Counting Meditation Isn’t a Beginner Practice
There I said it. The thing that no one wants to admit.
Counting meditation is one of the harder meditations, not because the technique itself is difficult but because most people either 1) like to start off with something they deem more advanced, or 2) prefer guided meditation.
It was the same with me. I messed around with meditation for two years before I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I was going to a meditation group and getting guided meditation and doing a little bit of irregular practice at home.
So I swallowed my pride and went back to the drawing board, and started with counting meditation. What I didn’t realize at the time is that counting meditation is hard. The easiest meditation you can do is guided meditation. With counting meditation you are on your own. It very clearly shows you how distracted your mind is, so you need to face and let go of any wish that it should be different. If you are the kind of person who wants intensity and peak experiences, you will immediately discard this meditation as “not for you”. The boredom that you imagine from doing it is too unbearable. Unbearable? I thought this was a basic meditation! Then you have the judgements of how you are doing and expectations of how fast you should get better. “I’ve been doing this for X days/weeks/months, I should be good at it!”. Or “OMG I can’t even get to 3? I am so terrible at this!”. And then there is all the emotional stuff you have been ignoring and suppressing coming up to bother you as you sit. How can I possibly sit still with all that? And it sure feels like a waste of time – I could be getting things done!
Ok, so counting meditation isn’t really basic, but you can master it in a matter of months. I will tell you what mastery means in a bit.
Why learn this?
You will always have this practice whenever something difficult comes up in your practice. Later on if you are doing a meditation that brings up really difficult emotions, you can fall back on this to stop yourself from freaking out.
You will learn how to get in touch with your breath.
You will increase your ability to focus and stay in attention, and you will see directly what that means and how you did it.
Your mind will be clear and stable enough to do more difficult meditations. Trying to do more advanced mediations without this base
How do you do it?
Counting is used as an anchor to pay attention to your breath. The point is to pay attention to your breath, not to achieve a high score in counting.
You breathe naturally and pay attention to your belly or whatever location of the body the sensations of breathing seem most interesting.
When you notice yourself breathing in, count. When you notice yourself breathing out, count.
There are a few different ways to apply the counting. You start with counting both the in breath and the out breath. You can also count just on the in-breath or just on the out-breath. Try out the different ways.
Count up to 10, and then start at 1 again. You do this so you can catch if the counting becomes automatic and you’re no longer paying attention to it. When you find yourself counting 13, you know your attention has wandered! No problem. Start at 1 again. This is just a game.
There’s no magic to the 10 count. You can count to 20. Or for a little extra flair, count to 10 and then back down to 1.
There are a surprising number of obstacles that come up when you try to do this mediation:
- Boredom / desire for an intense experience
- Discomfort / not wanting to be with our experience
- Doubt / i cant do this / I dont know if i am doing it right
- Pride / wanting to feel special /
- Trying to control / suppression
- Focusing on numbers instead of the body
- Self judgement
Obstacles are not a problem. In fact, nothing is a problem. Everything that comes up is trying to teach you something. The important thing is to do your best to recognize what’s going on, to allow whatever’s there to be there, and to keep bringing your attention back to the breath and the counting.