Beginners questions on meditation

The idea of this page is to answer some  common beginners questions on meditation, in a way that indicates the similarities and differences to Osho’s approach to standard NHS-style mindfulness.  If you are seriously interested in meditation and transformation, then I highly encourage you to read and listen to Osho’s own words about every topic, with the unparalleled  resources at osho.com and in particular the  free search facility at osho.com/library (needs free registration.) The full books are available very reasonably through streams such as iOsho and in many other ways. There are many free videos and other resources.

To make sure I’m answering standard mindfulness questions,  these questions are taken from  a site at the top of Google. The answers are mine, based on my 40 years experience of Osho’s approach.  The people who came to Osho were mostly not total beginners, so he didn’t get asked these exact questions. But he certainly talked about all these things in one way or another, and I recommend reading what he said, at the resources above.

What is meditation about?

People commonly equate “meditation” with the activity of sitting and being mindful of your breath; let’s call this “sitting meditation.” Sitting meditation is indeed fundamental, but it’s actually a meditation exercise rather than meditation itself.

Meditation is consciousness. We have a tiny, tiny glimmer of consciousness. A cat eats, but is not conscious of doing so, while we can be conscious that “now I am eating.” If we have more consciousness, then we can make more conscious choices, not just in food, but in every area of life. Some human beings are more generally conscious than others, and everybody is more conscious at some moments than others. For example, if you lose it and get out-of-control angry at someone, that’s unconscious; when you start to think “Oh, the other is human, they had a reason for what they did”, that is conscious. On this mad planet. some people never get to the second step.

The intention of meditating, is to to deepen and increase our capacity for consciousness.

One basic way to do this is to make the choice not to follow random chains of thoughts during sitting meditation. Each time you pull you mind back from wandering, and focus on experiential here-and-now reality, you are strengthening your consciousness muscles.

This is supported by a natural psychological/physiological relaxation of mind and body which comes from sitting still and being inactive. This relaxation response is good, is valuable, is helpful to meditation, but is not in and of itself meditation, because meditation is consciousness, not any mind or body experience. These two things together – watching the thoughts and the relaxation response – are what people commonly call “meditation.”

However, the sages tell us far more than this. They explain  that fundamentally this capacity for consciousness exists in its own right, independently of and in every way beyond our minds, our bodies, our identities. Thus, they tell us, we can be conscious that not just our thoughts, but our very bodies, come and go and do not belong to us.

Plainly, this is not a beginner’s experience. On the contrary it seems  bizarre nonsense to most people. Bowing to this apparently common-sense rejection of the deeper possibility, Jon Kabat-Zinn and others have stripped out the mystical elements from Buddhism to leave only the pragmatic psychology which fits in with conventional attitudes.  Kabat-Zinn has been hailed as a hero, but in fact he has thrown away everything that is truly profound and revolutionary. More on this later. For now, getting back to a simple answer to this basic question, meditation consists of a few things in combination:

(1) Meditation exercises, including the famous and fundamental exercise of sitting meditation.
(2) Consciousness and everything that expands it
(3) Bodies of understandings expressed by those who have achieved the highest consciousness. Buddhism is the most well-known. Osho’s is expressed directly to the psychology of modern humanity, and Osho also spoke on dozens of other enlightened teachers from the past, including both Hindu, Islamic, and others, bringing their understandings alive in modern language and showing the essential unity of all these expressions of the truth.
(4) The human longing to know Who am I? What am I doing here?

How to get started?

I’m not sure Osho ever answered this question, because people who came to him had already started meditating.

If you’re reading this in Bristol, come along to one of our one-day introductory meditation courses! There are plenty of good beginners courses around, and I suggest you go to one.

Pragmatically, read a book and try it, go to a meditation class, or explore osho.com. There are good beginners guided meditations on the internet,  listen to one of those.

Otherwise, the total start – how I started 40 years ago – is you set a timer for 20 minutes, lie on the bed with your eyes closed, and don’t do anything. Or sit, just sit for 20 minutes and and don’t do anything. Never mind instructions. Just sit and meet yourself.

How long until I see some results?

All the books say, don’t expect results. Philosophically, that’s right. But practically, of course you are right to want results.

Philosphically: Expectation of results is in itself anti-meditative.  Meditation is bringing consciousness to that which is. Such consciousness will make some experiences float away, and will make other things more intensely felt until they in turn float away.  Every meditator will at some point have the experience of meditating with the wish to to get the result that some painful feeling gets less;  and  they find that all that their meditation on that particular day  shows is that on that day they do feel sad, or grief-stricken, or overwhelmed, and the feeling gets more. And the desire for the feeling to go away only gets in the way, creates painful tension, and hinders the genuine healing that meditation will bring. In that sense it is correct that it is wrong to have expectations of results in meditation. So the books are right, don’t look for results.

But if meditation doesn’t give results, why do it? On this topic the books often seem evasive.

So here’s my take. If you are doing the right meditation exercises,  whatsoever they are, you should feel immediate benefit. You should at the minimum feel “this is interesting, this has potential, at the least I’m interested enough to try again.” My own experience is that Osho’s Active Meditation methods often give that experience that where traditional methods fail.

On top of that most people of a Western heritage almost always need to do some therapy/personal development for meditation to go really deep.  This is one of Osho’s key and unique contributions to modern spirituality: that mostly it s has to start off with psychological personal development.  The point to do that therapy can for some people be right at the start of their meditation careers. So if you’ve tried meditation a few times and it’s not delivering at all, either you may need different methods, or you may needs to do some therapy. But subject to that, you should feel some engagement and some glimmers of connection with your being, pretty damn soon. You are right to want results.

Is it better to meditate in the morning or night?

Up to you. I like both.  It’s easier to fall asleep at night. But why choose? – meditate morning AND night.

Should I always meditate in the same place?

It’s indeed excellent if you can create a meditation temple, a small space that you make peaceful and beautiful and always use for meditation.  If you can devote a whole room – wonderful!

However, meditation is not just the activity of doing sitting meditation. You want to bring consciousness into every moment of life whenever you can, and to sit and meditate as much as you joyfully can. ( – meaning, not to make it a stress or duty to meditate as much as you can.)  On the bus, on the plane – everywhere.

How long should I meditate for?

For a complete beginner, think of twenty minutes sitting meditation a day, regularly. To transform your life takes more than that, but that’s a start.

Osho structured his main formal meditations as one-hour processes, with perhaps half of that time in some form of activity.  Forty minutes of actual sitting is probably a good time, though if you enjoy to sit longer then  by all means do so.

Many other of Osho’s Active Meditations have flexible timing, so you can do 5 or 10 or 15 minutes of gibberish or laughter, then an equal time sitting silently. Though again, it is good to to these also for 40 minutes or an hour, perhaps not as often as you do a 20 or 30 minute meditation session.

If you do enjoy silent sitting, then it’s good to aim to do 40 minutes instead of 20 when you can – indeed every day, if you can.

When you’re out and about and can snatch 5 or ten minutes silent sitting here and there, do so;. It’s all valuable.

What are the best postures to meditate?

Consciousness is unrelated to posture, but some body positions do support  meditation exercises more than others.

It’s best so seek out comfortable postures. If you experience discomfort while sitting, you can include that discomfort in your meditation as you include any other experience, and indeed some ancient schools actively sought out painful and austere activities – this is how Gautam Buddha himself got enlightened. But it’s best to seek out comfortable postures and if you occasionally get too  uncomfortable while sitting, then simply move.  (If you find yourself wriggling all the time, that’s an indication to do a more active type of meditation, and/or, make a real decision to Just Sit Still.)

Most people like to have their feet tucked underneath them either by sitting cross-legged or by kneeling on their heels, perhaps with the aid of a kneeling stalk or kneeling cushion.  If you can support your back upright in a fully relaxed posture without a chair, then do so. If not it’s perfectly fine to rest your back. I can hold my back erect easily if I kneel, but not if I sit cross-legged.

I don’t personally like sitting to meditate with my legs in a normal Western chair posture, and don’t recommend it, but you certainly are welcome, if you enjoy it.  A good posture for some is cross-legged, with their back supported, sitting in a regular chair or armchair.

It’s interesting to STAND! Why not? Try it. Just stand and do nothing for 20 minutes.

You can lie down, though I wouldn’t lie under the blankets of your bed to meditate. (Zzzzz …)

Posture influences the type of meditation you will have. Standing supports an alertness type of experience, as does sitting with your back unsupported. Lying down supports a letting-go type of experience, and sitting with your back supported is in between. These are indeed different.  For example, Osho’s Kundalini meditation has a couple of active stages (shaking / dance), then 15 minutes of either standing or sitting with your back erect, followed by 15 minutes of lying down, to embody both alertness and relaxation. So find a posture which feels good both physically and in inner feeling.

Is it okay to meditate in bed to build habit?

No. Of course, if you feel peaceful and meditative while lying in bed, by all means enjoy it. For example, if you spontaneously find yourself in meditation as you wake up in the morning, then lie and enjoy that as long as you like.  But I wouldn’t choose to use lying in bed as a regular place to base a meditation practise.

Should I keep my eyes open or closed?

There are many beautiful meditation exercises with the eyes open: looking at a flower, at the stars, into the eyes of your beloved. For general sitting meditation, close your eyes.

Which meditation technique should I do? Should I stick to one or try many?

Try many. Different people need different meditations. To repeat, for people of Western heritage, sitting on its own is rarely enough and  on its own is often too hard to be any use at all. This is why Osho invented Active Meditations

Best is this  – prevents restless chopping and changing: Try some methods. When you find one you like, do it for a week. Then, make a commitment to do it regularly for 21 days, and after that re-evaluate.

Is there a form of meditation that is better than others?

Yes.  First, different meditation exercises work better for different people. Then, some methods suit different times of day better. Osho for example starts the day with Dynamic Meditation, and finishes it with Kundalini Meditation.  Then, a given person gets different things from different meditation methods; there are several of Osho’s methods that I love and do regularly, other not.

Finally, meditation methods don’t exist in isolation, they are in the context of the teachings of some particular wise person. Many great teachers exist now and in the past who express the same underlying truth in different ways. There are other teachers of lesser calibre.  So for example even the very basic exercise of sitting meditation will have more value in the context of a teacher of deeper insight or who suits your personality better, and will be of less value in the context of some teacher who doesn’t suit you, or who has less depth of understanding.

What is the best breathing method for (sitting) meditation?

The answer to that question is that sitting meditation is not synonymous with regular breathing. There are particular forms of sitting meditation where you breathe in particular ways, but you can sit and meditate perfectly beautifully with unstructured breathing.

A simple form of calm breathing is to breathe in the belly, so the belly moves first, and the chest only expands later (and may not fill very much, in fact), and to make sure the out-breath is rather longer than the in-breath. Traditionally, you count 4 as you breathe in and 6 as you breathe out.

And there are many deep and beautiful ancient meditations where you focus on the breath in particular ways, for example you focus on the point where the outbreath magically turns into the inbreath, or you breath in a structured way.  However as far as sitting meditation in general goes you just breath naturally.

Osho spoke extensively about breathing, but he rarely specified any way to breathe during silent sitting. You just let your breath be as it is, just let everything in your experience be as it is, and be conscious. You consciously know that now you breath is going out, and that now your breath is coming in, with no attempt to control it.