Before I begin, this article is not going to tell you exactly how to meditate.
Far be it from me to think I am some sort of westernized Dalai-Lama who has all the answers to achieving enlightenment. I don’t. I’m not even halfway there. But I know what it is like to try, and fail and try and fail and give up.
Then try again, then be frustrated, then give up.
The cycle is endless.
But recently, I have come to a sort-of realization about meditation, so if you’ll take a minute to read on, I’d like to share…
What is meditation all about?
Meditation, for me, is just as it is for the majority of all of you: difficult.
When I was training to become a yoga teacher we meditated every morning at dawn. Each morning we would go into a room, take our regular place with our cushions/blankets etc, sit down and start to meditate.
Well, that was the plan anyway.
We did this solidly for 1 whole month. Several times I fell asleep, but most of the time my mind was just going ‘chatter-chatter,’ springing from what I was going to have for breakfast, to how much I needed to study for my next yoga evaluation, then finally back to ‘damn! I’m still not meditating!’
It was frustrating to say the least. But I’m not the first person to feel this way, and I certainly won’t be the last.
People spend years doing this, we were taught.
Our teachers would say ‘you might sit this way for the rest of your life.’
The idea of trying to meditate for my whole life and never actually calming that crazy monkey mind of mine was enough to aggravate the monkey even more. And if you’ve ever met an angry monkey…it ain’t pretty. Eventually, though I continued (on and off) with my meditative practice, I was almost giving up. I began to meditate less and less, and when I was doing it, I almost settled for letting my mind do what it wants and not even attempting to put any effort in.
It is disheartening, to say the least.
Recently, I had decided (due to periods of stress, anxiety and generally needing a calmer mind) to try meditation properly again.
I attended several different meditation workshops and classes, in order to get the most out of it. I saw the differences and similarities between different teachers, and different techniques to try. But all had the same motive: to still the mind.
What I have learned is that meditation, just like yoga, is different for everybody.
Your meditation is your own personal practice, and if you chat with someone about how the group meditation just went-you will never be talking about the same experience, even if it sounds similar. Your mind belongs to only you, and it took me a while to realize this.
As you continue with your meditation, yes your mind might be bouncing all over the place, but there will be the occasional glimpse of a period of quiet and stillness.
Personally, I get so excited if I glimpse this moment that my mind yells ‘yes! You’re meditating!’ and immediately, it’s gone.
But just those glimpses means you’re doing it.
And even if you don’t feel like you’re glimpsing any sense of inner calm, just sitting for a short period of time in silence, bringing awareness to your breath, is having all sorts of effects on the body and mind, because in modern day life we are not accustomed to having that quiet time. Even if you come away thinking today wasn’t a very ‘good’ meditation, the rest of your day will feel better, calmer, or more energized just from sitting quietly for that short time.
I will share with you two meditation techniques I have learned recently which are both very different, but both have helped me on my path.
The first is breathing meditation.
The simple act of bringing your awareness to your breath as you sit quietly helps to still the mind. The breath is a great tool to use to calm the mind because it is always with us, and we can control it in any way we like.
Next time you are sitting in meditation start to notice the point at which your breath enters and leaves your nostrils.
It is easy to let your mind wander during this because the breath naturally happens, keeping our minds focused only on the breath can be a tough task. But simply trying it can be beneficial, and over time it becomes easier.
The second technique is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the process of bringing awareness to the present as we move through time on a moment-to-moment basis, rather than bringing our focus to a particular breathing technique or mantra.
Mindfulness can be compared to a floodlight shining awareness on everything:
- our surroundings
- our emotions
- actions as they all arise and pass through our lives.
For example, if two people are drinking a cup of tea and ask them why they are drinking that tea one might say ‘I am drinking the tea because I am thirsty and I don’t want to feel run-down later on, and it will wake me up in the morning ready for the day.’ The other person might say ‘I am drinking the tea because I am drinking the tea.’
The second person is practicing mindfulness — they are completely in the moment.
Mindfulness is bringing awareness only to the present action, and not the consequences. The fact is that we do not know what life holds for us, and whilst we can predict and speculate, we can’t fully know what lies in store.
Mindfulness holds an acceptance of this. No more speculation, no more prediction, no more attempts to carve-out your own forecast, just an acceptance of the present — and within this lies an immense sense of peace and freedom, even if we are slap-bang in the middle of unpleasant circumstances. Mindfulness can be practiced in everyday life, through everything we do, thus can be thought of as a moving-meditation.
Next time you are making the bed, eating your dinner or brushing your teeth, try to bring your awareness to what is happening in that moment and you will start to feel a sense of calmness and tranquility.
Daily meditation practice
Having said all of that, I really do still struggle with my meditation practice.
But I think sticking with it and giving just a short period of time each day (I like to do 15 minutes) for your practice can really help. After a while it becomes enjoyable and I look forward to it, rather than thinking of it as a chore.
I think the main thing to remember is to think of meditation as an ongoing practice, just like yoga. A personal, enjoyable practice which benefits you enormously.
Don’t put enlightenment on your to-do list because you may never check it off. But what you will do is find a sense of being which brings you peace and calm…which can never be overrated.