Yo, I’m actually on a meditation retreat this week so thought I’d re-post this oldie, but goodie. It is still one of the most popular Imperfect Spirituality posts of all time. I think it’s because it shows that meditation doesn’t have to be stressful and hard. We can carve out a moment of quiet, notice our thoughts or our breathing, and simply open to the stillness. That’s how it works for me, anyhow. So take this crash course in meditation and give it a go.
My husband, Mr. J, and I meditated together last night. He started snoring five minutes in. It was his first time. Meditating. He’s a regular when it comes to snoring. I’ve been meditating for years now. Sometimes daily, sometimes sporadically. Sometimes not at all. I go in stages. Mr. J wants to learn to meditate because he believes it will help him become more aware, more engaged in his life. He’s asked me, (and I’m sure, in all my lap-dog exuberance that I’ll make him regret it) to help him learn how.
I’m giddy with excitement that he even said the word “meditation” out loud. This is not something that fits easily into his science-minded brain. Over the years I’ve thrown endless studies (and a few socks I’ve found on the floor) at him. Each study emphasizes the scientifically proven benefits of meditation: how it buffers the immune system, eases stress, fosters longevity, enhances creativity, health, well-being.
Meditation is a proven way to help us cope with the crap in our lives. But, it seems so heavy, this meditation thing. And time consuming, Right? I do fantasize about meditating like a Monk alone on a mountain top – heck, I fantasize about being alone, period – but, I’m not a monk. I’m a macaroni-making Mom and I don’t have hours to meditate. Besides, I’m pretty sure if I sat that long, cross-legged on the floor, they’d need traction to get me walking again. Thing is, you don’t have to sit for hours to meditate. You can meditate in minutes. In a chair. Here’s the short course:
- Sit still.
- Be quiet.
- Sit still longer.
When, you’re ready you can go deeper. You can study different techniques and styles, mantras, and sound meditation. Whatever. It’s all good. But you can meditate right now, without any rules or training. Really. Here are some more specifics:
- Get comfortable. Sit on a chair, lay down, if you feel like it. I like to sit on a firm, but comfortable surface, with shoes off, feet on the floor, back straight so I can easily and comfortably take deep breaths and stay alert.
- Close your eyes. Some do meditate with their eyes open or while looking at a picture of Buddha, or some other image. In the beginning, though, I think it works better to close your eyes and focus on the space there behind your eyelids.
- Breathe deep from your diaphragm. I was so obsessed with breathing “right” that I usually hyperventilated. Let’s just say, that just isn’t necessary. Instead, take slow breaths. Feel your stomach moving in and out. These breaths are cleansing, rhythmic and the also heighten your state by infusing your cells with oxygen.
- Focus on something. Many people focus on their breath. Deepak Chopra talks about the “I Am” meditation, a simple repetition and focus on those words as you’re breathing in and out. Wayne Dyer follows the Lord’s Prayer in one of his meditations and guides you to focus on the spaces the “gap” between the words of the prayer.The minute you begin meditating you’re thoughts will begin jerking you in all directions as though you’re holding the leashes of a dozen dogs all headed in different directions. Focus brings you back.
- Notice your thoughts. When you catch a renegade thought coming through, and they will roughly a billion times a session, bless it and imagine your breath blowing it gently out of your head, clearing your mind. Then return to your focus. Don’t judge, pound, exclaim or stop meditating to write a note on your To Do list. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing it right. Just observe your thoughts and let them go. Do it over, and over, and over.
- Don’t limit your time. Just sit quietly until you feel like not sitting quietly. If you come out of your meditation and see that you sat for five minutes. Good. If it’s been 20. Fine. Often, I’ll spend five minutes finding my quiet and settling in. Now, I can comfortably meditate for 20 minutes or a half hour, without even realizing time has passed. Some days though, when I don’t feel like meditating or I’m really pressed for time, or my daughter is throwing a fit right outside the door, I’ll just sit in silence for a few minutes. There is benefit in that. Do what you can do. Do what you want to do.
In the beginning – and by beginning I mean months, a year even – my mind was more like a pinball machine with thoughts ricocheting around. Stresses flared, uncertainty arose and inevitably so did the questions “Am I doing it right? Is this meditating? What was he thinking?”
If you’ve felt yourself bombarded by any of these thoughts, well then Congratulations! You are meditating. If you’ve ever felt calm and collected just until you take that first deep breath, Yippee! You’re doing it right. If, you’ve ever sought the peace of meditation and caught yourself thinking about your newest hair style, then you are right on track. If you started snoring. It’s O.K. You’ll get a do over tomorrow.