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Meditation FAQs by Stephen Cottee

Frequently Asked Questions...

HOW LONG SHOULD I MEDITATE FOR ?
I recommend 20 – 30 minutes either once or twice every day.
There is no set or ideal duration for a meditation practice. Shorter than 15 mins and you probably won’t have gotten deep enough to really enjoy it. Feel free to practice for longer or more frequently if you have the inclination and the opportunity.
Regular daily practice is the most powerful way to get the most out of meditation. It is far more effective than occasionally meditating, even for a longer duration.
You may find many excuses or reasons to put off your meditation. Most of these are tricks of the mind to stop you breaking free of its limitations. You deserve to enjoy the benefits that daily practice produces !
Set yourself an achievable practice target. Don’t give yourself too hard a time if you miss a single practice session, but do decide what you want and make it happen. In the long run a daily practice is not only the most effective but is also the easiest to maintain. It is not hard to practice meditation once it becomes a habit and a part of your daily routine.

WHAT TIME OF DAY OR NIGHT SHOULD I PRACTICE ?
There are no rules here. Traditional times include before or on sunrise, or at sunset.
In practice, some people find they are freshest in the morning whilst others find a lunchtime practice a useful respite from the day. Then there are those who meditate before dinner, to let go of the day’s labour before settling into the evening. And still others find that they are best able to concentrate in the peace and quiet of the night, when the activity of the day has been put to rest.
You will need to find what time suits you best. It may take some experimentation to find the times that best suits the rhythms of your life. In short, the best time to practice meditation is whenever you can get yourself to !

WHERE SHOULD I MEDITATE ?
Wherever you can get yourself to !
Many people find it works best if they set aside a specific spot at home that is relatively quiet, peaceful and free of interruption. Other people make use of commuting time to meditate on the ferry, train or bus.
Some people find meditating outside or in nature to be a powerful experience. Others find there are fewer distractions if they are inside.
Some people find they can relax into their meditation best when they are lying in bed, however most people simply fall asleep !
Again, there is no right or wrong place to meditate. You need to experiment and find what is most practical and effective for you.

SHOULD I SIT OR LIE DOWN ?
Traditionally people sit upright to meditate however there is no absolute rule about body position. Each position has its advantages and you will have to find what works best for you.
Certain meditation techniques do work far better sitting up. Sitting up helps you to be willful and to keep concentrated on what you are doing. Lying down may be more comfortable, making it easier for you to surrender, soften and spread into relaxation… but you run the risk of falling asleep! Walking helps you to stay awake and to incorporate rhythm and breathing into your meditation, but may prove distracting for the beginner.
It is important that you find a position where your breathing is not obstructed. When sitting this usually means remaining relatively upright, with your spine straight.
It may take some time for your body to get used to sitting in meditation for long periods of time. If your foot goes to sleep you can switch your legs over. If your knees hurt then straighten your legs so as not to damage them. If your body gets too uncomfortable sitting on a cushion then feel free to sit in a chair.
Eventually, however, you must settle down and be still enough to forget about your body and go deeper into your meditation.

WHAT IF I FALL ASLEEP DURING MEDITATION ?
It is good that are able to relax so well, and if you are practicing meditation to overcome a sleep problem then this is a wonderful thing ! Many of us are so exhausted and stressed that some deep rest is exactly what we need and ‘meditation sleep’ can be far more restful than normal sleep. Although meditation helps it is not, however, a substitute for getting the right amount of good quality sleep and leading a balanced lifestyle.
If you fall asleep in the first few weeks of practicing meditation you are probably recharging your batteries, and removing what I call the 'long term fatigue load' which has built up in your body. This is a very healthy process for you to go through.
Eventually, however, we need to move beyond the stage of falling asleep if we are to remember and have access to our meditation experiences. There is far more to meditation than relaxation !
If you keep falling asleep when you lie down to meditate, then try sitting up instead. If you fall asleep sitting up, then try doing some yoga or exercise before you sit down, or have a cold shower. Alternately you can try doing some strong breathing as a preliminary to meditation, or try meditating as you slowly walk on the beach or in the park.

SHOULD I USE BACKGROUND MUSIC ?
Experiment. Different music has very different effects. Some music creates an atmosphere which is beneficial to some types of meditation.
Some forms of meditation, such as the Body-Mind-Heart Awareness and Sense Awareness techniques are far more effective when practiced without music.

IS IT BETTER TO MEDITATE IN A GROUP OR ON YOUR OWN?
There is a lot of benefit in meditating with a good group. There is also much to be gained from solo meditation.
Like using two legs to walk, a balance of daily solo meditation and regular group meditation is an excellent way to move forward. The solo meditations prime you to get the most out of the group meditations, the group meditations then boost you to another level. Group meditations can help pull you out of a rut. Solo meditation develop inner resources which are invaluable in times of trial.

I FIND IT HARD TO MEDITATE WITHOUT THE TEACHER GUIDING ME.
Be patient ! Learning to meditate is like getting fit. Persist in your attempts at daily practice. In some ways this is the most important stage of your meditation practice and unfortunately many people give up just before they achieve success. Even if you do not feel you are making progress you may notice that you are more relaxed and clear after your attempt than before it. Gradually that part of your mind which you use to direct yourself in meditation will get stronger. Some people find it helps to imagine the voice of the teacher, or to use a tape or CD, or even to make one for themselves.
With patience, discipline and compassion your mind will eventually be tamed and a whole wonderful world of meditation experiences will open up to you.

    © 2004, 2012 The School of Life


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