As a counselor, I eventually became a “one-trick pony,” in a sense. I just wanted everyone to meditate. Meditate. Meditate. Meditate. In times of trouble, meditate more. Have a tough decision to make? Meditate. Want to achieve Equanimity? Meditate. Want to practice Mindfulness more effectively? Meditate. Want to enhance your Intuition? Meditate.
I am still that one-trick pony. Meditation is a skill that, when mastered to the slightest degree, has the greatest potential for spillover into so many other spiritual elements.
My definition of “mastery” here is all about having a personal practice of Meditation that is practical and accessible for you. Getting into a lotus position or doing a full-hour of daily Meditation is definitely not required— unless that is what you want. I do not care about the lineage or style of your meditation practice, if any, as long you meditate. On a pillow, on a chair, in the tub─ all is good. In the morning, in the evening, at your lunch break─ fine. For me, when it comes to Meditation, it is about whatever works for you, so don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to do it in some specific way!
When I teach people to meditate, I only ask that they do it for seven to ten minutes per day initially. My hope, expectation and experience are all that their practice will expand. Having a doable minimum in the beginning allows for consistency at the inception of practice. My goal is to get over what I have found to be a common response in people. Many feel intimidated by Meditation for various reasons, including stereotypical depictions of it as something done by hardcore monks. I also think that the ego can tend to see Meditation as a threat, its nemesis or even its archenemy. In response to it, the ego will stir up whatever obstacles it can so that it can still “run the show.” Often, even as the ego continues to resist Meditation, ongoing practice will increase your awareness of its activities.
There are definitive and documented physiological benefits to Meditation. Some of this research has included brain scans of meditating monks. My use (and my joy) of the tool is more centered upon its application around the Periodic Table of Spiritual Elements and in personal awakening processes. In that realm, Meditation serves in the following ways:
-It provides a temporary shedding or diminution of the ego;
-It creates a calming of racing thoughts, allowing for greater Equanimity;
-It is a technique for Communion with a higher power;
-It is a clearing tool that allows for the bubbling up of Divine traits;
-It is an inventory device, revealing unhealthy attachments, limiting beliefs and opportunities for Healing;
-It is a training tool for Mindfulness and Intuition;
-It lowers the barriers to Creativity;
-It disengages the Body’s “fight, flight or freeze” mechanisms and allows for relaxation;
-It allows one to “just be” and live in the Now;
-It trains one to be less reactive;
-It endows one with Patience and Perseverance; and
-It allows for Surrender and the ability to simply allow something to happen versus forcing it to happen.
There is a story where the Buddha was asked what he gained from Meditation. He replied:
“Nothing. But let me tell you what I have lost: Anger, Anxiety, Depression, Insecurity, Fear of Old Age and Death.”
This story may make Meditation sound like a cure-all to every ill. At the very least, we can say that it is a very effective and utilitarian skill. The key to finding out what Meditation can do for you is to start small, build upon that, and don’t force anything to “happen.” At first you may simply be doing breathing and relaxation exercises for ten minutes without Meditation actually kicking in. That is okay.
If you can get one-on-one instruction to start your Meditation practice, please do. There are many instructional sources available─ secular and spiritually based. You can look online for free video instruction or music related to Meditation practices. You can check local yoga studios for classes or personal instructors.
I teach a very basic approach that uses the Deep Belly Breathing practice (discussed under the element of Breath and repeated here):
Get comfortable. Sit in a regular chair. Your spine should be relatively straight. Keep your feet on the ground and do some light shoulder rolls and neck rotations for relaxation. Place your hands on your thighs. Place your palms up and inhale gently through your nose, allowing the air to expand your belly and rib cage. Imagine breathing like a sleeping baby or how a puppy breathes; this is a low-centered breath versus a chest-centered breath. Exhale through your mouth very slowly (the slower the better).
Repeat this process in a melodic fashion. Be aware of your body─ all points of contact and your belly and rib cage as they expand. Your mind will wander, but that is okay. Don’t react. Simply shift your focus back to the breath and repeat that each time your mind wanders. Always return to your breath. At the same time, feel your body. Be aware of all points of contact with surfaces and, again, be aware also of the belly and ribcage slowly moving inward and outward. If you like, integrate the Tongue-Action Technique as well (again, discussed under the element Breath).
Meditation places the mind in neutral gear as much as possible. “Forward or Reverse Gears” might relate to thoughts about the past, future or anxiety and worry in general.
If during Meditation, you get an itch, then by all means, scratch it. If you need to cough, then cough. Don’t get caught up in the mental chatter of whether you are doing it “right or wrong.” Cut yourself some slack. Just like a lot of things, Meditation is a process to be learned.
Adding a Mantra and/or music can help for some. If ten minutes is too much in the beginning, then start with five to seven minutes and build from there.
The BIG SECRET to Meditation is this: Don’t Try! You can’t force Meditation to happen. You are simply setting up the conditions that are conducive for Meditation to occur. You will eventually experience moments that are “special,” whereby your mind seems awake, yet calm and uncluttered and you feel totally connected with your Breath and Body. This is Meditation! These moments are like smoke, though. If you try to “grab” onto them, they will wisp away. We learn to just let these moments happen and let them be. They extend and you are then Meditating!
“In meditation, every form of search must come to an end.” Jiddu Krishnamurti
Multitasking and Meditation
These two activities may not seem to go together. However, the physio/psychological concepts related to multitasking may in fact help us to meditate. The truth is that we as humans are not great multitaskers. We do excel at being able to do many different tasks consecutively (but not simultaneously). According to the research, we really can only do two to three things at the same time.
When we are truly multitasking (doing two or three things at once), our mind is maxed out and nothing else can enter that space. Theoretically, in this “maxed out” state, our minds simply can’t wander. With Meditation, a very limited and purposeful multitasking with intention of focusing upon two or three specific items at once can keep our minds from wandering and thereby, ironically enhance our chances of achieving a Meditative state.
Focusing on our Breath, focusing on the sensations of our Body (the way our ribcage and belly expanding or adding the Tongue-Action Technique outlined in the Breath element, for example), and reciting a Mantra or listening to calming musical can all constitute “maxed out” multitasking to the mind and thereby serve to guard and protect it from wandering (see also the Mantra Element). I will often have a cough drop in my mouth during Meditation that serves the same purpose for me. For others, holding something like a smooth stone or seashell can be helpful as a tactile mantra.
Some people experience the same mind-clearing effect from engaging in certain sports or other activities. While in action, you are multitasking by focusing on a few items or activities and in so doing, you stay in the moment and other thoughts simply don’t enter the scene.
The body has to be relaxed in order to Meditate. I have noticed that people with wound-up energy or anxiety have extreme difficulty relaxing their Bodies and, therefore, they cannot Meditate. I call this “High R.P.M”— “Racing-thoughts Per Minute.” I suggest that these individuals do not ingest caffeine and, even then, they may still have to do more work in order to relax the body before Meditation. At some point, the Body can then literally tell the mind that it is safe to relax. This is the Vagus Nerve in action (see Body element). These individuals may also need to do more Breathing and relaxation techniques like Alternate Nostril Breathing discussed under Breath. Muscle contraction-relaxation techniques or relaxing physical activities like yoga before sitting down to formally Meditate can be helpful. Participating in a yoga class or taking a hot shower right before Meditation are excellent practices for these folks as well.
When you first start Meditating, it is nice to have a guide or a teacher. After learning the basic techniques of breathing, a guide will serve to “speak” you through the process. Many of these guides (whether in person or through media, like an audio) are just telling you the basics─ “Breath in the through the nose,” “Feel the belly and ribcage expanding,” “Exhale through the mouth. Long slow exhale, the longer the better,” etc. They might repeat instructions like this a handful of times and remind you that any thoughts coming into your mind are okay and to just notice them and refocus your breath.
If your guide has a soothing voice, this can be very relaxing. His or her voice can give you something besides your breath to focus on so that your mind doesn’t wander. You can find various guided meditation videos and audios online. Some people always Meditate with a guide and come to rely on the voice of another in order to do the practice. While I am tempted to caution about being dependent upon an external resource for your inner work, I will say to do whatever works for you as long as you are doing it.
Mix Up Your Practice
Having a varied practice, just like any consistent activity, might keep the practice interesting and more effective overall. A varied practice could include having different Meditation spots─ in the house, in the yard or at another location such as just off a favorite hiking trail in a safe place, for example. We can sometimes use music or recorded guided Meditations, as mentioned above. Other times we could simply Meditate in silence. We can find a local Meditation group that typically might have a guide as well.
Experimentation is key to finding an overall Meditation practice that works for you.
My practice is a mix of consistency and variety. Daily, I meditate right after taking a shower, even if it is just for ten to twelve minutes. Sometimes I look forward to different Meditation locations out in Nature. I will also sometimes use a few particular musically-guided Meditation videos on Youtube. Other times I meditate sitting in my car if I have a few extra minutes before a meeting.
When I practice physical yoga asanas, I consider these Meditations as well.
All throughout the day, I am aware of my Breath and I engage in Conscious Breathing. To me, this is also Meditation.
Breath is the main element which sets up an environment conducive to Meditation. Through exploration and experimentation, we can find breathing techniques that are most suitable to each of us as individuals. Deep Belly Breathing is an easy one. See other options like Alternate Nostril Breathing under the element of Breath.
Living in the Now is integral to Meditation. This keeps the mind in a neutral gear with no thoughts of the future or past (i.e. Forward or Reverse gears).
Solitude and Stillness are naturally conducive to Meditation.
Getting our Body involved through its ability to relax and tell the mind that it is safe to Meditate is important.
Mantra and Prayer can help to guard the mind during Meditation by giving our mind something to focus on so it does not wander off.
Surrender is a key action we often learn in Meditation. When we Surrender, in effect, we relinquish all control and just let it happen. Surrender says, “Don’t Try.” Furthermore, Meditation and Surrender mutually reinforce each other. Surrender helps us to Meditate and learning to Meditate helps us to Surrender and allow in others parts of our life, like Creativity.
Mindfulness and Meditation are also mutually reinforcing. I view Meditation as an important action on its own, but more so as a training for Mindfulness, which is more of a way of being all of the time. I have found that the more I practice Meditation, the more Mindful I can be. Likewise, the more I practice Mindfulness, the better I am able to Meditate.
Lastly, Nature makes for a nice option in Meditation practice. To get out in Solitude and Stillness with Mother Nature can make for an extraordinary Meditation experience.
- The main practice for Meditation is Meditation. Start small as mentioned. Experiment with different techniques. Have a bare minimum practice of 7 to 10 minutes per day and add variations to it as you progress, including music, mantra, guided Meditations, walking Meditations, group Meditation, Meditative yoga, Meditation in nature and Meditation in your car (but not while driving). Try using a cough drop (without choking on it) or holding a “tactile mantra” like a small stone while you Meditate to help with focus. Explore specific types or lineages of Meditation like Vipassana, often referred to as awareness or insight Meditation. All these techniques will expand your base of knowledge.
- Journaling after Meditation, especially when first starting, can be helpful. Journal whatever comes to mind after each practice. Journal recurring themes, thoughts and feelings that arise that may be revealing in a helpful manner.
- Read a sacred document or teaching of your choice before Meditation and then contemplate on an aspect of that teaching while you Meditate. Use the teaching like a Mantra during your practice.
- During periodic moments of your day, enjoy a slow and conscious 4-count Deep Belly Breath: Do 4 counts for an inhale, hold for 4 counts and the do a 4-count exhale. You can tie this to certain times and/or activities, i.e. every time you walk through a doorway, for example.
- The physical practice of yoga asanas can be a Meditation that synchronizes Breath with Body movements while allowing you to be Mindful of the wanderlust of the monkey-mind. The multi-tasking mind protection/clearing mechanism goes into effect with yoga. For example, with Downward Dog, you are focused on your Breathing while placing the weight of your hands towards your index fingers and thumbs and rotating your thighs inwards and your upper arms outward. Do all these things all at once. The mind is protected from wandering by this kind of “multi-tasking.” Hence, yoga can be a Meditation (with the Breath element key in holding us in that space).
- Go on a Walking Meditation. With walking Meditation, your eyes are obviously open. Because of this, you are subject to more distractions that could take you away from a Meditative state. Your mind can more easily wander in walking Meditation and, in general, you are less likely to attain a deep state like you can while in sitting Meditation. Still, I take Meditative walks daily and what makes them work for me is kicking in that multi-tasking effect to keep my mind from wandering.
- Do the “Soft Gargle Breath” as well as the Tongue-Action Technique (see Breath element). For the Soft Gargle Breath, I first practice Deep Belly Breathing. Then, on the exhale, I constrict my throat in a manner that I get a soft gargle effect at the back of my throat. This is basically enough to keep the spittle there lightly bubbling. Sounds cute, huh? It can sound like a cat purring, or gargling. You can adjust the volume according to how much you care about people around you hearing you. I do this in concert with the Tongue Action effect. When I do this, my eyes are open and I am walking, but my mind stays pretty clear. It is very relaxing.
- Search the Internet for free Meditation resources, including guided Meditations of various lengths.
- Color. Get a coloring book and color as meditative alternative to actual Meditation.
- Develop a place to meditate in your home. Select a spot that offers privacy and comfort. Use a chair, sit on the floor, or use a special Meditation pillow.
During Meditation, of course you can use any Mantra that may help with any Spiritual Element you may be working on. Here I offer some Mantras that are intended to help with Meditation itself:
I am here, present, now. Relaxed.
I am my breath. I am my body. Now.
I am here now to Just Be. It is safe to just be and breathe.
My breath, relaxes, soothes and calms.
I am pure energy, peace at this moment, courageous and willfully present.