overall energy to slightly above the average of the participants, giving most people a boost, but being slightly lower in quality for the most experienced practitioners. I would say this is true both in meditation and in ritual practice. I’m curious to see if anyone else has any thoughts on this.) But to awaken to your true nature or your sense of inner peace that leads to enlightenment, the goal of Reiki, you need to meditate alone every day, in addition to any group work that you do.
Meditating with Music or Recorded Meditations?
I think the same is true for guided meditations as for group meditation—following a recorded meditation is like meditating with another person, and can raise your energy but ultimately connects you to the teacher who recorded the meditation and not to your own true nature. Recorded meditations have a lot of benefits—an advanced practitioner is leading you, the time is always the same, you can relax into it rather than worry if you’re doing it right—you can surrender to it. But think how powerful it can be to surrender to the stillness and the awakening of your higher self. I think guided meditations can be part of your practice, but I don’t think they are ideal as your primary meditation practice. If you love using guided meditations, maybe you can establish a morning routine of quiet, private, personal practice and use the guided meditation in the evening or after work (a nice way to transition between worlds).
For these reasons, I also don’t use music when I’m meditating. The argument might be that it drowns out outside noise, but we can strive to let our meditation bring us to a place where outside disturbances are simply observed and released. When I was leading and participating in a lot of events at a particular spiritual center, it was almost invariable that the director of the center would come pounding on our door, interrupting whatever class or ritual we were doing, exclaiming that we were making too much noise for another group that was meditating at that time. If you have to be in a sensory deprivation chamber to meditate, you’ll never be able to take your meditation with you when you rise from your meditation cushion.
Timer or No Timer?
I learned from the beginning to use a timer for my meditations. A student once asked about this. My response was that using a timer developed discipline, and also allowed me to get as deep as I wanted into the meditation with no worries about what time it was (important for meditating in the morning knowing you have to catch a bus to work!). I rarely sit for my daily practice without setting a timer or using a mala (which can be used to count a certain number of mantras, prayers, or breaths). Using a tool to time my practice lets me enter more deeply into my meditation, lets me release any worry about how long I’ve been sitting (a particular ending point has already been established), and can be used as a training tool to increase the amount of time spent in practice.
I’ve noticed that my body always knows right when time is almost up, and thirty seconds or a minute before the timer goes off I usually experience the feeling of bliss or connection that is one of the lovely side effects of meditating.
The most important lesson I learned was to avoid becoming attached to my positive experiences if it was peaceful. As with every mental experience, bliss, clarity, and non-conceptuality spontaneously come and go. You didn’t create them, you didn’t cause them, and you can’t control them. They are simply natural qualities of your mind.
I was taught that when such very positive experiences occur to stop right there, before the sensations dissipate.
Contrary to my expectations, when I stopped practicing as soon as bliss, clarity, or some other wonderful experience occurred, the effects lasted much longer than when I tried to hang on to them. I also found that I was much more eager to meditate the next time I was supposed to practice.
Even more important, I discovered that ending my meditation practice at the point at which I experienced something of bliss, clarity, or non-conceptuality was a great exercise in learning to let go of the habit of dzinpa, or grasping. Grasping or clinging too tightly to a wonderful experience is the one real danger of meditation, because it’s so easy to think that this wonderful experience is a sign of realization. But in most cases it’s just a passing phase, a glimpse of the true nature of the mind, as easily obscured as when clouds obscure the sun. Once that brief moment of pure awareness has passed, you have to deal with the ordinary conditions of dullness, distraction, or agitation that confront the mind. And you gain greater strength and progress through working with these conditions than trying to cling to experiences of bliss, clarity, or non-conceptuality.
Best Practice is Your Practice
When I was a kid, one time at the dentist I asked if it was better to use waxed or non-waxed dental floss (yes, that’s what kind of a kid I was). He replied, whatever kind gets you to floss every day!
Remember, best practices are not the only practice. I’ve tried in this post to contradict my opinions with quotes from advanced practitioners. I do think that what works best for a beginner is not the same as what works best for an expert, and I also have experienced the new insight that arises from revisiting a beginner practice. I think our culture encourages us to grow as quickly as possible and to take a chance on trying something beyond our ability to stretch ourselves. I think too often we lose out on letting ourselves deepen in the simplicity of being a beginner.
Whatever practice gets you to meditate every day is the right practice for you. But if you’re trying to up your game, consider doing the opposite of what you normally do. Try to move on to a more advanced technique, or revisit a beginner technique. But the important thing about meditation is to do it every day, and whatever practice draws you to your meditation cushion is your best practice.
Joy Vernon specializes in Traditional Japanese Reiki and is a certified Komyo Reiki Shihan (Teacher). She studied with Komyo Reiki Kai Founder Hyakuten Inamoto in 2011 and 2013. She is also a Reiki Practitioner and Teacher in the Usui Reiki Ryôhô lineage through IHR. Joy was first trained in Usui Shiki Ryôhô/Usui Tibetan Reiki in 2003 and started teaching Western Reiki in 2007, but has been teaching the more spiritually focused traditional Japanese Reiki since 2008. She is the Organizer of the Denver Traditional Reiki Meetup and is a member of Shibumi International Reiki Association and the Healing Touch Professional Association. Joy is also a Certified Professional Tarot Reader. Learn more at JoyVernon.com.
© 2014 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.