Images of Monks perched on the mountain tops of Tibet make meditation look difficult. Long haired, flower powered meditating Guru’s fuel the stereotype that meditation is for nut-bars. Words like Zen, Buddha, Tao, and Lama invoke the belief that meditation is an eastern religious practice.
Here’s the truth; if you want to begin a practice of Meditation you have to forget everything you think you understand about meditation.
· Meditation is simple, like breathing
· Meditation does not make you a nut-bar…unless of course your true nature is that of a nut-bar
· Meditation is not a religious practice, but most every religion practices meditation in some form or another. Eastern religions call it what it is; meditation. Western religions most often disguise it as prayer.
Hopefully these 3 truths wash away any preconceived notions, religious guilt and performance anxiety.
With a clean slate and a clear conscious how do you ……meditate?
Good question –
In a quiet, uncluttered space where you won’t be disturbed by people, by phones, by the dog needing to lick your face and make sure you are okay.
How you sit is up to you. You can sit on the ground cross legged, you can sit on your calves, you can sit in a chair with your feet on the ground. You can sit on a meditation cushion (zafu). Sitting in a chair is easiest in the beginning because it is the most comfortable. Sitting cross legged on the floor if you haven’t done that since grade 3 will have you focusing very quickly on how uncomfortable you are.
The important part about sitting is that you are comfortable. Saying this I try to avoid being too comfortable like say…lying down. Sleep comes much too easy.
The keys are comfort, tall posture and maintaining connection to the ground or the floor – this all promotes exceptional energy flow and helps you maintain concentration.
What do you do with them? – whatever you want, whatever is comfortable. You don’t have to maintain a ‘hand position’ I like to lay my hands open, palms up on my lap.
Keep them gently closed and focus them on the space between your eyebrows – heard of the 3rd eye? This is where it is, the space of intuition.
At the beginning I always like to take 2 or 3 deep cleansing and relaxing breaths. Breath in through the nose all the way into your lungs, fill them all the way up. Then release all of that air slowly and completely through the mouth. Concentrating or ‘following’ these breaths in and out – feeling the air move into your nostrils down your windpipe, feeling your lungs inflate and then feeling the air move back out of the body, deflating the lungs and moving out of the mouth. I find these breaths help focus your concentration and signal your body that it’s time to relax into meditation.
After those first 2 or 3 cleansing breaths, the rest is just breathing; natural breathing. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale – your job now is to just notice the breath.
Notice the inhale, notice the exhale. Notice the inhale, notice the exhale.
Sometimes it is easier to concentrate on the breath if you attach it to a mantra. My favourite is So Hum – So silently on the inhale Hum silently on the exhale. So Hum means – I am. I Am works too or Breath In – Breath Out. …Whatever you like to say.
This is the part that everyone most wonders about. What am I supposed to do with my mind? What am I supposed to think about while I’m trying not to think about anything? Think about your breath, it is your anchor, focus on it.
Here is what will happen:
You will focus on your breath So Hum – So Hum – So Hum – So Hum – the cat needs foods … notice this and go back to your breath ..So-Hum
So Hum – So Hum – So Hum – So Hum – I can’t believe that ass I work with….notice that you work with an ass and go back to your breath…So Hum
So Hum – So Hum – So Hum – So Hum – So Hum – don’t forget to make that eye doctors appointment…notice that you need to do this and go back to your breath…So Hum
So Hum – So Hum – So Hum – So Hum – So Hum – So Hum – So Hum………. I need to start that diet (Are you noticing a pattern here?) ….So Hum
Meditation is training the brain to stay on task. Eventually your mind learns to fall into a place between consciousness and sub-consciousness that some refer to as the ‘gap’. You breathe more and ‘think’ less. The gap is where the answers are, where your spirit speaks to you, where you are honest with yourself.
I’m not going to lie, the Gap can be a scary place and you might be surprised by the memories and worries that are hiding there waiting for you to acknowledge them. It is really hard to explain that to someone – it is something explained best by experiencing it. Once you do, the gap will become a place of great peace and joy, a place where you can vacation to at a moment’s notice anywhere you are. You will come to love the gap.
A few little tips and tidbits
How long do you sit? As long as you like, start with 5 minutes each day, work your way up. 20 minutes is very comfortable. It takes time to relax your mind into meditation; once you are there you want to enjoy it for a while. Don’t rush into meditation or out.
How long has it been – If you are not used to being quiet, 3 minutes can seem like a week. Take the guess work out and remove your focus from ‘how long’ by setting a timer. I use the one on the microwave – I can hear it from other areas of the house, it only beeps once and doesn’t frighten me out of the gap.
You might experience some strong emotions, it’s not unusual to laugh, cry, feel rage or fear and those emotions might come right out of the blue, unexpected and take you by surprise. This is good, just acknowledge them, feel them and let them go just as they came. This is you—healing.
How do you keep from getting stuck?-
It can be hard sometimes to move back to the breath, especially if an issue arises that consumes you—an argument or conflict. It helps sometimes to visualize that you are sitting on a riverbank; thoughts come up and you watch them float in front of you, down the river and they are gone. Go back to the breath and watch the next thought float by. You aren’t trying to solve any problems here – you are just acknowledging that they exist and watching them float away down the river. The solutions will come in their own time – usually when you are not meditating.
Some people find it helps them relax – I find it sets a tone for my sitting time and distracts my concentration.
Guided Meditations –
Are a fantastic way to begin meditation. I did guided meditations for months to start. They keep you focused, on track and teach you along the way. Eventually mix silent meditations in with your guided meditations so that you learn and become comfortable under your own power.
The Chopra Centre online has some great guided meditations to enjoy for free. I like this best because I was a little concerned that YouTubers with guided meditations may be planting subliminal messages in my untrained brain – LOL if you like but….I promise the thought will cross your mind.
Yoga before meditation = amazing results.
Yoga before meditation = amazing results.
The minutes after Meditation –
I usually find the time right after meditation to be a time of very clear thinking – this is usually where the solutions are found. It is good to stay quiet and enjoy the peace of this space for some time following meditation before you jump back into things, electronics and conversations.
There are so many forms of meditation and practice, so many theories, books and schools of thought. You can always expand and grow your own practice. Add and subtract elements as you feel suit you. I begin each ‘sit’ with a short prayer. The point is that there is no right or wrong way to do this. Spending the time on yourself is the point – as long as you are giving yourself that gift – you are doing it just right.
Have none. No two ‘sits’ will be the same – some days it will be hard, some days it will be easy , some days you will be able to endure 3 minutes some days you will feel capable of 3 hours. Some days you may receive a breakthrough message, some days you may get nothing. Sometimes you may sit for weeks with no changes, no insight. It is what it is – come, sit, breathe, leave. Come again tomorrow. There is no judging, rating or analysing in meditation. Meditation takes time to learn, commit to a time frame and stick with it. One truth about life (and meditation) 'great things usually happen right about the time you are ready to give up'.
Your experience with others who meditate; ask for help, tricks, favourite books and tools.