Buddha was asked, “What have you gained from meditation?” He replied, “Nothing!” However, Buddha said, “let me tell you what I lost: anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear of old age and death.”
For many, grasping the concept and practice of meditation is elusive and thought to be something that requires a deep, super-abstract, and difficult mental voyage into the unknown. That is so far from the truth. Meditation is the practice to bring us back to what has been there since day one and just like the above story says, it is the layers of stress anxiety, fear and anger that we have grown along the way that are stripped. Meditation is a training of the mind just like running is a training of the body. We need to constantly work at stripping away those layers and that is like running a marathon. It’s a process.
With that said, there are many different meditation practices throughout the world, most of which are affiliated with a particular religious practice in which there is very strict meditation etiquette. However, if you’re reading this article for some basic tips from someone who enjoys meditation for meditation’s sake then you’re exactly where you need to be!
So, let’s get started!
Step One: Find an Almost-Quiet Place
Meditation can be done anywhere. Really. But when you’re first getting started, it’s best to find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted by others. General outside noise is ok but if you can find a place away from everything, that’s where you want to be. Because you will be confronted with your thoughts racing through your mind, it’s ideal to have a place with less outside noise as possible.
When I truly learned how to meditate, I was in an isolated Zen center nestled in the woods and I still had a hard time with all the mental chatter! So as a beginner, isolation is key.
Step Two: Sit
Once you’ve found your spot for meditating, take a seat. Some like to sit with their legs folded in with the heels close to the thighs while others simply sit on a chair with hands on their knees, feet flat on the floor. Some chose to lay down but I would advise against that at first because the busy, chatty mind will think this is sleep time and shut down. This is something you don’t want to do during meditation. Meditation isn’t time to sleep. There’s a separate time for that.
Thus, find a seated position with your back unsupported (unless you have a medical condition that requires support) and your posture from head to pelvis is straight, almost as if a string is holding you upright. This will keep the body and mind alert and focused and less likely to fall asleep, as most beginners find themselves doing very easily when beginning a meditation practice.
Step Three: Breathe
Ok, don’t make this part more complicated than it needs to be. The practice of meditation is to calm the mind from the chatter we do consciously and subconsciously. Anxiety is the product of worries we create by our thoughts and oftentimes translates into a physical manifestation of shallow breathing, then panic, and ultimately a number of physical and mental ailments. Depression, anger, etc are all fueled by our thoughts about what it is that caused the anger or depression in the first place. And before we even realize, we have created a horrible story that just adds fuel to the fire of anger or depression.
Meditation offers a sort of “time-out” or clearing of these thoughts so that we can relax, re-center, and re-assess our lives in a more clear, clean and calm state of mind. And the way to doing this is to “train” our mind.
Training the mind simply involves giving it something new and less harmful to focus on rather than allowing it to dwell on how much we hate that nasty co-worker who stole my string cheese from the company refrigerator. I digress.
Breathing. That is what we focus on in meditation. Or at least one of the things that can be focused on. By following the breath in and out of the nose (while the mouth is closed) we ever so gently bring (“train”) our mind to come back to the breath. You can also follow the rustling sounds of the wind moving the tree branches back and forth, or even gently notice the dog bark, the bird chirp. Whatever you gently train your mind to focus on that’s occurring in that moment is what’s desired.
Step Four: Set a Timer
I would set my iPhone timer for 20 or 30 minutes and not move until it chimed. If that sounds like an eternity, start small with 5 minutes and work your way up. Just commit to the time you set. And don’t let texts, emails, etc interrupt you! If you notice them coming in, just acknowledge and keep on breathing.
Step Five: Enjoy the Process
Meditation isn’t all about feeling a “high” or a constant experience of pleasure. Some thoughts that have been tucked away might come to the surface completely unexpected but that’s ok! Your foot might be completely numb from attempting to sit in a full lotus position your very first time meditating but that’s ok too! Simply readjust and keep breathing. Meditation is not about no pain, no gain. Some thoughts that arise might be painful but again, acknowledge their existence and ever so gently realign your focus to your breathing, or the rain falling, etc.
Meditation isn’t only for the devoutly religious or the faux-leather wearing vegan. Just like weight-lifting isn’t only for the jock with a football scholarship. There’s a big push to take care of our physical health but we all know that our mental health is a key determinant in succeeding on any level. A clear mind is priceless.
Udemy offers a number of courses on meditation. Here a just a few: