The Rules

rule - noun

1.a principle or regulation governing conduct, action, procedure, arrangement, etc.: the rules of chess.2. the code of regulations observed by a religious order or congregation: the Franciscan rule.3. the customary or normal circumstance, occurrence, manner, practice, quality, etc.: the rule rather than the exception.4. control, government, or dominion: under the rule of a dictator.5. tenure or conduct of reign or office: during the rule of George III.

As soon as you close your eyes to meditate, you may become aware of a whole realm of ever-changing inner experiences:

- sensations

- emotions

- desires

- instincts

- rhythms

These sensations, emotions, desires, instincts and rhythms are all there all the time - because we are alive - but our attention is on the outer world. When we allow attention to be called to the inner world, then we are giving life permission to heal us, rejuvenate us, tune us up. So things get quietly intense. If you feel mental noise when you close your eyes to meditate, this is the same noise that is always there, it’s just that now you are focusing on it.

so you have choices about how to pay attention.

Furthermore, as soon as you start to pay attention to something, it will tend to change. Then you have the choice, do I try to keep it the same or do I let it change? For example, if you are paying attention to a mantra (an internal sound), it will tend to fade away into silence. When I put it this way, it’s obvious, fading into silence is good. But in practice, you might wonder whether to allow this fading because it feels like you are losing your grip. You might think you are supposed to exert control.

Your mind will tend to wander. How do you handle this?

There is a set of little tiny skills you can learn, and each one is in essence a way of dealing with each experience that appears, or as they say in meditation circles, arises. Just for this moment, let’s call these skills by the name rules. Because at some point in learning to meditate, everyone wants to know the rules, and has to go through the process of discovering that there are no rules except what works for you, in your body, in your life.

The essence of meditative attention is loving attention.

It takes skill to not harm any part of yourself. ahiṁsā - not injuring anything , harmlessness.

The real rules are the almost-automatic responses you develop for dealing with your inner life - whether you are tired, upset, serene, mad, sleepy, excited; whether you are meditating with the breath, or with movement, or with a mantra.

It is generally more useful to think of skills than rules.


The purpose of training is for you to develop the procedure that works the best for you, in your daily life, so that meditation feels as natural as breathing, and you thrive from the practice. So that if you give half an hour to meditating in the morning, you know it’s worth it, you feel better all day and you function better in what is important to you.

What works is usually the simplest possible thing that feels natural to you. So most of the actual training is unlearning complex habits you bring to meditation, developed out of fear, or habits you developed to deal with your outer world, that do not work in the inner world.

Over the past few thousand years, many different rule-sets have been developed for approaching meditation. There are thousands of different approaches. Each tunes your brain in a different way. Each was probably developed by one person to get through his day, or one teacher to deal with a group of his students. I say his because the meditation traditions, until recently, were almost exclusively male. Meditation was something men did to escape from women. They made lots of notes on their experiences and thus we have a rich literature on meditation going back over two thousand years.

This is the simplest and yet most complete rule set that works to produce competent meditators. You can add complexity and flavor from here. You can start simple.

There are other rule sets - thousands of them. If you study them, always ask, “For whom was this set of rules developed? How did that work for them?”