No matter what meditation practice you adhere to, there are 3 components required to practice almost every meditation technique:
1. Your resolve and willingness to do and stay with the practice. (Sankalpa in Sanskrit)
2. Your non-judgmental, gentle attention (Dharana in Sanskrit)
3. A focus for your attention
Meditating takes willingness and resolve. You can’t get the benefits of meditation unless you do it. It requires discipline to set aside the time and a commitment to stay with your practice during the difficult times. You get 100% attendance for each meditation you sit through!
The attention you use in meditation is very gentle and non-judgmental. It isn’t intense concentration. In meditation, you simply focus your attention toward some idea or thing. Try this exercise to experience the ease of focus:
For a moment, turn your attention to your breath. Notice the way it naturally moves in and out of your body, notice how it sounds, and how the body responds to each inhale and exhale. Do this for three breaths.
Did you notice how you were able to focus your attention? Yes, you might quickly get distracted and begin thinking of other things—but don’t worry, this is natural. It’s the nature of the mind to think. Your job is to return your attention to the focus of your meditation once you notice you have drifted off. Later in this study guide, you will read more about what to do when you notice distracting thoughts.
Okay, now this time bring your attention to your right hand. You don’t have to move or look at it, simply focus your attention on how it feels. Become aware of it and the sensations present. Now, switch your focus to your left hand for a few moments. Now, switch your attention back to the right.
I imagine this was easy. That’s the ease of focusing your attention in meditation. You don’t have to “let things go.” Instead, you focus on something else. In meditation, when you notice you are distracted, you’ll easily refocus without effort and judgment back to the focus of your meditation, as you did with the focus on your hands. You don’t need to evaluate, monitor, or examine what experiences are going on in the practice. You simply return to your focus, again and again.
The focus of your meditation is often something simple: it could be kinesthetic, a sensation – such as the feel of your natural breathing, or the way your body moves. Or, you could focus on a sound – whether you make it, hear it, or even think it. Or, you can focus on something you see, such as an imagined vision that you dream up, or an object you look at such as a star, a candle flame, or a picture of a saint. It isn’t prudent to use taste as a focus for your everyday meditation practice. And, though incense or aromas can create a mood or memory that supports your meditation practice, scents aren’t generally used as a focus for meditation because they are not stable enough.