Meditation falls into that category of things that seem simple at first glance. Google it, and you’ll find a Himalayan mountain of articles and posts on how to meditate. Many times the advice and guidelines in these pieces seem to disagree with each other. But a lot of it is saying the same thing – just with different phrases and analogies. Investigate that fact further and we can see what makes meditation so complex – us.
Meditation is a simple exercise, but we add layers of complexity. Many times in the interests of blog traffic, selling books, or even selling cushions. We could name thousands of other things we do this to every day. And we don’t even think twice. Ironically, seeing the inherent simplicity in things is a benefit of meditation.
All meditation boils down to a simple premise: sit down, shut up, and let your mind clear.
Why am I adding another post to the mountain?
Meditation is an important part of my day, and an important part of maintaining fitness. If I can convince even one person a) that it is simple, and b) that it is worth doing, then I’ve done my job.
Let’s get started.
Preparing for Meditation
You don’t need much to meditate:
When you meditate is up to you, although I do recommend the morning since it sets the tone for your day. Whatever the time, make sure it is the same time every day. As you practice, you’ll find that having a set time will help you ease into your meditation.
Length of time is another personal choice. I recommend 5 minutes to start, and then increasing when you want. I know we are busy, but, trust me, 5 minutes is there for you. You can keep it at 5 minutes for as long as you want.
I refer to meditation as a practice, but you can also think of it as a meditation habit. It will be important to meditate at your chosen time everyday until it becomes a habit. There are different figures on how long it takes to form a habit. It seems to be popular opinion that performing something 21 days in a row makes a habit. So try this: 5 minutes a day, everyday, for 21 days.
What happens when you miss a day? You sit down at the right time the next day. And the next. That’s it.
You should choose a space for meditation. There is only one rule for this space. During the time you’ve set aside for meditation, that’s the only thing going on in that space. Other things can happen in this space outside of your meditation time. But meditation time is just meditation time.
Something to Sit on
No doubt you’ve picture people meditating sitting in the lotus position on fancy cushions. I use cushions, and you can too, if that’s your thing.
But you can sit in a chair and meditate. Meditation can happen from any sitting position.
Now you have your space, time and something to sit on.
Let’s revisit the main premise of meditation: sit down, shut up, and let your mind clear. Most understand and can abide the first 2 actions. But the third has caused some controversy.
Let me point out two things about our main premise of meditation. First, consider the internal dialog we’re always having with ourselves. Now, shutting up doesn’t seem so doable. Second, the key to accomplishing the third action lies in understanding this shutting up. And the careful wording – “let your mind clear.”
The mechanics of meditation break down into three simple parts. Each connected to the other two, and dependent on the others. These three parts are the body, the breath, and the mind. Notice that you already have all you need to meditate (don’t let anyone tell you different!).
When you are sitting, your butt and each leg or foot should be in contact with the earth or a stable surface on the earth. There is a pragmatic reason for this. If we’re having to adjust our position for comfort or balance, we will not be able to meditate.
Your back should be straight and your head up. Feel the crown of your head pulled up by a string. Your gaze should be at a 45 degree angle; focused at the floor about a foot ahead of you. You can close your eyes, although I find this tells my body it’s nap time, so I keep my eyes opened partway. You don’t want anything too distracting sitting in your gaze.
I place my hands in my lap in the cosmic mudra. A mudra is any of various hand positions that have significance in Eastern thought. How ever you want to arrange your hands is fine. The cosmic mudra puts my hands together, which is significant to me. It also helps me bring focus to my breath – I’ll explain that below.
One final detail related to your body. This is going to seem ridiculous, but experience has shown me how significant it is. We need to talk about your mouth. You’d think telling you to shut up was enough.
We will be breathing through the nose, so the mouth is closed. Your tongue should be lightly touching the back of your top teeth and your upper palate. As bizarre as it sounds, this somehow prevents salivation (or maybe it channels it). Whatever it does, this little tip changed my meditation. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself swallowing. You’ve cut out so many distractions at this point, your mind will have a field day with swallowing. Trust me.
Another tip about your mouth: let the corners curl in a slight smile. I’m not going to explain this one. Just try it.
We all know how important our breath is. But it is so easy to forget, because it just happens. Breathing becomes even more significant in meditation. Take this time to reconnect with the breath.
Breathe in and out through the nose. Breathe deep. You should feel your belly expand with the inhale. And contract with the exhale. When you first sit down, you will want to control the length of your inhalation and exhalation. Try inhaling for a slow count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 8. Try this for 4 or 5 breathes. Then let yourself breathe normal. You may find your breath stays slow. That’s good. Keep breathing.
We’ve said from the start “let your mind clear.” I pointed out that our inability to stop our internal dialog could make this more complicated. So how do we let our mind clear?
Let’s start with a simple truth. Aware or not, our minds are always spewing thought after thought after thought. Nonstop. When we sit still, we just become more conscious of this thought diarrhea.
We cannot stop this stream of thoughts. One of the most misleading meditation instructions is to assume it can be done and then ask you to do it. What ensues is a wrestling match with your brain. You try to subdue it into a state where it is no longer doing exactly what it has evolved to do – think.
When this happens, we’ve set up a good vs. bad situation. You want to get a clear head (good), but your mind keeps spewing out random thoughts (bad). So you engage these marauding thoughts and try to cram them back into your brain. You’re still trying to do this meditation thing. You’re still trying to stifle those thoughts and get clear. But, paradoxically, you are thinking… about not thinking.
You’ve made meditation a struggle and eventually, inevitably, you will give it up. It wasn’t as beneficial as they told you.
So, how can we get clear? First we accept the simple truth. We cannot force our mind to stop thinking. And then we let it go. Don’t spend another moment thinking about thinking. And now we’re meditating!
The simplest way I’ve found to do this is to come back to the breath. Focus on the inhale. Exhale. That’s one. Keep going until you get to 10. Exhale – 10. And next? Inhale. Exhale. That’s one.
Try to experience the breath at a point 2 inches below your navel and midway between your front and back. Your breath will be here between the inhale and the exhale. This is where I find the cosmic mudra helpful, as it sits over that spot.
Thoughts will float up like bubbles in the ocean. The trick will be not to stay with them. Notice the thought and let it go. But you won’t always be successful. You’ll find yourself miles away in time and space having lost count of your breathes. What do you do when you catch yourself? Inhale. Exhale. That’s one.
Frustration thoughts will bubble up as, for the umpteenth time, you return to 1 from… was it 6? Your mind will become restless and fire off salvos of thought. Here’s where meditation practice starts.
Benefits of Meditation
We live in a world where we’re always promised perfection. And we will get that perfection in 6 minutes or less. Or our money back. People promise this with meditation, and others expect it. But, when meditation doesn’t deliver, people quit. They may give some excuse such as time, their high energy not conducive to sitting still, and so on. Secretly, they may feel they failed.
Meditation reveals that there is no such thing as perfection. That perfection is unnecessary as long as we are present for ourselves and for those around us. And that’s what the practice of meditation is at its core. Being there with each breath, and then the next and the next. Because the first breath is already gone.
Meditation teaches us to be patient with ourselves as we return to one yet again. Maybe we make it to 10 in our counting. And we celebrate by returning to one.
I still sit whole 25 minute sessions where I don’t get past 3 as my mind wrestles with my latest blog post. There’s nothing wrong with this. Good and bad are qualities we create and define. When we realize this, it’s easier not to attach to good and bad. We begin to judge our meditation and ourselves less and less.
There are many meditation styles with different focal points other than the breath. I will sometimes incorporate one of these into my own meditation. But I still find myself coming back to the breath.
As the mind becomes clear, we will find room for other things like compassion or creativity.
Give yourself five minutes a day to watch your breath. Be patient and kind with yourself. In time, your approach to stressful situations, and life itself, will become healthier.
Finally, as simple as we try to make things, we have a tendency to bring complication in wherever we can. You may find yourself doing this with meditation. You may become frustrated because you haven’t achieved some sort of bliss. Sometimes, it helps to have people to bounce questions off of. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments or via Facebook.