Ever wondered how to practice meditation properly?
Sure, you’ve probably heard bits and pieces about focusing on your breath or focusing on different parts of your body, but according to the Dalai Lama, this isn’t what real meditation is.
In the Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, the Dalai Lama says that meditation is about seeing your “natural state of your consciousness”.
He says that the number one key is all about observing the mind.
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Here’s how the Dalai Lama recommends you practice meditation
“Generally speaking, our mind is predominantly directed towards external objects. Our attention follows after the sense experiences. It remains at a predominantly sensory and conceptual level. In other words, normally our awareness is directed towards physical sensory experiences and mental concepts. But in this exercise, what you should do is to withdraw your mind inward; don’t let it chase after or pay attention to sensory objects. At the same time, don’t allow it to be so totally withdrawn that there is a kind of dullness or lack of mindfulness. You should maintain a very full state of alertness and mindfulness, and then try to see the natural state of your consciousness—a state in which your consciousness is not afflicted by thoughts of the past, the things that have happened, your memories and remembrances; nor is it afflicted by thoughts of the future, like your future plans, anticipations, fears, and hopes. But rather, try to remain in a natural and neutral state.”
Wise words from the Dalai Lama. But you might be wondering:
How do our actually practice bringing your natural state to your awareness?
The Dalai Lama says it’s a bit like watching a river that is flowing quite strongly:
“This is a bit like a river that is flowing quite strongly, in which you cannot see the riverbed very clearly. If, however, there was some way you could stop the flow in both directions, from where the water is coming and to where the
water is flowing, then you could keep the water still. That would allow you to see the base of the river quite clearly. Similarly, when you are able to stop your mind from chasing sensory objects and thinking about the past and future and so on, and when you can free your mind from being totally ‘blanked out’ as well, then you will begin to see underneath this turbulence of the thought processes. There is an underlying stillness, an underlying clarity of the mind. You should try to observe or experience this …”
While this is great advice from the Dalai Lama, it can be tough to implement practically.
I know this because I struggled with meditation in my early days even though I knew what the Dalai Lama was talking about intellectually.
However, when I learned a practice called “gazing meditation”, the process became much easier and I was eventually able to implement what the Dalai Lama was talking about.
On Hack Spirit, we want to share practical advice that you can use to live a mindful life. I think this meditation technique is just that.
Gazing is an ancient meditation technique. It can be done as a stand-alone meditation practice or when you need to settle down.
While meditation is usually done with the eyes closed, this meditation is done with the eyes open, softly and gently directed toward an external object such as a rock or candle flame.
I believe that this practice can be helpful to improve your focus. I’ve steadily moved from keeping my focus on the object for 1-2 minutes to now 10-15 minutes.
In fact, studies have suggested that compared to non-meditators, meditators may be better-equipped to quiet brain activity related to mind-wandering. This is what I’ve found. After all, meditation is about keeping a calm focus on something in an effort to calm the mind and reduce mind-wandering.
9 Simple Steps to Practice A Candle Gazing Meditation
Here’s how to practice gazing meditation, according to the mindfulness experts at Ornish. Keep in mind that you don’t have to use a candle, it can also be any object that you find uplifting.
1) Find a comfortable steady seated pose either in a chair or on the floor.
2) Place a lit candle in front of you either at eye level or on the floor. (if you set the candle on the floor try not to let your head fall forward in an effort to see the candle. Maintain a balanced and steady seated pose)
3) Settle into your seated pose as you take several conscious, slow, deep breaths.
4) Let the eyes soften and relax as you gaze upon the candle flame. Notice any sensations you feel. Let your attention rest there for as long as feels comfortable.
5) When the eyes grow tired, gently close them and bring the image of the candle flame behind the eyes or to the point between the eyebrows.
6) Visualize the flame at that point. When the image of the flame fades, then allow the eyes to softly open again. (This may be familiar since many of us have found ourselves staring at candles or even a campfire and feeling drawn in by the sense of stillness it inspires in us.)
7) Continue the practice of gazing at the flame and then closing the eyes and holding the image behind the eyes (or the point between the eyebrows).
8) At some point you may not want to open the eyes to the external flame. At that point feel free to rest inside of yourself with the image. You may instead find that keeping the eyes fixed on the flame with out closing them is more helpful for you. You may even notice that this practice serves as a foundation for moving inward with other practices of breathing and meditation.
9) Observe how you feel. Let the practice be fluid. If it helps you in calming the mind then adopt it as your own. Play with it and find a way to use it in your own life.
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