Meditation series – part 2: Focus and Stillness

We started with some basic types and categories because, face it, most people…well Americans I know at least, need to categorize things to understand it. So lets dig into some of these and how they overlap. Because focused meditation is often recommended as a first place to work we will start there. Specifically lets look at the overlap between focused and open eye meditations and how they can help you develop your meditation practice. I love the forms of meditation that once you are confident in them you use in active and public places because they teach you peace within the chaos rather than your mind and body learning there is a place for peace and a place for chaos. The combination can be very helpful. A quiet space for meditation is highly recommended for your primary meditation space.
Visual meditation techniques like candle meditation are a great contemplative practice. They can help you develop the focus and ability to sit quietly and let go, so they are a good starting form for many people. They are so commonly used that there is a candle meditation in the Wii Fit Plus program. I have used a variety of candle meditations, including the Wii fit one that is an interesting start to someone with an inability to sit still and quiet for long periods. It is a great way to practice stillness since it measures motion by you sitting on the balance board. Lets look into the basics of a candle meditation.
Start by preparing the space. The preparation for a deep meditation is very important for most people and is in many forms we have learned from history.  For a deep meditation or a longer session the preparation helps ease you into it and is preparing you as much as it is preparing your space. It also allows you to control the environment and ensure limited distractions. You will want dim lighting, quiet, a place to sit quietly and comfortably upright, and space to set the candle approximately 2 feet in front of you. Keep some distance to protect your eyes from strain. Set the candle at eye level. Try to ensure there are no drafts. Drafts can distract you and they can flicker the flame. Some people use small LED, lights, or use some other focus in the same type of meditation. That may not be a candle meditation but it can be very similar. Water is a good example and can be done either in water or with a bowl of water as a focus.
Start with your eyes closed, focusing on your breathing. When your breath is calm, even, and you are ready, open your eyes and focus just above the wick. This is another stage of preparation and moving into the meditative state. Your breath is your focus here in most forms of meditation that do this. Breath deep and steady but don’t think of your breath as wrong or in need of correction. Just feel it, be a part of your breathing. You are slowing it but not fixing it.
Most forms have you go as long as possible between blinks and not rubbing your eyes. As you stare, allow the flame to occupy your mind and let any other thoughts or feelings pass. Again, do not correct or chastise yourself just let them pass. You are acknowledging their presence and letting them go by focusing on the flame, not discarding them or disapproving. The flame, water, or other focus is simply the object of attention and the space your in. This is a good early form of meditation precisely because of that focus point that helps train your mind to let things go. This is a way to learn the clearness of mind, the focused mind, the stillness of body and mind, and the quiet spirit you are working for in meditation. Whatever your end goals or preferred forms you are working towards, these can help you build toward that.
Some people do more visualization of breathing in the light or being surrounded by the light, but a simple meditation simply clears and focuses the mind. As you focus long term without variation your mind and optic nerves are able to relax and stop fully processing the surrounding input. You are aware of them but they are not active unless you acknowledge them. It is an odd sensation of both being unaffected by and any not processing things around you but being also more sensitive to them. It will become familiar and comfortable, a place you want to be and a being you want to be.
When you are done, if you need, cup your hands over your eyes, without touching them, and let them rest. Do not press on them or rub them. they may water or have after-impressions. Simply breath and still yourself until you are ready. The intense focus can tire them and the candle light can tire them so give them time to rest.
The variations of this are vast and many both modern and ancient are hugely effective. One of my favorites is often done with objects of nature like leaf. The focus in on the details of that leaf, becoming aware of it in every possible way from sight to smell. Another is focus on you body or a specific part of it.
Most physical training regimes from weight lifting to martial arts will teach you to focus on the muscles you are working in each form. This is a more intense version of that. I first learned of it in a sci fi book, Dune but later was shown an old form of it in I think a qigong class.  You focus intently on specific muscles or parts. I have been shown 3 basic forms. One moved through the whole body one muscle at a time, including all the tiny ones you never notice. Another focused on one part at a time like a finger or hand and intensely focused on that part to feel and be a part of and aware of every aspect. Like the leaf, you are aware of the skin, muscles, lines, bones, nerves, circulation…all of it. The third was the form used in some active meditations of focusing in an activity like tai chi on the muscles and energy of the activity. In this last you focus on them and you increase the work of specific muscles in an activity and increase their resistance to magnify the load and work they are doing.
(note that the image is not mine and I am uncertain of the source, if you know please let me know.)

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