3 Simple, Surprising Steps to Improve Your Next Meditation
They call it “spiritual practice” because there’s a whole lot of practice involved. A lot of trial and error, experimentation, and meditations that seem to be going nowhere until suddenly... they’re going somewhere.
You might feel like you've already heard all the tips and tricks for a good meditation, but I have a few ideas here that may surprise you. These are three simple but powerful steps you can take to improve your meditation. Read on if you’re ready for your practice to grow wings.
Clean your meditation space (and your head)
You might have heard at some point that it’s important to meditate in a clean space, but this step is all too easy to gloss over.
Maybe you think, I already need to find time and energy in my busy day for meditation, and now you’re asking me to find time to clean my room just so I can meditate? Besides, what does it matter if my eyes are closed the whole time? Actually, it makes a big difference!
I recommend just trying for yourself to see how it feels. A clean space means a clean mind. All that clutter, even if you’re not looking at it, has a way of nagging at the subconscious. According to principles of feng shui, a cluttered room puts out a stagnant energy that actually makes you feel drained and unfocused just by being there. Clear it out and put everything in order, and I guarantee you’ll feel better when you sit down to meditate. It doesn't have to be a deep cleaning every day, just take a few minutes to tidy up, refresh your altar if you have one, and remove any unnecessary stuff from your practice space.
This time shouldn't be taken as a chore. You can use it as a way to transition gently from daily life into meditation. Try to clean with total presence. Imagine how a Zen monk would rake a rock garden or sweep a meditation hall, with so much care and purpose in every movement. Just by putting attention on small tasks, one thing at a time, you are in the present moment.
While you clean, you can also imagine that you’re cleaning your own mind. You sweep away your negativities, throwing out the patterns that don’t serve you, and putting what belongs there in beautiful, harmonious order.
Consecrate, cultivate and dedicate
Ok, now you’re ready to meditate! But don’t just dive in: first connect with your motivation, cultivate the right mindset and offer your practice for a higher purpose. A simple but powerful technique for this is called consecration.
In a consecration, we offer the fruits of the meditation practice to the highest principle, to the Divine or for the benefit of all sentient beings. Through this intention, the meditation becomes an offering, an act of compassion, and a selfless service from which we don’t expect a reward.
Another technique, this one found in Tibetan Buddhism, is known as “cultivation of merit and compassion.” Here is a version that you can practice yourself in a few steps.
- Take refuge. As in a consecration, entrust yourself to whatever you consider the highest. Traditionally, this would be the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha), but for you it could be God, the Truth, your own enlightened potential, or whatever makes your heart flutter with sacredness.
- Contemplate death. Why is it important to meditate? Why is it important to do anything? Take a minute to think about how you and everything you know, everything you work for, will be gone sooner or later. With this in mind, what’s the most meaningful way to spend the time you have?
- Cultivate compassion. Think about everyone you know and everyone you don’t know, all the beings in so many different forms in this vast, wild world. Every single one of them only wants to be happy, just like you, and every single one of them is intimately connected to you. Make a commitment to help all of them in whatever way you can.
- Call your teacher. Now you can call to someone you consider your greatest teacher and invite them into your meditation. Visualize them sitting in front of you, radiating love and wisdom. Again, this teacher can be whoever you find most inspiring, whether that’s Jesus or the Buddha, your meditation teacher or your lover. Visualize yourself offering them a gift: a flower, a mandala, or any beautiful thing or joyful memory you have to give.
- Clear your conscience. Think about everything that you've done over the past day or so. If there’s anything you regret doing, something selfish or unkind, confess it to your teacher and resolve to do better next time. Then think of all the good, kind, loving and generous things you've done and offer those too. Rejoice in what you've done! Really, feel great about it!
- Ask your teacher to stay. Finally, ask your teacher to stay with you and continue teaching. You can visualize them glowing, shrinking into a miniature and merging with your heart.
In Tibetan Buddhism, this part of meditation is essential. It can even be a practice in and of itself. The Buddhist understanding of karma – what happens to you is a result of what you've done to others in the past – reveals that being able to meditate is a ripening of some very good karma indeed. It’s the result of bringing peace to others, serving a spiritual teacher or helping to spread the dharma (teachings on the deeper truth of reality).
You want to do as much as you can to maintain this good karma, so your spiritual practice can continue to flourish. Developing compassion and a deeper connection with your spiritual guides is a time-tested way to do it. (More on this in the next point…)
At the end of your meditation, send loving-kindness to the whole world and dedicate your practice for the happiness of all beings.
Altogether, these techniques framing your meditation will give you a deeper sense of purpose. In the long run, they will make your meditations more powerful and help you bridge the gap between your daily life and your spiritual practice.
Taking refuge is an act of prayer in which a person call to the help of a divine power. (Prostration is a strong expression of taking refuge in Buddhism)
Help others to meditate
This last trick is the most surprising, and it happens mostly off the cushion. Ive already mentioned karma, the law of cause and effect. Thinking in these terms, if you want any effect, you must create the cause for it. Like creates like, just as the seeds of an orange will only grow orange trees and the seeds of an apple will only grow apple trees. If you want the effect of having good meditations, what’s the best way to plant the seeds for it? Helping someone else meditate, of course! Here are a few ideas of what you can do:
- Volunteer at a meditation center. Ideally, you’d dedicate a few hours every week, but if that’s not possible you can help set up the room before a meditation class or clean after.
- Start a meditation group. If you have friends or co-workers who meditate, organize a weekly group sitting. It’s a great way to connect as well as support everyone’s practice.
- Do you have friends or family who have expressed interest in meditation? Offer to teach them and to sit with them once a week. (Side-note: never try to push meditation on people who aren't interested. It just doesn't work.)
- Serve during a meditation retreat. This is a bit more intensive, but supporting others in retreat is an extremely powerful way to cultivate merit for your own meditation.
What you do to others is what you experience, so if you help someone else to meditate, sooner or later you’re bound to see your own meditation improve.And don’t forget to rejoice afterwards! Be happy about how you've helped your friend and imagine them having great meditations from now on. This will give energy to the seeds you've planted and bring the results sooner.
If you’re skeptical, don’t take my word for it. Try it for a just few months, but really commit to it for that time. At the end of your trial period, see what the results are and make your own decision.
In these steps for improving meditation, specific techniques are less important than developing the right state of mind. It’s about expanding your meditation from just a self-care practice into a deeply transformative experience. It’s about building connections between your daily life and your meditation, so that your daily life becomes more and more a field of opportunities for spiritual growth.
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