Although many people have gone to great lengths in an effort to learn how to meditate, and yet have been disappointed, meditation is easy provided that you go into it for the right reasons, and, with the help of a good master or teacher, look into it thoroughly, so that you learn the basics of what is involved, become clear about your own objectives, and then set out under guidance in an effort to achieve them. A good teacher will make sure that you take each step properly, at the right speed for you, and that you develop a proper understanding.
First of all, to get to the spirit you must go through the mind, and to get to the mind you must go along the channels of your earthly body. You must be prepared for a long journey of the spirit, and have ample supplies of the energies required — just as a car or an aeroplane needs fuel. Remember that in meditating you are going to use up an enormous amount of physical, mental and spiritual energy, even though your journey may last only a few minutes as measured by the hands of a clock. For this reason, one of your prime tasks is to build up your energies, helping along the process by eating the Chang Ming way so as to reduce the excess of Yin that other types of diet cause, and open up the internal channels of the body so that your internal energy can flow properly. K’ai Men and the various deep-breathing exercises (especially the Yang exercises) help to build up this energy in the Tan T’ien or lower abdomen. As you progress you will be able to utilize this energy and control it at various levels in your body, so developing heightened mental control as well. This leads on to spiritual growth.
After adopting a Chang Ming diet and learning how to cultivate your internal energy, the next step is to learn how to harness and control your macro-cosmic, or external, energy. When your internal and external energy can be harmonized at a point behind your eyes, then you will find consciousness an easy stepping-stone to awareness, and enlightenment will be just round the corner.
There are over twenty forms of Taoist meditation (Mó Xiǎng 魔想), but to practise them you must be able to direct and control your internal and external energies, which will give you the dynamic power that you need if you want to traverse the universe. This force also has enormous healing powers.
One of the easiest ways of starting to meditate is to sit quietly down — if possible, at the same time each day — in a room where you can expect no disturbance. Have a window slightly open so that fresh air can enter the room, but try to ensure that there are no draughts. You can sit on a chair or cross your legs on the floor, or you can sit in the lotus position, which is the ideal way to meditate as it ensures perfect balance. In what follows it is assumed that you decide to sit cross-legged on the floor.
Loosen your clothes, especially any belts, and then relax your whole body and mind. Sit with your left leg crossed outside, but close to, your right leg — signifying that the Yin is surrounding the Yang. Your left hand should be placed in the palm of your right hand, with the left thumb touching the middle finger of the left hand, and the right thumb laid flat in the centre of the left palm. The palms of both hands should face upward. This ensures that the Yang surrounds the Yin in the upper circle of the body. By sitting this way, you are embracing the eight psychic channels and centres of the body, four in the lower half and four in the upper half of your anatomy. These circles or circuits create a harmony, and a constant flow of energy within their own individual orbits.
Before commencing to meditate make absolutely certain that you have no emotional stress whatsoever, and that you feel completely calm and composed within yourself. Also be certain that you have no aches or pains, as these can upset your concentration. It is not a good thing to set a goal or target for yourself, as this encourages you to try too hard. Try not to be too specific in your reasons for meditating, since this tends to create emotion and upset the nervous system. Many people try to meditate to obtain peace and tranquillity, while others wish to meditate just to escape from this world and the realities of their own lives — forgetting, of course, that on awakening they will be back in the same situations as they had tried to forget or leave behind. Meditation should not be an excuse, but should be a serious endeavour to attain harmony with your own spirit and, through it, with the spiritual world that lies beyond.
There are many ways of meditating with the eyes closed, but you can also meditate with your eyes open. Further, you can meditate not only through the mind but also through the spirit. One form of meditation, visual transportation, enables people to meditate through their eyes, mind and spirit, while they go about their daily work.
A golden rule for beginners to remember is that one should not stare at objects for long periods (“meditation by focusing”). It is much better to concentrate the mind, with the eyes closed, than to stare at a lighted candle, because the latter can not only weaken the eyes and waste energy, which in the preparatory stages you should be trying to conserve, but also mislead the senses into a false sense of achievement.
To begin with, then, sit quietly in the cross-legged position described above, with your tongue against the roof of your mouth and your eyes fractionally open (sufficient to admit a thin film of light) and looking down the bridge of your nose. Next, concentrate your mind on whatever object you wish, and, when you have it in focus, keep it in your mind’s eye for as long as you can.
Let us suppose that you fix your mind on an old-fashioned sailing ship. Once you have formed the picture, begin examining it in detail. How many masts are there? Is there a figurehead at the prow, and, if so, what is its form? Where is the anchor? Are the hatches battened down?
While you are still at the elementary stage, never meditate for more than five minutes at a time. This is because deep concentration uses up energy, and it is unwise to burn up a lot of “fuel” while you are still trying to activate and cultivate the energies within you. Once you have managed to focus your mind on one object for five minutes, the next step is to explore other forms of mind control and concentration.
Focusing on sound is difficult, but will give you a very strong mind control. If you are sitting quietly you will hear noises and sounds going on around you all the time, and if you concentrate enough you will be able to pick out one of those sounds (the most prominent, say) and hold it in your mind, making all other sounds disappear. Once you have learned to eradicate all other noises and hold just one in your mind constantly, you will know that your mind is becoming very strong indeed.
Another, and even more difficult, way to meditate is to focus on smell. Bring in a pot of flowers and place them directly in front of you, and then sit quietly in front of them, breathing deeply. Learn to focus on the smell of one particular type of flower, so that other perfumes and smells fade away before it. In this way, your concentration will gain enormous strength, and your mind will become extremely tenacious.
Remember that the journey for which you are preparing is a very long one, so it is essential that you prepare properly. Don’t forget that correct breathing is essential to your meditation, so learn to breathe through the lower abdomen. This will help you build up your energies and gain tranquillity.
Everything in nature consists of energy, which in turn creates various wavelengths and vibrations; so to lack energy is in the long run fatal. Lack of energy creates fatigue, which is the basis of all illnesses and sicknesses. Revitalize the organ or section of the body that is fatigued and you eradicate the symptom, allowing the body to cure itself. In meditation, then, you must have the whole body active and full of energy, and all the channels open, so that the energy flow is unrestricted. Then you can really start to meditate seriously, for then the energy power is there to help the mind take full control and prepare for takeoff. So get your priorities right and you will find that meditation is within your grasp.
If you happen to be a nervous person or a persistent worrier, then to begin with you should not try to meditate at all. Instead, concentrate on building up your vitality by eating the Ch’ang Ming way and practising deep-breathing exercises, and sit quietly for a few minutes daily, thinking, with your eyes open, of some material object — a door handle, a vase, a chair, or whatever — imagining its shape and contours, its colour, and even how it is made. After only a few weeks you will find that you have made great progress and are ready to focus your mind as suggested earlier.
Everyone who practises properly, should, after a few months, be able to journey into the astral plane, but travelling to the celestial and spiritual levels takes rather longer. Even so, with a good teacher, patience and personal dedication this can be accomplished by all.
Finally, take no notice of people who brag about their own feats of meditation. There is no place in the spiritual world for egoists, and whatever they experienced is unlikely to have been of much consequence.
Good travelling, and perhaps we may meet along the way.
From The Taoist Art of Kai Men by Chee Soo