Caleb Forbes: Meditation: it's for beginners, not just monks
A wise old man is deep in meditation. His legs are pretzeled into a shockingly unnatural, yet impressive, position. Having maintained perfect awareness for many hours, his body begins to float. Satisfied, he gently drops from the air and exits his trance. He is now in perfect harmony with the universe and will continue life as an enlightened being.
This goofy narrative is not far off from the common image of meditation. Meditating is actually much simpler than many of us generally assume. I even began meditating by simply sitting in a chair with my eyes closed, paying close attention to my breath. Although a person can spend a lifetime mastering it, the practice of meditation is neither esoteric, nor does it magically enlighten you. However, it's more than just a mindless trance.
A pretzel of broken legs
When I finally started meditating on the floor, I felt the need to do an impressive contortion with my legs. I was motivated by an imagined image I had of an Indian ascetic who swindled his legs into the full-lotus position and looked super cool while meditating.
After a few months of this, I was enduring a lot of physical pain by forcing my legs into this pose every day. Before I could cause permanent damage to my knees, I read a book and discovered it is, in fact, neither necessary nor healthy to force your legs into uncomfortable positions while meditating. It stunned me, but it's true: The benefits of meditation have nothing to do with whether or not you look really cool while doing it.
Careful, you're drifting!
Basically, as long as you are in a constant state of awareness, you're meditating correctly. This also means you can't just sit there and snooze. In meditation, you focus your awareness on something, such as breathing.
For a long time I failed to do this and routinely drifted out into hyperspace. This occurs because, when you calm down your mind, you experience sensory deprivation if you're not focused on any sensory input.
This induces hypnagogic imagery — those fluttering thoughts and scenes you experience during the descent into sleep. Although this subconscious hyperspace isn't detrimental, it defeats the point of meditating: maintaining undistracted awareness of your breath, which isn't mindless, in fact, it takes devoted mindfulness.
Pure and undiluted awareness during meditation is blissfully inspiring. Unfortunately, five minutes after meditating, I may be totally back to my sporadically awkward self again. Especially for beginners such as myself, this is just the reality of it, since training yourself to be more aware takes time.
If you meditate daily, though, you will at least notice a fresher approach to your day's toils. Meditation doesn't cause you to immediately achieve permanent oneness with the cosmos, but by sitting down and focusing on something as simple as your breathing every day, with effort you can nurture an awareness to more consciously live your life.