Meditation is really the basis of all inner work. If there is one book I recommend on it, it's Meditation for the Love Of It, by a teacher of mine called Sally Kempton - it is a lovely book for beginners but also for those of us who meditate regularly. Often when I find my practice slipping, I go back to that book to remind me the bliss that meditation really is or in fact the bliss within you that it can help reveal.
In the book I'm reading, Rinpoche very gorgeously says, meditation is really the practice of bringing the mind home. There are many ways to meditate, but I have practiced the below three, which incidentally are also the ones that the Rinpoche speaks about. They are to be done in sequence:
Using an Object: This really depends on what appeals to you the most. A picture of a deity, a statue of buddha, a meditation maala - for me it's a ceramic bowl that my friend made for me, I usually fill that up with water and keep it in front of me, and watch that for the first few minutes of meditation.
Reciting a Mantra: This is really my favourite technique, one that immediately puts me in the state of stillness. Recite any mantra close to you with deep attention, let your breath, the mantra, and your awareness become slowly one. Rest in the profound silence that follows.
Watching the Breath: The breath is known as the vehicle of the mind. During meditation keep the breathing very natural. I like to focus on the out-breath. I also like to think of the exhale releasing all that is not needed in me. As a combination of the mantra chanting and watching the breath exercise, Sally recommends using the mantra So'Ham, coordinating your inhales and exhales with So and Ham. In her words: "Listen to the syllables as you repeat them. Allow your attention to focus more and more fully on the Mantra's syllables and tune into the sensation that the mantra creates inside you. When thoughts arise, as soon as you notice yourself thinking, bring your attention back to the mantra. If your attention wanders, bring it gently back to the mantra. Little by little, let the mantra become the pre dominant thought in your mind."
What does the mind do when you're meditating? It stays present and aware, devoid of any internal commentary, even let go of inner dialogue like "I am breathing in, I am breathing out." Do not tax the mind, let your body remain as it is and the breath as you find it. "The very nature of the mind is such that if you only leave it in its unaltered and natural state, it will find its true nature, which is bliss and clarity."
It is interesting how we often get so attached to just these steps. I love chanting and often I forget how the chanting is just a method to get me to the state where the mind is focused or rather, it helps un-focus the mind from the day to day. One needs to eventually meditate in silence letting the above three tools fall away once they've achieved their purpose.
We will do more meditation in our classes and I'll be adding only meditation sessions to our weekly class schedule, so we can take time to specifically focus on these methods.