Meditation is a solitary practice. You sit alone, close your eyes and focus on your breath. It’s an important technique but to truly balance your mind there is more to it. In Buddhism, the four heavenly abodes, or sublime states, can help you find a greater happiness filled with humility, peace and empathy.
The first step is mindfulness or achieving a more peaceful state of mind. There are so many complicated guides out there but it can be broken down into five simple steps. Through these steps you will be able to feel more centred and more at peace.
1. Sit in a comfortable position
2. Close your eyes
3. Count your breath up to ten
4. Every time you get distracted return to your breath
5. Repeat counting your breath up to ten
You’ll notice distractions and your mind will wander. However it is only through becoming more mindful of your breath that you will begin to achieve a state of peace.
To receive a state of loving-kindness you should focus your attention on more than yourself. It’s just as beneficial to the mind to feel a sense of love as it is to feel peace. What people may find difficult is how different it is to mindfulness:
Before you begin, think of three people in your life:
1. Someone close to you (friends or family)
2. Someone neutral or an acquaintance (a shopkeeper, someone you see on the bus)
3. Someone you dislike (a person you had an argument with, perhaps)
In this technique you can concentrate on these three people, as well as yourself. Loving-kindness is about sharing a feeling of wellbeing with others. When you are in a comfortable position, think of yourself and repeat the phrase ‘may I be happy. May I be healthy’ in your head. This can be done with the movement of your breath.
Repeat that phrase as many times as you wish and then move onto someone close to you, thinking ‘may you be happy. May you be healthy.’ The cycle continues as you echo this with the neutral person and someone you dislike.
Again, like mindfulness of breathing, results come through practice. Only then can you begin to learn to feel love towards all things.
Imagine someone cutting you off in your car – how would you react? With rage? Think carefully about this. Now imagine yourself cutting someone off in your car – how would they react? What would be going through your mind? You may think ‘I’m in a rush, I couldn’t help it’ or ‘Sorry, I had no choice.’ Be with that thought for a while – really think about it.
The state of compassion is about feeling a connection with someone else. When imagining someone cutting you off you see a snippet of a person’s day in which they might be in a rush to the hospital, or have just had the worst day at work. You don’t know. To find a state of compassion you need to:
1. Imagine a scenario where someone annoys you – how do you feel?
2. Put yourself in that position – how would you want someone to treat you?
3. Find a connection between you and that person, no matter how small
When you realise that people make mistakes everday, it becomes easier to feel compassion towards them. Remember: someone else’s life is just as complex as yours.
This ‘technique’ does not require meditation in the ways already described. To receive a state of sympathetic joy, you must spread it. This can come in the form of small gestures towards others. It can be done by teaching people how to meditate or you can spread joy in a simpler way:
Help a stranger
Tell a person to ‘have a nice day’ and mean it
Go to a public place with a ‘Free Hugs’ sign
With joy it is up to your imagination how you spread it.
But why are these practices important? Simple. If you focus on yourself and nothing but your breath you begin to think only about yourself. By using these other three techniques you begin to feel a wider connection with the world.
Try taking a five-minute break out of your day to focus on a different practice. This four-day cycle will help to make you feel more peaceful, loving, empathetic and happy. Try it and you will notice the immediate effects in your daily life.
By Jacob Quirke