The topic of meditation came up in multiple conversations this month; I listened to both friends and coworkers express a deep interest in learning how to meditate. When I disclosed my personal meditation regiment, people became quite curious about the ins-and-outs of this ancient human practice, and would ask: “How’d you get started?”
My interest in meditation peaked back in the summer of 2011. Like many people who turn to meditation, I was struggling with heaps of mental anxiety and worry. At this time my mind felt uncontrollable: in the day I could barely hold focus long enough to read a news article, have an in-depth conversation, or complete a rudimentary task, and at night I experienced major trouble sleeping (as my physical body would be exhausted while my mind was wide awake.) Life seemed to move at a mile-a-minute, propelled by a ferocious anxiousness that spun me from one activity to the next. The idea of “meditation” seemed like a potential solution to my suffering, so I started studying…
That summer, I became incredibly determined to crack the meditation *code.* I researched mindfulness techniques, read new age spiritual teachers (Tolle, Dyer, Chopra, Williamson, etc.), learned about yogic philosophy, and watched a lot of strange youtube videos. In about two months I had digested a ton of new information, and built a solid knowledge base on the concepts of meditation and mindfulness. Though this understanding was purely intellectual, and I had yet to experience the “inner connection” or “spiritual bliss” promised by the prophets that lined my bookshelf. Eventually, I built up the courage to actually begin my own personal practice, and (with reluctance) sat on a lumpy throw pillow in my living room…
First attempts rarely go as planned.
After about 30 seconds of “meditation” I had a mild panic attack… With a sore butt, tight chest and shallowness of breath, I threw my hands up at the Gods with a big F*** you, retreating into my kitchen for an indulgent snack.
It’s OK, we are human. And one must try again!
The next day I went back and sat on the lumpy throw pillow in my living room, and started counting breaths.
Inhaaaaaaaaaale, Exhaaaaaaaaale. One. Inhaaaaaaaaaaaale, Exhaaaaaaaaaale. Two.
At first my mind cluttered with thoughts like “this is stupid”, “what are you doing”, “this is boring”, “I’m hungry”, etc. But I just continued to count breaths… I would observe the air as it entered into my body and out of my body, always bringing my awareness back to my breath… Three.
After a couple months of practice, I began observing the thought patterns appearing in my mind – I watched them come and go, doing my best to diligently refocus my attention back to the steady inhalation and exhalation of breath and body. A shift started to occur in the way I experienced meditation… Instead of identifying with the thought patterns that would appear in my mind, or allowing these thought patterns to sway my focus, I would choose to fully let them go .
Like beads of water rolling off a duck’s back, the chaotic thoughts in my mind literally started to dissolve and clear from my psyche. Soon enough, I stopped giving the voice in my head so much control over my emotional wellbeing, and simultaneously started listening to the subtle waves of communication radiating from my body, and heart. As my breath deepened and relaxed, my mind and body did the same. A spaciousness began to open up in my mind, with longer moments of stillness and silence between each thought. And as I continued to focus on the inhalation and exhalation of my breath, that space between thoughts became wider, and wider, and wider, and wider. After months of meditation practice I could sit on the lumpy throw pillow my living room, relatively anxiety-free.
So, now what?
The way I see it, meditation is an ongoing practice that one must choose to value, and therefore choose to integrate into their daily life. Over the the last five years I have realized that “the path” of mediation is not the same as taking a chill pill and washing all your troubles away – it is actually quite the opposite. Meditation trains us to focus our awareness consciously so that we can fully acknowledge our perceptions, beliefs and emotions, instead of denying, avoiding or suppressing them. When we take time to connect internally, we have an opportunity to reclaim a huge amount of personal power and freedom – meditation can provide us with the self awareness we need to better navigate the inevitable challenges of daily life.
Through a commitment to daily meditation, self-compassion, and some patience, every one of us has the innate ability to bring our focus back to the underlying Peace at the core of who and what we are!
BEGINNER 10 MINUTE MEDITATION
- Find a comfy spot where you will not be interrupted. Sit or lay down in any position that feels most comfortable for you. You can do this practice with your eyes open, or closed. The important thing here is to allow your body to relax fully.
- Begin to bring your attention to the natural inhalation and exhalation of your breath. Breath deeply into your belly, and watch your breath as it flows in and out of your entire body.
- As thoughts appear in the mind, allow them to move through you without attachment or the need to control them [ just like clouds passing overhead ]. Continue to bring your attention back into your body, to the inhalation and exhalation of your breath. Breath deeply into your belly, and exhale with a sigh.
- Become aware of feelings and emotions that naturally arise in the body, and allow them to surface and circulate freely. Identify the emotions that come up for you, and do your best to observe them without a need to control. Bring your attention back to the inhalation and exhalation of breath.
- Count 10 inhales, and 10 exhales. Restart your count when you notice that the mind has wandered or become distracted.
- (Optional) Repeat an affirmation or mantra that feels empowering to you personally. This could be as simple as, “I am strong”, “I am peace” or “I am relaxed”. Whichever mantra you choose, say it out loud with conviction. Repeating this mantra while holding a relaxed feeling in your body will supercharge your words and help reprogram your subconscious mind with a supportive intention.
- Bring your focus and attention to your body and to your surroundings. Thank yourself for taking time to mediate today, and know that you can return to this space whenever you choose!
RESOURCES (will update)