You’ve finally got your butt on your meditation cushion. A major achievement in itself! Now how to begin, to have the best meditation session possible? There is a practice that begins each meditation session in the Buddhist tradition that’s designed to give you the optimum conditions for your sit. It’s called the 7 Limb Practice, because there are 7 steps, or limbs, to it.
You don’t have to be a Buddhist to use this method. You can use the 7 Limbs before you move into the body or main course of whatever practice you are working on. You’ll generate positive energy for your practice and remove negativities and obstacles that could get in the way. Think of it as good meditation hygiene!
- Ask for help. The first step is to call on some help for what you are about to do. You don’t have to do this alone! Call on the presence of a teacher, guide, mentor or any being who inspires you to be your highest self. This guide could take on just about any form – a holy being like Jesus, Buddha or Mohammed, a historical figure such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Theresa, it can be someone in your life such as a family member or friend or teacher who’s goodness you aspire to. Ask them to come and sit in front of you. See them come right away. They are so very happy that you have asked them to come and they are very happy about what you’re doing.
- Appreciate them. Take a few moments to reflect on the good qualities of your guide. Reflect on the good things that they’ve done or are doing. Consider the many ways that their kindnesses have helped you.
- Make an offering to them. Out of this sense of appreciation and gratitude, make an offering to your guide. On your thoughts, you can send them anything that would help them or make them happy – their favourite foods, beautiful music, people they love, piles of riches to fund their projects, blue skies, panoramic vistas. The sky’s the limit. The very best offering you can make them is your practice itself. They really don’t need anything from you – this is all for your benefit, to give you an opportunity to practice generosity and open-heartedness.
- Reflect on your shortcomings. This is your opportunity to clear yourself of obstacles and negativity. Think of one thing you did over the last 24 hours that you’re not so proud about. Consider how it was not a super wise thing to do – not because it was “bad”, but because you know it will only cause you problems and unhappiness in the future. Resolve to refrain from that action for a fixed period of time. Be realistic about it. Don’t say, “I’ll never speak with anger again”. Commit to not losing your temper for the next hour. Then decide on a “make-up” – something positive you will do today as a restitution. Allow yourself to be totally transparent with your guide – they already know everything in your heart, and love you unconditionally.
- Celebrate. Think about something good you saw someone else do. Buddhists say that when you rejoice in someone else’s merits, you automatically accumulate 10% of their good karma for yourself! Think about something so wonderful that you begin to smile. Take some time to feel good about positive things you are doing in your own life too. Be sure to give as much time to this rejoicing as you did your to confession in the previous step. See your guide enjoying all this goodness with you!
- Ask them to stay. Ask you guide to stay with you as you practice – you don’t have to do this alone. Ask them to remain as a presence in your life, continuing to inspire, guide, support, encourage and help you and all other sentient beings. Ask them to always stay in your heart.
- Dedicate it. Take the positive energy of what you are about to do in your meditation practice, and dedicate it to your highest spiritual goals. Get clear on why you are doing what you are about to do. Set a firm intention, or sankalpa, for your session.
Now you’re ready to move on to whatever practice you like next. You might take a little wiggle or stretch here before you settle in for “the main event”, whether you’re working on a lovingkindness meditation, focusing on your breath, mantras or a visualization.
You can really take your time to delve into each of these steps, and give a good 10-15 minutes for the 7 Limbs. Or if you are short on time, or would really like to spend more of your practice on the body of your session, you can keep it much shorter. Once you are familiar with the steps, you can move through it quite quickly, taking just 3 breaths for each step of the practice.
If you’d like to experience this and other meditation practices in person and in community, please join me for a weekly Guided Meditation drop-in at The Yoga Sanctuary Danforth every Tuesday from 4:30-5:30pm. No experience required. No yoga pants required. Just come with yourself and a curious, open mind. Regular class passes apply. Cushions, chairs, blankets and other props are available for your comfort.