I know a lot of people who say they cannot meditate.
Calming and stilling the mind for more than a few seconds is a daunting, seemingly impossible task.
The notion of meditation frequently involves images of sitting in the lotus position — legs crossed — hands on your thighs palm-up, back straight, eyes closed and silent or humming “Ohm” or such.
Let’s dispel this illusion right away. That is a FORM of meditation, to be sure. But it is not the only means of meditation.
First and foremost — there is no One True Way™ of meditation. It comes in a lot of different forms and shapes, as well as periods of time for how long it can take.
Secondly — meditation is not necessarily clearing your mind completely and focusing on nothing. Again, forms of meditation can include this — but it’s not the only way.
Meditation is not a means to an end — it’s a practice of calming and balancing available to everyone.
What is meditation and why practice it?
Meditation is a practice that allows you to connect with yourself. It gives you a time and an opportunity to simply be, in the moment, still, calm, and balanced.
Let’s face it — we live in a world constantly on the go, full to overflowing with distractions, and then lots of expectations and obligations every individual is expected to meet. Meditation is an opportunity to take a break from it all for yourself.
A lot of people, though, find this terrifying. I know that for a long time the last person I wanted to spend any time alone with was myself.
This often seems practical. But if you can’t spend time with yourself how can you expect to be good company for anyone else? I’ve found that when I lose touch with myself it sets me off balance, and then contributes to depression, fear, anxiety, and other matters that get in the way of daily life.
It is very, very hard to define what exactly meditation is. This has been a practice for over three-thousand years employed by religions and spiritual notions. Yet I see it as a time to practice hitting the reset button.
The best reason to practice meditation is to allow time for you. From 2 minutes to 2 hours, however long you practice, it’s all about being with yourself. It is a defined opportunity to practice any combination of mindfulness, stillness, and a chance to consciously delve into the subconscious mind and its beliefs and long-held assertions.
Meditation is an excellent complimentary practice alongside therapy, psychopharmacology, stress-reduction, anxiety-relief, and similar calming and balancing practices.
What it isn’t
Meditation is NOT just a way to transcend from reality to some amazing, incredible hooky-spooky place. Yes, that IS one reason to practice meditation — but is not its sole purpose.
Attaining enlightenment is itself misunderstood. Hence, this anonymous quote:
“A wise man once said nothing.”
For a little more clarity on the idea of enlightenment, Lao Tzu said,
“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment.”
Meditation is not a means to achieve an out there, out-of-body, astral projection into the cosmos as it has often been depicted to be. It’s a way to be with yourself — for a time — to gain balance and calm.
Meditation is not a miracle cure. It is an excellent practice for calm, stress reduction, and balance — but rarely (if ever) the one-and-only answer.
Finally, meditation is NOT necessarily religious nor spiritual. It is a practical practice available to everyone that can serve different purposes at different times in your life.
How do you practice?
There are many different ways to practice meditation. Yes, you can do the whole lotus-position palm-up thing — but it is NOT necessary.
You can sit in a chair for meditation. I love to sit out on my deck on a chair and feel the air on my face when I meditate. Sometimes, though, I like to sit on a cushion cross-legged.
Yes, when I sit on the cushion, I should just be keeping my back straight — but honestly, I prefer to lean my back against a wall. This is much more comfortable for me — and I can remain in that position for a longer time.
If you don’t close your eyes to meditate it is best to pick a single point of focus. A spot on the ground just before you, a candle, an old-fashioned sand timer, or whatever. There is no one way to do this.
You can do a walking meditation. This involves following a path without an end-goal, but simply being present and in your mind as you move. I was joining a Sangha weekly for a time, and we always did a walking meditation around the grounds where we practiced. It’s a nice walk and the idea is not about getting from here to there — but just being in the moment as you move.
There is no reason you can’t meditate by standing in the shower and allowing the water to run over you. You just pause, be in the moment, and focus on everything or nothing.
Which brings me to the most misunderstood aspect of meditation.
How much do you need to clear your mind?
The short answer is that you don’t. Unless your specific goal is to clear your mind, that’s not necessarily what meditation is all about.
This is where people start to create definitions for types of meditation. Mindfulness meditation, spiritual meditation, transcendental meditation, and so on. A quick Google search brings up 3 to 16 to 23 types of meditation. There are numerous techniques, means of practice, goals, and on and on.
Frankly, that’s an unnecessary complication. The label isn’t so important. Meditation is a set time to be with yourself. During that time, you can focus on one thing, nothing, drawing in, or letting out thoughts and feelings. It really depends on you.
Like it or not you are ALWAYS thinking. Your mind is constantly chewing on things and mulling stuff over. Many people believe that they can’t still their mind enough to meditate.
But that’s not true. This is about pausing for a set time to be with yourself. All those thoughts flitting about in your mind can be herded and shuffled and worked with.
Yes, sometimes this is akin to herding cats — but the effort is what’s important.
You do not need to clear your mind. What you need to do is to be with yourself. Step away from the phone, the computer, the kids, the friends, and family and be with yourself — for yourself — for a time.
How I meditate
When I first began meditating, I was like, “This is nuts. My mind NEVER stops and there is no way I will find peace or stillness or gain jack shit from this practice.” But the more I made attempts to do it the more I found its benefits.
Over time, I have gone from untimed meditations of 5–10 minutes to timed meditations of 20 minutes. I strive to make time for meditation daily.
Like I wrote before, I love to go out on my deck and listen to the birds, bugs, central a/c unites whirring and nature in general. But in the winter, I tend to sit on a cushion and put on either a running brook or crashing waves or other natural sounds for background — though sometimes silence is nice, too.
I start the timer, close my eyes, and focus on my breathing. As I breathe in, I think breathe in. As I breathe out, I think breathe out. I will repeat this to keep my mind still and calm. I put my focus on my breathing.
Thoughts pop up. I start chewing on practical and impractical matters. What should I have for lunch? What happens if Trump wins the election? How do I take off this COVID weight? When did my friend lose their mind?
As these things come up, I do my best to not attend to them, and to release them. Let go. Refocus on my breathing.
Focus other than breathing
Sometimes, instead of focusing on my breathing, I imagine myself generating light. I focus, instead, on making my light brighter and brighter.
Other times, if there is a question I am working on, I will focus on that. Creating a single point of focus can be a great way to stave off all those unwanted thoughts and feelings that keep creeping in.
Then, there are times when ideas pop into my head as I meditate. These are not the unwanted thoughts I don’t wish to chew on — they are messages for ways to do things. New thoughts on old problems, new ideas for doing things, solutions. My new web content creation business idea came about in this manner.
When my mind wanders — and it does — I go back to focus on my breathing, or the light, or the question. It is important not to let getting distracted be upsetting — with all the stuff going on in the average person’s mind this is a thing. It’s unavoidable. Let it go, release it, move on.
Refocus on breathing, on the light, or the question. Calm. Balance. At this moment I am me, I am on my own, and I am in my head in total and complete control of my life experience.
Yes, sometimes I will doze when I meditate. But overall, once my timer goes off and I open my eyes I feel refreshed. This is better than sleep, better than a nap, and it is a thing I do entirely for me and my mental health.
How long do I need to practice?
Meditation can be for as little as two minutes and as long as hours. That depends on you, and how much time you desire to devote to your practice.
You can set a timer, close your eyes, and just focus on breathing for two minutes at your desk. Or light a candle and stare at it for five minutes. Let all the thoughts in your head do what they will do — but give them no attention. If one tries to dominate, examine it to see why it is dominant, then release it.
I started at 5 minutes for my meditation practice, then increased in increments to 10 minutes, 12 minutes, 15 minutes, 18 minutes, and now 20 minutes. I practiced each incremental change for about 2–4 weeks at a time before increasing it.
I have no intent currently to expand how long I meditate. Finding more than 20 minutes on a given day is one issue — the other is that those 20 minutes is quality time. And that’s the important part. That doesn’t mean someone else may find an hour of meditation a day to be super beneficial to their mental, emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical health.
Anyone can meditate
Buddhism, Hinduism, and other spiritual philosophies have known the benefit of meditation for millennia. Now, science and medicine have realized its benefit, too.
If you are still unsure that you can meditate, I recommend trying a guided meditation. There are a ton of options and resources online for guided meditations, ranging from 2 minutes to 2 hours and everything in between. You can check them out for free on YouTube or just do a Google search and see what you come up with.
Meditation is a practical approachable practice that anyone can do to relax, relieve stress, lower anxiety, find calm, create balance, and generally get in touch with yourself. There is no need to be from a religious, spiritual, or philosophical organization of any sort to practice.
You also do not need to meditate alone. Though much more complicated in the middle of a global pandemic, there ARE group meditations that can be joined. I recommend checking out Meet-up and again a Google search for options.
There are many misconceptions about meditation — but it is a LOT easier and more practical than people think. Most of all, what I have found in my experience is that meditation is a great way to touch base with yourself and take more control over your conscious mind.
That opens you to cope with all the things out of your control in the world at large — and is a practical means to reset, rebalance, and experience life overall.
You are worthy and deserving of control over your mindset/headspace/psyche. Meditation is a practical, powerful means to that end.
Know that you are worthy and deserving of using mindfulness to find and/or create the reality in which you desire to live. When all is said and done our thoughts, feelings, and actions matter, as does taking time to be with yourself such as meditation.