I recently read ‘The Attention Revolution,’ a book by Alan Wallace, in which he guides you through 10 stages of tranquility meditation leading to such mastery that you meditate for up to 4 hrs, with practically zero distractions.
Even if we can reach the first 3 or 4 stages, it would change our life.
Based on my learnings from the book and my personal experience with meditation, here are some ideas on deepening our meditation practice.
Starting your meditation practice
Start your meditation with ‘mindfulness of breath’ – called anapanasati in Pali language.
Here are the instructions:
Sit comfortably, finding the balance between alertness and comfort. Don’t be too stiff.
Close your eyes gently. (You can also choose to keep your eyes half-open, with a soft gaze.)
Take a few slow long deep breaths, and then let your breath find its natural rhythm.
Start by noticing the tactile sensation of each breath. Where are the sensations most prominent? In your nostrils? Or the throat? In the chest or belly? Wherever the sensation is most prominent, let your attention rest there.
Now start noticing each in-breath and the out-breath. Try to observe the whole breath, from the beginning to the end. With every new breath, start observing it again.
With each inhalation, arouse your mindfulness and with each exhalation, relax the body – just let go. This is simple but very powerful.
Often, you will get distracted and realize it only after some time. When you do, don’t tighten or get constricted – be happy that you are now mindful of the distraction and come back to your breath.
Here is a nuanced point: If your mind is too agitated or distracted, relax more, especially during the exhalation. But if you are sleepy, focus more. Find the happy medium – not too tense, not too lax. The goal is focused attention.
One more thing you will find useful is to start counting after each out-breath or before the in-breath. Count from 1 to 10 and repeat. This is my favorite method of counting.
But if you find your attention is too fragmented, try a different method of counting: With the in-breath, in your mind count 1, 1, 1.. and then with the out-breath start counting 2, 2, 2…, till the end. Count till 10, and then, start again. I find it easier to count a prolonged ‘1’ throughout the in-breath, and a prolonged ‘2’ throughout the out-breath.
Now let us tackle a problem we face AFTER the meditation during the day. We get caught up in hectic activity and totally lose the focus and calm of the morning meditation. Here is a solution: Bring our attention back to the breath during the day every now and then. You could play the sound of a bell every 30 mins to remind yourself (something like this).
Do this for a few weeks and once you are able to achieve some attentional stability (e.g., you can count up to 10 without distraction), go to the next stage.
How to get to the next stage:
Now, you change how you observe your breath. Now with each breath, focus on the rising and falling of your belly. I have found this to be very effective.
As mentioned before, arouse your attention (counteracting laxity) during the in-breath, and relax your attention (counteracting excitation) with each out-breath.
Do this until you are able to sustain your attention for a minute at a time without distraction.
Once you reach that stage, comes the next stage.
The third stage
Now we will try to build single-pointed concentration by focusing the attention on the tip of the nostrils or the upper lip or anywhere in that area where you experience the touch of the in-breath and out-breath.
Focus your attention at just that one point, observing the tactile sensation of the breath – do not follow the flow of breath inside the body.
I have found that this can be hard and hence needs good concentration. But this can take you to very deep concentration. At some point, once the attention settles down, stop the counting.
This is just the theory – now it is all about practice. Set a regular time, and you will soon love the experience.
Wishing you a wonderful meditation journey.