With our always-on society it is often difficult to find the silent refuge we each need to live a full life. Our minds are ragged and racing. We lack focus not just in the everyday but in life. Meditation lets us slow down, breathe, and know we are breathing. The New Age religious movement has given meditation a mystical, almost cult-like facade. People think meditation is pagan or at least requires us to tie our arms and legs into a pretzel. In reality, meditation is a valid and simple way to improve the mind and outlook on life. I will warn you now. Meditation is work. Just because it is simple doesn’t mean it is easy.
Meditation is just a tool that is often used in psychotherapy. You don’t have to be a New Age-r or Buddhist to practice meditation. Sitting with oneself in the silence is a very human experience. Meditation is common to all belief systems. Jesus and Muhammad both meditated in their own way. Prayer is the most common form of meditation.
What are the benefits of meditation?
Meditation is a practice that allows us to cultivate focus, attention, compassion, and appreciation. It wards against heart disease, infertility and digestive problems It decreases anxiety, depression, and stress. However, initially meditation, if practiced correctly, will increase anxiety and stress as you are forced to face problems (1). We spend a lot of energy avoiding our problems and damaging thinking. Meditation forces us to face our minds and these problems; it forces us to accept and own how our thoughts and actions contribute to these problems. In the process, this shift in perspective allows us to stop the behavior that causes them.
Meditation allows us to get to know ourselves better. We can actually notice what types of thoughts flit through our minds. This awareness allows us to use reason to quell the thoughts that make us anxious. The practice (yes, it takes lots of practice) gives us perspective on what is important. We realize now is all that matters. The time we spend with our loved ones and other people is precious because of how fleeting each moment is. All of these realizations help you gain a healthier perspective on life. At the very least, you will feel less stressed.
How is it done?
There are 2 different types of meditation.
You don’t need to twist yourself into a tiger-tail donut, for one. Meditation can be done walking, standing or sitting. It only takes as little as 10 minutes. When you first begin it is best to sit in a comfortable, quiet room. Meditation is a lot of work so prepare for it. Get a nice pillow to sit upon. While you can sit in the traditional lotus positions (legs crossed, feet on your thighs) it isn’t necessary. Sit comfortably and try to keep your back straight and head level. Rest your hands in your lap and breathe. Don’t try to regulate how you breathe. As you relax your breathing will naturally slow down and turn into belly breathing. If you notice your shoulders move when you breathe instead of your belly pushing out, you are stressed. Acknowledge to yourself that you are stressed or relaxed.
Focus your attention to your breathing. Silently count each in and out breath as a unit. Breathe in, “1.” Breathe out, “1.”Breathe in, “2.” Breathe out, “2.” When you get to 10 start over. Do this for 10-15 minutes. That is all there is to it!
Ok, there is actually more to meditation than that. The work comes in with your focus. Your mind will barrage you with to-do lists, worries, and other thoughts to try to distract you. Notice these thoughts but don’t fall into them. Keep your mind on your breathing. When your attention does wander, don’t berate yourself. Just gently bring your breathing into focus. Quieting the mind takes a lot of time and practice. It is used to being an unruly child. Your goal with meditation is to teach it to be quiet and pay attention. Worries are not beneficial.
I like to meditate for 15 minutes. I spend the first 5 minutes trying to get my mind to quiet. I meditate deeply for 5-8 minutes, and then spend the rest of the time trying to quiet my mind and not watch the clock. My mind has at least 3 different thoughts going on at once. It is very difficult for me to silence them. I know I had a good meditation session when I sit down to meditate. It doesn’t matter if I can’t focus very well. The act of meditation is what is important. Quality comes with practice.
This is a little more advanced. Analytical meditation should be practiced only after you can quiet your mind with calming meditation. Analytical meditation is the practice of watching your thoughts and using reason to disassemble them. You don’t fall into the thoughts. You remain outside them and attempt to see how valid they are. For example, I used to think very poorly of people who were rude or angry in public. Through analytical meditation I realized many of these people may have had a bad day at work, worried about family members, or many other things. While they shouldn’t treat other people as they do, they are lashing out because of suffering. After realizing this, I stopped labeling this people as “morons” and generally frowning down upon them. I have done the same thing.
Analytical meditation is where you own your mistakes, poor behavior, and thinking. It is very difficult to face the parts of yourself that you avoid and dislike. If you never face them and discover why you think or feel as you do, you cannot make corrections.
With practice both types of meditation becomes automatic. When you are stressed, your mind will immediately shift to focus on your breathing and relax. Analytical meditation will kick and in defuse the misconceived ideas that cause your stress.
Other Forms of Meditation
Meditation is both a human and spiritual practice. Most religions have a practice that closely resembles meditation: prayer. Praying is an act of intense focus. It forces us to address our thoughts and behavior like analytical meditation. However, the best prayers are quiet. The silence allows us to focus and sort our minds better than jubilant prayer as practiced by many Christian faiths. Noise can provide an escape from facing the uncomfortable parts of yourself.
Another method of meditating is journal writing. Free writing clears your mind of its constant torrent and lets you find quiet. I found it beneficial to mind dump in my journal and then practice calming meditation. The act of writing usually exhausts my mind so I can meditate for the full 15 minutes.
Breathing in, I acknowledge the end. Breathing out, I smile.
Meditation for even just 10 minutes daily can profoundly change your outlook on life. It is proven to reduce stress, depression, anxiety, faulty thinking, worry, and most of the other problems that pester you. Just sit quietly and count your breathing. Don’t let your thoughts distract you. Meditation is simple to understand but difficult to practice. It lets you develop a healthy view of yourself and life. You appreciate people more as you develop a lasting relationship with your true self.
It has profoundly improved my life and brought me peace. I hope you learn to enjoy your journey as I am enjoying mine.