Meditation involves withdrawing the senses and focusing inwards. However, when we’re just beginning or when we’re being exposed to new practices and meditations, guided audio is a wonderful tool. Use it in any way that benefits you, including outside of formal meditation, such as while soaking in the bathtub before bed.
We want our meditation posture to be totally comfortable, AND to contribute to an alert, clear, and focused mind. When we lie down, we are far more prone to sleepiness and mental dullness, so we don’t recommend it.
However, if you’re injured or otherwise unable to sit as proscribed, definitely meditate lying down. Putting your mind on a virtuous object, no matter the position of your body, will have a positive effect.
When you're starting, the length of your meditation should be short—maybe 10 or 15 minutes. We start with short meditations because we need to build a solid foundation with solid techniques, as discussed here. Just add on time as you progress.
The more you meditate on one object, the more still you become with that object and the deeper you penetrate it.
However, there are many attitudes and ideas that we want to examine and develop in meditation and bring into our lives, right now.
For that reason, many Mahayana Buddhist masters have students contemplate and meditate on a whole variety of topics before ever committing to one single object with which to reach shamatha (meditative stillness).
That’s the approach we follow at GoBeyond.org.
For advanced students who have already meditated on the essential topics and are turning their practice towards reaching shamatha, we can offer personal advice through our coaching by donation. We will also add classes and resources specifically on reaching shamatha in the near future
There's no one answer. For most practitioners, meditation is about clearing obstacles, opening your heart, and growing in wisdom. We advise that you work a meditation as long as it feels relevant to your life and addresses real challenges that you face. Think of a meditation as a tool to address a problem, and as long as you're making progress with that tool, keep using it.
For advanced meditators going for the highest levels of meditation (shamatha), the answer is more definitive: work a meditation until you achieve stillness with that meditation object.
By bringing enlightened images and concepts into your meditation, you have access to an end state of your journey. Without such images or concepts, it's less clear where you're headed.
Further, when you can recognize with wisdom that these enlightened images and concepts are already a part of your mind—you put them there, after all—your progress toward spiritual realization can come much faster.
You're welcome to visualize enlightened wisdom in any form that suits you. The point is to envision the ideal you wish to achieve.
Many people think they're "bad" at visualization, when actually they just have an impossible expectation that they should be able to do it well from the start. That's not how it works.
You need to build a visualization that you'll come back to over and over again, until it becomes as familiar as sitting in you favorite room.
To start, you need to spend some meditation sessions totally dedicated to building out the visualization—one designed exactly to your specs, like you'd design a dream house. Give yourself at least a week—however long you need—just to work on your visualization.
We'll use the example of visualizing your version of an enlightened being. First, start with symbols that you can associate with a particular enlightened quality, and build your visualization around those.
Simple, draping robes could symbolize that this being no longer takes refuge in fleeting, worldly things. Light coming off the body could symbolize perfect love for all beings. The meditation posture and eyes that see through illusion could symbolize enlightened wisdom. These are the qualities that make the visualization have such a positive effect on our minds.
To call up the visualization, you don't have to be able to do it all once. You can think, "you no longer take refuge in worldly, fleeting things," and then see the soft, draping robes. "You love all beings equally and completely," and then see and feel the light coming off their skin. "You have perfect wisdom that sees through ignorance and illusion," and then see their eyes and body in meditation.
Once you get those symbols and the general outline of the body down, work on the environment. Perhaps the enlightened being is sitting across from you in a simple room with soft, golden walls and light streaming through the window. Or maybe the enlightened being is on the top of a mountain, with the vast sky behind her. Use your imagination to build out an environment that you want to return to, again and again. You want to get to the point where you feel like you are in that environment, sitting across from the enlightened being.
To get to that point, you just need to spend time constructing your perfect visualization, and then return to it over and over again.
When we meditate, we want to focus on our meditation object. Music detracts attention from that object.
There’s a difference between relaxing with your eyes closed and meditation. We recommend both—but not at the same time!
Earplugs really help. Beeswax earplugs block out most noise.
If you’re still distracted by sound and noise after choosing a relatively quiet time to meditate, with earplugs, then just treat that distraction like any other, as discussed here.
Sometimes there may be a jackhammer outside your window. In that case, don't worry about it. Sit to meditate for one or two minutes, to keep the habit going, and then let it go for that day.
Caffeine is highly stimulating and so contributes to mental agitation. However, some people find that their minds are almost still asleep until they have their morning caffeine. If that describes you, try having just a couple sips before meditating—enough to wake you up without overstimulating you.
Do what you need to do for now, but as you get more serious about your meditation practice, you will want to reduce that dependence on caffeine.