Meditation can be daunting. Our interior space seems too dark and quiet in stark contrast to the stimulation we receive constantly from the world through our relationships, our work, our environments, and technology. Modern connectivity such as smart phones and the internet ask that we be connected to others for most of our waking day, which leaves the impression on our nervous systems that work is never done. We are constantly on call, whether for business or with our loved ones.
Learning to meditate is to teach ourselves how to once again enjoy and seek solace in the stillness that we so desperately crave but with which we have become uncomfortable. Through meditation, we can come back into relationship with ourselves in a way of non-attachment. What we own can often feel like our identity; our homes, our professions, our relationships, even our religious and political beliefs and our preferences can feel like they define us. The truth of our identity is something that can’t be shattered by circumstance. The legendary sculptor Michelangelo asserted that he saw the statue within that marble and set it free by carving away what wasn’t needed around its form. Meditation helps us to discern the external clutter from the inner truth, and we can be with what is real inside of us.
The body and the breath are always in present time. The churning patterns of our thoughts are habits deeply ingrained by constant practice, and they ask us to leave what is happening in each moment to ruminate or anticipate. When we turn our focus to our breathing we can tame our tendency to follow thoughts into the past and future. Even just a dip into that well of stillness can send us back into our lives with more clarity, peace and perspective.
How to get started:
1. Sit comfortably, where you won’t be tempted to change your posture due to discomfort or inability to stay. I love to sit on the edge of a folded blanket or yoga block when I’m at the yoga studio. When I’m at home, I choose to sit on a cushion by a company completely devoted to meditation, My Zen Home, which is a choice I can feel good about because they are completely organic.
2. Deepen your breath and feel where your sit bones connect to the ground, block, blanket, or cushion. these simple redirections of focus can help you begin to come into a space of presence. breathe to a comfortable capacity of fullness (not so inflated that you feel tense) and exhale as slowly and smoothly as you inhaled (not so empty that you feel breathless and need to gasp for the next breath).
3. I prefer to meditate with a mantra. A mantra is a word or words that captivate the mind just enough to change your focus from the story of your thoughts to the clarity of the mantra cutting through and asking for single pointed focus. Rather than preventing the mind from thinking, which is its natural tendency and its job, we can choose instead to repeat the mantra. By its very nature, a forceful rejection of your natural thoughts will cause you to pay more attention to them. Refocus to the mantra and gently let the other thoughts pass by.
4. Choose a mantra that doesn’t mean so much to you that it becomes fodder for thought. Sanskrit words work wonderfully, because they have inherent meaning and vibration, but for most there’s not such a strong identification that it becomes distracting. For those without a particular mantra assigned, I recommend the words “Om” or “So Hum” because they are simple, captivating, and they signify our connection with all life. Let the word be at the forefront of your attention without force. Allow it to echo through your mind and appear behind your eyes like you were watching it on a screen. This will take practice, so as thoughts arise, continue to connect with the mantra instead.
5. I like to meditate for twenty minutes each time I sit. But in our busy lives, if we set too high an expectation for length of meditation it’s not likely that we will follow through. Start with a small increment of time that you know you can keep with consistency. Build to a longer duration. Twenty minutes now feels nourishing and manageable for me, but I started with ten. Five can be a nice introduction to sitting and stillness. Consistency is key to starting every practice. Make time for meditation daily, even if only for a few minutes.
6. Don’t worry about not feeling immediately peaceful. Emotions that have been ignored in the hustle of life can surface during meditation. In the stillness, we might be called to face that which we have been avoiding. Understand that meditation is not the time to unravel those issues, it is a time of stillness so we have more clarity with which to take action in our lives. However, let the emotions arise and feel them without following the story of each situation or trying to intellectualize or unravel them.
Cover image by Death to Stock