DO you meditate? Have you thought about it? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!
Meditation? Everyone should meditate for one hour a day. Unless you are too busy, in which case you should meditate for two hours a day! – Anon
Don’t worry, I’m not about to tell you that you have to meditate for hours every day and that doing so will fix all your problems. From time to time some of my clients ask about meditation, and we always have some interesting discussions, so I thought I’d share some experiences about meditation and offer it as something you might wish to choose to test out if you feel so inclined; and if you don’t, that’s cool too!
Whilst there are many different meditation forms and disciplins out there, I’m going to mention a couple of ones you can sample so see how it works for you.
Before I do, why would one wish to even use meditation? What does it get for you in a practical way?
It is estimated that typically we experience about 70,000 thoughts a day – that’s one thought every 1.2 seconds. Often the same thoughts coming back over and over again. So what would it be like if we were able to not experience thoughts for a while? That’s pretty much the essence of (at least some forms of) meditation.
When you are in a meditative state, you are aiming to not think about anything, to let go of any thoughts, to detach from them completely and just to passively observe as they drift on by without engaging in them. The more you practise meditating, the easier it becomes to detach from any thoughts and to let them drift on by without actively engaging in them.
OK, so what good is that?
Turns out, it can be surprisingly helpful. You see, one you develop the ability to detach from your thoughts and let them drift without engaging them, then you can start to do the same outside of meditation.
Remember those 70,000 thoughts a day? How often do you find yourself busy working on something, when BAM in come some other thoughts about completely different distracting topics? Or some unpleasant thoughts? And when those thoughts present themselves, do you find that you end up engaging in them, thinking about them, distracting yourself from what you were doing, or even worse, causing you to go down a train of negative, unhelpful thoughts?
Well, what if you were able to detach from those thoughts and just let them float on by while you continue with what you are doing? That’s where this practise of just passively observing thoughts drift on by comes in very handy indeed!
I’m not saying it is easy, of course it isn’t, at least to begin with. However, the more you practise it, you may well find it becomes easier to allow distracting thoughts to drift on by. Such as when you are about to place yourself in a stressful situation, meet a group of strangers, do something outside of your comfort zone. Even (or perhaps, especially!) while lying in bed attempting to drift off to sleep.
The Easy Way To Start Meditation
So how does one go about meditating? There are a great many different meditation disciplines out there, I’m going to offer as a starting point something which works for me. It is loosely based on Transcendental meditation (although I must point out I have not been formally taught that, so this probably differs in various ways).
It is recommended that one sits comfortably on the floor with your legs crossed (that said, I lie down for mine because I injured my knees years ago and they hurt when sitting cross-legged for any length of time, which I find distracts me from my meditation – if you do lie down, just be careful not to drift off to sleep!). You may find it more comfortable to place a cushion under you to reduce the pressure on your knees.
Close your eyes, and then just observe your thoughts, as if they were clouds passing by on a warm summer’s day. Don’t dig into the thoughts, just passively observe them as they come and go. People will generally use a mantra to help them focus on not thinking, as it were. A mantra is just a word or sound which you repeat over and over, usually silently, to still the mind and bring you back from thoughts. Ideally, the mantra itself should be completely meaningless so as not to trigger any thoughts of its own. Perhaps the most common one is “Om”, although personally I avoid that precisely because it has so many things associated with it. Whatever word or sound you choose, just silently repeat that to yourself over and over. As you become more practised, you may find that you can start to leave gaps between saying your mantra, and over time those gaps will become longer and longer. Any time you find yourself engaging in thoughts, just notice that it happened, and repeat your mantra again.
Personally I found it pretty tricky not to think to start with, but sure enough as I practised more over the weeks, it started to become easier and easier to quieten my mind. Do thoughts still arise? Absolutely, and I just passively observe them and let them float on by. And on the occasions where I find myself starting to enter those thoughts, I just notice it has happened, and come back to my mantra.
How long to do this for? Perhaps start off for 10 – 15 minutes, and then gradually increase the length of your meditation as feels comfortable, there’s no hard and fast rule. For me, I found even 10 minutes hard going to start with, then after a while I found that even 30 minutes would rush by quickly.
I set a gentle alarm (a soft ringing bell) on my phone to let me know when the time is up, so I can gently come back to full consciousness again.
And that’s pretty much it. It gets easier with practise, of course, as with anything.
There’s More Than One Way!
There is another type I sometimes practise, a standing meditation with eyes open. Here, you stand, look out over whatever landscape is there, without focusing your attention on anything, and just allow whatever you see to be there without focusing on it. At the same time, allow your hearing to become aware of all the various other sounds going on around you, again without focusing, just passively observing. This can be a great way to quieten the mind I find, and it’s amazing the visual and sonic details with present themselves! Someone once described it rathe neatly as losing your mind and coming to your senses, which I thought was a pretty good description. They beauty of this one is that you can do it pretty much anywhere, and it is a great way to relax when in a long queue. I was with a friend as we queued to get through immigration in Nepal. We queued for about 2 hours, the line moving incredibly slowly. My fiend was getting more and more impatient (he hates queues at the best of times), whereas I took myself into this standing meditation state and in all honesty I lost track of time and didn’t realise we were there for a couple of ours, it felt like minutes. Needless to say, I was far more relaxed once we entered Nepal than he was! It works well with slow moving queues, as you can shuffle forwards without really breaking your meditation.
Do I meditate for an hour or more a day? Nope. I don’t even meditate daily, let alone of an hour at a time. Sometimes I will meditate daily (for about 15-30 minutes), sometimes I’ll go for weeks without meditating. I definitely find it very useful for those times where I hit “overload” – you know the sort of thing, where you’ve got so much going on you don’t know where to begin and you end up screaming! When that happens, a nice little spot of meditation really does calm everything down, puts things into perspective, empties my mind and let’s me focus much more clearly. Now, it could be argued that with daily meditation I might not even end up in such a situation to start with. Who knows? What I do know is that by practising meditation, even sporadically, it makes it much easier to be able to let go and meditation when those situations do arise, and I feel so much calmer and more product afterwards.
If you want to dig in a little deeper, these might be good starting points. Note these are nor personal recommendations, they are just offered as possible starting point for your exploration.
- Mindfulness – a more Western-based form of daily practise.
- Transcendental Mediation – probably the most famous form of meditation.
- Vipassana – one of the ancient Buddhist forms of silent meditation, famed for their 10 day silent meditation retreats.
- The Chopra Center – offer several guided meditation programs, created by Deepak Chopra.
So that’s it for now. I hope you at least found this interesting, whether or not you decide to give meditation a go.
DO you meditate? Have you thought about it? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!