People have often added a lot of unnecessary mystery and complexity to meditation, making it seem out of reach and inaccessible for many of us. In reality, meditation is an easy and extraordinarily effective mechanism to dramatically improve our health and wellbeing. However, it does take commitment! And no, its unlikely any time soon you’re going to “reach enlightenment”, become a Buddha or achieve satori!. But what it will certainly give you is a steadily increasing sense of peace of mind, calmness, and a reduction in anger, fear, sadness and unwanted thoughts; but don’t expect it all overnight!
Meditation is not complicated. One Zen master, when asked how to meditate effectively, replied “just sit”. And you don’t have to be able to sit in the lotus position or even cross legged either. While things like having a straight back can help make your meditation smoother; they’re not essential. If you have trouble sitting on the ground or keeping your back straight, simply keeping comfortable and still for a period of time is all that it takes. Sitting on a chair is fine.
There are many different types of meditation – choose one that seems right for you. All of them paradoxically use the power of your mind to calm your mind, through focussing the attention on a single thing. Many meditation techniques use the breath as a natural focus point; simply turning your attention (and returning your attention) to each breath in and each breath out.
All of our minds have a common tendency to flit from one thought to another-constantly. Meditation is a mind exercise (some people refer to it as “mindfulness”) whose intent is to gently bring your attention back from those wandering thoughts to the object of your focus.
Without willpower or effort, simply gently returning to the focus point (in this instance, your breathing) –again and again, steadily ( but slowly) increases the capacity of your mind to stay focused and attentive on where you are right now, instead of in the past or future. But expect that your wandering mind will tell you things like “ this isn’t working”,’ I’m bored”, I’m hungry” or “did I really lock the back door this morning?” and other stuff like that. Just gently bring your thought back to the focus again.
Paradoxically, thinking about your thinking is still thinking about “other stuff”- don’t worry about it and re-focus! Thinking about how enlightened you are becoming is still thinking too! – get over it!
It’s usually recommended that you sit still and focus for about 20 minutes each session. Having an empty stomach and an empty bladder helps. At first, 20 minutes may seem like an endless stretch of torment, but in time it will become something you look forward to. Two sessions a day are most common; but again, there is no right and wrong about this. If you find yourself wanting to meditate for long stretches of time throughout each day, it’s likely you need to get out and socialize!- we are social beings after all… and meditating with others seems to increase the power of the meditation for each of the individuals present exponentially.. I’d suggest though, that before you go on a meditation retreat in the forest, you get used to meditating alone for a period of time.
That steadily improving focus (and don’t expect it to happen overnight; in fact you may not even notice it at all till someone says how much calmer you seem to be these days!) gives you less time for your mind to worry about all those other things that aren’t happening to you right now, allows you to retain more focus and clarity, and over time, to experience the everyday joy of simply being.
The meditation tools you will find on this site may help to bring you to a calmer state quicker through tools like entrainment of your brainwaves – but they are by no means essential.
As the Zen master said- “just sit”.
Meditation should not be confused with “mindfulness” which, while closely related in intent, uses a range of specific exercises aimed at focussing the mind on our feelings and bodily sensations and may include components of meditation.
I often hear people say; “I cant do meditation”. To me, that’s like saying,”I can’t exercise”. Focused meditation takes time, persistence and practice. Think of your mind as just a wild child! For as long as you can remember, (literally) you’ve never given it any rules or guidance. It’s been left to roam anywhere it wants to, whenever it wants, and when you start laying down the rules, it ain’t going to like it!
As someone said to me not so long ago: “I think, therefore I feel”. Maybe that’s a little simplistic, but it’s largely true. Most of our emotions, except for those delivered via our subconscious or our primeval automatic responses to threat and pleasure, are the direct result of our conscious thought processes. If we can focus our thoughts more finely, through the regular “mindgym” of meditation or mindfulness, we can learn to escape the pain of those constant repetitive negative thoughts, or the reminders of the grief or those traumas we have experienced; and we can become much more open to the direct experience of “right now” and all the joys that holds. That doesn’t mean we bottle up our emotions as they arise with our thoughts, and hide them away. It simply we means we experience them and then let them go. We are no longer at the mercy of the randomness of the past we have experienced.
Making yourself sit in your meditation position at a regular time and place each day (ideally twice a day before meals) helps to bring your mind into the space where you can gently bring your thoughts back to whatever your choice of focus is, time after time. Be patient with that wild child!