Meditation: making a start

Esther Pockrandt – Australia

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Many of you will already have an established meditation practice.  Yet life does test us sometimes and we lose this temporarily.  It happens to all of us. So, here’s a reminder of that which you already know, and for those of you who are new to meditation, this will help set you up. As they say, ‘Practice makes Perfect’! 

Step 1: The key is of course keeping up the momentum and committing to a regular pattern of meditation practice, of twice a day, morning and evening, same time preferably, same place. Set the scene: light a candle or have other very soft lighting, light some incense or ceremonial resins, or burn some essential oil, or do a brief but purposeful ‘smoking’ of your space half an hour before with aromatic herbs, like rosemary, sage, or lemon myrtle if in Australia.You will notice that in this way you will build a conducive ‘settling’ energy which will draw you into that space naturally over time. You will notice also that your morning meditation may be of a different quality to your evening one!  Take note. Mark each ‘sitting’ off on a calendar to track your resolve.  Perhaps keep a diary of what you noticed but don’t dwell on it afterwards. This regularity of practice is step number one. 

How you sit is of prime importance also.   Whether you sit in a crossed legged posture (full or half Lotus) or you are seated on a chair, your spine must be erect and self-supporting, with your neck an extension of your spine upon which your head is delicately balanced, chin parallel to the floor, not tilted back or slumped forward.  This allows for a free flow of energy.  Your arms should rest on your knees or if you prefer folded loosely in your lap, whichever is most comfortable for your body type. Make sure your arms don’t round your shoulders when you have your arms folded in your lap.  If this happens, best to let your hands rest on your thinghs. If seated on a chair (preferable to a sofa! a bed is a ‘no-no’!!!) your thighs should be parallel to the floor, legs and feet comfortably apart.  If your thighs are not parallel to the floor, make necessary adjustments so they are.  In fact, if you were to look at yourself sideways your neck-spine and hips-thighs would form a perfect right angle and your legs, another right angle from your knees. Although this all sounds rather prescriptive you will find all this helpful for longer mediation practice. It will avoid drowsiness, agitation, and your need to shift position. 

Step 2: Slowly over time you will have trained your mind to still itself, staying fully ‘present’ to the now, your breath your guide, counting helps, ‘inhale’ breath, count 1, and ‘exhale’ breath, count 2 and so on.  You will notice your focus will still drift away, and when you notice, don’t beat yourself up, be kind and just bring your attention back to the present, to the count, or the ‘in’ and ‘out’ breath or your two-syllable mantra. Remember anything else happening in your mind is either past or future mind babbling or ‘dreaming’. Attaining that ‘full’ presence is step two, that is taming the ‘ox’ as per the Zen Buddhist ‘ox herding’ pictures, or the ‘monkey mind’ analogy of Indian mystics. 

Be aware that a body slump in posture is also a sign of having lost ‘presence’.  That’s the purpose of the ‘gong’ rung every two minutes during meditation sessions, to bring us back to straighten up again.  It’s a gentler equivalent of a Zen Master whacking his meditators on the shoulders when he/she notices loss of posture, a clear indication someone has drifted off into slumber or dream land. 

Importance of the first two steps: These two steps are preparatory to ‘meditation’ proper. Be patient with yourselves. Once the ‘stillness’ gap during and between the count grows bigger, fully alert, this is when meditation proper is starting.  But this does not happen overnight, nor even in a year, or many years. But you must persevere, being patient with yourself, like a mother loves its child unconditionally, not chastising, not judging but guiding it gently back to the task at hand.

Of course, this preliminary practice also makes us aware of how busy our minds are, what our thought patterns are, our ‘Kama’ (desire nature) and emotional patterns.  The most obvious desire pattern is wondering what time it is as we meditate, ‘Is it time yet to stop?’ or wanting that discomfort as we sit to go away, or being annoyed with the gong, that disturbs our ‘dreamy’ state, judging it, etc, or beating ourselves up for all these thoughts.  The list goes on, take note of it; this insight is your personal teacher.

Becoming aware of our impatience, anger perhaps, annoyance, wanting to control, or judging ourselves and the world around, is a useful insight as we go about our daily lives. So, this practice does not end when we get up from our cushions or seats. It is the most powerful training ground, that helps us become a witness to ourselves and our reactive natures as we engage in life during the day. 

Afterall, the biggest impact we can have in the world around us is to become awake to ourselves, our own selves, the microcosm, insignificant and yet significant all at the same time.  As they say about ‘Karma’ (the Law of Action and Reaction): ‘what others do to us is their karma, how we react is our karma’.  Or that other slogan, ‘Be the change we want to see in the world’.  By the way, I’ve changed the ‘you’ in these sayings to ‘we’ purposefully.

Evening Meditation: They also say, evening meditation is ‘dying’ each day, making peace with the day’s events and our performance on that stage. It is a preparation for what awaits us all, rich or poor. It is a training for our own physical dying process, maintaining equanimity, reviewing without attachment or aversion, or judgement, gaining insight instead, as we journey through the end-of-life recall, staying connected to Buddhi mind consciousness.  These preliminary steps to Meditation proper are essential and powerful beyond measure.  They enable all of that and eventually the path into more, as so poetically and deeply meaningfully shared in the books, Light on the Path, by Mable Collins and The Voice of the Silence, by H.P. Blavatsky.


This article also appeared in the magazine Theosophy Downunder (TS-Pasadena)

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