Posted on November 3, 2016
Having difficulty meditating? Read on…
I have discovered over the years there is a lot of misunderstanding about the practise of meditation.
Like many, when I first began, I thought the aim was to be free of thought, to zone out and go into a dreamlike state where I would somehow, miraculously, become enlightened. And like many, over the years, I practised sporadically because each time I went through a ‘serious’ meditation phase I failed to reach that state of nirvana. Can you believe it!
The term ‘meditation’ conjures up images of sitting in the lotus position (who can get anywhere close?) and humming a mantra, giving the impression it is only for those ‘weirdos’ who have the time to sit for three hours a day chanting.
Most people ‘meditate’ without even realising it so I will give a few definitions I found of what meditation is:
- To focus one’s mind for a period of time
- To develop concentration, clarity and emotional positivity
- To think deeply about something
No mention of floating off with the fairies! When you are absorbed in a piece of music, focused on a particular task or just enjoying a stunning sunset that takes your breath away, you are meditating.
The aim of meditation is to focus concentration, allowing the mind to be in the present rather than anywhere but. It is a tool to tame the mind. To allow you to control your thinking rather than your thoughts controlling you. The mind should be alert but the body relaxed. If along the way you get anywhere close to enlightenment it’s the icing on the cake.
Most books will advise starting with a short practise of about ten minutes twice a day, increasing to longer periods over time. If you are anything like me you will start with good intentions, set the alarm fifteen minutes earlier (for three days at least!) and do your evening stint after climbing into bed – and promptly fall asleep before you’ve managed a few deep breaths! It is not surprising so many give up.
I have found the following ideas, practised during the normal working day, to be of far more benefit to begin with than setting aside a particular time (which, if you miss it, that seems to be it for the day!)
WATCHING THE BREATH. While washing, dressing or queuing at the supermarket focus on your breathing. Relax the body, keep your eyes open and feel your breath moving in and out while still being aware of what is going on around you. With practise you will be able to do this while holding a conversation.
VISUALISATION. This can be done when you are able to close your eyes for a minute or two. On a train, at work during lunch break, or sitting on the toilet is the perfect opportunity! Look around for any item: a clock, a picture or even just your hand and look at it for a moment then close your eyes and try to recall its detail.
PRESENT MOMENT AWARENESS. While performing any task give it your full attention even if it’s boring. If you are ironing (that’s my most boring task by far!) see the patterns on the piece you are ironing. Or notice the vibrant colours of plants while weeding. Be aware of what you are doing rather than acting subconsciously.
I have found that these exercises, if part of a daily routine and performed as often during the day as can be managed, enhance awareness and train the mind for more formal meditation.
So why bother?
As well as the possibility of a deeply spiritual experience (this is the dangling carrot!) there is a growing amount of evidence that meditation can have huge health benefits:
- Reduces depression
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces anxiety, stress and worry
- Gives you greater control over your actions and reactions
“When we understand meditation, it becomes surprisingly simple – in principle at least. It is like finding the light switch after hours groping in the dark.’
This is a quote from a book called Teach Yourself to Meditate by Eric Harrison which is an excellent book for beginners with lots of tips and exercises on how to make meditation part of every day living.