By Leo Babauta

You guys were generous enough to submit some of your questions about meditation and mindfulness, and I have done my best to answer!

Just note that my word is not final on any of this — I’m sharing my perspective, but you should explore it yourself and see what you find to be true.

Question 1: Mixing Meditations?

Q: Is it ok to do few types of meditation in one day and do that way every day? Let’s say I do count my breaths in the morning, then concentrate my eyes to the flame in a midday and do the smile meditation in the evening where I scan all of my internal body organs and systems, smile to them and thank them for working properly, keeping me healthy and happy.

I do suffer from a lack of concentration and worried wouldn’t that would cause even more confusion. My mind wanders the whole day all over the place, so keeping focused is my main concern right now and that is why I carrying on with mindfulness course on February as well.

Leo: Yes, absolutely! In my experience, any kind of mindfulness exercise is beneficial. Doing one kind of meditation for a long period of time (say 30-60 minutes) is of course very good for developing not only mindfulness but concentration and patience. But doing a mix of meditations (sitting, walking, eating, gratitude, compassion meditations, for example) is also great and definitely helps move you in a direction of developing greater concentration and mindfulness.

Most people suffer from some lack of concentration (to varying degrees, of course), and in my experience it gets better the longer you stick with the meditation habit. Take it in small doses if needed, and very gradually increase the length of your sessions.

Question 2: Thinking vs. Being?

Q: In the moment, if fully present, many of the non-being present thoughts/thought-created emotions don’t seem to exist. So, is being fully present/mindful simply noticing a non-presence, and in the moment of doing, thus returning to presence – or is it necessary to apply thinking to work out what you were thinking, feeling, triggers etc. If so, doesn’t that take you back into thinking?

Leo: Great question! First, wonderful observation that thoughts don’t seem to exist when you’re fully present in the moment (and thought-created emotions tend to drop away as well). If you can practice this regularly, you’ll see great benefits, in my experience.

But to answer your question … do you need to apply thinking to analyze what you were thinking, feeling, triggers? I would focus on staying present, and not worry to much about analysis. The danger with using thinking analysis is that you get caught up in the thoughts, and that becomes what you’re doing in meditation. It will happen if if you don’t try, btw, and that’s OK too, especially if you notice you’re doing it and wake up from that.

My experience is that the best practice is to stay with the immediacy of the present moment, and not drop into analysis during meditation (at least, not on purpose). The triggers and thoughts will make themselves apparent over time, even without purposely stopping to think about it, because they will keep repeating themselves. That said, I think a bit of reflection is really helpful, especially after meditation. If you want to journal about your experience, you can reflect on what was happening and learn from your patterns.

Question 3: Eating Before or After?

Q: Should I meditate before or after food?

Leo: There’s no right answer here. Both can work. However, lots of traditions and teachers recommend that you meditate on an empty stomach — don’t eat for at least two hours before meditation. Their findings are that eating a big meal and then meditating can cause sluggishness. That said, if you eat before meditation, you should absolutely not use that as a rationalization not to meditate.

My recommendation is that you try both and see what you find. Does eating on a full stomach make your meditation sluggish? Is an empty stomach more conducive to concentration? As with all things meditation, investigate!

Question 4: Counting Breaths

Q: Sometimes when I am meditating I have thoughts or even images come by but they are faint and fleeting. They just come and go and I can still be aware enough to keep track of my counting so I don’t start over at 1. Sometimes I get totally lost (though as not often as I used to) and lose track of my count. That is when I will start over at 1. Is that the right strategy?

Leo: This is such an excellent question, and one that I often deal with myself. I totally empathize! When I first started this practice, I would start over even at the slightest hint of a thought or image … but a teacher told me that if you just have a faint thought, the beginning of a thought, there’s no need to start the counting over again. It’s only if the thought is fully formed and pulls your mind completely away from the breath that you should start the count over at one. So you’re pretty much correct — however, you don’t have to be totally lost in thought to start over, but just have a fully formed thought (as opposed to a faint flicker of thought or the start of thought).