To begin to write about meditation, I first examined the meaning of the word. Derived from a verb meditari, meaning "to think, contemplate, devise, ponder", it seems the perfect word for expressing the process of making time and space to observe our internal world of thoughts and feelings without too much judgement.
But many seasoned ‘meditators’ would say that Meditation is a word that has come to be used too loosely and inaccurately in the modern world. An article I was recently reading from the yoga international website said “Meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state. It is the means for fathoming all the levels of ourselves and finally experiencing the centre of consciousness within”.
For many of us, we don’t even know what that means and have certainly never knowingly experienced this ‘state’. As a practice designed to help us control our mind, finding inner stillness for most of us, can seem like an impossible dream. The mind is undisciplined and unruly, and it resists guidance at every turn!
Most of the people I meet have already decided they ‘can’t meditate’, and I have realised that this is because to say one ‘meditates’ suggests the ability to drop into the state described in the article above, quite naturally. Unfortunately, as a word, ‘meditation’ seems to have become synonymous with the end product of years of practice, rather than reflecting the slow process and work needed to develop such a helpful technique.
In the way you exercise your body, meditation is just a way to exercise your mind and generally all it asks of you is a bit of patience, kindness for yourself, space to relax and some focused awareness. Like any ‘skill’ it takes practice and you shouldn’t worry if you find it really unnatural or difficult at first, with our chatty logical brains often taking control.
The well-known neuroscientist, Dr. Joe Dispenza, explains. “Meditating is a means for you to move beyond your analytical mind so that you can access your subconscious mind. That’s crucial, since the subconscious is where all your bad habits and behaviours that you want to change, reside. There is no such thing as a bad meditation, there is only overcoming yourself!”
Meditation covers many different techniques, not just one, so it can take some time until you find the one that works best for you. In general, the easiest way to start noticing what is going on for you is by focusing on your breath.
If you are wishing to start benefitting from such a practice, another important thing is to begin doing it regularly, even if initially all that means is finding regular moments to try and breathe more deeply. As humans we thrive on predictability and repetition and when we start doing something frequently, over time the action becomes so ingrained we don’t even think about it anymore- this is how we create a habit. When we actively choose to cultivate a certain habit, then it becomes a ritual and we need rituals because they keep us focused on what we actually care about.
So here is a simple ‘breathing space’ practice that should take about 3 minutes out of your day. Perfect if you are feeling a little overwhelmed of off kilter :)
- Bring your awareness to yourself, sitting on your chair. Feel your feet pressed into the floor, really anchoring you to the ground. Feel the chair supporting the weight of your body. Try to sit up straight but comfortably and if it feels ok, close your eyes.
- Try to begin to access yourself, your inner experience. What is going on for you right now? Begin to acknowledge what feelings and thoughts are coming up?
- As best you can, try to just realise they are mental events, things coming and going in your head but more as an observer, letting them come into your awareness, acknowledging them, but not reacting to them or holding onto them, just noticing them, without the need to alter or change them in any way.
- Do this with the thoughts or feelings that are uncomfortable or stressful too, acknowledge them but try not to attach to them.
- Try scanning your body, are there any obvious sensations? Pain, discomfort, tightness? Again, acknowledge these sensations and any thoughts attached but try not to change them, just let them be
- Now direct your attention to your breath. Notice if it is shallow, tight, quick? Again, try to observe it and let it be.
- Start to feel the breath, notice the sensations of breathing in and out, the expansion and contraction of the lungs.
- Now we are going to deepen the breath. Breath in for a slow count of 3 and out for a slow count of 5, 4 times. Place your hand on your abdomen and feel the breath expanding lower and lower into your abdomen with each breath.
- Now continue to breathe normally but with this deeper breath, following the breath all the way in and all the way out. Use it to stay present and if you find your mind wandering, acknowledge it has wandered but don’t think critically, just accept it and gently bring your attention back to your breath.
- Now expand your field of awareness to include the whole body, your posture, facial expressions, feet- as though your whole body is breathing. Any tension or discomfort, imagine the breath moving into and around these sensations. Once they stop attracting your attention, go back to the breath and be aware of yourself as a whole.
- Gently come back into the room, wiggle your fingers, stretch your body and open your eyes. Hopefully you feel a little more peaceful and relaxed.