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Explore the following Q&A sections:
The best posture for meditation is one in which you are simultaneously relaxed and alert. You will notice that when your spine is erect rather than slumped over, there is a special quality of wakefulness or presence that becomes available. When you sit erect, with your sitz bones heavy and your chin slightly tucked in to elongate your spine, a natural alignment occurs; you feel attentive, open, engaged, and bright. The challenge is to combine this aligned posture with total relaxation, dropping all tension in the body, especially in the shoulders, face (including the eyes), and hands. So the ideal meditation posture is one that facilitates maximum alertness (or alignment) and maximum relaxation (or a dropping of all tension) that you can be in for an extended period of time.
Many people (especially people with flexible hip joints) feel that sitting cross-legged is the ideal alert and relaxed posture. Once you become used to it, the cross-legged posture can create a triangular base that supports the spine and head in a very natural way. The cross-legged posture does not, however, work for everyone, and it is only one possible meditation posture. Many people find sitting in a chair more conducive to relaxed alertness. If you do decide to sit in a chair, you can experiment with sitting on the edge of the chair with your feet flat on the ground. This enables you to sit with an erect spine and drop your weight through your sitz bones, versus slumping and sagging into the back of the chair.
There is nothing required about sitting in a cross-legged position. A good meditation posture can be found sitting in a chair (as described above), sitting on a meditation bench, kneeling, and even standing (as is taught in qigong meditation). What is important is that you find a posture that works for you and is comfortable for extended meditation sessions. You can also experiment with different postures within one meditation session, following your natural instincts about which posture you need as the session unfolds.
Finally, it is my belief that although there are many different postures that facilitate relaxed alertness, it would be incorrect to conclude that the posture of meditation is not important. Proper posture is a key that can unlock the entire meditative journey. When we sit beautifully, allowing gravity to connect us with the earth below and our natural rising energy to flow upward through the central channel of the body, our shoulders fall back and our heart opens. We find we are sitting in a posture of courageous openness, one that invites and welcomes all experience, which is what meditation is really about.
Do I need a meditation teacher?
Although it is not required, attending a meditation training program and working directly with a teacher can be very helpful for a beginning meditator. There are several reasons for this.
Although meditation is easy to learn, it is hard to practice on a regular basis. Beginning meditators often find that they need some kind of intensive training environment (a weekend retreat or an even longer period of retreat) to really “break through” and discover what meditation can offer. What, exactly, are we breaking through? We are breaking through the lock that our discursive mind has on the processing of our moment-to-moment experience. Most of the time we experience our world through conceptual filters. In meditation, we learn to drop these filters and instead experience the world directly through our senses and the power of awareness. To achieve this kind of breakthrough it often takes being in a retreat environment, one in which you can truly let go of your everyday concerns for a period of time and work intensively with a meditative technique.
Additionally, when we first begin to meditate, all kinds of resistance begin to arise. We sit down to meditate, and we may experience unwanted feelings like physical pain, sleepiness, and irritation. We find ourselves thinking all of the time and wonder if we are practicing correctly. We start to wonder if the practice is worth the effort and if it has any real benefits. Filled with resistance of all kinds, people often give up on meditation or find themselves in a perpetual “stop and start” mode.
A skillful meditation teacher is able to act as a “coach” in these situations and offer the guidance that can be necessary to help someone continue to explore meditation at deeper and deeper levels. In a sense, learning to meditate is not any different than learning how to do anything that looks simple but is actually quite nuanced (like playing a sport or learning to play a musical instrument). Sure, you can learn some things from books and CDs, but imagine how much more you can learn when working with a teacher or coach who has decades of personal experience gleaned from their own practice and from working with hundreds of other students. Additionally, we all need feedback from the outside when learning something new (we are on a learning curve after all) and an experienced teacher can offer invaluable feedback and support.
There are other significant benefits that can come from studying with a meditation teacher. The meditation teacher is able to “model” how to meditate. Being in the presence of a gifted teacher, you develop a feeling for the practice that is difficult to develop on your own. Imagine, for example, that you want to learn to play the piano. You can listen to recordings of wonderful piano concertos, but imagine how much more you would learn sitting on the bench next to a master pianist? You would feel their energy and passion, and could watch up close the movements of his or her hands across the keyboard. In this scenario, the inner experience of the pianist is being communicated in addition to their outer hand movements across the keys. There is a sort of “ignition,” a handing over of the experience from one person to another. This is why the exchange between a meditation teacher and a student is sometimes described as “the gift of fire” or passing wisdom “candle to candle.”
How do I choose the right meditation teacher for me?
You need to follow your heart. Like any decision that involves bringing someone into your inner world, whether that is a lover or a healer or some other kind of helper who is working with you on your inner life and development, you need to choose someone who intuitively feels right to you.
There are many different styles of meditation and what is important is that you pick a tradition and a teacher who excites and challenges you, and who speaks to your greatest longing for wholeness and discovery. At first, you may want to experiment with many different styles and approaches. But if you find a teacher and a tradition that feels like it fits your inner nature, I would encourage you to work in an intensive way within that tradition for a period of time in order to really explore the deeper levels of the practice.
When I sit down to meditate, my thoughts are so active that I cannot do the practice. What should I do?
First of all, it is important not to judge our practice in any way—i.e., “that was a good session” or “that was a bad session.” Any meditation session you do is a “good” meditation session. You engaged with yourself and learned more about your current state of being, which leads to further unfoldment. We aspire to treat ourselves with unconditional acceptance of our experience.
Secondly, if you find yourself very discursive during meditation—meaning the thinking part of your mind is running wild—you can tighten your focus on whatever you are using as your object of meditation. This may be the feeling of the breath moving in and out of your lower belly, or a sacred word that you have chosen as your object of concentration. By tightening your attention on the object you have chosen, putting your mind on a “tight leash” so to speak, you will find that the thinking process slowly begins to calm down and become more spacious. The more discursive you are, the more you will need to concentrate closely on the meditation object. (This is sometimes called the practice of “close attention.”) Once your mind begins to calm down, your attention can become more open, and you can let go of your single-minded concentration on the object of meditation and become inclusive of the entire field of sense perceptions.
Thoughts still arise, of course, but you are no longer spending the entire session actively thinking. Instead you are sitting as a field of awareness in which thoughts arise along with other energies and sensations.
Should I meditate with my eyes open or closed? What’s the difference?
Some people prefer to meditate with their eyes open and some people prefer to meditate with their eyes closed. I encourage you to experiment, and begin to notice the differences in your own experience.
What I have discovered is that when I am doing a visualization exercise of any kind, I prefer that my eyes are closed. I also like to close my eyes if I need to engage in intense concentration (for example, if my mind is quite discursive) as a way to minimize sensory stimulation, or if I am interested in exploring inner energetic states.
I prefer to meditate with my eyes open when I am exploring awareness itself, or what might be called “the natural state.” Another benefit to learning to meditate with the eyes open is that we spend most of our time engaging in the world with open eyes—working at our job, relating with other people, driving, cooking, etc. If we learn to meditate with our eyes open, there is more likelihood that we can bring meditative awareness into all of our life’s activities because we have become accustomed to being alert and relaxed with our eyes open.
Experimentation is the key. You can even alternate with eyes open and then eyes closed in any given meditation period, and notice the difference. In either case, what is important is that your eyes are relaxed and that you have a soft gaze. Your eyes should not be “hungry,” looking outward for information. Instead, they should be receptive, all tension having melted away.
What do I do if I get sleepy during meditation?
There are a couple of reliable techniques for handling sleepiness during meditation. One is to go to sleep–literally, take a nap. Part of meditating is beginning to tune in to our bodies, and sometimes what we discover when we tune in is that we are exhausted, having run over our natural energy in a hundred different ways. If this is the case, to force yourself into meditating would be the wrong approach (a very aggressive approach, which is not the kind of attitude we want to bring to our meditation practice). So tune in, and if you need to go to sleep, take a nap and then re-engage the practice when you have gotten the rest that you need.
If you find that your body is not actually tired but that you keep “nodding off” anyway, you can try intensifying alertness by opening your eyes quite widely for a period of time and noticing how that shifts your energy. You can also try some simple alternate nostril breathing (breathing in and out vigorously first through one nostril and then the other, using a finger to close the alternate nostril as you do so). This is a yogic technique for increasing the flow of energy throughout the body.
Is the goal of meditation to stop my thoughts? If not, what is the goal?
The goal of meditation is not a blank mind, but wholeness. In meditation, we learn to welcome all experience, all emotions, all feeling states. Thoughts continue to appear in awareness, but this is not a problem at all. In meditation, we learn to welcome all appearances and everything that arises.
I don’t really have time to meditate—I’m just too busy! How can I establish a daily meditation practice with such a busy schedule?
This is a serious challenge—one that I wrestle with myself. Here are some suggestions that can help:
The point here is to befriend the practice and not turn it into another way to feel deficient or bad about yourself. If that happens (and I have seen this with many people) then what could be a tool for awakening becomes a tool for self-punishment. It is important to be gentle—to develop an approach to meditation where you are not “grinding it out,” but instead approaching the practice with curiosity, as something that offers deep nourishment and enjoyment. Find a way into the practice that is enjoyable and natural for you, and follow that way in.
Will meditation make me so relaxed that I will not be motivated to be successful?
Meditation helps you become more of your true self. It helps you to be in touch with who you really are and what you really care about. It helps you know your priorities and live in alignment with those priorities.
It also releases your natural creativity. When we meditate in a way that welcomes all of our experience, we open up all of the “hidden vaults” inside of ourselves—all of those areas that we have not had time to look at or were unwilling to look at because the received experiences threatened our ego’s status quo. Meditation unravels our ego’s grip on our life, and it does so in such a way that it releases our natural energy. When the life force courses through us in an unimpeded way, we are endlessly creative. We become confident and empowered in a kind of way that creates a type of unshakeable success, the success that comes from living out of our own deepest authenticity.
Answers provided by meditation teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation Society Sharon Salzberg.
For more information about Sharon Salzberg, please see www.sharonsalzberg.com.
For more information about Sharon's Meditation Correspondence Course
What will happen when I meditate? What can I expect?
Meditation reveals how continually all the elements of our experience change. It is natural in meditation to go through many ups and downs, to encounter new delights and newly awakened conflicts from the subconscious mind. Sometimes you will tap into a wellspring of peace. Other times you might feel waves of sleepiness, boredom, anxiety, anger, or sadness. Images may arise, old songs might replay, memories long-buried can surface. Instead of feeling discouraged if you get sleepy when you wanted peacefulness, remember that all of this is natural, it happens for everyone, and that the techniques of meditation practice are designed to help us deal skillfully with all of our experience.
If you were using a meditation technique of cultivating awareness of the breath, for example, and you start to feel overwhelmed by thoughts or feelings, I'd suggest using awareness of your breath to anchor your attention in your body. This helps you to return to the present moment and let go of cognitive associations that add insult to injury. If you find yourself thinking, "I will always be this way," or "If only I were stronger (more patient, smarter, kinder) I wouldn't feel this way," or "This can never change," you can return to the simple truth of the moment-sitting and being aware of your breath.
Do I have to become a Buddhist to practice Buddhist forms of meditation?
An early meditation teacher of mine, S.N. Goenka, said, "The Buddha did not teach Buddhism, the Buddha taught a way of life." Another early teacher of mine, Anagarika Munindra, said to me, "The Buddha's enlightenment solved the Buddha's problem. Now you solve yours." The Buddha himself said, "I teach one thing and one thing only; that is suffering and the end of suffering."
You don't have to adopt any belief system or dogma to practice techniques of meditation that have been held or preserved in the Buddhist tradition. You don't have to call yourself a Buddhist, or reject another faith. The whole point is to examine critically all the elements of our experience so we can live more in accord with the truth of how things are, the laws of nature. In meditation we end up looking directly at concepts we have about ourselves, about aloneness, about connection, about strength, about happiness, and we do this looking from a base of greater concentration, mindfulness, and compassion. All this is about how we can live with greater clarity and lovingkindness, not about what we hold as a belief or what we call ourselves.
The following answers were gracefully provided by Lama Surya Das-- poet, author, and meditation teacher in the Dzogchen Buddhist tradition.
For more information about Lama Surya Das, his writings, and his trainings in meditation, please see www.dzogchen.org and www.surya.org.
For information on Lama Surya Das' book and CD title on meditation-- Natural Radiance.
Do I have to become a Buddhist to practice Buddhist forms of meditation?
No, not at all. The Dalai Lama himself often says: "Don't convert to Buddhism too quickly, without checking it out considerably. We are trying to contribute to others rather than convert others. These practices can make you a better whatever-you-are." I have found this to be absolutely true, as well as an important message for our post-modern times.
Moreover, there are Jesuit priests and rabbis, catholic nuns, atheists and agnostics-- and all kinds of religious as well as lay followers of their own faith--who meditate regularly and reap the spiritual rewards without leaving their own church. Some even teach meditation and lead retreats, and are excellent teachers and spiritual guides whom I recommend. Others are self-described hybrids, like new and healthy cars from Detroit: Bu-Jews, HindJews, Zen Catholics, and the like.
I have a very difficult time sitting cross-legged for any length of time. Do I really need to adopt this posture to properly meditate?
First of all, one can get used to sitting cross-legged through practice, through yoga stretches and so forth--if that is a goal. Yoga is an excellent warm-up for meditation, as well as meditation in action/motion itself. Applying mindfulness to every single yoga movement greatly enhances the true purpose of the practice. Tai chi, chi gong, and other such so-called martial arts are also excellent and enjoyable contemplative practices and are fine ways to practice cultivating and deepening meditative awareness. These integrative practices can help you integrate mindfulness and focused awareness into everyday life, where the rubber really meets the road on the spiritual path.
It's vital to understand that meditation is done with the "mind" and not with the legs. It's a matter of intentionally directing your conscious attention to objects of awareness in the present moment, and not a mere matter of physical posture.
Of course, an erect posture is usually recommended, to maintain alertness and presence of mind and avoid sleepiness, as well to ensure evenly balanced freely-flowing breath along with subtle inner energies--but any posture will do, when one is experienced at maintaining mindful awareness and presence of lucid mind. A chair can work fine, if you don't lose alertness and doze due to leaning against the back. The well-known Corpse Pose--done lying flat on your back-- frequently found at the end of yoga session is an excellent way to relax and meditate, if you don't fall asleep!
Buddha himself, when asked about what was the best posture for meditation, replied: "There are four main postures for the cultivation of mindful awareness, which is meditation: sitting, standing, walking, and lying down." I think this pretty much covers it. In other words, every position is the position for maintaining clarity and alertness through cultivating present awareness.
If Buddha were alive today, he'd probably add jogging, squatting, etc., to the list of his four positions for meditation. Just as he'd add Good Humor, Right Relationships, and Healthy Living to his famous Noble Eight-fold Path of Enlightenment. (see my
When I sit down to meditate, my thoughts are so active that I cannot do the practice. What do I do?
It depends on you: What kind of meditation you're doing or trying to do, what's your purpose and goal, and so forth. There are various kinds of meditation throughout the different world religious and spiritual traditions, and even within each one. Buddhism, for example, includes two main categories of meditation: concentrative, claiming, and focusing meditations; and insight-oriented wisdom-developing meditations.
It's important to understand that thinking is the natural working of the mind, just as hearing and seeing are the natural and proper functions of other sense organs. Meditative awareness is more a matter of becoming increasingly aware of your thoughts, feelings, and so forth--of yourself, in fact-- than of suppressing or stopping them…which in any case, is an almost hopeless proposition, except perhaps temporarily. Mindfulness cultivation means paying attention to whatever arises in the body-mind continuum in the present moment, not manipulating or repressing those arising appearances, both outer (phenomenal) or inner (noumena). One learns through contemplative practice to be aware of thinking rather than just caught up in thoughts; and this is one form of mindfulness meditation.
One issue common to newish meditation students is that, when they first started--or start-- meditating, they often report having even more thoughts than ever. I often respond with the fact that, in my own experience, it's not that one is suddenly thinking more but that one is suddenly more aware of the internal monologue that is always going on inside, albeit mostly unnoticed. Thus, the practice is actually working and the new practitioner is actually becoming more aware and mindful already, as promised! Who knew?
There are so many different kinds of meditation. How do I choose the one that is right for me?
Of course, you should do what I do. It's the best! My meditation is the best meditation. Just joking. No one in their right mind would adhere to such thinking. (Hmmm…)
Anyway, why not learn one technique and try it out? Then, if it doesn't satisfy you after a reasonable time, try something else. It's not unlike dating, or other forms of shopping. Window shopping and trying things on are fine; buying and returning are also permitted. Just don't become a restless dilettante, superficially experiencing profound things and skimming over the surface of spiritual life without ever risking a real plunge.
It's difficult but not impossible to learn how to meditate well or accomplish yoga from a book. Classes and expert teachers are recommended. No need to join a cult or sign your life away just to learn how to pray or meditate, though. Just keep your head on your shoulders and your feet on the ground, your eyes peeled; ask questions and maintain a healthy skepticism appropriate to your genuine heart and soul's quest; keep on keepin' on, without giving in to discouragement, elation, or despair; ask for help along the way, all will be revealed. Continuity is the secret of success.
What is the best time of the day to meditate? How many times a day should I meditate? For how long should I meditate?
The best time is any time. That's the first and final word.
The best time is the actual amount of time, energy, and attention you have to put into it, and can reasonably fulfill as a practice period without interruption or distraction. That's the penultimate word.
On the other hand, many people find that early morning works best for them, "before the world wakes up" and before becoming actively engaged in the various aspects of daily life¬, before their mind and body, energy, and spirit gets overly caught up in the momentum of external things, in habitual patterns and preoccupations, and the like. Finding or creating quiet time or sacred space in one's day/life is extremely important, and learning to calm and center oneself, clear the heart and mind while tuning into the spirit, is vital to mental and physical health, not to mention spiritual consciousness and evolution.
The timing of daily practice periods is really up to you, and depends upon your own particular time, place, surroundings, and habitual energy. Some teachers and traditions recommend meditating twice a day, for 20 -30 minutes at a time. Others recommend once a day for 30-60 minutes. But neither God nor the Buddha is an auditor; moreover, time is so relative. It's quality (of awareness) not quantity (or seconds and minutes) that really counts. One can integrate instant meditations throughout the day, through breathing-relaxing-smiling and taking a moment of mindfulness at any time¬-- moments of contemplative clarity and sweetness that can puncture the solidity of a claustrophobic day and let the fresh cooling air of present awareness and equanimity shine through.
The late evening is also a fine for regular meditation, if you don't doze easily at that point of day. When your day is done¬--perhaps after a bath and getting into our pajamas or a robe¬--the world as well as our mind ¬is much less with us, which can be quite conducive to spiritual detachment and turning deeply inward. Of course, an experienced meditator can center and focus even in the middle of a crowded sporting event, battlefield, or downtown traffic island in Manhattan.
One must take into account whether you're a morning person or a night owl, and where you live, whom you may live with or near, and so forth. It's nice to have a regular place and time at home for your daily sitting practice, but some people go out to do it: either outside¬, in the garden, yard, roof, park, ¬or to a quiet local house of worship or meditation center. Some do it by arriving earlier than anyone else, and closing their office door. Others do it on the way home from work, or at lunch time. There was a meditation group during lunch hour, I've heard, at the Pentagon, and in Bloomingdale's board room for some time. West Point had a meditation class for one semester in recent years.
I meditate every morning. Can't leave home without it!
Can I listen to music while I meditate?
There are innumerable ways to meditate. Music meditation is one of them. In fact, one venerable ashram tradition I know in India uses that form of contemplation more commonly than any other, for practitioners both alone and in a group. You simply listen to the music with full, undivided attention, attending to each note and letting everything else fall away, merging with the notes and flow of sounds, breath, and silence. Focus on each note, one by one, getting closer and closer and deeper and deeper to it, and eventually go through the center of it to the source of all sound. Now that's real meditation!
One can also tune in to subtler and subtler levels of vibration and harmonic rhythms, delving deeper in the source of hearing and aural consciousness and plumbing the substratum where is found the cosmic sound, the ineffable OM, the divine sound, and other inexpressible tune, harmonies, and rhythms.
Of course mantra chanting is also an ancient and powerful meditative technique, and listening to the hum of the breath and inner mantra is also part of that. Making music also demands and deserves full attention, and can serve as a centering, fussing, healing, and uplifting energy and sound practice with marvelous results. The more intention and concentrated awareness you put into it, the more you'll get out of it, including peace and serenity, creativity, joy, and feelings of oneness¬, to name just a few common benefits.
Should I meditate with my eyes open or closed? What is the difference?
Various traditions emphasize different styles, and for various reasons. As far as I know, none yet recommend the one-eye open and one-closed approach, which would be worse than straddling a fence. Closing both physical eyes and opening the third or wisdom-eye is an excellent option for those advanced enough to be able to do so.
Seriously, in the beginning it seems easier for most people to start learning to meditate with eyes closed, making it easier to detach from occurrences around them and go deeper within themselves. Later , they may need to learn how to carry that calm internal mindfulness and concentration into life with eyes open, which can present a challenge not unlike a sudden shift of gears or driving weather conditions. To calm and clear the mind, people generally find that closing the eyes, breathing deeply, sitting in a dark and warm quiet place, and relaxing-- while dropping down more and more into the inner peace and internal center-- is almost universally effective and advisable. Relax, breathe deeply, and let go of everything; let go and let be. Watch and observe the breath, letting everything else go by, dissolve, recede: watch the breath, become the breath, be the breath. That's great meditation!
However, there are some people for whom closing the eyes is contraindicated, and they do better with eyes open or half lidded and gaze slightly lowered. Some people I know feel they're thoughts crowd them less when they keep their eyes slightly open and have more room for their eyes to breathe, as one of my students delicately described it. Others fall asleep so easily with their eyes closed that they can only meditate wakefully with eyes open and in a lit, cool, and bright place. Some are overly sensitive to hypnotic suggestion or overly introverted, and ought to have more social contact, ¬even in the contemplative field, ¬than simple internal concentrative meditations allow for; this is where the helpful assistance and clarifications of experienced meditation teachers and altruistic spiritual elders can come in handy.
Some venerable meditation systems teach open-eyed meditation from the outset, so as to integrate the internal awareness more easily into everyday life off of the contemplative cushion. Some stress sky-gazing, ocean-gazing, fire-gazing, or even eye-to-eye face to face co-meditation, which is challenging yet can prove extremely rewarding.
I myself have learned through many meditation retreats and all night vigils, fasts, and other austerities that if I can just keep my eyes open during the day and closed at night, practicing the Middle Way-- not too tight, not too loose-- it's good enough for me.
How does the practice of meditation relate to daily life?
Meditation is something that has everything to do with daily life, although much of daily life seems to have little or nothing to do with meditation as many of us commonly think of it. Many people all over the globe practice various forms of sitting meditation for 20-40-60 minutes in the morning or evening, as a spiritual way of working on oneself, getting to know oneself and reality better, and a way of awakening the mind and nourishing the soulful spirit.
However, meditation, properly understood, is the sustained, intentional attention to whatever is arising in the present moment as a concentrated awareness practice. It does not require any particular posture or gaze. One simply practices again and again the constant cultivation of present awareness, lucid
Most of us are not meditation masters, therefore we are easily distracted and often find it challenging if not impossible to maintain concentrated meditative awareness, or "mindfulness" in Buddhist parlance¬- nonreactive, objective, clear awareness-- amidst everyday activities, such as talking, exercising, walking eating, working, driving, computer programming, etc. Moreover, what would a spiritual and contemplative art like meditation have to do with arguing, sex, dancing, warriorship, music, drugs and the like? Yet interestingly enough it does, and there are entire schools of contemplative practice specializing in such "extreme meditations."
Daily life is where the rubber really meets the road on the spiritual path, and provides an excellent feedback loop-- instant karma-- revealing where oneself is actually at. I believe that integration is the name of the consciousness-evolution game today, not seclusion and reclusiveness. Buddha is as Buddha does.
How is meditation different from just relaxing?
Relaxation is obviously important in life. We need to relax at night in order to fall asleep, and we need to learn how to unwind and relax both physically and mentally during the day. Doctors tell us today that most visitors to their offices display symptoms of stress and have tension-related complaints of one kind or another. Sleep issues and fatigue are common problems. The ability to relax and reduce stress and tension are key components of healthy living. Rest is sacred, as the ancient scriptures of India say. We could all afford to be a little less uptight and take ourselves less seriously.
It's useful to be able to relax into meditative awareness, too, and enjoy the inner peace, centeredness, and harmony of contemplative sweetness that is the joy of meditation. However, meditative awareness is more of a state of heightened awareness and alertness than of mere relaxation, spacing out, and the dissipation of mental clarity and focus leading to somnolence. Through learning to focus the attention and concentrate the mind, we sharpen our powers of concentration and lengthen our attention span. This takes patience and diligence, vigilance, and practice. Repetition is the key, until it becomes habitual. This is why teachers stress daily practice.
Meditative states are clear and lucid, in which the practitioner is keenly attuned to what is, as it is, within and around them in the present moment, unlike the loosening grip of consciousness characteristic of dozing off while falling asleep. We train ourselves in remindfulness¬-remembering what we're doing by paying close attention to the objects of our attention-- and continue to further wakeful clarity through moment to moment awareness; this is quite distinct from the forgetfulness, torpor, and falling trance-like states of hypnogogic imagery¬-- those that arise behind the eyelids as we fall asleep ¬or other obscured, less lucid, and awake states of mind.
Most of us know how to either speed forward, as if in highway fifth gear, or drop into idle and relax into sleep. Meditation is a combination of simultaneous relaxation and alertness, a happy marriage of concentration and penetrating insight. Relaxed and at ease, on the spot, the experienced meditator objectively sees things as they are and intuitively understands how they arise and cease, function, are contingent, and are interdependent. In sleep, consciousness is generally lost, tarnished; in meditation consciousness is discovered, explored, mastered, and evolves.