Dispelling The Meditation Monster And Getting Clear On What Is Meditation
It’s funny how something that is supposed to bring people peace can bring so much distress instead. Whenever I mention meditation to people who don’t practice I get two responses. Either it’s “I don’t believe in that” or “Oh I’ve always wanted to meditate but a) I just don’t have the time, or b) it’s just too hard!”
Fair enough if you don’t believe in meditation (despite the numerous studies done showing how it’s so good for your health - ok, ok, I’ll leave the judgemental snark behind! Tee hee). However for those of you do want to dip a toe in but are too intimidated at the prospect, then this series on meditation is for you. I would love break meditation down so you too may enjoy its benefits.
So what is meditation
Transforming the mind, training the mind, concentration, being present, being conscious, being mindful, being meditative, relaxation. All of these are terms used to describe meditation. They’re all right and yet, you’re not expected to practice all of it at once. Depending on which type of meditation you undertake, you’ll focus one or the other other or a few types of ‘states’. One common thing that people seem to think is that meditation is a process of clearing your mind so you don’t think of anything. That is really hard to do. I’m sure that some people can do it, but even I find it a difficult task. Before you jump on such a herculean task, perhaps a better way to look at meditation is ‘non-attachment to any thought’. To let thoughts happen and not getting attached to them, or even as your mind wanders you return to your present state, these are all more doable than trying to empty your thoughts. Besides there are so many different types of meditation, so if you’re someone who thinks you can’t empty your mind, there are other forms of meditation. So don’t worry, it’s all doable.
So many types of meditations
Yeah, there are many different types of meditation, although the essence of meditation seems to be to get to a state of consciousness and presence, the way one gets there differs. There is Buddhist meditations, Yoga meditation, Taoist meditation, transcendental meditation and many more. However to make things easy, I’ve broken it down to a few that you can begin with. As the series continues, I’ll break each type down even more.
As a beginner, this is probably the simplest way to begin meditating. As long as you have an imagination (and we all do, even if we think we don’t), it’s basically all you need to begin. That and of course someone to do the guiding. This type of meditation usually has someone more experienced walking you through the steps of meditation. They can either guide you to relax your body and observe your surrounding in silence, or sometimes in more ‘western’ type meditations for relaxation you can also be guided to different places and locations, or even for self-healing. This type of meditation can be as short as 10 minutes long or as long as an hour (sometimes more, but not often). It’s easy to find free (or paid) CDs or downloads that you can use. There are even apps for it as well. If you’re finding it hard to imagine the scenarios as they come up, think of words instead and imagine what these words mean to you. Feel the words instead of ‘seeing’ the images in your minds-eye. Most of all have patience with yourself.
The next stage would be to get on concentration meditations. Here you would focus on a single object or word or action such as staring at a candle flame, thinking of a single word, or focusing on your breath. It’s slightly harder than guided meditations because you’re expected to focus your attention on something, and your attention is going to wander. If after five minutes you realise that you’re really thinking of what to have for breakfast instead of focusing on your breathing, no worries. Just go back to focusing on your breath. No stress and definitely no disparaging thoughts!
This is one of my favourite type of meditation and I personally spend 20 minutes daily sitting. Mindfulness true to its name is basically just an observance of thoughts without any attachment to outcome. That might sound all hokey but when practiced daily, it really allows us to see how quickly we tend to judge things/situations as ‘bad’, ‘good’ or anything else. Mindfulness can be practiced not only while sitting but also while doing daily activities like eating, walking and even while being with friends.
Mantra meditation might be a little out there for some but for people who practice regularly, it’s a really powerful form of meditation. Usually practiced by yogis, this meditation involves reciting a single mantra - which can be short like, “Ohm,” or “Aim gurave namah” to something that is long, like a whole prayer. Usually it is practiced using a rosary or mala so you know how many times you’re saying your mantra. The usual yogic way is to use a mala with 108 beads and do three rounds of mantras on said mala.
A very popular form of movement meditation is actually… yoga! Especially ashtanga yoga which links breath to movement. Once you get the breathing linked to each movement, it’s easy to lose yourself in yoga asanas and get pulled into meditation. If you’re go to an Osho ashram, then don’t be surprised to see people fervently dancing in ecstatic dance - which is also a form of meditation - if you can lose your self consciousness enough to ‘meditate’ which I suppose is the point of the whole action. Sometimes the act of gardening, or walking can also be considered a meditation, depending on how liberally you’re willing to use the term.
How often and how long?
This is probably what I get asked the most. How long do I have to meditate? We seem to believe that people who meditate regularly spend hours at a time meditating. Especially when you see Facebook updates of people who have just returned from Vipassana - a 10 day silent meditation retreat. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that that is the standard.
While Vipassana is nice and if you’re inclined to do it, by all means go ahead, it isn’t the norm. Some people meditate as little as 10 minutes a day. Some do 20, some 30 and some 60 minutes. The point if not how long you meditate, it’s the quality of your meditation and the commitment to do it as often as possible. You are after all training your mind.
So how do I begin?
With all this info in mind, I would suggest to start at just 10 minutes a day. Yes, daily. It might seem like I’m asking for a lot out of your busy day, but if you can’t dedicate 10 minutes of your day to yourself, then you really need meditation!
“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
Decide what kind of meditation you’d like to do. I’d suggest with a guided meditation if this is your first time. Set a regular time a day when you won’t be disturbed - setting the same time everyday is best and of course if you can do this just as you wake up you can set the tone for your whole day and start really really refreshed! Make sure that you have everything you need to start (like getting the right guided meditation, the meditation space, etc) so that when it’s time to meditate, you can just begin without any distractions.
I’ll be writing more about meditation here on PurelyB so sign up to make sure you get all the info that you need. Stay tuned!