Even experienced meditators sometimes have a hard time keeping concentration during meditation sessions. To be able to tame and calm your mind is incredibly difficult. Our minds are never empty of thoughts or feelings; it’s always thinking about something or engaging with an emotion. So to be able to calm it for more than a few seconds takes immense amounts of practice and discipline.
There are several ways and techniques to try and keep your mind concentrated on one thing. Anapanasati (mindful breathing) is the most popular and most widely used in Buddhism. Chanting is also a great technique and it’s the tool I use to find concentration. When you’re chanting a mantra during meditation, your mind is too busy focusing on the mantra that it makes it hard for thoughts to bombard your mind. Though occasionally thoughts will arise and distract you, just be mindful of them and go back to the mantra.
At least half of my one-hour meditation sessions I’m chanting (usually Om Mani Padme Hum). The rest of the session I concentrate on my breathing. When you’re able to semi-tame and calm your mind by chanting, your mindset will still be semi-tamed and calm, so you should use that time to concentrate on your breathing. This technique is what works best for me – chanting and then breathing, versus just concentrating on breathing or breathing and then chanting.
Because one of the most heard of cons about mindful breathing is that it gets boring fairly quickly, it’s a good idea to at some chanting, or any other method of concentration you might prefer. Though mindful breathing might be boring sometimes, it’s a very important practice to try and master. Even experienced meditators are still practicing to go beyond the very first levels of meditation, so it takes several years to really be able to know your mind and be able to tame and calm it enough for one-pointed concentration.
Serious meditators and monastics practice meditation for hours a day, as laity, we have that option as well, but isn’t necessary. A good amount of time for meditation is at least one hour. Obviously, we don’t want to meditate right before bed, because we’re tired and might fall asleep. An ideal time is in the morning or mid-day while you’re fully awake and are able to be mindful enough of your thoughts. Because just being able to relax your body and your mind takes about 10-15 minutes, an hour is an appropriate amount of time for meditation. Though, if you’re fairly new to meditation or can’t sit for that long, you can gradually work your way up. Start with 10-minute sessions for at least a few weeks, then gradually add five-minutes for another few weeks, and so forth. When I first started meditating over eleven years ago, it took me a few months just to make it to 30-minutes! So don’t start with a big number, because you want to get your body used to relaxing in a certain way and in a certain posture, and you want to train your mind to not bother you with wandering thoughts.
Smile and be well!