With any meditation practice, it’s important to do a certain amount of preparation in order to help things go well. But all too often, this preparation is seen as an optional extra and is not done thoroughly, or at all. That’s a bad idea.
Imagine you’re baking a cake, and you want it fast. You want results. You want to get straight to the eating stage with as little time spent on fussing around with ingredients as possible. So you throw some flour and eggs and sugar into a cake tin (Hey! Who’s got time for measuring!) and slam it in the oven. Oh, the gas isn’t lit. Okay, let’s just turn it up full now so that it cooks faster. Yum! Looking forward to your cake? I thought not.
If you want to get certain results (whether a delicious cake or a calmer, clearer mind) you have to set up the right conditions for that to happen. This is an important Buddhist principle called “conditionality,” which states, in part, that if you want x, you have to provide the conditions that allow x to arise. There are no short cuts.
The preparation that we do in meditation is the stage of setting up our postures, deepening our awareness of our bodies, and relaxing as deeply as we can. This preparation is essential if we want to provide the conditions for the arising of a calmer, clearer, less stressed, more peaceful mind.
I call this preparation “Stage Zero” to emphasize that it’s not an optional extra. Setting up the right conditions for your meditation practice to go well is an essential and integral part of your meditation practice.
In a way it would be much better if we called Stage Zero “Stage One” instead. That way there would be less of a tendency to think that you can drop the preparation and just plunge into the practice. Unfortunately, that would be rather confusing, since the stage of counting after the out breath is universally known as Stage One.