Step 1: Getting Started
Goals for the first step
- Start a regular daily meditation practice. The key words here are regular and daily. Read the section below on the essentials to establishing a practise — what, where, how, and when.
- Reading chapters 1 and 2 from the handout: learn what meditation is and what meditation is not. We explain below why reading is so important.
- Exercises: visualisation and breathing.
- You can move on to the next step whenever you wish. A week is a good time to spend getting your basic meditation practise up and running.
Make a Commitment
Like most people, you want a better life. But unlike most, you’ve done something about it. You’ve made the most important decision of all — self-improvement — and now you’re following through with this HomeStudy course.
Everyone is born with the ability to run; likewise everyone can meditate. But meditating well, like running a marathon, is a skill that is acquired through practice, patience, and commitment. You’ve already taken the first step, but to reach your goal there are many more steps left to go. That’s why the most important lesson to learn about meditation is the importance of regular, daily practice. So find something about meditation that motivates you — learning, growth, happiness, poise — and commit to follow through each and every day on your decision to become the person of your dreams.
To help keep you motivated, take a moment now to reflect on your reasons for beginning HomeStudy. What qualities are you looking for? What about your life would you like to change? What kind of person would you like to become? Write down the answers to these questions and keep them where you will see them frequently. This will inspire you to continue with your practice of meditation.
There are several key things you can do that will significantly enhance your ability to meditate. They may seem subtle at first, but remember, meditation itself is all about cultivating the higher, more subtle parts of your being. Take it from experience — together these six keys will make a big difference. So please give them a try!
Key #1: Find a Special Place
It’s critical to set aside a special place that is used only for meditation. If you have a spare room, great, but it’s fine to set aside a corner of your bedroom. This will be your sacred space for self-discovery, so you’ll want to make it as inspiring as possible.
- Cover a low table with a clean, white cloth (or any other light color you find inspiring).
- Place a candle on the table, and a vase with fresh flowers if possible.
- You may also want to buy some incense and an incense holder.
Together, all of these items will help to create a meditative atmosphere.
Key #2: Prepare Physically
Your spiritual journey takes place in and through your physical body. Here’s how you can help to prepare it for meditation:
- Take a shower before meditating. If it isn’t possible to take a shower, wash your face and hands.
- Wear clean, light, loose-fitting clothes.
- Take your shoes off before meditating. Your feet deserve a break too!
Key #3: Sit Relaxed, Sit Straight
There’s no need to sit in a special yogic posture to meditate. If you can sit comfortably on a cushion on the floor, this is best. Otherwise a meditation stool or chair is fine. The important thing is to be still and relaxed, to have your back straight, and to have the flower and candle close to eye level.
People often ask if it’s okay to meditate lying down. We don’t recommend it unless you’re more interested in sleeping than meditating!
Key #4: Slow and Steady Wins the Race
In the beginning, five or ten minutes of meditation a day is enough. You might be tempted to do more, but it’s best to go slowly and steadily. Meditation is like an inner muscle that you are slowly but surely making stronger. If you overwork a muscle, it becomes sore; if you meditate for more than ten minutes and feel tension in your head or get a headache, you know you’ve gone beyond your capacity.
As your meditation practice matures, the time you will be able to spend in meditation will lengthen and the quality of your meditation will deepen.
Key #5: Choose the Right Time
Make an appointment with yourself and practice at the same time each day. Just as you nourish your physical body several times each day at certain times, see meditation as nourishing your inner life and have a special time each day for your meditation exercises.
The best time to meditate is early in the morning, before you enter into your daily activities. This way, the peace you get from your meditation will permeate the rest of your day. If you feel you can’t spare ten minutes first thing in the morning, get up ten minutes earlier and meditate then. The increased energy and well-being that you derive from your meditation will more than compensate for the ten minutes of lost sleep.
If by giving up small pleasures, great happiness is to be found, the wise should give up small pleasures, seeing the prospect of great happiness.
Many people also like to meditate for a few minutes when they get home from work, to help wash away the stress of the day. You might also want to meditate just before going to bed. This will help you to sleep more soundly.
We suggest not scheduling your meditation time right after a big meal. Like a bird, your inner being will be trying to fly higher, but your body will be weighing it down. So wait an hour or two after a meal before meditating.
On the other hand, your meditation won’t be very effective if you are being pinched by hunger. If your meditation hour is approaching and you’re hungry, the best thing is to drink some juice or eat some fruit; the idea is to eat just enough to take away the hunger pangs.
Whether you choose to adapt these recommendations to your lifestyle, or adapt your lifestyle to these recommendations, the most important thing is regular daily practice at a regular time. If you can establish a regular routine with your meditation, as the appointed time approaches your own inner being will nudge you and say “Don’t forget to feed me today!”
Key #6: The Power of Music
A recommended aid to the HomeStudy programme are the many available recordings of Sri Chinmoy playing music for meditation. This peaceful music of the heart will create a meditative atmosphere and tremendously enhance the quality of your meditation. Play it softly during your exercises; merely listening to and absorbing the peace-filled consciousness of the music will help you to feel the deep inner stillness of meditation.
RadioSriChinmoy.org has thousands of tracks of meditation music, all available to play free of charge. Here are some samples:
During the first week, try some of these exercises. The text of the first five exercises are taken from Sri Chinmoy's writings.
Exercise 1: Simplicity, sincerity, purity, surety
There are quite a few meditation exercises a beginner can try. For the seeker wishing to enter the spiritual life, simplicity, sincerity, purity and surety are of utmost importance. It is simplicity that grants you peace of mind. It is sincerity that makes you feel that you are of God and that God is constantly for you. It is your pure heart that makes you feel at every moment that God is growing, glowing and fulfilling Himself inside you. It is surety that makes you feel that meditation is absolutely the right thing.
In silence kindly repeat the word "simplicity" inside your mind seven times and concentrate on the crown of your head. Then repeat the word "sincerity" seven times silently and soulfully inside your heart, and concentrate on your heart. Then kindly repeat the word "purity" seven times inside or around your navel centre, and concentrate on the navel centre. Please do all this silently and most soulfully. Then focus your attention on the third eye, which is between and slightly above the eyebrows, and silently repeat "surety" seven times. Next, place your hand on top of your head and say three times, "I am simple, I am simple, I am simple." Then place your hand on your heart and say three times, "I am sincere, I am sincere, I am sincere." Then place your hand on the navel centre, repeating "I am pure," and on the third eye, repeating "I am sure." - Sri Chinmoy
Exercise 2: Breathing in Peace, Power, Joy
1. Please breathe in and hold your breath for a couple of seconds, and feel that you are holding the breath, which is life-energy, in your heart centre. This will help you to develop your inner meditation capacity.
2. When you sit down to meditate, try to breathe in as slowly and quietly as possible, so that if somebody placed a tiny thread in front of your nose it would not move at all. And when you breathe out, try to breathe out even more slowly than you breathed in. If possible, leave a short pause between the end of your exhalation and the beginning of your inhalation. If you can, hold your breath for a few seconds. But if that is difficult, do not do it. Never do anything that will make you physically uncomfortable during meditation.
3. The first thing that you have to think of when practising breathing techniques is purity. When you breathe in, if you can feel that the breath is coming directly from God, from Purity itself, then your breath can easily be purified. Then, each time you breathe in, try to feel that you are bringing infinite peace into your body. The opposite of peace is restlessness. When you breathe out, try to feel that you are expelling the restlessness within you and also the restlessness that you see all around you. When you breathe this way, you will find restlessness leaving you. After practising this a few times, please try to feel that you are breathing in power from the universe, and when you exhale, feel that all your fear is coming out of your body. After doing this a few times, try to feel that you are breathing in infinite joy and breathing out sorrow, suffering and melancholy. - Sri Chinmoy
Exercise 3: Cosmic Energy
Feel that you are breathing in not air but cosmic energy. Feel that tremendous cosmic energy is entering into you with each breath, and that you are going to use it to purify your body, vital, mind and heart. Feel that there is not a single place in your being that is not being occupied by the flow of cosmic energy. It is flowing like a river inside you, washing and purifying your entire being. Then, when you breathe out, feel that you are breathing out all the rubbish inside you—all your undivine thoughts, obscure ideas and impure actions. Anything inside your system that you call undivine, anything that you do not want to claim as your own, feel that you are exhaling. This is not the traditional yogic pranayama, which is more complicated and systematised, but it is a most effective spiritual method of breathing. If you practise this method of breathing, you will soon see the results. In the beginning you will have to use your imagination, but after a while you will see and feel that it is not imagination at all but reality. You are consciously breathing in the energy which is flowing all around you, purifying yourself and emptying yourself of everything undivine. If you can breathe this way for five minutes every day, you will be able to make very fast progress. But it has to be done in a very conscious way, not mechanically. - Sri Chinmoy
Exercise 4: A favourite quality
If you like a particular aspect of God — love, for instance — please inwardly repeat the word "love" most soulfully several times. While uttering the word "love" most soulfully, try to feel it reverberating in the inmost recesses of your heart: "love, love, love." If you care more for divine peace, then please inwardly chant or repeat to yourself the word "peace." While doing this, try to hear the cosmic sound that the word embodies reverberating in the very depths of your heart. If you want light, then please repeat "light, light, light," most soulfully, and feel that you have actually become light. From the soles of your feet to the crown of your head, try to feel that you have become the word that you are repeating. Feel that your physical body, subtle body, all your nerves and your entire being are flooded with love or peace or light. - Sri Chinmoy
Exercise 5: One-Four-Two Breathing
As you breathe in, repeat once the name of God, the Christ or whomever you adore. Or, if your Master has given you a mantra, you can repeat that. This breath does not have to be long or deep. Then hold your breath and repeat the same name four times. And when you breathe out, repeat two times the name or mantra that you have chosen. You inhale for one count, hold your breath for four counts and exhale for two counts, inwardly repeating the sacred word. If you simply count the numbers—one-four-two—you do not get any vibration or inner feeling. But when you say the name of God, immediately God's divine qualities enter into you. Then, when you hold your breath, these divine qualities rotate inside you, entering into all your impurities, obscurities, imperfections and limitations. And when you breathe out, these same divine qualities carry away all your undivine, unprogressive and destructive qualities. In the beginning you can start with a one-four-two count. When you become experienced in this breathing exercise, you will be able to do it to a count of four-sixteen-eight: breathing in for four counts, holding the breath for sixteen, and breathing out for eight. But this has to be done very gradually. Some people do an eight-thirty-two-sixteen count, but this is for the experts - Sri Chinmoy
Exercise 6: Love, Joy, Happiness
Meditate on the aphorisms in this charming book by Sri Chinmoy. There are 60 aphorisms there in 3 sections - Love, Joy and Happiness.
Sit down to meditate, perhaps with some music in the background. Try reading each aphorism twice, aloud if possible, and use your imagination to make the image invoked in each aphorism as alive as possible.
Try to feel the message of the aphorism inside your heart. You can spread this meditation exercise over a few days - maybe one day you can try the aphorisms on Love, another day on Joy and another day on Happiness.
- Chapters 1 and 2 of our Meditation Q&A guide
Why is reading so important? Firstly, the mind needs to be inspired. If the mind absorbs writings about meditation and spirituality instead of the latest catastrophe that happened in the news, it will offer less resistance to you when you do sit down and meditate. For this reason, sometimes it is helpful to read for a few minutes before you start the exercise proper.
Also, if you read the writings of someone who has made considerable progress in meditation, or even reached the lofty heights of meditation termed enlightenment or God-realisation, you will feel the meditative consciousness of those writings. When you put down the book, you will already feel as if you have begun to meditate.
Step 1: Summary
During this important first week, you should have:
- Established a special place to meditate.
- Practiced the recommended meditation exercises for at least ten minutes daily - preferably at the same time each day.
- Logged your practice and your experiences in your journal.
- Read Chapters 1 and 2 of the handout
Congratulations! You made it through your first week of regular, daily meditation! Did you notice any change in your meditation as the week progressed? Did you feel any different during the day as a result of your meditation? If you haven’t done so already, take a minute to note these changes in your journal.
If you didn’t meditate every day, it’s probably because you either couldn’t find the time, or it was just too hard to get into the habit. Whatever the reason, don’t get discouraged!
As we said earlier, learning to meditate is like learning to ride a bicycle. Think back for a moment to when you first learned to ride a bike. In the beginning, you probably fell a lot, and you may have even thought of giving up on the whole idea. But you kept trying despite repeated failure, and eventually it became second nature. In retrospect, all of those failures were actually necessary steps towards your ultimate success.
Why did you keep trying, even though you kept failing and it seemed like you would never learn to ride that bike? It’s because you kept your goal in sight; you knew without a doubt what riding a bike meant—freedom, adventure, independence, fun—and you wanted those things so much that you were willing to do whatever it took to learn.
Meditation is the same. You absolutely will have more peace, more love, and more happiness in your life through meditation. Make this an unshakable belief. Learning how to meditate takes a little work, but once you do learn you’ll definitely enjoy the ride!