a course in Meditation

Guided Launch

Learn to Meditate Naturally, Right Now

Part Four: Information, Theory, Inspiration

Continues and completes the short course based on Ted Phelps’ audio book, Natural Meditation: a guided launch.

  • Time: 23 minutes in Audio form
  • Information: There are 10 steps you need to get good at. These are listed and described.
  • Theory: The difference between the process of meditating and the content (the thoughts, etc.)
  • Inspiration: The value of meditating every day. That is what makes Natural Meditation so significant.

TO LISTEN: Select the buttons for #7, #8, #9, and then #10
TO READ: See texts below

Think about your experience

Welcome back from your meditation. Whether this was your first meditation or you ten thousandth, I hope you enjoyed it and feel refreshed from it. The first part of this program has given you direct experience. You have entered the stream and experienced something of its unique flow. It’s an introduction to your natural talent for the meditative state of mind and body. Pause a moment now to reflect on this experience.

Did it feel familiar, unusual, a little of both?

Does it match your expectations about meditation—either from what you have heard or from other forms that you might have done?

Do you feel attracted to learning more about it?

In this second phase of the program you build your intellectual understanding of this kind of meditation so that you are able to launch a successful daily practice. First I am going to go over the recipe, or agenda, of a single sitting of meditation so that you get that really clear. There are 10 steps and I think you should see them written out. So I would suggest taking notes on this. It’s on the next track, and is all by itself on that track so you can easily repeat it any time. If you want to take a break, this is a good point for that. You might want to get some paper and a pen to take some notes.

NOTE: You will also be able to download a PDF of the 10 steps as they are presented in the book.

Study the Ten-Step Agenda

Let’s look closely now at the whole agenda of a sitting of Natural Meditation. There are ten steps. I will read each step, give a brief comment. You might like this PDF of the 10 Steps that is taken from the book. The steps are the same, but the commentaries vary a bit. And you can store or print it for personal use.

Step #1, Sit comfortably with your head free from supports.

The idea is to place the body safely on a chair or couch in a comfortable position so that you can, in effect, leave it alone. Sit in a way that doesn’t put you to sleep, yet is free, untwisted, and lets you relax fully.

Step #2, Decide when you will stop meditation and make a timepiece visible.

This is an important step because it sets your intention to meditate, and without that intention, the natural process won’t begin. Just calculate when 20 minutes will be up. Arrange your clock so that you can peek at it without having to move much. If you need to put eyeglasses on to see it, keep them near at hand so the movement is minimal. Don’t use an alarm.

Step #3, Close your eyes.

Closing the eyes helps release tension and encourages an inward movement of the mind.

 Step #4, Wait half a minute.

This helps you let go of the habitual strivings of the mind and body. Just let thoughts flow as they will for about half a minute. Don’t time this on the clock. Just guess at the time.

Step #5, Recall a thought or word without doing anything to it.

Now, that’s the formal definition of this step. As you know, we are using the phrase “I am” for this. This kind of meditation phrase is commonly called a mantra, a term from India. When we say “recall,” we mean bring to mind, as you do when you recall something you already know, like your name. The mantra doesn’t even have to appear in your mind’s eye or sound in your mind’s ear. It’s a quick, calm, transparent snapshot—normal thinking. Let it be itself in whatever form it comes, without doing anything to it.

Step #6, Recall it again and then whenever awareness allows.

Recall your mantra, the phrase “I am,” every few moments. Think of this as a gentle assistant, not a forceful engine. That’s why I liken it to the quiet action of a canoe paddle on a canoe ride going with the current and wind. At times, you will wander from the mantra, but that doesn’t mean you have left the natural embrace of the meditative function as long as you recall the mantra quietly once awareness comes back.

Step #7, Do not try to become different, to mentally go anywhere, or to stay still.

This is an important instruction that covers the entire meditation. It could be shortened to just the first three words: do not try. Just be whatever you are. Don’t try to make yourself or your meditation feel different. Let it unfold and flow along at its own pace and in its own way. Also, when recalling the mantra don’t try to make it be visualized clearly or heard internally in any particularly clear way. Don’t mind having thoughts or hearing background sounds. Don’t even resist falling asleep.

Step #8, Observe the clock when it seems to be time to end.

When you have the thought that time is up, take a brief peek at your clock. If time is not up, continue meditating.

Step #9, When it is time to end, keep your eyes closed for three minutes.

This quiet little step, like #4, is surprisingly important and is an easy one to forget. The mental action is like #4—that is, just sitting and waiting and thinking about whatever you want. The purpose, however, is different. Here you are giving your body and mind time to shift out of the meditative function and back to normal waking functions. You should keep your eyes closed for most of the three minutes and gently move and stretch. And, you can lie down—but if you do, be sure you have time for possibly falling asleep.

Step #10, Move a bit and then get up gently.

As you get up and continue your active life, expect yourself to be slower and softer for a few minutes. Then you will most often be moving and thinking with renewed energy and alacrity.

Theory: Experience of Meditation

In this short time together, we have accomplished a lot. We took an exploratory launch into the meditative waters at the very start—that was our canoe ride. Then we came back and studied the method and went back out for a  15-minute session. And now we just looked at each of the 10 steps. That’s a lot for one session, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you were ready for a break. This is a good place for that. You can come back to these last two tracks later today or tomorrow and not lose the momentum.

The very best, though, is to keep going right now. Besides being curious about what else I have to say, your reason for continuing to the end of the course is to get more than just the taste of meditation you have just had. While you may not be ready to make meditation a daily practice, you probably can see the value of becoming more skilled in it so that you are confident about doing it whenever you want to. And, that takes some practice and some more information. Fortunately, we have another 15 minutes or so. I am going to give you a few more ideas about what the experience of meditation is like and then, in the last talk, a few tips on how to go forward and really harvest the unique benefits of meditation by doing it regularly.

As for the experience of meditation, the quickest tip I can give you here is that there are two things going on at once. Learning about these two factors right from the start is a key aim of the Natural Meditation teaching method—that’s the method I am using here, and I use it in my live classes and in the web course and in the book, called A Course in Meditation.

So what are these two factors? One is the content of meditation and the other is the process or journey.

The content of the meditation is the thoughts and sounds and feelings and all the stuff that you notice during the meditation. That’s the content. It includes thoughts about how to do the method and experiences of the mantra and thoughts about the absence of the mantra and so forth.

The process of meditation goes on almost regardless of the content—as long as the method is maintained. The process is like a little trip or journey into the restful and healthy changes in the body and the opening, ventilating, healing changes in the mind. Something actually is happening to us when we meditate. It has a direction and a purpose. And it takes place in time. It doesn’t just click on like a light as soon as you close your eyes. It’s an organic process and deepens during the 20 minutes of meditation. You experience this as a gradual deepening of relaxation in the muscles of the arms, and legs, the shoulder muscles and face and neck. It’s a lot like a night sleep. Fifteen minutes into meditation is quite different from three minutes into it. There are now about 40 studies on meditation that show a greater reduction of physical activity during 20 minutes of meditation than during a whole night’s sleep.

The mental process is a bit harder to describe than the physical one, but it closely parallels it. The mind expands in a subtle way that can take a while to appreciate. It’s like what happens when you open the windows for the first time in spring, letting in the fresh air, the fragrance and the light. Those are like the content of experience. The things you notice. The subtle thing that happens is that indoors now takes on some of the expansiveness of the outdoors, something you didn’t directly experience in the house during the winter—even though you knew it was out there. The expansiveness in meditation is also subtle, and it comes as attention lifts gently away from thoughts and things in the environment. This shift sometimes seems like diving deeper—people talk of having had a deep meditation—or sometimes feels like rising up, above or outside of what’s going on around us. Much of the time, though, it can seem that you are just sitting there in the room. And that is fine.

You will have a nearly continuous pulse of thoughts throughout the meditation, and it’s actually just a sign that your mind is still working. Let it be as reassuring as the presence of the heartbeat and breath. Indeed, the energy that generates thoughts is the same that fuels the meditative processes. So, whenever you have a thought or hear a sound, you can think the same thing I told you at the beginning of the canoe ride experience, “I am feeling my flowing mind, and it’s helping, it’s carrying me in the right direction.”

A lot of people have a hard time accepting that it’s OK to have extraneous thoughts in meditation. I think they often feel stressed by the constant pressure of their thoughts and have turned to meditation to get a break from that. And, this is a great reason to meditate, but they’ll have trouble staying with meditation if they think the mind should be swept clean of thought. Especially if they think that they are responsible for sweeping them out. Then, even a small thought will be as annoying as one of those houseflies buzzing through the room at night or relentlessly banging at the window all afternoon. Even if you forget you are meditating for a good while, the process itself doesn’t stop. It only begins to wind down when you intentionally stop recalling the mantra—which is exactly what steps 9 and 10 do.

So, the point of this kind of meditation is to be in—and to soak in—a healing condition of mind and body. This is true of most forms of meditation that have come to the West directly from India. It’s a principle of yoga. I think you know that when you do yoga postures the point is not how you look doing them, or what thoughts happen through the mind during it, or what room you are in, and to some extent, why you are doing it. If you just carefully put your body into the yoga postures and hold them in the proper way, you expose your body to a different condition, and that exposure itself is at least 80% of the benefit. And the same is true of this kind of meditation. We do it to be in it because being in it changes us for the better. And the changes flow out to all aspects of life.

Building a Practice

The real value of this kind of meditation comes from regular practice. It’s just like doing our physical exercises. It’s fun and relaxing to do them every now and then, but doing them according to a well-designed plan is how we harvest lasting improvements in health and well-being.

We have a well-designed plan for meditation, too. In brief, it is to do it twice a day—once before breakfast and once before dinner. We don’t meditate right after meals because it interrupts digestion and we don’t meditate just before the night’s sleep, because it can keep you awake. And put at least half an hour between meditation and strenuous exercise. Starting out, you should keep a written record of your sittings until you have 21 or 28 consecutive days without a miss. Don’t worry if that takes you even a whole year to accomplish. Actually, logging your sittings for a whole year is very valuable. Just keep at it. And when you have the 21 days, give yourself a treat.

The real payoff, however, will be that you’ve just become a real meditator with an established daily practice. There is probably no other single thing you could add to your routine to do more for your health, happiness, and longevity than that.

Meditation brings lasting changes when done regularly. Studies in recent years have shown that meditation sustains the youthfulness of the body while it encourages the growth of wisdom by as much as two formal levels in about four years. Few activities can claim progress in either one of these, either slowing the real, biological factors of age or advancing professionally defined factors of wisdom and self-actualization. And, nothing else does both of these simultaneously. If you’re looking for transformative practices, put meditation top on your list.

Returning to the river metaphor, you know how rivers progress from their headwaters to their basin where they merge with a larger body of water, like an ocean. You know how they become stronger, deeper, and more powerful. Well it’s as if during a single sitting of meditation, we move temporarily downstream to that stronger, more open and powerful part of the mind. When it’s over, we return to nearly the same place on the riverbank. The key word here is nearly. We don’t quite come back all the way. That’s the secret of this whole thing. We carry into life some of the meditative mind and body that we have while sitting, and by doing that, we gradually move our home downstream. If you only meditate every now and then, any downstream progress you make from a given sitting is lost over the next few days. To make real progress, you have to meditate pretty much every day.

Fortunately, this kind of meditation is relatively easy to fit into nearly every kind of day we have. It’s not a high maintenance activity. It doesn’t need special equipment or clothing, and it doesn’t need us to be in some special kind of mood—thankfully, because we all know that is not going to be possible. We just have to schedule a time and a place for it. And I know—that is a big thing for most of us. Life is pretty well packed. So, here’s what I recommend. Sit down with a pencil and paper and your calendar. Think about just one week’s schedule. Plan out where and when you could do one or two 20-minute meditations each day. Pencil them into your calendar. Just for one week. Then try to make those appointments. Next week, do the same.

This course is just a launch. If you want to make it a lifelong journey, you’ll need more fuel. If you can find one, there is nothing like spending time with a teacher and a group. But, even if you are lucky enough to have that resource nearby, you’ll still want to do some reading. There are lots of books and magazines, and a lifetime’s worth of websites to visit. Most important, though, is for you to find your own deeper reasons for meditating. The Natural Meditation teaching method is like spring water. It adds nothing from culture and religion. That makes it a useful drink for everyone. But water is never enough. You need to find deep connections with meditation and your own philosophy and religion—if you have one.

And, I know. That kind of talk could be way off base from your current level of interest in this topic. But here you are listening to this right to last minute. So my bet is you would get a lot out taking the self-paced course I referred to at the beginning. It’s called A Course in Meditationand it takes about a week. You can find it as a book or free of charge at our web site, naturalmeditation.org. This is not just reading. It’s a dynamic, hands-on course. The materials show you how to become your own course leader, which is a great way to get you ramped up to the level of involvement that is needed to make this launch become a lifelong meditative journey.

Whether or not you intend to build a regular practice of meditation or just want to do it from time to time, I welcome you to the meditative journey. And I hope you found this to be an effective, useful program.

I have one last request. Over the next few days, keep an eye out for someone else who could be helped or enriched with this program. And then share it.

Thanks for your attention. Enjoy your meditative journey.