This is a kind of part II of my post on the benefits of meditation. You can read it by clicking here: Meditation – Making Time For the Present Moment.
Meditation is a practice of “not doing”, it’s asking ourselves to stop – everything, like a mental time out. It is a practice of stillness of the mind and body.
This is one of the reasons I think that for most of us, meditation seems so difficult, weird or out there.
Because we live in a culture where busyness is valued.
Being busy all the time means we are important.
It means we are doing great things, we are popular, we are valued.
But at the same time (as a direct result), we live in a culture of illness and chronic fatigue.
Migraines, low energy, insomnia, anxiety, depression, all accepted as normal and just part of the American lifestyle.
We push ourselves harder to do more and sleep less and because we are so busy making sure we are busy, we eat more processed and fast food, don’t have time to exercise.
It is like a “don’t think – just do/buy/consume” lifestyle but what we usually end up achieving is feeling like crap, being really unhappy and not knowing how we got this way or what went wrong.
Meditation is the opportunity to stop all of this. Just stop, truly rest, observe, breathe.
It still sounds foreign, it’s not what we are used to and it’s nothing most people are ever taught but our bodies and minds truly need caring for, they need kindness and nurturing. Taking the time to meditate is one of the ways we can provide this kind of loving care to ourselves.
And it’s actually not so foreign. If you’ve ever heard the advice for when you are really upset about something to stop, maybe even step away from the situation if possible and take a few, deep breaths to calm down, this is the heart of meditation.
There are many different ways to meditate so trying a few out and seeing what feels right to you is really the key. Below is a basic guide of what I’ve found works and feels right for me.
1. Choose the right time. Pick a time when you can be fully awake but relaxed and without interruptions. Turn off the phone, television or anything that may be a noise distraction. For me, my ideal times are early morning and late at night before bed. I will sometimes set my alarm and get up 20 minutes earlier than normal so the whole house is quiet and everyone else is asleep.
2. Sit. Sit in any way that feels comfortable to you. It can be cross legged on the floor, on the couch, you can sit in a chair with your legs extended, it really doesn’t matter. The most important thing is to find a position that is comfortable enough that you don’t have to move or keep repositioning yourself and where you can completely relax.
3. Close your eyes. Observe any tension in your body you may be feeling and try to release it. I usually start with my shoulders and back, concentrating on those areas and relaxing them. I’ll immediately feel lighter and more peaceful.
4. Quiet your mind. For me, once I am settling in this more peaceful and relaxed physical state, my mind will start racing. It may be a song stuck in my head, worries about the day ahead, thoughts about the past, even wondering what I’m going to make for dinner that night. To settle and calm my mind, I use Thich Nhat Hanh’s technique of mentally repeating a short phrase like this with each breath:
Breathing in, I am breathing in
Breathing out, I am breathing out.
This is a way to distract our minds, stop all the chatter and bring all our awareness to our breathing. It’s also extremely relaxing.
There is no need to fight your breathing, just breath as normal and relaxed as you feel comfortable and mentally repeat this phrase in any pace that matches or feels right to you.
There is also no need to fight any of your thoughts, good or bad. Just observe, as if you were laying on your back, watching clouds (your thoughts) drift by with no judgement. (This is really hard and takes practice so don’t get discouraged if you feel like it’s not working at first.)
Generally, it will take several minutes of repeating this phrase and connecting with my breath for my mind to settle down and most or all of the thoughts to stop.
At this point, I just enjoy the complete and total quiet, the peace that is hard to describe. Sometimes it’s like the feeling of floating on top of the water, very light and calm.
“Our job is to sit calmly and quietly and lovingly gaze in to the darkness in front of us. As we do so, the attention will automatically begin to collect at the single eye (our inner eye). It requires on effort. In fact, any effort we make, any thoughts we have to will ourselves to withdraw, will only interfere with the process, for it means our thinking is activated.”
– Inner and Outer Peace Through Meditation by Rajinder Singh
Some days, it is not as easy as others to quiet my mind so I use a CD a friend gave me and while concentrating on the tones, bring my awareness back to my breath.
At times, I will end my practice with a short intention for my day as well; Today, I will live in the present moment.
Meditation can be incredibly simple and challenging at the same time. It is definitely a practice that becomes easier with time but provides results, sometimes pretty incredible ones. I have personally and successfully used meditation to treat headaches, insomnia, stress and anxiety.
Below is a short list of books and resources for more information and help to get you started. If you’re completely new to meditation or have practiced off and on for years, these are great for both.
Seven Metals Singing Bowls of Tibet by Benjamin Lobst
The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
Inner and Outer Peace Through Meditation by Rajinder Singh
You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh
Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
What Meditation Really Is – http://whatmeditationreallyis.com