In my previous article on meditation, I introduced the benefits of meditating. In this article, I’ll offer some tips on getting on the meditation track.
When I first started doing meditation, I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to stay focused. Unless I was concentrating on a climb, getting into a meditative state was elusive given my rambling mind. But, just like all things, persistence and practice eventually yielded results.
And this one’s worth it.
What’s happening is that our mind is accustomed to be constantly on the move. Reflecting on past events. Worrying about the future. Processing negative distracting information. But not being at peace in the present moment, which is the only place to be. Sometimes I would meditate for an hour, and feel like I’ve only gotten a grand total of 1 minute silence.
The unconscious mind is strong and resists your attempts at neutralizing it. If you’ve tried meditation, and find yourself becoming impatient or fidgety, then meditation is even more important to do. Dont’ fret. What you’re doing is breaking a habit that you’ve carried as long as you lived and creating one of the best habits you’ll ever have, so give it time!
Clear Your Environment
First, remove all distractions and make sure your environment is quiet and relaxed. Get yourself into a comfortable seated cross-legged position, half lotus, or full lotus if you’re pretty flexible (though I find my circulation cuts off for this position). Sit in an active position with your back upright. Sit on something other than a rock-hard floor. Some people use meditation cushions, which are pretty comfortable. I usually sit on my yoga mat.
Don’t meditate on your bed or a sofa, as your mind has an anchored association with sleep and passive relaxation. Your mind must be fully awake. Though meditation is commonly referred to as passive meditation, it is active, as your mind is engaged. If you’re fortunate to be in nature, then this is the best place to do a meditation.
Focus On Your Breath
Close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Breathe in and out through your nose, unless you are using a mantra, in which case, exhale through your mouth. Control your breathing so that for every four counts inhaled, you exhale to five counts.
Breathe with your breath hitting the back of your throat, like when you’re trying to fog a mirror with your breath. After a while, your breathing might even sound reminiscent of waves breaking on a shore. Take notice of your breath as the air fills your lungs and then your entire body. Feel your lower belly rise, your chest expand and contract. Try to stay in this focus.
Once you loosen your conscious attention on your breath, then the unconscious mind may take over and distract you with thoughts to fill the void. Let the thoughts enter and pass. Sometimes you may not be aware of it as your mind is so accustomed to thinking. Your mind may drift for a long period before you can catch your thoughts drift. Once you realize this, re-focus on your breath. Next time, if a thought comes, to avoid going on a tangent of throught drifts, just accept it and let them go – don’t give the thoughts any further attention.
Ultimately, you want to reduce the amount of time your mind spends wandering to zero, and be fully focused and present for the duration of your meditation. If you are prone to distraction, try actively watching for a thought to enter your mind. If you actively wait for a thought, you might notice that no thoughts will enter your mind with this conscious attention.
Try meditating for 15 minutes daily, then go for thirty. If you have enough time, then try an hour here and there. The longer you can hold your meditation, the greater the benefit.
When I first got into meditation, I met with a meditation teacher who gave me a personal mantra to focus on. I would breathe it out with my exhalation. Some mantras are long, which I don’t find really work. Most of the short mantras probably resonate much like our natural exhalation, like “Ah” or “Ohm”. Though comforting in sound, it was a bit exerting. Eventually, I settled in on simple uji breathing, as mentioned above, but with a deep lower belly involvement.
Everyone’s different. A mantra may help you focus where simple breathing may not, so experiment a little with them.
Meditate for Yourself
I was, however, told not to share my mantra with anyone. There is a spiritual reason that the potency or energy of the personal mantra is lost once shared, though I’ve come to rationalize that meditation in general is a personal activity. One of its primary purposes is to raise your consciousness and free yourself from your ego.
When you talk about meditation to others, it’s possible your ego may open itself to the notion that you may have some “spiritual superiority” on others. You’ve gotten so much progress – why blow it by bragging? I don’t encourage my friends and family to meditate. Most of them actually don’t know I meditate. When you are ready, you will find it. This is perhaps how you’ve stumbled upon this article.
Music is a personal preference. I don’t meditate to music, but I do love doing yoga with it on in the background. Try meditating without music to start, but experiment with some soothing music if you your mind easily distracted during silent meditations. Avoid with recognizable vocals/lyrics, though chanting is fine.
There isn’t much to meditation, but certainly a class may help you on your way. Also witnessing the results of meditation, the peacefulness in other people’s faces, will further motivate you. There’s also the benefit of added energy associated with meditating amongst others.
Meditation classes are usually free, especially at Buddhist temples or associations.
I had this challenge quite often since I feel meditation is best done in the morning. I wasn’t the best riser, so often I would find myself nodding off soon into my meditation. If this is the case for you, I suggest doing some form of exercise for 15 to 30 minutes before your meditation, especially yoga.
If you can only meditate once a day, then the morning is the best time to meditate. Wake up earlier to accommodate it. If this isn’t possible, you can also choose to meditate in the early evening, but as you often are tired from the day, it’s not optimal.
Avoid meditating just before going to sleep, though you can do a pre-sleep exercise suggested by Eckhart Tolle in his book, The Power of Now. As you lie in bed, just allow your consciousness to focus on a different part of the body several seconds at a time, followed by a wave of consciousness up and down your body.
If your mind drifts for a moment or even for the whole meditation, let it be. There’s no sense in aggravating yourself and fueling your mind with more chatter. Just accept it, realize you may need to catch your thoughts better or need to focus on something else next time, and meditate again later.
If you are going through a particularly tumultuous time in your life situation, that is, during meditation your mind strays on problems leading to feelings of frustration or anxiety, then put your attention on the feeling itself but not the reasons for having that feeling.
For example, say you are upset at a demanding boss. Just observe the feeling of being upset, but toss out any thoughts of your boss. Your mind will lose its reason for being upset and will gradually lose that feeling. If it is a particularly strong feeling, then the feeling will at least become weaker. Moreover, you will be able to put things into perspective and move towards more positive emotions.
As I mentioned in my first article on meditation, it is through meditation that we can shift our perception on our seemingly big life problems and either find solutions to them or regard them to be as common as choosing a dessert. Count your breaths to ten and repeat.
If you are new to meditation, and your mind drifts often, try meditating with your eyes open while focusing on something. Mandalas were once used for this purpose. Try staring at a candle or the leaves of trees in the wind. It is best, however, to eventually remove the visual element from meditation.
Meditation doesn’t seem very useful initially, especially if you have a distractive mind, so may waver in your practices. There’s no really right or wrong way to meditate. Just stick to it and be consistent. Every meditation, good or “bad”, is a brick in your palace. You will naturally find a way to bring your focus into the present. Eventually, you will be able to augment meditation to become present in various daily situations, whether it be waiting in line or in a traffic jam.
Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end.