Step One: Stop.
Step Two: Sit.
Step Three: Breathe.
Step Four: Be aware.
These are the simple steps involved in meditation. The first step, stopping, is essential. Our very survival depends on our ability to stop: to stop polluting the air, water and soil; to stop ingesting carcinogens; to stop engaging in hostile international actions in an age of apocalyptic weaponry. Enlightenment also requires a pause. To reach it, we need to cease our constant running from activity to activity, to give ourselves a brief opportunity to simply be. We need to temporarily stop our constant whirlwind of activity and give our minds a break from the never-ending sources of stimulation that assault our senses day and night. Stopping is the first, and most essential, step in meditation.
The second step is sitting. There is nothing more liberating than allowing ourselves to sit quietly in simple awareness for awhile. We can sit in any comfortable position: in a chair, on a cushion, in the half-lotus or full-lotus position. Our minds follow our bodies, and our bodies follow our minds. When we allow ourselves to sit comfortably with no agenda, our minds take their cue from our bodies.
The third step is breathing. Of course, we are always breathing (no breath, no life!), but I’m talking about conscious breathing: awareness of our in-breath and out-breath. As we become aware of this phenomenon that enables our living, it reveals itself as the miracle it truly is. We gradually become aware of our respiration becoming deeper, smoother, and more pliant. And speaking of awareness…
…The fourth step is being aware. Mindfulness meditation can be defined as sitting in awareness of what’s going on within us and around us. It’s not an escape from life, but a wholehearted embrace of it. As we sit in simple awareness of our in- and out-breaths, we become more cognizant of our own mental states. Self-understanding at a profound level becomes possible. What we should and should not do in response to our environment becomes clear. It’s like placing a glass of sediment-filled water on a table and watching it for 20 minutes or so: the sediment gradually sinks to the bottom of the glass and the water becomes clear.
The clarity we achieve through meditation works in the same way. The sediment — unresolved issues, troubled mental formations and tension — all fall away and we are left with a mind like clear, still water.