THE BLOG
01/22/2015 04:28 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

How to Set Up a Meditation Practice at Home

courtesy Hwansan Sunim

In my recent posts ("How to Meditate Sitting in a Chair, Parts 1 and 2," "How to Meditate Standing Up," and "How to Meditate Lying Down"), we learned how to meditate while sitting, standing, and lying down, which are the three physical postures people assume the most when they aren't moving. Meditating while not moving is the "quiet" form of Son meditation and is distinguished from the "active" mode of meditation in which you're actually physically moving while meditating. We'll get to the active mode later. For today, let's begin to consider in the most practical terms possible how to integrate the quiet forms of meditation into our daily life.

First, as I've mentioned repeatedly, meditation is a complex procedure, just like driving a car or using a computer, that requires us to develop the mental skill of directing our attention while simultaneously regulating our breathing pattern and posture. Because we're overseeing multiple mental and physical processes, we're going to need a fair amount of practice before meditating comes to feel, first, natural and then, later, automatic. Most likely, you committed time, energy, and possibly even money to learn how to drive a car and use a computer. Meditation incurs no financial cost, but still you must be willing to commit a certain amount of time and energy.

If you take the time to practice meditation regularly, just as you can now operate amazingly complicated machines like computers and cars almost without thinking, you'll be able to meditate -- which is to say, operate your own mind and body -- with minimal effort. It's simply a matter of skill acquisition. Just like learning a tennis swing or a dance step, we need to practice something until we can do it without even thinking about it. And if we need to practice something to that degree, it's helpful, if not necessary, to practice according to a regular schedule.

Here's a simple meditation schedule.

Recommended Quiet Son Meditation Schedule

1. Waking Up: In the morning, when your eyes open and your mind slowly shifts into wakefulness, don't get up right away.

2. Instead, gently assume correct posture for meditation lying down. (Please refer to "How to Meditate Lying Down" for detailed instructions.)

3. Just as when we turn on a computer we have to wait for it to come online, we now treat our mind and body with the same care and concern. We meditate as we lie in bed and give ourselves the time we need to regain mental clarity and physical readiness. So meditate for about five minutes. We don't have to meditate too long here. We're just getting ourselves online and giving ourselves a little practice at meditating in this position.

MEDITATION TIP: There are two difficulties here that beginners need to overcome. First, when we wake up, we may be so groggy that we simply forget to meditate. We may already be in the bathroom, brushing our teeth, before we realize that we were supposed to meditate before getting up. That's okay. It's going to take a little trial and error before meditating in bed becomes habit. Second, we may fall back asleep while meditating. If you have trouble getting up in the morning, it may be helpful, when you wake up and open your eyes, to lie in meditation for only a minute or so, then get up, walk around the room a little before practicing a few more minutes of meditation lying on a blanket or yoga mat on the floor. Be experimental in your effort to learn how to start the day on a meditative note.

4. After we finish this initial meditation lying down, we can go wash up, stretch out a little, and then perform a more rigorous session of seated meditation. (Please refer to "How to Meditate Sitting in a Chair, Parts 1 and 2" for detailed instructions.)

5. Here we want to put in some meaningful practice time so see if you can meditate for a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes. Over the days and weeks ahead, work to increase the time of each meditation session until you can meditate for 30 minutes. If you're really serious about meditation, keep going after that until you can meditate for a full hour. An hour is the length of one meditation session in Son Buddhist meditation halls. If you can manage an hour of uninterrupted meditation, you'll be meditating like a real Buddhist monk!

6. In order to reinforce the habit of daily morning meditation, reserve a particular place in your home exclusively for meditation. You can place your meditation chair in a quiet corner or in front of a blank wall or a window with a nice view. Bear in mind that this is your meditation space now and it should be treated with reverence and care. Keep it clean and uncluttered -- don't hang clothes or put household items on your meditation chair when you're not using it.

7. Burn incense when you meditate. Not only is the fragrance calming, your meditation chair and space will become suffused with it over time. Whenever you pass that spot, you'll smell the incense and it will remind you to meditate. And when you meditate, the fragrance will deepen your meditative experience both through its calming effect and its association with all of the other times you've sat in that chair and meditated.

8. Over time your meditation corner and chair will assume profound significance in your mind and in your life. With little effort and minimal cost, you will have established your own meditation hermitage right in your own home. Having said that, I'd like to suggest that you don't go overboard in decorating this space with symbolic items. Don't adorn it with bells, statues, candles, crystals, paintings, or other so-called "spiritual aids." These are distracting. Remember that we're using this space to direct our attention inward, into the workings of our mind and body. Let's not surround ourselves with things that pull our attention back out to the periphery. Simplicity and modesty are the keywords for developing our personal meditation space.

9. After morning meditation is complete, go and do what you have to do for the day. (In my next blog post, I'll share instructions on how to incorporate meditation into our daily tasks and activities.)

10. At the end of the day, when you're washed and ready for bed, see if you can build a habit of practicing seated meditation as literally the last thing you do before getting into bed. If possible, perform seated meditation for about the same amount of time as you did in the morning.

11. Then, go to bed and meditate as you lie there until you slip into sleep. Don't worry about how long or short you're able to meditate at this point. Just let yourself fall asleep as you breathe, relax, and meditate on the "Yi-mwot-go?" question. (For a detailed explanation of "Yi-mwot-go?" please refer to "How to Meditate Sitting in a Chair, Part 2.")

12. With regard to standing meditation practice, once you become proficient at seated meditation, it will be relatively easy to meditate while standing. Nonetheless, you may want to schedule standing meditation sessions, say, once a week for a maximum of 15 minutes to gain skill and facility. Don't try to schedule long sessions of standing meditation. Unless you've developed exceptional meditative ability, you'll find that it's hard to maintain balance for long durations while standing.

Now we have a meditation schedule and we're ready to begin practice in our own home. But just because you're ready, that doesn't mean everyone else around you is ready for the new meditating you.

If you live alone, the main problem is that you have no social support in your living space, no one to scold and encourage you when you don't keep to the schedule. In this situation, I'd like to recommend that you find a meditation buddy, someone you can meditate with at least once a week. You could find a meditation center. Going a step further, you could go out and create your own meditation community. You can even do this online, using video conferencing to meditate "together." Be inventive! But don't forget what tradition has to teach: In monasteries, it's the social pressure of the community that keeps us on our toes and on track, even when we feel like taking a break. So if possible, don't try to go it alone.

If you live with others, I'd like to suggest that you enlist their support or at least persuade them not to interfere. Unless they're already interested in meditation, however, I wouldn't recommend trying to persuade them to meditate with you. Most likely, they'll feel you're trying to convert them religiously and won't react favorably. As I explained above, to gain social support it's best to find a new meditation buddy or community. For reference, you should know that the Buddha advised that his teachings should be spread by example, not persuasion.

So if you want people to follow you in your meditation, in your effort to awaken and begin your life anew, then, to paraphrase Gandhi, the best thing is to embody the change, the enlightenment, that you want for your loved ones, your friends, and the world. Show what meditation can do for them by showing what it does for you. I wish you the best of luck in your meditation.

Happy New Year!

Palms together,

Hwansan Sunim

All 50 episodes of the first season of our Son Buddhist guided meditation TV program, "Son Meditation in English with Hwansan Sunim," as well as several of Hwansan Sunim's interviews and speeches can now be viewed on the Youtube channel, "Hwansan Sunim: Son Meditation for the Modern World." For information about Hwansan Sunim's appearances and activities, please visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/seonbuddhism.