My spiritual teacher recently recommended the book, The Mind Illuminated by Culdasa, (a.k.a. John Yates, PhD). He suggested this to help me go deeper into my meditation practice. Despite only being half way though the book, I’ve meaningfully evolved my meditation practice and more in less than a week.
Culdasa wrote The Mind Illuminated to provide a contemporary map for meditation. It weaves together Buddhist wisdom and modern brain science. I highly recommend it for new and experienced practitioners. It’s approachable yet has depth and rigor. In fact, I’ll venture to say it’s the most practical and impactful book on meditation I’ve read.
He breaks down the “Ten Stages” of meditation in fine detail. The very first stage has not one but two goals. The first is to learn how to prepare for the meditation and enter the session gradually. The second is to establish a consistent and diligent daily practice. This stage is really geared towards creating a routine and removing any potential barriers that might get in the way (e.g. lack of motivation).
As I was reflecting on Stage One, a rush of emotions and questions hit me. Despite having a daily meditation practice for nearly six years, I never once prepared for a sitting. Each morning, I would simply take my seat and begin to follow my breath or mantra. I was taught to “simply begin.” But now I was being instructed to follow a prescribed sequence to kickstart my meditations. My inner critic began to wonder, ‘WTF! Have you been doing it wrong all these years?”
The book outlines a six-step process to enter the meditation. This is especially important for new meditators. The idea is to cycle through the sequence as soon as you take your cushion. In theory and practice, they are designed to help “prime” your body and mind so you can settle into the meditation more effectively.
Here are the six points of preparation:
- Motivation: set clear sense of purpose to activate your motivation
- Goals: determine what you hope to accomplish in the session
- Expectations: hold goals lightly and find enjoyment in the meditation
- Diligence: commit to engage wholeheartedly in the practice
- Distractions: perform a quick inventory of things in your life that could be distractions
- Posture: settle into your posture and get comfortable
You are instructed to sit with each these before you move to the meditation object (the breath). The point is to set an intention, commit to work diligently and remove any potential distractions (physical and mental). Once you go through the sequence, you should be primed for the session.
For the past week, I’ve followed this sequence to kick off every mediation. In under a week, the quality of my practice has improved dramatically. This not an exaggeration. I’m not only more attentive but also more aware. The investment of 2–3 extra minutes has been minimal but the impact on and off the cushion has been striking.
While the six-point framework was developed and suited for meditation, I’ve noticed it works incredibly well for just about any activity at home or work. This includes exercising, writing, coaching and even processing email. In fact, I have a friend who uses a variation of it before writing a proposal for a client. You can really adjust and remix this process based on your specific needs or tasks.
Some of the top performers prime themselves before they go into action. This includes elite athletes, musicians and actors. Jason Kidd, the Hall of Fame NBA player, was notorious for having a routine before making a free throw. These priming rituals are a form of meditation. They activate the conscious and unconscious mind.
It turns out that setting intentions and priming yourself before any activity can be a real multiplier. I encourage you to see for yourself on or off the meditation cushion. Pick an activity, give it a try and iterate from there. Go for it.
I learned this from a mentor several years ago: whatever is held in consciousness is communicated to the unconscious. That’s why setting intentions and going inward before an activity or work-stream is powerful and can dramatically improve results. The more that you consciously set your goals and intentions before undertaking an activity the more effective you can become. At some point with enough training, your conscious actions will eventually become unconscious.
All this ultimately leads to higher levels of awareness, attention and performance. How powerful and awesome is that? Good luck.